From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Pittsburgh poet Jack Wolford died in St. Clair Hospital in December at the age of 60, his passing went largely unnoticed. Despite his considerable bulk -- Jack tipped the scales at a mind-bending 400 pounds before he took sick -- his incessant hand-rolled cigarettes and his ability to command any room by brilliance and bombast, he was virtually invisible, except to a close circle of friends.
Says Michael Simms, Autumn House general editor, "Jack was an excellent poet but published very little because he refused to court editors in a way that could help him. The smart and politic thing would have been to keep his mouth shut. But Jack was very blunt, saying what he needed to say."
"Jack couldn't find a wall he didn't want to run into," adds fellow poet Michael James, now serving as Jack's literary executor. "He'd write insulting cover letters to editors. When I'd say, 'Jack, you're shooting yourself in the foot,' he'd launch into a tirade about the worthlessness of a life lived untruly to oneself."
"Jack's intensity caused him to be insensitive," recalls Michael Wurster, a Poetry Exchange founder. "He could be brutal, simply bulldozing people. He wouldn't give anyone else a chance."
After Jack was diagnosed with melanoma last August -- in all likelihood, the residual effect of too much South American sun -- neither surgery nor major treatments helped much. Going in the hospital for the last time on Dec. 7, Jack brooked no whispering around him, no maudlin, teary-eyed farewells. Following the Dylan Thomas dictum, he refused to go gentle into anything, much less that good night. Wearing a jaunty bandana to mask his lesion, Jack howled his poet's war cry to the end. As one shocked duty nurse said to a visitor, "my, your friend is profane, isn't he?"