Mary Norbert Korte tribute
Mary Norbert Korte, legendary poet, teacher, environmental and political activist left her body this past Monday. She was at her home in the forest in Irmulco, where she had lived for 50 years. She was not in pain, her organs were simply failing after 88 adventurous revolutions around the sun.
Mary Norbert Korte was a major influencer of youth decades, before the instagram. She taught poetry and creative writing to thousands of young people in Mendocino County, at grammar and high schools, Coyote Valley reservation, and Mendocino College. She was a founding member of California Poets In The Schools, a program still working today. Young people who had her in a classroom remember her. She knew the transformative power of writing and passed that insight to several generations here in Mendocino County.
Mary Korte was born in the Oakland hills in 1934 and began writing poetry as a child. She chose to enter a convent in San Francisco and became Sister Mary Norbert. She kept writing poetry, often of a spiritual nature. Outside the walls of the convent, the Bay Area poetry scene was exploding. The Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965 changed her concept of poetry, and in 1967 David Meltzer helped her get Hymn To The Gentle Sun published. Her participation in peace rallies was not approved by the convent and she left in 1968. She took a job at UC Berkeley and met Denise Levertov, who nominated Mary for an NEA grant which she received in 1969. She had befriended Lew Welch and a number of other poets from the Santa Cruz mountains to Mendocino county. Mary, like ruth weiss, is featured in a chronicle of the times in a book called “Women Of The Beat Generation.”
In 1972 she became a caretaker of property in Irmulco, near Willits, eventually buying it. The road makes the land remote. One side is the Noyo River, the other is is the railroad tracks. She began teaching in the newly created California Poets In the Schools program, and the students loved her. At the same time she became active with Save The Redwoods and joined other environmentalists in trying to protect the forests and ocean. She worked on improving forest practices, standing up to land destruction, the use of herbicides, and a plan by the Navy to dump nuclear submarines off the coast of Mendocino. She influenced multitudes of citizens to defend the earth, FIRST, and did as much as anyone to try to slow down corporate plans to clear cut the entire county. The 60s never died.
Mary Norbert Korte was arrested for defending Headwaters Forest and, most recently, at 80 years old, the land that Caltrans ruined to create the Willits bypass. A life long warrior. Mary was often heard on KZYX airwaves on Wild Sage Poetry, the various ecological shows, and was a frequent caller on discussion shows. This Sunday at 3pm on RRR I will present a 2 hour special of Mary’s poetry segued with music from around the world. The show will be available on the KZYX Jukebox for at least 2 weeks after that.
Like most people that knew Mary, I felt incredibly fortunate to know her, attend poetry and music events with her, protest with her, and share the classroom stage with her. Like thousands of others, Mary was one of my most important teachers.
There will be a celebration of her life in a few months, possibly coinciding with her new book being published.
In 2014 Mary performed her poem about endurance called “We’re Getting There.”