Marion Buchman, 86, award-winning poet, lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University

April 16, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Marion Buchman, an award-winning Baltimore poet and former lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University, died Tuesday of lung cancer at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Northwest Baltimore. She was 86.

A longtime Northwest Baltimore resident who wrote hundreds of poems and won many awards, she was named Poet of the Year by the Maryland Poetry Society in 1965.

In 1969, she was awarded the Cheltenham Prize from the Arts Council of Great Britain for "Cenotaph." She also received the John Masefield Award for "Nancy Hanks Lincoln," and, in 1979, the Al Di La Prize from Franklin College, Lugano, Switzerland, for the "Italian Alps." She was given the Golden Poet Award from the World Poetry Contest in 1986 for her lifetime body of work.

Her first book of poetry, "A Voice in Ramah," was published in 1960, followed by "America," also poetry, in 1976. Her last book, "In His Pavilion," was published by Haskell House in 1986.

"I read the poems of `A Voice in Ramah' with pleasure and admiration, finding in them great perceptiveness, tenderness and wit," wrote Ogden Nash, the noted American poet who also lived in Baltimore.

"Marion Buchman's book reports to me that she lives in wide and wonderful arcs of sky and earth, and of mind and heart," wrote Carl Sandburg.

Mrs. Buchman's work also is found in many anthologies, including "Best Poets of the Twentieth Century," "From Sea to Sea" and "Answer from the West."

She also wrote under the pen names of Melanie Bloom and Marion Jona Ried, and published poems in Redbook, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Poet Lore, Midland Poetry Review and Encore.

A diminutive woman with dark hazel eyes and chestnut brown hair, Mrs. Buchman insisted on writing standing up at her pink and white desk, which also doubled as a filing cabinet, set up in her book-crammed living room. She wrote in longhand or with a typewriter.

"Whenever the muse grabbed her, she'd go to work writing," said her daughter, Erica Haus of Reisterstown.

"I write at a very great heat," Mrs. Buchman told The Sun in a 1979 interview. "I don't revise too much. If I have to revise, I toss it away. Do you know what Keats said? He said that if a poem doesn't come as easily as leaf to a tree, it better not come at all.

"I think life is a candle, and poetry is the match. And what you have, when it's good poetry, is warmth and illumination. In fact, you have incandescence," she said.

Mrs. Buchman, well known in Baltimore literary circles, also taught during the 1960s and 1970s at American University and at Northwestern High School.

Gifted with a dramatic and melodious voice and perfect enunciation, she enjoyed reading her work before audiences, and during the 1940s served as host of a poetry show on a Baltimore radio station.

"Wordiness, overblown sentiment -- that's the death-blow to poetry. It's a symbolic language it should appeal to the ear, to the senses, in every way possible. We have enough cacophony in prose," she told The Sun.

Of the horrors of the atomic bomb, she wrote:

My spoon was lifted

When the bomb came down,

That left no spoon, no fork,

No hand to hold.

Two hundred thousand died in my hometown.

This came to pass before my soup was cold.

She also was an environmentalist and animal lover, both of which were frequent themes in her poetry.

The former Marion Friedman was born and raised in West Baltimore. She attended city public schools and began writing poetry as a child.

During the 1930s, she was a dancer and performed as a chorus girl in "Okay, Baltimore," an annual revue sponsored by the News-Post at Baltimore's Loew's Century Theater.

"She was screen-tested by Walter Wanger Studios for a career in films, but her family objected and she returned to her love of poetry," said Mrs. Haus.

She was married in 1938 to Harold Buchman, who died in 1987.

An energetic woman, she decided to study piano in her 50s and mastered works by such composers as Chopin.

Mrs. Buchman, who also was an accomplished ceramic artist and enjoyed painting, continued writing into her 80s.

"Poetry is the highest art, because there has to be such compression: a trajectory, like a hurled stone," she told the Baltimore Messenger in 1987. "The beauty is in the metaphor and simile, the shorthand of the poet."

Services were held Thursday.

She is survived by another daughter, Sharon Temple of Ann Arbor, Mich.; two brothers, Leon P. Ried and Martin Friedman, both of Baltimore; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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