Poet’s work continues to leave mark after his death
When nationally published and award-winning Carson City poet Bill Cowee died last month at the age of 66, it was without much fanfare, yet probably in the quiet way he would have wished.
Cowee, who moved into the Evergreen Mountain View Health and Rehabilitation Center in the early 2000s, died of heart failure Oct. 16 in severe stages of diabetes after a couple of heart attacks and strokes had weakened him.
He was born Nov. 15, 1942, in Wisconsin, grew up in Montana where he was “a great athlete,” according to his brother John Cowee, and earned his accounting degree at the University of Southern California before moving to Northern Nevada where he worked for two decades as an accountant with his brother in Dayton.
But Cowee quickly established himself as a brilliant poet, founding the Ash Canyon Poets with John Garmon in 1987 and later getting a collection of his poetry, “Bones Set Against the Drift” published by Black Rock Press in 1997.
“Bill’s volume did leave a mark – the poems rang true to this landscape and the people who make the Great Basin home,” said fellow poet and friend Shawn T. Griffin. “He articulated a clear vision of the West … and he did it with careful attention to detail, to sound, to imagery.”
After moving into the convalescent home, however, Cowee said he would never write again, Griffin said, and donated his more than 1,000 volumes of poetry to Western Nevada College.
“The volumes are in a sunlit corner of the library, all with a small sticker on them: The Bill Cowee Poetry Collection,” Griffin said.
He continued to write in the nursing home, despite his earlier protests to the contrary, even submitting them to the Nevada Arts Council. In May, he learned he had been selected for a second time as the recipient of their Artist in Literature award for his “nursing home” poems.
“These poems were the very poems he told me he could never write,” Griffin said. “They are among the most humane of all that he has left us.”
John Cowee praised his brother’s gift.
“He had tremendous talent in writing and poetry,” Cowee said. “His books and poems reflect his love of life, and his life will live on in the library at WNC.”
“But there was a dark period in his life, and his poems reflected that too,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t know that in his later years, he was a mentor to a lot of parentless children at Carson High School. There are a lot of kids who have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Cowee said.
“He also had a little pet bunny which was very unlike him, but he really mellowed out in his later years,” he said.
Cowee said a book of his brother’s children’s poetry is expected to be published sometime within the year.
Bill Cowee’s friend and a caregiver for the last four or five years, Terry Ford, said he lived alone most of his life.
“He was a lonely guy who was very sick and he was having trouble taking care of himself when I got him to go into Evergreen,” Forde said. “Bill went with a couple of sweatpants and a pair of slippers, and they gave him wonderful care there.
“He told me he thought it was his mission to help the people there and that his final mission in life was to make the other residents of Evergreen happy. When they took his body out, all the staff stopped and wept, which doesn’t happen very often because they see a lot of people die,” Forde said.
“The love of Bill’s life was poetry and teaching others to love and appreciate it. He had a wonderful dry sense of humor and a great love of music,” she said.
Cowee is survived by his brothers John of Carson City and Mike of Arizona; sister Barbara and mother Lorraine of Yerington; three sons, Matt and Greg of Reno and Mark of Las Vegas; former wife Carolyn Junta of Reno.
“I wish I could recount the number of days Bill and I talked about poetry on the steps of his brother’s accounting office, or mornings spent at the Pinon Poetry Festival teaching young students about the art form, or the evening classes or workshops or libraries bringing new readers or writers to poetry,” Griffin said.
“Bill never tired of giving his gift away and he never expected the gift of recognition to come in return,” he said.