We are sad to report the recent passing of our friend, Jeff Tagami, poet and author of October Light (Kearny Street Workshop, 1987). A poet with a strong sense of place, he was committed to community and history. His poems are filled with loss and sadness, and serve as evidence, not simply of our having been here and of this place, but of the community’s insistence upon thriving despite institutional odds.
From the Register Pajaronian:
Nationally renowned poet Jeff Tagami dies
Modified: Tuesday, Jun 26th, 2012
BY: ERIK CHALHOUB
WATSONVILLE — Jeff Tagami, nationally renowned poet and Watsonville native, died Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Tagami, 57, was an instructor of writing, composition and literature at Cabrillo College for 20 years, just recently teaching during the spring semester. He was also a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz.
His prose and poetry appeared in many national literary magazines and anthologies. Tagami appeared in the PBS documentary “The US of Poetry,” in which his poem, “Song of Pajaro” was featured in 1995.
“Pajaro is just not something in the imagination, it is a place, it is a people and those people work and breathe off the lands; they are the lands,” Tagami said about his “Song of Pajaro” poem during an interview with the Register-Pajaronian in 2003.
A graduate of Watsonville High School in 1972, Tagami was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in May.
He attended Cabrillo College in 1972, where he discovered his writing skill and received mentorship from well-known poets Morton Marcus, Joseph Stroud and Philip Levine. He also met poet Lawson Inada, considered one of the first Asian American published writers.
Tagami had said he learned about the history of Asian agricultural workers while taking a class from historian Sandy Lydon, which he said played a significant role in his writing.
“He gave voice to the marginalized people,” said Shirley Ancheta, Tagami’s wife and Cabrillo English instructor. “He will be greatly missed by the community. It’s a really big loss.”