These are for YOU NorbertO’, with all our love.

23 08 2019

As Norb’s birthday rolls into view, I am compelled wanting to say something to him / about him (like: you should be here … ) to share on his Poetry Dispatch post. He would be 84 this August 23rd.

It occurs to me that I and the family are not the only ones who love him, miss him … I asked a few of his closest friends and members of “the Blei tribe” if they’d like to make a comment? A sentence or two … an experience, a thought of him, a lingering memory?

These are for YOU NorbertO’, with all our love. ~ Jude


“In an old journal recently found, I talked of how I loved Norb and my early days at the Clearing. I remember his sort of talking me into playing my guitar on a Friday night, and I was paralyzed and not only splatted all the chords but couldn’t sing a note. Fortunately, his big voice boomed out “Those Were the Days, My Friend,” and they really were.” ~Jackie Langetieg


“Ah – there he is – teacher, mentor, inspiration, friend! Our birthdays were just 5 months apart (1935 was a good year.) Without his encouragement I wouldn’t have figured out I could write poetry; I wouldn’t have a single book. I’ll be eternally grateful!” ~ Alice D’Alessio


“The way to do is to be – Lao Tzu. The way to write is to write – Norber Blei


This is the quote and mindset that began and shaped Norb’s annual class at The Clearing Folk School, the class he led for over 40 years. I first attended that class in 1996, in 2001 Norb published my first book under his Cross+Roads Press, and this year, 6 years after Norb’s passing, I have the privilege and honor to still be teaching Norb’s Writing Workshop at The Clearing. Yes, I miss his presence and wisdom, but through his writing, I can regularly share a visit with him and his no-nonsense ways, “If you are not quietly writing who you are, where you are, at the time you are, you are not writing the fictional truth, but living the transparent lie” (The Winter Book). Each year as I prepare my Clearing writing class, I am visited by Norb’s influence -and maybe it’s his spirit or energy or dare I say ghost? that points me toward just the right passage, whether from his own writing or someone else’s. After seven summer workshops, the class has taken on my own personal touch, but I do my best to maintain Norb’s approach and teaching style. And every year I find more of his words to share with my students. Words to live and write by: “Don’t live second-handedly! The poetry of other people is good for only a beginning. But it’s nothing compared to the poems you hold inside yourself.” (Adventures in An American’s Literature) Happy 84th Birthday, Norb, you’re still with us! ~Al DeGenova


“Norb: a writer, a philosopher, a mentor, a friend, a baker, a lover of Door County, a drinker of good scotch, and a defender of the Bridge.” ~ Rev Michael Brecke


“Having come from similar backgrounds, I felt I had good insights into Norb’s reactions to life here and now, that is to beautiful Door County in the late 20th Century. And I was absolutely delighted when he began asking me to illustrate his wonderful writings.” ~Chick Peterson


“Without Norb, I would not have become anything more than scribbler of words. I learned that poetry can be seriously pursued. Miss ya, man.” ~Michael Koehler


“Norb was a very gifted teacher and I thank Phyllis Ingwersen for dragging me out of the weaving class at the Clearing In Winter one day saying “you belong in this writing class! Norb’s first words to the class were, “write something, any thing, about the color red.” It was my introduction to writing and a fine teacher. “ ~Sue Peterson


“I miss Norb… I REALLY miss Norb! I first found Norb in the Reminder… that followed up with my very first NorbTOON that Lonnie printed in his paper THREE times… I know that rubbed Norb the wrong way. Then, I met him for the first time outside a bookstore (imagine that) on Thrid in Sturgeon Bay. He knew of me and said he “LOVED that toon! Lonnie didn’t need to print it in the same paper THREE times though…” followed by a guffaw! Made me smile out loud : ). We became best buds. I really miss his serendipitous phone calls/ dropping in always unannounced and ALWAYS welcome/ his huge guffaws! His stories/ his ideas/ his manila envelopes with rubber stamped icons and stickers and hand typed (old fashioned typewriter) address. … inside, newspaper clippings he thought were of importance/ interest to me; I missed him ALWAYS asking about the kids, and Dede. I miss the coffee houses / trip to Bayfield with Jude and Dede / concerts / dinners / lunches; I miss just stopping by his house followed by that warm smile wider than his mustache! The very last time I went to see Norb, at Scandia, just days prior to him leaving us all … I could see he was trying to conceal horrendous pain -Norb says “How’re the kids, what are they up to? How’s Dede, How’s her shop doing?” Whew… choker : / .
Love you Norb. Happy Birthday! ~Mike McCartney


“Love … is not simply a recollection of a bygone past,
but a living force sustaining us in the present …
love that transcend the limits of time
and offers hope in all moments of our lives.”
~ Henri Nouwen


“You are there; I here; worlds separate us
Death’s angels, the void of space . . .
Yet I say your name and waves of light
Wash to me silently from your Heart.”
~Jalal-ud-Din-Rumi






Herb Gould | Door County mourns author, Chicago transplant Norbert Blei

12 07 2013

Norbert Blei

Painting by Emmett Johns of Fish Creek, WI

They said goodbye to Norbert Blei the other day.

On a crisp day, friends and family gathered at the open-air Peninsula Players Theater for a memorial service that featured readings, tributes, songs, laughter and tears.

It was a touching and fitting tribute to Blei, a Chicago-born author who packed his Windy City roots when he moved to this vacation land in 1969.

“He wrote about the characters in this place, and then he became one,’’ said Michael Brecke, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Juddville.

“And where the hell is Juddville?’’ Blei once remarked wryly from behind his penetrating eyes and walrus-like mustache.

A literary descendant of Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel and Mike Royko, Blei wrote 17 books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and essays. He also taught and nurtured aspiring writers.

“Norb was about people, about life, about place, about story,’’ said Marianne Ritzer, his first assistant when he founded Cross + Roads Press, which was dedicated to publishing the works of fledgling writers.

Blei died on April 23 in Sister Bay, near his home in Ellison Bay, after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 77.

“I loved his words,’’ Door County musician and friend Julian Hagen said. “I loved his voice. I loved his mustache.’’

Born in Chicago, Blei grew up on the West Side and in Cicero. After graduating from Illinois State, he was a high school teacher in the Chicago area before he moved to Door County with his wife and two young children to continue his writing career.

In the ’90s, he briefly became a figure of controversy with his “Shut the Damn Door’’ campaign, an outrageous, anti-tourist, anti-development proposal. But his true passion was for all things literary, with a dash of painting on the side.

“He’d write cards and mail them to me,’’ his daughter, Bridget Buff, said during her tear-filled remembrance, “even though we lived in the same house.’’

His nickname was “Coyote,’’ and musician Pete Thelen celebrated Blei’s brashness with fresh lyrics to “Sweet Home Chicago’’ that included the chorus, “3 and 6 is 9, 9 and 9 is 18, he left the Windy City for the country scene. Hey, Coyote, don’t you want to go? Back to that same old place, Door County, his home?’’

From his adult Door County home, Blei did some of his best work writing about his childhood in Chicago, describing ethnic neighborhoods and their proud first-generation residents with a stark, true resonance. He wrote about their work, their dreams, their World War II struggles, their zest for life and their flaws.

And he did it with a spare, understated style that showed the influence of Hemingway, a fellow Chicago native.

“He was probably the most dedicated writer I ever saw,’’ said Albert DeGenova, a Chicago poet and publisher who first met Blei at the Clearing, a Door County retreat where Blei taught an annual workshop.

A close friend of Royko, Blei first met the late Chicago newspaperman at the old City News Bureau, where they worked the night shift together. The Pulitzer Prize winner often visited Blei in Door County, marveling at the gregarious coffee talk that would take place at Al Johnson’s, the well-known Swedish restaurant that was to Blei what Billy Goat’s was to Royko.

There’s even a goat connection. Tourists flock to Al Johnson’s to see goats eat the grass on the roof of the restaurant.

“I’m sure there’s a coffee table in heaven,’’ said Al’s daughter, Annika Johnson, who brought a goat with her onstage when she paid tribute to Blei. “And I know Norb will elbow his way in and take over.’’ — Herb Gould, July 8, 2013 9:30AM





Norbert Blei’s grave

28 06 2013

Norbert Blei's grave