Beloved Lake Oswego poet James Fleming dies at 93
Lake Oswego author James Fleming, whose whimsical poems about everyday subjects graced the pages of The Review for many years and whose work appeared in countless magazines, anthologies and three books, died Friday after suffering what appears to have been a stroke, his family said.
Fleming, who just last year published a collection of quirky modernizations of Aesop fables called "Hip Hop Aesop," was 93.
"He was a gentle, kind and brilliant man," said his wife Geranna, who had been Fleming's partner since the early 1970s and was with him when he died.
Few poets start out the way Fleming did — in the halls of Portland Community College about 40 years ago, where he found himself searching for the class he had signed up to take.
"I think it was basket weaving or something," Fleming told The Review last year.
He walked into what he though was the right classroom, only to find himself surrounded by aspiring poets. "So I thought I'd switch hobbies," Fleming said.
He became a sort of people's poet, offering up wry observations in rhyme of the passing scene. He sent a new piece every month to The Review, often dealing with subjects like the construction of the Wizer Block, the draining and refilling of Oswego Lake and so much more.
"I take a lighthearted view of the controversies of Lake Oswego," Fleming said.
His work could have a serious side, too. When he was invited last year to the Vietnam War Memorial in Milwaukie, he read three poems dedicated to the occasion — an appropriate setting, actually, because Fleming was a veteran of war himself. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the decisive conflict of the western European theater, in World War II.
In the years after the war, Fleming became a homicide detective in the Portland Police Bureau and played a key role in the unionization of Portland's police force. For 15 years, he was the publisher of "The Rap Sheet," a union newspaper that was distributed to police officers across the state.
After retirement, he devoted much of his energy to writing poetry. He was a past president of the Oregon State Poetry Association and the Portland Poetry Festival, and was honored during his career with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the writers and teachers of the Mountain Writers Series.
Simply put, writing poetry was his passion.
"The role of art is to define and connect and be an integral part of culture," he told The Review last year. "Poetry has been suffering with all of the other arts in the country, but we're still hanging in there. Poetry is still alive and kicking."
Fleming is survived by his wife Geranna and two grown children, son Collin Fleming of Oregon City and daughter Bryn Fleming of Mitchell. Per his wishes, no services are planned.
For more about Fleming and his poetry, go to www.oregonpoeticvoices.org/poet/26/