Walter E. Hopmans-writer, artist, and tireless proponent of poetry-passed away on Wednesday, August 8, 2007, at his Santa Barbara homestead. He was preceded in death by his adored wife of 54 years, Alice. Walt was born August 28, 1918, in Buffalo, New York. Walt was a familiar presence in the regional literary realm, willingly sharing his energy, wit, and wisdom as director of the Santa Barbara Writers Consortium (SBWC) for several decades.
SBWC was responsible for establishing weekly poetry readings at coffee houses and theaters, producing annual writer’s workshops, and publishing numerous inventive books. Walt’s poetry, limericks, art, cartoons, and essays regularly appeared in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies nationwide, as well as in his own chapbook publications. He was also active in the area’s theater community.
He was also the patriarch of a loving and accomplished family, including his daughters Susan and Elise; son Chris and daughter-in-law Sandy; grandchildren Heather, Bess, and Matthew; and great-granddaughter Marissa. A professional teacher for most of his career, Walt graduated from Santa Barbara Teachers College and received two masters degrees, one in art from UCLA and one in history from Occidental College. An unfailingly loyal friend, Walt’s spirit, enthusiasm, and expansive creative contributions will endure. Walter E. Hopmans, we are all honored to have learned from you and to have laughed with you!
It is impossible, in mere words, to encapsulate the vivid picture of Walter E. Hopmans, nattily attired, his serious briefcase filled with paper, pens, and drawing implements and his mischievous grin firmly in place as he trolled State Street for inspiring nuggets-words and images. He experienced life with enthusiasm, direct action, and an often wicked sense of humor-an authentic man. He looked you in the eye and told you what was on his mind, and, typically, his opinion was quite accurate. His compassion was limitless, and his thoughtful gestures and kind actions were delivered without fanfare. He never underestimated the power of words and never avoided a pun or a limerick if one could be employed in any given situation. Knowing him has been one of life’s greatest gifts. -April James
Walt Hopmans left us memories of his wry spirit and unabashed devotion to the muse (for whom he could wax most tender or randy). He’ll be with us at the catch of a breath when the next big laugh arrives at his favorite hangout, the Poetry Zone, or at any open-mike night. We sometimes call Santa Barbara “Poetry Town,” and surely Walt was the mayor, a guy who made us know, through the wit and wisdom of his words and his confident, debonair style, that the inspiration and practice of poetry belonged to everyone. We’ll miss you, Walt-you were a true spice to the feast. -Barry Spacks, former Santa Barbara poet laureate
What a delight and revelation I had rereading Walt’s book, simply titled Some Poems and Some Pictures, inscribed to me on March 8, 2003. I could feel him winking over my shoulder. On the inside cover, he writes this “Disclaimer,” with the “Dis” crossed out: “Any resemblance to persons, places, or things is intentional and if they don’t like it, poo poo to them.” To that, he adds a note that his family told him this was “‘silly, childish, and undignified’ : which is exactly its intent. (We need more of that sort of thing, don’t we?)” The book is a mishmash of handwritten poems, limericks, and cartoons, all bearing his quirky sense of humor. His poems are often tongue-in-cheek, witty, sardonic-but even his darker pieces exude a joyful spirit and a basic trust in the goodness of humankind. -Perie Longo, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate
When I first shyly “came out” as a poet, Walt repeatedly invited me to join the Santa Barbara Writers Consortium, a small group of poets who met regularly at his large and lovely house on the Riviera. As was the case with so many new poets, Walt kept after me until I finally started showing up. I will always be grateful to Walt for reaching out to me in this way. My first published poems appeared in the consortium’s 1986 chapbook. I hope others in Santa Barbara will continue Walt’s generous-spirited and dynamic tradition of building community and encouraging free speech. -Abigail Albrecht Brandt
Walt always seemed to be everywhere. His love of poetry was palpable, indefatigable, irrepressible, and contagiously agreeable. I might compare him to a kind of poetry elf-suddenly an image of Pan arises in my mind, a small, wiry, gray-haired goat man, kicking up a slight ruckus. His poetry I remember as topical, wry, generally short, and not lavishly ambitious, but I know wherever he is now, there are certain very literary angels brushing his cheeks and combing his hair with love. May his memory always carry a warmth with it, even for people like me, who knew him only casually-another twinkling star above the city of Saint Barbara. -Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore
In 1980, I was just starting the Santa Barbara Writers Consortium and Walt was one of our first supporters, bless his heart. His take on the world was significant and important. I loved how he expressed his views and feelings without stomping on anyone. He seemed to be a gentle and honest soul. SBWC eventually found its comfort in the warm, literary heart of Walt and his unswerving dedication to writers and community. Walt was a good soul with a great sense of humor and a twinkle in his eyes that knew just how and where to put light into this waking-up world of ours. So, our friend is on his way, never to be turned from our own hearts. -Carla Riedel
What I remember most is Walt’s indefatigable spirit in the service of poetry. My first foray into the Santa Barbara poetry scene was at his house for one of the Thursday night informal gatherings. Many times, his venue was the only game in town for local poets. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in Walt’s founding of the Poetry Zone series in which the strength of his character brought all of Santa Barbara’s disparate factions cheerfully together. At the 1996 Santa Barbara Poetry Festival, Walt was fted with a special tribute, a long-overdue recognition from the community. He was dubbed the dean of Santa Barbara Poetry then, and I suppose it’s still true today. -David Oliveira
Walt welcomed me into the Santa Barbara poetry community, somehow sensing I needed it. He simply accepted that there was a place waiting for me here. At planned events, he read at open mike like anyone else if he had not been invited as the featured reader. I will miss-we will all miss-his love and respect for poetry and poets, and the way he honors writing as a democratic matter of beauty of expression. -Katie Goodridge Ingram, cofounder, Santa Barbara Poetry Festival
What I remember about Walt was that his generosity held the poetry community together. -Glenna Luschei
Walt was one of the first people I met on my poetry journey in Santa Barbara-always welcoming, always enthusiastic, and seriously impish. -Lois Klein
Walt Hopmans was one of Santa Barbara’s one-of-a-kind fixtures, as important as our courthouse, our mission, our beaches. For me, he will always remain so. -Sol Morrison
Little Dance by Walt Hopmans
Do a little dance, my friends,
because you are alive-
and won’t be.
Do a little dance,
for you can hear the music-
now and here.
Do a little dance,
while bone joints yet articulate-
one day they may not.
Do a little dance, my friends-
The intermission is soon.
And very long.
We will, Walt, we will. In the words of this talented artist, creative teacher, and wonderful friend: “Onward and upward!”