Don Emblen

Teacher, writer, botanist, critic, mentor and former poet laureate of Sonoma County, Don Emblen died Friday morning at his Santa Rosa home of heart failure. He was 90.

Emblen was a prolific poet with numerous published works. He estimated in 2000 that he had written over 4,000 poems.

His poetry focused on detail and showed tracings of Emblen's formal training as a botanist, colleagues said. He approached writing methodically and purposefully, always carrying a notebook and writing daily.

"He approached it with the sense of it being a craft and not something you do because you're inspired," said Ed Buckley, former English teacher and vice-president of Santa Rosa Junior College. "His poetry was observance of everyday things made more interesting by his having observed them."

Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Emblen started his career working on the rewrite desk at City News Service in Los Angeles. He joined the Navy in 1942 as a sonar man on a ship charged with chasing submarines.

He returned to college after the war on the GI Bill.

He joined SRJC's English department in 1959. By the time poet and current SRJC English teacher Richard Speakes took his class in 1970, Emblen "was the hub" of the college.

"It was an era of grand gestures, and Don was at the center of a huge, intellectual dynamo of a place," Speakes said.

Emblen mentored students through the writing process, demanding honesty and emotion in writing. He published their work on his garage-press Clamshell Press when they got it right.

"He had a wonderful, critical eye and a way of suggesting that things were wrong with the thing, but not killing your enthusiasm," said SRJC English teacher Bob Duxbury. "But he could be brutal about things."

As a poet, Emblen had written words for every occasion: the birth of a friend's child or a new hire for the college's English department. These poems were published in three volumes called "Under the Oaks," which prosaically document the social and intellectual life of SRJC in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

He retired from SRJC in 1988 and was named Sonoma County's first poet laureate in October 1999.

Of his writing and being named poet laureate, he told The Press Democrat in 2000: "At 81, you don't care about being exotic, or even about the notoriety that comes from being the Sonoma County poet laureate. You write because you haven't figured everything out, because there's still something to learn, because you haven't solved all the puzzles of writing poetry."

Emblen is survived by his wife, Linda Emblen of Santa Rosa, daughters Cirre Emblen of Sacramento and Clovis Emblen Scarpaci of Woodland Hills, and two grandchildren.

A public memorial will be held at SRJC in June, Linda Emblen said. The date has not been set.

-- Laura Norton