Henry Braun (1930-2014)

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WELD – Henry Braun of Weld passed away on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. Henry was a poet, teacher, anti-war activist, husband, father, grandfather, loyal friend and very sweet man.

Henry and Joan Braun
Henry and Joan Braun

He was born in Olean, N.Y. in 1930 to Evelyn Blanche Kelly and Josiah Henry Braun. His mother died when he was two, and he grew up in an orphanage, foster homes and later with his father. He attended Hutchinson Central High School and the University of Buffalo, but left the latter after his freshman year and wandered about Washington D.C., New York, and then Boston, where he heard about the new university in Waltham, Brandeis, and was taken in on a full scholarship. There he met his future wife, Joan Lapedos Braun, studied with poets Claude Vigee and J.V. Cunningham, and took memorable courses with Leonard Bernstein and art historian Leo Bronstein.

After graduating from Brandeis, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in France, where he and Joan were married on June 14, 1956. When they returned to the States he got his M.A. at Brandeis, and then went to Boston University, where he was a teaching assistant and student of Robert Lowell’s and was a classmate and friend of Anne Sexton and Don Junkins.

Most of his working career was as a teacher of literature and creative writing at Temple University, including a year at Temple’s branch campus in Tokyo. He served as coordinator and host of the Poetry Center of the YM-YWHA in Philadelphia. In 1968 his first book of poems, The Vergil Woods, was selected by Atheneum editor Harry Ford for publication. Harry nominated the book for the Pulitzer Prize that year, and Henry was glad he did not win, as the prize went to Of Being Numerous by George Oppen, a much older poet whom Henry much admired.

Henry’s second book, Loyalty, New and Selected Poems was published in 2006 by Off The Grid Press and received the Maine Poets and Writers Award for best book of poetry published in Maine that year.

Of this book, Maine’s first Poet Laureate, Kate Barnes said “Poetry too good to be gulped, it is to be relished, to be read slowly and many times. I am so happy to own this beautiful collection! . . . What did Thoreau say about the cost of any great work, that it cost a lifetime? It’s an extraordinary lifetime that we feel in this book. . . . What tremendous tact [his] poems all show, never a word too much, nothing insisted on, a light touch that looks easy, but, I think, takes tremendous art to achieve.”

His work has appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, The Nation, The Massachusetts Review, American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Colorado Review, and in several anthologies, including The Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review, Naomi Shihab Nye’s What Have You Lost, and Wes McNair’s The Maine Poets: A Verse Anthology. He was a contributing editor of the American Poetry Review and also served on the editorial board of the Beloit Poetry Journal.

In the 1960s he organized poetry read-ins against the war in Vietnam and participated in the War Tax Resistance movement. Instead of paying his taxes he donated them to the Philadelphia Veterans Hospital and to Philadelphia public schools. For this he was indicted and convicted in a federal court for tax evasion and received a fine of $500 or jail time. He did not pay the fine, but unbeknownst to him, some friends did. He and his wife continued war tax resistance to funding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars . In 2010 they sent half of their owed taxes to the Mt. Blue Music Department, which at that time was experiencing budget cuts, and it was gratefully received.

Henry and Joan helped organize a draft card turn-in at the Justice Department, and he was an non-indicted co-conspirator at the Boston Five trial with Dr. Benjamin Spock and Mitchell Goodman. He, together with Mitchell Goodman, Denise Levertov, Noam Chomsky, William Sloane Coffin, and Dwight Macdonald, wrote The Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority at the Justice Dept. in 1967: “We are planning an act of direct creative resistance to the war and the draft in Washington on Friday, Oct. 20… We will appear at the Justice Department together with 30 or 40 young men brought by us to Washington to represent the 24 resistance groups from all over the country. There we will present to the attorney general the draft cards turned in locally by these groups on Oct. 16… We will, in a clear, simple ceremony, make concrete our affirmation of support for these young men who are the spearhead of direct resistance to the war and all of its machinery…. [Signed] Mitchell Goodman, Henry Braun, Denise Levertov, Noam Chomsky, William Sloane Coffin, Dwight Macdonald.”

For turning in his draft card he was reclassified, at age 37, from 4F to 1A, the oldest 1A in the country, as reported in Time magazine. He was summoned to his draft board in Buffalo, N.Y. and during his conversation with them he asked them to resign. [They unfortunately did not.]

He is survived by his wife Joan, his daughter Jessie Braun Iwata and her husband Yuzo Iwata and their children Natsuo and Elena, and his daughter Sarah Braun and her partner Josh Nadeau, and Sarah’s daughter Sophie.

He was predeceased by his baby daughter Evelyn Ann, and his closest friends George Hartman, Mitch Goodman and Bob Edenbaum. The cause of death was a rapidly progressing neuromuscular auto-immune disease, most likely ALS [Lou Gehrig disease].

Burial was at Mountain View Cemetery in Weld on Saturday, Oct. 12.

Henry would be pleased if you looked at his previous, now out of print book, The Vergil Woods, which is online at here and also saw portions of the draft trailer of Henry reading his poems, for the eventual film by Morgan Walker called Strange Attractors, here. His most recent book, Loyalty, is available here from Off the Grid Press in Somerville, Mass., from Devaney, Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, or other independent booksellers, and from Amazon.

In lieu of flowers, a poetry scholarship will be established in his name at the University of Maine at Farmington. Checks can be made out to the Henry Braun Poetry Memorial Fund and sent to P.O. Box 84, Weld, ME 04285. A celebration of his life will take place on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014 at the Weld Town Hall, Weld, Maine, at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome. Refreshments provided but potluck food donations welcome. For more information please e-mail Joan Braun at braunjoan@hotmail.com.

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