Joseph Enzweiler, Poet and Friend, 1950-2011

Karen Grossweiner, wife of the late Joseph Enzweiler, a celebrated poet who was treated at the UC Brain Tumor Center, shares the following memorial tribute with us.

Joseph Enzweiler—poet, memoirist, and beloved husband, brother, stepfather and friend—died on April 16, 2011, at Hospice of Cincinnati. Joe was born in Cincinnati in 1950 and grew up in Madeira, Ohio. He received a BS in Physics from Xavier University, then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1975. He received a MS in Physics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and in 1981 built a log cabin home in Goldstream Valley north of town. Joe published six books of poetry: Home Country (Fireweed Press, 1986), Stonework of the Sky (Graywolf Press, 1995), A Curb in Eden (Salmon Publishing, Ltd, 1999); A Curb in Eden: New Version (Iris Press, 2003), The Man Who Ordered Perch (Iris Press, 2004) and A Winter on Earth (Iris Press, 2006). With his wife Karen Grossweiner, he completed a memoir, We All Worship Something, shortly before his death. His poems have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily and in numerous journals. Jeff Biggers wrote: “As one of the great secrets of Iris Press—and the poetry world in the lower 48 states—Alaskan poet Joseph Enzweiler’s work ranks alongside that of Gary Snyder and Robinson Jeffers, capable of putting a hole right through our literary hearts” (“TBRs Editors’ Favorites of 2007,” The Bloomsbury Review November/December 2007). The subject of Joe’s poetry is the vast beauty and loneliness of the world—and conversely, the intense importance of family and friends. He wrote:

Sky clears from the west, a cold night on the way. Horses stand soundless in the field. A new moon slips from a cloud, its darkness lit by the oceans we sail, looking for ourselves. Earth needs its beloved. These days Are the darkest, the ancient fear.

While Joe’s primary occupation was writing, he was also an accomplished carpenter, stone mason and photographer. He maintained strong ties with friends and family in greater Cincinnati, returning every few years to rural northern Kentucky to spend several months with his brother Philip and his family and building, over the course of a decade or so, a Shaker-style dry stone wall around his brother’s 3 acres of land. It was on one of those trips that a brain tumor was discovered and treated in 2009. After the tumor recurred in 2010, Joe, Karen and her twins settled in the Cincinnati area to be close to local family and friends.

Fellow poet Pauletta Hansel says about Joe, “He was a man remarkable not just for his immense talent, but for his immense capacity for love. Only days after his death, there is a great outcry of sadness from many parts of the country—and beyond—from friends and writers with whom Joe shared his words and himself. That the word traveled so quickly via the internet is ironic, given that Joe’s many friendships were developed and nurtured only through face to face contact and the good old US mail, with letters written in his meticulous handwriting, or on his ancient typewriter. It is heartbreaking to know that I will never again receive such a letter from Joe.”

Richard Hague, writer and a friend of almost forty years, remembers: “He was a man who lived as independently and simply as any I have ever known first hand. He scorned much of the gimmickry and gadgets of modern life, and lived with a stewardship of things and of the land. His truck has 350,000 miles on it, his cabin was built by hand, and as Pauletta reminds us, he wrote in longhand and prepared his final copies on a typewriter kept in good repair since his college years. He often slept outside in Fairbanks, on a simple bed on his covered porch. And his dogged accumulation of beautifully split and seasoned firewood, which he labored at daily, was legendary. He was a craftsman in every detail of his life.”

Joe is survived by his wife, Karen Grossweiner; stepchildren Alina and Justin; brothers and sisters-in-law Philip and Nancy Enzweiler, Steve and Patty Enzweiler; niece and nephews Anna, Peter and Nicolaus; and by his many friends.

Joe received excellent care from the University of Cincinnati’s Brain Tumor Center. Donations can be made to the Joe Enzweiler Fund for Brain Tumor Research.

A Funeral Mass will be held 7:00 PM Monday, May 2 at Bellarmine Chapel, Xavier University. A Memorial Celebration of Joe’s Life and Work will be held 4:00 PM Sunday, May 22 at 21 Meadow Lane, Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Guest Book at

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