Michael Perkins of Glenford died at Archcare at Ferncliff in Rhinebeck, New York of complications from Parkinson’s Disease on February 10, 2022, at age 79.
Born in 1942, Michael was the eldest child of Virginia F. Davis and William Perkins. He spent his early childhood roaming the neighborhoods of Portsmouth, Ohio, taking care of his younger sister and listening to tales of his Appalachian ancestors who settled Hensley Hollow in the hills of northeastern Kentucky. As a teenager in Dayton, Ohio, his prize-winning poem in a contest sponsored by a local radio station marked the beginning of a long career as a poet, novelist, essayist, aphorist, critic and self-described culture vulture.
After graduating from Ohio University with a degree in philosophy, Michael escaped the confines of midwestern life to pursue his artistic dreams in New York City. While eschewing membership in any artistic or literary movement, he befriended a diverse array of writers and artists, including Kathy Acker, Ray and Bonnie Bremser, William Bronk, Andrei Codrescu, Edward Dahlberg, Samuel R. Delany, Ron and Freya DeNitto, Thomas M. Disch, Charles Gatewood, Jay Gertzman, Mikhail Horowitz, Sherry Kearns, Richard Kostelanetz, James Lasdun, Bruce McPherson, Hester Mundis, William Pachner, Ed Sanders, Melvin Van Peebles, Marco Vassi, Janine Pommy Vega, Henry Weinfield, and Daniel Wolff.
By 1973, Michael had retreated to the quieter, but no less artistic refuge of Woodstock, New York, where he published The Secret Record: Modern Erotic Literature, and dozens of novels, books of poetry, and critical essays. Of The Secret Record, author Gay Talese wrote, “Some of the most interesting and perceptive literary criticism in recent years has been done by Michael Perkins.” Michael believed that great art could come from any literary genre or subgenre, from detective fiction to westerns to science fiction, and he devoted much of his career in fiction and criticism to exploring the centrality of eros to human life.
In Woodstock, Michael evolved, much to his own surprise, from rebellious non-conformist to informal town sage and community pillar, all from the base of his beloved home on Ohayo Mountain Road, where he could be seen walking the six-mile roundtrip every day to and from town.
Michael served as program director for The Woodstock Guild; volunteered as treasurer of the West Hurley Fire Department; helped organize the Woodstock Poetry Festival; chaired the Woodstock Library Fair committee for 18 years; and chaired the Woodstock Bicentennial Committee. One of his proudest accomplishments was founding and running the Woodstock Library Forum for over thirty years, which brought the best intellects and creative minds to enrich the cultural life of Woodstock. Another was receiving the William R. Ginsberg Stewardship Award from the Woodstock Land Conservancy with his friend and frequent collaborator, Will Nixon, for their commitment to protecting and celebrating the natural beauty of Woodstock.
No description of Michael’s life would be complete without mentioning his love of mountains and wild spaces and experiencing them on foot. Michael famously hated cars and never drove anywhere he could walk. To celebrate the bicentennial of Woodstock, New York, Michael walked 150 miles to Woodstock, Connecticut. And he is well-known in town as the co-author of Walking Woodstock, the standard reference guide for local walkers and hikers.
In later years, as Parkinson’s Disease limited his ability to hike, Michael still enjoyed ambling through town and writing much-beloved columns about his observations of town life and history for the Woodstock Times, later collected and published as The Woodstock Flaneur. Following a hip injury, Michael spent several years living in Boston with his daughter, son-in-law and three of his grandchildren. In 2019, Michael returned to the Hudson Valley and took up residence at Archcare at Ferncliff in Rhinebeck, New York, where, true to form, he became beloved and admired, his charm shining through even when Parkinson’s severely limited his ability to communicate and COVID kept his family and friends away.
Michael was predeceased by his first wife, Renie Shoemaker McCune, and his sister, Linda Sue Gabriel. He is survived by his wife of forty-three years, Sondra Howell; his children, Leslie Perkins McKewan (Colin McKewan), Djuna Perkins (Joshua Coben), and Zachary Perkins (Mimi Vicente); and his grandchildren, Stephanie Perkins and Rena, Nathaniel, and Theo Perkins Coben.
Burial at the Woodstock Artists Cemetery will be private. A celebration of Michael’s life will take place in the spring.
Just as Michael’s poetry career was launched by the prize he received at age fourteen, so his family hopes to create a lasting legacy by inspiring new generations of young writers. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to help establish the Michael Perkins Memorial Poetry Prize, an annual award for promising poets in Ulster County, New York, high schools. https://gofund.me/f30c9913