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Poet fell to death from cliff

Published May 8, 2009 10:33 pm

Lost » Searchers say Arnold did not survive fall from cliff.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

An extended search of the Japanese island Kuchino-erabu for traces of Craig Arnold had offered up hope the poet might be injured, but still alive, among one of the island's many crevices.

That hope died Friday afternoon once a search team announced that a trail discovered the previous day showed signs that Arnold, 41, suffered a leg injury, then fell from a steep cliff to his death soon afterward.

"The only relief in this news is that we do know exactly what befell Craig, and we can be fairly certain that it was very quick, and that he did not wait or wonder or suffer," wrote Rebecca Lindenberg, Arnold's partner of six years, on a Web site she maintained during the search.

News of the discovery sent shock waves through several English department faculty members soon after University of Utah graduation exercises Friday afternoon. Arnold graduated with a doctorate from the U.'s creative writing program in 2001 after earning his bachelor's degree from Yale, and went on to teach poetry and literature at the University of Wyoming in Laramie in 2004. Arnold was exploring the island for a book he planned to write on the world's active volcanos, and had been missing since April 27.

"All the faculty at convocation was wondering, speculating and browbeating each other. Most had begun to turn a corner and realize that any good news would be unlikely," said Katherine Coles, U. faculty member and Utah poet laureate. "I'm sure everybody will share the deep grief of Craig's family, but also the relief that he wasn't lying injured for days."

Raised in a military family that lived in Texas but often lived abroad, Arnold garnered one of his first major literary prizes, the Yale Younger Poets award, for his 1999 poetry collection, Shells , while living in Salt Lake City. He went on to earn a Fulbright Fellowship and several major prizes that allowed him to live and study abroad, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Rome Prize in Literature for 2005. He was traveling in Japan this year through a U.S.-Japanese Friendship Commission's Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship. He visited Utah on Feb. 18 to read from his newest collection of poetry, Made Flesh , at the Salt Lake City Main Library.

Robert Pinsky, poet laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000, hailed Arnold as "one of the most gifted and accomplished poets of his generation."

Jacqueline Osherow, professor of English at the U. and Arnold's adviser in the doctoral program, said is devastated by the loss. Osherow said her letter recommending Arnold for the fellowship in Japan weighed on her at first after news of his disappearance, but has since lifted. She described Arnold as a big-hearted person whose immense talent let him do what he wanted in life.

"I'm more broken-hearted for him than the poems he didn't live to write," Osherow said. "This is a loss to American literature and letters. It's wrong to say he was full of promise, because he delivered on that."