JIM TIPTON: The Man Who Falls in Love with Everything
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
Some years ago, while browsing in the poetry section of the Ashland University Library, I came across a small chapbook with the title “The Wizard of Is,” written by a James Tipton. I had known a Jim Tipton back in my teenage years at Ashland High School. I had not seen or heard from him in 37 years. We had once been in the same Boy Scout troop, and been infatuated with the same cheerleader back in those halcyon days in 1957 of pony tails and bobby sox.
On the basis of those recollections, I wrote to the poet, then living in the wastelands of western Colorado, and inquired as to whether he was the same Jim Tipton I had known so many years before. A month passed, and then one day a large cardboard box arrived in the mail. I was amazed to find it filled with containers of honey, beeswax candles, and sheets of poetry. The Jim Tipton I had known so long ago as Boy Scout and saxophonist in a jazz band, had grown into a successful professor, stockbroker, entrepreneur and world- famous poet.
At the time, he was tending beehives in the rugged backcountry near Glade Park, Colorado, where he owned and operated the High Desert Honey Company. For several years, Jim returned to Ohio in the summer to teach poetry writing to young people at the Ashland University Governor’s Institute. We often got together, sometimes around a wilderness campfire, to swap stories and reminisce about old times. His masterpiece, to date, Letters from a Stranger, was published in 1998 and has gone through several printings.
The introduction, written by Isabel Allende, author of House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows and other bestsellers, catches the essence of Jim’s poetry. “Powerful strains of spirituality and sexuality intertwine and sometimes clash. His words flow like desert honey over the western landscape, extolling the joy in the eyes of his brown dog Ananda, the ancient om of bees, the creaking of an old house at night, pondering the loss of old loves, contemplating the ecstasy of new ones, contrasting the raw beauty of wilderness with noisy cities made of steel, probing the pain of an abandoned, damaged soul. He speaks of the healing of the wounded spirit.”
Our ships wreck, and we survive;
our hearts, stolen by pirates,
are not ransomed; but we
cannot weep forever for these
Tipton’s work sometimes juxtaposes opposites: Love and loss, light and dark, masculine and feminine, nature and civilization, good and evil, the yin and the yang of existence. In this quest, he taps into many ancient sources to reveal a spirituality that lies beyond definition. Many commentators have compared his work to that of Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. In one poem, he exults, “The day I was born was the day I began to fall in love with everything,” and goes on to say that he, such a magnificent worker of words, did not speak until he was three years old. Mostly, he celebrates life and love and joy. Writing poetry, he says, stems not from some spiritual discipline--it is more like eating donuts or butter cookies or being in bed with exotic women.
All women love Jim’s poetry and love Jim, a great bear of a man sporting a snow-white beard, “The captain of a pirate ship,” in Isabel Allende’s words. Allende continues, in describing her correspondence with Tipton following the death of her daughter Paula, “I began to open myself to that voice that was most certainly masculine and strong, but also tender and sensuous.” One commentator has observed, “Every woman would love to be loved the way Jim Tipton loves.”
His work has been published in ten languages and earned the accolades of many critics. Letters from a Stranger is available from www.amazon.com. Since relocating to Chapala, Mexico a few years back, he has published Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror, Washing Dishes in the Ancient Village, All the Horses of Heaven, and most recently To Love for a Thousand Years. He currently writes a popular column, “Hearts at Work,” for El Ojo del Lago, the largest English-language monthly magazine in Mexico.