The night that Trish called to tell me that Darin Whittaker, also known as Father Sluggo to both poetry and music fans, was no longer with us we had already been missing him. Concerned about bringing Covid home to his aging parents, he hadn’t been at the open mic for quite a while and we were having technical difficulties. “If Darin was here, he could fix this,” I had said, not realizing what had happened a few days before.
He was a talented poet and we loved what he brought to the mic, but it was his kindness and the way that he stepped up to help without needing to be asked that made him indispensable in our poetry community. He took it upon himself to hang fliers around town, help move tables, and, yes, magically make the touchy amp actually work.
I was able to attend his funeral in Orem, Utah and convey our condolences to his family. A copy of Orogeny was laying open in a display of beloved personal items (like his distinctive hat!). I looked closely to see his familiar eyes in his clean-cut high-school-senior-photo face. As I said a final goodbye, it felt like he could hop up at any minute. It still seems a bit unreal that he is gone. His sister read two of his poems during the service and I could hear his voice in my mind as clearly as if he had actually been at the open mic that week. His niece shared some of his favorite jokes (groaners, all of them) and another sister shared touching and fun stories from his life.
The pews were packed, as well you might imagine they would be, and I kept thinking about how many people there were who wanted to come but couldn’t. And that doesn’t even come close to the number of people he touched in his 48 years. How I wish he had 48 more.
4 thoughts on “Rest in Peace, Father Sluggo”
To me, Darin represented courage. I first met him on the first night I attended SfY, at Colin Douglas’s suggestion. He had signed up on the sign-up sheet as “Father Sluggo,” and when he got up to read, he was visibly shaking, swaying a little, twitching. At first I wondered if he were drunk, or stoned, but as I watched and listened to him, I realized that the twitching and swaying was involuntary. He was speaking, and even laughing, and causing us to laugh, in the face of adversity. He did not apologize for his condition, or even acknowledge it. He was at the mike for the audience, more than for himself. That was on 7 May 2015. I had just turned 70. Darin had just turned 43.
The next time I saw him, on the next meeting of Speak for Yourself, he demonstrated an even greater virtue than courage. He had an antic sense of humor and invited us to laugh with him. He had a buzzer he had gotten from Staples, intended to signify “Get it done.” He used it to buzz himself every time he used a vulgarism, and he had written a poem to allow him to press the buzzer often. Everyone laughed and enjoyed the show. He knew how to put an audience at ease.
Thanks for sharing that, Dennis! Great memories.
Thanks Trish and Dennis for sharing your thoughts and memories of Darin.
I remember the times Darin and I spent browsing books in the Pioneer bookstore, he had a great grasp and knowledge of modern novels and literature. I enjoyed reading at least two books that he recommended.
But what I remember most is having the opportunity to read out loud at an open mic a couple of his poems and how impactful they were to me. I considered him one of my favorite poets in the Rock Canyon Poetry group (sorry guys now you know the truth!). I have been missing Darin since Covid and I feel that we have lost a very good friend.
Oh I re-read that and realized the top message was from Marianne. Thanks Marianne for posting this and sharing your thoughts.