Arthur Carson passed away March 13 with his daughters, Maya and Tamar Carson, and his son-in-law, Rogelio Giron, singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Suzanne by his side.
Arthur Carson was born in Niagara Falls, New York, on Jan. 2, 1934 (1-2-34 … no wonder he loved and pondered numbers his whole life!). His childhood and young adulthood were filled with adventure (and some mischief) in the company of his beloved sister Barbara and brother Whitey, who predeceased him and who he respected enormously and loved completely. He and Whitey explored Rabbit Island in the Niagara River and had a very near miss with the falls on one outing. Barbara introduced him to renowned poets and to Mexico, where he followed her on her quest to learn bullfighting (quite the renegade, as a woman in the 1950s!), and where he lived on and off in his late teens and early 20s.
As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, he met the love of his life, Sydney, with whom he shared 63 years of marriage, romance, adventure, creativity, and intellectual respect and engagement.
Early in their marriage, they took a summer job with the Forest Service that led to taking three years off of school to live in a lookout where all necessities — including water — were brought up by horse once a week. They wrote poetry, Arthur fought forest fires, and they got to know each other very well. Each year when they knew the snows were coming and they were forced to leave, they moved to Mexico where they lived off of the horse races two winters and taught English the third.
Eventually Arthur graduated with a bachelor’s in linguistics and a master’s in English Language and Literature from UC Berkeley, where he taught English as a second language until he retired. Poetry and music were always central to Arthur’s life. He wrote poetry continuously, publishing his poems in multiple journals, and four books of poetry. Later in life he sang with the Berkeley Community Chorus, Bella Musica, and the Berkeley Community Chamber Singers, which brought him great joy and a community of music lovers. He was also an excellent classical guitarist, and an avid tennis player for many years.
An artistic high point of his life was co-creating Nightletter Theater with his wife, Sydney, and other talented local artists. Their work combined film, sculpture, soundscapes, puppetry, poetry, live music and acting, and they performed in the Bay Area and internationally to high acclaim in the 1980s-2000s. Arthur expressed his particularly poetic understanding of sound and language as a writer, sound designer, director, and actor to co-create 15 original works and installations for the company. Later, Arthur developed a video installation commissioned by the Oakland Museum and the Port Authority to create a media wall at the Oakland Airport. In the 20-by-8-foot media wall located in the baggage area of the Oakland Airport children appear in a huge window looking as if into a doll house and down at passers-by.
Arthur was a great lover of animals: from rabbits to dogs, who he appreciated and communed with. His dogs were always beloved companions throughout his life and an integral part of his family. He loved his family – his Sydney, his daughters and granddaughters, his son-in-law, and his nieces and nephews, and his animals– above all else and gave them his unconditional love. His friends remember him for his quiet, gentle manner, the twinkle in his eye, and his quirky (and slightly corny) sense of humor.
Arthur was a complex, somewhat otherworldly, generous, devoted, extremely intelligent, and creative being.
We want to express our gratitude to Vera, Silvia, Isabel, Louise, Rose, Linda, Marissa, Candance and Geoff, John, Peter, Michael, Mary Ann and Charlie, Patty and Bill, and Stan for making Arthur’s final years sweeter.
Memorial services will be held from 3-5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7, at the Northbrae Community Church, at 941 The Alameda, Berkeley.
THIRTY-FOUR PENNIES by Arthur Carson
If the sun is a golden clock in a dark room
or a bright thing on the beach
then what time does is a good thing
and we shall wake one morning in yellow air
and laugh at what life was.
Love is not a mistake; the rest was:
thirty-four pennies on the ground,
no one to pick them up. The moon
blazing; we wrinkled like my boots
and naked as air. We shall rise up
like a gentle flame.