We were saddened to learn of the death of Columbus activist and nationally recognized poet Elizabeth Ann James last Sunday, August 4. Elizabeth was a long time supporter of the Free Press and other local independent media. where she covered the local cultural arts scene. At one time she was a regular contributor to the FP and in the mid-late 1980s we shared a poetry column here.

Elizabeth was one of the first people I met when I moved to Columbus in 1979. (The late FP editor Libby Gregory was the first.) EA, as I like to call her, encouraged me to write, create, and learn. We were early members of Writers Roundtable, where good, bad, and ugly writers met monthly to vent, test our work, and cement friendships that last to this day. EA liked to hold potlucks--more like salons with a mixture of artists, writers, and political activists and neighbors--and poetry“workshops” at her home (where she also taught ballet, which I managed to avoid). I remember one such event where we read Amy Lowell as an exercise, and then attempted to write something along those great lines. Sometimes she'd pass out autumn leaves or construction paper cut into shapes, or costume jewelry, and expect us to wax poetic on them. She was a master of the “found poem” picking up scraps of overheard conversation, often picked up during her tenure as a sample lady in supermarkets, and turning them into surreal narratives of strangers.

In the early 1980s (the date escapes me at the moment) EA and I founded Cows in Flight (COF), Columbus' first poetry band. We were joined by Mike Dittmer and WOSU-AM's Fred Andrle, who as it turned out, was surprisingly Druid in style and content. COF made history and the national news when we performed a poetry reading at the old Clintonville White Castle at midnight.

Elizabeth was also a co-founder of the Umbrella Poets , the Poetry Forum at Larry's, and often performed at the Cultural Arts Center, the Columbus Arts Festival, bars, and other non-traditional” venues She published in quality journals all over the country.

Elizabeth worked tirelessly for human rights and dignity through her art. She was a member of Central Ohioans for Peace,

Elizabeth's aesthetic was “different.” It would be a disservice to say she was a romantic, but she was an amalgam of Sylvia Plath, James Whitcomb Riley, and, of course, Amy Lowell. Elizabeth was, at heart, a localist in that she wrote much about Ohio, but with an eye turned to universal experience and truth. She was a very American poet in the sense that she captured the outward American experiment but with the inward voice of beauty, tragedy, and dread. You could almost picture Elizabeth, in her pair of pink satin ballet shoes, treading water through the 1912 Columbus Flood-- the topic of one of my favorites poems -- though without the slippers. Elizabeth wrote “in the moment.”

Elizabeth is survived by her husband Adnan Shiblaq of the home, sons Salah Shiblaq of Columbus and Omar Shiblaq and granddaughter Hannah of Alexandria, Virginia, sisters Chris Llewellyn and Sara Rinehart, brothers John and William Porter, and numerous extended family.

A memorial service for Elizabeth will be held from 1:00-4:00 PM Saturday September 7, 2013 at the First Unitarian-Unilateralist Church, 93 E. Weisheimer Rd. Columbus.

I have designed a memorial page, “Remembering Elizabeth Ann.” at Maddog Marley. She had many many friends in the arts and progressive communities. Please send your thoughts and remembrances of EA to me at and I'll post them.


Marley Greiner is on the board of the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism and has written for the Free Press since 1980.