Margaret Louise Skinner An American poet - By Sunil Deepak, June 2014

Margaret Louise Skinner was an American poet and a friend of my father. For a brief period in my childhood, probably in 1960-61, I had met her in Hyderabad (India). I remembered her as Margo. Almost fifty years later, a chance encounter with her old pictures, made me search for information about her and her "connection" to my father. Internet helped in this search. You can read about this search in my article "The old pictures", which talks about the gensis of her poem °To Deepak" (you can read it below on this page).

In 2013, I received a communication from Charlene Ungstad from USA. Charlene was a friend of Margo and her husband Fritz Reuter Leiber (a well known science fiction writer) and had read about Margo in my article "The old pictures". The picture below shows Margo with Fritz in 1984. Both had died in 1992. I wish that there was internet in 1980s and I had discovered this story about her and my father sooner, I would have tried to meet her during my travels in USA.

Charlene told me that after her return from India around 1962, Margo had worked as a cinema critic and written for Bay Guardian, Hollywood Reporter, Sacramento Bee, S.F. Chronicle, Toronto Star, Associated Press, Reuter, etc. In 1990, when her poetry book was published, she was holding a long-time position of art critic and writer of the San Francisco newspaper Asianweek and her occasional, highly regarded short stories had appeared in Whispers and other magazines..

Margaret L. Skinner

Margo's Letters to My Father

Few months later I discovered some of her letters written to my father that give some information about her. For example, in a letter dated 26 February 1963 written from Powel Hotel, 17 Powel Street, California, she had written:

"What news? How are health and spirits? My own are better than in some time. I am beginning to feel very alive again. Partly it is the spring breeze - that faint, fresh one that makes all the senses have visions. Partly it is the fact that I have gotten out of that incredibly decadent situation in which I was working, which would make something for a casebook in abnormal psychology. Still I suppose, it is all to the good; material for writing someday. But now I am with two very nice, good guys. The three of us sit and work in our little corners all day and around 10.30 AM and 3.30 PM by mutual consent, we turn around and have discussions of films, sports, philosophy and what all. They are dears and I am happy to be around them. The work is dull, but then much work is.

Also I am taking a short story writing course, which I find fascinating. I have had only one bit to hand in - the beginning of a story. You know I only wrote one before, the one that was in Mankind. But this second, only the beginning, they were wild about. I felt very flattered, also some sense that I was selling them a bill of goods. And then there is the question of how to finish it, but it seems to be growing under my hands. The teacher is very sensitive, and a writer, a selling writer himself. He puts great stress on "building" a story and outlining where you are going in advance. Since I want to write a novel - and indeed I have material, by God - this is probably all to the good, but all the same, I don't think you build'em. I think they grow, like plants or trees. Which also have form. But the people in the class are very interesting and creative. Some of the stuff that has been turned in seems very professional to me, and the teacher says, this is the best group he has ever had, with a number of people in it who have very real talent. I hope he includes me. I am scared of him - and this is a schoolgirl reaction too. Well still it is true. You would enjoy these folks."

As Green As Emeraud - Poetry Book by Margaret Louise Skinner

Charlene was kind enough to send me a copy of Margo's book of poetry "As Green as Emeraude", that she had dedicated to my father, Om Prakash Deepak with the following words: Poet, Philosopher and Friend, a great Hindi novelist and non-violent revolutionary, whose name means light.

About her poems, which were compiled by Donald-Sidney-Fryer and published by Dawn Heron Press (1990) Ella Leffland wrote: In these poems Margo Skinner combines substantive content with soaring imaginative powers, creating a unique vision of the world around us. Here is an unmistakable and immensely enriching voice.

Ramsey Campbell wrote: Margo Skinner is a mistress of American poetry at its most fantastic and visionary. As Green As Emeraud is a delicate, exhilarating, and moving book that should take its place beside George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith.

Jonathan V. Post wrote: Emeraud, variant spelling of Emerald, a bright green beryl; heraldic 'vert'; a typesize between nonpareil and minion. As her title suggests, Margo Skinner is a poet who reveres and understands history. She captures a unique and thrilling synthesis of myth, legend, fantasy, whimsy and contemporary concerns. Precise in her language, sweeping in her vision, her craft is as polished as a gemstone, as colourful as a heraldic shield. Her poems glow.

Fritz Leiber in his introduction to this book provides the following information regarding Margo: Her own Italianate journey, so dear to the Romantics, took a wider and more southward course, bearing her first to Hawaii, where she began an investigation, which still continues, of the globe-spanning antecedents of the volcano goddess Pele; second to the Philippines, where she was a Fullbright exchange lecturer; next to teeming Calcutta and tropic Hyderabad, where she lived for two years, editing the English journal Mankind, voice of the Indian Socialists still espousing Gandhi's non-violence and firing and enriching her devotion to the conservation of all life and its divinity ...

Finally Donald Sidney Fryer in the Afterword to the book had written: Margo Skinner is that rara avis indeed, a Romantic poet, with a tone and style uniquely her own, and her tone is at once of celebration and compassion. Her mode of presentation is refreshingly clear and straightforward with a strong narrative drive and with a singularly rich vein of imagery.

Margaret L. Skinner

Some Poems by Margaret L. Skinner

Some poems linked with her stay in India during the 1950s from this book are presented below.

To Deepak

You were the purest heart I ever knew

Now you are gone leaving nothing

Your beautiful body burned in a burst of smoke:

There is not even a grave to weep by.

Only your atoms, dissipated in the Indian air,

floating on the east wind, ashes for earth's


My hands still feel your touch.

I see your eyes.

I hear your voice in the brazen Indian skies,

Recall your sandaled foot as mine touches earth.

Are you truely gone into the great night?

Or are you in my body and my heart?

Part of the drama of the cells and the blood,

Living while I live?

Your poetry remains

And the great novels.

The voice of a singing girl echoes your music.

The clank of an anklet on a dancer's foot,

The flight of parakeets like green fire

The cry for Justice (and mercy),

The pi-dog that crept into your house and slept

beside you,

The starlit stream at Hyderabad,

The white horse you rode at Jullander in a charge

for freedom,

The tiger in the forest where you slept unfearing,

My breast on which you rested long ago.

Live in the stars and rain,

The love of peasants,

Rice and wheat growing in the ancient earth.

Live in the spirit of freedom.

Live in light.


By the great golden bell of the Shwedagon,

By the emerald current of the distant river,

By jasmine night

By burning sunlight

And the sacred face of the living Buddha

I swear to love you forever,

Meeting when the turning wheel turns

And when it ceases;

Parting never.

At Mahabalypuram


Six temples sleep under the sea.

The stone of Vishnu's house seeps into sand,

As the winds of the East and the winds of the West

Whip against seventh Holy Place

Within, the God sleeps with smiling face.


The waves are lapping at Vishnu's feet

As he sleeps in his stone house on the shore,

Tranquility in his splendid face

And the strong god's body stone heavy with sleep

Will you rise, Vishnu, when the tempest roars,

Look out of your windows to the East and the West,

Then stride the waves into calmness,

Lull the furious sea into laughing peace

And preserve us now, in the time of the thunder?


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