I was saddened to learn yesterday that my friend, the eminent Gloucester poet Gerrit Lansing, has entered care for the end of his long and amazing life. (Update Jan. 12: And heartbroken to hear this morning that he has died. The Gloucester Writers Center just announced: “We have lost a great friend, poet and lover of life. Gerrit peacefully passed last night wrapped in sleep and surrounded by friends and loved ones.”) His 90th birthday is this month. He has been an inspiration to me by his calm and impishness, by his seeming to have read everything and his continuing deep engagement with all of culture. He grew up on a farm in Ohio, studied at Harvard (where he fell in with poets Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery) and then moved to New York, where he seemingly knew all the creative types, from Harry Smith (with whom he smoked much weed; also he recalled Smith’s Madison Avenue apartment being absolutely bare except for magical symbols. Smith: ‘Don’t cross that line, or you might get paralyzed’) to Edward Gorey (they went to the ballet together). He edited Set, a journal of modernist poetic and metaphysics. Among his books are “Heavenly Tree,” “Northern Earth,” and “A February Sheaf.” He is engaged with mysticism and alchemy and earthy things. He hunts the woods for mushrooms. In the 1960s (I think), he lived at John Hays Hammond Jr.’s Hammond Castle in Gloucester and took part in naked swimming parties in the pool. He talked poetry with Charles Olson–and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley and Diane di Prima and John Wieners. His partner Deryk Burton was a yacht captain and they sailed the East Coast, with stays at Fort Lauderdale and Annapolis, before he moved back to Gloucester in 1982. Which is lucky for me because that’s where I’ve been so lucky to meet him.
Pictured: Gerrit Lansing reads at the Gloucester Writers Center, Feb. 27, 2016. (Greg Cook)
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