Last Saturday, Feb. 24, hundreds of people gathered at Gloucester’s Hammond Castle for a memorial to eminent Gloucester poet Gerrit Lansing, who died on Feb. 11, a couple weeks shy of his 90th birthday. Amanda Cook hosted. Below are three remembrances spoken to the crowd in the castle’s great stone hall during the event:
3rian King | Singer, pianist and guitarist in the band What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?
When I was about 15 or 16, I met Gerrit Lansing. Out of curiosity, I ascended the stairs above the local dive bar to Abraxas Books. I waltzed in with my green hair, painted black nails, and combat boots. At least that’s how Gerrit remembered it. I bought a used biography of Jean Cocteau and a diary of Anais Nin. I felt so sophisticated. As he rung me up, Gerrit casually mentioned that he once had dinner with Anais. My eyes lit up. What? In my teenage brain, suddenly Gloucester was no longer this isolated island where nothing interesting happened. For me, Gerrit became the bridge to a much larger and more interconnected world.
Up until that point, I had never met a gay man who lived a life I wanted to emulate. This was a time when they were no gay-straight alliances and little queer representation on TV, and even being perceived as being gay was dangerous. But here was this man who was exactly what I wanted to be like.
In the early years of our friendship, Gerrit introduced to me to queer writers and artists like Jean Genet, Ginsberg, Rimbaud, Kenneth Anger, Eileen Myles. Gerrit later said he was a little cautious about what he disclosed about himself because I was young and he didn’t want to be accused of corrupting me. But I did buy William Burroughs’s “Wild Boys” from him for a dollar, and we’d talk about that, and it was the most natural thing. And there was also the supernatural.
We spoke a lot about magic, Tarot, and music, and other interests we enjoyed together. And in those critical teenage years of figuring out who I was, just being with him and Deryk on a regular basis, was incredibly affirming and enriching. Living as an example of what was possible, he may have saved my life. And not only did Gerrit live a life that was fascinating, full of art and magic, he made me feel like my life, my interests, my passions, were just as fascinating. He taught me that a true intellectual can find the intelligence in anyone and anything.
As the years went by Gerrit remained not only a mentor but an intimate friend. We had a special relationship in which we’d joke about sex and boys. We’d often have lunch at a particular Italian restaurant because we both had crushes on the waiter. And Gerrit enjoyed talking quite loudly about it so the waiter could hear us. Just last month, I was showing him some pictures of my latest romantic interest. He approved.
Something else I want to share about Gerrit was his insistence that I learn to sing one of his favorite songs “Nature Boy.” It came up in one of our earliest conversations about music. I finally did learn it, and he got to hear me sing it numerous times. But it wasn’t until I sang it to him the day after he died that I realized he lived his life in accordance with the lyrics. This will always be Gerrit’s song.
Timotha Doane | Poet
There are as many Gerrits in this room as there are ones of us.
I first met Gerrit when I was 19 in 1963. I was in the midst of coming out. He is one of my heroes and mentors.
He taught me to make my life my own: my own addictions, my own mistakes,
my own magic, my own gender, my own sex, my own art.
And, Gerrit modeled to me to be kind and support/allow others to be, to do the same.
He taught me to allow my life. Do not let others tell you what to do; they have no right.
He taught me to make my life my own out of my own imagination, my own love, and to love it, allow it to happen.
He taught me to recognize my own enemies, internal and external, and confront them in my own way.
He taught me to discover my own imagination and make my own love, make my own friends on every plane.
He taught me to make my own space, air, water, earth, and fire……
to make my own science, art, magic.
Jim Dunn | Poet
Gerrit Lansing, 1928-2018
Gerrit loved to take baths. He took them often. He loved the water and for many years he sailed upon it. Not only does the theme of water recur throughout his poetry but he was, to me, a magical body of water himself. As Bob Creeley said, or maybe it was my brother Kevin, water seeks its own level, takes the form of the container it is in, is colorless, and is the essence of life. At the sight of his friends, Gerrit’s face would light up immediately, his clear blue eyes would dance delighted like water rushing over stone. He would meet everyone at their own level and his influence would seep through. Like water, Gerrit’s spirit and intellect were constantly replenishing, cleansing and refreshing for whomever he selflessly shared these gifts.
Gerrit and I talked or saw each other almost every day. Our conversations would include a wide myriad of topics usually covering our day, our plans, food, restaurants, poetry, spirituality, readings, our friends, and books. Gerrit possessed a rare genius for not only having read more books than anyone I have ever met, but his special ability to connect idea to idea and book to book in casual conversation, was truly amazing to witness. Even with the wide range of knowledge he possessed and the pure genius of his work, his never ending interest and curiosity in people kept him vibrant and eternally young, right up to the moment of his death. No matter whom Gerrit would meet, whether they be a poet or a plumber, he would accord them the entire focus of his attention and the fruits of his delight. He once described his relationship with an old poet friend as “capering”- to skip or dance lively around. Gerrit was truly a capering spirit. His belief in Whitman’s idea of the adhesiveness companionship aspect of brotherly love was important to him. Fame never interested him. He believed in the idea that we do our best work in the shadows, under the radar. Although he became a recognized respected authority figure in many disciplines, he never courted such attention. His continual worldly curiosity and thirst for knowledge kept him youthful and full of a seemingly endless source of spiritual energy. Even as his body began to fail him and decline swiftly and irrevocably, his spirit was brimming, bright and strong and his presence and attention to the many people who came to visit him never wavered.
I am deeply grateful for his time, his friendship and his eternal generosity of spirit and of mind. I wish him fair winds and following seas.
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