Gerrit Lansing: “Your Kiss Is My Justice”

Photographers Unknown, Your Kiss Is My Justice

Dreamer of purified fury and fabulous habit,
your eyes of deserted white afternoons
target, stiffen, riot with unicorn candor
so I swallow your body like meanings or whisky or as you swallow me.
 
Break rhythm here:      your kiss is my justice:
look then now how orange blooms of jubilation unfold in satisfied air!
This sex is more than sex, under the will of the God of sex,
so I softly invoke transformation of your rueful image of haven
–those frozen rocks, that guilty lighthouse isolate from temptation–
to warm Flemish landscape green and brighteyed with daisies of
     dizzying color
where pilgrims are dancing after gospelling bird who sing of
      new springs, good water.
 
Garret Lansing, A Poem of Love in Eleven Lines, Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth, 2009

Born in Albany, New York in February of 1928, Gerrit Lansing was a poet, editor and critic. After a brief stay in Colorado Springs, his family  moved to the Cleveland area where his father served on Western Reserve University’s board of trustees.  A piano prodigy, Lansing played Bach, Mozart and Scriabin for pleasure and, in his teen-years, played pop songs with a band. In the mid-1940s, he attended Harvard College, where he studied philosophy and  graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949.

Gerrit Lansing’s social set during his college years included the artist Eduard Gorey, poets Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery, and his childhood friend, the writer and poet Kenward Elmslie. His poetic origins can be traced back to his time at Harvard, where he studied the works of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, under critic and biographer Richard Ellmann, and attended readings by T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. Upon graduation from Harvard, Lansing relocated to New York City, where he received his Masters Degree in English from Columbia University and worked on the Columbia University Press.

In the early 1950s, Lansing became friends with Harry Smith, the artist, filmmaker, and musicologist best known for his 1952 “Anthology of American Folk Music”. Both interested in jazz and bebop music, they also studied magic together under Count Stefan Walewski, owner of New York City’s Esoterica curio shop. It was through his association with lyricist John LaTouche that Lansing was introduced to the world of theater, ballet and opera and to a network of writers. Known in his circles as a thinker and conversationalist, he associated with writers Christopher Isherwood, Paul and Jane Bowles, Alan Ginsberg, and Jack Karouac; painters Larry Rivers and Jane Freilicher; and poets Robert Kelly and Jonathan Williams.

Lansing’s poetry first began to appear in New York School periodicals such as “A New Folder”, “Semi-Colon”. and later in a small offset literary journal entitled “Set” which he edited.  By the time the first of Set’s two issues appeared in 1961, Lansing had grown weary of New York City and accepted an invitation by his acquaintance John Hays Hammond Jr., the pioneer of the electronic remote control, to stay at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The invitation to Lansing came through Harry Martin, who was LaTouche’s lover at that time and also the clandestine lover of John Hammond.

In Gloucester, Gerrit Lansing met two men who would greatly shape his life; the first was Charles Olson, an innovative poet and essayist who was previously rector at Black Mountain College. Lansing surprised Olson with an unannounced visit to the poet’s Fort Square apartment and soon became a fast friend, drinking companion, and regular correspondent with him. He also made arrangements for Olson’s first public reading of his work. Lansing was the understated expert for Olson on the role of tarot, astrology, and the esoteric; his knowledge would have an impact on Olson’s 1952 collection, “The Maximus Poems”. The second man to shape Lansing’s life was Deryk Burton, a sailor born in Wallasey, England, who skippered private yachts. They met at the Studio Restaurant on Rocky Neck in Gloucester and soon became lifelong partners.  Together they set up house in Gloucester and sailed private yachts to their winter berths in Florida and the Caribbean.

The deaths of close friends, Charles Olson and Boston poet Stephen Jonas, both within a month of each other in early 1970, greatly affected Lansing. In 1972, he and Burton left Massachusetts on a period of wandering which led to Annapolis, Maryland, due to Burton’s nautical career. There, Lansing co-founded the antiquarian bookstore, Circle West, which specialized in rare occult books. He was also hospitalized successfully for alcoholism, a result of his earlier drinking bouts with friends and gay bar cruising.

In 1982, Lansing and Burton returned to Gloucester. Intrigued by the occult since high school, Gerrit had become an encyclopedic resource on the topic and opened in Gloucester a second bookstore, Abraxas, which specialized in magic, philosophy, and rare esoteric volumes. Lansing operated the Abraxas bookstore until his and Burton’s retirements in 1992. They then purchased a sea captain’s house overlooking Gloucester Bay where they spent the remainder of their lives.

A careful reader and interpreter of Emerson’s works, Gerrit Lansing used a range of forms in his poetry to explore spiritual, social, and natural engagements with the world. His books of poetry include the 1995 “Heavenly Tree/Soluble Forest”, a cross-genre collection entitled “A February Sheaf” published in 2003 by Pressed Wafer, and the 2009 “Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth”. He collaborated, along with conceptual-installation artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, on the 2002 art book “Turning Leaves of Mind”.

Predeceased by his partner Deryk Burton, who died in 1997, Gerrit Lansing died peacefully at his Gloucester home on the evening of February 11th in 2018, at the age of ninety years.

Note: An interesting read on Gerrit Lansing’s work is an article, entitled “ The Metaphysics of Gerrit Lansing”,  written by Robert Baker for the online literary magazine, Rain Taxi. It can be found at: https://www.raintaxi.com/the-metaphysics-of-gerrit-lansing/

Also, the online publication, Wonderland, had a memorial article on Gerrit Lansing in which personal remembrances by three close friends of Lansing are included. That article can be found at: https://gregcookland.com/wonderland/2018/03/02/gerrit-lansing-3/

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