Gerrit's Story

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GLOUCESTER- Poet, bookseller, and incomparable host and conversationalist Gerrit Lansing died peacefully at his Gloucester home on the evening of Sunday, February 11, 2018, in the company and loving care of close friends. Gerrit Yates Lansing was born on February 25, 1928, in Albany, N.Y., the son of Charles B. and Alice (Scott) Lansing. After a brief stay in Colorado Springs, Gerrit and his family moved to the Cleveland area, where his father, an engineering consultant and metals executive, served as Chairman of the Western Reserve University board of trustees. At Harvard College, which Gerrit graduated from in 1949, his social set included the artist Edward Gorey, poets Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery, and childhood friend Kenward Elmslie. After graduation, Gerrit moved to New York City, working for Columbia University Press, and receiving a master's degree from Columbia in 1955. In the heady atmosphere of 1950s New York City, Gerrit partied with theatrical and literary celebrities too numerous to mention, but the stand out figure in his social circle was the lyricist John LaTouche, who at one point hired Gerrit to adapt the writings of H.P. Lovecraft into a film treatment. Through LaTouche and Harry Martin, Gerrit befriended the inventor John Hays Hammond Jr., prompting Gerrit to move to Gloucester, where he initially lived in Hammond Castle. In Gloucester, Gerrit met two men who greatly shaped his life: poet Charles Olson and sailor Deryk Burton. Olson he surprised with an unannounced visit to the poet's Fort Square apartment. Gerrit became not only a friend and correspondent with Olson, but also the quiet expert on the role of tarot, astrology, and the estoreric on Olson's writings and thought. At the Studio Restaurant on Rocky Neck, Gerrit met the love of his life, Deryk Burton, a sailor born in Wallasey, England, who skippered private yachts. Together, Gerrit and Deryk sailed these vessels to their winter berths in Florida and the Carribbean. Intrigued by the occult since high school, Gerrit became an encyclopedic resource on the topic, opening his bookstore Abraxas, which specialized in magic, philosophy, and rare esoteric volumes. Gerrit was a beloved and influential poet whose book Heavenly Tree, like Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, grew through the years. Its most recent iteration, Heavenly Tree Northern Earth, was published by North Atlantic Books in 2009. A February Sheaf, a volume of selected poetry and prose, was published by Pressed Wafer in 2003. As a young poet, Gerrit published two issues of a literary magazine, SET. Gerrit was also a gifted amateur pianist whose love of music infused his poetry. Visitors who heard him play Francis Poulenc on his antique Steinway counted themselves lucky. Gerrit was predeceased by his partner, Deryk Burton, as well as by his siblings, Charles B. Lansing Jr. and Alice J. Lansing, his nephew, James P. Lansing, and his cat Hector. His is survived by his dear friend and housemate, John Giglio, and the Lansing family: nephew, John Townsend Lansing Sr., and grandnieces and nephews Suzi Lansing Davis, Charles B. Lansing IV, J. Townsend Lansing Jr., Sarah W. Lansing and Gerrit Y. Lansing IV. Gerrit will be profoundly missed by the community of poets, writers, artists, composers and musicians across the United States and beyond whose lives will be forever enriched by him.
A Memorial celebration will be held at the Hammond Castle on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at 5 p.m. with a reception to follow at the Magnolia Library Center. In lieu of flowers, donations in honor of Gerrit can be made to the Gloucester Writers Center: gloucesterwriters.org.
Arrangements are by the Greely Funeral Home, 212 Washington Street, Gloucester.
Published on February 14, 2018
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