LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: A Letter to Gerrit Lansing (1928-2018), by George Kalamaras

"The writing/riting of poetry is for Lansing a testing of the human imagination against the creative and destructive powers of nature and the universe. It is the most serious of games and should only be played by those who would risk everything, but for those, there are worlds to gain."

"The Metaphysics of Gerrit Lansing"
by Robert Baker


Letter to Gerrit from Aurora

by George Kalamaras

On the plains east of Denver, near Aurora, sod huts lift a pioneer past. Say how the earth rises up to eat us. Kali Ma—you told me, the night we met, Gerrit—devours her young, transforming careful cattle-step into cosmic crust. It hurts to love this much. This deep. A weed is not the enemy. A dirty word. I repudiate the icicle of summer. I am completely Arctic, Hudson in my fur, in my response to the readings for the day—from Cixous, to Bakunin, to Francis Ponge, and The Secret Life of Plants. The decisiveness of a doorknob. The switchblade’s flung-sung. Music of the rib, especially when the breaths cease. The monstrous mustache of vulnerable underarm hair. The Heavenly Tree, you wrote, Grows Downward. The tree of yoga, body inverted, has hair as roots. Pushes particles of groin-fire up, back into the coal-shiver of the brain. Was it Sumeria or here in Aurora where we first met? How many lives ago? Friendship like ours doesn’t just speak. Which of us wrote a love note to the moon, begging it to enter, slantwise, our throat? The Lansings of Albany—our friend, Don Byrd, told me—spoke beauty. The lancings of Medieval England bloodlet disease, perforating the pluckings of a lute. When Wang Wei played his lute, pine trees bowed before him to drink of the willow? No. Wang Wei painted his toenails with turmeric, plants rising to coat his throat in strange hermit sage. How many men kneeled? How many women in sod huts died during childbirth? How many souls rushed to incarnate—at that place, at that time, on the Colorado plains—only to leave a three-day-old infant and return to the great edge of an echo?

My neighbor died this morning, passing one breath to the next. Eighteen years we breathed through one another, across the driveway, through the cedar siding, as we slept not thirty feet apart. It was sad as the sudden dust of childbirth up-thrust from the plains. Suddenly, I am middle-aged. More than sixty. I almost brought home the stray bluetick coonhound yesterday, even though my wife refused again and again. The blue and gray mottled ticking of my life is all mixed up, showing more and more through. Something clocked in Colorado’s sun-dead pines.

Last summer, the power stopped. Mary Ann and I fled a weekend to air-conditioned relief. Each night, outside the hotel so my beagle could pee, I saw a gorgeous short-skirted woman enter and leave with various men. She complimented my dog. Each morning, we small-talked—my hound sniffing weeds—over her first cigarette of the day. Baggy t-shirt, bare feet, no makeup mornings. The beautiful sore of her somewhat hoarse voice. Still, that gorgeous ass. Belle Watling. Bree Daniels. Baby Doe Tabor. I remembered all the wrong. The unsung drive keeping men alive. Killing them, one lay at a time.

There is a whalebone corset complaining my throat. The Garland of Letters, you told me, was the book I need. You told me your heart beats weak. I hear it across the continent loud as mouths, clacking Conestogas rutting the ruts. Here in Aurora with its sad-dried sod. Huts. Aching the ache. Deepening the Missouri Breaks.

(for Gerrit Lansing)

("Letter to Gerrit from Aurora" appeared originally in Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Issue 43, 2015)


About George Kalamaras:

 Photo by Jim Whitcraft

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

George Kalamaras is a former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016) and has published fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including The Mining Camps of the Mouth (2012), winner of the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM Chapbook Award, Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (2011), winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Contest, and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (2000), winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.

Meet George (and his beagle Bootsie, among other animal presences) in an audio interview at Radio Free Albion. The interview celebrates, in part, issue 13 of Court Green, including George's poem “Dream in Which Kenneth Rexroth Counts to Eight.” Follow George on YouTube, the Indiana Poet Laureate page on Facebook, and at the Wabash Watershed.

* * *

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Gerrit Lansing

by Ruth Lepson

The 11th way of looking:
"11. Emerson was one influence on Gerrit, but it’s impossible to list all the influences, so wide-ranging are his knowledge and the depth of his understanding. He knows the history and practice of Tarot, Eastern and especially Western magic, gnosticism and hermeticism, Daoism, Vedanta and Zen, and wicca, sometimes speaking at esoteric gatherings in Salem on subjects unknown to and hidden from most of us poets. Certainly he’s a poet of the imagination and of non-dualism and eroticism. Add to that deep reading in depth psychology, phenomenology (especially of the Merleau-Ponty type), natha–a tantric form of yoga, linguistics and social theory, ecstasy and enstasy, the imaginism of Douglas Fawcett, Carl Ruck and his study of ecstatic ritual, Wallace Stevens, Coleridge, and Yeats, whom he loved but whom, he realized, it would be deadly to imitate."

* * *

George recommends:

"How We Sizzled in the Pasture" at the Poetry Foundation.

"The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward" on the Nomadics blog.

And also, that you enjoy:

Gerrit Lansing on Close Listening

Program One:
Gerrit Lansing reads selections from his collected poems, The Heavenly Tree / Northern Earth (North Atlantic, 2009) (26:40)

Program Two:
Gerrit Lansing talks with Charles Bernstein, and guest Susan Howe, at Lansing’s house in Gloucester, Mass.  (55:43)

Heavenly Tree Northern Earth Gerrit Lansing cover.jpg

* * *

Gerrit Lansing, the author most recently of Heavenly Tree, Northern Earth (2009), presents a “conspectus” of poems from his early years through to recent work. Introduced by Ruth Lepson, the recording session is followed by a brief oral history conversation focused on an array of subjects, including Gerrit’s friendships with John Latouche, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, Stephen Jonas, and John Wieners (among many others), as well as his role as the editor of the 1960s magazine, SET.


Read George Kalamaras's other letters to:

·         John Haines

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Robert Bly

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         Ray Gonzalez

·         James Wright

Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your own


Long Way From, Long Time Since features letters written from writers, to writers, living or dead. Send us your queries and inquiries, your best wishes and arguments, and help us explore correspondence as a creative form. For letter submission guidelines, visit our submissions page or email cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.