With Landis Everson

Bill Berkson

Ben Mazer had arranged for Landis Everson and me to read together in the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard, but when I arrived in Cambridge Ben told me that Landis, whom I had never met, had had a stroke that morning and was in Massachusetts General Hospital and clearly would be in no shape to read that evening. When Ben and I got to Landis’s hospital room, Landis was obviously very disoriented but managed to greet me cordially, in fact, with a surprisingly large measure of warmth. I gave him the book I had brought to give him on the occasion of our reading: Fugue State. Landis held the book before him for a minute or so, looking in silence at the front cover. Then he slowly looked up at me and said very deliberately, "Hugo Flake."

Out in the sunlit hallway, Ben and I stood while Landis sat in his wheelchair, looking around him, obviously puzzled by the hospital environment. At last when a doctor and nurse stopped to ask him a question, Landis gathered his strength to ask them the question that probably had occurred to him many times over the past few hours: "Are all of you in some kind of play?"

That evening Ben substituted, leading off to read Landis’s poems beautifully and with great intensity. I followed, very aware of the surroundings: the famous "Poetry Room" at Harvard with its furniture, including the lectern I was standing at, designed by the great Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. At the end, our host Don Share told me that indeed it had fallen to me, by coincidence or not, to be the last reader in this room. The Poetry Room had to vacate its old quarters and the fate of the Aalto array of furniture was uncertain at best. "You are the last," Don said. "The first was T.S. Eliot."

Bill Berkson's notes

Bill Berkson's notes

BILL BERKSON's most recent books include Portrait and Dream: New & Selected Poems; a collection of art writings, For the Ordinary Artist; Not an Exit, with drawings by Léonie Guyer; and another words-and-images collaboration, Repeat After Me, with watercolors by John Zurier. He is Professor Emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, a contributing editor (poetry) for artcritical.com, and a corresponding editor for Art in America. He is working on a collection of autobiographical writings entitled Since When: Memoirs in Pieces.