Yesterday, I received the sad news from Miles Champion that poet, teacher, editor, and friend Larry Fagin died peacefully in New York City. Larry always stressed the importance of looking up, and this snapshot by John Sarsgard beautifully distills that small gesture of optimism he embodied so naturally, and gently. Even thinking about death:
I can die
Larry was the first real poet I ever met. I must have been 19 or so. It was a memorable spring day on the Lower East Side, kids zipping around Tompkins Square Park, birds, and the smell of soft earth was in the air. My friend Luisa Giugliano had hired Larry as a private tutor, as so many poets of our generation had. Larry taught out of his living room, providing long lists of paintings to look at, books to read, movies to watch. We met outside his apartment on East 12th Street between First and Avenue A. He looked so cool with his elbow propped on the building, holding his breezy hair in his hand, and spoke enthusiastically about something called the ‘internet’ where you could buy any record you wanted.
We remained friends for two decades and spent many afternoons hanging out in his living room. We read together just once, at the Bowery Poetry Club just before Christmas in 2008. The recording is here. Larry thought it would be fun to do the shortest reading ever, so we agreed to each keep our sets to ten minutes or less. The audience was a little bewildered, but it was a sweet and modestly refreshing occasion in its own way.
I loved Larry’s poems, and at some point I typed up everything I could find, scouring all the chapbooks and little magazines for lost gems. Then Bill Berkson and I started editing with the idea that Cuneiform Press could publish a new selected poem. But that never happened. When I presented the idea to Larry, he wasn’t very interested in re-publishing the poems he had written back in 60s and 70s, but he was enthusiastic about his newer work, a book-length collection of prose poems called Complete Fragments.
As a greenhorn publisher, I felt very fortunate that Larry trusted me with his work. I believe this was the first full-length collection since I’ll Be Seeing You, which was published by Full Court Press in 1978. Larry had interesting ideas about anonymity and ego, and although he wrote a lot, viewed publishing as another enterprise, tho he was always sending me chapbooks his students had written, as well as his sharp journal Sal Mimeo. Here’s one from Twelve Poems.
of this. . .
this. . .
He was a wonderful editor, collaborator, and friend, and I’ll miss him. In early April I was in New York visiting Richard Hell, who lives in the same building just above Larry (we used to hear his footsteps through the ceiling). I felt an absence walking though those doors I had walked though for the first time two decades ago, passing his familiar apartment, and going up another flight knowing he wasn’t there.
A few weeks ago he sent me a copy of Eleven Poems for Philip Guston, a suite he wrote in 1978 and ’79 which he read at the Poetry Project’s Homage to Guston in 1980. I made a little collage postcard to thank him, and that was our last exchange. The envelope with his return address (at the hospital) is still in the printshop. Here’s another from Twelve Poems:
Paperback copies of Complete Fragments (Cuneiform Press, 2012), are available from Small Press Distribution and few copies of the lettered hardcover edition signed by Larry and cover art artist Glen Baxter are available direct from Cuneiform.
— Kyle Schlesinger
Memorial Day, 2017