July 19, 1940 — January 16, 2016
by Jason Chatfield
Last night we remembered the late great John Farris; poet laureate of the Lower East Side.
John died on January 22nd this year, in the midst of a giant snow storm. The blizzard buried the city for 2 days. When the sun finally emerged, John was gone.
News spread fast of his passing. A note (below) appeared on our door that morning. As the days passed, friends and community members left their flowers in the grate.
“John Farris Torch bearer — you went out with the storm — fierce and beautiful.”
*(Loisaida is a term derived from the Spanish (and especially Nuyorican) pronunciation of “Lower East Side”. Originally coined by poet/activist Bittman “Bimbo” Rivas in his 1974 poem “Loisaida”, it now refers to Avenue C in Alphabet City, whose population has largely been Hispanic (mainly Nuyorican) since the 1960s.)
John was incredibly prolific. The amount of work he produced in his 70s alone would rival that of an artist in their 20s. He was constantly uncomfortable and angry at the status quo. The massive crowd of talent that gathered tonight to honour him was testament to his ability to indelibly rub off on people.
A projector shone images of John on the far wall, in his various incarnations over his 76 years. We’ll never know the likes of the community he belonged to again; it was of its time, and that time is gone.
Poets, friends and family got up, one-by-one and recited original works remembering John. Memories and stories — fond, funny and furious, entertained the full room for three hours.
His chair, desk and lamp took center stage. Atop his desk sat a body of work; sketches he’d turned out of the last years of his life. An unquenchable thirst for mastering drawing.
The giant pile of papers a result of his sitting in that chair in the corner by the window and just writing and drawing, writing and drawing, and drawing and drawing.
My wife and I have the privilege of now living in the space John called home for the last 25 years of his life. It’s still -and will always be- “John’s place”.
His corner by the window is now where I sit, and write, and draw and draw and draw. It’s a place so conducive to creativity; I’ve already produced some of my best work sitting in that corner.
His portrait hangs in our -his- apartment alongside a giant framed poem of his called Piledriver, and an old poster of his final exhibition, Dear John.
Today we had a ceremony in the back yard with all his friends, and our fellow Bullet Space residents. We stood around the old Maple tree where we scattered his ashes and raised a glass to John.
The New York Times ran this piece by Maggie Wriggley: