Herman Berlandt, a poet and Bolinas fixture

Barbara Kayfetz
Herman Berlandt, a prolific poet, dreamed of creating a poetry museum. He died in May.  
08/10/2017

Herman Berlandt, who emigrated to the United States with his family from Chelm, Poland in the late 1920s, wrote a poem every day. Known by many in Bolinas, where he lived for almost 50 years, for his fierce love of poetry and music and his proclivity to break into dance, Mr. Berlandt died of old age on May 15, surrounded by family and friends. He was thought to be about 95 years old. “He was a fixture of the community of Bolinas,” photographer Ilka Hartmann, who helped take care of Mr. Berlandt in the last two years of his life, said. At the Mardi Gras celebrations the two attended just this year, Ms. Hartmann said “he was the heart of the party.” “He was really a poet in that way: always immersed in the present moment,” she said. Mr. Berlandt self-published dozens of collections of his work and helped promote the work of other poets worldwide. For many years, he published Mother Earth News, a quarterly journal that featured the work of poets from different regions across the globe. In 1975, he founded the National Poetry Association, which convened two-week celebrations of poetry in San Francisco for more than two decades. He also edited and published numerous collections, including an anthology titled “Peace of Parish,” which featured a foreword by poet and co-founder of City Lights, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Mr. Berlandt grew up speaking Yiddish and, according to Ms. Hartmann, did not remember when his language shifted to English—“yet he became such a master of words,” she said. At around age 16, he left his family in New York and made his way west. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he met his first wife and the mother of two of his children. He was married and divorced once more before settling with a third wife and child in Bolinas in the early ’70s. One of Mr. Berlandt’s dreams that was never realized was a national poetry museum in San Francisco that he imagined would feature a theater and a residency. Though the plans were stopped in their tracks after he developed heart complications around 2008, the idea was endorsed widely, including by representatives Nancy Pelosi and Lynn Woolsey, Willie Brown while he was mayor of San Francisco, poet laureates Robert Hass, Rita Dove, Janice Mirikitani, and many others. “The project, which had so much support and enthusiasm, should still go forward,” Barbara Kayfetz, a longtime friend and colleague in Bolinas, said. “The idea is suited to this area so perfectly.”