Farewell Neeli Cherkovski

From the New York Times, March 29, 2024: Neeli Cherkovski reads at the Beat Museum January 22, 2016, in celebration of his newly published book ‘The Crow & I’ (Photo by Ria Burman)

Neeli Cherkovski, poet, biographer, friend and fellow traveler to many Beat and Beat-adjacent poets, writers, and artists, died March 19th. He was 78.

A prolific, even compulsive poet, Neeli leaves behind an extensive body of poetry; practically a daily document of a life in letters. He’ll also be remembered for his biographical work honoring fellow writers and poets, from Charles Bukowski to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whom he counted among his close friends. His 1988 book Whitman’s Wild Children: Portraits of Twelve Poets features Allen Ginsberg, Harold Norse, John Weiners, Philip Lamantia, Bob Kaufman, William Everson, Gregory Corso, James Broughton, Ferlinghetti, Bukowski, Michael McClure, and Jack Micheline. 

Shortly before his passing, Neeli was able to spend some time with his friend of many years, Raymond Foye. As quoted in the linked New York Times obituary, Foye observes:

“You could not mistake him for anything other than a poet. He was the quintessential bohemian flâneur, just this extraordinary figure who you couldn’t miss walking up and down the streets.”

Born in 1945, Neeli was significantly younger than the Beat poets he befriended, whose lives and work he documented, and he often mentioned being struck with the kindness, acceptance, and welcome they extended him when he first arrived in North Beach, a bright-eyed young poet with big dreams. Thusly he became a critical link between the Beats and later generations, a torchbearer of that same spirit of friendliness, encouragement, and support for young poets making their way.

Neeli was a dear friend, and gave many poetry readings, participated in panel discussions, and attended numerous other events at the Beat Museum over the years. We miss him.

New York Times: Neeli Cherkovski, Poet Who Chronicled the Beat Generation, Dies at 78