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Poet Ted Joans Dies

Ted Joans, the Beat Generation poet famous for his ‘Bird Lives’ graffiti, died in his home in Vancouver, British Columbia on May 7 of diabetes complications. He was 74.

Born Theodore Jones on July 4, 1928 in Cairo, Ill., the African American poet later changed his surname to Joans simply to rid himself of the common “Jones.” After graduating from Indiana University with a degree in fine arts, Joans moved to New York City and became part of Greenwich Village’s burgeoning bohemian scene in the 1950s.

Joans was a jazz fan, evidenced by both his poems (one titled “Jazz Must Be a Woman”) and one of his oft-quoted sayings: “Jazz is my religion and surrealism is my point of view.” The rhythms and language of his poems have been likened to those in the blues and avant-garde jazz. When Charlie Parker died in 1955, Joans littered New York City streets with graffiti reading “Bird Lives.” A Joans painting by the same name, depicting the legendary saxophonist hangs in San Francisco’s de Young Museum. Upon Joans’ death, his companion, Laura Corsiglia, asked poets to write “Ted Joans Lives” on streets and sidewalks.

Joans never received the attention or success of contemporary beats like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. His career was enjoying a small resurgence at the time of his death, however, primarily due to the recent release of Teducation, an anthology of his work. He continued to write until his death.

Joans is survived by Corsiglia and 10 children.

Originally Published