Arlen W. Lazaroff

Prairie Poet

"The best way to be free
is to make your mind free."
Arlen Lazaroff, "Acid Free Paper" 1990



Arlen Wray Lazaroff was a progeny of Central Eastern European ancestry who had migrated a century and a third ago to the North American steppe - greatest prairie on earth - and in this, Arlen knew, more than most, what it was to live as an outsider.

The settlers and descendents of the greater Republican River Valley region, from whence Arlen came, were then, and even today, outsiders to this land, similar in outlook and experience to what Willa Cather wrote of her Virginia childhood in such works as O Pioneers! and My Antonia. In doing so Cather perpetuated a myth about the Central Great Plains embraced by the rest of the world, much as her lesbianism would be shunned as in his time, Arlen's own eccentricity in "being different, you know.”

In their adult lives both Cather and Arlen loved the theatre, music and the play of language, and though in her work Cather reflected upon a happy youth, Arlen, growing up in Alma, was placed in the straitjacket of Ritalin, conformity and intolerance. So as he grew older Arlen did what so many do who love life more than social convention, he withdrew into the larger world.

Arlen worked hard. Things other folks take for granted never came easily for him, but he never gave up. He earned a degree in Library Science from the University of Nebraska/Omaha but could not find a small town library willing to accept him as “an outsider.” Undaunted, he put together small jobs which often ended abruptly, as descendents of the pioneers attacked him “for being different.” Housing problems occurred for the same reason, but finally, with his long-time companion Tony he bought a house in an out-of-the-way village hamlet of Craig, Nebraska, for Arlen so loved small Nebraska towns, becoming an expert on their location and often in many cases, their demise.

It is sad but true that most of America's creative folk are not appreciated, and it is not unusual for them to be attacked for "living like artists," whatever that is supposed to mean. But artists and poets like Arlen continue to work on their art, for it is an intrinsic part of their lives. He took lessons and self-taught himself, molding his work upon the Beat Poets of the post Second World War, the minimalist music of John Cage, and the collage work of the Dadists, among others. He showed his art, he read his poetry aloud, he played music in various short-lived but artistically good bands. He was published in many small magazines and journals across the United States. His music and lyrics were recorded and passed among friends who savored them. Sometimes we had our disagreements, and Arlen would satirize his rancor toward us and others in such work. His poetry was self-published in a series of chapbooks now prized among his artistic colleagues. He traveled throughout the greater trans-Missouri region, and occasionally reached the coasts, spending brief times in such towns as Washington D.C. and New York City. But he always returned to his beloved Nebraska, the roots of his art and life.

Arlen was a true friend, and knew what that word meant. He stood alongside us when others publicly reviled our art and defense of the First Amendment as well as when the medical profession illegally invaded our family. He dug down into his pocket and gave us money when we were destitute, even as he often nearly was. Together across the generations we explored the abuse we had received at the hands of our natal Nebraskan town, and of the spirituality we had managed to survive with, in spite of abuses we received in our home town church. We laughed together, shared experiences, memories, literature, and even cats as we created beautiful moments of sharing in the midst of poverty.

In 1990 we were honored with our artwork being banned alongside Arlen’s by the Fremont Area Art Ass, an event that was statewide news for an entire summer, and was reported upon nationally. While such publicity was something that neither Arlen nor we sought, once it happened, we took humor in the irony of defending freedom of expression from those who feared it most. Years later before the turn of the century our studios received a grant from the state arts council to create our own rural-based website, and Arlen was one of the first artists we asked to join us. Now close to twenty artists from all over the United States are represented, and Arlen will remain a part of it.

In recent years Arlen was more ill than he let on to his friends, and he endured a serious of physical, emotional and financial setbacks. But he always remained positive and resilient, and had come to accept his life as an outsider, enough so that when faced with the decision to live less than he felt was worth a life well lived, he bravely stared down death and chose willingly to enter the Spirit World. We will miss him keenly for the rest of our lives.

Margery Coffey
richard chilton

Rosalie, Nebraska
November 26, 2005


Arlen with pictures, friends, poetry, music and art

Grandma and Grandpa Lazaroff's house
Traer Kansas 2001

Arlen and his father, James Lazaroff, Jr.

Pink Raccoon House

The pink house on the north end of a main street gone half dead,
Will no longer house humans-raccoons now claim it.
Their luminescent eyes compete with fireflies at dusk,
They live on apples fallen from neighbor‘s trees-
Blown there by prairie breeze.
Raccoons claim what’s theirs by squatter‘s rights,
They only need what we don‘t want.
They only take what we don‘t need.
They can have our green apples and the pink house at the north end
Of a main street we only halfway use.
What we‘ve forgotten is overgrown, Pepto-Bismol pink
And home for a band of once homeless raccoons.
A pink moon hangs heavy-full tonight in fact.
The raccoons are having a party in the back.
We once walked on the moon, now we don’t even walk half the earth!
And tonight Mother Earth gives birth to more raccoons
To take over all the little pink houses we don‘t need for ourselves!
We don‘t need much of anything, in fact!

Arlen's new CD coming out
recorded by John Chafe- at Rainbow
it contains five of Arlen's best poems as lyrics
Council Bluffs Iowa 2005

Arlen Lazaroff was a brilliant, inventive artist who produced at least eight books of fantastic poetry. Thank you for 20 years of friendship. I am lucky I knew you. May God give you peace and joy in a place where the music is beautiful.

Michael Hooper (Topeka, KS)

Mike Hooper and Arlen,
Craig Nebraska 2003

The Abandoned Poet

He's the one standing
alone at the back of the gallery,
wondering if someone would
look at his construction.
A car bumper and a
Barbie doll, a cross
of Jesus and a Wal-Mart shirt.
These are the symbols
of his art and poetry.
Caught between glamour
and myths, legends and
pop culture, this Great Plains poet
rages on.
There's too much convention today,
there's too many followers,
there's no room for independents.
The sheep willingly follow the wolves
to their death.
Americanization is commercialization
There's too much sameness on the streets
of America today. Where is originality?
Where is authenticity? Or is money all that
Ginsberg, Burroughs and
Kerouac are his heroes
But they are all dead now
and who listens to howlers anyway.
Tonight he's not at our party.
He's probably caught up in
legends, maps and genealogy
going with joy to somewhere, far away.

It may be 1921 when
his Bulgarian grandparents
settled in Traer, Kansas
Living on dried fruit and
salted hams, humble
resourcefulness was their legacy.
He wanders his tiny town
and ends up at the cemetery
looking at the timeworn graves.
The dates say they lived long lives
in now-forgotten places.
He sees an empty
house at the end of road
He imagines a family
of raccoons having a
party in the back.
He sings coons claim
what's theirs by squatter's rights
and they only take what we don't want,
they only take what we don't need.
Abandoned houses, cemeteries
and ghost towns, this poet is
shattered on the plains.
Somewhere between the myths,
legends and pop culture is my friend.
Maybe I will see him again.

----Michael Hooper, 2001

Arlen, Holly Dingman, Harry Dingman, Michael Hooper at Duffy's, Lincoln Nebraska 2005

Arlen was a guy that was very in tune with pop culture. His insights will be sorely missed. Rest in peace.

Bob Garfield (Constantine, MI)

Arlen with Sylvester

I could swing from a star by metal hooks

Made from disassembled body parts

Of my totaled cars

Listening to the last fading strains of a moonshot theme

Played by a warehouse full of robots in my dreams

While my expired date finishes the last notes of a dying song

Where everything went wrong

And the vehicle skidded off the edge

Of a black hole near an iceball planet

And everything froze for a moment in time

And we made it through a smash 45 accident

And landed on the other side of a mirror universe

Where the music was beautiful.

Yes it was accidental, but really

The music was beautiful

On the other side of that smash 45 accident ride

Arlen performing at Kilgore's 1994

 Go well, Arlen. I will always remember you well.

Max Monclair (Omaha, NE)

Joe Mette, Arlen and Buck Bowen at Kanesville
Council Bluffs Iowa, 2005

by Arlen Lazaroff c.2000

His body was planted and he grew a family tree,
A granite monument grew plastic trees every flag decorated holiday.
Veteran's of foreign wars bored the entire community,
It's a blue holiday for the survivor's of a boarded-up school alumni.
But in heaven all the ghosts are happy,
In heaven all the phantoms are laughing,
They're never down...they're all a bunch of pagan clowns
Released from the bonds and chains of organized religion!
Tourists from other dimensional lawn chairs watch video versions of their former lives!
His bones were buried in a sacred spot.
Fires burned at midnight and his ashes were scattered.
All his flesh turned into cosmic dust, his automobile all useless rust.
It's a blue holiday for the family tree.
Leaves of various sizes, shapes, and colors gather in a pile.
But in heaven all the plants are healthy, greener than any of your most acid dreams!
All the cats are full of cream!
Everything's more real than you expected it to be!

Photographs courtesy of Joe Mette, Lauren Lazaroff
and Arlen Lazaroff's Estate.

Train photo from Arlen's Uncle Carl's old slides
scanned by his son Dwight Franke

Quotes from friends originally appeared on the
Omaha World Herald Tribute site

                                                                   Photograph by Lauren Lazaroff

At the Library Cafe in Craig NE, clockwise:
Joe Mette, Michael Hooper, Margery Coffey, richard chilton, Tony Castanza
remembering Arlen, 2006

Tony and Arlen
On the side porch of their home in

Craig Nebraska 2003

Arlen at his show at
Rhawn York Gallery

Poet, artist, musician friend-like a brother for 20 yrs. -gone but never to be forgotten-the fun NE/KS/MO trips, the art & music-the dreams-always young-now forever free & at peace’ Thanks for the wonderful memories dear friend-always you will be close to me in my heart & soul!

Joe Mette (Omaha, NE)

Arlen, Joe and Wiggles, 1994
Omaha Nebraska

Prairie Poet
In memory of Arlen Lazaroff
Joe Mette
Revised February 12, 2006

He loved art, music, and poetry, he had a great wit,
But pretentious politics, he didn’t care one bit!
He truly loved cats and a good clean joke,
Rich people didn’t impress him, a man of common folk!
As an activist gay man, fought censorship, and discrimination,

Promoted art and peace, a true friend of Indian nations!
He loved and cared for our dear Mother Earth,
Believed in protecting the land of our birth!
Few close friends remember his hard, short life today,

His many poems and lives touched, will live longer I say!
On his gravestone will say these two words-
Oh don’t you know it?!
Arlen W. Lazaroff- (truly he was:)

Arlen with Rhawn York
Omaha Nebraska

Arlen: The greatest legacy one can leave is realized in the profound sadness of those whose life you touched. Your family and friends’ grief are a reminder that your life was valued and valuable. May their grief give way to a peaceful acknowledgement of your gift to them, and may your legacy grow with the passing of time.

Greg Efta (Longwood, FL)

Arlen and richard chilton at the
Jackalope Arts gallery, Rosalie Nebraska.

“Now he is there atop the hill upon the prairie,
with miles and miles of earth around –
listening, observing, feeling
the quiet rumblings of the land

and fowl and sky,
and is at peace.”

richard chilton (Rosalie, NE)

Arlen and Margery Coffey, Rosalie
this may be the last picture taken of Arlen,
Jackalope Arts Gallery, 2005

I’ll always remember Arlen as the greatest poet I’ve ever known. He recited his inspiring and insightful words with unabridged passion, and accepted praise with a quiet humility. A true poet and a true gentleman. The world may weep, but the Heavens....they are rejoicing.

Dan Dahlem (Omaha, NE)

Arlen with barbie dolls, taken at his brother Lauren's house in Kearney, November 2004

Arlen at the piano far right in
Edie's Child Band 1985  

 It was an honor and learning experience to read with Arlen. His words and music and art inspired you to think and grow on many levels. Now the poet sleeps, but his words live on forever.  As an artist and a person, Arlen was inspiring, always testing the boundaries before a path had been made. I had great respect for his personal commitment and his voice will be missed.

John Giles (Omaha, NE)

Arlen was fascinated by this "Mickey Mouse art" quickly assembled from kids plastic food toys, Kearney Nebraska 2004


Joe Mette

The good poet waits with his head in his hands,

While Natty does his chatter & his favorites grandstand!

Many are good yes I know-all are there for the show!

Some are nasty & obscene-like a nightmarish dream!

The good poet sits with his sore head in his hand,

Waits in vain-feels not well-he & I can't understand-

Why his name signed up first is ignored by that man-

Who truly loves to grandstand-with his beer in his hand!

The good poet is published-written for many years-tis so,

His poems now in song verse-as in prose-he's gifted you know!

The good poet is my friend-a good man it is true,

Though I'm harsh sometimes-he's like a brother to me too!

His good verses inspire often-new insights into my world-often blue!

The good poet's words will stand-yes I believe I understand,

When their (babble) stuff is long through-his will live on-

Fresh, like new-like his good heart and soul too!

Arlen with portrait based upon his grandfather by Coffey, Winnebago Farm Studio. c1992.

Arlen was a brave man, an artist and a poet. He will be missed by many friends who loved him.

Margery Coffey (Rosalie NE)

Arlen and frog,
somewhere on the High Plains.



Arlen Ray Lazaroff, 46, died at Omaha Immanuel Hospital.
He had been ill for some time, but got worse in the past month.
He suffered many complications from his diabetes, which contributed to his kidney failure.
His kidneys weren't working and he was on a respirator. He was told if he removed the
respirator, his heart would stop. He said, "this isn't for me," and removed
the respirator. Staff tried to revive him, but couldn't and he died
Thanksgiving Day around 9 a.m.

We have lost a great poet, who produced
hundreds of poems and several books. His brother Lauren said Arlen's
original middle name was Wray, but Arlen preferred to spell it without the W.
We have lost a wonderful, unique spirit, unconventional in every way,
true to his integrity, prolific, thoughtful, provocative, a fantastic
researcher of history, music and genealogy.

He was a ghost town expert
and a psychedelic rock guru who could quote lyrics of bands like
Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd on the spot. He was a brilliant, creative
mind who had the courage to take on everything from Wal-Mart to Barbie. I
think he hated Barbie because it was a fake ideal for a girl to
emulate. No girl could physically become Barbie. It symbolized everything
phony and fake in our society. Arlen was about the real, the struggle, the
land, the music and the Platte River. He was an early member of the
Prairie Poet Conspiracy, and read his poems on the river with us, he let
us be ourselves because he had no pretensions. He was censored several
times, but that didn't stop him. The Omaha World-Herald published a
painting of his on the front page when he was censored at the
Fremont Area Art Association Gallery about 15 years ago.
His masterpiece poem probably was "Smash 45"
a lengthy poem he wrote after his dark winter struggle last winter.

Thank you Joe Mette for being his friend. You cared for him, you
gave him a place to stay when he wasn't in Craig, you loved him like a brother.

Thank you Margery Coffey for being his comrade, friend and mentor. He
often spoke of the times that you listened to him talk about his
struggles growing up in Alma. I think you understood and counseled him
through those issues because you went through similar struggles.

I feel lucky that I got to share 20 years with Arlen. His brilliance helped
bring out my creativity. I was such a dull writer for years, but Arlen helped me
to see what others ignored. The abandoned, the forgotten and forlorn also
contain beauty and truth. He wasn't bored on the plains because he
created his own party. He taught us that boredom is a condition that points
out something is wrong within. Arlen found plenty to do in the middle
of nowhere. One of his favorite things to do was to sit on top of the
prairie with miles and miles of land around -- meditating and looking at
land, sky and birds. He would breathe it all in.
The open landscape was a metaphor of the man's vast and searching mind.

He taught us many, many precious things.

Good bye, Arlen, our friend, I will miss you so much.

Michael Hooper

Thanksgiving Day




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