New Book on New York School Painters and Poets: Vogue’s “Exclusive Look”

 New York School Painters & Poets

Next week, the publisher Rizzoli will be releasing a terrific-sounding, major new book devoted to the New York School painters and poets — their shared aesthetic, their myriad collaborations, their boozing and chatting at the Cedar Tavern.  Titled New York School Painters & Poets: Neon in Daylight (with subtitle borrowed from Frank O’Hara’s “A Step Away From Them“), the book is written by Jenni Quilter and edited by Allison Power, Bill Berkson, and Larry Fagin, with a foreword by art critic Carter Ratcliff.

From the publisher’s description:

New York School Painters & Poets charts the collaborative milieu of New York City poets and artists in the mid-twentieth century. This unprecedented volume comprehensively reproduces rare ephemera, collecting and reprinting collaborations, paintings, drawings, poetry, letters, art reviews, photographs, dialogues, manifestos, and memories. Jenni Quilter offers a chronological survey of this milieu, which includes artists such as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Alex Katz, Jasper Johns, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, George Schneeman, and Rudy Burckhardt, plus writers John Ashbery, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Edwin Denby, Larry Fagin, Frank O’Hara, Charles North, Ron Padgett, James Schuyler, Anne Waldman, and more.

Vogue, of all places, has just posted an “exclusive look” at the new book by Alex Frank. The piece gives a quick overview of the New York School milieu and previews what the book has to offer:

Rizzoli’s new book, written by Jenni Quilter, captures their collaborations, like Joan Mitchell painting right on top of one of James Schuyler’s poems and Philip Guston’s enthusiastic line-drawing of Frank O’Hara and his characteristically broken nose. But it also catalogues how their lives intersected at houses in Manhattan and the Hamptons, and includes intimate photos of small poetry readings, group vacations and late-night parties in small apartments, giving readers a small window into the kind of special things that happen when the right people happen to overlap in New York.

It also features a nice slideshow of fourteen images drawn from the book, some familiar, others less so, including a great 1968 photograph of Bill Berkson and Joe Brainard running and grinning.  Check it out here.  Needless to say, I’m really excited to see this book!

Posted in Alex Katz, Anne Waldman, Bill Berkson, Books, collaboration, Edwin Denby, Fairfield Porter, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Jane Freilicher, Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers, Robert Motherwell, Ron Padgett, Rudy Burkhardt, Ted Berrigan, Visual Art, Willem de Kooning

Upcoming Bernadette Mayer Events: New York and the Czech Republic


There are a couple of exciting events coming up featuring Bernadette Mayer, both in New York.  First, this Friday, October 17, at the Poetry Project at St. Marks, there will be a 25th anniversary celebration of the terrific small press Tender Buttons, which was founded in 1989 by the poet Lee Ann Brown with the goal of publishing “the best in experimental women’s writing.”

The event marks the welcome return, in an expanded 25th anniversary edition, of Mayer’s wonderful book Sonnets (which has been out of print and hard to get a hold of in recent years).  It will also pay tribute to the publication of a new book, Katy Bohinc’s Dear Alain. 

There is quite a line-up of readers for this celebration — it will feature Bernadette Mayer herself, along with readings by Katy Bohinc, Anne Waldman, Dodie Bellamy, Laynie Browne, India Radfar, Jennifer Moxley, and video appearances / art by Harryette Mullen, Michelle Rollman, Julie Patton, Rosmarie Waldrop and Hannah Weiner.  (There will be a reception at 7 and the reading is at 8).

Second, on Thursday, October 23, Mayer will be appearing at an event at the New York Public Library as part of its “Live from the NYPL” series.

LIVE brings together Bernadette Mayer, Matthea Harvey and Dorothea Lasky for an evening celebrating the experimental and adventurous in American poetry today. Together they represent the best of American lyricism, with voices as unique as they are elusive, uncensored and surprising. In a conversation moderated by Uzoamaka Maduka, these poets come together to rethink the question of what constitutes poetry.

You can find more information about this event here.

Oh yeah — there’s one more upcoming Mayer event, but this one might be a little harder to get to.  If you happen to find yourself in the Czech Republic this upcoming week, I will be giving a talk entitled “Bernadette Mayer and the Poetics of the Maternal Everyday” on a panel on American poetry at the “Searching for Culture: International Cultural Studies Conference” at Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic.  Hope to see you there!


Posted in Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, Conferences and Talks, Dorothea Lasky, Event, Harryette Mullen, Jennifer Moxley, Laynie Browne, Lee Ann Brown, Matthea Harvey, Performance, Poetry Project at St. Marks

Jed Perl’s Art in America: Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and More


Art in America Perl

The esteemed Library of America has just published a massive new anthology called Art in America 1945–1970: Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism, edited by Jed Perl, the art critic for the New Republic.

The author of New Art City, an excellent book that focuses on the New York art world during this period, Perl has always had an affection for writers of the New York School and their painter friends (he writes at length about Fairfield Porter and James Schuyler, for example, in that book). So it is not surprising that the anthology includes ample selections of writings by Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Schuyler, Porter, Larry Rivers, Edwin Denby, and others in their circle.

In this morning’s New York Times, there is a characteristically wonderful and sharp review of Perl’s anthology by Dwight Garner.  Garner points out that the sprawl and variety of this loose, baggy monster of a book is appropriate for the the lively world of mid-century American art:

“It’s a plump, unbuttoned and convivial book, streaked like bacon with gossip and cogitation. New York’s writers drank at the San Remo on Bleecker Street in the 1950s, while the artists crammed into the smoky recesses of the Cedar Tavern on University Place. It was only a few blocks to stagger between them, and heads, egos and libidos collided … He’s interested in the era’s tumult, its howls and murmurs, its wolf whistles and rebel yells. He has raided memoirs, magazines and interviews for material; he’s also rummaged through forgotten pamphlets and yellowed correspondence. This is a party that spills out onto the lawn.”

The party features a slew of poets and fiction writers contemplating art — including Ralph Ellison on Romare Bearden, Jack Kerouac on Robert Frank’s The Americans, Robert Creeley on John Chamberlain, and, as Garner enthusiastically points out, generous helpings of Frank O’Hara:

“The poet Frank O’Hara, who worked at the Museum of Modern Art, pops up all over this volume, in his own writing and in that of others. He’s consistently welcome, and he always seems to be pouring vintage champagne. Here’s his report on a night out: ‘In Claes Oldenburg’s recent exhibition ‘THE STORE’ (107 East Second Street — the best thing since L. L. Bean), you find cakes your mother never baked, letters you never received, jackets you never stole when you broke into that apartment and a bride that did not pose for Rembrandt’s famous Jewish ceremony.'”

Alongside the expected statements by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and other giants of Abstract Expressionism and Pop, O’Hara’s painter friends also find a place at the table in Perl’s collection, including Porter, Rivers, and Grace Hartigan.

In fact, Garner points out that while some of the painters aren’t particularly good writers (he singles out De Kooning and Barnett Newman), some do have “agile voices,” and his examples include Larry Rivers — who writes of his own artistic development “I have gone from a baby to having the soul of a nail” — and Grace Hartigan, whose “journals, in particular, pop off the page. Hartigan deposed in 1952 about one of her paintings, ‘I feel like a mother who has given birth to an idiot — I know it lives so I can’t destroy it — but I hate it.'”

In addition to essays by a range of poets (William Carlos Williams,  Marianne Moore, Randall Jarrell, Robert Duncan), the volume also includes selections of art criticism by other New York School poets, like Ashbery’s essays on Andy Warhol and Joan Mitchell, and James Schuyler on Jane Freilicher.

In closing, Garner notes:

“Like a Jasper Johns painting, ‘Art in America 1945-1970′ is patriotic and subversive, filled with flags and targets. Mr. Perl’s fine book returns us to a heady, pre-hippie moment in our cultural history. ‘Instead of drugs,’ Feldman says, ‘we had art.’

Not surprisingly, Ashbery provided one of the blurbs for Perl’s book:

“In this fascinating anthology Jed Perl has given narrative shape and structure to a wide range of voices: poets, artists themselves, and various other articulate observers of the amazing metamorphoses of postwar American art. What emerges is surely one of the defining records of our artistic age.”

Posted in Abstract Expressionism, Andy Warhol, Book Review, Books, Fairfield Porter, Frank O'Hara, Jack Kerouac, James Schuyler, Jane Freilicher, John Ashbery, Larry Rivers, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Robert Motherwell, Visual Art

Celebrating Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems at UC Berkeley

The 50th anniversary celebrations of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems roll on with a terrific-sounding event, to be held at the University of California, Berkeley this week, featuring some great poets reading poems from the book.

On October 2, 2014, “Lunch Poems: A Noontime Poetry Reading Series” — a long-running series at Berkeley directed by Robert Hass that takes its name from O’Hara’s famous book — will host “FRANK O’HARA’s LUNCH POEMS TURNS 50: AN ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION.”  Here’s how they describe it:

In partnership with City Lights Books, who first published Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems 50 years ago, we present a special event featuring readings from a newly expanded edition that also includes communiqués by O’Hara pulled from the City Lights archive housed at the Bancroft Library. Participants include: Garrett Caples, C. S. Giscombe, Jayne Gregory, Robert Hass, Owen Hill, Elaine Katzenberger, Evan Klavon, giovanni singleton, Juliana Spahr, and Matthew Zapruder.

The event will be held in the Morrison Library at 101 Doe Library, and begins at 12:10.

This rather precise start time seems like an auspicious moment to begin a tribute to O’Hara, one of whose poems begins:

It is 12:10 in New York and I am wondering
if I will finish this in time to meet Norman for lunch
ah lunch! I think I am going crazy
what with my terrible hangover and the weekend coming up

at excitement-prone Kenneth Koch’s…


Posted in Event, Frank O'Hara, Juliana Spahr, Matthew Zapruder, Robert Hass

Digitizing John Ashbery, “Our T.S. Eliot, Our Gertrude Stein”

Anyone who has ever tried to read poetry on a Kindle knows that poems and e-books don’t mix well, to put it mildly.  Line breaks, spacing, the look of the poem on the page — all of these crucial aspects of poetry are all too often destroyed when poems end up as e-books.

As the New York Times reports this morning, despite the lack of potential profit involved, publishers are finally beginning to do something about this problem.  The article uses the work of John Ashbery as its primary example to explain the stakes involved:

“When John Ashbery, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, first learned that the digital editions of his poetry looked nothing like the print version, he was stunned. There were no line breaks, and the stanzas had been jammed together into a block of text that looked like prose. The careful architecture of his poems had been leveled.

He complained to his publisher, Ecco, and those four e-books were immediately withdrawn.

That was three years ago, and digital publishing has evolved a lot since then. Publishers can now create e-books that better preserve a poet’s meticulous formatting. So when Open Road Media, a digital publishing company, approached Mr. Ashbery about creating electronic versions of his books, he decided to give it another chance.

Last week, Open Road published 17 digital collections of Mr. Ashbery’s work, the first time the bulk of his poetry will be available in e-book form. This time, he hasn’t asked for a recall.

‘It’s very faithful to the original formatting,’ said Mr. Ashbery, 87, who is widely recognized as one of the country’s greatest living poets.”

The article points out the difficulties publishers have had rendering poetry accurately on e-readers: “Of all the literary genres, poetry has proved the most resistant to digital technology, not for stodgy cultural reasons but for tricky mechanical ones. Most e-readers mangle the line breaks and stanzas that are so crucial to the appearance and rhythm of poetry. As a result, many publishers have held back on digitizing poetry.”  In recent years, that has begun to change — for example, the piece mentions that presses like Copper Canyon, New Directions, and Farrar, Straus have been devoting much more attention to producing poetry e-books: “Farrar, Straus and Giroux began a major push to digitize its poetry backlist in January, after working out some thorny layout and coding issues. This year, it is releasing 111 digital poetry collections, up from 17 last year and just one in 2012.”

The piece returns to Ashbery and the process of turning his volumes of poetry into e-books:

“The poetry of Mr. Ashbery, who often writes in long, Walt Whitmanesque lines and uses complex indentations, was difficult to digitize. “Many of my poems have lines that are very long, and it’s important to me that they be accurately reproduced on the page,” he said. “The impact of a poem very often comes down to line breaks, which publishers of poetry often don’t seem to find as important as the people who write the poems.”

After his first misadventure, Mr. Ashbery was reluctant to sell his e-book rights again. But then two years ago, his literary agent met with Jane Friedman, Open Road’s chief executive, who was interested in publishing digital versions of Mr. Ashbery’s work. She assured Mr. Ashbery and his agent that the e-book formatting would preserve his lines.

After a courtship that stretched on for about a year, Mr. Ashbery agreed to sign over digital rights for 17 collections.

The e-books took several months to produce. First his poems were scanned, digitized and carefully proofread. Then Open Road sent the files to eBook Architects, an e-book development company in Austin, Tex. There, the text was hand-coded and marked up semantically, so that the formal elements were tagged as lines, stanzas or deliberate indentations. When a line runs over because the screen is too small or the font is too big, it is indented on the line below — a convention that’s been observed in print for centuries. The technology is still far from perfect. Mr. Ashbery’s poems retain their shape better on the larger screen of the iPad, and are squeezed, with more lines spilling over, on a Kindle or an iPhone.

Poetry scholars say such minor discrepancies are a small price to pay to ensure Mr. Ashbery’s legacy in the digital age.

‘John Ashbery is our T. S. Eliot, our Gertrude Stein,’ said Robert Polito, president of the Poetry Foundation. ‘It’s vital that his work be authoritatively available in as many different formats as possible.'”

The article alerted me to this new collection of Ashbery e-books published by Open Road, which has also posted this short, compelling video introduction to Ashbery and his work (including some glimpses of his much-discussed home in Hudson, New York).

Posted in John Ashbery

John Ashbery and Kenneth Goldsmith Collaborate on a Rug: “Love and Career”

John Ashbery & Kenneth Goldsmith

John Ashbery has a long history of collaborating with other writers and artists, from co-written novels (A Nest of Ninnies, with James Schuyler) to poem-art hybrids like The Vermont Notebook (with Joe Brainard).

But I don’t think he’s ever collaborated on a rug before.

Now he has.  Ashbery and the poet Kenneth Goldsmith have collaborated on a project for BravinLee programs, as part of its “ongoing series of artist designed rugs.” Goldsmith — a conceptual poet and tireless advocate of what he calls “uncreative writing” practices, like appropriation and transcription — has worked with Ashbery to produce a rug titled “Love and Career.”  It features a fragment of Ashbery’s handwriting (chosen by Goldsmith from middle-of-the-night jottings Ashbery made from his dreams) combined with an image lifted from a painting by Joan Miró.

And now this hand-knotted, limited edition rug can be yours for only $4500.

Goldsmith explained how the rug came about:

With one foot in the world of Abstract Expressionism and the other in Pop Art, John Ashbery’s work embodies a series of intentional contradictions. Sincere & ironic, found & fabricated, creative & uncreative, his poems are concrete demonstrations and celebrations of uncertainty, betweeness, and not-knowing.

When I first suggested appropriating the work of Joan Miró as the basis of our collaboration, Ashbery shot back, “Jeanne Moreau? I adore her!” Bang. High and low demolished in one platitude.

Every night, by the side of his bed, John keeps a pen and a pad. During the night, when he wakes up from a dream, he scribbles a few words or a random phrase that is ricocheting around his head, and then goes back to sleep. Many of these fragments find their way into poems.

We agreed that these might be a good way to begin our collaboration. I left John’s Chelsea apartment with an enormous envelope filled with years’ worth of scribblings – hundreds of scraps of paper emblazoned with faint whisps of language, often on hotel stationary. Over the next few months, I combed through these, scanning and transcribing them, selecting the ones that, for whatever reason, really zinged. I then sought out images of modernist painting and began laying his ephemeral markings over iconic imagery. The contradiction between the power of the paintings and the delicate intimacy of John’s handwriting seemed to strike a note similar to the balancing act that I find so compelling in John’s work.

As an appropriationist, I do little more than reframe and remix preexisting cultural artifacts. By placing one atop the other, a striking fusion of opposites occurred, resulting in an object that is at once intellectual & dumb, abstract & concrete, important & trivial, and profound & empty. Frame it respectfully and hang it on the wall or stomp all over it with dirty boots. Any use – or misuse – is encouraged.

On July 4, 2013, Goldsmith tweeted the following image and wrote: “Yesterday, John Ashbery and I signed certificates for our collaboration, a hand-tufted Tibetan text rug.”

Embedded image permalink

John Ashbery and Kenneth Goldsmith collaborating on Tibetan text rug, July 2013

Posted in collaboration, John Ashbery, Kenneth Goldsmith, Visual Art

Mark Amerika Remixes Raymond Roussel’s Locus Solus

Raymond Roussel’s amazing and bizarre novel Locus Solus — the namesake for the journal founded by the New York School poets as well as for this humble blog – turns 100 this year.  Just in time for that anniversary, the visual artist, novelist, and media theorist Mark Amerika has produced an unusual new version of Roussel’s influential novel that he calls an “auto-translation/remix.”  The book, which was “composed by playfully postproducing the original 1914 version using a variety of mediocre online translation programs,” will be published this month by Counterpath Press.  Amerika explains that he sees his Locus Solus “as not so much as a literal translation by any means, but as a work of performance art.”

Amerika recently posted some remarks about how he came to Roussel’s novel and the process he used to performatively remix and re-create Locus Solus.  In the course of working on an elaborate remixing of Marcel Duchamp’s work, he came across the following remark Duchamp once made in an interview about important influences on his work: “Roussel showed me the way.”  This led Amerika to seek out online translations of Roussel’s work, but he came up mostly empty.  So, as he explains, “I decided to get an immediate feel for Locus Solus by turning to a few mediocre online translation programs that would auto-translate the first few pages, line-by-line, and see what came up.”

As he goes on to detail, the auto-translation of Roussel’s novel produced some strange results (as anyone who has ever used Google Translate will appreciate), which inspired Amerika to undertake an extended performance art piece of auto-translating and remixing Locus Solus:

“My simple late-night plan to use a translation program to better understand Roussel’s writing and why it might have ‘shown Duchamp the way,’ was immediately introduced to a severe obstacle as I tried to make some narrative sense out of the mangled text and mistranslated puns and double entedres that were given to me by the auto-translation program. My intuitive response was to not get frustrated at all but to creatively remix these mangled translations through my own experiential filters as valuable source material that would enable me to remixologically inhabit the spirit of Roussel’s own procedural aesthetic. This is when Roussel’s Locus Solus started becoming a mash-up of auto-translation and autobiography or what in META/DATA I refer to as pseudo-autobiography (an always already fictional rendering of experiential data sampled from the practice of everyday life).

That first night, I started to really get into the auto-translation / remix process and decided that I did not want to buy and read any of the out-of-print books that had already attempted to translate Roussel into English, that, instead, I would approach this experience as a work of performance art and, like so many works of performance art, view it as a kind of durational achievement. And so it was, four months later, that I had translated / remixed the entire, mangled French version into what I started referring to as

Locus Solus (An Inappropriate Translation Composed in a 21st Century Manner)

All throughout the auto-translation/remix performance I was well aware of the fact that things were getting lost in the transmission, that the stability of the narrative trajectory, assuming I wanted to maintain a certain amount of stability and even semantic consistency, was going to depend on my ability to remixologically inhabit or even embody the praxis of another artist-medium who initially communicated these messages to us a long time ago (100 years to be exact). This was a creative parameter that actually liberated me from having to feel better about myself as I assumed the role of so-called ‘translator.’  Instead, I could approach the whole system as a literary traitor, one who pirates information signals and trades in a performance art practice that imposes their own literary and artistic traits onto the one who is being auto-translated, remixed, inhabited.”

To celebrate the centennial of Roussel’s Locus Solus, check out Amerika’s interesting homage.  You can also learn more about Roussel in Mark Ford’s highly-regarded biography, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams and about John Ashbery’s fascination with Roussel in this piece by Paul Grimstad.

Posted in Influences on the NY School, John Ashbery, Locus Solus, Mark Ford, Raymond Roussel, Translation