Here’s the latest roundup of some recent links, new publications, and news related to the New York School of poets. (Previous roundups can be found here).
— For The Rambling, literary scholar Jason Farr wrote a moving personal essay about his discovery that his own “Uncle Joe” was the same Joe LeSueur who was Frank O’Hara’s lover/roommate/best friend, author of the indispensable Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O’Hara and central figure in the New York School’s social world. Learning more about LeSueur’s life, writing, and relationship with O’Hara leads Farr to a host of interesting insights about gay life in New York pre- and post-Stonewall, about queer lineage, and about what he calls “the queer kinshp of our literary lives.”
— In the esteemed scholarly journal PMLA, Brian Glavey published a terrific, much-buzzed-about article about Frank O’Hara, the idea of “relatability,” and the beloved and ubiquitous poem “Having a Coke with You.” Like many scholarly articles, it is behind a paywall, but here is an abstract:
“This essay addresses the recent reception of Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘Having a Coke with You’ to examine the much-maligned concept of relatability as a potentially useful aesthetic category. If the reactions to it on Twitter and YouTube are any indication, O’Hara’s Coke poem has become his most famous piece, immensely popular both online and, in a strikingly different way, in the work of contemporary queer theorists. Whatever the context—queer utopian criticism, an anarchist journal, a wedding ceremony, or even an official Coca-Cola public-relations campaign—readers tend to respond to the poem’s general mood rather than to its specific content. This reception speaks to the fact that O’Hara pursues what I would label a poetics of relatability: ‘Having a Coke with You,’ like many other O’Hara poems, models ways of valuing art by relating it to other things and people. O’Hara explores this relational aesthetic by constantly negotiating between modes of reception that are self-reflective and modes that are social and intersubjective.”
— The great art critic and poet, Peter Schjeldahl, recently published a wonderful, heartbreaking, funny essay about his own struggles with terminal lung cancer in the New Yorker. As he mentions in the piece, Schjeldahl started out as a poet in the New York School scene in the 1960s. Here is the contributor note that was included in An Anthology of New York Poets (1970):
On the heels of the New Yorker essay, Nick Sturm composed this detailed account of Schjeldahl’s role as an important poet and editor (of the great little magazine Mother), one who played a central role in the New York School’s evolution.
— In related news, Peter Schjeldahl’s daughter, the writer Ada Calhoun, mentioned in an interview with the New York Times the exciting news that she’s writing a book about Frank O’Hara. Calhoun, author of a great book about on the history of St. Marks Place and the East Village (St. Marks is Dead), explained “I’m working on a book about Frank O’Hara. So I’m reading a lot of him. I found all these tapes in my dad’s basement. He had tried to do a biography of O’Hara in the ’70s when I was a baby. So he didn’t finish it. I digitized them all. I’m trying to figure out what it is.”
— Great news about the work of the late poet Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005), another signficant figure in the New York School orbit, and one of the few African-American poets affiliated with the movement. The Collected Poems of Lorenzo Thomas, edited by Aldon L. Nielsen and Laura Vrana, has just been published by Weselyan University Press. Nick Sturm wrote this great essay about the new book and Thomas’s career for the Poetry Foundation. The new collection, Sturm writes, “brings nearly all of Thomas’s poetry to a new readership. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the volume underscores his stylistic and thematic virtuosity… Humorous, parodic, politically devoted, and formally experimental, Thomas’s work amounts to more than four decades of writing that stood outside of both mainstream and avant-garde traditions.”
— A Frank O’Hara Notebook, Bill Berkson’s posthumous collection of notes and reflections on his friend Frank O’Hara, was recently published by No Place Press, and was reviewed by Troy Jollimore for the Washington Post and Dean Rader for the Rumpus. As Rader explains,
“Berkson planned for many years to write a book about O’Hara’s impact and influence. However, Berkson himself died in 2016 before he could finish or even properly begin the project. Luckily for us, A Frank O’Hara Notebook—Berkson’s sketchbook about O’Hara—has been lovingly and masterfully reproduced and transcribed by no place press, a relatively new publisher (started in 2017 with distribution through MIT Press). For fans of Berkson and/or O’Hara, and for anyone interested in the intersection of painting and poetry, this book is indispensable.”
The Advocate also listed the Berkson book in a piece called “7 Biographies to Add to Your LGBTQ Library.” (“A Frank O’Hara Notebook captures the vibrancy and achievement of the talented author and critic through the lens of his devoted friend”). I also wrote about Berkson’ O’Hara notebooka few months ago, when an excerpt appeared in Poetry magazine.
— The Museum of Modern Art unveiled its newly renovated galleries, including a special room devoted to Frank O’Hara’s role as a curator at MoMA and “poet among painters.” Peter Schjeldahl discusses his delight in the O’Hara exhibit at the end of his review of the new MoMA in the New Yorker:
“One that thrills me is that of a room devoted to the work, the influence, and the aura of the MoMA curator and major American poet Frank O’Hara. His accidental death, in 1966, at the age of forty, ripped the heart out of an overlap of artistic and literary communities in New York. He couldn’t be replaced. Prints by leading artists from a memorial book that the museum issued in 1967, ‘In Memory of My Feelings,’ emanate the deep charm of a moment when a fully fleshed, buoyant, democratic sophistication seemed afoot. I know. I was a kid poet and tyro critic then. I met O’Hara. He inscribed my copy of a catalogue that he had written the introduction to: ‘For Peter with palship, Frank.’ He made pals of all the world. He drank too much, as people then tended to, gesticulating with cigarettes in their other hands. For many, with O’Hara gone, New York took on the trembly cast of an interminable hangover. MoMA’s inclusion of him gladdens.”
I wrote my own piece on the O’Hara room and its significance for Apollo Magazine, which you can find here.
— The poet and critic Alexa Doran places Robin Coste Lewis’s celebrated book Voyage of the Sable Venus in dialogue with the New York School of poetry in this essay for Empty Mirror.
— Cathy Curtis, author of acclaimed biographies of Elaine de Kooning and Grace Hartigan, has a new biography out, titled Alive Still, about another important artist in the New York School circle, Nell Blaine, friend and collaborator of Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and other poets. An excerpt of the book ran in Literary Hub and it was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, where Blaine is described as “an archetypal figure of the midcentury Manhattan art scene: experimenting tirelessly with her paints, mingling with Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch, bedding everyone, male or female.”
— A few months back, Sophia Stewart wrote a piece for LARB called “Frank O’Hara is Everywhere,” a sentiment longtime readers of this blog will know I too share.
— Speaking of which, there was recently an unexpected Frank O’Hara sighting in a New York Times article about getting jewelry engraved:
“If you must include familiar romantic images — such as hearts or flowers — Dr. Potts said they should be employed in unexpected ways. Reviewing good love poetry is essential, she said, and she recommended “To His Lost Lover” by Simon Armitage, “Animals” by Frank O’Hara, “Strawberries” by Edwin Morgan, “An Aspect of Love, Alive in the Ice and Fire” by Gwendolyn Brooks and “Peanut Butter” by Eileen Myles.”
Valentine’s Day is approaching: why not get a ring engraved with “O you / were the best of all my days” on it this holiday season? (That may work better than one that says “Have you forgotten what we were like then / when we were still first rate”).
— It won’t be a surprise to longtime fans of the musician Beck, but it was still fun to see in Amanda Petrusich’s great Beck profile in the New Yorker that he’s an avid reader of John Ashbery:
“Beck’s music is typically classified as pop—in the past decade, especially, he has drifted more toward the sorts of hulking anthems that are discernible over the din of the beer tent at giant outdoor festivals—but it can just as easily be slotted into the avant-garde canon, alongside work by other artists who stack distinct images in chimerical ways. When I texted him a short poem by John Ashbery, he replied with a picture of a tall pile of Ashbery’s books. The spines were cracked.”
— The Slowdown, a great podcast created by U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith which consists of Smith spending 5 minutes each day discussing and reciting a poem, recently featured a poem by Alice Notley and another by John Yau.
— A selection of striking, unusual collages by Alice Notley — in the form of fans — appeared in Poetry magazine in August 2019. As Notley explains:
I started making collages because other poets were and they weren’t that good at it, really. On the other hand, artist friends like Joe Brainard and George Schneeman were very good at it. But the skills and materials seemed available to anyone, and the form, with the addition of a few cut-out words, felt almost like that of a poem…One day I had a fan—a plain paper fan, pink—and I realized I could make it be permanently open and paste things on it. I affixed strips of cardboard to the back so it wouldn’t fold, and then I made this bizarre pasted-upon object that was also beautiful. I neglected to put words on it—I was afraid of spoiling it—but most of my subsequent fans have words on them. This first fan was achieved in the late seventies and I’ve been making collage fans ever since.
You can see a slideshow of these beautiful objects here. The feature was accompanied by an essay on “Alice Notley’s Collage Art” by Diane Arterian.
— As part of her series of essays for LARB on poets’s second books, Lisa Russ Spaar wrote about Barbara Guest’s sophomore effort, The Blue Stairs, which, as Spaar writes
“appeared in 1968, when the author was 48 years old. The book is in some ways a Baedeker of Guest’s obsessions, a touchstone volume for the work prior to it and the work that would follow. It exhibits a painterly passion for color and spatial composition, a predilection for sonic wordplay, for mixing the wild with the quotidian, the oneiric and the all-too-real in a way that brings the reader to the brink of unsettling emotions without defining them.”
— The scholar Marit MacArthur turned to the archives of the Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y to explore their extensive recordings of John Ashbery’s poetry readings over a period of many years. The result is this piece in the Paris Review in which MacArthur analyzes and dissects Ashbery’s “reading voice” and unusual reading style.
— The poet and artist John Giorno passed away in October. As the New York Times discussed in its obituary, among his many activities, Giorno created
“Dial-A-Poem, a rudimentary mass-communication system for cutting-edge poets and political oratory…. Millions of people dialed in, hearing verse recited by poets like Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Peter Schjeldahl and Ron Padgett, later joined by dozens of other poets and groups like the Black Panthers … In 1963, the artist Wynn Chamberlain gave a 27th-birthday party for Mr. Giorno in the building — an event that became renowned as a remarkably comprehensive snapshot of the emerging art scene at the time: Attendees included Warhol and Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Frank O’Hara, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Frank Stella, Barbara Rose, Roy Lichtenstein, John Ashbery, Merce Cunningham and John Cage.”
Daniel Kane wrote this moving memorial tribute to Giorno for Apollo Magazine.