Roger Federer and Frank O’Hara


In a piece in this Sunday’s New York Times, Gerald Marzorati examined the “mob-loud and unruly” support Roger Federer enjoyed at the recent U.S. Open.  To try to explain why the tennis star has such a passionate, devoted following among New Yorkers, Marzorati made a surprising comparison — Federer actually embodies the spirit of Frank O’Hara’s poetry:

Federer has been loved by New Yorkers for years, of course. Just ask Andy Roddick, who heard the cheers for Roger when, as America’s best tennis player, he faced him (and lost to him) in the Open final of 2006. Federer was urbane, and has grown only more so. During his stay in New York for the two weeks of this year’s Open, he ventured from his suite at the Carlyle to attend a performance of “Hamilton,” view “China: Through the Looking Glass” at the Met and eat sushi at Kappo Masa. His tennis self, too, has always been debonair and, just as crucial (and sophisticated), open to reinvention. With a racket in his right hand, Fed is the on-court embodiment of that free-verse epigram from Frank O’Hara, the ur-New York School poet of contemporary cultivation, etched for eternity on his East Hampton gravestone: “Grace/to be born and live as variously as possible.”

Marzorati casts Federer as something of a New York School poet himself — urbane, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, with a “tennis self” as protean as the ever-changeable selfhood O’Hara’s poetry presents.

I have to say, even though I’m a fan of both Federer and O’Hara, I didn’t see that one coming … but am definitely happy Marzorati made the connection.


Posted in Frank O'Hara | 1 Comment

Frank O’Hara Reading his Poem “September 14th, 1959 (Moon)”

Here’s a poem Frank O’Hara wrote on this date in 1959:

September 14, 1959 (Moon)

Serenity lopes along like exhaustion
only windier and silver-eyed
where fragments of distress in hunks
lay like the plaster in the bedroom
when the bed fell down, greenly
murmuring a phrase from the Jacksonville
Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific
yes no, yes no, yes, yes, yes

an agate breeze pours through the gate
of reddish hair there is a summer
of silence and inquiry waiting there
it is full of wildness and tension
like a gare, the warmly running trains
of the South escape to sweet brooks
and grassy roadbeds underneath the
thankful and enlightening Russian moon

Posted in Frank O'Hara, Poems

John Perreault, “Polyartist” of the New York School (1937-2015)

John Perreault, by Philip Pearlstein (1975)

The New York Times reports today that the poet, artist, and art critic John Perreault has passed away, at the age of 78.  In Terence Diggory’s Encyclopedia of the New York School Poets, Perreault is described as “an emblematic figure when it comes to the sensibilities of the New York School; he is, as Richard Kostelanetz would call it, a ‘polyartist,’ someone more interested in making art than in classifying his work into any particular genre. Perreault is an art critic, curator, poet, fiction writer, and visual artist, and his fusion of different media is indicative of the way the arts often commingle in the New York School.”

Perreault came into the New York School orbit when he took a formative class at the New School with Kenneth Koch in the early 1960s.  His work was included in the second issue of the New York School house journal Locus Solus, and his first book featured an introduction by John Ashbery.  By the later 1960s, Perreault had become an influential art critic for the Village Voice and had begun creating works of conceptual and performance art as well.

From the New York Times obituary:

John Perreault, an art critic at The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News who was an early champion of feminist art and the craft-oriented pattern and decoration movement in the 1970s, and who later held senior curatorial positions at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island and the American Craft Museum, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was complications of gastrointestinal surgery, his husband, Jeff Weinstein, said.

Mr. Perreault started out as a poet and painter, but after being recommended by the poet and art critic John Ashbery, he began writing criticism for Art News. In 1966, The Village Voice made him its chief art critic, and he used the position to make the case for new art and work outside the mainstream, especially the creations of feminists like Judy Chicago; photorealism; art with gay content; and the pattern and decoration art associated with the Holly Solomon Gallery.

On Artopia, a blog on the website Arts Journal that he started in 2004, he described his interests as ranging “from Minimalism and Earth Art to realist painting; from pattern painting to performance art; from street works to ceramics and design.”

Mr. Perreault’s reviews were required reading for anyone trying to make sense of the swirling, often confusing, art scene of the 1970s, when movements and trends vied for attention.

As an artist himself, he became friends with many of the subjects he wrote about.

Alice Neel painted him, nude, in a portrait shown at her 1974 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In“The Turkish Bath,” Sylvia Sleigh painted him — nude again — with his fellow critics Lawrence Alloway and Carter Ratcliff. Depicted from the chest up, this time wearing a shirt, he was the subject of a 1975 portrait by Philip Pearlstein.

John Lucas Perreault (pronounced per-ALT) was born on Aug. 26, 1937, in Manhattan and grew up in Belmar, N.J., and other towns along the Jersey Shore. His French Canadian father, Jean, parlayed his experience cooking on merchant marine ships during the war into a series of restaurant jobs…

After studying briefly at Montclair State Teachers College (now Montclair State University), he enrolled in Kenneth Koch’s poetry workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. His first poetry collection, “Camouflage,” was published by Lines Books in 1966, with an introduction by Mr. Ashbery. He was also the author of the collections “Luck” (1969) and “Harry” (1974).

In the mid-1960s Mr. Perreault began exhibiting his paintings at One Eleven Gallery in Greenwich Village. He soon turned to conceptual and performance art. For the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the Bowery, he recited a long poem, “Hunger,” as color slides were projected on his back. He also did a series of street projects with Vito Acconci and, with Hannah Weiner and Eduardo Costa, organized the Fashion Show Poetry Event, which featured clothing made by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Alex Katz and other artists.

Perreault Street Music

Perreault Street Works 2

Posted in Andy Warhol, Bernadette Mayer, John Ashbery, John Perreault, Kenneth Koch, Visual Art, Vito Acconci

“Labor Day” by James Schuyler

A day late, but here’s James Schuyler’s poem “Labor Day”:

Labor Day

Not what I think
or see (I can’t:
sun in my eyes)
or remember, or
will be – what
do I know of that? –
or never knew
or know for sure,
just this day
its clarity:
bliss: an un-
ending kiss:
what a gyp,
that there is
but we, or
I, only get
to sense it.
It’s not like
that, this
day.  A family
of seven
walk down our
street, a tot
on his father’s
shoulders. Three
policemen chat.
The fancy grocer’s
is open.  Liquor
store shut: I
foresaw that.
Drums in my room:
“We can make
each other happy.”
Radiant clarity,
why, today, do
I think of death?

Posted in James Schuyler, Poems

“The Gifts of Women Poets”: Reflections On Barbara Guest and Bernadette Mayer

Over at the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, Amy King has curated a great two-part feature called “Call and Response: The Gifts of Women Poets,” which consists of brief pieces by a long series of writers, each paired with “an older or no longer living poet who had a personal influence on them”: you can find, for example, John Gallaher on Rae Armantrout, Stephen Burt on Louise Bogan, Patricia Smith on Gwendolyn Brooks, Armantrout herself on Emily Dickinson, Maxine Chernoff on Ann Lauterbach, Lynn Melnick on Diane Wakoski, and many, many more.

Two entries caught my eye for the purposes of this blog.  The first is a tribute to Barbara Guest by the poet and editor James Meetze (who also co-edited the recent gathering of James Schuyler’s unpublished work, Other Flowers).  Meetze writes:

When Andrew Joron introduced me to Barbara Guest’s work in the late-90s — her books Fair Realism, Defensive Rapture, and Selected Poems — it instantly inhabited me like a path I was obligated to follow into unknown territories. I learned her writing, as we all often do, working backward through it in reverse chronology. When I later got to know Barbara, just five years before her passing, she was the sharpest wit and most incisive thinker I had yet encountered. Her penultimate book of poems, Miniatures (2002), which she sent me via post, demonstrated her version of the closed-captioned poem, attentive always to the translation of image into language. Her book of essays, Forces of Imagination arrived shortly thereafter, and when, in her essay “Wounded Joy,” Guest writes, “What we are setting out to do is to delimit the work of art, so that it appears to have no beginning and no end, so that it overruns the boundaries of the poem on the page” it echoes, for me, the necessity of commune, of voices coming into the poem that are never only the poet’s. For my own poetic practice, this idea of the ongoing and interconnectivity of the poem with the life of the poet—the life lived, imagined, and overheard—is paramount; it is what Robin Blaser calls the “flowing boundary.” Guest’s work is always observant of other voices speaking; it is always flexing and advancing the limitations of form at the boundary of her art. As a graduate student at Mills College, I had the opportunity to print a broadside of a new poem—“Nostalgia of the Infinite, 1913: After Giorgio di Chirico,” later published in The Red Gaze, titled simply “Nostalgia”—in honor of her 2002 reading. In it, she writes, “You began the departure. Leaves restrain. You attempted the departure … Waving farewell.” Then 82, Guest was still at the height of her powers even if her physical body had dramatically slowed. Reading this poem now, it arrives as a conversation between the here and the hereafter, between Barbara Guest and her readers. It is an invocation and a reminder that boundaries are to be overrun, that the poem keeps on going without limit, and that the conversation never stops.

The second is John Rufo’s reflection on Bernadette Mayer, who he calls the “the High Priestess of everyday strangeness”:

My first experience with Bernadette Mayer’s work runs like this: I read Midwinter Day in a tiny hotel room in Calcutta while red and blue fireworks blasted outside, hailing the arrival of holidays. Mayer told me her truths for a week while Mother Teresa’s tomb bustled with nuns several blocks down the street. Maybe this surreal Catholic carnival arrived appropriately: what I love about Mayer are her domestic confessions that knock like jokes and appear like sonnets, prose blocks, free verse columns, translations from Catullus. In an interview with Adam Fitzgerald, she mentions her dying mother’s last request: “Join the convent, Bernadette! They’ll take care of your teeth for free.”

Bernadette is the High Priestess of everyday strangeness. She is the poet who reminds you that even when you’re facing the hereafter / you should still come equipped with Listerine. As she writes in The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters: “How am I supposed to fit in to this life where children eat so much expensive fruit?” Who else but Bernadette would seek out all of the women named Helen living in Troy, NY? She is the sun of the twenty-second of December weaving “the random cloth of life together.” She lists, she journals, she tapes up, she makes an index. She asks you to write a perfect poem. She asks you to look into mirrors and write without using the pronoun “I.” She goes after an attempt to write a poem that will change the world. And one of the words she uses most often is “dream.”

You can check out the whole two-part feature here and here.

Posted in Barbara Guest, Bernadette Mayer

“To the Memory of Joe Brainard”: Kent Johnson’s I Once Met

“To the memory of Joe Brainard” reads the dedication to Kent Johnson‘s new book, I Once Met: A Partial Memoir of the Poetry Field.  A revised and expanded version of a limited-edition chapbook of the same title that Johnson published in 2007, the book is an unusual homage to the form and tone of Brainard’s great book I Remember.  Instead of Brainard’s device of gathering a long litany of memories each prompted by the phrase “I remember,” Johnson offers a series of anecdotes detailing his encounters with other poets that each begin “I once met.”  (Johnson has paid homage to the New York School poets in a number of earlier works as well).  In addition to Brainard, Johnson’s project also recalls the “I Metseries created by the conceptual artist On Kawara, which obsessively documented the names of every person he encountered each day.

I Once Met, published by Longhouse, a small press in Vermont, is a beautiful-looking book that mixes surprising and unusual photographs with prose passages in a handsome and elegant format.  Each passage relates a tale involving a different poet that Johnson (supposedly) encountered at some point — a long roster that includes Allen Ginsberg, David Shapiro, Gary Snyder, Robert Hass, Diane Wakoski, Robert Duncan, Joan Retallack, Amiri Baraka, Ben Lerner, and Vanessa Place — along with meditations on several poets he has never met, including John Ashbery, Philip Whalen, and David Antin.

By turns gossipy, cutting, ironic, and self-deprecating, the book eventually becomes a kind of mosaic autobiography of a literary gadfly, one who has hovered, bemused, enraged, and inspired, on the margins of the poetry world for many years.  It circles around a number of central themes, including the nature of literary community and friendship, rivalry, envy, disappointment, and the strangeness and absurdity of our lives and relationships.

Given his other work, it is not surprising that Johnson is especially interested in poetry as a cultural field that is filled with competition, posturing, back-stabbing, hypocrisy, and venality, along with occasional flashes of generosity and creative spark.  It is also charming and funny, much like Brainard’s I Remember, unsettling and discomforting, and altogether sui generis.

I should add that I Once Met is playful and slippery, like all of Johnson’s work, and there is no way of knowing for certain whether the anecdotes in the book — some of which are sure to annoy those who are “implicated” in them — are “true” or “really happened.”  But examining the fictive and constructed nature of both our memories and the social dynamics of the poetic field seem to be part of the book’s point to begin with.  In an “Author’s Comment” at the start of the book, Johnson does add a disclaimer:

I have tried my best to be true to the experiences represented here.  In a few instances, where my memory has flagged, or where the poetic license seemed to proffer — in spirit of Picasso’s famous maxim about art, lies, and truth — a deepening of the genuine, I have, in the venerable traditions of that non-existent genre called “non-fiction,” not-so-secretly embellished.  Anyone I have here implicated is free, of course, to amend or deny the renderings of my reminiscences.  I stand by every word.

In any event, here are a few sample passages from the book:

I once met the amazing poet C.D. Wright. This was in Disney World. We’d gone there on vacation with her and Forrest Gander and their son, we being me, my wife Deb, and our two boys. The three kids were eleven, nine, and thirteen, and they were each a loaded automatic pistol looking for trouble. It was horribly hot and this was the third day. We sat down for coolness in the shade of a plastic tree near the Giant Spinning Cups of Tea, or whatever they are called. Oh, please someone just goddamn shoot me, said C.D., in her Appalachian drawl … I have a photo of her right after she said this, and she doesn’t appear to be kidding. Minnie Mouse and Goofy are standing behind her, waving.

I’ve never met the great poet John Ashbery, but I feel like I have.  Automobiles go by in the night.  And somewhere, huge wooden machines stand at attention in a gentle, foggy field, on the hidden side of a mountain, in a cheap velvet painting, it all akimbo and askew, yet somehow still hanging there, on half a wall, in some bombed out slum, on the outskirts of Beirut.

I’ve nevet met the famed poet Ron Padgett, but I almost did.  I raised my fist before his door and paused.  There were cicadas screaming to death in the rich summer trees. Why ruin it, I said, and walked away.

I once met the genius poet John Beer.  This was in Chicago, at Danny’s Bar.  He had a t-shirt with the John Deere design that said ‘John Beer.’  I laughed and he laughed, too.  What a delightful fellow.  Ha, ha, I said.  Excuse me, John, while visit the john. Ha, ha, said John.  You go, boy.  Mark Yakich was funny that night, but I think I got the most response.  Then again, shortly after I’d finished reading, I noticed that my fly was undone.

I once met Eliot Weinberger. We walked around Iowa City, talking. I liked him, he was well structured and constructed. I think we talked about China and Pound and also about James Laughlin and Samuel Beckett and things like that. A woman approached… Quick, get the fuck behind the car, said Eliot. We did and hid there, crouching. It was Jorie Graham, followed by a train of forty students.

I’ve never met the sublime poet Philip Whalen. I never will, of course, not in the body, in any case.  After he died, I’ve heard, his robed corpse was laid out in the meditation hall for three days, as is the tradition when a roshi dies.  And because it was summer and it was very hot, they put bags of frozen raspberries under his back and buttocks and legs.  I always thought that was a beautiful touch, and so had my mother, for I told her about it, once, when we were walking by a river … Anyway, to get to my story, for life is strange, I did once call him on the phone to ask that he write an essay for a book I was editing.  This was many years ago. No, No, No, he growled, The last thing I’m going to do is write an essay on the relationship between Zen and poetry. I mean, what makes you think either one even exists?  I mean, give me a break. Goodbye. Click.

For more on Johnson’s book, see here for some praising commentary by John Phillips and here for ordering information.

Posted in Books, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, Kent Johnson, NY School Influence, Philip Whalen, Ron Padgett

Resurrecting Raymond Roussel, the “Proust of Dreams”

In the New York Times, Holland Cotter reviews the debut exhibit at the new Galerie Buchholz in New York which is “giving us something wonderful that we haven’t had before: a retrospective of the French writer Raymond Roussel (1877-1933).”  The brilliant and bizarre Roussel, of course, served as a pivotal influence on the poets of the New York School.

As David Lehman recounts the story in his book The Last Avant-Garde:

In Paris in 1950 Kenneth Koch had gone to a famous Paris bookshop — the librarie José Corti on the rue de Médicis across from the Luxembourg Gardens — and asked the owner to recommend an unusual French writer, the stranger the better.  ‘What’s really exciting and crazy?’ he asked.  ‘I’ve read Surrealism.’  ‘Have you read Roussel?’ The man handed him a faded yellow book containing Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique (1928), a long poem in four cantos, each of which consists of a single sentence expanded to fantastic length by an accordion system of parentheses within parentheses.  Koch brought the book back to America and lent it to Ashbery, who felt an immediate rapport with the eccentric whom Jean Cocteau had dubbed ‘the Proust of dreams.'”

Ashbery was so taken with Roussel that several years later he embarked on researching a possible doctoral dissertation on the writer.  Although he never completed the dissertation, Ashbery did publish several important pieces on Roussel’s work that (as Lehman points out) “contributed mightily to the revitalization of Roussel’s reputation in France (where he was neglected) and in the United States (where he was unknown).”  By the early 1960s, Ashbery and Harry Mathews had even borrowed the name Locus Solus (the title of Roussel’s novel) for the little magazine they founded, which would become the house journal for the New York School of poetry.  Koch, Ashbery, Mathews, and other New York School poets translated Roussel’s work and spread the word about its charms and mysteries.

Cotter fills in some background on Roussel:

Born into the Parisian beau monde, as a child Roussel had Marcel Proust for a neighbor; as an adult, he befriended Jean Cocteau when the two were patients in drug rehab. Rich, gay, habitually solitary, Roussel developed a literary mode in poetry, fiction and drama based on linguistic ingenuity and the use of super-realism to lift off into fantasy. Although his work was met with public scorn at the time — Roussel was crushed and died by suicide — it has been hugely influential to artists and writers since. Marcel Duchamp and Michel Foucault claimed him as a liberating hero. Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell revered him. The poet John Ashbery has written brilliantly about him.

This show — organized by Mr. Buchholz, the art historian Christopher Müller and the Roussel scholar François Piron — an archival exercise in literary and art-world ephemera. It pieces together Roussel’s elusive private life from rare surviving images (photographs of his adored mother; a unisex childhood portrait of the writer) and personal effects (treasured editions of Jules Verne novels; a cookie that he saved from a landmark literary lunch and enshrined like a relic). It traces the path of his writing career through often self-financed publications and calamitous stage presentations. And it concludes with a section demonstrating his continuing influence, on Mr. Ashbery’s poetry and collages, and on artists like Zoe Beloff, Lucy McKenzie and Henrik Olesen.

The selection is scrupulously annotated, and every scrap of information is worth reading. (Although a contemporary art specialist, Mr. Buchholz comes from a background in antiquarian book selling.) If this show were at the Museum of Modern Art, you’d pay to see it and still feel rewarded.

The show will be up until the end of August.  For more on Roussel and his afterlife, including a recent “remix” of Locus Solus by the writer Mark Amerika, see here.

Posted in Art Exhibit, French poetry, Harry Mathews, Influences on the NY School, John Ashbery, Locus Solus, Raymond Roussel