Eileen Myles Reads James Schuyler (and Chats with Paul Muldoon)

Image result for james schuyler chelsea                  Image result for eileen myles young

The New Yorker’s Poetry Podcast asks poets who have published in the New Yorker to choose a poem from the New Yorker’s pages, read it, and discuss it with poetry editor Paul Muldoon, before reading one of their own poems that has appeared in the magazine.

The most recent edition offers a treat: Eileen Myles reads a poem by James Schuyler and talks with Muldoon about Schuyler’s poetry and her sense of the New York School and its lasting significance.

As Myles explains, Schuyler was already something of a hero to her when she first became immersed in the New York scene, even before she (famously) worked as his assistant when he lived at the Hotel Chelsea in the late 1970s.  (Myles memorably wrote about her experience working for Schuyler in the title story of her celebrated collection Chelsea Girls).

On the podcast, Myles talks with Muldoon about her affection for Schuyler’s work and her strong identification with the poetry of the New York School, and reminisces about her exciting early days in the 1970s East Village poetry scene that centered on the Poetry Project at St. Marks, when rents were cheap, downtown was still a haven for writers and musicians, and poetry flowed like wine (or amphetamines, or something).

She then reads Schuyler’s late poem “White Boat, Blue Boat” (which appeared in the New Yorker in 1989), followed by a poem of her own, “Dissolution,” which just appeared in the magazine in August.

You can hear the podcast here, and you can read some of my own recent work on Schuyler here, and in my recently published book, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture.

Posted in Eileen Myles, James Schuyler, Podcast, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Schuyler today and the students” by Kate Angus

Image result for james schuyler  Kate Angus

Today’s “Poem-a-Day” posted by the Academy of American Poets site is a lovely poem by Kate Angus called “Schuyler today and the students.” It’s about an experience a relatively small number of us know quite well — teaching the poetry of James Schuyler and watching students light up with excitement about his work.

In a note on the poem, Angus explains that

“I wrote this after an afternoon class when my students fell in love with James Schuyler—how joyful his poems felt to them after the other work we’d been reading (Berryman,Plath, Sexton), and how easy for them to enter. That afternoon, our seminar discussion felt like a door opened. And, of course, I was thinking also about what I love in Schuyler’s work and about New York and about someone I loved that I’d lost touch with, and how sad and beautiful and happy I was about everything.”

I was particularly drawn to the lines where Angus relishes in Schuyler’s work “the idea that it’s enough to think / one thing and then say it: maybe a stapler sits / like a black jaw on the desk while the aloe / stretches half-parabola curves / towards the light and an avocado shell / waits to be rubbish.” In a chapter on Schuyler in my new book, Attention Equals Life, I argue that a “philosophy of ‘enough,’ a poetics of what will suffice,” lies at the heart of Schuyler’s work.

This philosophy of “enough” — which I posted a little about here a couple months ago — can be found in lines like these, from “Hymn to Life”:

Life, it seems, explains nothing about itself.  In the
Garden now daffodils stand full unfolded and to see them is enough

And in these, from “June 30, 1974“:

Enough to
sit here drinking coffee,
writing, watching the clear
day ripen (such
a rainy June we had)
while Jane and Joe
sleep in their room
and John in his. I
think I’ll make more toast.

Here’s Kate Angus’s poem:

Schuyler today and the students

wake up when he mentions colors
and light, streets they’ve walked—
Second Avenue, West 20th, Park.
This guy is happy, right? they ask;
who am I to answer. What I like
about Schuyler is the way sonatas
and Coca-Cola flourish in the same stanza,
morning glories opening
their bright mouths, and trailing down
tender vines.

I don’t drink soda and I never listen
to Faure as much as I should
(What voice
is chanting always be better?). What I like is
the pyrotechnics always just past
the paper horizon,
waiting to burst from underneath.
It’s the idea that it’s enough to think
one thing and then say it: maybe a stapler sits
like a black jaw on the desk while the aloe
stretches half-parabola curves
towards the light and an avocado shell
waits to be rubbish.

There are, of course, always going to be people
who hook us under the sternum and pull
us forward with wire until our own bones break
to make us relinquish them. And in their wake we watch
their boat sail away with a mast solid as the Empire
State Building and all flags in array. Goodbye, little sailor,
I’ll miss you
when I drift down under dark water
where there are shipwrecks and bleached whale
bones and fish bright as constellations, but not enough
to keep swimming.

The poem can be found here, along with an audio recording of Angus reading it.

Posted in James Schuyler, New York, Poems, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From James Schuyler’s Diary (August 5, 1968)

James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Kenneth Koch

Here is an excerpt from James Schuyler’s diary on August 5, 1968, 48 years ago today, at Fairfield Porter’s home on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine:

Blue, with a few sharp streaks of white.  The water is making its knitting noise, Lizzie [Porter] and Katherine [Koch] are talking on the floor in front of the fireplace, where they slept on quilts after Bruno woke them up at 6 and they in turn woke me.  Kenneth is in the kitchen asking Anne [Porter] for advice and favors.  Fairfield is painting a new view from his porch looking east, an intimate one of a little, wild enclosure (that which is enclosed being, of course, nothing)…

Went for a long walk with Kenneth [Koch] yesterday noon and swam at Skokey (sp?) Beach, lying naked in the cold water that was a little warm on top and looking at the pebbles and snails and tiny shrimp-like creatures. Hot sun, air and no clothes: a recipe from the “classic cuisine.”

Fairfield Porter

Fairfield Porter, “The Table on the Porch” (1971)


Posted in Fairfield Porter, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On Ashes’s Birthday — Frank O’Hara Writes “To John Ashbery”

Today is John Ashbery’s 89th birthday, and for the occasion, here are two poems Ashbery’s close friend Frank O’Hara wrote for him over 60 years ago.

Over the nearly twenty years of their friendship, O’Hara wrote many poems dedicated to and about Ashbery, whom he affectionately called “Ashes.”  First, here is “Ashes on Saturday Afternoon,” which O’Hara wrote in 1952 (with the original title “Poet to Poet”). In it, he begs his friend and fellow poet to provide him with some inspiration — “you, dear poet,” he says, “must save me from the void’s external noise.”

Ashes on Saturday Afternoon

The banal machines are exposing themselves
on nearby hillocks of arrested color: why
if we are the anthropologist’s canapé
should this upset the autumn afternoon?

It is because you are silent. Speak, if
speech is not embarrassed by your attention
to the scenery!  in languages more livid than
vomit on Sunday after wafer and prayer.

What is the poet for, if not to scream
himself into a hernia of admiration for all
paradoxical integuments: the kiss, the
bomb, cathedrals and the zeppelin anchored

to the hill of dreams?  Oh be not silent
on this distressing holiday whose week
has been a chute of sand down which no
factories or castles tumbled: only my

petulant two-fisted heart.  You, dear poet,
who addressed yourself to flowers, Electra,
and photographs on less painful occasions,
must save me from the void’s external noise.

And here is the tender 1954 poem “To John Ashbery,” in which O’Hara imagines himself and Ashbery reading their “new poems to each other / high on a mountain in the wind,” like a pair of ancient Chinese poets.

To John Ashbery

I can’t believe there’s not
another world where we will sit
and read new poems to each other
high on a mountain in the wind.
You can be Tu Fu, I’ll be Po Chü-i
and the Monkey Lady’ll be in the moon,
smiling at our ill-fitting heads
as we watch snow settle on a twig.
Or shall we be really gone? this
is not the grass I saw in my youth!
and if the moon, when it rises
tonight, is empty —a bad sign,
meaning “You go, like the blossoms.”

If you’re interested, I discuss both of these poems, and what they suggest about Ashbery’s friendship with O’Hara, in my book Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry.

Happy 89th birthday to John Ashbery, who has been saving so many of us from the void’s external noise for many decades now!


Posted in Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Poems, Uncategorized

The Day Frank Died: O’Hara’s New York Apartments

It’s the 50th anniversary of Frank O’Hara’s death, 11 days after Bastille day, yes, “so I go for a walk among the hum-colored cabs,” and visit 3 of the 4 apartments O’Hara lived in during his time in New York.

First, 90 University Place, where O’Hara lived from 1957 to 1959. Here’s the door and the plaque that adorns it:

(I wrote a bit about this apartment and the plaque a while back, here).

Next, the apartment in the East Village, at 441 E. 9th St., just off Avenue A and Tompkins Square Park.  In 2014, this apartment was given its own plaque as well, as I discussed a couple of years ago.

The building is being renovated and these are the notices on the front door:

The entrance to O’Hara’s apartment is about 3 doorways down, towards the end of the large white building on the right side of the street:

Lastly, I walked by the ghost of the final place O’Hara lived in New York, the apartment he was living in when he died in 1966.  O’Hara lived at 791 Broadway, between E. 10th and E. 11th, across from the beautiful Grace Church.  A few years ago the building was torn down and replaced by a luxury condo building.  It’s the smaller white building in this photograph:

And here, for good measure, is the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, which has done so much to keep O’Hara’s memory and legacy alive:

Posted in Frank O'Hara, New York, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Frank O’Hara, 50 Years On: “The Wings of an Extraordinary Liberty”

O'Hara Tombstone 2

Frank O’Hara died 50 years ago today, on July 25, 1966, after being struck by a dune buggy on Fire Island.  The Poetry Foundation has published a piece of mine that traces the rather remarkable arc of O’Hara’s posthumous reputation. Though it may seem surprising now, when he died, O’Hara was better known as a museum curator and artworld figure. Today, he is one of the best-loved and influential poets of the 20th century, one of who feels “ubiquitous as weather,” in both poetry and pop culture. In an early poem, O’Hara said “I must live forever,” and in the piece, I talk about how delighted O’Hara would be to find that his own work has lived on, just as he’d wished.  At the end of one poem, O’Hara imagined a heroic poet figure who would inspire and even liberate those who’ve come in his wake, using an image that resonates with the kind of afterlife he and his work have had: “and one alone will speak of being / born in pain / and he will be the wings of an extraordinary liberty.”

In previous years on this date, I have posted about how the New York Times covered O’Hara’s death and funeral (here) and about the host of elegies O’Hara’s friends wrote for him after he died (here).

Today, I thought it’d be fitting to post a poem O’Hara wrote in 1958, “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island,” which offers an uncanny premonition of his own tragic end, that would occur on Fire Island eight years later:

The Sun woke me this morning loud
and clear, saying "Hey! I've been
trying to wake you up for fifteen
minutes. Don't be so rude, you are
only the second poet I've ever chosen
to speak to personally
                                  so why
aren't you more attentive? If I could
burn you through the window I would
to wake you up. I can't hang around
here all day."
                    "Sorry, Sun, I stayed
up late last night talking to Hal." 

"When I woke up Mayakovsky he was
a lot more prompt" the Sun said
petulantly. "Most people are up
already waiting to see if I'm going
to put in an appearance."
                                       I tried
to apologize "I missed you yesterday."
"That's better" he said. "I didn't
know you'd come out." "You may be
wondering why I've come so close?"
"Yes" I said beginning to feel hot
wondering if maybe he wasn't burning me
              "Frankly I wanted to tell you
I like your poetry. I see a lot
on my rounds and you're okay. You may
not be the greatest thing on earth, but
you're different. Now, I've heard some
say you're crazy, they being excessively
calm themselves to my mind, and other
crazy poets think that you're a boring
reactionary. Not me.
                                 Just keep on
like I do and pay no attention. You'll
find that people always will complain
about the atmosphere, either too hot
or too cold too bright or too dark, days
too short or too long.
                                 If you don't appear
at all one day they think you're lazy
or dead. Just keep right on, I like it.

And don't worry about your lineage
poetic or natural. The Sun shines on
the jungle, you know, on the tundra
the sea, the ghetto. Wherever you were
I knew it and saw you moving. I was waiting
for you to get to work.

                                    And now that you
are making your own days, so to speak,
even if no one reads you but me
you won't be depressed. Not
everyone can look up, even at me. It
hurts their eyes."
                          "Oh Sun, I'm so grateful to you!"

"Thanks and remember I'm watching. It's
easier for me to speak to you out
here. I don't have to slide down
between buildings to get your ear.
I know you love Manhattan, but
you ought to look up more often.
always embrace things, people earth
sky stars, as I do, freely and with
the appropriate sense of space. That
is your inclination, known in the heavens
and you should follow it to hell, if
necessary, which I doubt.
                                          Maybe we'll
speak again in Africa, of which I too
am specially fond. Go back to sleep now
Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem
in that brain of yours as my farewell." 

"Sun, don't go!" I was awake
at last. "No, go I must, they're calling
        "Who are they?"
                                  Rising he said "Some
day you'll know. They're calling to you
too." Darkly he rose, and then I slept.
Posted in Frank O'Hara, Poems, Uncategorized

Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner and his Love for (and new Recording of) Frank O’Hara

The poetry of "Mad Men": When Matthew Weiner first read Frank O’Hara, “it was just like total time travel”

As I’ve mentioned a few (well, maybe more than a few) times before, the beloved TV show Mad Men surprised and delighted poetry fans everywhere when it incorporated Frank O’Hara’s poetry into the show’s second season in 2008.  Over the past couple years, the show’s creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner has discussed several times how he came to discover O’Hara’s writing and why it seemed so well-suited for the story of Don Draper.

Yesterday, in a new interview with Scott Timberg at Salon, Weiner went in to greater depth about his fascination with O’Hara.  The piece also revealed some interesting news for O’Hara fans: next week Audible Studios will release a recording of Weiner himself reading O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems.”

Weiner, who studied poetry at Wesleyan University, mentions that his training in poetry had for some reason excluded O’Hara, and goes on to describe his first exposure to an O’Hara poem, which happened several years ago, after Mad Men was already underway: “It was just like total time travel, and he writes in a voice that you could say is conspiratorial, but it’s really more than that. It’s very present and it’s hard to believe that someone like that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s very alive.”

Weiner also explains how he came to use the book Meditations in an Emergency and its last poem, “Mayavovsky,” in the show’s second season:

“So when I got back to do the show for that season, which I believe is the beginning of Season Two, we had left Don in a kind of terrible place at the end of Season One where he was filled with regret, and Jon Hamm had talked to me about how this guy is probably going to get bored. So we had him go and get his physical and mix with people out in the street. I found out that “Lunch Poems” had not come out yet, so the rules of the show made it harder, but it still allowed me to get into Frank O’Hara, because “Meditations in an Emergency” had come out, which ended up being very fruitful and related to what I was doing and one of those coincidences that you can’t replicate. The show knows more than you do. It’s almost mysterious. I’m not kidding.

So that was my first interaction with him. And then I just really ate everything that I could find of his. I just read every single thing I could find. “Lunch Poems” was the book I bought and ripped my way through it, and then I found some recordings of him. Just his sense of humor, and he had such a large role at the Museum of Modern Art, so there’s an intellectual part of him also that’s not even in the poems …

Frank really had that quality of, “This is what life is like. This is what’s on my mind. This is what I think is funny. This is what’s ironic.” And the whole process of writing “Lunch Poems,” which is what I liked about it, was that he was turning the necessity of doing his job into a poetic experience because he was compelled to write. That, to me, was related to Don at that time, and of course it became closely related to me.”

Weiner goes on to discuss other poets he encountered in his poetry education, including T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and Sylvia Plath (who, he explains, “is all over Mad Men”).  

Even if he stumbles over which actress O’Hara famously begs to “get up” — rather than Lana Turner, Weiner refers to O’Hara’s well-known poem as “Greta Garbo has Collapsed” — it’s great to see his affection for O’Hara and exciting to learn that an audio version of Lunch Poems, read by Matthew Weiner, will soon be available.

Read the whole interview here, and for previous posts on Mad Men and Frank O’Hara, see here, here, here, here, here, and here.




Posted in Frank O'Hara, Mad Men, Television, Uncategorized