“The Ping Jockey School of Poetry”: A. R. Ammons, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler

The poet A. R. Ammons never fit comfortably into any of the well-defined groups and movements of post-1945 American poetry — he wasn’t part of the Beat movement, or Confessional poetry, or the Deep Image movement, or any other group. Nevertheless, he does have deep affinities with various strains of the broad postwar avant-garde tendency known as the “New American Poetry,” especially with the New York School and the Black Mountain poets. However, as I argued in my recent book Attention Equals Life, the tendency to view Ammons as either completely sui generis or as a neo-Romantic “nature poet” or practitioner of ecopoetics, has tended to obscure those links and similarities.

Late in life, in the 1993 poem “Ping Jockeys,” Ammons playfully declared his connection to the New York School of poets, based (in part) on a surprising coincidence he had just discovered. Reading an interview with James Schuyler, he learned that he and two of the central figures of the New York School, Schuyler and Frank O’Hara, shared an unlikely formative experience: during World War II, all three were trained in Key West to be sonar operators (or “ping jockeys,” in military slang) in the U. S. Navy. Upon learning this odd detail, Ammons writes “Gosh! Imagine! How did it happen? I am / virtually a New York School poet (maybe not // virtually a poet!).” “I have affinities,” he goes on, “old solid / ineradicable affinities” with Schuyler and O’Hara.

What are the odds that three different young men who went to the same sonar school to be radio operators in the Navy during WWII all went on to become major American poets?

Maybe it’s not a total coincidence. O’Hara’s superiors seemed to think he would be well-suited for the job of “radioman” because of his ear and his facility with music: “with my years of musical training I would have good pitch and be able to operate a machine which sends out sound waves and can determine what objects are around it by the pitch of the surrounding sound.” He thought it might prove useful for his own aesthetic development too: “The training should improve my pitch and teach me about the physics of sound and therefore music,” he wrote to his parents rather optimistically. Unfortunately, as Brad Gooch puts it in his biography of O’Hara, “sonar school was less like the New England Conservatory than he had hoped.”

Ammons too, though, suggests that perhaps there was something related to a future life in poetry in this unusual job: speaking of O’Hara, Schuyler, and himself, he writes “we were younglings / with special gifts of sound, striking sonarmen // discriminating pitch, doing theory, and learning how / to lay down depth-charge patterns on enemy hulks.”

So there you have it — proof of the existence of a little-known “Ping Jockey School of Poetry.” The poem also provides us with another sign that Ammons shares not just a surprising bit of personal history but also “old solid, / ineradicable affinities” with O’Hara, Schuyler, and John Ashbery (with whom he shared a deep mutual admiration), along with the rest of the New York School of poets.

Here’s Ammons’s poem in full:

PING JOCKEYS

Gosh! Imagine! How did it happen? I am
virtually a New York School poet (maybe not

virtually a poet!): I have affinities, old solid
ineradicable affinities: I just read Schuyler’s

interview and learned 48 years later that I was
there in Key West (in the Navy, I mean) just about

when Schuyler and O’Hara (both) were, and we
sailed at dawn every day out on the trainer boats

catching on to sub chasing; we were younglings
with special gifts of sound, striking sonarmen

discriminating pitch, doing theory, and learning how
to lay down depth-charge patterns on enemy hulks

(where was John, anyhow): oh, the Navy, the
sweet Navy, sound pinging out through the waters

of the Caribbean, later the Pacific, thrilling
the submarines deep down hustling to get away

or pop us off point-bank with a slim torpedo!



(Note: this poem was published in the Princeton University Library Chronicle in 1994, but remained uncollected until the recent publication of Ammons’s Complete Poems in 2017).

Navy interested in new computing and sensor technologies for shipboard and  submarine sonar | Military Aerospace
Posted in A. R. Ammons, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Poems | 2 Comments

John Murillo and Nicole Sealey read and discuss an Anne Waldman poem

As part of the Paris Review‘s “Poets on Couches” series, John Murillo and Nicole Sealey recently discussed “How To Write,” a wonderful poem by Anne Waldman that was originally published in Paris Review in 1968. After Sealey reads the poem, the couple has a charming and enlightening conversation while sitting — you guessed it — on their couch, in which they discuss the poem’s form and themes and why they find it effective and moving. You can see the 10 minute video here:

And here is Anne Waldman’s “How To Write“:

How To Write

Perhaps I’m kidding myself about
the life I lead

Sometimes I feel I’m dying
like a lot of things I see around me

Then I turn on the TV and understand
that everything must still be moving

Music, for example, and I rush outside
around the corner to a concert

It’s so easy

Everything accessible from where I
happen to live at the moment

Things like rock concerts not too many trees on 2nd Avenue

Once, on the Sixth Avenue bus
I got a sudden sensation
I had been alive before

That I was a man at some other time
Traveling

You would think this strange if you were a woman

If I were a man right now I’d be getting out of the draft
but I think I’d want to be a poet too

Which simply means alive, awake and digging everything

Even that which makes me sick and want to die

I don’t really, you know

I just don’t want to be conscious sometimes
because when you’re conscious in the ordinary way
you have to think about yourself a lot

Dull thoughts like what am I doing?

Uptown in a large crowd I want to sit down and cry
because everything is simple and complicated
all at once

Everyone has this feeling

Even people downtown

It is very basic to the way we are
which is why I can say “we”

A lot of drugs can change you if you want
because you too are made of what drugs are made of

In fact you are just a bundle of drugs
when you come right down to it

I don’t want to go into it
but you’ll see what I mean when you catch on

That’s not meant to sound snotty
I’m open to whatever comes along

This is the feeling I get before I take a plane

Then everything’s the same afterward anyway

All into one space and here I am again
alive still, same worries on my mind

The thing is don’t worry!
You are doing what you have to what you can

You hear from your friends
They let you know what’s happening in California, Iowa
Vermont and other places about the globe

They take you out of your little room
just like the newspapers or the news
or the man you live with

and put you in a much larger room
one in which you are in constant motion around the clock

Paris Review (Winter 1968)

Posted in Anne Waldman, John Murillo, Nicole Sealey, Poems, Video | 2 Comments

Happy “Midwinter Day” Day!

On December 22, 1978, Bernadette Mayer wrote her groundbreaking, book-length poem, Midwinter Day. In recent years, poets and readers and Mayer fans have gathered to mark the occasion by reading from the book. As Mayer herself told Fanny Howe in a 2019 interview:

“So now it’s become for a lot of people, I think, a replacement for Christmas. So they don’t celebrate Christmas, you just have a gala reading of Midwinter Day, it’s so great. I love it, I never realized that it would be popular in that particular way.”

This year, there was a wonderful, 4th annual, gala reading hosted online by Lee Ann Brown and Tender Buttons Press, which featured a full 4-hour reading of the book-length poem — starting off with a reading by Mayer herself, and including excerpts read by Eileen Myles, Anne Waldman, Vincent Katz, Brenda Coutlas, Eleni Sikelianos, and many, many others.

One of the most moving moments for me was hearing Mayer’s daughter Marie Warsh read the section Mayer wrote over four decades ago about an epic temper tantrum she herself threw in the Lenox Public Library as a toddler. (The segment read by Marie begins at about 1 hour and 45 minutes into the video and the whole marathon reading can be found here).

For more, see this post from the Allen Ginsberg Project posted yesterday, which has a great collection of information and links about Midwinter Day.

To help mark this important milestone, I’m (re)posting an extended excerpt about Mayer’s Midwinter Day from my recent book Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (sans footnotes)The following is one section of a longer chapter entitled “Writing the Maternal Everyday: Bernadette Mayer and Her ‘Daughters,’” which discusses Mayer’s work in detail and its influence on younger contemporary women poets, including Rachel Zucker, Hoa Nguyen, Claudia Rankine, and Laynie Browne.

******

On December 22, 1978, the young American poet Bernadette Mayer undertook an unusual experiment that she had been planning for weeks.  She wrote an entire book-length poem during and about the events and thoughts she experienced on that particular day.  She later described the resulting poem, which she titled Midwinter Day, as “a 120-page work in prose and poetry written on December 22, 1978, from notes, tapes, photographs, and memory.” The poem recounts an ordinary day in the life of a young woman, her husband, and two young children in the small town of Lenox, Massachusetts, where Mayer and the poet Lewis Warsh, had recently moved from New York City. As Alice Notley has noted, Midwinter Day is an “epic poem about a daily routine.”

Although it was not well-known at the time, Midwinter Day has increasingly come to be seen as a major long poem of the past several decades. While still hardly a household name, Mayer has lately become a beacon for younger American women writers who are still trying to negotiate what is often referred to as “the juggle”–the irresolvable balancing act of work and family that contemporary women endlessly struggle with. Many young poets today feel that Mayer managed to find a way to reconcile these competing roles successfully, long before the “mommy wars” of our day.  Her books of the 1970s exuberantly demonstrate that one can be a poet and a mother at the same time and still survive, and even thrive.

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Posted in Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, Brenda Coultas, Charles Olson, Claudia Rankine, Eileen Myles, Ezra Pound, Frank O'Hara, Hoa Nguyen, James Joyce, Lee Ann Brown, Lewis Warsh, Maggie Nelson, NY School Influence, Vincent Katz, William Carlos Williams | Leave a comment

Joshua Kotin on Amiri Baraka, Kenneth Koch, and a Mysterious April Fool’s Day Postcard

As part of a cluster of essays on “Interpretive Difficulty” published by Post45, the scholar Joshua Kotin recently published a fascinating piece about a mysterious postcard that Amiri Baraka sent to Kenneth Koch on April Fool’s Day 1965, with a racist image on the front and a hostile handwritten message on the back (“Better start saying your prayers, if you think you can spend your time playing chess while millions struggle!”). Attempting to puzzle out the interpretive conundrums the postcard presents, Kotin ponders whether it should be read as a joke or a threat. He delves into the circumstances which may have led Baraka to write the postcard, especially his radical break with the white bohemian poetry world and his New York School poetry friends like Koch and Frank O’Hara, which occurred following Malcolm X’s assassination in February 1965.

However, that’s not all — there is a plot twist to this story. Shortly after Kotin’s essay appeared, the scholar and poet Nick Sturm alerted Kotin to another possibility — that the postcard was actually written by Ted Berrigan, as a playful joke, based on the extreme similarity to Berrigan’s handwriting and his own penchant for April Fool’s jokes and pranks of this sort. But wait — there’s more: Berrigan’s widow, Alice Notley, disagreed and didn’t think her husband had written the card. You’ll have to read the essay’s postscript to see how Kotin navigates these murky yet fascinating interpretive waters.

Posted in Alice Notley, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Criticism, Kenneth Koch, Ted Berrigan | 1 Comment

Roundup of Recent “New York School of Poetry” News and Links (11/15/21)

Here is one of my semi-regular roundups of recent links and news related to the New York School of poets. (Previous roundups can be found here).

  • In exciting news for fans of the late John Ashbery, the first posthumous collection of Ashbery’s work was published this summer by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. With a preface by Ben Lerner and a in-depth and insightful introduction by editor Emily Skillings, Parallel Movements of the Hands: Five Unfinished Longer Works “gathers unpublished, book-length projects and long poems written between 1993 and 2007, along with one (as yet) undated work, to showcase Ashbery’s diverse and multifaceted artistic obsessions and sources.” The book has received thoughtful and interesting reviews, which often delve into the “unfinished” nature of these works, by Ange Mlinko (TLS) and Rowland Bagnall (LARB), Alberto Morillo (Poetry Foundation) and others. You can also find video of a panel discussion and reading from the book here, which featured Skillings along with Farnoosh Fathi, Adam Fitzgerald, Michael Silverblatt, Dara Wier, and John Yau, and another here, which featured Skillings along with Kamran Javadizadeh and Rosanne Wasserman, moderated by Mandana Chaffa.
  • John Ashbery’s very own typewriter has found a home in the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University (which is, of course, the poet’s alma mater). In order to welcome one of his treasured possessions, the Woodberry invited registered visitors to write their own poems on the poet’s own Royal KMM during designated “Lunch Poem” sessions from 1:00-3:00pm on Wednesdays this fall. (Note that this program has proven to be overwhelmingly popular, and the sessions are now booked for the rest of the fall 2021 semester. The Woodberry will announce more opportunities or Winter-Spring 2022 shortly).
  • And who wouldn’t want to have “Adventures with John Ashbery’s Typewriter”? A special event will be held today (Wednesday, November 17) in honor of the arrival of Ashbery’s typewriter — a workshop (in person and live-streamed on Zoom) hosted by Ashbery biographer Karin Roffman and Emily Skillings. “The dynamic duo will discuss the poet’s writing process and present several ‘exercises in not making sense,’ as well as some writing/collaging experiments that Ashbery concocted for his students.” More info on how to register here.
  • The scholar and poet Walt Hunter wrote about John Ashbery’s work for Modernism/Modernity’s Print Plus forum on “Process.” Hunter’s piece is about “poetry that tries to make sense of sharing time together as it passes,” and for that he turns to Ashbery, noting that “a kind of realism works underneath Ashbery’s poems that gets less credit than his gentle, elegiac postmodernism.  The poem cannot restore the time of its individual pieces, but it can give us the repeated experience of that time by offering sample after sample, present after present.”
  • The writer Ada Calhoun, who previously wrote a book about the cultural history of St. Marks Place in New York, has a new book coming in June 2022, which will be of interest to readers here – entitled Also a Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me, the book is a memoir about Calhoun’s father, the celebrated art critic (and erstwhile New York School poet) Peter Schjeldahl, and their shared love for the work of Frank O’Hara.
  • Charles North published En Face, a lovely new limited-edition collaboration with the painter Trevor Winkfield (the third collaboration the two have done together).  The book features 8 poems by North alongside 6 of Winkfield’s images.  Winkfield said that “Rather than illustrate Charles’s poems, I wanted my images to act as their accompaniment, my hope being not to overwhelm the words, but literally to stand beside them, en face, as poems and their translations often do.”
  • The exciting surge of critical attention to Bernadette Mayer continues — Post45 published a terrific cluster of essays devoted to Bernadette Mayer in their Contemporaries series.  Edited by Kristin Grogan and David B. Hobbs, the gathering includes pieces on many different aspects of Mayer’s work by Amy De’Ath, Kay Gabriel and Jo Barchi, Diane Hamilton, Tausif Noor, Gillian White, and others.
  • The Whitney Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art teamed up to present a major retrospective exhibition of the work of the 91 year old Jasper Johns.  The show has received a great deal of attention and praise – including this review by Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker (“Jasper Johns Remains Contemporary Art’s Philosopher King”).
Jasper Johns, Skin with O’Hara Poem (1956). Photo by Ben Davis.
Image
“Ah Joan! there / you are / surrounded by paintings” — Frank O’Hara
  • SF MoMA has been posting lots of interesting materials and articles related to the Joan Mitchell exhibit on Facebook, including this gem — Frank O’Hara’s inscription in Mitchell’s copy of Lunch Poems, on display in the exhibit (“for Joan, for saving Abstract Expressionism everything”).
  • As the Mitchell show demonstrates, the previously undersung Abstract Expressionist women painters continue to generate excitement and attention, on the heels of the success of Mary Gabriel’s group portrait, Ninth Street Women.  The art historian Alexander Nemerov recently published a biography of Helen Frankenthaler (Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York), which Adam Gopnik reviewed for the New Yorker back in April. Other reviews can be found here, here, and here.
Helen Frankenthaler
  • The Tibor de Nagy gallery in New York is currently showing “Larry Rivers: Works on Paper from the 1950s and 1960s” (from October 23 to November 27), the artist’s 15th solo exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy and the first at the gallery’s new location at 11 Rivington Street. An interesting piece about Rivers’ work during this crucial period, including his relationship with Frank O’Hara, by David Joel, Executive Director of the Larry Rivers Foundation, can be found here.
Larry RiversDouble French Money, 1962-63. mixed media12 x 12 inches

  • The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation in New York is presenting another show of interest — “True Fictions: Jane Freilicher and Thomas Nozkowski: True Fictions,” curated by Eric Brown. The exhibit will run from November 5 to February 26, 2022 and a catalogue featuring essays by Brown and Barry Schwabsky will accompany the exhibition.
JANE FREILICHER & THOMAS NOZKOWSKI
  • Todd Haynes’s highly anticipated and excellent documentary The Velvet Underground — which focuses extensively on the Warhol scene and the experimental film, music, and art world of the New York avant-garde of the 1960s — was released on Apple TV+ to acclaim and a long stream of reviews. For more on the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed and New York School poetry, see here and here.
The Velvet Underground members John Cale, left, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed in a scene from the documentary.
  • Alice Notley recently gave a sold-out reading at the Poetry Project in New York, and a recording of the reading can be seen here.
  • And speaking of recent Notley readings — the very sad news this week that the beloved poet and painter Etel Adnan has passed away at the age of 96 reminded me of this wonderful Zoom reading (hosted by the Woodberry Poetry Room) that I attended last fall at the height of the pandemic, which brought together Adnan with Alice Notley for a very memorable and moving event:
Posted in Abstract Expressionism, Alice Notley, Andy Warhol, Ange Mlinko, Art Exhibit, Ben Lerner, Bernadette Mayer, Charles North, Criticism, Etel Adnan, Film, Frank O'Hara, Helen Frankenthaler, Jane Freilicher, Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, John Ashbery, John Yau, Larry Rivers, Lou Reed, Peter Schjeldahl, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Roundup, Trevor Winkfield, Velvet Underground, Video, Visual Art | 1 Comment

Welcome to the “Network for New York School Studies”

Some exciting news for anyone with an abiding interest in the New York School of poets and artists — a brand-new international scholarly organization called the Network for New York School Studies has recently been launched. Founded by scholars Rona Cran and Yasmine Shamma, the organization aims to be a meeting place and scholarly home for anyone interested in the New York School and its many offshoots.

The Network’s goal is to formalize “for the first time an intellectual and creative global union of academics, poets, and other cultural practitioners including curators, artists, and musicians. Through a series of interactive, accessible, intersectional public events, including symposia, workshops, and performances, and via our new website, the Network will enable novel interactions between academics, creative practitioners, cultural organizations, and members of the public, as well as facilitating the free exchange of ideas across national borders, disciplinary boundaries, and cultural sectors.”

I’m very pleased and honored to be one of the members of the Network’s Board of Advisors, alongide many of my friends, heroes, and fellow New York School aficionados, Maria Damon, Mark Ford, Robert Hampson, Daniel Kane, Maggie Nelson, Marjorie Perloff, Libbie Rifkin, Lytle Shaw, and Geoff Ward.

Next spring, the Network will host an initial event in Paris, which will include a symposium devoted to the work of Alice Notley. For more on that upcoming event, see here. Many more such events and gatherings will follow.

Also, last month the Network presented its inaugural reading with a star-studded lineup which featured readings by Anne Waldman, Maureen Owen, Alice Notley, Elinor Nauen, Patricia Spears Jones, and Eileen Myles. A video of the reading can be seen here.

Lastly, a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with the organization’s founders, Rona Cran and Yasmine Shamma, about my own work, my long-ago personal introduction to the world of Kenneth Koch and his circle, recent exciting work in the field, and much else. You can find the interview here.

If you’d like to find out more about the Network for New York School Studies or about becoming a member, click here and here. Please join us!

Posted in Alice Notley, Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, Elinor Nauen, Interview, Kenneth Koch, Maggie Nelson, Marjorie Perloff, Mark Ford, Maureen Owen, Patricia Spears Jones | Leave a comment

Wallace Stevens and the New York School Poets

For a while now, I’ve been trying to make the case here and there that Wallace Stevens’s outsized influence on American avant-garde poetry — including on the poets of the New York School — has often been overlooked, to the detriment of both.

Now, I’ve had the chance to expand on this argument in an essay I contributed to a new collection entitled The New Wallace Stevens Studies, edited by Bart Eeckhout and Gül Bilge Han, which was recently published by Cambridge University Press.

In the piece, I argue that literary history has long downplayed or ignored Stevens’s crucial role in the history of experimental poetics, from Objectivism, to the various movements of the “New American Poetry,” to Language poetry, and beyond.  For reasons I discuss in the essay, Stevens has long been cast as a formalist favorite and latter-day Romantic or neo-Symbolist poet, of marginal importance to avant-garde poets who follow him (though that impression has begun to change somewhat in recent years).

As I put it in the essay, “in the case of the New York School, the neglect of Stevens as an important precursor causes problems in both directions: it unnecessarily limits our sense of New York School poetry, while simultaneously hindering our understanding of Stevens and his legacy.  For one thing, it gives us a misleading picture of the aesthetic and philosophical complexity of New York School poetics, which can too easily be reduced to a chatty, pop-culture infused poetry of urban daily life.  On Stevens’s side of the equation, this neglect reinforces the distorted image of Stevens as stuffy, backward-looking aesthete, devoted solely to abstraction and imagination, disdainful of the concrete, everyday realities so dear to the New York School, and perpetuates the notion that he has been of minimal importance to the avant-garde strain in American poetry.

The essay discusses Stevens’s importance not only to John Ashbery (to whom he has of course often been connected), but also to Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, Kenneth Koch, and members of the New York School’s second generation, like Ted Berrigan. Ultimately, I argue that “for all their differences, Stevens and the New York School poets share a great deal: an obsession with painting and a passion for all things French; a delight in wordplay and the sensuous surfaces of language; an anti-foundational skepticism towards fixity in self, language, or idea; and perhaps most of all, an embrace of the imagination and deep attraction to the surreal combined with a devotion to the ordinary and everyday.”

You can read my essay and find out more about The New Wallace Stevens Studies here.

Posted in Barbara Guest, Criticism, Frank O'Hara, Influences on the NY School, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Ted Berrigan, Wallace Stevens | 2 Comments

Jim Jarmusch and the Art of Collage

“Untitled,” 2017. “I love Nico,” the artist said. “I’m saving her head.”
“Untitled” (2017)

The New York Times piece gives an extended look at Jarmusch’s interest in collage and appropriation, identifying it as a through-line that runs across the gamut of his work:

“‘The interesting thing about them is they reveal to me that my process of creating things is very similar, whether I’m writing a script or shooting a film or making a piece of music or writing a poem or making a collage,’ Jarmusch said. ‘I gather the elements from which I will make the thing first. Like, shooting a film is just gathering the material from which you will edit the film, you know? The collages reduce it to the most minimal form of that procedure.'”

Jarmusch also traces his aesthetic roots back to his early exposure to the New York School of poets during his studies at Columbia University:

“Before he landed on filmmaking, Jarmusch intended to be a poet, studying under the New York School poet David Shapiro (who also made collages) and Kenneth Koch, and traces his animating principle to their strategies. ‘Koch once gave me a poem by Rilke, and said, bring me your translation in two days. I said, “But Kenneth, I don’t know any German.” And he just looked at me with a kind of twinkle in his eye and said, “Exactly.” And so the idea is take something, anything, and make a new thing out of it.’”

Altough many of the collages are playful, Jarmusch also acknowledges that “Some of them are a little scary or dark. Some of them, I hope, are funny. The New York School poets taught me if there’s nothing funny in any of your stuff, then wow, how unfortunate for you.”

You can find out more about Jarmusch’s book, Some Collages (a title that perhaps nods to Ashbery’s debut, Some Trees), here and read an interview with him about his collages in Dazed, here.

“Untitled,” 2017. Is this Josef Albers’s head that’s gone missing from the artist’s body? Jim Jarmusch includes a newsprint clue that suggests so.
“Untitled” (2017)
Posted in Art Exhibit, David Shapiro, Film, Jim Jarmusch, Kenneth Koch, NY School Influence, Visual Art | 1 Comment

Jenny Xie reads “My Heart” by Frank O’Hara

Jenny Xie

If you haven’t checked it out yet, Ours Poetica is a great video series, produced by the Poetry Foundation and the poet Paige Lewis, which posts a poem read by a poet, writer, or artist, three times a week.

This week the poet Jenny Xie reads Frank O’Hara’s wonderful short poem “My Heart.” O’Hara’s defiant declaration of non-conformity and artistic and personal independence has long been a favorite of mine. I even used a line from the poem — “I want to be / at least as alive as the vulgar” — in the title of one my first published essays (about O’Hara and the movies). And I remember how happy and surprised I was when it was included in the “Poetry in Motion” series, a program which creates posters of poems and places them in New York City subways. Looking up during my long commute and seeing that poem adorning the grimy walls of the L train was an unexpected delight. My wife even tracked down the poster and bought a copy for me many years ago, and it’s been hanging in my office ever since.

Before she reads the poem, Xie says “I return to this poem for its celebration of the freedom to be a stranger to oneself,” which is a lovely way of putting it. Here’s her reading of the poem:

Posted in Frank O'Hara, Jenny Xie, Paige Lewis, Poems, Video | Leave a comment

Roundup of Recent “New York School of Poetry” News and Links (4/4/21)

I know it has been awfully quiet around here at Locus Solus over the past few months. A combination of pandemic craziness and being in the last stages of a long-term project has resulted in my needing to take a bit of a hiatus (or, as journalists like to call it, “book leave”) from posting about the New York School of poets here. (I continue to post regularly on the Locus Solus Facebook page and on Twitter so I do encourage you to follow me in those places for New York School-related content).

I hope to resume more frequent posting here in the near future, but in the meantime, I thought I’d do one of my semi-regular roundups of recent links and news related to the New York School of poets. (Previous roundups can be found here). So here are some of the many items of interest from the past few months:

  • Sebastian Smee writes about Grace Hartigan and Frank O’Hara in the Washington Post. The piece focuses on the friendship between Hartigan and O’Hara (which I wrote a bit about here), and in particular, focuses on Hartigan’s painting “Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966,” which she painted after the poet’s tragic death. Smee notes that the painting “is definitely an event. Measuring 6.6-by-6.6 feet, it is full of compressed energies, rhyming forms and an overall sense of energetic entanglement.” 
Grace Hartigan, “Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966” (1966)
  • Exciting news for fans of Alice Notley — her first art book, Runes and Chords, is forthcoming this summer: “These sketches, drawn on an iPad and first serialized on Notley’s Twitter feed, are a fascinating window into an evolving practice, collages of flowers and poetry, the white space of digital creation and overlaid colors erupting from the page. They defy containment and category, much like their creator—each a second in a day, an afternoon or evening in Paris, a thought so transient it can only exist in the medium of social media.” Notley wrote about the origins the book and the process of making these works for the Poetry Foundation, and Nick Sturm delved into Notley’s visual art for Jacket2
Runes and Chords
  • The world of the New York School and its affiliates has suffered some sharp losses over the past few months. First, Lewis Warsh, a beloved and important member of the New York School’s so-called Second Generation, recently passed away at the age of 76. For some of the many fine and moving tributes that have appeared since he passed away late last year, see here and here and here.
Image
Lewis Warsh, Anne Waldman, and Joe Brainard (1968)
  • An additional major loss was the death of Diane Di Prima, another figure associated with the Beats but with strong ties to O’Hara and poets of the New York School. Di Prima died in October 2020 at the age of 86 — you can find some of the many obituaries and tributes here, here, here, and here. Last year, a critical study of Di Prima’s work, Diane Di Prima: Visionary Poetics and Hidden Religions, by David Stephen Calonne was published as well.
  • Mary Maxwell also wrote about Mathews’s Collected poems for the Best American Poetry blog: “Taking Parisian boulevards as a starting point, perhaps the best way to present his poetic work is as a sort of extended flirtation taking place at an outdoor cafe, formal stricture functioning as mere frame, the way extenuating circumstances of vehicular traffic and passersby impinge upon conversation. His lines often throb with the intensity of being abroad…experiences lit by unfamiliar skies and therefore glowing with an enchanted alienness.”
  • The scholar Brian Glavey has a new critical essay on James Schuyler in New Literary History (paywalled) called “Lyric Wilt, or, the Here and Now of Queer Impotentiality.” In the essay, Glavey considers “the tension between Schuyler’s commitment to the here and now and what [Jose] Muñoz calls ‘the there and then of queer futurity,’ suggesting that the key to understanding these seemingly contradictory commitments is to recognize his career-long investigation into the idea of potentiality.”
  • Art historian Delia Solomons writes for MoMA about a sculpture by the artist Marisol (who I wrote about here) in relation to a poem by Frank O’Hara. Solomons “brings together Marisol’s sculpture Love and Frank O’Hara’s poem “Having a Coke with You” to explore their shared investigations of the personal in a capitalistic landscape, queer eroticism, global Cold War politics, and stoppered versus flowing communication.”
Marisol, “Love” (1962)

  • The poet and physician Rafael Campo writes about Frank O’Hara’s “Poem (Lana Turner has collapsed!)” in the context of our pandemic moment for the Poetry Society of America. “Whenever I return to this beloved poem,” Campo writes, “as I have frequently during these fevered days, or teach it to medical students, I’m always struck by its immediacy, how insistently it locates us in the troubled physical body … Whether we hear a prayer of hope in the poem’s stunning last line, or a desperate plea that we endure, or even an arch impatience in our silly imperfections, in the end we can confess our inexplicable, undiagnosable, love—and, more than by any medicine I can prescribe, be saved by it.”
  • The poet Shane McCrae published a piece titled “My War with John Ashbery” for the Library of America’s series of blog posts on “Infuences.” McCrae notes “I’m still afraid when I sit down to read him—I struggled to not sound like Ashbery for years; I still feel as if he might overwhelm me. And in the end, I only managed the trick of not sounding like him by trying a new trick. The trick, it turns out, wasn’t to not sound like Ashbery—if that had been what I kept trying to do, I never would have pulled the trick off—the trick was to sound like myself.”

  • Some Other Blues: New Perspectives on Amiri Baraka, a new collection of essays on Baraka’s work edited by Jean-Philippe Marcoux, was recently published by Ohio State University Press. The book features essays by many important Baraka scholars, including William J. Harris, Benjamin Lee, John Lowney, Fred Moten, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Anthony Reed, Lauri Scheyer, Kathy Lou Schultz, James Smethurst, Laura Vrana, and Tyrone Williams.

Posted in Abstract Expressionism, Alice Notley, Barbara Guest, Diane Di Prima, Dick Gallup, Frank O'Hara, Grace Hartigan, Harry Mathews, Helen Frankenthaler, In Memoriam, Influences on the NY School, James Schuyler, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, John Cage, John Wieners, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lewis Warsh, Marisol, Max Jacob, Music, NY School Influence, Ron Padgett, Roundup, Ted Berrigan, Visual Art | 4 Comments