If you are interested in the phenomenon of literary and artistic collaboration — both within New York School aesthetics and more broadly — you’re in luck. A valuable new collection of essays called New York School Collaborations: The Color of Vowels has just been published. It’s edited by Mark Silverberg, author of an important recent study, The New York School Poets and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Palgrave, 2010). The book is one of the first collections to be focused solely on the compelling questions and issues raised by the New York School’s deep fascination with the art of collaboration.
The collection features essays by a range of critics who have previously done excellent work on New York School poetry, including Terence Diggory, Susan Rosenbaum, Ellen Levy, and Jenni Quilter. The chapters cover a whole slew of interesting collaborations, both prominent and lesser-known: “Death Paints a Picture,” co-written by John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch; Ashbery and Joe Brainard’s collaboration on The Vermont Notebook; Frank O’Hara-inspired compositions by the avant-garde composer Morton Feldman, and collaborative work by Barbara Guest, Eileen Myles, and Rudy Burkhardt, among others.
I’m very pleased, too, that one of the essays included actually began as a seminar paper in a graduate course I taught some years back at Florida State University. It’s by Flore Chevaillier, who received her Ph.D. from FSU and is now a professor at Central State University in Ohio. Her essay argues that The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan can be read as an act of collaboration between the poet and other existing texts.
I was also happy to have been given the opportunity to provide a blurb for the book:
This well-conceived collection brings overdue attention to an often-mentioned but under-examined feature of the New York School of poetry: the practice of collaboration, both between poets and across art-forms. Exploring a set of diverse and fresh examples, these wide-ranging, insightful essays approach collaboration from an exciting array of angles: they chart its roots in the historical avant-garde, analyze its challenge to individual genius and examine its strange brew of competition and camaraderie, discuss its role in community-formation, consider its erotic dimensions, and contrast male collaborations with works jointly produced by women.
This valuable anthology demonstrates that the New York School collaboration is no mere coterie game or historical footnote: it is a ground-breaking and influential aesthetic phenomenon that forces us to rethink the nature of authorship, creativity, and the dialogue between the arts in twentieth-century American literature and culture.
Here is the book’s table of contents:
Introduction: New York School Collaborations and The Coronation Murder Mystery; Mark Silverberg
1. ‘Our program is the absence of any program’: the New York School Reading the Past; Ben Hickman
2. Ballet, Basketball and the Erotics of New York School Collaboration; Terence Diggory
3. ‘Permeation, ventilation, occlusion’: Reading John Ashbery and Joe Brainard’s The Vermont Notebook in the Tradition of Surrealist Collaboration; Susan Rosenbaum
4. Slippery Subjects: Thoughts on the Occasion of Ashbery and Koch’s ‘Death Paints a Picture’; Ellen Levy
5. Fair Realism: The Aesthetics of Restraint in Barbara Guest’s Collaborations; Kimberly Lamm
6. Life Without Malice: The Minor Arts of Collaboration; Jenni Quilter
7. ‘An Opposite Force’s Breath’: Medium-boundedness, Lyric Poetry and Painting in Frank O’Hara’; Monika Gehlawat
8. Mourning Coterie: Morton Feldman and Frank O’Hara’s Posthumous Collaborations; Ryan Dohoney
9. ‘Everything Turns into Writing’: Rhizomes and Poetry Re-Processings in Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets; Flore Chevaillier
10. Giant Creatures Sculpted Here: Collectivity, Gender, and Performance in the Collaborations of Eileen Myles; Erica Kaufman
Mark Silverberg’s excellent introduction offers a very useful theoretical and historical account of collaboration’s central role in New York School poetry. You can read the full introduction here.
The book has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan in their “Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics” series, which is edited by Rachel Blau DuPlessis. You can find out more about this important contribution to the study of the New York School here and here.