I’ve just gotten back from the very fun and stimulating Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900 (directed by the esteemed poetry scholar Alan Golding) which, this year at least, amply demonstrated that scholarly work devoted to the poets of the New York School and their contemporaries is alive and well. If nothing else, learning what other scholars and poets are talking about such conferences can give one a snapshot of the state of the conversation in a particular field.
There were a number of panels and papers devoted to the New York School, including a panel organized by Ben Lee, about “Rethinking Ekphrasis and the New York School.” It featured Brian Glavey giving a talk drawn from his book on “queer ekphrasis” in twentieth-century poetry (forthcoming from Oxford University Press), in which he argued that John Ashbery gives an unusual twist to the long ekphrastic tradition, since Ashbery’s celebrated poems about visual art are as much about not looking (or looking away) as they are about gazing at an artwork. Susan Rosenbaum‘s paper (also related to her forthcoming book on surrealism and American poetry) uncovered a fascinating little-known film made by Daisy Aldan (editor of Folder and an important early ally to the New York School poets) titled Once Upon an El, which featured short cameos by O’Hara, Ashbery, Grace Hartigan and other poets and painters. Mark Silverberg, author of The New York School Poets and the Radical Avant-Garde, took up a series of poems by Bob Holman that were inspired by Van Gogh, and argued that Holman turns ekphrasis into a more public, external, and performative mode.
A second panel on the New York School was devoted to figures from the movement’s so-called “second generation.” It featured Grant Matthew Jenkins calling for greater critical attention to the work of Ron Padgett, Greg Kinzer using object-oriented ontology to explore the disorienting and unusual way Joseph Ceravolo represents things in his poems, and Robert Zamsky analyzing disobedience and elegy in Alice Notley’s middle-period poetry.
There was also a third New York School panel, this one organized by Robert Archambeau. For this panel, I contributed a talk that argued that Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground can be read as a surprising and under-recognized example of the New York School’s influence, giving some special attention to the remarkable issue of the magazine Intransit that Gerard Malanga edited in 1968 (which I’ve mentioned before) — a huge anthology that brought together poems by many New York School figures with written works by Warhol and other members of his “Factory,” as well as rock musicians like Reed, John Cale, and Nico. Robert Archambeau‘s own paper re-situated Ashbery’s early work firmly within the art world of the 1950s, in a talk drawn from his forthcoming book on aestheticism and 20th century poetry. John Gallaher expanded on his recent edition of the poems of Michael Benedikt (which I posted about here) with a talk about Benedikt’s poetry, his work as an editor, and his role within and outside of the New York School.
There were also interesting and compelling papers on cosmopolitanism and the New York School (Gregory Hazleton), the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference (Andy Meyer), on Charles Olson’s notion of polis (Paul Jaussen), the relationship between American and Canadian poets of the 1950s and 1960s (Zane Koss), and the correspondence of Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan (Joshua Hoeynck). Plus a panel on “After Objectivism” in which Bob Perelman gave “a short history of punctuation in American poetry” and Hank Lazer delved into John Taggart’s poetry (and several other Objectivist panels that I wasn’t able to attend).
The conference also featured poetry readings by Joseph Lease (which, unfortunately, I wasn’t there in time to see), Tracie Morris, Fred Moten, Joseph Donahue, and Stephen Paul Miller, and an incendiary critical keynote talk by Fred Moten, and a great deal more.
I’m not sure if this is exactly what Angela Ball had in mind with the phrase “New York School diaspora,” but after spending 3 days in the middle of Kentucky talking about the New York School, discussing its legacy, and hearing lots of poetry written in its wake, I’d say it just might be.