Here’s the latest roundup of recent links, new publications, and news related to the New York School of poets. (For my most recent roundup, see here).
– They Knew What They Wanted, the gorgeous new collection of John Ashbery’s collages (paired with a selection of his poems), continues to elicit attention and laudatory reviews. Gregory Cowles reviewed the book for the New York Times Book Review. “Ashbery’s images demonstrate the same sense of gleeful mischief that’s everywhere in his poetry,” Cowles writes, “mixing fine art with advertising and comic strips and picture postcards, all of it married with the artist’s sure eye for color and mood and perspective. The result is an entire oeuvre of fantasy landscapes…”
– Michael Robbins reviewed the book of Ashbery’s collages for the Chicago Tribune. He stresses the often overlooked spirit of fun at the center of Ashbery’s body of work, and connects the collage-like elements of his poetry to the works of visual art that are reproduced, “in eye-smacking color,” in this book. Ashbery’s “collages re-create childlike mysteries and enchantments. Their unlikely encounters can return me to my juvenile fascination with comic-book crossover events, Superman and Spider-Man duking it out in some corporate DMZ.”
— For Artsy, Alina Cohen writes about “The Ongoing Influence of Frank O’Hara, the Art World’s Favorite Poet.” Cohen traces O’Hara’s complicated and colorful interactions with postwar American painters, from Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning to Andy Warhol, and his profound and continuing impact on the art world. (I was happy that I got a chance to speak with Cohen for this piece and it contains a few quotes by yours truly).
— For Vogue, Julia Felsenthal wrote a great, wide-ranging piece on Jane Freilicher’s life and work and a new show of her work that is currently at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York. The article presents Freilicher as “an uncommonly magnetic presence on the postwar art and literary scene,” and highlights her close friendships with the poets of the New York School (a subject I’ve written about before for example here and here):
The paintings in the Kasmin show—all but two date back to the ’50s (many hung in her and Ashbery’s homes)—were made in the heady early days of these creative friendships (Hazan compares her mother and the poets to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe in Just Kids). It was an era when O’Hara, who wrote a slew of poems devoted to “Jane,” would come over and help her stretch her canvases; when Ashbery would drop by to watch her paint; when Kenneth Koch, her onetime upstairs neighbor, would don a gorilla mask and scare passengers on the elevated train that rumbled past their windows. (He once said of Freilicher: “I never enjoyed conversation with anyone so much in my life.”)
— The current issue of the New Yorker also has a brief rave review of the Freilicher show as well: “Lyrical interiors and cityscapes, painted in the nineteen-fifties by this beloved New York artist, who died at the age of ninety in 2014, are a balm for the eyes…The show’s graceful mood is so seductive that you might overlook how daringly improvisational a painter Freilicher really was.”
— Joseph Lease’s highly anticipated new book of poems, Body Ghost, will be published in June by Coffee House Press. The blurbs situate Lease’s work within a New York School poetic lineage. Cyrus Cassells writes that “These poems, rife with music and sly, playful inquiries into the world, have some of Frank O’Hara’s metropolitan freshness and directness; they’re charming in their artful, lyrical gestures (‘the elegies / are taking off their clothes . . .’), but also plangent at key moments in their genuine moral and social critique (‘… tear up maps— / democracy is anyone’s eyes— feel / like you might have, might have / killed someone’).” David Shapiro, second generation New York School poet extraordinaire, writes: “When I was very young, my father, a ‘skin doctor,’ would show gleaming models of body parts at medical fairs. They frightened my sisters, but they were also illuminations of a whole world. Joseph’s poems are like these terrifying wholes/holes. They travel into us. Joseph has been making an American Buddhist poetry, and he is as maximalist as flesh and bone. He gives me the sensation that poetry is in gleaming hands, healing and grasping and letting go. He is the future of poetry.”
— At the Believer, there is a long, interesting interview with Ron Padgett, in which Padgett and Stephanie La Cava discuss the passing of John Ashbery, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, Marcel Duchamp, Padgett’s role as the poet behind Jim Jarmusch’s New York School-saturated film Paterson, William Carlos Williams, collaboration, Alex Katz, and much else.
— Nick Sturm recently posted a fascinating piece on his blog, Crystal Set, about a notebook Bernadette Mayer kept during her time as the Director of the Poetry Project at St. Marks, which is available as a PDF from the Library of Congress and which Sturm reproduces some pages from:
Filled with scribbled notes, poets’ phone numbers, lists of names for possible readings, reminders, budget concerns, doodles by her then-young children, sketches of correspondence, questions, ideas for events and poems, and even a colored map of the Church describing volunteers’ responsibilities for the 1980 New Year’s Eve Benefit Reading, the notebook acts as an animated snapshot of the planning and record keeping that went into the events and readings that facilitate and support a community of major artists. It’s an incredible visual document. From day-to-day Mayer is checking in with Alice Notley about a poster, calling John Wieners, writing to Cecil Taylor, or checking to see if a grant application for the Project Project Newsletter is due yet… More than anything else, the notebook is a document of labor, evidence of the difficult and overwhelming work that it requires to manage an institution like the Poetry Project, including managing the personalities, egos, and arguments amongst artists and other Project employees.
— John Yau’s lovely elegy for the late New York School poet Paul Violi, “Overnight,” appeared in the “Poem-a-Day” series hosted by the Academy of American Poets:
I did not realize that you were fading from sight
I don’t believe I could have helped with the transition
You most likely would have made a joke of it.
— In other welcome John Yau news, Poets & Writers announced that Yau has been awarded the 2018 Jackson Poetry Prize. The $60,000 prize is given annually “to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition.”
— As readers of this blog might recall, I’m a bit obsessed with the connections between Lou Reed and the New York School of poets, so I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of a new collection of Reed’s rare, early poems, Do Angels Need Haircuts? There has already been some buzz about the book (as in these pieces in the Guardian and Rolling Stone). And now there’s a great review of the book in Rolling Stone by Will Hermes, who is working on a biography of Reed. The collection captures the moment just after the Velvet Underground disbanded, when Reed seriously contemplated giving up music and devoting himself full-time to writing, and features a 1971 recording of Reed reading his poems at New York School headquarters, the Poetry Project at St. Marks. As Hermes notes:
Reed’s literary and musical drives merged majestically years later in the Velvet Underground, a band born of a scene full of poets. Their first drummer, Angus MacLise, wrote poems and ran a small chapbook press with Reed’s sometime roommate, fellow poet and filmmaker Piero Heliczer. Gerard Malanga, the Velvets’ whip-cracking dancer in the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, was a poet of some accomplishment too, working with Warhol on various publishing projects; one was an outsized edition of the literary journal Intransit titled The Andy Warhol–Gerard Malanga Monster Issue, featuring poems by Reed, MacLise, Nico and John Cale, among others. And to be sure, New York City poets young and old saw the Velvets play their legendary stand at the Dom in the East Village in April 1966, and at their swan-song Max’s Kansas City residency in the summer of 1970. At the latter shows, Patti Smith and Jim Carroll were among the up-and-comers. Anne Waldman, high priestess of the latter-day Beats and New York Schoolers, caught the Velvets at the Dom when she was living just down the block, at 33 St. Mark’s Place.
Reed’s widow, Laurie Anderson, who is tending to his archive and legacy, recently spoke with Dazed about the new collection of Reed poems as well.