One of Kate Spade’s Muses was Frank O’Hara



Frank O'Hara bag             

Here’s an interesting footnote to the very sad news about the pioneering fashion designer Kate Spade, who died of an apparent suicide several days ago.  In a piece in the Atlantic, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell emphasizes Spade’s retro sensibility, pointing out that Frank O’Hara, of all people, was one of her guiding lights:

Spade was photographed around town wearing twinsets, cocktail rings, and leopard coats long before Wes Anderson came to prominence and Mad Men debuted on TV. Instead of contemporary celebrities and socialites, she once cited the playwright Arthur Miller and the poet Frank O’Hara as her muses.

I confess that I know very little about fashion design, and even less about Kate Spade, but this connection does further solidify my sense that nearly all roads somehow lead back to the New York School of poets.  I imagine it would’ve pleased O’Hara to know that he had helped inspire such a innovative and creative designer in the world of fashion.

He didn’t write about high fashion all that often, but he did write this in “Christmas Card to Grace Hartigan”:

For red there is our blood
which, like your smile, must be
protected from spilling into
generality by secret meanings,
the lipstick of life hidden
in a handbag against violations.



Posted in Frank O'Hara, Grace Hartigan, In Memoriam, Mad Men, NY School Influence | 2 Comments

Another Night at Columbia: Allen Ginsberg in 1995, Standing Room Only


Today is Allen Ginsberg’s birthday, and it brought to mind a memorable evening in 1995, one of a handful of times I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing Ginsberg himself: a night when I was partially responsible for creating a fire hazard and what felt like a near-riot at a Ginsberg reading at Columbia University.

Kenneth Koch had invited his old friend Ginsberg to read at Columbia as part of the F. W. Dupee Poetry Reading series Koch had recently launched.  To round out the evening, he asked another old friend, David Shapiro, to read with Ginsberg.  Shapiro, one of the central poets of the New York School’s second generation, is also a well-known Columbia alum, famous within university lore for his role in the student protests of 1968, so it was a very special double bill.

I had the good fortune of being Koch’s assistant at the time, and for six years, helped him organize, advertise, and set up for the readings in this series (as I’ve mentioned before).  In the run-up to the Ginsberg reading, Koch asked me whether I thought we should use the lounge in Philosophy Hall (home to the Columbia English Department), where we had held other readings in the series, for this reading.  The lounge, a pleasant sitting room where they used to serve tea and graham crackers every afternoon, was not a huge space — it could fit maybe 100 people comfortably, and was filled with couches, armchairs, and wooden tables.  In other words, it was in no way a space used for large events.  I told Koch I was a little worried that it would be too small a venue for someone as famous as Ginsberg, but Kenneth thought it would be probably be fine, and I went along with his intuition.  I sent out the flyer, as usual, to the Village Voice, NY Press, and other local outlets and magazines, and spread the word on email listserves and the like.

Because Ginsberg was one of Columbia’s best known literary alums, this was to be a homecoming of sorts, a return to one of the prime Beat points of origin.  In 1995, he was also one of the most famous living poets, an actual pop culture figure, with a vast reputation that far exceeded the narrow poetry world.  So … the reading ended up being a much bigger deal than Koch, or I, expected.  The lounge in Philosophy Hall turned out to be a comically small room for a hometown reading by a world famous icon.

The day of the reading, October 25, 1995, I recall worrying — as I always did before readings — whether enough people would show up to have a critical mass for a decent event.  The first inkling that we might be in trouble occurred when I arrived a couple hours before the reading to set up chairs and some people were already there, already waiting for the big event.  The room filled up quickly, as Columbia students, faculty, people from the New York poetry scene, and curious Ginsberg fans flooded into the lounge.  The atmosphere felt a little unruly and out of control, with people scrambling to find space and eventually climbing through the now-open windows.

By the time Ginsberg and Shapiro arrived, it was standing room only, with a throng of people also outside the room, filling the echoing lobby.  I remember pushing through the mob to get to the front door to help Koch and the two readers jostle their way through the crowd in the lobby and into the packed room.  Despite being in poor health, Ginsberg took it all in stride, bemused at the chaos and grateful for the adoration of the crowd that had assembled at his alma mater in his honor.  I recall Shapiro telling me later he was completely overwhelmed — both by the intensity and excitement of being back at Columbia reading with Ginsberg, and by the size of the boisterous crowd.

Both poets gave wonderful, passionate readings of their work, while students crammed into the open windows behind them and others strained to hear from outside the building (as you can see in the newspaper photo above).  Although Ginsberg would pass away less than two years after this night, he was in fine form that night, inspiring the young crowd with his inimitable poems and sense of humor and his words about politics and justice.

It was quite a different reception than Ginsberg had received after a 1959 reading on the same campus, immortalized in the notorious Partisan Review essay by Diana Trilling called “The Other Night At Columbia” that “described her horror and disgust at a reading given at Columbia by Ginsberg, Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso. The people in the crowd, she said, looked like they smelled bad.”

I recently dug up an article on the event from the archives of the Columbia Spectator, which you can see below.  The article says 400 people attended, with audience members sitting on window sills and listening from outside the building.  “Koch admitted he did not expect so many people to attend,” the article (rightly!) notes.

Here’s the sad, little, graphic-design-challenged flyer I made for the event:

Ginsberg Shapiro flyer

And here’s the article from the Columbia Spectator about the reading, October 26, 1995:

Posted in Allen Ginsberg, David Shapiro, Gregory Corso, Kenneth Koch | 2 Comments

On Five Years of Locus Solus


Ad for Locus Solus, in the Wagner Literary Review, 1963 (courtesy of Nick Sturm)

Five years ago today, on May 27, 2013, I launched this blog with a welcome message and only a vague sense of what this site would become.  It’s turned out to be an immensely rewarding and fun side project, and it’s been very gratifying to learn that people seem to have found it useful and enjoyable as well.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve published nearly 300 posts on the poets and artists of the New York School and their milieu, the influences that shaped their work and the long shadow they’ve cast on what has followed in their wake.  Although it wasn’t my primary intention when I started, one of the goals of this blog has been trying to track the surprisingly vast and growing influence these poets have exerted, not only on poetry but across our culture as a whole.  If anything, I’ve found it nearly impossible to keep up with the constant stream of news related to the poets of the New York School – the steady and inspiring appearance of new books, articles, poems, art exhibits, podcasts, and sightings in pop culture and journalism, occasionally punctuated by the inevitable sad news about deaths and the passing of a generation.

Posts have ranged from discussions of indie rock, jazz, filmfiction, and television (and one beloved show’s triumphant rescuing of Frank O’Hara from cultural obscurity (that’s a joke); to “visual footnotes” for famous poems; to recovering interesting ephemera or rare items from the archives; from a photo-essay / walking tour of Frank O’Hara’s New York apartments to anecdotes about Leonard Cohen telling Kenneth Koch to give up poetry for rock music and the time Elizabeth Bishop got high with John Ashbery.

If you’re curious about the range of topics and types of things I’ve posted about here over the past five years, click on the “Categories” and “Archives” drop-down menus on the right side of the screen and browse around.  (And to keep up with new stuff, some of which doesn’t make it on to this blog, be sure to follow the “Locus Solus” Facebook page and my own Twitter account, as well as this site, to get timely updates and information and links about the poets and artists of the New York School).

One wonderful by-product of doing this blog has been getting the chance to hear from so many readers and fans of the New York School.  It has really given me a tangible sense of a wide-ranging community of people who care deeply about poetry and art in general, and in particular about this group of poets, and the art and literature and music they cared about and which they in turn have influenced.

I’ve truly appreciated all the tips, suggestions, review copies, encouragement, etc., from fans of the New York School, fellow scholars and poets, and interested readers — please keep them coming!

I just wanted to take this opportunity on this site’s fifth birthday to thank you for reading and for visiting this site.  As (New York School pal) Robert Creeley would say, onward!

Posted in Elizabeth BIshop, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Leonard Cohen, Locus Solus, Robert Creeley, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Cecil Taylor (1929-2018), Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka


Cecil Taylor, still from “Les Grandes Répétitions,” a 1966 French documentary about Taylor.

When the groundbreaking avant-garde jazz pianist and composer Cecil Taylor died last month, there was an outpouring of obituaries and tributes to his genius and influence.  But there was less attention paid to Taylor’s connections to the literary world, and to avant-garde poetry — including his links to New York poets during the 1950s and 1960s — than one might have expected.

It’s true that Taylor’s friend and rival, Ornette Coleman — who is often seen, alongside Taylor, as one of the co-founders of free jazz – may have had more extensive contact and social ties than Taylor himself with the poets of the New York School, as I discussed after Coleman died in 2015.

But Taylor, who was also a poet, first emerged in the same New York scene, rubbing elbows with poets like Frank O’Hara and Amiri Baraka, and playing some of his earliest gigs at the Five Spot (the legendary jazz club that serves as the site of Frank O’Hara’s famous elegy for Billie Holiday and was a hangout for the downtown, bohemian, literary set).  And he really read (and wrote) the stuff: thanks in part to Baraka, Taylor began to read deeply in the work of poets associated with the “New American Poetry,” like Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, and Bob Kaufman.

Adam Shatz has just published a lengthy and excellent article about Taylor’s life, work, and legacy for the New York Review of Books that fills in some of these gaps — including a tantalizing reference to O’Hara and passages about Baraka, the Five Spot, and other literary figures like Norman Mailer.  Shatz weaves together a slew of memorable anecdotes that flesh out the daunting range of Taylor’s influences and interests, and vividly convey his brilliant, complicated, sometimes difficult, enigmatic personality and aesthetic philosophy.  As Shatz writes, “Cecil Taylor was as urbane an intellectual as jazz has ever known: reader of Camus, friend of the Beats, student of modernist architecture.”

Shatz got to know Taylor during the last decade of his life, and relays the texture and content of his many conversations with the musician.  In the course of doing so, he mentions that Taylor would regularly speak with admiration about Frank O’Hara:

He invariably talked about the people he loved and the artists he admired: his father, a professional cook from whose kitchen “the most wonderful smells would emanate”; his formidable mother, who spoke French and German and took him to the ballet; Billie Holiday and Lena Horne, both of whom he worshipped; Jimmy Lyons, who had given twenty-six years of saintly devotion to Taylor’s Unit; the architect Santiago Calatrava, whose bridges he adored; and the poet Frank O’Hara, who shared his love of modern art and “was rather pleasant to look at.” (Did he know O’Hara well, I once asked him. “I don’t know anyone well,” he replied.)

I’ve never been able to find much textual evidence pointing to specific connections between O’Hara and Taylor, especially in contrast to Coleman (who O’Hara did mention in letters and refer to in his work), so I was particularly intrigued by Shatz’s recollection here.

Presumably, O’Hara and Taylor would’ve crossed paths repeatedly in the downtown music, art, and poetry scene, and I know of at least one event where they shared a (rather amazing) bill, on June 24, 1963.

Leroi Jones Benefit flyer

As this poster shows, both Frank O’Hara and Cecil Taylor performed at a benefit for LeRoi Jones (who would soon become Amiri Baraka) and his wife Hettie Jones at the Living Theatre.  The benefit, intended to raise money for the couple after they had been stricken with hepatitis and were struggling financially, brought together a rather amazing set of figures from avant-garde poetry, art, and music, including O’Hara, painter and saxophonist Larry Rivers, Paul Blackburn, trumpeter Don Cherry (famous for his work with Ornette Coleman), and Cecil Taylor.  (This 1963 article from the Village Voice about the upcoming event mentions that avant-garde composer Morton Feldman and writer Gilbert Sorrentino would be appearing as well).

Here’s another instance which suggests that O’Hara and Taylor spent time in one another’s company: a couple years ago, I wrote about an interview in which Allen Ginsberg reminisced about the “real mad combination” of people who could be found socializing at Baraka’s apartment, which functioned as “a grand ‘salon'” for the postwar avant-garde: “I saw at one party, in one room, at one time Langston Hughes, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Franz Kline, Kerouac, myself,” along with “Frank O’Hara … maybe intersecting with Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and others; Robert Creeley, Charles Olson…”

Speaking of Baraka, Shatz’s article also includes an interesting passage about the Taylor-Baraka relationship, which started out strong but turned fraught, for reasons both personal and political:

Taylor often spoke of his estranged friend the poet and jazz critic Amiri Baraka, whom he insisted on calling by his former name, LeRoi Jones. They had been close in the late 1950s and early 1960s, until Baraka brought Allen Ginsberg over to Taylor’s apartment in the East Village. Ginsberg wanted Taylor to write music for a reading of Howl, but Taylor declined, out of loyalty to the black Beat poet Bob Kaufman, whom Taylor felt Ginsberg had unfairly overshadowed. As they were leaving, Baraka sneered, “the problem with our jazz musicians is that they’re not literate.” Still cut by that remark, Taylor told me, “I took a friend to one of ’Roi’s readings years later, after he’d started calling himself Amiri Baraka. I asked him what he thought. ‘Very impressive,’ he said, ‘but how many times can you hear the word black?’ ’Roi started out as a poet, but became a polemicist,” a word he pronounced with disdain.

There’s also a funny Five Spot anecdote, about the time Norman Mailer liked Cecil Taylor’s music so much, and so noisily, that he got Taylor canned:

One of his earliest (and loudest) admirers was Norman Mailer, who heard Taylor at the Five Spot, on the Bowery, in the early 1960s, and was so astonished that he stood up on his chair and declared, “This guy Cecil Taylor is so much better than Monk.” Mailer cost Taylor his gig: an influential friend of Monk’s reported the comment to Joe Termini, the Five Spot’s co-owner, who was already looking for a pretext to fire Taylor. “Norman knew about a lot of things, but music was not one of them,” Taylor told me at one of our dinners, adding that “if it weren’t for Monk I could not have existed.”

Throughout, Schatz stresses Taylor’s deep ties to poetry, literature, and the other arts, which sometimes contrasted sharply with his chilly reception by the gatekeepers of jazz.  “Never fully embraced by the jazz world, he was lionized by writers, poets, dancers, and artists who admired his audacity and had as little use for categories as he did.”  Taylor’s death — like the passing of Ornette Coleman, John Ashbery, and so many others in recent years — signals the end of a remarkable era in which those “real mad combinations” were still possible, and music, poetry, and art cross-fertilized in fascinating, inspiring ways.


Cecil Taylor, still from “Les Grandes Répétitions,” a 1966 documentary about Taylor.

Posted in Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Beats, Billie Holiday, Bob Kaufman, Cecil Taylor, Charles Olson, Frank O'Hara, Franz Kline, Gilbert Sorrentino, In Memoriam, Influences on the NY School, Jack Kerouac, Jazz, Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers, Michael McClure, Morton Feldman, Music, Norman Mailer, NY School Influence, Ornette Coleman, Paul Blackburn, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Thelonious Monk | 1 Comment

Roundup of Recent “New York School of Poetry” News and Links (5/16/18)

Ashbery Diffusion of Knowledge collage

John Ashbery, “Diffusion of Knowledge” (1972).

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.”

Jane Frelicher, The Painting Table (1954)

Jane Frelicher, The Painting Table (1954)

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.

— And, speaking of Bernadette Mayer, there are two new poems by Mayer in the current (May 2018) issue of Poetry magazine, “Fish & Chips” and “Alternating Lunes” (a collaboration with Philip Good).

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.

Posted in Alex Katz, Alice Notley, Andy Warhol, Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, collaboration, David Shapiro, Frank O'Hara, Gerard Malanga, Interview, Jane Freilicher, Jim Carroll, Jim Jarmusch, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, John Wieners, John Yau, Joseph Lease, Kenneth Koch, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, NY School Influence, Patti Smith, Paul Violi, Poems, Poetry Project at St. Marks, Ron Padgett, Roundup, Velvet Underground, Visual Art, William Carlos Williams | 2 Comments

On Frank O’Hara and Willem de Kooning

Well, I have my beautiful de Kooning
to aspire to. I think it has an orange
bed in it, more than the ear can hold.

— Frank O’Hara, “Radio”

Today is the birthday of the great painter Willem de Kooning, who was born on April 24, 1904.  I thought I would take this occasion to link to a piece of mine about the deep ties between Frank O’Hara and de Kooning, which appeared last year in the British journal Decals of Desire (and which I guess I forgot to post about at the time here).

In the piece, I write that although O’Hara revered both de Kooning and Jackson Pollock,

“he loved de Kooning.  He never enjoyed a close personal relationship with Pollock, who was frequently cruel and abusive to those around him and prone to homophobic outbursts and slurs.  In his biography of O’Hara, Brad Gooch notes of Pollock that “on at least one occasion he called O’Hara a ‘fag’ to his face and was enough of a menace that O’Hara fled the Cedar one night when he heard that Pollock was on a drunken rampage.”  In contrast, de Kooning was unfailingly generous and supportive of O’Hara and his friends, who in turn idolized him and his work above all others.  In a memoir, O’Hara recalled that “when Larry [Rivers] introduced me to de Kooning I nearly got sick.”  He and his friends may have seen de Kooning as a god, but, to their delight and surprise, he was a deity who deigned to come down and chat and get drunk with mere mortals like themselves.  The young poets adored de Kooning’s charismatic personality, his clever wit, and his tendency (as a native speaker of Dutch rather than English) to spout wonderful off-kilter phrases and oddly poetic insights, which they would sometimes stitch into their own work.

And the feeling was mutual: de Kooning developed a strong connection with O’Hara in particular that persisted until O’Hara’s tragic death at the age of 40 in 1966.  The painter respected O’Hara deeply, despite the difference in their age. “I liked him immediately,” de Kooning would later recall.  “He was so bright. Right away he was at the center of things, and he did not bulldoze.  It was his manner and his way.  There was a good-omen feeling about him.”  De Kooning was also not shy about showing his affection for O’Hara: as Gooch notes, “evidently free of Pollock’s homophobia, de Kooning often greeted O’Hara at the Cedar with a big juicy kiss.”

In addition to tracing their friendship, which was marked by affection and deep admiration for one another’s work, I also argue that “De Kooning was more than merely an artist O’Hara admired. The painter’s work – especially its fresh, intoxicating mix of abstraction and figuration – also kindled O’Hara’s imagination and influenced his poetry in tangible and abundant ways.”  This can be seen in many places in his poetry, including the poem “Radio,” which I quoted above and his expansive “Ode to Willem de Kooning.”

I argue that this ode suggests “the special place the painter held in O’Hara’s own personal pantheon: not only as one of this painting-obsessed poet’s very favorite artists, but also as the epitome of the artistic ambition and fierce independence that he cherishes and wishes to emulate in his own work.  Indeed, the ode’s rousing conclusion sounds precisely these notes, as it praises the painter’s ‘imperishable courage and the gentle will / which is the individual dawn of genius rising from its bed.’ For O’Hara, de Kooning represented the kind of quintessential artist figure he aspired to be himself – forging unforeseen paths, opening up new possibilities, and ‘hewing a clearing / in the crowded abyss of the West.'”

You can read the rest of the piece here.







Posted in Abstract Expressionism, Frank O'Hara, Influences on the NY School, Jackson Pollock, Visual Art, Willem de Kooning | Leave a comment

Roundup of Recent “New York School of Poetry” News and Links (4/2/18)

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).

Jeremy Noel-Tod reviews Karin Roffman’s biography of John Ashbery’s early years and reflects on his entire career in Prospect: for Noel-Tod, Roffman’s book is “a fascinatingly detailed account of a childhood that was shadowed by loneliness and melancholy.”

— In the Nation, Barry Schwabsky fills a large gap in the flood of commentary that followed Ashbery’s death in September 2017 by focusing extensively on Ashbery’s important and wonderful work as an art critic.  “Everyone knows that the death of John Ashbery took away a great poet. Fewer people realize that we also lost an outstanding art critic,” Schwabsky begins.  In many of his works of art criticism, we can see the poet “working out the aesthetic principles that would both carry through his poetry and inform his appreciation of painting, drawing, and sculpture.”

Craig Burnett writes at Frieze about the beautiful new book of John Ashbery’s collages:  “They Knew What They Wanted, edited by Mark Polizzotti and out with Rizzoli this week, places a lifetime of John Ashbery’s collages in conversation with his poems.”  For more on the book, see here.

— The poet Geoffrey G. O’Brien recently published an elegy for John Ashbery called “Irrealis.”

Eileen Myles is interviewed at Guernica by Carlie Fishgold.

— The terrific indie band Frankie Cosmos, led by the singer-songwriter Greta Kline, has a new album out, which means it’s time for another round of articles that mention that she was inspired to adopt the name Frankie because her love for Frank O’Hara’s poetry, which she counts as a major influence — like this one, in the New York Times: “The name Frankie Cosmos, which she’s used since 2012, is in part a homage to one of her favorite poets, Frank O’Hara.”  (For previous coverage of Frankie Cosmos and O’Hara, see here).

Katy Waldman’s interesting piece in the New York Times about whether artists and writers with day jobs make better art discusses Frank O’Hara writing poems on his lunch break, alongside other examples, including William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. (“Frank O’Hara’s 1964 Lunch Poems, a set of imagistic, peripatetic musings on a city in motion, are beloved in part because they manage to articulate the balance of work and life. Written on his breaks, their title an invitation to us to read them on ours, the seemingly dashed-off lines celebrate the pleasure a mind can take in wandering through its own busyness”).

Alexandra Gold places Frank O’Hara in a transnational context and examines the little-discussed connections between Frank O’Hara and Aimé Césaire in an excellent article entitled “Frank O’Hara: Salute to the French Negro Poet, Aimé Césaire,” which appeared recently in The Comparatist (probably only accessible with university account, but here’s a link:

— At Hyperallergic, John Yau reviews Charles North’s new book, States of the Art, a collection of North’s sharp and exhilarating critical prose, recently published by Pressed Wafer.  (“This is criticism at its best … His essay on Frank O’Hara’s relationship to the Russian experimental poet and playwright, Vladimir Mayakovsky, is brilliant, as is everything he says about Schuyler and his poems”).

— At LitHub, Kevin Killian talks with Quinn Roberts about his career and memories of his experiences as a young writer.  Here’s a bit from the interview, where Killian recalls his early years in New York and some of the “proudest moments” in his long and distinguished career:

“When I got out of high school I thought of myself pretty much as a writer, and I went to school in New York, which brought to me the mysteries of contemporary poetry. Gay classmates brought me to the Continental Baths to see Bette Midler. We wore towels. On Washington Square Park another more hip student pointed out the stylish, messed up enigma that was Patti Smith—not yet a songwriter, but an electrifying presence on the street. I encountered Amiri Baraka and Ted Berrigan and Allen Ginsberg, Robbe-Grillet and Margaret Mead … I was proud when John Ashbery picked out my poem “Pasolini” for the very first edition of Best American Poetry. I was proud when the Spicer book that Peter Gizzi and I edited won the American Book Award.”

John Yau also reviews the new book by Douglas Crase, Lines from London Terrace, another excellent collection of a poet’s essays published by Pressed Wafer.  The book contains an amazing, previously uncollected essay on James Schuyler (“A Voice Like the Day”) which has meant a lot to me, but has many other treasures as well.  As Yau notes, “Crase has lots of intelligent things to say about the poems of Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Amy Gerstler, John Koethe, Lorine Niedecker, James Schuyler, and Marjorie Welish; the prose of Marianne Moore; the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson; the garden of the painter Robert Dash; and the philosophy of Richard Poirier. There is a section on the origins of the New York School which every aspiring poet and budding critic should read.”

— At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brian Glavey talks with Andy Fitch about Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, queer ekphrasis, and his terrific book The Wallflower Avant-Garde.  Here’s an excerpt in which Glavey discusses Ashbery:

Ashbery’s poetry and criticism model one way of being in the world that negotiates these desires to attract, to get noticed, and to remain private. That tension runs throughout his entire career, with this constant trope of being present while remaining on the side of things. In terms of ekphrasis, this often means lingering around works of art without looking at them directly. Ashbery likes to engage with art as a kind of wallpaper, as something that might blend into the environment. I think this ambient aesthetic maybe helps explain the recent interest that has developed around Ashbery’s house and the curios and bric-a-brac that he surrounded himself with. All of that is a version of what we see in his poetry, the way it connects with a desire to treasure and to feel attached to objects, but also to let them have their own privacy — by approaching them gently and not forcing them to divulge their secrets. Ashbery’s poetry models that shyness, and is not at all naive about the coyness, the attractiveness that attaches to this gesture of withdrawal. It a gesture that says both “Don’t come any closer,” and “Pay close attention.”

— For more on Glavey’s book, see Benjamin Kahan’s review of Wallflower Avant-Garde in the new issue of the Journal of Modern Literature, which concludes: “Glavey’s writing sparkles with wit, and bubbles with intellectual pleasure. His book is a must read. The reader finishes it feeling that considerations of modernist and queer form and affect have achieved a new capaciousness”

— Also at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Margaret Ronda talks with Andy Fitch about her exciting-looking new book, Remainders: American Poetry at Nature’s End.  Among many other things, Ronda discusses her book’s ecocritical discussion of John Ashbery, whose work, she argues, takes up

questions of epistemology and perception, in relation to various dimensions of ecological relationality and experience — all during an era, of course, when “the environmental crisis” gets named as such, and constantly gets discussed in the news media and mass-market books, and when a majority of Americans list environmental issues as one of their top national concerns. The first Earth Day takes place in 1970, a galvanizing moment for the American environmental movement. Ashbery writes against this backdrop of a very public, urgent conversation. He explores the vicissitudes of consciousness confronting ecological change and crisis.

Circus Nerves

— On his blog Crystal Set, Nick Sturm offers an extended discussion of Kenward Elmslie’s 1971 book Circus Nerves, tracing its “buoyant, charming, and powerfully weird lyrical gymnastics.”  Sturm includes an early review Ted Berrigan wrote about Elmslie’s work, discusses the cover image by Joe Brainard (above), and generally offers a great introduction to the work of Kenward Elmslie, an important but under-recognized poet and mainstay of the New York School.

— At Full Stop, Jeff Alessandrelli writes about the similarities between Frank O’Hara and the rapper Notorious B.I.G.


Posted in Aime Cesaire, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Book Review, Charles North, Criticism, Douglas Crase, Eileen Myles, Elizabeth BIshop, Interview, Jack Spicer, James Schuyler, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, John Koethe, John Yau, Kenward Elmslie, Kevin Killian, Music, NY School Influence, Patti Smith, Peter Gizzi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Roundup, Ted Berrigan, Uncategorized, Visual Art, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams | 3 Comments