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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New York School

 I have a somewhat unusual relation with the New York School of Poetry. I am not from New York, and my devotion to these poets experienced certain phases. 

Working through the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry in my teens, I soon became a devotee of O'Hara and Koch. I still remember the O'Hara poem that begins "The eager note on my door said “Call me," It really had a strong effect on me. And all Kenneth Koch books. Ashbery won all the prizes for Self-Portrait and I became a big fan. The people around me did not care much for Ashbery, who was still considered somewhat a fraud in some quarters, but by the early 80 he had the imprimatur of the three major poetry critics, for different reasons: Perloff, Vendler, and Bloom. Perloff saw him as avant-garde, Vendler could read him thematically, and Bloom could canonize him by associating him with the great romantic tradition. I wrote a long paper on Ashbery as an undergrad, and my first published poem was a Koch knockoff that also prefigured my first Lorca book. It was about translating "imaginary Latin American poets."    

I was also a fan of the 2nd generation poets, like Padgett and Berrigan. I didn't quite take them as seriously, but they were part of my reading. I probably thought of Berrigan as an O'Hara knockoff, which he isn't, really.  I have books by Berrigan's sons, Anselm and Edmund.   

The Schuyler poems in the Norton had left me cold. I couldn't understand them at all. It was when I was assistant professor that I became big Schuyler fan, not only with the short lyrics but with those marvelous long poems. I still bought every Ashbery book that came out, but he was beginning to repeat himself a bit. 

In the early 2000s, I became a huge Barbara Guest fan. She was not in the Norton, and her work can be a little difficult to get into, but she became increasingly important in this period for many younger poets, both women and men. It is kind of ethereal. She never gets her due from the other New York school poets. Padgett and Shapiro leave her out of their anthology, unforgivably to my mind. 

In 200? I became friends with David Shapiro, and had him come to Kansas. He provided the epigraph to the first Lorca book. He was a bit exhausting to have as a friend, because telephone conversations could last two hours and he spoke at double the normal pace. He is brilliant as a poet, in a quite different way from other poets who belong to the same school. 

At some point in this century I also became interested in Alice Notley, who is still one of my favorite poets. I'm sure I had not heard of her in 1980. There are other I should mention too, like Ceravolo, Eileen Myles. A single post is not enough to talk about all of them.  

At some point, I became interested in the music of Morton Feldman, but this was decades after first reading about him in an essay by O'Hara. It is a curious kind of lag. 

I wrote separate chapter on Koch and O'Hara in my Lorca book. This was kind of daring, because the New York poets were not known for being Lorquistas. They were associated mostly with French poetry. No other person aside from me would have written about either of them in relation to Lorca. 

So my relationship to this "school" of poetry has undergone permutations during parts of six separate decades, and I am only 60 years old. Part of it was that their careers were developing as I was developing as a reader, with the exception of Frank O'Hara. 

It is not really a school, then, but a number of approaches to poetry allied with one another through sets of personal relationships beginning when Koch, O'Hara, and Ashbery met at Harvard, extending toward the group of 5 in New York (adding Schuyler and Guest), then getting a second generation from the Tulsa group of Brainard and Padgett, and from Koch's students like Ceravolo.   

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