In praise of JS
Which makes me think about James Schuyler.
There are similarities.
- Neither poet was exactly a primo promoter of his poetry, though perhaps Spicer avoided the larger attention more vigorously, was more “outside,” and on principle, too.
- Both we’re rigorous, almost over-scrupulous, in their depiction of what poetry is or does.
- Both wrote to find out what was there, proposing a praxis of dictation, or transcription.
- And there are the usual biographical affinities (they were born less than two years apart (though Schuyler was around for 26 more years after Spicer), a circle of friends, falling outs, radical loneliness, mental and physical travails).
Quoting portions of Spicer, while coherent, misrepresents how disturbing and disjunctive his poetry read whole is. But with Schuyler, anything less than the whole poem conveys almost nothing of what that poem does. It’s a very odd effect, as if there were no parts to the whole, but just the whole itself, which dissolves when taken apart. His poems are monads, though monads with one window to look out of.
All the basal New York poets (O’Hara, Koch, Ashbery, Schuyler) share an aesthetic of casualness, even when writing sestinas, or poems as long as your arm. But they were not casual about their casualness, it isn’t there by accident. It’s a deliberate counter to the prevailing kind of poem being written in America at the time. Schuyler even anticipates the designation du jour—School of Quietude—by pointing out where these non-casual poems’ loyalties are:
“The campus dry-heads who wishfully descend tum-ti-tumming from Yeats out of Graves with a big kiss for Mother England…The big thing happening at home is a nuisance, a publicity plot, a cabal; and please don’t track the carpet.” [emphasis added]
I don’t want to take anything away from Spicer. I’m a big fan, and he more than deserves the accolades and attention he’s getting. And it's about time. But I want to make some room for Schuyler. Let’s have a big Schuyler boost this year, what say?
It won't be easy. He's not going to be subject to [re]discovery. There won’t be any substantial lectures of his being collected and issued. All of his poems seem to be available (unlike, for years, Spicer). Most of his non-poem writing is already out (with the exception, I believe, of his letters to O’Hara) and able to be had.
Here are some tags that might be helpful for the Schuyler push:
He’s the Elizabeth Bishop of the New York School.
He’s the Jack Spicer of the New York School (on lithium instead of brandy).
I think that covers the two main encampments of poetry we find ourselves in these days.
It’s too easy to divide poetry in half, with one side having attributes like irony (of which camp is a subspecies) and the other sincerity (mispronounced “confessional”). It’s like dividing the animal world into domesticated and feral. It’s based on a classification system that is less than robust. Don’t look too closely. I doubt that kinds of poetry can be designated by a mononomial classification. A real taxonomy of poems, poetry and poetics still awaits its Carl Linnaeus.
Working my ticket
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
Let us go, through cetacean half-designed strepthroats,
The mystifying retrogressions
Of resupinate nightdresses in one-nightdress cheesy hotbeds
And sawmill retainers with ozone-shelters:
Strepthroats that follow like a teenage argyle
Of insipid intercom
Late as gal, thrash caftan half-desalted straits,
That maturing retracts
Alf rustles knights an anal naught champ hatless
And sawdust restaurants wash daystar shawls:
Striates that fallow lava a toadies armament
Alf insidious ant ant
Let see ghee, thresh cretin shelf-deserted streets,
The metering retreats
Elf restless knights in gene knight cheep heels
End seediest restatements wet yester shells:
Streets theft fallow leeks or teepees enragement
Elf unsteadies extent
Life is gin, thigh citrine hilt dispirited striates,
Thai metering ritziest
If rustle nights in any night chimp hotlist
Find sadist restaurants with astir shills:
Striates twit filly lice in tidiest orpiment
If insidious in tint
Lox is go, through cartoon hoof doorstop struts,
Thom motoring redroots
Of frostless knights on noon naught chomp hoots
Nod sawdust octoroons wroth oyster shoals:
Struts toot follow loco of hoodoos rodomont
Of insidious onion
Lutz us gum, through curium huff desuetude struts,
The maturing rotguts
Ulf rustles knights an ulna naught chump hatfuls
Und sawdust restaurants with oyster skulls:
Struts thud flow luau u studious argument
Ulf insidious unguent.
What is this all about? Stay tuned as blogreport on a possible future project.....