It is always a pleasure to come across something new and Don’t Ever Get Famous: Essays on New York Writing after the New York School provides that pleasure on many levels. The collection of essays is well presented with an attractive cover, very readable format and a solid binding that can withstand the extensive usage that this book demands. The collection’s subject matter is mostly poets that this reviewer is unfamiliar with or has a marginal knowledge of so it is thrilling to discover new poets while learning more about others.
Daniel Kane sets out certain objectives in his introduction that he thoroughly accomplishes; he is looking to provide a chatty, erudite, critical, interrogative and fun collection that will appeal to academics and unaffiliated alike. Andrew Epstein’s opening essay accomplishes nearly all of Kane’s aims. Epstein manages to give an overview of Amiri Bakara’s career in a readable and enjoyable narrative. Epstein questions whether the aesthetics of avant-garde poetry can adequately be represented by group dynamics or through solitary artistic endeavours.
Epstein illustrates how the negativity of the avant-garde is challenged in Baraka’s poetry. He doesn’t follow the standard line of tracking Baraka’s movement towards a radical black poetry as a purely politically motivated schism but instead recognises an ongoing dispute within Baraka’s work and poetics about the viability of friendship as an instigator of art. Baraka’s development away from an introspective lyrical poetry towards a more performative political style highlights the current debate between the spoken word and written text.
Jed Rasula brings readers through a whirlwind tour of deep image and its practitioners. The significance of deep image to a variety of poets is tracked and qualified. The importance of deep image is shown not so much as a movement or group but rather, like Objectivism, as a significant phase in the development of a variety of poets and their poetics. Although defining and nailing down deep image is a complex procedure, Rasula is successful by showing its importance to the development of Language poetry and the work of John Ashbery, amongst others.
Rasula shows the importance of deep image to New York poetry but also within the wider developments of modernist poetry. Rasula’s placing of deep image as a continuation of surrealism and its concern with the objective/subjective divide highlights an area that demands further research and seems to point towards a connection between deep image and writers like Samuel Beckett. Interestingly, Rasula reverses the logic of deep image in his closing statement when he says: ‘[w]e don’t live in our dreams [...] our dreams do live in us [...] loaded with all the darkness we pack into them’ (47). The set of Endgame comes to mind.
Jon Panish attempts to dislocate the Umbra poets from the Black Arts movement and somewhat succeeds by placing them into the wider context of the avant-garde. Panish highlights the friction within Umbra between the poets who were seeking a political black representation and those who wanted a more pluralist representation within the larger avant-garde.
Panish weakens his argument by only providing the politically motivated and aesthetically inferior poems as examples in his reading of the first edition of Umbra. Panish states that there are other poems that support his argument but they were already examined by Daniel Kane. Readers who are not familiar with that work would be further illuminated if they were provided.
Panish’s readings from the second edition of Umbra do support his argument and provide interesting evidence for a socially inclusive blackness as opposed to the radical black nationalism that only helps further divide the already caustic binary.
Harry Thorne presents the first essay in a series of three that explore various short-lived avant-garde magazines and journals. Thorne gives an excellent reading of Ted Berrigan’s mimeographed poetry journal C: A Journal of Poetry. Thorne highlights Berrigan’s subversive editing and his desire to create ‘anarchic collections’ that exemplify a desire to contrast rather than create schools of thought.
Daniel Kane’s essay examines the poets involved with Angel Hair magazine. [Also see Jacket 16.]Kane shows how the magazine is representative of a second-generation New York School in its collective nature. Kane compares the second-generation to the first and finds a more radical social grouping producing a more radical social poetry. Kane contrasts the Language poet’s highly specialised and technical attempts at multi-authored texts with the second-generation’s more playful and casual communal poetry.
Linda Russo’s examination of the New York avant-garde magazine 0-9 is a joy to read. Russo provides an interesting analysis of the work of Hannah Weiner and Bernadette Mayer and shows how these intriguing poets create a literature that disrupts the Cartesian I and instigates collective forms that dislocate gendered identities. Russo confirms these poets as a distinctive counter voice between the New York School and the Language School by showing how their work adds to and draws from these schools but also creates a unique non-gendered collective space of its own.
0-9 is shown as a distinctive magazine that attempts to break away from the standard usage of space and create a new area for the poem; placing it back into a collective context as opposed to limiting it to the white space of the page. Mayer’s Memory is noted for ‘[p]racticing writing as action or event, inseparable from life’ (142). Both poets are seen disrupting the process of meaning making and redefining how, where and when a poem is created. This essay helps to provide, once again, significant background to the current debates in poetry.
Lytle Shaw examines the work of Mayer and Clark Coolidge in The Cave which provides an interesting correlation to 0-9 in the shift between objects and sites/contexts. Mayer’s and Coolidge’s work becomes an intriguing place to show the book as process; as a scientific examination of its place but also showing the linguistic limits of that examination through the found language of science.
An essay by Rachel Blau DuPlessis on Anne Waldman is nothing short of inspiring. An intriguing reading of Waldman’s long poem Iovis compares it to the encyclopaedic and culturally influential Cantos of Pound and Patterson of Williams. DuPlessis sees Waldman as continuing and critiquing these works through her own attempt at a similar epic.
Waldman’s poem tries to process her temporal experience in a ‘dynamic inclusiveness’ that attempts to overturn the patriarchal binaries of ‘both-and’ with ‘both-both’. DuPlessis recognises, in Waldman, an attempt to get beyond the limits of a basic feminist discourse by creating her art outside of binary impulses; she wants to discuss gender but then get past it. Most intriguingly, Waldman’s work is recognised for interrogating the binaries of social injustice as well as gender.
Bob Perelman explores the complex issue of poetic inheritance in the work of Alice Notley through her apparent love/hate relationship with William Carlos Williams’s legacy. Notley creates an interesting genealogy of poetry that situates herself along with her forbearers in a family of interlocking relationships.
Perelman places Notley within and without the Language and second-generation New York schools in order to show how classifying a writer into one distinct school or style is too limiting. As a poet who writes ‘real-time’ poetry and a textual poetry, Notley exemplifies traits found in both schools and defies easy categorization.
Nick Selby follows Lee Harwood’s exploration of the first and second-generation New York schools in the 1960s. Harwood provides an interesting lens to examine the second-generation poets through as his poetry embraces the lessons of New York poetry but retains its own transatlantic sensibility. Selby uses Harwood’s work to expose some interesting similarities and glaring differences between the American and European schools of poetry.
Selby finds a feel ‘for distance, separation and the gaps in human relations’ (255) in Harwood’s poetry that the second-generation New York poets seem to lack. Selby attributes this to the concern with American poetry for marking the surfaces through repetitive engagement with particulars whereas Harwood delves into and beneath the surface.
The work of Joseph Ceravolo is given an excellent introduction by Patrick Masterson and Paul Stephens. Ceravolo is placed within the second-generation New York School but also within the wider American poetry. Ceravalo’s unique and generally non-collective approach to his poetry as well as his non-bohemian existence as a practicing civil engineer puts him at odds with the other New York poets.
Ceravolo’s work examines concerns that are of interest to the Language poets, among others, such as his curiosity with a pre-cultural language and the thematic and formal concerns around that. Ceravolo is shown as a more private lyrical poet than his peers who seeks his poetry within the mythic, religious and personal as opposed to collaborative efforts. Ceravolo is exposed as an intriguing and worthy poet whose experimentation requires further study.
Gary Lenhart provides a comprehensive overview of Lewis Warsh’s poetry that shows a recurring trend amongst the second-generation; that of friendship, community and cooperative endeavours. Warsh’s work is seen for its varied approaches and styles. The connections between Warsh’s poetry and the New York schools as well as the Black Mountain and San Francisco movements shows some of the rich influences that contribute to the variety in his work. Lenhart’s relaxed and almost journalistic approach to this essay provides an interesting overview of Warsh’s work while not losing any of its analytical potential.
As an editor of Umbra and associate of Berrigan’s C among his many accolades, Lorenzo Thomas provides a vital word from a writer who was within many of the movements and groups that are analysed throughout these essays. Thomas’s reading of Ron Padgett highlights the idea of what these communities of writers represent.
The experiments in social construction that writers like Padgett exemplify, as shown by Thomas, represent not only the dissolution of the author but the end of the lone lyric voice. It is as if, along with the breakdown of readers and authors, we are also seeing the dissolution of readerships for authors and thus watch second-generation writers coalesce into poetic communities that produce, consume and criticise in-house.
Ange Mlinko explores the work of Charles North who seems to come from the margins of the second-generation and provides, through an oblique angle, a better way to evaluate them. Mlinko places North at odds with the Language School due to his lyricism and desire to express experience as opposed to experimentation with language. Mlinko shows North maintaining an experimental edge and consistently in dialogue with his associates in the second-generation as well as with his own earlier work. Mlinko laments the loss of North to the mainstream of experimental American poetry partly because of his refusal to play the linguistic and communal games of the Language School but also the alienation of his role as a lone lyric voice.
The collection is book-ended with an exquisite essay by Andrea Brady [also published in Jacket 32.]. Brady’s analysis of John Wieners exemplifies the success of the collection as whole when it effectively invalidates the parameters of the collection’s search (second-generation New York School) by showing a poet who defies labelling as a New York poet, San Francisco poet or Black Mountain poet but is a significant product of all those influences. The example of Wieners’s life work shows that naming is retrospective and a poet simply is.
Brady’s reading of Wieners is successfully organised by a biographical account that is bolstered by Wieners’s poetry. Brady’s argument for the dual influence of Olson and O’Hara and Wieners’s movement out from under both their shadows is superbly supported by her readings. This essay, like the rest of the collection, locates these poets within the wider field of American poetry and answers many questions but also, most importantly, opens up more questions and begs for further research to realign or deconstruct the work of these poets.
This wonderful collection of essays fulfils all of Kane’s stated aims; it manages to provide chatty and informative essays that are erudite and critical while also being a pure joy to read. The editor has organised them for the most impact by book-ending the strongest essays around a collection of ground-breaking and exciting journeys into and around the margins of contemporary American poetry.
Andrew J. Browne is a Doctoral Teaching Fellow in the English Department at the National University of Ireland, Galway where he teaches contemporary Irish fiction and conducts doctoral research on the Irish poet Thomas Kinsella. Andrew’s MPhil dissertation entitled ‘After Beckett: Samuel Beckett and Modern Irish Poetry, an Exploration’ was successfully completed at Trinity College, Dublin University. Andrew reviews for Irish and English magazines and journals while also publishing his poetry in Ireland and winning prizes for his short fiction.
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