Lunch Poems

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Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780872860353
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Published: City Lights Books - January 1st, 2001

Lunch Poems -- so-called because O'Hara wrote many of them on his lunch breaks when he worked at MoMA -- contains some of the poet's best-known work, such as "A Step Away From Them," "The Day Lady Died," "Personal Poem," "Ave Maria," and "Poem [Lana Turner has collapsed!]."

Frank O'Hara was, along with John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler, a leading member of what came to be known as the New York School of Poets. Closely associated with the Abstract Expressionist painters of the 1950s (and acting as a sort of alternative to the Beats), the New York School poets "favored wit, humor and the advanced irony of the blague (that is, the insolent prank or jest)" (David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde).

O'Hara was an assistant curator as the Museum of Modern Art and wrote for Art News as well. Many of his poems have a jaunty, dashed off feeling that belies their Romantic leanings and intricate aesthetic and social arguments. Pop culture and his enormous circle of friends often enter O'Hara's "I-do-this, I-do-that" poems. The New York School sought to inject a spirit of irreverence and fun into poetry via their Surrealist influences that they felt was sorely missing in the mid-20th-century. In his famous mock-manifesto "Personism," O'Hara wrote: ". . . I don't even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone's chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don't turn around and shout, 'Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.' "

Meteoric Flowers

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Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan Poetry) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780819568496
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Published: Wesleyan University Press - December 4th, 2007

In her most recent collection, Elizabeth Willis takes for her muse Erasmus Darwin, the 18th-century doctor, botanist, inventor, poet, and grandfather to Charles. Through a series of prose poems and interspersed lined poems, she investigates the natural world through a lens that is both surreal and oddly familiar. Like one of her poetic predecessors, Lorine Niedecker, Willis merges and personifies objects and ideas that might not otherwise meet: Pepsi, lakes, and diplomacy appear, but they in turn "rule," "panic," are "martian"; the proverbial needle in the haystack has a knowing focus suddenly and empire is a thing so cold it develops frost. On his blog, the poet Ron Silliman writes: "What Willis shares with Darwin is a perspective concerning the integrity of poetry & serious discourse -- it was, after all, the views Erasmus Darwin expressed in another poem, The Temple of Nature, that first set grandson Charles off to demonstrate the dynamics of evolution. The idea that poetry is one of the central serious disciplines available to thought & thus not separated from science or philosophy or history is perhaps the deepest belief in this book." In her author note to the collection, Willis adds: "Poetry . . . can be at once an account of the physical world, a rethinking of the order of things, and a caprice."

Selected Poems

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Selected Poems (Penguin Poets) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780140585537
Availability: Backordered
Published: Penguin Books - December 2nd, 1986

John Ashbery is perhaps the most influential living American poet. His is a poetry about the "experience of experience" and eludes traditional analysis. He once said that if his thoughts were a moving tapestry, one of his poems might be like clipping a piece of that tapestry as it passed by and placing it on the page. One might find his poetry too cryptic, as I did when I was first introduced to it, but if you read it as "anybody's story," you find him to be expansive and inclusive, in the same line as Whitman. Remember when you were in school and you had to dissect a poem for the symbolism and meaning, and you would invariably ask, "Why can't it mean what I want it to mean?" Ashbery's poetry is just that way: while he of course gives you specific images and words, you make the poem as you read it, bringing your own thought and experience to it. Check out Meghan O'Rourke's essay on how to read Ashbery from Slate.

Selected Poems

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Selected Poems (FSG Classics) Cover Image
By James Schuyler, John Ashbery (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780374530891
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - May 15th, 2007

James Schuyler was a late-bloomer as a poet in comparison with his close friends John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and Kenneth Koch who formed the core group of the New York School Poets. Schuyler's poetry has a diaristic quality and is surprising in its descriptive detail (e.g. "One green wave moved in the violet sea / like the UN building on big evenings, / green and wet / while the sky turns violet" from his poem "February"). It's easy to see why he and the painter Fairfield Porter were such good friends. Schuyler lived with the Porter family for years, and throughout his life his friends would take care of him; he was prone to mental breakdowns and never had much luck holding a steady job, aside from his art criticism. While Schuyler's poetry does report on aspects of nature, he includes cityscapes as part of that nature, and synthesizes in a very contemporary manner Whitman's barbaric yawp and Dickinson's introspective epiphanies. In an interview, Schuyler said, "We were walking along the beach at sunset, heading for a cocktail party. The sun was casting those extraordinary Technicolor effects on the sea and sky. John [Ashbery] turned to me and said, 'I always feel so embarrassed by these gaudy displays of nature.' I didn't feel embarrassed at all." Schuyler's first published work was not a collection of poetry, but a novel, Alfred and Guinevere; he also wrote a second novel What's For Dinner?. In 1981, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Morning of the Poem.


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Ooga-Booga: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374530976
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Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - October 30th, 2007

Behold the poet in the Savile Row suit, leaning into 150 mph's worth of slipstream, wringing every last rpm from his bespoke Ducati, the goddess with her arms around his trim waist laughing deliriously in his ear-- so Frederick Seidel would have us see him in poems (drawn from life or not) glacial and furious by turns, but above all elegant. Here is our Catullus, our Juvenal, a rhymster to flay the pretensions of empire while savoring a life only the privileged of empire can aspire to.


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Purgatorio: A New Verse Translation Cover Image
By Dante, W.S. Merwin (Translator)
ISBN: 9780375708398
Availability: Special Order
Published: Knopf - October 9th, 2001

This second part of the Commedia is the only extensive rendering of Dante that Merwin (one of our great translators) has attempted-- seemingly an odd choice (why not the Inferno?), but Merwin loves this section of the poem for its emphasis on the art of poetry as an approach to the art of living well. There's much restraint and finesse in this version (and a surprising amount of unobtrusive rhyming), but Merwin seems most concerned with bringing to the foreground that strand of thought that runs through Dante's (and indeed medieval) theology, that the body is as necessary to human experience and ultimate salvation (or damnation) as the soul. This is the mystery at the heart of the Christian doctrine of the bodily resurrection, which will occasion the reuniting of spirit and flesh, to the greater eternal bliss of those in Paradise, and the more excruciating and everlasting torment of those in Hell. On the mountain of Purgatory the blessed labor physically toward the final forgiveness of particular sins, hence the "spirit bodies" in which they appear to Dante as he climbs toward his rendezvous with Beatrice, who will conduct him into Heaven itself. A masterly translation of the pivotal part of the Great Poem in which European literature began its passage from the Middle Ages toward the modern world.


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