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This article is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

Palpable Fact: James Schuyler and Immediacy Peter Campion

Since his death in 1991, James Schuyler's friends have done a remarkable service by publishing his last poems, his diaries, his art reviews, and his long out-of-print novel, Alfred and Guinevere. Black Sparrow Press will soon print a book of the poet's selected letters, edited by William Corbett. But even with such support, Schuyler's achievement remains largely ignored. The reason has to do, I think, with this poet's great virtue: his ability to defy classification. Though we speak of Schuyler as one of 'The New York School', his poems never hew to any set aesthetic.

The very phrase, 'The New York School' may be deceptive. But if poems by John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, Barbara Guest, and Douglas Crase reveal separate styles and separate underlying assumptions about language and the world, when we read their work we certainly notice distinct similarities. We hear a mode of address which is both intimate and evasive. We hear the tonal register shift: philosophical statement, for instance, soon gives way to cartoonish banter. The quickened syntax seems for moments like the exhilarating rush that occurs in Whitman. But then we watch as the accumulation fractures. These poems cannot maintain the unity of mind and matter which Whitman (as well as his champion, Emerson) sought in American poetry. In fact, these poems suggest that mind and matter do not join, but rather collide, as in Ashbery's lines about what is required of a poet: 'The extreme austerity of an almost empty ...


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