In the early twentieth century, the grim reality of the post-war economy brought the movement of Surrealism. The exhibition of the unconscious mind appealed to every twentieth-century artist owing to the unexpected element of human awareness.
In the 1950s, this movement paved the way for the New York school of poets. John Bernard Myers, the director of Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, started it as an attempt to connect admired abstract artists with sought-after poets.
It was a community built on solidarity and connection. They thrived because of similar writing techniques, methods, and subjects.
However similar their styles to each other, narrative and textual diversity existed among the group.
Unlike the usual post-war poetry, they considered their poems wry, playful, and sophisticated. They disregarded the solemnity of the war, instead preferring their writing to have a surrealistic approach. Their informal language and style set them apart in their poetic sensibilities.
Literary Surrealism impacted the entire School of poets. Their works utilized juxtapositions and non sequitur. Filled with ‘Pure psychic automatism,’ the School relied heavily on the use of modern and abstract art in their work.
Frank O’Hara, the curator at the Museum of Modern Arts, had deep roots in the artistic community of America. Under his influence, the School became a hallmark for communication between the writers and artists.
Who are the Major New York Poets?
Frank O’Hara led the group. A prominent member of New York’s art world, he had the connections that influenced the strong effect of abstract expressionism in the New York School of Poets.
His poetry, ‘like entries in a diary, transported his readers to his everyday life. He became famous because of the vivacity of his expression.
“What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid, goes into my poems. I don’t think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else; they are just there in whatever form I can find.”
He sought to explore the dynamics of his life on paper, feeling that his poetry for his readers should be as intimate as a conversation between two people. His work was alien to the classic tone. His stylistic diversity incorporated everything from jazz, to Surrealism, to urbane modernism.
Stylistic originality is a trend in the School, with every author diversifying the classical tonality by incorporating their uninhibited expression.
Alice Notely, the front runner of the second generation of the New York School of Poetry, is one of the principal authors in America. Her groundbreaking work on domestic life established her as a household name and paved the way for the voices of mothers and wives’, ‘the voices of women’ in modern poetry.
She has long denied her involvement with any school of thought. However, she and her husband, Ted Berringer, have been considered poignant members of the second generation of poets.
The pop art era influenced Joe Brainard, another prominent school member,. Its influence seeped into his artistic delivery. His art is still too porcelain to be confined by a single label.
There is a casual intimacy in his style that has remained popular with the younger generations. Drawing inspiration from life, his work is renowned as an original piece of American literature.
Barbara Guest is perhaps the only poet of the New York School that used Surrealism and abstract imagery as the defining concept of her writing. Her work is absurd. In her own words, “The subject matter finds itself…You find the subject as you proceed with (writing) the poem.”
She challenged the conventional themes of imagination and reality. She used a free hand, staging an unconfined mind and rhetoric in her work.
Inarguably, the most influential member of the School, John Ashbury, set a tone for the modern age of poetry.
Compared by Stephanie Burt to Eliot, he is “the last figure whom half the English-language poets alive thought a great model and the other half thought incomprehensible.”
The immense influence of Surrealism in his work is deemed controversial. Complex and opaque, his work is hard to comprehend, himself citing his goal to write ‘a poem incomprehensible by most critics.’
He doesn’t follow the classical rules of poetry, using the medium for surrealistic self-expression. His wry, disarming tone and charming style established him as a pioneer in his genre.
What is the New York School of Poets?
A community of like-minded artists, the New York School of Poets, was an informal community that aimed at establishing a connection between writers and artists of the time. Abstract expressionism was a prominent feature of their work, influenced by the movement of Surrealism.
French symbolism was an important theme, which used Bohemian impressions of daily life, human etiquette, and exploits. Their poetry was authentic. Their indigenous expression and a wry and humorous style set them apart from their peers.
They were noteworthy for their staunchly defiant manner.
Which Poets were Part of the New York School of Poets?
The School’s two generations rose to popularity because of their distinct expressions. The first generation incorporated action painting and abstract art into their work.
John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch led this generation. Collaborating with abstract painters of their time, they showed rich effects of Surrealism, abstracts, and jazz.
The second generation was centered on Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, and Ron Pagett. It was the time of the Pop Art movement, and we know their work for bending genres and experimenting with different poetic characteristics.
Although many poets rose to fame because of the New York School of Poets, there is not a definite list of all the members of this community.
The authority of this label has been challenged frequently. Many poets remained unknown and their contributions unrecognized. Despite all this, the School has set the tone of American poetry for the better part of a century.
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