Other Flowers (uncollected poems) by James Schuyler

First, a poem:

BIRDLAND (OR CALIGULA-CALIGULEE, OR COME INTO THE GARDEN MAUD, THE GRASS NEEDS MOWING)

NOIA: Now I am going to dance. I am going to dance a good long time. I am going to dance very slowly and clumsily. I am going to dance just as much as I please. It is going to be very boring for all you out there. I don’t care. I am going to dance anyway.

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE: A-a-a-a-a-h!

VOICE FROM THE REAR: Take it off! Take it off!

(Enter the Goodman brothers with each other’s heads on duraluminum platters. The swing duet from Messager’s Veronique tunes in.)

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE: Kill that woman!

NOIA: I am still dancing! (And so dies Noia, Princess of Bavaria, crushed beneath the windshield of her own Thunderbird.)

As the curtain tenderly falls, the bird audience, released from its cage, twitters, e pluribus unum . . . il mondo è fango . . . il faut tenter . . . nudus Amor formae non amat artificem . . . de cette nuit, Phénice . . . and waft her love . . .

and the lights come up

I bought this collection of uncollected poems after reading a glowing review in The Believer. I know very little about the New York School of Poetry; I’m aware of its main poets (O’Hara, Ashbery, Koch, Schuyler), and the fact that it was an avant garde movement formed on the heels of the Beats. From Bookworm’s most recent interview with John Ashbery, as well as Other Flowers, I’ve inferred that the NYSP have an implicit goal, of sorts, of divorcing poetry from meaning. When Michael Silverblatt asked Ashbery what he was thinking about when he wrote his poem, ‘Upstate Dancers,’ Ashbery replied, “I have no idea, and I usually don’t.” “Do you know what they are?,” Silverblatt then asked. Ashbery replied, “No,” in a tone that suggested a certain are-you-kidding-me attitude. I don’t think they wrote (and write) meaninglessly, though, for there is still usually some meaning to be deduced from even the most playful, nonsensical poems. It’s just that the poet didn’t consciously place the meaning between the poem’s lines. Which says something about the life language takes on by itself.

I was really pleased with the Schuyler collection. The poems play around with form, such as the poem above, one of my favorites, which, for the most part, takes the appearance of a script. There were many, many lines throughout that really gutted me (“Life was so much more fun before / – well – before.”). I don’t think I’m particularly good at reading poetry, but I know that certain poems in here are unequivocally good because of their music. Reading ‘Blank Regard,’ for example, I appreciate the sentence “Time, bite your tail, hoop / snake the steak-sliced neck,” even if I don’t necessarily understand what it means. It’s like a song lyric you sing to yourself, but can’t wrap your head around. The way Schuyler’s words bounce off each other create a harmony, become almost hum-able.

I am definitely going to delve further into the work of The New York School poets. I feel, because of the sophistication I read from Other Flowers alone, that I’ll prefer them to the Beats, who I’ve never really vibrated with.

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