Few poets of the last half of the 20th century were so unembarrassedly Keatsian as the flower-doting, texture-interrogating, word-tasting James Schuyler. Compared with Barbara Guest, Schuyler’s flora and fauna feel less hypothetical and cerebral. And while his work shared in the cubist aftermath of the painters he wrote about and loved (Schuyler’s best poems often splice and collage together sensuous impressions in a diaristic guise of simply recording them), his delicate splashes of color tended to stain the body more than the mind’s eye. In his smaller lyrics, the effect was tender and subdued: love, like other natural appetites and cycles, is deeply felt yet fleeting. In the longer, more ambitious poems, “The Morning of the Poem” for example, impressions, phrases, sayings, memories are aggregated and piled up into a new whole, remaking the poet’s inner life into a gorgeous miscellany of vital reflexes.
Thanks now to the stewardship of James Meetze and Simon Pettet, we encounter two hundred pages of uncollected poems in Other Flowers (March 2010, FSG) gathered from the poet’s papers at
“Other Flowers” may not go very far in advancing James Schuyler’s reputation as an indispensable poet, except that the necessary occasion of such a book reminds us how indispensable he already is, how eager we are to read him again. While plenty of the fugitive poems collected together in “Other Flowers” could have been worked into what books we already know without regret, few strike me as essential reading. Among the best are “Letter Poem to Kenneth Koch,” “A Blue Shadow Painting,” “Atlantic Snore,” “Catalogue” and “Poem (Between Glacier and Glacier).” Nearly all the poems here demonstrate how easy it was for his work to sound pretty, even merely pretty. Most interestingly, they also show him incorporating the voices of the past poets he modeled himself after, Lawrence and Leopardi, some whom he knew personally, such as John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara. Schuyler’s verbal genius, half collagist, half vegetable spirit, wasn’t afraid to traffic in tones precious, overly sentimental and lightweight—yet even then he often can charm you. Flanked with the new edition of his selected poems (2007), the selected letters (“Just the Thing," 2005), his diaries and art criticism, as well as a handsome little book of his correspondence with O’Hara, “Other Flowers” contributes to our overall esteem and measure of his achievements, their pleasures and limits. A pleasure that will not fade.Adam Fitzgerald is a poetry MFA student at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. His work has appeared in Rain Taxi. He edits Maggy poetry magazine and contributes regularly to TheThe Poetry Blog. He lives in the East Village.