Why bring New York School poetry to the University of Southern Mississippi? Because, in a sense, it’s already here. Named for the New York School of painters, The New York School of Poets includes Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. These four poets came to prominence in the Fifties and Sixties; of the four, John Ashbery is still living and prolific. Some years ago, while reading these poets, I began to see glints and shadows of their work in poems without ties to the city, by poets from regions usually thought of as pastoral—like Mississippi, like Florida. I inaugurated a class for graduate students in our Center for Writers on The New York School, believing that its humor and directness would be a healthy influence. I also edited a special issue of Mississippi Review: Poets of the New York School.
Since then, the phenomenon that I’ve termed the New York School Diaspora has only intensified, inviting discussion, analysis, and celebration. Hence the idea for 2014’s Moorman Symposium. David Lehman, arguably the foremost authority on The New York School of Poetry, will play a key role in the Symposium. Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, whose work freshly embodies the New York School’s sense of play, will join us from the North. Southern poets writing New York School-inflected works will include award-winning Florida poets Denise Duhamel, David Kirby, and Barbara Hamby. The Symposium’s panel discussion will explore ways in which the South has a particular affinity with The New York School’s love of direct, demotic speech and lack of pretense, coupled with a love of the energy and beauty of poetic speech—speech that invites rather than intimidates. Together we will chart the migration and assimilation of a singularly lively poetic movement, while over two nights of special readings the visiting poets will entertain and delight us with their inspired and inspiring poetry.
What does New York say to the South, and the South to New York? Is it possible for poetry to be urbane without being urban? Can it be both urbane and earthy? To explore these questions and many others, join us on the University of Southern Mississippi campus, May 2-3, 2014.
- Angela Ball, Moorman Distinguished Professor of English, 2013-14