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James Schuyler's Centenary: Charles North & Martin Stannard Hold Forth

James SchuylerOn November 9th, the centenary of James Schuyler, Martin Stannard talks about Schuyler with Charles North

A Few DaysMS: I know you have written (and spoken) about Schuyler quite comprehensively before, but for the benefit of those who may not be aware - and, more particularly, for the benefit of probably the majority of British readers, could you start things off - as briefly or as fully as you wish – by recapping your relationship/friendship/association with Schuyler?

CN:  Sure. I have Tony Towle to thank, at least initially. In the spring of 1970, I briefly sat in on a poetry workshop Tony was giving at The Poetry Project in NYC. In addition to my good fortune in stumbling onto the workshop—Tony’s encouragement was pretty much what kept me writing—Paul Violi was in the group, and the three of us really hit it off. At some point I wrote a poem dedicated to Schuyler, who was one of my first poetic heroes, and Tony, who knew Schuyler as well as O’Hara, Ashbery, Koch, and Barbara Guest, sent it to Jimmy, who not only sent back a flattering reply but included a poem dedicated to me, “Light from Canada” (which I still think is one of his very best).

About a year later, I went with Tony to a party and met a number of the poets and artists who had previously been just names to me, Jimmy and Ron Padgett, who also became a friend, included. (I also got to watch Leonard Bernstein dancing.)

Jimmy and I were never close, though he was only 20 minutes away by subway. But I did get to know him in the 1970s. At one point Paula and I invited him for dinner—he liked to be with families—and that became a regular thing for a while. I remember well a period when he used to arrive looking, as he put it, “like Buffalo Bill’s grandmother.” I also visited him at several of the places he lived, a couple of them depressingly run-down. When, with the help of a benefactor, he moved into the famous Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street (his plaque, along with those of other well-known figures who lived in the hotel, e.g., Virgil Thompson, is on the outside wall of the building), we would have lunch nearby, sometimes with our mutual friend, the Leeds-born painter Trevor Winkfield. I enjoyed Jimmy’s gossip (not all of it friendly!) about people we both knew.

James Schuyler 2In the late 60s he had edited a one-shot poetry magazine titled 49 South, which was the address in Southampton, N.Y. of the painter Fairfield Porter and his poet wife, Anne, with whom Jimmy lived for a number of years. I had something in the mag., and at some point in the mid-70s I suggested our co-editing a magazine/anthology with work by the poets and artists we admired. This turned out to be Broadway, which I still think of as a small-press gem. (At the time he was living in what was essentially, and depressingly, an old-age home near me on Broadway, hence the title; I don’t know if anyone else visited him there.) We both got a kick out of our invitation to potential contributors: “Send us your best poem/drawing.” Ashbery, Berrigan, Brainard, Ceravolo, Crase, Elmslie, Godfrey, Guest, Koch, Koethe, Lima, Mayer, Myles, Notley, Padgett, Schjeldahl, Shapiro, Towle, Violi, Waldman, and others, along with Nell Blaine, Jane Freilicher, Yvonne Jacquette, Alex Katz, Trevor Winkfield among the artists. Beautiful cover by Paula North. Ten years later we put together Broadway 2. We produced it on a shoestring, and made all the editorial decisions together, but since Jimmy wasn’t in condition to do the “legwork,” I dealt with the publishers, received and returned the original art, etc. My compensation (and more) for the latter came when the exceptionally generous Joe Brainard told me to keep the original of his drawing.

Jimmy had inspired me even before I met him. I did an early poem called “Naming Colors” that took off from a line in one of his poems, “You can’t get at a sunset naming colors.” In the late 80s, at the age of 65, he gave his first poetry reading ever. Prior to the reading he arranged a couple of practice sessions with friends and fellow poets as audience; I was delighted to be at one of those. The reading took place at the Dia (art) Foundation in downtown NYC. I’ve written a little about it, as have others. The line of people waiting to get in reached around the block, and the reading itself was the most exciting one I’ve ever been to. Not that Jimmy read any better than a lot of other poets we knew—in fact I remember the reading as quite matter-of-fact—but that I along with a surprising number of people in the art and poetry worlds was present at what seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime event. The applause afterwards was thunderous.1 It turned out not to be unique, but it was close. He confessed that he had enjoyed the experience a lot, and he wound up giving three more (I think) readings before he died in 1991.

MS: Yes, I’ve seen the tape of that reading at DIA, and it’s so good. Ashbery gives a great and insightful introduction - perhaps not surprisingly - and then Schuyler sits at a table with his poems and a glass of water, reads a poem, takes a sip of water, reads another poem, takes another sip . . . no commentary, no banter, just the poems. Please forgive this next question, which I’m afraid might sound simplistic – but I think/hope it’ll also get us into the poems – but you say that Schuyler was one of your first poetic heroes. Simple, or simplistic question: Why? What was it in his poems that led to your holding him in such esteem even in those early days of your own poetry life?

for the answer, and more, click here:

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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