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New York School

New York in the 1960s was full of diversity, life, art, and change. During this time, a group of like-minded friends, artists, and poets, came together in the social scene of the 1950s and 1960s in New York and formed a supportive group of individuals. Their creativity flowed freely, they supported one another, and their work thrived. Poetry and art intermingled; each informed and influenced the other, and the poets and painters maintained strong working relationships. This is what made up the New York School Poetry Movement.

New York School Poetry Movement

The New York School is a group of forward-thinking and experimental painters and poets with shared interests. They lived or worked in downtown Manhattan during the 1950s and 1960s and bonded over their shared interests, beliefs, and styles. While their styles and creations varied widely, each individual in the group was quick-witted, polite, refined, and relaxed. Their work mirrored their personalities and focused on issues relevant to their lives and times. Unlike the post-war writers, the poets of the New York School used direct language, everyday influences, pop culture, and humor in their pieces. Much of their writing feels quick, authentic, light, observational, and immediate. The New York School is often divided into two groups, referred to as generations.

New York School Poets: First Generation

The poets of the New York School found their center and gathered after World War II during a major social and political shift. Often described as Avante-Garde, the New York School poets forged their way using art as inspiration and became part of the Post-Modernist movement.

Avante-Garde can be an adjective or a noun describing new or unusual and experimental ideas or processes and the people that use them. The descriptor is often used in connection to art, music, and theater.

Frank O'Hara

Often cited as the central figure of the New York School poets, Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) was a writer, poet, art critic, and curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Much of his work reads as a sort of diary. Poems often following a stream-of-consciousness form feel immediate and intensely personal. O'Hara drew inspiration from the world around him, including jazz, action painting, surrealism, the city of New York, experiences with his friends, and his travels. Frank O'Hara's career, life, and influence on the literary and artistic world were cut short when he died tragically while on vacation after being hit by a vehicle.

New York School, Image of poet Frank O'Hara, StudySmarterFig. 1 - American poet Frank O'Hara was a central figure in the New York School.

John Ashbery

John Lawrence Ashbery (1917-2017) had a long and rewarding career as one of the most influential poets of his time. Like O'Hara, Ashbery's interest and expertise in art substantially impacted his writing and style. He used elements commonly found in painting to guide the shape of his poetry and often found joy in being abstract. He used words with multiple meanings and invited the reader to give meaning to the poem. Writers such as W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas influenced him. Ashbery attended school with Robert Creeley, a prominent figure of the Black Mountain Poets. Ashbery suffered the loss of his brother when they were children, and his later writings often dealt with the theme of death. His writing is reflective, reflexive, and somewhat narrative.

New York School, Poet John Ashbery at a podium, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Poet John Ashbery speaks at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2010.

Barbara Guest

Barbara Anne Guest (1920-2006) was an American poet who published more than 15 collections of poetry during her impressive career. As one of the members of the first generation of the New York School poets, Guest's writing was also influenced by the traits of modern art. Her early writing, while she was associated with the New York School poets, was abrupt, restless, and sophisticated. Influenced by abstract painters, much of her writing implements space as a way to draw meaning. Like Ashbery and O'Hara, Guest was part of the artist circle in New York and wrote for Art News Magazine.

James Schuyler

James Schuyler (1923-1991) was an American poet. He shared an apartment with Ashbery and O'Hara, wrote for Art News like Guest, and served as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. His professional career in arts positioned him to forge friendships with painters Willem de Kooning, Larry Rivers, and Fairfield Porter (1907-1975). He considered a poet's mind to be an exceptional subject, and his writing was often conversational and prose-like, giving it an intimate and personal touch.

Kenneth Koch

Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was an American playwright and poet. As part of the New York School of poets, Koch's writing explored deep emotions but utilized humor, irony, and satire to draw meaning. His poems were often casual and friendly, but reveal a writer with a deep understanding of the language and imagination.

New York School Poetry: Second Generation

The New York School of Poets' second generation included married couple Alice Notley and Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, Ann Waldman, Joe Brainard, and Ron Padgett. Like the generation before them, these poets were influenced by painters and retained a sense of humor throughout their works. More socially aware than the previous group, these young activists helped to establish non-academic community learning centers, such as the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, which was running until 2012.

New York School Poetry Characteristics

While the New York School poets are a diverse group, one of their core characteristics is the strong influences from art and their highly collaborative nature. Other New York School poetry characteristics include, but are not limited to:

  • The use of humor
  • The inclusion of daily events and activities
  • Pop culture references
  • Sarcasm and irony
  • Witty revelations
  • Surprise ideas
  • Experimentation of form
  • A structure that imitates art
  • Immediacy or spontaneity
  • Stream-of-consciousness
  • Diary-like
  • Intensely personal
  • Focus on individual expression

New York School of Poetry: Examples

The following examples reveal some of the characteristics and themes in work by the New York School poets.

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

"The Day Lady Died" (1964) by Frank O'Hara

New York School, Singer Billie Holiday, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Singer Billie Holiday, known as Lady Day, often wore gardenias in her hair while performing.

The poem "The Day Lady Died" directly references blues singing legend Billy Holiday. It recounts the day O'Hara learned of Holiday's death and his immediate reaction. This intimate and personal account is typical of the New York School poets' style. The form and structure are experimental and lack a solid rhyming pattern or meter. The poem makes the subject clear, although she is never directly mentioned by name. Finally, O'Hara's description is vivid and avoidant, as he struggles to come to terms with what her loss means to American culture and himself.

These are amazing: eachJoining a neighbor, as though speechWere a still performance.Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morningFrom the world as agreeingWith it, you and IAre suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:That their merely being thereMeans something; that soonWe may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have inventedSuch comeliness, we are surrounded:A silence already filled with noises,A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,Our days put on such reticenceThese accents seem their own defense.

"Some Trees" (1956) by John Ashbery

The poem "Some Trees" reveals Ashbery's tendency to play with the dual meaning of words and use abstract ideas. Like the artists he admired, Ashbery uses his words as brushstrokes to create a world where trees can be just trees or something more. Although the title implies the subject of trees, the poem purposefully avoids a direct reference to trees at the onset. In this manner, the first line can describe trees, people, or even experiences. Purposefully vague, the poem leaves interpretation open to the reader.

New York School - Key takeaways

  • The New York School of poets was a community of like-minded creatives who were influenced by the art world.
  • The New York School of poets lived or worked in downtown Manhattan during the 1950s and 1960s and bonded over their shared interests, beliefs, and styles.
  • The central figure of the New York School poetry movement is Frank O'Hara. Other notable poets include John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler.
  • A second generation of the New York School of poets included married couple Alice Notley and Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, Ann Waldman, Joe Brainard, and Ron Padgett.
  • Characteristics of the New York School poetry include an influence of the arts and experimental forms. Other features are the use of humor, the inclusion of pop culture, a structure that imitates art, immediacy or spontaneity, and a stream-of-consciousness style.

References

  1. Fig. 2 - John Ashbery (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Ashbery_podium_2010_NYC_Shankbone_(4981270213).jpg) by David Shankbone (https://www.flickr.com/people/27865228@N06) is licensed by CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Frequently Asked Questions about New York School

A New York School poet identifies a specific group of forward-thinking and experimental poets with shared interests who lived or worked in downtown Manhattan during the 1950s and 1960s and bonded over their shared interests, beliefs.

The New York School poetry movement aimed to change the landscape of poetry by using daily inspiration, contemporary topics, and different forms to make poetry accessible to the public.

A New York School poem focuses on an individual's intimate details and experiences while also surfacing some truths about life. It is interested in the individual experience, emotions, and thoughts. There is no specific form or meter, and many appear as diary entries.

A second generation of the New York School of poets included married couple Alice Notley and Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, Ann Waldman, Joe Brainard, and Ron Padgett.

The First Generation and Second Generation made up the New York School movement.

Final New York School Quiz

Question

What was the New York School poetry movement? 

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Answer

The New York School is a group of forward-thinking and experimental painters and poets with shared interests. 

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Question

Who was the central figure of the New York School? 

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Answer

Poet Frank O'Hara was the central figure. 

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Question

All of the following poets were members of the New York School EXCEPT:

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William Carlos Williams

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Question

What decades was the New York School most prominent? 

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Answer

They lived or worked in downtown Manhattan during the 1950s and 1960s and bonded over their shared interests, beliefs, and styles. 

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Their writing can be described as 

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Answer

using direct language, everyday influences, pop culture, and humor.

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All of the folllowing characterize the New York School poetry EXCEPT:

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Use of traditional forms

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Question

What poem did O'Hara write about blues singer Billie Holiday? 

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Answer

O'Hara wrote "The Day Lady Died" as a reaction to her death and to commemorate her life. 

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What is a characteristic of Barabara Guest's writing? 

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Guest's writing was abrupt, restless, and sophisticated. 

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How did the second generation of the New York School differ from the first? 

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The second generation was more socially active and helped establish a non-educational community learning center. 

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Other than their writing craft, what common interests did most of the New York School have in common? 

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Answer

The New York School was influenced by the art world, and several worked as art critics and museum curators. 

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