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James Schuyler

James Schuyler

James Schuyler (1923-1991) is an American poet associated with The New York School of poets who reached his zenith in the 1960s and 1970s. James Schuyler was a prolific writer despite his short life, producing poetry collections such as Freely Espousing (1969), Hymn to Life (1974), and The Morning of the Poem (1980). Schuyler's writing style is Surrealist and engages the reader with its informality and collage-like imagery. Schuyler won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

A Biography of James Schuyler

James Schuyler was born on November 9, 1923, in Chicago, Illinois. When Schuyler was a teenager, he and his family moved to East Aurora, New York. Schuyler attended Bethany College in West Virginia in 1941. When World War II broke out, Schuyler joined the US Navy and remained in service until 1947. After completing his military duties, Schuyler spent two years working as a secretary for poet W.H. Auden on the Isle of Ischia, Italy. In 1950, Schuyler moved to New York City and shared a Manhattan apartment with the poets Frank O' Hara and John Ashbery. This was a productive period for all three poets.

James Schuyler, New York City Street, StudySmarterFig. 1 - James Schuyler wrote the majority of his poems in Manhattan.

During this time Schuyler worked as a curator for the Museum of Modern Art and was a writer for Art News, an art-focused newspaper. Schuyler published his first novel, Alfred and Guinevere in 1958, but it wouldn't be until the late 1960s that Schuyler's poetry career took off. He published his first poetry collection in 1969 titled Freely Espousing and was awarded the Frank O'Hara Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an American Academy of Poets Fellowship. In 1972, Schuyler published the poetry collection, The Crystal Lithium (1972), and in 1974, he published the poetry collection, Hymn to Life. Schuyler was a prolific and talented writer and was awarded the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection titled, The Morning of the Poem.

Towards the end of his life, Schuyler became increasingly reclusive. His last published piece was Selected Poems (1988), however, poetry collections and publications have continued after his death. On April 12, 1991, James Schuyler died due to a stroke.

Poetry by James Schuyler

James Schuyler was a central poetic figure in the New York School.

The New York School was a group of artists, including poets, dancers, painters, and musicians, who worked in New York City in the 1950s-1960s. The New York School was influenced by an art movement known as Surrealism, as well as abstract expressionism, jazz, and the avant-garde. There is a belief that The New York School of Poets formed as a reaction to Confessionalist Poetry, a poetic movement rooted in personal expression. The New York School wrote with vivid imagery and stream of consciousness. James Schuyler, Frank O' Hara, Barbara Guest, and many more were part of The New York School.

Due to Schuyler's close ties to the art world, his poetry began to reflect different artistic elements, such as Surrealism, and from painters like Fairfield Porter. Schuyler was also influenced by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his expression of nature.

Surrealism is a literary and art movement from the early twentieth century that sought to unlock the unconscious by juxtaposing the rational and the imagined. Characteristics of Surrealism include illogical combinations of objects, dream-like scenes and movements, and spontaneity.

Let's take a closer look at some of James Schuyler's poems.

"Feeling No Pain" (1976)

"Feeling No Pain" is a 1976 poem by James Schuyler that highlights the pain caused by an ear infection and how it impacts daily life activities.

"Anisette?" the waiter

asked me when he brought

me coffee. I didn't

hear him: he was on

my left side where

the ear was blocked

and ached. An infected

ear: the pain, there's

nothing like it..."

(Lines 14-22)

The poem is written with a lack of punctuation and stops between lines, which indicates this poem is written as a stream of consciousness.

Stream of Consciousness is a poetic form in which the first person is used and an emphasis is placed on the specific thoughts of the speaker. Often stream of consciousness will lack punctuation and sentences will flow over multiple lines.

When trying to identify if a poem contains a stream of consciousness, look for the use of the first-person point of view, lack of punctuation, and focus on the unconscious thoughts of a speaker. Look for words such as "I", statements like "I feel", and descriptors such as "ached" or "pain" (lines 20-22), like in the poem above.

In this poem, the reader feels as if they are in the speaker's mind, experiencing the discomfort of daily life when one has an ear infection. Ordinary things become difficult, such as ordering coffee. The poem also contains elements of Surrealism with its focus on the unconscious mind.

"Deep Winter" (1972)

In this poem by James Schuyler, the speaker expresses his thoughts as they walk through the cold. The speaker describes scenes such as fighting squirrels, the surrounding sounds such as church bells, and the quiet, blistering coldness that keeps the streets empty.

James Schuyler, Winter Trees, StudySmarterFig. 2 - "Deep Winter" describes a wintry walk through the cold.

A starling drops

from branch to

branch, it's cold

but not that cold:

the feel of cold-

ness is movement

on the skin so

walking in it

robs the air of

stillness…"

(Lines 1-10)

Once more this poem is an example of stream of consciousness as the speaker describes the sensations they feel, see, and experience. There is no clear sense of direction, rather the focus is on the unconscious thoughts of the speaker. The poem, therefore, connects to readers as they may have had similar thoughts and experiences walking in the cold on a winter day. There is also a great deal of imagery used in this poem. Words like "A starling drops" (line 1), "coldness is movement" (lines 5-6), and "robs the air of stillness" (lines 9-10) allow the reader to truly sense vividly what the speaker is describing.

Analysis of James Schuyler's Poems

James Schuyler's poems are worth analyzing to better understand Schuyler's writing style. As mentioned, James Schuyler wrote in a poetic form known as stream of consciousness. However, there are many more key characteristics to his work.

Rapid Movement

Schuyler's poetry feels as if it is rapidly moving and shifting in its sounds, shapes, imagery, tone, and subject. The effect is a collage-like poem that is hard to make direct sense of.

…when someone drowns thinking, “This can’t be happening to me!”

the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans

the sinuous beauty of words like allergy
the tonic resonance of
pill when used as in
“she is a pill”
on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack."("Freely Espousing", lines 7-14)

Look up a few Surrealist paintings and compare them to this poem. What similarities can you find between the two mediums?

In this example from Schuyler's "Freely Espousing", the speaker jumps from subject to subject: the thoughts of a drowning person, excavations of a battlefield, the sounds of words, and even the meaning of words. There is also a shift in tone from a desperate cry to a thoughtful reflection.

James Schuyler, Surrealist Art, StudySmarterFig. 3 - James Schuyler's poetry was influenced by Surrealist art.

In this way, the poem moves quickly in a series of images, seemingly placed together randomly. In this way, Schuyler's poetry reflects the Surrealist paintings.

Sound and Image

Schuyler placed importance on the sounds within his poetry to evoke the images the sounds produce.

...from the auto I
say, “Antinous, perched like a
parakeet cracking sunflower seeds
in a hot ice cave or cage,
you’re an apogee. Acid pennies
will fill your mouth, your head
bowl at a soldiers’ revel..."("Address" (2010), Lines 3-9)

In this example, sounds are used to convey imagery and meaning. The first is the use of the word "cracking" (line 5) to describe a parakeet opening sunflower seeds. It evokes not only the image of a man in desperation, but it also allows the reader to hear a cracking sound within the word itself. Another example in the poem is the word "Acid" (line 7). The soft "c" sound in the word "Acid" evokes the sensation of fizzing and burning of pennies in the mouth- an experience that sounds painful. By combining sound and imagery, Schuyler creates visceral and sensory poems.

Informality

Many of James Schuyler's poems feel informal as they are usually the thoughts and reflections of the speaker observing things in their daily life. However, this sense of informality is carefully and thoughtfully constructed despite its casual, passing tone. Schuyler is careful in his word choice, choice of subject, poetic style, and form to create an informal poem.

My thoughts turn south

a white city

we will wake in one another's arms.

I wake

and hear the steam pipe knock like a metal heart

and find it has snowed"

("A White City" (1965))

The subject of this poem is simply referring to two people waking up together on a snowy morning. The tone is sweet and tender, but the way Schuyler writes the poem feels casual and nonchalant. The lack of descriptors on how the speaker wakes up or feels hearing the steam pipe knock adds a casual tone to the poem, and by doing this, Schuyler places emphasis on the simplicity of the emotion at that moment.

Quotes by James Schuyler

James Schuyler is a unique poet; therefore there are many memorable quotes from his poetry. Let's take a closer look at a few of them.

No. nothing to say. Tears

for my lost youth? Nope, not

even those. Soon a moon

full or almost full will rise

behind those clouds that hover,

forever, over Long Island. It

is almost New Year..."

("Can I Tempt You to a Pond Walk?" (1976), lines 13-19)

In this quote taken from Schuyler's "Can I Tempt You to a Pond Walk?" the speaker is confronted with haunting images of the past but represses any emotion surrounding the pain. The poem is a clear example of a stream of consciousness. The lack of punctuation and separation between lines shows the flowing thoughts and reflections of the speaker. There is a moment of self-awareness in this poem when the speaker asks "Tears for my lost youth? Nope, not even those." (lines 13-15), which adds to the overall informal, passive tone of the poem.

Tears for Jo, four, each perfect, waspish.

A silver tongue and piss-blond hair

decants a funeral oblation for the mouse."

("Sweet Romanian Tongue" (2010), lines 9-11)

In this quote taken from Schuyler's "Sweet Romanian Tongue," an example of Schuyler's use of sound and imagery is found. Jo is crying tears described as "perfect" and "waspish" (line 9). The word "waspish" refers to a reserved, private, avoidant expression of feelings, and the word itself sounds delicate and whisper-like to reflect its meaning. The description of a "silver tongue" and "piss-blond hair" (line 10) provide a vivid image and reflect a lyrical voice (the silver tongue) and stringy, dirty blond hair (piss-blond hair).

… and yet
essential as a button
box, or maps, green
morning skies, islands and
canals in oatmeal, the steam
off oyster stew. Brown
agate, veined as a woods
by smoke that has to it
the watery twist of eel grass
in a quick, rust-discolored
cove." ("A Stone Knife" (1972), lines 10-20)

Schuyler's poem "A Stone Knife" is a perfect example of the poet's collage-like writing style. A series of images and descriptors are said one after the other without a sense of direction or focus. Although the reader is aware the speaker is describing a letter knife, the way the speaker describes the knife is fast-paced, seemingly random, and vivid. Schuyler jumps from "green morning skies" (lines 12-13) to "the steam off oyster stew" (lines 14-15) which are unrelated. The effect is a fast-paced, vivid and colorful, poem that engages the reader using a stream of consciousness.

James Schuyler - Key takeaways

  • James Schuyler was an American poet born in 1923 that belonged to The New York School of Poetry.
  • His poetry was greatly influenced by the artists he worked with, and it reflected art movements such as Surrealism and abstract expressionism.
  • He wrote numerous poems, and he is most well known for his poetry collections Freely Espousing (1969), Hymn to Life (1974), and The Morning of the Poem (1980).
  • James Schuyler's writing style can be described as a stream of consciousness, a collage of sound and imagery, and informal yet carefully constructed.
  • James Schuyler won the Pulitzer Prize for The Morning of the Poem (1980).

Frequently Asked Questions about James Schuyler

James Schuyler's poetry is known for its stream of consciousness form, its collage like style, and its informality. 

James Schuyler (1923-1991) is an American poet associated with The New York School of poetry who reached his zenith in the 1960s and 1970s. 

James Schuyler died of a stroke in 1991. 

James Schuyler wrote numerous poetry collections including Freely Espousing (1969), Hymn to Life (1974), and The Morning of the Poem (1980). 

Yes, James Schuyler won the Pulitzer Prize for The Morning of the Poem (1980).

Final James Schuyler Quiz

Question

Who is James Schuyler?

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Answer

an American poet associated with The New York School of poetry who reached his zenith in the 1960s and 1970s

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Question

What career brought Schuyler in close contact to artists?

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Answer

his job as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art and as a writer for Art News

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Question

What was Schuyler's first published novel?

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Answer

Alfred and Guinevere (1958)

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Question

What is the title of Schuyler's first poetry collection?

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Answer

Freely Espousing (1969)

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Question

Which poetry collection won Schuyler the Pulitzer Prize?

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Answer

The Morning of the Poem (1980)

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Question

What school of poetry did Schuyler belong to?

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Answer

The New York School 

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What was The New York School a reaction to?

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Answer

Confessionalist Poetry

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Question

What was The New York School, including James Schuyler, influenced by?

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Answer

 surrealism, abstract expressionism, jazz, and the Avant-Garde

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What poet influenced Schuyler's expression of nature?

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Answer

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Question

What form of poetry did Schuyler write in?

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Answer

Stream of consciousness

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Question

What is stream of consciousness?

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Answer

 a poetic form in which the first person is used, and an emphasis is placed on the specific thoughts of the speaker

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Question

What are characteristics of Schuyler's writing style?

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Answer

stream of consciousness, rapid movement, sound and color, and informality 

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Question

What art style does the collage like style of Schuyler's poetry reflect?

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Answer

surrealism

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Question

Why did Schuyler emphasize sound and imagery?

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Answer

to create visceral and sensory poems

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Question

What effect does informality in Schuyler's poems have?

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Answer

It places emphasis on the emotion of the poem rather than the style of the poem.

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