The last avant-garde : the making of the New York School of Poets /

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Main Author: Lehman, David, 1948-
Format: Book
Published:New York : Doubleday, 1998.
Edition:1st ed.
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Review by Choice Review

Lehman's welcome book offers a rich and perceptive view of one of the most significant US cultural movements. Lehman emphasizes the life and work of the four poets central to the group--John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler--but his detailed portrait of the milieu of the New York School includes insightful appreciations of painters Larry Rivers, Fairfield Porter, Jane Freilicher, Grace Hartigan, Nell Blaine, Willem de Kooning, and other artists associated with abstract expressionism. Engaging and informative discussions of influences embrace John Cage, Raymond Roussel, Barbara Guest, Harry Mathews, and others. Lehman views the poets and their associates as the last avant-garde in US poetry; as a result, he offers strong and useful praise but sometimes obscures and minimizes valid criticism and the achievements of others, particularly the Beat poets, another avant-garde movement (1948-66) he covers. In the epilogue, Lehman discusses the second generation of the New York school (Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, Dick Gallup, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley) and language poets Michael Palmer, Lyn Hejinian, Charles Bernstein, Bob Perelman, Ron Silliman, et al. (whom he also rightfully views as heirs to the New York School poets). Detailed notes and an excellent bibliography add to this extraordinary book, which belongs in all collections of US poetry. L. Berk; Ulster County Community College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A fresh encounter with the expansive experiments of poets (and others) who in the 1950s casually formed the New York School. Lehman (Signs of the Times, 1991) both sets the heady urban social scene of this ""last avant-garde"" and reconsiders the poetry that helped to provoke it and was provoked in turn. Focusing on the ""school"" 's largely antiacademic founders, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler, the author devotes a chapter to each, with two chapters of more general import serving as bookends before and after. Lehman deftly strikes a balance between biographical and literary issues. For instance, in writing of the reticent Ashbery's effusively enigmatic work, he makes no attempt to simplify the poems or charm readers with comparatively straightforward biographical insights. Instead, the writing rightly assumes primary importance, and his comments on the life settle in around it. Lehman approaches Koch as a neglected master whose puckishly inventive humor, indefatigable teaching, and dedication to artistic collaboration have been central to inspiring camaraderie within the New York School. Yet not everyone will be convinced that Koch's writing merits unquenchable hosannas. And in Lehman's argument that the school may represent the ""last"" avant-garde to matter, he venerates with questionable nostalgia a series of literary improvisations happily not yet concluded. For readers outside the action to fully appreciate why these poets and their colleagues contested expectations, more chronicling of the opposition to them would have been useful. An inherent irony of this cultural history: it's an intelligent, spirited encomium written to salute a movement that once seemed not to want any; the poets served the margins. But Lehman clearly wishes to remind our commercial age of the need for robust individualism to give backtalk, although he seems not to hold out much hope for any to emerge of true new pungence. By contrast, New York of the 1950s is unveiled as a contrarian mecca. A valentine for four poets--and a cultural corrective. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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