James Schuyler

Bodies-cities part 2: James Schuyler's somatic urbanism

Clark Park, December 2017. Photo by the author.

I began this project a year ago to ask some questions about how queer spatial studies and city planning history each model cities and urban life, and how experimental poems further bring these models into conversation with one another. This set of essays is meant to be a beginning, the sort of beginning that, as Susan Landers writes, “is a place or a site.”[1] To the extent that the intervention of this project is in queer studies, it posits that part of what’s queer about queer theory now is its material urban context, and its need to contend with the affective and structural conditions of cities and their tranformation.

I began this project a year ago to ask some questions about how queer spatial studies and city planning history each model cities and urban life, and how experimental poems further bring these models into conversation with one another.

Bodies-cities part 1: Queering geographic information

What are the normative units of urban space? For residents, among them are the neighborhood and the block, the street and the school catchment. For planners, they include the census tract and the district, the zip code and the precinct. In a recent article in Area, “Crossing Over into Neighbourhoods of the Body: Urban Territories, Borders and Lesbian-Queer Bodies in New York City,” geographer Jen Jack Gieseking borrows Gloria Anzaldúa’s usage of “borders” and “crossing over” to push against the existing containers for sorting urban space and the bodies that use it. Gieseking writes: “‘Crossing over’ then queers the geographic imagination of cities; when queered, urban territories ebb and flow and are not fixed to boundaries defined by the elite and/or propertied” (Gieseking 263).

Barbara Guest in C: A journal of poetry

'Looking at Flowers Through Tears' and 'Sturm Nacht'

Barbara Guest's note to Ted Berrigan
Barbara Guest's Note to Ted Berrigan, Courtesy of Fales Library Archive and Hadley Guest

“Dear Ted,” Barbara Guest writes in the note above, “Would they were writ in gold. Affection--though--Barbara.” This was the cover note Guest included with her submission of two poems, “Looking at Flowers Through Tears” and “Sturm Nacht,” for the summer 1964 issue of C: A Journal of Poetry. Guest's poems appeared alongside work by John Ashbery, John Wieners, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, and others; she was the lone woman writer in this and the other two issues in which her work appeared: Volume 1, Number 5 (October/November 1963) and Volume 2, Number 11 (Summer 1965). For a more complete catalogue of the Table of Contents for this and other issues of C, I recommend visiting the RealityStudio site, “Index to the Contents of C: A Journal of Poetry.” Below are the images of the manuscript versions of the two poems from Volume 1, Number 9 (summer 1964) as they appear in the Fales Library archive.

C: A journal of poetry

A collage

C cover by Joe Brainard
“C” cover by Joe Brainard, courtesy of Fales Library Avant Garde Archive

C: A Journal of Poetry  first appeared in May of 1963, edited by Ted Berrigan and published by Lorenz Gude. It became an influential showcase for the work of New York School poets and artists — like Berrigan himself, along with Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Dick Gallup, David Shapiro, and others — it was a predominantly male list, though Barbara Guest and a few others (including Alice B. Toklas!) made appearances. The Fales Library has only a partial collection of the journal; all of the images included below are from that archive. To match the scattershot nature of the image collection, this commentary will be a collage of quotes from friends and fellow poets of Berrigan's in Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited and introduced by Anne Waldman for Coffee House Press in 1991.  

A day like any other (PoemTalk #85)

James Schuyler, 'February'

from left: Erica Kaufman, Bernadette Mayer, Al Filreis & Julia Bloch—during a live interactive webcast that preceded this PoemTalk session by a few hours.


Bernadette Mayer, Julia Bloch, and erica kaufman joined Al Filreis to discuss James Schuyler’s poem “February.” Schuyler read the poem at the Dia Art Foundation in New York on November 15, 1988. John Ashbery gave the introduction, emphasizing how reluctant Schuyler was to read in public. He noted: “As far as I know, this is the first public [reading] he has ever given.” One can tell from the tone of Ashbery’s remarks that he felt that he and the audience were in for a rare treat, a savoring for which years of waiting were worthwhile.

James Schuyler video, reading at the San Francisco Art Institute, Feb. 10, 1989

'Building a nest out of torn up letters'

James Schuyler, trash, and the poetics of collage

James Schuyler in Calais, VT, late 1960s. Photo by Joe Brainard.

James Schuyler has, from the first, been viewed as a consummate poet of the everyday, hailed for his charming, inspiring attentiveness to the here and now.

Past = past

Some notes on James Schuyler's 'Salute'

Who are they you salute, and that one after another salute you? — Walt Whitman, “Salut au Monde!”

Days and nights with James Schuyler

I still remember David Shapiro’s and Ron Padgett’s Anthology of New York Poets, with its picture of bright red cherries, a butterfly, and a ball and jacks on the cover, promising childlike verve. I ran across it in some New Jersey public library at the age of oh, about twelve, a few years after the book came out in 1970. The Shapiro-Padgett anthology trumpeted freshness — most of all, for me then as now, in the poems of James Schuyler.

A few words on James Schuyler

John Ashbery (left) and James Schuyler (right) as painted by Fairfield Porter (1967).

A first-time reader of James Schuyler’s poetry could have written my notes for this essay:

Loves a list
Letter / diary
Right now, right here
Weather and Light
Addresses, exact addresses
Names of friends

Yet I spent thirteen years editing Schuyler’s letters, years during which I thought of him at least once a day, and at every reading I have given in the past decade or more I read at least one of his poems. Really, I ought to be able to come up with a few new observations about his exceptional poetry.

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