We suspected that the poetry of Joseph Ceravolo has been on the limits of our poetic understanding for a reason. Therefore, we embarked on a collective effort, a group investigation of the parameters, frequencies, limitations, and timbres we could locate and cull from a famously fugitive body of work. Fugitive because of its publishing history, which may be partially due to the cruel vagaries of human existence.
Born in 1934 in Queens, New York City, Ceravolo died early, in 1988. A civil engineer by trade, he studied poetry with Kenneth Koch at the New School for Social Research and became part of the second generation of New York School Poets, along with Bill Berkson, Jim Brodey, Frank Lima, David Shapiro, and Tony Towle. They were soon joined by the “Tulsa School” poets Ted Berrigan, Dick Gallup, and Ron Padgett, along with their colleague, writer and visual artist Joe Brainard, and then by a growing number of other poets associated with the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Ceravolo, Lima, and Towle were included in The Poets of the New York School, an important anthology edited by John Bernard Myers and published in 1969. Ceravolo’s poems were published in the journals Angel Hair, Art and Literature, C, Lines, Locus Solus, Mother, and The Paris Review. He was the author of the books Fits of Dawn (C Editions, 1965); Wild Flowers Out of Gas (Tibor de Nagy Editions, 1967); Spring in This World of Poor Mutts (Columbia University Press, 1968), which won the first Frank O’Hara Award for Poetry; INRI (Swollen Magpie Press, 1979); Transmigration Solo (Toothpaste Press, 1979); and Millenium Dust (Kulchur, 1982). In 1994, Coffee House Press published The Green Lake Is Awake, a selected poems with an introduction by Kenneth Koch.
Here, we have collected some previously published pieces on Ceravolo, combined with a group of new approaches. We were interested in amassing a number of voices to attempt to illuminate this famously elusive poet’s various senses of musicality, nonsense, and also a strict refusal to fit into accustomed patterns of writing poetry. That his work is difficult to categorize is as true today as when Ceravolo was writing. We conceive of what our contributors have written as critical/experimental texts, and we are certain their cumulative effort will provide new insights into Ceravolo’s work. We have contributions in the form of poems, reviews, essays, and a panel discussion.
While we had conceived this project earlier, it is now the case that Collected Poems of Joseph Ceravolo, edited by Rosemary Ceravolo and Parker Smathers, with an introduction by David Lehman, is available from Wesleyan University Press. The zeitgeist has caught up with us; whether or not it has caught up with Ceravolo is another story, one that hopefully this feature will help readers to investigate.