James Schuyler’s poetry gently checks the inclinations of the reader attuned to avant-garde sensibilities. It participates, on one hand, in the radical side of New York School aesthetics, dissolving the boundaries that demarcate individual selves and separate speech from poetry and art from life. Where the reader expects to find openness, fragmentation, and a mobile subject position, she finds them — but accompanied, always, by a countervailing attention to the experience of coherence. Sometimes, the persistence of ordinary coherence is oppressive:
I fell in love with James Schuyler’s poetry when I was twenty. Since my beloved has (still!) not received the recognition he deserves, I was initially motivated to write about his work by critical and dismissive readings of it. As an undergraduate I wrote an honors thesis on his great long poems — “The Crystal Lithium,” “Hymn to Life,” “The Morning of the Poem,” and “A Few Days” — but my interest was in both his long and short line. Almost twenty years later, critics have yet to give much attention to Schuyler’s adept use of line breaks.
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.