I enjoyed Robert Archambeau’s take on the February 2009 manifesto portfolio, but he quotes me saying that I “can’t really say anything more definite for the time being” without noticing that I am directly quoting Frank O’Hara. It might have some bearing on Archambeau’s thesis.
Archambeau claims that this is an age of anti-manifestos because we are institutionally more complacent than the festooned-with-manifestos, maverick Modernists, whose aim was “to challenge the marginalization of poetry in society, and to challenge the center of poetry from the margins of the art.”
But that doesn’t explain why Frank O’Hara and his cohorts (the “New York School”) were anti-manifesto (likewise anti-label, poo-poohing even their membership in a “New York School”). They were not embraced by institutions; they were hostile, in letters and interviews, to the conventional poets of the day; and they grounded themselves firmly in the camp of European Modernism. They had no audience outside their coterie, perhaps a bit like that unnamed poet Archambeau championed who had no New York publisher or elite grad students. Still, when solicited for manifestos—much as we Poetry contributors were—O’Hara obliged with skittish, sometimes surly, non-ambition.
The impulse to reject manifestos hasn’t changed in fifty years. Either we’re still partying like it’s 1959, or the impulse to write manifestos was never the norm for artists but a deviation from the norm. I suspect it’s the latter.
croton-on-hudson, new york