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An Introduction to the New York School of Poets

Exploring one of the most lasting styles of mid-century American poetry.
Black and white image of John Ashbery and the New York School of poets.

The New York School refers to a group of experimental painters and a coterie of associated poets who lived and worked in downtown Manhattan in the 1950s and 60s. The painter Robert Motherwell coined the name, playing off the pre-World War II École de Paris, a group of painters that included Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Similarly, the New York School was not an academic institution but rather a community built on proximity, relationships, and similarities in styles, methods, and subject matter. Though stylistic diversity existed within the group, New York School poetry tended to be witty, urbane, and conversational. The poets allowed everyday moments, pop culture, humor, and spontaneity into their work, seeking to capture life as it happened. Influenced by literary surrealism and abstract expressionist painting, they responded to the events of the day without embracing the heavy seriousness characteristic of some post-war intellectuals.

The New York School of poets is often organized into two generations: the first was centered around a core group of five poets: John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. The second generation included poets Alice Notley and her husband, Ted Berrigan; Bill Berkson; and Ron Padgett. During the second generation, members founded nonacademic learning centers that served local communities, such as the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church.

The cross-pollination between writing and visual art was a hallmark of the New York School. The first-generation New York School poets collaborated and socialized with abstract expressionist painters, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. The second generation found inspiration in the burgeoning pop art movement.

The collection that follows is intended to give you a sense of the major players in the New York School, but it is not exhaustive. In fact, there is no definitive list of who exactly constituted the New York School: some poets contested the label; others’ contributions have been underrecognized. The collection offers a sampling of poetry, essays by and about New York School poets, and audio and video recordings and discussions of their work. You can also browse the first- and second-generation New York School poets here and here.

Barbara Guest
John Ashbery
Tony Towle
Fairfield Porter
James Schuyler
Frank O’Hara
Kenward Elmslie
Kenneth Koch
David Shapiro
  • David Shapiro
    • Appeared in Poetry Magazine Ode
    David Shapiro
Joseph Ceravolo (2nd generation)
David Antin (2nd generation)
Ted Berrigan (2nd generation)
Anne Waldman (2nd generation)
Jim Carroll (2nd generation)
Paul Violi (2nd generation)
Ron Padgett (2nd generation)
Dick Gallop (2nd generation)
Aram Saroyan (2nd generation)
Tom Clark (2nd generation)
Joe Brainard (2nd generation)
Michael Brownstein (2nd generation)
Frank Lima (2nd generation)
Bill Berkson (2nd generation)
Alice Notley (2nd generation)
Bernadette Mayer (2nd generation)
Peter Schjeldahl (2nd generation)
Lewis Warsh (2nd generation)
Articles
Audio
Video