Appreciations of James Schuyler
Just a little more than twenty years after his death, James Schuyler seems to be doing well, thank you. The bulk of his work is in print (his collected and uncollected poems, three of his novels, and his letters), while the out of print materials (his art criticism, his diaries) are easy and still relatively cheap to come by. The reception of his unpublished poems, Other Flowers, two years ago was hugely positive and offered reviewers an opportunity to make big claims for Schuyler’s achievement, such as Dan Chiasson’s lovely statement that “James Schuyler is a supreme poet of articulated consciousness” or Ange Mlinko’s judgment that “the weight of the world is a ballast against the levitating effect of James Schuyler's courteous English, which made him our most angelic poet: full of air, intelligence, light.”
Nevertheless, Schuyler still doesn’t quite fit. He might be well respected but there are, as yet, almost no studies of him. (This will change, one hopes, with the publication of Nathan Kernan’s biography.) Everyone likes Schuyler, to be sure, but few people try to write like him. Schuyler is in part to blame for this situation, because he made his agility look easy and so let his extraordinary artfulness be mistaken for an aw-shucks immediacy. He was, as he maintained in an interview, anything but a realist. Nevertheless, this admired member of the “last avant-garde” has not made a direct claim on the avant-gardes that have come after him — you can hear odd echoes here and see short, sharp glimmers there, but he gets little of the full-throated emulation that goes to Ashbery and O’Hara.
Spend some time with all of this, here.
On a similar note, Stephen Akey wrote this appreciation of Schuyler over at Open Letters.
Here's a snippet:
Being an outsider worked to Schuyler’s advantage. It helped him to see that he couldn’t and didn’t need to write studied, erudite poetry of ideas. What he could write and did write was a poetry of disarming simplicity and unexpected beauty about ordinary life in the manner of James Schuyler. Compare, for instance, Auden’s elegy to William Butler Yeats with Schuyler’s elegy to Auden. The gravitas of Auden’s commemoration (“He disappeared in the dead of winter”) aptly suits a figure of Yeats’s importance and renown. But then Auden himself was a figure of considerable importance and renown; a little gravitas on Schuyler’s part wouldn’t have been inappropriate. Instead, in “Wystan Auden,” he gives us an indelible snapshot of the poet in his humdrum, unYeatsian particularity,
at Maria’s café in the cobbled
square saying, “Poets should
dress like businessmen,” while
he wore an incredible peach-
colored nylon shirt.
Similarly, Auden keeps himself out of “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” whereas Schuyler is all over the place in “Wystan Auden.” Everything he ever wrote, not excluding elegies, pastorals, epistolary poems, or the rare sestina or sonnet, takes as its foreground the movement of his shifting consciousness. Far from diminishing Auden, this forthright subjectivity catches the great man at his most human and endearing:
industrious, writing away in
a smoky room – fug – in a
ledger or on loose sheets
poems, some of which I typed
for him (they’re in Nones).
I don’t have to burn his
letters as he asked his
friends to do: they were lost
a long time ago. So much
to remember, so little to
say: that he liked martinis
and was greedy about the wine?
I always thought he would live
to a great age. He did not.
Wystan, kind man and great poet,
And yet a nagging doubt remains: shouldn’t serious poetry be a little more, you know, difficult than this? I used to think so. Years ago I struggled dutifully with the work of John Ashbery, Schuyler’s better-known colleague and friend, before allowing myself this liberating thought: You know, I really don’t like this stuff much. Not for a moment do I suggest that Schuyler is “better” than Ashbery. I just regret that I expended so much effort on a poet whose self-contained universe of riddling paradoxes I could never fully enter. Yet I persevered because, apart from the majesty of Ashbery’s voice (“As Parmigianino did it, the right hand / Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer / And swerving easily away”), I had been taught to believe that this is what modern poetry should be: aloof, impersonal, fragmented, and profoundly concerned with its own methods. An admirer of Ashbery could conceivably respond that his poetry may be some or all of those things yet remains deeply human and moving; James Schuyler certainly thought so. If it’s true, however, that formalist poetry in the manner of Ashbery can be emotionally engaging, it’s equally true that nonformalist poetry in the manner of Schuyler can be aesthetically sophisticated. All things being equal, I’m inclined to favor an aesthetic of more readerly regard. In “A few days” Schuyler confesses that he has “always been / more interested in truth than in imagination.” Me too. Anyway, I’ve learned not to feel bad for forswearing the sort of daunting poetry that John Ashbery writes. A few days are all we have.
Go here to read the entire piece. It's a Schuyler party up in here!