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From Poetry Magazine

Jane Freilicher & the New York School: Paper, Canvas, and Celluloid

By Lindsay Garbutt
Photo credit: Oscar Arriola

Photo credit: Oscar Arriola

The poets are often consummate art lovers—both in their work and in their friendships. This time last year we highlighted the affinity between Joan Mitchell and writers such as James Schuyler, Frank O’Hara, Bill Berkson, and John Yau. This year we’re at it again with a special exhibition and portfolio on Jane Freilicher and her friendship with poets such as O’Hara, Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Kenneth Koch. Freilicher was less of a collaborator than Mitchell—the aesthetic relationship between her and the poets of the New York School was more of a “sympathetic vibration, a natural syntax” in her words. Her close friendships resulted her playing muse to many poems, including Frank O’Hara’s “Chez Jane,” published in Poetry, November 1954.

The white chocolate jar full of petals
swills odds and ends around in a dizzying eye
of four o’clocks now and to come. The tiger,
marvellously striped and irritable, leaps
on the table and without disturbing a hair
of the flowers’ breathless attention,
pisses into the pot, right down its delicate spout.

Jane Freilicher: Painter among Poets, the exhibit on view at the Poetry Foundation through February 21, includes many letters and poems exchanged between the painter and her “little band of poets,” as she writes to O’Hara. Also on view are several of Frielicher’s works on canvas and paper, including portraits of O’Hara, Schuyler, Koch, and Ashbery. (O’Hara returns the favor with a poem in the shape of Freilicher’s face.)

Photo credit: Oscar Arriola

Photo credit: Oscar Arriola


Photo credit: Oscar Arriola


Photo credit: Oscar Arriola

If you can’t make it to Chicago, a selection of Freilicher’s work appeared in Poetry’s January 2014 issue, with accompanying text by Jenni Quilter and Ashbery.

Early in her essay, Quilter mentions Freilicher and Ashbery’s star roles in a couple of Rudy Buckhardt’s films, “Mounting Tension” and “The Automotive Story” with accompanying film stills. We were so taken with her description of the films that we decided to get ahold of the 16mm prints ourselves! Join us at 7:00 PM Thursday, February 6 (tonight!) to see four short films Burckhardt made with poets of the New York School. The final film in the screening, “Ostensibly,” features a dual narration of Ashbery’s poem of the same name, which was originally published in Poetry, August 1987. (Ashbery even makes an appearance in the film wearing the red suspenders he describes.)

A perverse order has been laid
There at the joint where the year branches
Into artifice one way, into a votive
Lassitude the other way, but that is stalled:
An old discolored snapshot
That soon fades away.

And so there is no spectator
And no agent to cry Enough,
That the battle chime is stilled,
The defeated memory gracious as flowers
And therefore also permanent in its way—
I mean they endure, are always around,
And even when they are not, their names are,
A fortified dose of the solid,
Livable adventure.

If you want to learn more about Freilicher and the New York School, join us at 6:00 PM on the last night of the exhibition—February 21—for a special presentation by Jenni Quilter. The event will feature a virtual tour of other collaborations among painters and poets of the New York School, and a discussion of the relationship between image and text. The presentation will be followed by a Q&A moderated by David Getsy of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a reception. We hope you’ll join us.

We’ll leave you with a quote from Kenneth Koch’s “The Circus” (discussed in Ange Mlinko’s recent review), which appeared in The Art of Love (1975):

I never mentioned my friends in my poems at the time I wrote The Circus
Although they meant almost more than anything to me
Of this now for some time I’ve felt an attenuation
So I’m mentioning them maybe this will bring them back to me
Not them perhaps but what I felt about them
John Ashbery Jane Freilicher Larry Rivers Frank O’Hara
Their names alone bring tears to my eyes.

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Posted in From Poetry Magazine on Thursday, February 6th, 2014 by Lindsay Garbutt.