Poetry News

Honoring Poet & Dance Critic Edwin Denby

By Harriet Staff


At Locus Solus: The New York School of Poets blog, Andrew Epstein helps promote The Poetry Project's upcoming tribute to poet and dance writer Edwin Denby (1903-1983), “Dancers, Buildings, and People: A Reading for Edwin Denby” (produced in conjunction with Danspace Project). Epstein quotes from Frank O'Hara's introduction to Denby's dance writings: “Somehow, he gives an equation in which attention equals Life, or is its only evidence, and this is turn gives each essay, whatever the occasional nature of its subject, a larger applicability we seldom find elsewhere in contemporary criticism.” More:

Although Denby frequently appears in discussions of the New York School, scholars have provided few extended treatments of his poetry or his role as a pivotal figure in this coterie. One exception to this general neglect can be found in the opening section of the new book New York School Painters and Poets, written by Jenni Quilter and edited by Allison Power, which (as I recently noted) makes the case that Denby, alongside Rudy Burckhardt and Willem de Kooning, “really set the proverbial stage for the first and second generations and remained steady figures in the New York School circles.”

Another exception is “Edwin Denby’s New York School,” an excellent and thorough essay by Mary Maxwell that appeared in the Yale Review in 2007. Maxwell traces Denby’s large but under-recognized role as a foundational New York School figure, his collaborations with Rudy Burckhardt, his inventive sonnets, his influence on poets like O’Hara, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, and Jim Carroll, and much more. Maxwell writes:

“In his lifelong engagement with the subject of the city, he, like O’Hara, is a true New York poet. Not only is In Public, in Private the first volume of poems published by a poet of the New York School, there is an argument to be made that with more complete documentation of Denby’s relations with O’Hara’s circle, in addition to his position as a point of reference in the New York art world before, during, and after the heyday of the New York School of painting, the whole idea of ‘‘New York School Poet’’ (of any vintage) is meaningful only relative to the vocation of Edwin Denby.

Read it all at Locus Solus.

Originally Published: January 30th, 2015