February 12, 2012

James Schuyler

James Schuyler [USA]

Born in Chicago on November 9, 1923,  James Schuyler, the son of reporter Marcus Schuyler, attended Bethany College in West Virginia from 1941-1943. In Schuyler’s memory he did little in college but “play bridge.”

     In the late 1940s, Schuyler moved to New York City, working for a while at NBC before becoming friends with the British poet W. H. Auden. He 1947 he became Auden’s secretary, moving into his Ischia, Italy apartment. For the next two years, Schuyler attended the University of Florence. Although obviously influenced somewhat by Auden, Schuyler has noted that he found Auden’s formalism “inhibiting,” and in his own writing Schuyler sought out a much more conversation style and a more prose-like line.

     He returned to the United States, rooming with poets John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara in New York.

      Although he was part of the infamous “New York School,” of poetry, and, like Ashbery and O’Hara was openly gay, Schuyler was intensely private about his life, although it was rumored that he was a manic depressive, and suffered several traumatic experiences including a near death in a fire he caused by smoking in bed.

      Schuyler, like O’Hara and Ashbery, found great inspiration in the art world, and from 1955-1961 was the curator of circulating exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art. Like Ashbery he wrote numerous art reviews, serving as editorial associate and critic for Art News. As he noted in an essay published after his death: "I did learn an awful lot during those years, and then went on in the 60s writing occasional articles about specific artists and their specific strategies. Partly it was to make money, and partly because I wanted to write about painting, about art."

     From 1961 to 1973 Schuyler lived with the artist Fairfield Porter and his family in Southampton, Long Island, an experience which highly influenced the poet’s first collection of poetry, Freely Espousing, dedicated to the artist and his wife Anne.

     In 1981 Schuyler received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his The Morning of the Poem (1980). In 1958 Schuyler published his first fiction, Alfred and Guinevere. With Ashbery he co-authored the fiction, A Nest of Ninnies in 1969, as well as writing other prose works. In 1978 he penned another work of fiction, What’s for Dinner? Schuyler also wrote four plays.

     He received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was a fellow of the American Academy of Poets.

     In April 1991 James Schuyler died of a stroke in Manhattan at the age of 67.


Salute (New York: Tiber Press, 1960); May 24 or So (New York: Tibor de Nagy Editions, 1966); Freely Espousing (Garden City, New York.: Paris Review Editions/Doubleday, 1969; New York: SUN, 1979); The Crystal Lithium (New York: Random House, 1972); A Sun Cab (New York: Adventures in Poetry, 1972); Hymn to Life (New York: Random House, 1974); Song (Syracuse, New York.: Kermani Press, 1976); The Home Book: Prose and Poems, 1951-1970, edited by Trevor Winkfield (Calais, Vermont.: Z Press, 1977); The Morning of the Poem (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980); Collabs, by Schuyler and Helena Hughes (New York: Misty Terrace Press, 1980); Early in '71 (Berkeley, California.: The Figures, 1982); Selected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988; Manchester, UK: Carcanet, 1990); Collected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993); Selected Poems (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988; Manchester, UK: Carcanet, 1990)

For a selection of taped readings by the poet, click below:

Greetings from the Chateau
                                  for David Noakes

 Why did Massenet compose Thaïs?
Why was there spiteful silence in the prune orchard?
He rests his arms on the pond balustrade.
He has bread in his hands.
Pianos sing in the palace,
The Empress bathes, the Emperor
climbs short flights of library steps
to take down a  world's smallest atlas.

Alas. It is very hot and the carp
flew off into the wood, Rosa's bull
boarded up in the Square. "Dinner.
Champagne at five. My letters answered.
Remember to mend the tape recorder."

In the palace, the double-bodies sphinxes
stare at the geometry of the gardens
delighting another dusk, and the canal to the sky.

(from Freely Espousing, 1969)


Called dog men,
they go out and have encounters.
Their blue eyes pick up and discharge
the green of their jackets, or ties.
Men, with clear-green eyes unnerve angels.

Or perhaps they are unnerving as angels.
It is certain they are not angels.
They maybe of another order,
between us and heaven like the atmosphere
between us and the sky, appointed
to clarify deathbed facts.
Unable to talk with us,
they know about is and argue about the facts
and the motives we may not know ourselves.
They arguing might be clarifying
to those who know them whom they do not know
as they know us who do not know them.
We see them of course,
talk with them and even touch then,
are struck by their glances.
We show them our secret, however ill-kept.
They tell us nothing about themselves.
They seem to tell everything,
what they are is obvious when we see them.
We accept as facts our conjectures about them
we were not aware we had made.
They help make real our conjectures.

They live in rooms around town
and perhaps are what we become for part of life
without knowing afterward.
This is no stranger then their rooms,
the inside of a cloud of red dust (it is, however, a room),
a room grown with lichens with a moon in it,
or wherever we pass them, or a roof.

(from Freely Espousing, 1969)

Reprinted from Douglas Messerli, ed. From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990 (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1994). Published with permission of SUN Press and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

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