Poetics of Surprise – The New Spain

The New York is one of the four groups that, in the mid-1950s and even before, radically renewed the panorama of American poetry, breaking with the poetics associated with “new criticism” (Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, the Lowell of Lord Weary’s castle) and returning to a composition much more attentive to speech, playfulness and experimentalism than to the meditative and intellectual register that had been imposed by the highly influential Four Quartets by Eliot, with their closed, all-encompassing and self-sufficient poem model.

However, the group characteristics of the school are rather diffuse, at least as far as style is concerned. In his brief introduction, Gonzalo Torné sees them as poets “linked by something more powerful than a common poetic: an accomplice friendship resolved in a lively interest in the work of others.” And, in terms of writing, he affirms that the five “coincide in letting go of the metric demands”, he highlights “their sense of play and fun” and “a euphoria that at times borders on vital optimism”, and praises their determination in imagining “new atmospheres” and his interest in “taking you to places where you have never been”.

As Koch writes in his poem “The Art of Poetry”: “The reader must be puzzled once they put down your book; / shocked, enlightened, ready to feel / curious to be alive ”. I can’t think of a better way to connect poetics as disparate as those of Ashbery and Guest, on the one hand, and those of Koch and O’Hara, on the other, leaving Schuyler without a partner by virtue of his concentrated expression and his muffled melancholy. Perhaps we could add to the adjectives that Koch uses that of “intrigued”, by the way in which Ashbery and Guest incite the reader to search and rummage through what has already been read to find the key to the meaning (which is not there); for O’Hara’s liking for everyday and street incidents, and for humor, always in search of Koch’s final surprise, sometimes extended to exhaustion. A poetics (here yes, group) that bears similarities with jazz (the “music of surprise”) and the abstract expressionism of Pollock and De Kooning, parallel to which, in time and form, it develops.

Of the five poets in the group, one (Ashbery) is well known in Spain; from another (O’Hara) there is a Spanish translation of his most famous book, Lunch poems (Poems at lunchtime, DVD, 1997), and an anthology (It does not rain in California, 2018) in the Kriller71 publishing house, which also has published another by Koch (Dogs barking in the snow, 2016). However, Guest and Schuyler’s poetry remained, as far as I know, unpublished among us, which lends added interest to the book and almost constitutes its best asset. The reader will judge for himself, but in view of the poems selected here, these are two authors who retain the best of the school in their work and deserve greater diffusion. The first, very well translated by Ojeda, captures snapshots of life that it transforms and deconstructs to compose flesh and blood abstractions with them: it is the bridge, via Gertrude Stein, between the group and the “language poets”. The second, less concerned with ekphrasis than with his being problematic in the world (he was bipolar), is a very singular poet, personal to the pathological, fragile in his apparent rudeness, the most pessimistic of the five.

The Poetic School of New York

Ashbery, O’Hara, Guest, Koch, Schuyler

Alba, 554 pages

24 euros


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