All Poets Welcome

All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s, Includes 35-track CD of audio clips of poetry readings

Daniel Kane
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 348
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnw3t
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  • Book Info
    All Poets Welcome
    Book Description:

    This landmark book, together with its accompanying CD, captures the heady excitement of the vibrant, irreverent poetry scene of New York's Lower East Side in the 1960s. Drawing from personal interviews with many of the participants, from unpublished letters, and from rare sound recordings, Daniel Kane brings together for the first time the people, political events, and poetic roots that coalesced into a highly influential community. From the poetry-reading venues of the early sixties, such as those at the Les Deux Mégots and Le Metro coffeehouses to The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, a vital forum for poets to this day, Kane traces the history of this literary renaissance, showing how it was born from a culture of publicly performed poetry. The Lower East Side in the sixties proved foundational in American verse culture, a defining era for the artistic and political avant-garde. The voices and works of John Ashbery, Amiri Baraka, Charles Bernstein, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Kenneth Koch, Bernadette Mayer, Ron Padgett, Denise Levertov, Paul Blackburn, Frank O'Hara, and many others enliven these pages, and the thirty five-track CD includes recordings of several of the poets reading from their work in the sixties and seventies. The Lower East Side's cafes, coffeehouses, and salons brought together poets of various aesthetic sensibilities, including writers associated with the so-called New York School, Beats, Black Mountain, Deep Image, San Francisco Renaissance, Umbra, and others. Kane shows that the significance for literary history of this loosely defined community of poets and artists lies in part in its reclaiming an orally centered poetic tradition, adapted specifically to open up the possibilities for an aesthetically daring, playful poetics and a politics of joy and resistance.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93643-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    IN THE EARLY TO MID-1960S, A GROWING POETRY-READING SCENE WAS DEVELOPing in dozens of cafés and lofts around Manhattan, particularly in the neighborhood known as the Lower East Side. Especially significant reading series in this area were centered, chronologically, at Mickey Ruskin and Ed Kaplan’s Tenth Street Coffeehouse, at Ruskin and Bill Mackey’s Les Deux Mégots coffeehouse on East Seventh Street, at Maurice Margules’s Le Metro coffeehouse on Second Avenue, and finally, at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. The readings served as self-consciously inscribed meeting grounds, think tanks, and community spaces for poets working outside the mainstream of...

  5. 1 Community through Poetry
    (pp. 1-26)

    During the early to mid-1960s, before the founding of the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in 1966, a series of poetry readings based in various coffeehouses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan began to receive growing attention from the local press and the wider literary community. These readings, the most important of which began at Les Deux Mégots (on East Seventh Street) and then at Le Metro (on Second Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets), were not funded by any government, foundation, or corporate grants, as most long-term reading series are today. They did not charge much, if...

  6. 2 Oral Poetics on the Lower East Side
    (pp. 27-56)

    Poets of the Lower East Side directed attention to the function of art in society by reinvigorating the tradition of the poetry reading. Readings were not just public presentations of texts, but events that defined a contemporary avant-garde as they redefined the way poetry was used in contemporary American culture. Amiri Baraka’s description of his writing practice helps us see how a conception of the poem as speech act determined writing: “I don’t mean that I write poems completely the way I’m talking now, although I’m certain that a great deal of my natural rhythm dominates the line, where I...

  7. 3 The Aesthetics of the Little
    (pp. 57-122)

    On the Lower East Side throughout the 1960s, much of the poetry that was read at places including Les Deux Mégots, Le Metro, and the Poetry Project could best be disseminated through the mimeograph magazine and the smallcirculation, low-cost bound magazine. The mimeograph in particular allowed for speedy, cheap reproduction. That speediness lent mimeographed materials an urgency allusive of newspaper “extras.” Mimeos contained breaking news of the poetry world, serving as carriers of fresh and vital information. Diane di Prima recalls that “the last time I saw Charles Olson in Gloucester, one of the things he talked about was how...

  8. 4 The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church
    (pp. 123-152)

    Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor of what was then known as New Amsterdam, founded St. Mark’s Church, officially called St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie. The original chapel was built in 1660. Stuyvesant’s land holdings extended from what is now Broadway to the East River and Fifth Street to Seventeenth Street. This property was known as Stuyvesant’s “Bouwerie,” derived from the Dutch word meaning “cultivated farm” or “gentleman’s estate.”¹ After the original chapel deteriorated, the present structure was built on the same site in 1799.

    As the Lower East Side began to attract large numbers of European immigrants in the first half of the...

  9. 5 Anne Waldman, The World, and the Early Years at the Poetry Project
    (pp. 153-186)

    Anne Waldman was in many ways a natural choice to inherit the director position at the Poetry Project. Born in 1945, brought up in Greenwich Village, and associated with St. Mark’s Church since her early teens, Waldman was part of an intergenerational bohemian milieu that would inform the choices she made as arts director. Her mother, Frances LeFevre, had been involved with the Utopian Delphi Ideal community with her Greek father-in-law, Anghelos Sikelianos (the poet), and her American mother-in-law, choreographer Eval Palmer Sikelianou. Anne Waldman was also introduced to Buddhism in a Quaker high school and had received teachings from...

  10. Plates
    (pp. None)
  11. 6 Bernadette Mayer and “Language” in the Poetry Project
    (pp. 187-202)

    By the early 1970s, things were changing at the Poetry Project. The Reverend Michael Allen left New York City in 1970 for a position as dean of the Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. With Allen’s departure, the Project was now being led by a new generation of reading series organizers and administrators, including Larry Fagin and Steve Facey. New York School aesthetics were at this point familiar to the vast majority of poets living on the Lower East Side. First-Generation poets had all published books with mainstream publishers. While poets like Padgett and Berrigan never achieved the kind...

  12. EPILOGUE: Bob Holman, the Poetry Project, and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe
    (pp. 203-208)

    A POETRY SLAM INVOLVES A GROUP OF POETS READING THEIR WORK TO AN AUDIence—members of this audience then score the poet’s poem and performance, and the winner receives some kind of symbolic or cash prize.¹ In his introduction toAloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Cafe,Cafe founder Miguel Algarín writes that slams in the early 1990s at the Nuyorican started with

    our host, Bob Holman, reading his Disclaimer: “We disdain / competition and its ally war / and are fighting for our lives / and the spinning / of poetry’s cocoon of action / in your dailiness. We refuse...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 209-272)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-288)
  15. Sources and Permissions
    (pp. 289-294)
  16. Index
    (pp. 295-306)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-308)
  18. Playlist for Compact Disc
    (pp. 309-310)