Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry by Andrew Epstein

By Andrew Epstein

Even though it has lengthy been normal to visualize the archetypal American poet making a song a solitary "Song of Myself," a lot of the main enduring American poetry has truly been preoccupied with the drama of friendship. during this lucid and soaking up research, Andrew Epstein argues that an obsession with either the pleasures and difficulties of friendship erupts within the "New American Poetry" that emerges after the second one international warfare. via concentrating on one of the most major postmodernist American poets--the "New York college" poets John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and their shut modern Amiri Baraka--Beautiful Enemies finds a basic paradox on the center of postwar American poetry and tradition: the avant-garde's dedication to individualism and nonconformity runs at once counter to its personal valorization of group and collaboration. in truth, Epstein demonstrates that the conflict among friendship and nonconformity complicates the mythical alliances solid via postwar poets, turns into a most important subject within the poetry they created, and leaves modern writers with a sophisticated legacy to barter. instead of easily celebrating friendship and poetic neighborhood as nurturing and encouraging, those poets signify friendship as a type of exhilarating, maddening contradiction, a domain of charm and repulsion, affinity and competition. demanding either the reductive evaluations of yank individualism and the idealized, seriously biographical celebrations of literary camaraderie one reveals in a lot serious dialogue, this e-book offers a brand new interpretation of the abnormal dynamics of yankee avant-garde poetic groups and the function of the person inside of them. through situating his huge and revealing readings of those hugely influential poets opposed to the backdrop of chilly conflict cultural politics and in the context of yank pragmatist idea, Epstein uncovers the collision among radical self-reliance and the siren name of the interpersonal on the center of postwar American poetry.

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In the pages to come, I will suggest that the trope of abandonment and its corollary, self-dissolution, appear frequently along the arc of experimental American poetry. It appears in Wallace Stevens’s strange notion that selfhood consists of an ongoing evasion of self—“You yourself were never quite yourself / And did not want nor have to be, / Desiring the exhilarations of changes: / The motive for metaphor, shrinking from / The weight of primary noon, / The A B C of being” (Collected, 288). 18 It surfaces in both Marianne Moore’s strikingly similar assertion that “the power of relinquishing / what one would keep; that is freedom” (“His Shield,” 144) and in the powerful denouement of O’Hara’s poem “Sleeping on the Wing,” in which he writes, “And, swooping,/ you relinquish all that you have made your own, / the kingdom of your self sailing .

This takes place in opposition to the romance of the solitary individualist, the genius, the lone outlaw (the heroes of very American narratives). And while debunking the figure of the poet as a solo egoist, the Language movement has undertaken intellectual rigor within the social; it has produced a challenging, strenuous, and sometimes anxious social milieu. (Language, 171) Hejinian’s comments usefully point to the persistence in recent American poetry of the very concerns I discuss in this book.

The first issue of Origin, which truly inaugurated a Black Mountain or projectivist poetic coterie, practically coincided with Goodman’s piece in 1951, as did Olson’s rectorship at Black Mountain College. Soon, building community via upstart little magazines would become a defining gesture of this entire period. 6 In A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, Stephen Clay and Rodney Phillips chronicle how “the mimeograph revolution,” the explosion of small, avant-garde journals and presses that occurred in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, was a major facet of the collusion between poetry and friendship: poets struggling on the fringe of the literary establishment “invented their own communities and audiences (typically indistinguishable), with a small press or little magazine often serving as the nucleus of both” (13–14).

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