All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s

All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s

All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s

All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s

Synopsis

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 Drawing from personal interviews with many of the participants, from unpublished letters, and from rare sound recordings, Daniel Kane brings together for the first time the people, political events, and poetic roots that coalesced into a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.

Excerpt

In the early to mid-1960s, a growing poetry-reading scene was develop ing 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 contemporary American poetry. the poetics and politics associated with the loosely defined New York School, Beat, San Francisco Renaissance, and Black Mountain schools were adopted, argued over, and developed by poets who ultimately founded the Poetry Project, which Allen Ginsberg described as an “immediate neighborhood community and family” that “served and still serves to formulate local public opinion.”

Recovering, in the pages of this book, the Lower East Side poetic community—a community that despite its significant influence on American poetry since the 1960s has not been the subject of a book-length exegesis— will, I hope, serve several valuable functions. Placing the Lower East Side scene in historical context adds to our overall understanding of 1960s Lower East Side as a radical center and of the role the twentieth-century avant-garde played in developing a politics of joy and resistance. As we will also see, the Lower East Side poetic community was a fascinating microcosm of a counterculture that helped define the 1960s as a time when experiments in com-

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