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

By Daniel Kane | Go to book overview

Introduction

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.”1

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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