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

By Daniel Kane | Go to book overview

6
Bernadette Mayer and “Language”
in the Poetry Project

I didn’t know Ted Berrigan that well—I wasn’t part of his clique. Certainly some
of the people around him were hostile to what we were trying to do. A lot of
that was couched strictly in terms of anti-intellectualism. There wasn’t much
interest in creating another alternative way of writing, or sense of what’s read-
ing all about, or reconfiguring of literary history. But people were amiable
enough, and reasonably friendly as long as you weren’t disrespectful toward
the elders, and those were writers I generally liked. People like myself, Hannah
Weiner, Peter Seaton, Nick Piombino, and Jackson Mac Low provided an
alternative poetics space for what the St. Mark’s crowd had already been
doing. L = A = N = G = U = A = G = E wasn’t New York based—we weren’t
focused on just the community and the small-press scene in this town.

BRUCE ANDREWS, INTERVIEW BY AUTHOR


“Incapacity and Awkwardness and Fragmentation”

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 of mainstream success accorded to poets like Richard Howard or Robert Pinsky, they nevertheless were no longer as strongly associated with the avantgarde—if by “avant-garde” one refers to its manifestation as an underground, ephemeral phenomenon. In 1973, Ted Berrigan would even have some of his sonnets included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, albeit with a “disparaging headnote.”1 The Project, while strongly maintaining its ties to poets associated with the New York School, was also ready for some new poetics.

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