Happy James Schuyler Day



To celebrate what I now think of as James Schuyler day, I am reposting June 30, 1974. Happy James Schuyler day everyone!


June 30, 1974
for Jane and Joe Hazan

Let me tell you
that this weekend Sunday
morning in the country
fills my soul
with tranquil joy:
the dunes beyond
the pond beyond
the humps of bayberry –
my favorite shrub (today,
at least) – are
silent as a mountain
range: such a
subtle profile
against a sky that
goes from dawn
to blue. The roses
stir, the grapevine
at one end of the deck
shakes and turns
its youngest leaves
so they show pale
and flower-like.
A redwing blackbird
pecks at the grass;
another perches on a bush.
Another way, a millionaire’s
white chateau turns
its flank to catch
the risen sun. No
other houses, except
this charming one,
alive with paintings,
plants and quiet.
I haven’t said
a word. I like
to be alone
with friends. To get up
to this morning view
and eat poached eggs
and extra toast with
Tiptree Goosberry Preserve
(green) -and coffee,
milk, no sugar. Jane
said she heard
the freeze-dried kind
is healthier when
we went shopping
yesterday and she
and John bought
crude blue Persian plates.
How can coffee be
healthful? I mused
as sunny wind
streamed in the car
window driving home.
Home! How lucky to
have one, how arduous
to make this scene
of beauty for
your family and
friends. Friends!
How we must have
sounded, gossiping at
the dinner table
last night. Why, that
dinner table is
this breakfast table:
“The boy in trousers
is not the same boy
in no trousers,” who
said? Discontinuity
in all we see and are:
the same, yet change,
change, change. “Inez,
it’s good to see you.”
Here comes the cat, sedate,
that killed and brought
a goldfinch yesterday.
I’d like to go out
for a swim but
it’s a little cool
for that. Enough to
sit here drinking coffee,
writing, watching the clear
day ripen (such
a rainy June we had)
while Jane and Joe
sleep in their room
and John in his. I
think I’ll make more toast.

James Schuyler, from Collected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993)


James Schuyler is probably best known for being a central member of the New York School of poets comprising Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. Having said that, it is probably fair to say that he is not as well known as his compatriots, a state of affairs which is neither just nor entirely explicable. I was reminded of Schuyler’s delicate, unnerving, gossipy and immediate poems this week as I read an essay of my friend Cliff Yates in which he describes the composition of poetry as an act about itself as much as the ‘subect matter’ at hand. 

Schuyler’s project can be categorised in this way, it seems me. His long poems ‘The Morning of the Poem’, ‘A Few Days’ and ‘Hymn to Life’ range widely in their content but are all ultimately about themselves as constructed annotations of minute lived experience. They do not pretend to have been written at one sitting, often notating changes in weather, seasons and news of friends and in the wider world; in this way they are catalogues of experience, more akin to albums of snapshots than portraits in close-up. 

What makes Schuyler such a delight to read and re-read, is that he was no less accomplished at the short lyric ‘poem of the moment’. ‘June 30, 1974’ is a good example of how these poems often proceed: there are mentions of specific friends and places, gossip, tabletalk, and a rapturous adoration of the natural world. It is also a good example of the poem as enactment of its own composition.

I like spending time with Schuyler’s poems very much. In contrast to his perhaps more famous colleagues I feel the need to read him very slowly, one poem at a time, savouring the experiences that are being described. I do think he was a great love poet, by which I mean he was in love with every second he was alive and with the process of writing it down.

The poem below feels casual, almost throwaway. Can serious poetry be written at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning after a dinner party, while the rest of the house is asleep? Schuyler seems to imply not only that it can but that it is the true fountain spring of writing, among the dishes and the coffee cups, alone and in perfect quiet.


Lifesaving Poems

Open Letter to James Schuyler

You can read my post on Frank O’Hara here

You can read my post on Kenneth Koch here


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