De Kooning's Bicycle: Artists and Writers in the Hamptons by Robert Long. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005; $23; 240 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Some of the 20th Century's most important artists and writers --- from Jackson Pollock to Saul Steinberg, Frank O'Hara to Jean Stafford -- lived and worked on the East End of Long Island years before it assumed an alternate identity as the Hamptons. The home they made there, and its effect on their work, is the subject of these lyrical vignettes by the critic and poet Robert Long. Pollock moved to Springs because he thought he wanted to stop drinking, but he found a connection to nature there that inspired some of the most significant paintings of our time. Others followed him. When Fairfield Porter bought a house in Southampton, the New York School had a new headquarters, and James Schuyler and Frank O'Hara found companionship and raw material for their poems on South Main Street and on the three-hour train ride between the city and the East End. Willem de Kooning rode his bike every day between his studio in the East Hampton woods and the bay, where the light informed every brushstroke he put to canvas from the early 1960s on.
In De Kooning's Bicycle, Long mixes storytelling with history to re-create the lives and events that shaped American art and literature as we know it today, in a landscape where town met country and the modern met America's rural past.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
Publishers Weekly: Critic and poet Long illustrates how the East End of Long Island indelibly etched a mark on the style and work processes of the abstract impressionists and their artistically minded friends.
The New York Times: Long, the art critic for The East Hampton Star...does not shy away from the alcoholism, vanity, and perfidy that ran through his heroes' lives, but there is a wistfulness to his tone, a sense that, were it possible, he would have liked more than anything to have been a part of it all.
The New York Sun : Robert Long writes like the poet he is...a hymn to the East End of Long Island, and of the influence it had on a few great American painters and writers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert Long is the art critic for The East Hampton Star, the author of four books of poetry, and a contributor to The New Yorker and Partisan Review, among other publications. He lives in East Hampton, New York.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
Robert Long was born in 1954. He spent school years in New York City. Summers, his parents left the city for the Hamptons. "I was a summer kid," Mr. Long said. Long's first year in the Hamptons was 1956, the year that Jackson Pollock died. When Long was 16, his family moved, he writes, to "the Springs, the working-class hamlet outside of East Hampton Village, several miles north of the Montauk Highway, in a marshy neighborhood near Gardiners Bay called Maidstone Park, one of the Montauketts' fishing grounds. It was just down the road from the places where Jackson Pollock died, Frank O'Hara drank gimlets, Jean Stafford stared out her study window, and Willem de Kooning rode his Royce Union three-speed, white hair and work shirt flapping." Newsday writes this about the area: "The Springs refers to the freshwater springs at the head of Accabonac Creek, which was named for the area's profusion of nuts. 'Bonacker' originally meant a person who lived on Accabonac Harbor and was something of a hick."
Mr. Long attended high school in New York and in the Hamptons. He went to college at Long Island University and to graduate school at Goddard College. "In the late '80s the MFA program at Goddard was remarkable. On the faculty were Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff and Donald Hall and Louise Glück and Richard Ford.
"The students were interesting too -- Mark Doty and Mary Karr, Dennis McFarland. I finished graduate school at Vermont College. I was teaching already by then. I taught off and on for many different schools."
"And you're a poet."
"I started publishing poetry when I was young. Outside of art criticism, whatever small literary reputation I have rests on the poetry."
"I kept saying to myself, 'I know that name.'"
"Poets are on the margins of fame."
"There seems nowadays to be a renewal of interest in poets and painters who worked in the postwar era." Did Mr. Long agree?
"I'm always puzzled when I hear that there's a renewal of interest in something in which I've always been interested. When the Lowell books came out last year, I was surprised to hear that there was a renaissance of interest in Lowell. I thought that people had always been interested in Lowell, but I guess if there is such a thing, then it's simply a generational thing."
"It's as if many younger readers, reading Lowell and books such as yours, are learning about their parents and grandparents."
"I think it's wonderful because the so-called 'New York School' was under-appreciated, for awhile was a cult thing. Of course, if you consider the politics of the poetry world, that comes into play too. Things go in and out of fashion in that world. Right now it's language-derived poetry.
"It's funny," Mr. Long said, "how things change. I remember William Matthews telling me years ago that during the late 1960s and through the 1970s he could happily bounce from college to college as a visiting poet. He could do a one-year gig here or a three-year gig there. 'But,' Bill went on to say, 'now if you get a job, you'd better like it.' The market really shut down in the '80s, and people like Bill Matthews stayed wherever they were. There was a lot more of the visiting poet thing for a long time. But fashions change."
"It had to be hard on wives and children."
"Sure. It was pretty peripatetic for a lot of people, but that's how they made a living."