You see death shadowed out in another’s life. The threat Is always there, even in balmy April sunshine. So what If it is hard to believe in? Stopping in the city while the light Is red, to think that all who stop with you too must stop, and Yet it is not less individual a fate for all that. “When I was born, death kissed me. I kissed it back.” Meantime, there Is bridge, and solitaire, and phone calls and a door slams.
— “Hymn to Life,” James Schuyler
“Schuyler’s the most heartbreaking poet in the world. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be deeply moved and deeply worried by his poetry.”
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Two years before he died, James Schuyler (1923-1991) read in San Francisco. He’d flown in from New York, from “the mess of this small apartment on / West 20th in Chelsea.” His third-floor apartment, really no more than a bed-sitter, boasted a balcony surrounded by “wrought iron in shapes of flowers.” On that balcony, Schuyler grew morning glories in pots. “Each morning,” Schuyler wrote in his diary on September 1988, “fewer of the Bohemian wine-glass flowers on the morning glory entwined on the cast-iron balustrade: vanishing, like stars from a dying galaxy.”
Schuyler hadn’t read in public for years. He was said to be too fearful. Too depressed. Maybe 150 people waited in the auditorium, in rows of seats that canted steeply upward. Most were Schuyler fans who had in hand copies of his recently published Selected Poems, and while they stroked the book’s jacket (a seaside with beige dunes and pale green dune grasses painted by Schuyler’s friend Darragh Park), they gossiped about Schuyler: he’d several times attempted suicide; done time in Payne Whitney, the hospital where Marilyn Monroe had been stripped naked and bound to the bed (“Wigging in, wigging out” is how Schuyler started “Payne Whitney” poems); he was a recovered alcoholic; he had no teeth.
Then the lights went down.
A huge, hulking, shambling, balding man, his dark suit rumpling over his elephantine buttocks, Schuyler that night had to be led as a small child new to walking might be led, by the hand, onto the small stage (his “leader” was an exceptionally handsome blond male). He had to be sat down in the big chair. He scooted this way and that on the seat and then settled, his bulk rising over and around the chair’s arms the way bread dough rises.
Schuyler's typewriter. The papers, the Smith Corona, and other pieces of Schuyler memorabilia joined the papers of other poets housed in the Mandeville Special Collections Library.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.
Schuyler looked at the table where his book and typed manuscripts had been spread. A glass of water and a white fat-bowled pitcher stood at the table’s edge. His plump hands slowly shifted from book to papers back to the book. The hands trembled. The heavy jowls fell forward. He seemed in no hurry. He might have been alone (and from the audience, then in pitch dark, no one whispered or wriggled or coughed). He did not look up. He sailed alone in the great ark of himself.
Then the voice swelled out over us, rising, chipping away at silence and dark. He read “Greenwich Avenue”:
- In the evening of a brightly
- unsunny day to watch back-lighted
- buildings through the slits
- between vertical strips of blinds
- and how red brick, brick painted
- red, a flaky white, gray or
- those of no color at all take
- the light though it seems only
- above and behind them so what
- shows below has a slight evening
- “the day — sob — dies" sadness...
The audience clapped when he finished. He didn’t look up. He lifted the glass in a shaking hand and slurped water. He coughed. He read his poem to his long-dead good friend Frank O’Hara:
- “...and now people you never met will meet and talk about your work.
- So witty, so sad,
- so you: even your lines have
- a broken nose....”
Again, the audience dapped. Again, he didn't look up. He read from the long poem he wrote for Darragh Park, the poem that brought him the Pulitzer:
- … oh, I saw those
- jays again at dawn
- Tearing at something white and
- the something white
- was a white petunia, the jays
- Are real workers at their job and
- the petunia row
- is shredded almost
- All away, tall and sentinel above
- what’s left
- of them a dense row of lilies
- Long in bud, soon to bloom
- with their foxy
- adolescent girl smell: repellent
- Yet sexy and crotch-calling...
He read for an hour. Then stopped. Still, he’d never looked up. The hand no longer yawing so widely, he tipped the glass to his mouth, drank more water. You could hear the gurgle-gurgle of his swallow.
People rose to their feet. Clapped. Clapped louder. All at once Schuyler looked up from the table into the faces that from top row to bottom fell down before him. His huge face ground into a grimace, perhaps puzzlement But it seemed fora moment that something hurt him. Then he smiled, a large, slack, guileless smile, the smile of a child or an idiot, a smile that grew and grew, opening his mouth wide, showing his toothlessness and dark gullet.
Two years later Schuyler was dead and the Smith Corona portable on which he typed many of his poems stood on a library shelf in La Jolla. Schuyler, in the mid-’80s, had sold his papers to the Archive for New Poetry. The papers, the Smith Corona, and other pieces of Schuyler memorabilia joined the papers of poets Paul Blackburn, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Jackson Mac Low, Jerome Rothenberg, Lyn Hejinian, and Clayton Eshleman housed in the Mandeville Special Collections Library, located on the main floor, west wing, of the Theodore Geisel Library.
Bradley Westbrook, manuscripts librarian and archivist for UCSD’s Mandeville Special Collections Library, explained that the Schuyler materials form part of the Archive for New Poetry. The archive, a pamphlet notes, “is a collection of American poetry and poetics reflecting and documenting alternative approaches to writing in the English language that have emerged since 1945."
Roy Harvey Pearce, a UCSD professor of literature, now retired, established the archive in 1968. Westbrook recalled how Pearce happened to do this. “If you know Roy’s scholarly career, you know that he’s been very much interested in the tradition of American poetry from the Puritans on up to the present. He wrote one of the more important central histories of that tradition (The Continuity of American Poetry). I think that he was concerned that the materials after 1945 get collected. He knew those things before 1945 were being collected at various places. But he was very concerned that the stuff after 1945 get collected. This is purely speculative on my part, but I think, too, that he might have been seen as building a collection that he hoped eventually to use himself for a part of that history that he’s never really gotten around to writing, which is the continuity of American poetry after the Second War.”
Pearce seeded the collection from his personal library. It since has grown to include more than 35,000 volumes, 1100 audio recordings, 700 poetry broadsides, plus extensive holdings of one-of-a-kind items — manuscripts, correspondence, drawings and paintings, and what Westbrook described as “realia, "things like the Schuyler typewriter. “Realia, "said Westbrook, “is the library term for objects.”
The first cartons arrived at the archive in 1988. After Schuyler’s death, the library received a second shipment. Nathan Kernan, who edited the recently published Diary of James Schuyler (Black Sparrow Press, 1997), didn’t know precisely what the archive paid for the Schuyler papers. He thought the total was $70,000. Schuyler himself received the first half of the payment; his estate received the remainder.
John Granger nowadays teaches writing and literature classes at UCSD and SDSU. He came from Canada to UCSD in 1985 as a Ph.D. candidate in English. He had done his master’s thesis on poet Jack Spicer; the subject of his doctoral dissertation was Emily Dickinson. In 1988 Granger was given the job of sorting and cataloging the initial shipment of Schuyler’s papers and memorabilia.
Granger explained that the task of “junior student curator of the Archive for New Poetry” was given to him, in part, because of his interest in new poetry. But the Schuyler papers fell to him because of his particular love for Schuyler’s poems.
About Schuyler, Granger told me, “He’s the most heartbreaking poet in the world. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be deeply moved and deeply worried by his poetry.”
Granger went on to say that to speak about Schuyler’s poems was difficult. Why it was difficult, he said, is “because the thing that’s great is not demonstrable. That’s the whole point of him, that in no way is it overtly an instructive poetry. It makes no large claim. It does none of the things you could advertise as great, and that is why it’s great.
“I like his sense of the importance of what people don’t lay a lot of importance on, the kind of passing and secondary, the snowflakes. All that is such a complete inversion of what everybody else is doing. I love his sensitivity to music and to painting. And his commitment to art was a beautiful thing.”
I’d first fallen in love with Schuyler’s poems for the painterly way he described flowers — “blue squills/That underneath a beech make an illusory lake, a haze of blue/With depth to it.” I admired his observations of nature — “a leafless beech stands wrinkled, gray and sexless — all bone/and loosened sinew.” He made me laugh, as when he wrote about an elderly, fractious tomcat, that he’s “battered like an old car.” But I went back to Schuyler again and again for his flowers, for “forsythia begins to bloom, brown/And yellow and warm as lit gas jets, clinging like bees to/The arching canes” and for those blue squills making that illusory lake.
I went again and again to Schuyler’s poems because Schuyler leadLs a reader by discursive paths to the flowers’ humusy beds, and once he stands you there and gets you looking, he flushes out the deeper emotional undertone. Thus the squills’ blue becomes “like pain, ordinary household pain.” And beneath the forsythia, you find that “Art is as mysterious as nature, as life, of which it is/A flower.” And then, “Under the hedges now the weedy strips grow bright/With dandelions, just as good a flower as any other. Unfortunately,/you can’t pick them: they wilt.”
“It was a great moment for me,” said Granger, about the day when he opened the Schuyler crates. “A wonderful abundance — crates and crates of papers. There were the letters, both to and from him. There was the memorabilia — clippings from newspapers of handsome young athletes. Comic strips. The odd, beautiful Victorian flower cards he liked to collect. Photographs. Notebooks. Some were small and spiral-bound, and some were artists’ notebooks, and some were the kind you’d buy at a drugstore, and some were more extravagant. Some were beautifully bound.”
Also in the crates were Schuyler’s Pulitzer Prize certificate (Schuyler received the prize in 1981 for The Morning of the Poem), tintypes, Victorian stickers, reviews of Schuyler’s books, appointment books, address books, passports, publishing contracts, royalty statements. There was a framed citation for distinguished poetic achievement from the Academy of American Poets. There were a doctor’s letters about Schuyler’s mental health problems. There were Schuyler’s clippings of obituaries from the New York Times and articles about Peggy Lee and Art l atum from the New Yorker. There were doilies and catalogs from art shows, recipes, seed catalogs, snapshot albums, playing cards and greeting cards and calling cards and postcards. There were cassettes of music that he liked. He liked Mozart and he adored Janis Joplin and he, not surprisingly, sang along with Janis while she sang “Little Girl Blue.” He tucked her into several poems, and he wrote one entire poem for her after she died.
Readying the Schuyler collection took about six months. Granger talked about how a curator goes about sorting and cataloging an assemblage like Schuyler’s.
“In the case of the Schuyler crates, there were many, many things — the ephemera — that you had to argue their place in a scholarly collection. But I felt that they ought to be there.
“But basically you organize things in a way that will be useful to scholars later. You compartmentalize. You take papers apart that are together because, given compartmentalization, one batch goes in this file and one batch goes with another. But they were, they had been, together. This compartmentalization can often seem like a painful decision, like you’re wounding somebody a little bit.
“There are good things, too, about the compartmentalizing. You begin to see that you belong to a process of understanding something very complicated and you’re serving that. But then again, you’re kind of wrecking the understandable unity of the person. So it’s an odd experience. You feel good about it, but it also feels like an interference. We’re rough-handed people.
“When it comes to Schuyler, thinking of who he is and thinking of myself as a person interested in these matters, there’s no question that [the sorting and assembling] is a rough handling of a nimble-minded person’s work. And that’s no fun.”
Among mundane tasks of curatorial work. Granger mentioned removal of rubber bands and paper dips. “About clips,” he said, “the idea is that the dips will rust and damage the sheet. We may sometimes remove Scotch tape. These are preservative measures. But of course, when you’re doing them they feel violative.
"The paper itself has internal properties that will result in its yellowing or aging or breaking down. So we can isolate it from people who will be handling it by putting it in a sheath that will protect it from the oils of fingers. So we can do things that help preserve. But in the end, these are ephemeral products, and they're delicate and fragile and slowly disappearing. We try to slow that process, because it would be foolish to think that we could stop that process. So we do the best we can. We keep these materials in acid-free environments so that the obvious destructive chemicals will not be in touch with them. That’s about it."
I asked if Granger found cookie crumbs or food dribbles or pieces of leaf from houseplants in and on Schuyler’s papers. He didn’t. “Schuyler was pretty neat, not so much with organization of papers, but there weren’t cookie crumbs. You’d think there would be, reading his work.” He added, after a pause. “I know what you’re thinking. That Schuyler’s papers would be full of what his work is full of, but it’s not. They were clean and neat.”
His handwriting, Granger said, was legible. “It was an open hand and a large and generous hand. He had a quirk in it, a little lurch of backhand every now and then. It was a little messy, very legible, quirky, pleasant, open, free.” Schuyler wasn’t a doodler. “A page of his would have his words on it, and that would be all.”
Bradley Westbrook had mentioned that Nathan Kernan, editor of The Diary of James Schuyler, was “probably the last major user of the Schuyler collection.” I telephoned Kernan, who lives in Manhattan.
Kernan, who knew Schuyler during the poet’s last years, told me that after Schuyler’s death, he had kept in touch with Schuyler friends, including his executor, Darragh Park, and his two literary coexecutors, Tom Carey and Raymond Foye. Park asked Kernan if he would be interested in editing Schuyler’s diary. He assented, happily.
Initially, Kernan worked from Xeroxes of Schuyler’s diary pages. Then, in February 1995, Kernan came to UCSD to spend a week going through the Schuyler collection. “I double-checked to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.”
Kernan, who was born in Upstate New York in 1950 and raised in California in the Bay Area, went to school for one year at ucla and then another year at the San Francisco Art Institute. “"And then,” he said, “I stopped going to school” Kernan worked for many years in a Manhattan art gallery. “That was what I was doing when I knew Jimmy. He didn’t think of me as a writer, although I was writing, but as a friend through his art world friends.”
Kernan first met Schuyler at a large party. “He was very withdrawn that evening. Just sort of sat. People would come up to him and say hello, but he wasn’t animated.”
Kernan now can’t recall when he and Schuyler first talked. “But all this was late in his life. The two people who made it their business to bring us together a couple of times until we ‘took’ were Joe Brainard [whose memorabilia also rests in the UCSD archive] and Anne Dunne, both friends of his.”
I asked Kernan how he described Schuyler’s poems.
“I don’t have an easy way to answer that,” he said. “Schuyler’s poems are very disarming. He’s not poetic seeming. Many people compare his poems to journal entries and remark upon their diaristk quality. There is an informal quality to much of it. And yet it sticks in the mind.”
In a letter to Joe Brainard, Schuyler, writing about his attempts at photography, noted, “Perhaps there isn’t much more to poetry than point and snap.” I mentioned this to Kernan.
Kernan suggested that Schuyler’s “point and snap” applies to Schuyler’s poems as well as his Diary. “There’s something self-deprecating there but something serious too. That’s partly what I mean about Schuyler’s [poems] being disarming. You can read a Schuyler He liked Mozart and he adored Janis Joplin. poem or diary entry and think, ‘Oh, this is nothing.’ But it’s really profound. And the way he seems to include everything in his musings is like or is an illustration of the process of thought.”
I asked Kernan how he would describe the way Schuyler’s diary both was and was not used as a diving board into his poems.
“It mostly wasn’t. It almost never was. But yet, he’s contradictory. At one point he’ll say that diary keeping came from quite a different impulse. But then he also says sometimes the words put themselves into a rhythm, and you can’t help but write a poem.
“The diary seems right next to, if not in, the world of his poetry. Whereas his art criticism and his letters really don’t enter that world. I think of his diary writing less as something that is about to spring into poetry as in itself already poetry. So much of the diary — the detailed intense observation and things outside himself — is the world of his poems.
“As poet Eileen Myles pointed out, with all of his terrible problems, the poetry is completely not about this terrible problem. It is strikingly not about that. It seemed to Eileen as though he built this ideal kind of world in a way in his mind as a bulwark against demons. The poems really are about James Schuyler's beautiful world. And why it was that he managed never to finish himself off as much as he wanted to sometimes when he was ill.”
July 6, 1968, Schuyler wrote to his friend Joe Brainard from Maine, where he was living with Fairfield and Anne Porter and their family: “Since I’ve been here I’ve mostly written one poem...and some of my diary, though not much. I think I told you that people never get into it — perhaps because I’m secretly afraid others might keep Roremish diaries and put things about me in them, and if I don’t, they won’t — like knocking on wood.”
When Schuyler implied that his Diary was not “Roremish,” he was referring to composer Ned Rorem’s gossipy Paris Diary and New York Diary. There is not much gossip in Schuyler’s Diary. It is a more commonplace book, in which Schuyler copied out passages he liked from his reading and a spot where when he awakened early in the morning, he kept himself company.
For the Schuyler Diary, Kernan prepared a 20-page chronology of Schuyler’s life and a 20-page appendix of names Schuyler mentioned in his diary entries.
I knew about Schuyler that he was born in Chicago in 1923 to a housewife mother and newspaperman father. His father took a job with the Washington Post when Schuyler was a toddler; the family moved to Washington, D.C The Schuylers divorced in 1929; Mrs. Schuyler remarried two years later. Schuyler’s step-father was a building contractor. In 1935, the family moved to a small town near Buffalo, New York, where Schuyler finished his schooling.
I didn’t know, until I read Kernan’s chronology in the Schuyler Diary, that Schuyler’s stepfather and Schuyler didn’t get on that well, that the stepfather disapproved Schuyler’s love of reading and punished Schuyler by not letting him have a library card. Nor did I know about the moment when Schuyler, at 15, decided he would be a writer:
Schuyler was reading Unforgotten Years, the autobiography of Iogan Pearsall Smith in which he describes how knowing Whitman gave him the idea that he would be a writer. Schuyler looked up and saw the landscape “shimmer” and decided that he too would be a writer.
Schuyler attended Bethany College in West Virginia (where, according to the Bethany College Web site, Schuyler’s library now rests), leaving in 1943 to join the Navy. In 1944 the revelation of Schuyler’s homosexuality led to his discharge from the service as “undesirable.”
I didn’t know when Schuyler started writing. Keman said that while he was in college, Schuyler wrote stories. “His first ambition was to be a short story writer. And as he said, short stories in the manner of John O’Hara and John Cheever, such as might be published in The New Yorker.
“Early on, he wrote three narrative sketches, almost prose poems, that appeared in Accent, a literary quarterly, in 1951, and then other prose pieces, stories. and storylike pieces. And of course his novel, Alfred and Guinevere, was finally published by Harcourt Brace in 1958.
“When he went to Italy in 1947, he eventually ended up living in Auden’s house on Ischia. He helped Auden by typing the manuscript of his book Nones and told himself, ‘Well, if this is poetry, I’ll never write anything like it.' "
Early in 1951, Kernan said, the issue of Accent came out with Schuyler’s three prose pieces. “He opened it up, and after he’d gotten tired of looking at his own pieces, he turned the page, and there was a poem by Frank O’Hara called ‘Three-Penny Opera.’ Which mesmerized him. Largely, he said, because of the way the lines turned.”
Later that year, on October 1, Schuyler met O’Hara and O’Hara’s friend John Ashbery. O’Hara and Ashbery, Harvard graduates, were in their mid-20s. The occasion for the meeting, said Kernan, “was a party given after Larry Rivers’s first one-man show in New York at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery. Jimmy thought that he met Ashbery earlier, but Ashbery thinks they didn’t. Ashbery’s memory is excellent. I decided to go with Ashbery's recollection.”
Two weeks after that meeting, according to Kernan’s chronology, Schuyler had a serious breakdown. He went into a manic and ecstatic state, claiming to have talked to the Virgin Mary, who told him that Judgment Day was at hand.
“The next day,” Kernan said, “Schuyler entered Bloomingdale Mental Hospital in White Plains, New York. Apparently, that stay was paid for by Auden. There, in the hospital, influenced by ‘Three-Penny Opera,’ Schuyler began to write his first poems. He credits Howard Moss with going through all of the poems that he wrote then and picking out the best ones, among which was ‘Salute.’ This was his first published poem. Moss then already was with The New Yorker, but he was guest editing a magazine called New World Writing. ‘Salute’ was published in New World Writing #1.
“After that, Schuyler continued to write poetry and of course showed his poetry to Ashbery and O’Hara, who were greatly encouraging, and that was very, very important to him.” Schuyler’s first book of poems, Salute, was published by a small noncommercial press in 1960.
In the spring of 1961, Schuyler stayed in the hospital for three months. In June, when Schuyler was discharged, painter Fairfield Porter took him to the Porter summer home on Great Spruce Head Island in Maine. Porter, 20 years Schuyler’s senior, was independently wealthy. Schuyler first met Porter and his wife Anne in 1952 in Southampton, where they lived during the school year. From June 1961 until 1972, Schuyler made his home with the Porters.
Kernan explained that the Porters fed, clothed, and housed Schuyler, that they served all those years as his surrogate family. “As Anne Porter so memorably said, ‘Jimmy came for a visit in 1961 and stayed 11 years.' "
Porter produced vast, luminous domestic interiors peopled by his children and pets and friends (in some of which Schuyler is present) and country landscapes abloom with pink double peonies and dianthus and blue delphinium. Schuyler, whose bedroom window looked down onto the Porters’ Southampton garden, gradually added to the number of his meticulously observed poems. (“Among white lilac trusses, green-gold spaces of sunlit grass” [from “May 24th or So”) and from “Today,” written in July 1965 at the Porters’ Maine summer home. “Round and brown as rabbit droppings, / seed pods of blue-eyed grass / bobble and split along the seams: / so big for so small a flower.”)
Kernan noted that during the years Schuyler lived with the Porters in Southampton, Schuyler was an enthusiastic gardener. “I’ve often thought somebody should make a book of Schuyler’s botanical references. There are so many all through the poems.”
Schuyler’s second book. May 24th or So, also published by a small press, emerged in 1966. In 1969 Doubleday published Freely Espousing and Dutton published The Nest of Ninnies, a novel cowritten by Schuyler and Ashbery. From this point on, commercial presses published Schuyler’s work.
With Ashbery, O’Hara, and Kenneth Koch, Schuyler became associated with what by the 1970s began to be called “the New York School” of poets. What these men had most in common, other than friendship, was distaste for the conservative academic poetry of the 1930s and an attraction to contemporary painting, dance, and music. Schuyler, O’Hara, and Ashbery wrote criticism for various art journals. Learning to describe paintings, to nail down on paper vast ranges of color, of space and form and figure, influenced the poems they wrote.
Schuyler, during the 1970s, gained word-of-mouth cult following, praise from critics and the East Coast poets and painters who were his friends. In 1981, he received a Pulitzer for The Morning of the Poem; his name began to appear in lists of eminent poets. But even with that, he never enjoyed a large readership.
This always surprises me. Because Schuyler’s poems, even at first reading, make themselves so available. The poems offer the modem realist painters’ explicable surface. Schuyler could have been describing his poems when he wrote about Jane Freilicher’s realist approach to the canvas that she had “a plein-air style: open, scoured, genial, flush with the unexpectedness of nature.” What Schuyler didn’t say about Freilicher’s paintings that might also be said of his poems is that right behind the bowl of flowers or just beneath the brim of the Panama hat, just beneath these lovely explicable surfaces or at these surfaces’ margins, horror or terror shudders. As in Schuyler’s “Fauré’s Second Piano Concerto” “And the piano comes in, / like an extra heartbeat, dangerous / and lovely.” Also, Schuyler often brought nature to paper by showing the natural scene as it would have looked as painting: “'The sky pale and freshly washed, the blue flaked / off here and there and / Showing white.”
Although Schuyler held various jobs for short times, his recurrent breakdowns made work difficult. I asked Kernan about Schuyler’s breakdowns.
“I talked to a psychiatrist who said that Schuyler looked ‘schizophrenic,’ but apparently Schuyler’s psychiatrist diagnosed his malady as depression. During the 1970s Schuyler was taking many drugs for the depression and also speed and other illegal drugs, so this was kind of a mess. But underlying all that was apparently depression. I don’t know more than that.”
I mentioned that Schuyler makes mysterious exits from the diary, not writing for many weeks. When he begins again to write, he rarely explains what has kept him from the page.
“He didn’t write when he was having a breakdown, although sometimes in the 1980s, there are pages where it gets a little weird. I’ve been told that those periods were times when he was on the verge of a breakdown.”
What, I asked, did Schuyler do when “broke down”?
“It was sort of a classic case. He believed he was Christ. He would hold out his hands in crucifixion position and fall forward to the ground. He would say, five years after Frank O’Hara was dead, ‘Oh, I hear Frank O’Hara has been around.’ He would wash his money in the middle of the night. Or he’d say, ‘Money is shit.’ And Ron and Pat Padgett, who were there with him, would say, ‘You’re absolutely right. Money is shit.’ The next thing, Jimmy is taking money out of his wallet and putting it in the wastebasket. Things like that.”
Schuyler had several love affairs of some seriousness. In 1971 he fell in love with a married man in his early 40s who worked as a salesman at Brooks Brothers (where Schuyler liked to buy his shirts) and later, Abercrombie and Fitch. The affair ended in 1973. During the 1970s Schuyler had repeated episodes of instability that ended in hospitalizations. Fairfield Porter died in 1975. From then on, Schuyler began more and more to live on his own in Manhattan and continued, off and on, to need hospitalization. In 1979, friends moved him into the Chelsea Hotel, where he lived until his death.
Kernan described Schuyler’s Chelsea quarters as “a small room, a bed-sitter. It was crammed with books. Books piled up by the entrance and brick bookshelf on either side of the rather narrow room. French doors looked out onto a balcony. He had two big easy chairs and a rather small trundle bed and a little kitchenette and a bathroom. And the cat — Barbara — who was mean if you didn’t know her. And the plant — a parlor linden — by the window.”
Schuyler’s physical health declined with age. He became diabetic. Several toes were amputated. Emotional problems plagued him. Friends found money through foundations to hire assistants to help Schuyler. One assistant was Tom Carey. Through Carey, who in 1988 joined the Brothers of Saint Francis, an Episcopal monastic order, Schuyler was confirmed in the Episcopal Church.
“As a young man,” Kernan said, “Schuyler had flirted with Catholicism. His mother and stepfather were Christian Scientists, which he detested. But he was drawn to Catholicism. He never converted, and I don’t think he ever really steadily went. But then finally towards the end of his life, he was taken into the Episcopal church.”
Schuyler was admitted to a Manhattan hospital April 5 after a stroke; he died April 12. “I went to his funeral. It was at his church, the Church of the Incarnation, where he’d been a parishioner. John Ashbery read ‘Our Father,’ a beautiful Schuyler poem. Tom Carey read. Eileen Myles read. Raymond Foye read. Darragh Park read. Anne Porter was there.”
Kernan said that having known Schuyler “was like having known Mozart. You felt graced.”
— Judith Moore Judith Moore has been a recipient of two NEA Fellowships for literature, most recently in 1996. She is coauthor with Sue Coe ofX, published by Raw Books and Graphics and reissued by New Press, and author of The Left Coast of Paradise, Soho Press, which included pieces written initially for the San Diego Reader. Her essay collection. Never Eat Your Heart Out, also including pieces first printed in the Reader, was published early this year by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.