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James Schuyler: finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

His immediate and vivid imagery was in contrast to the “Confessionalist” movement

  • October
  • Books litter the bed,
  • leaves the lawn. It
  • lightly rains. Fall has
  • come: unpatterned, in
  • the shedding leaves.
  • The maples ripen. Apples
  • come home crisp in bags.
  • This pear tastes good.
  • It rains lightly on the
  • random leaf patterns.
  • The nimbus is spread
  • above our island. Rain
  • lightly patters on un-
  • shed leaves. The books
  • of fall litter the bed. 
  • Faure’s Second Piano Quartet
  • On a day like this the rain comes
  • down in fat and random drops among
  • the ailanthus leaves—”the tree
  • of Heaven”—the leaves that on moon-
  • lit nights shimmer black and blade-
  • shaped at this third-floor window.
  • And there are bunches of small green
  • knobs, buds, crowded together. The
  • rapid music fills in the spaces of
  • the leaves. And the piano comes in,
  • like an extra heartbeat, dangerous
  • and lovely. Slower now, less like
  • the leaves, more like the rain which
  • almost isn’t rain, more like thawed-
  • out hail. All this beauty in the
  • mess of this small apartment on
  • West 20th in Chelsea, New York.
  • Slowly the notes pour out, slowly,
  • more slowly still, fat rain falls.
  • Poem (I Do Not Always Understand What You Say)
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • Once, when you said, across, you meant along.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
  • Words’ meanings count, aside from what they weigh:
  • poetry, like music, is not just song.
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • You would hate, when with me, to meet by day
  • What at night you met and did not think wrong.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
  • I sense a heaviness in your light play,
  • a wish to stand out, admired, from the throng.
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • I am as shy as you. Try as we may,
  • only by practice will our talks prolong.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
  • We talk together in a common way.
  • Art, like death, is brief: life and friendship long.
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
James Schuyler

James Schuyler (1923-1991) was an American poet and a central figure of the New York School of art and literature which, during the 1950s and 1960s, rose to prominence through a unique blend of the surreal, jazz and the avant-garde. Like most poets of the New York School, Schuyler relied on immediate and vivid imagery – in contrast to the “Confessionalist” movement of the same time period, which delved into personal history and private reminiscence for inspiration. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1980 for The Morning of the Poem. Working in his early years as a secretary for the poet W.H. Auden, Schuyler eschewed the more formal elements of the elder writer. His poems are often focused on finding the extraordinary in ordinary things through a conversational style.

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  • October
  • Books litter the bed,
  • leaves the lawn. It
  • lightly rains. Fall has
  • come: unpatterned, in
  • the shedding leaves.
  • The maples ripen. Apples
  • come home crisp in bags.
  • This pear tastes good.
  • It rains lightly on the
  • random leaf patterns.
  • The nimbus is spread
  • above our island. Rain
  • lightly patters on un-
  • shed leaves. The books
  • of fall litter the bed. 
  • Faure’s Second Piano Quartet
  • On a day like this the rain comes
  • down in fat and random drops among
  • the ailanthus leaves—”the tree
  • of Heaven”—the leaves that on moon-
  • lit nights shimmer black and blade-
  • shaped at this third-floor window.
  • And there are bunches of small green
  • knobs, buds, crowded together. The
  • rapid music fills in the spaces of
  • the leaves. And the piano comes in,
  • like an extra heartbeat, dangerous
  • and lovely. Slower now, less like
  • the leaves, more like the rain which
  • almost isn’t rain, more like thawed-
  • out hail. All this beauty in the
  • mess of this small apartment on
  • West 20th in Chelsea, New York.
  • Slowly the notes pour out, slowly,
  • more slowly still, fat rain falls.
  • Poem (I Do Not Always Understand What You Say)
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • Once, when you said, across, you meant along.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
  • Words’ meanings count, aside from what they weigh:
  • poetry, like music, is not just song.
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • You would hate, when with me, to meet by day
  • What at night you met and did not think wrong.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
  • I sense a heaviness in your light play,
  • a wish to stand out, admired, from the throng.
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • I am as shy as you. Try as we may,
  • only by practice will our talks prolong.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
  • We talk together in a common way.
  • Art, like death, is brief: life and friendship long.
  • I do not always understand what you say.
  • What is, is by its nature, on display.
James Schuyler

James Schuyler (1923-1991) was an American poet and a central figure of the New York School of art and literature which, during the 1950s and 1960s, rose to prominence through a unique blend of the surreal, jazz and the avant-garde. Like most poets of the New York School, Schuyler relied on immediate and vivid imagery – in contrast to the “Confessionalist” movement of the same time period, which delved into personal history and private reminiscence for inspiration. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1980 for The Morning of the Poem. Working in his early years as a secretary for the poet W.H. Auden, Schuyler eschewed the more formal elements of the elder writer. His poems are often focused on finding the extraordinary in ordinary things through a conversational style.

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