030 - Poetic Influence

A Note on the New York School of Poets

In my interview I shared with you last week we touched on what inspires my writing. I had never considered this deeply, so instead of my inspiration I spoke of the influence of the New York School of Poets [^1].

Today was World Poetry Day, and I thought therefore that I can expand on what their work means to me and how they find their way in what I write my prose.

Welcome to the new subscribers! This is Maneesh from Bombay Daak. Here are a few back issues of this newsletter.

I don't write the way the poets of the 50's New York write. My motivations for putting word after word are very different from the ones they had. There is no misconception in this regard. Instead the influence of their work on me is the rhythm, and the atmosphere one can create with words.


The Day Dreams of John Ashbery

John Ashbery was the last of the New York poets to come into my life. It wasn't until the middle of last year that I first read him. If you read some of my earlier letters here from that time, you may find me mimicking him.

The poems of Ashbery arrive as a report, or a short story, an account of a dream or a conversation on philosophy or even gossip. They are all happening at once. And they are dispersed as letters to the neighbourhood. We the world picture him as a flaneur of the many cities, but sitting at his desk with a pen in hand.

Ashbery's poems are a beautiful way to travel the world. And amongst his peers he appears more traditional in form. Although modern, he doesn't leave the classical tools. But his words are from the future, timeless and everyday. It gives a sense of comfort and an assurance that they won't change. That they will be there the way you left them.

When I started Bombay Daak, I was hoping to do that with these letters.


The Sound of Poetry

Like in music I have no preference for one poet over the other. There is a mood and there is a song, and there is poem. Yet I'm drawn to these twentieth century works on account of their rhythm. The depth of a poem, of any shape, is in its cadence. Even made up words read in a certain manner can move us. Amongst all the poets I have read, I have always found the rhythm and sound of this New York School folks the easiest to grasp. I am no singer, but I believe this to be like finding the pitch of a song. You try it a few times before you get it, yet sometimes you hit the right notes straightaway.


To Talk with Frank O' Hara

To enter a Frank O' Hara poem is to enter a narration, one of an event or a day in a world that looks and feels like ours but is different. A world unique to O'Hara. There is no formality to this O’Hara society. Neither in its words nor amongst its readers.

Amongst all the poets of the first generation of the New York school I am most enamoured by his poetry. From the first time I heard a work of his, I immediately grasped its cadence of all his works. It was as if he was sitting beside me and talking. I had never experienced that in a poem before. It's a performance on page, and you can't take your eyes of it.

The poetry of Frank O'Hara, its rhythm is in its silences. The one before the poem begins, the one after and the one's in the middle. His poems always seem as if they slide into the awkward silences of a conversation. You always feel as if you missed the beginning and before it ends you are lost in a different world. It's a common quality across all the poems of his I have read; you take them and move them into a corner of your world and it fits. And the poem becomes yours.

These silences are what I mostly pursue in the rhythm of my prose work.


Sensations and Sentiments

I feel these poets broadened the scope of poetry. It is not a critical view as if they changed the poetry scene. I am not talking of that.

The poetry here is sensations and sentiments. I understand sentimentality is frowned upon in poetry. It isn’t considered bold. But sentiments are real, without them there is no poetry.

In the poems of these mid century poets we know that even devoid of meaning things can be interesting. That a certain time and space can be made up with words and you can go there anytime you wish for it. That the purpose of poetry can be to be. That poetry like art can be about incomprehensible sensations.


Kenneth Koch Might Just Be a Painter

Kenneth Koch wears the eyes of Ashbery and the heart of O'Hara. There is warmth and there is sunlight in Koch's works. Look closely and you will catch the hue of each poem. The daylight yellow of 'Lunch'. The white of winter and sky blue in 'In Love With You'. If Ashbery's reports where of what he observes, if Frank O'Hara's anecdotes are of a world of his own, then Koch traverses a path on a tangent to them both. His is a world of his own like that of O'Hara's but said with the same manner of a John Ashbery letter but of memories.

Koch's prodigious knowledge of poetry is often on full display in his poems. As if to counter the pretension or pomp of that he doses them with humour. To me to read his work is to read a self conscious man, aware of what he is up to. Yet that’s never evident until you read his writings on poetry. His poems are pure sounds and images. The work that goes into making them so is always invisible. Koch understands the force of poetry and like a superhero tries his best to save us all from it.

I like Koch's poems the way I like clouds in the sky. How did they make themselves that I don't know but here they are and they are beautiful - one large scenic beauty. I wish to paint them when I read them.

A Leaf in Winter

It is strange to look at a lone leaf on winter withered branch. How bright, brightest before its fall. Later that evening in the tent on a farm a few hundred yards below I imagined a flower that looked just like this.

I wrote a poem for that one. I have no words for this. This leaf that stood like a flower.

Jerry Pinto has a New Book of Poetry

Jerry Pinto is a school on to himself coming to think of it. His new book is called I Want a Poem and Other Poems.

A post shared by @mahimkajerry

Poetry Has Many Forms

Away from the words and other such noise, I am really digging these videos of Vivian.


[1]. A primer on the New York School of Poets

[2]. Although the leading voice of the New York School along with O’Hara, John Ashbery got his break (in a manner of speaking) because of Kenneth Koch

[3]. The photo up above of the poets in O’Hara’s loft is via the recording

[4]. Jerry Pinto’s book is published by Speaking Tiger, who I think are doing some great publishing work!