Although one has to question the idea that Schuyler was a poet of urban environments, since he wrote so much about man-made suburban environments (well, Southampton, NY, is hardly suburban). He also wrote about preferring smaller towns with more outdoor space. However, Eileen Myles' set of personal anecdotes about assisting Schuyler are poignant, and I had forgotten about the (perhaps exacerbated by alcohol abuse) diabetes which began to take away his ability to walk well.
I would like to write a bit about James Schuyler, even though I never met him.
As a fan of his poetry, I am a bit disappointed about the critical discourse surrounding him and his work. For instance, after he was released from the US Navy after WWII, returning to Manhattan, writing a play made into a short film, he chose to go to Italy and continue his studies. Was he a “typist” for Auden, or was he a secretary or assistant, as Joyce was, or Rilke was, or Merwin was (to different writers)? Is this self-effacement, or what?
Is Bethany College crap compared to Harvard? Ever known anyone on the college plan where it takes eight years to get a BA? “Well, I was playing bridge.” I actually regret sharing that anecdote. I want to send to Bethany College and see if he was ejected. And I don’t care if he pursued knitting courses at University of Florence and never finished a sweater: more power to him. No one wants a farm in Arkansas if one is not a farmer in Arkansas, but instead a homosexual man in Manhattan who could be in Italy with that money.
Then there’s the problem with mental health: with Robert Lowell, criticism resides with “he was able to write what he wrote despite his mental illness” -- yet, one has to travel pretty far into the weeds with the histories of many other poets and writers to even know they were drunks or whatever, while with Schuyler: well, you know, he was nuts. Because he never wrote anything before 1960. Really? He started publishing and producing works as soon as he got off of the blanket ship. Well, everything was charity: his collaborations, his pulitzer prize-winning book, his more than a decade in Southampton, NY, with the Porters… there was that time he fell down in the street, the time he set fire to his bed. He had the audacity to write about his time in the asylum. Do you know how difficult it is to get a pencil and paper in one of those places?
He may have been a hot mess. I do not know. But he is derided as “a lesser Frank O’Hara, who only became an adult after O’Hara’s untimely death”. I do not care. He was not Frank O’Hara, anymore than I am.