The Obscenities Are in Quotes

Whatever became of the New York School? There was a first generation, the last avant-garde according to some (but not so last that there couldn’t be a second generation and a third, and …) as whatever it was that defined the school as a school, beyond the simple fact of friendship, dissolved into the common air of the culture — which is just where it belongs. Wit, urbanity, formal exuberance, a willingness to (as Frank O’Hara famously put it) “just go on your nerve,” a dandyish pose of being more casual and less serious than you really are as an antidote to the unearned solemnity that so often seems endemic to poetry, an affinity for quotidian surrealism and lumpen absurdity and “life-giving vulgarity” (O’Hara again, of course) — these could never be the doctrine of any one school or enclosed by any particular municipality. They are simply things that keep the art of poetry refreshed, allowing it to breathe again after its periodic ascents to those lofty reaches where language inevitably becomes abstract, impersonal, and (too often) lugubrious.