Beautiful enemies : friendship and postwar American poetry by Andrew Epstein

By Andrew Epstein

Even though it has lengthy been average to visualize the archetypal American poet making a song a solitary "Song of Myself," a lot of the main enduring American poetry has really been preoccupied with the drama of friendship. during this lucid and soaking up examine, Andrew Epstein argues that an obsession with either the pleasures and difficulties of friendship erupts within the "New American Poetry" that emerges after the second one global conflict. by means of targeting essentially the most major postmodernist American poets--the "New York university" poets John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, and their shut modern Amiri Baraka--Beautiful Enemies finds a primary paradox on the middle of postwar American poetry and tradition: the avant-garde's dedication to individualism and nonconformity runs at once counter to its personal valorization of group and collaboration. in truth, Epstein demonstrates that the conflict among friendship and nonconformity complicates the mythical alliances solid by means of postwar poets, turns into a principal subject within the poetry they created, and leaves modern writers with a classy legacy to barter. instead of easily celebrating friendship and poetic neighborhood as nurturing and encouraging, those poets characterize friendship as one of those exhilarating, maddening contradiction, a website of charm and repulsion, affinity and rivalry.

tough either the reductive evaluations of yankee individualism and the idealized, seriously biographical celebrations of literary camaraderie one reveals in a lot severe dialogue, this publication presents a brand new interpretation of the atypical dynamics of yank avant-garde poetic groups and the function of the person inside of them. through situating his large and revealing readings of those hugely influential poets opposed to the backdrop of chilly battle cultural politics and in the context of yankee pragmatist inspiration, Epstein uncovers the collision among radical self-reliance and the siren name of the interpersonal on the center of postwar American poetry

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Instead of idealizing the camaraderie and collaborative ethos of the avant-garde or ignoring poetic community altogether, I suggest that it is necessary, when considering postwar American poetry, to keep constantly in play both the individual and his or her complex negotiations with a larger cultural field of friends, enemies, and competitors, groups and movements. As we will see, poets like O’Hara, Ashbery, and Baraka constantly do precisely the same thing in their writings. This chapter will first examine the entrenched concept that the avant-garde is a communal enterprise and will draw attention to the enduring individualism that threatens to explode that notion.

We can hear it in Ashbery’s declaration that “the past is dust and ashes, and this incommensurably wide way leads to the pragmatic and kinetic future” (TP, 106) and in Baraka’s revelation that “I think / I know now / what a poem / is) A / turning away . . from what / it was / had moved us” (T, 41). In an eloquent discussion, the philosopher Stanley Cavell views such archetypal moments of relinquishment and abandonment as encompassing a complex, 24 Beautiful Enemies and deeply American, mixture of loss and exhilaration: “This departure, such setting out, is, in our poverty, what hope consists in, all there is to hope for; it is the abandoning of despair, which is otherwise our condition .

Their poems, both formally and thematically, work through, theatricalize, disguise, and attempt to manage the poet’s personal relationships with both individuals and larger literary communities. By turns, these writers will romanticize and glorify their companionship and community, vent anxieties and frustrations, disagree with one another, expose friendship’s proximity to enmity, or attempt to differentiate themselves from their companions while heralding their own individuality and independence.

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