New York Festival of Song is thrilled to share their new recording of a rare musical collaboration between two literary greats: Paul Bowles and James Schuyler. A Picnic Cantata is an unpublished vocal chamber piece with music by Bowles and a libretto by Schuyler, and NYFOS Records recently released the first recording of the piece since its debut in 1953. The term “hidden gem” gets tossed around with some frequency, but the crazily inventive Picnic Cantata truly earns that descriptor. The press release is here, and if you'd like further information there are some wonderful expanded liner notes online. The album is available to stream or you can order a physical copy here. The entire work is under 30 mins, but if you just have time for a taste, NYFOS recommend starting with track 3—when the ladies finally tuck into a feast worthy of Zabar’s.
'EXIT 66 STREET & BROADWAY'
By Jason Smith
EXIT 66 STREET & BROADWAY
With half-an-hour to spare before going
You twist the poles and adjust the shades
Letting in a shuttered light that falls
upon your outstretched body,
As if forming a farewell letter that
shapes against the high-ridged skirting.
And as you speak about our future together
Those sentiments settle like toxic ash
As you arch gracefully against the wall
and reach up towards the ceiling,
Whilst standing upon an orange-coloured
Circular, Ege Rya rug that is dashed
with occasional flecks of grey
(Upon which the bride once stood, and wrapped
Around him did the fisherman hunt!)
In contrast to a question mark that
defines our age and place in life.
And having released that built-up tension
You lift up the sheets and jump into bed
And rest your head against his pyjamas,
Which was stipulated that I should wear,
Laying down an ultra-fine excretion
Through a mantle of protective strata
Against contaminants, impact and stress,
Whilst floating dust, like ocean krill, is caught
within this emerging light.
And just before you drift back to sleep you
Ask me to stop that parting caress, which
Symbolises a hazardous wind
Booming through a subway tunnel and
raggedly striking your hair …
Like an unexpected speck striking the eye
That cannot be found but feels like a stone.
And as you resume your little snores,
In a movement of infinite recession,
An erased consciousness glanced past you.
But for most of that night I lied awake
Desperate to leave the dangerous shoals of
A broken heart and all those messages
left on your phone
After seeing us together on the
But I didn’t have the strength for such
And sheer exhaustion just overcame me.
But as we walked, that morning, between the
Lion sentinels, down Bailey Avenue
And over the Major Deegan Expressway
Towards the 1 Line, on 238 Street,
Liminal space opened up between us,
As if we were walking on parallel
Girders that have a definite endpoint,
Enveloped within a granular cloud
that grinds between our teeth,
As a chill wind sends old news scuttling past
black plastic bags.
And whilst releasing the steam from a
cappuccino, its distinct aroma
filling our nostrils,
I listened pensively to what you said:
“Something bad is going to happen today …
I can just feel it!”
Periodically, we cough up these words,
Which blow into our face their detached echo,
Like a spate of coughing heard in response
to a tension commonly felt.
But I’m still a witness to the noise, the wind,
its approach and your departure
That informs me with a pain that overwhelms
That every voice raised is in jeopardy
of silence …
The silence in the look that said:
Our paths have crossed but will not converge!
And yet always shall I hear you say:
“Have you noticed how many great songs
Samba Pa Ti … that was it … Samba Pa Ti!
Inspired by a drunk carrying his
Saxophone, staggering about, on the
Streets of New York, one Sunday afternoon.
And there will always be the memory of
Those two-shared packs of devoured Doritos,
As we crunched into each other’s lives in a cab
On Henry Hudson Parkway, our knees touching,
Bringing to mind Jamaica Bay’s whale mouth
that consumes voraciously countless words
Upon the tides of ‘sentimentology’
Drifting through our lives and breaking us down,
Which merely serves to emphasise an acute
Awareness of absence and loss and the
Space in-between these scattered boulders that
shapes our lives in a
Continuous flow of communication
As a verbalised map of neural networks,
Like freshly sprouted and succulent leaves
Enfolding the sheer grandeur of this place
With that unfolding sense of a vision revealed.
And as we sped past the dark looming presence
of metamorphic bedrock, towering
Projecting its unincorporated
Memory of an ice-bound wilderness
Abutting the rocks, sediment and silt
Moraine, beyond which is the harsh tundra
Where melt water streams flowed into the plane
And thence to an icy sea of uncertain,
grey and restless relations;
And all that remains are quartz fragments and
Bioclastic deposits dragged under
a plover’s claws.
And as I think of those eyes framed with the
Hidden intensity of sorrow,
These tears that have been, deep down, forming
Will soon fall in amongst the cracks and
Fissures of this worn-out, striated
Auden face that I see peering back at me
like an old friend:
In Bennett Park, Manhattan’s topographic
High point, where I reached my lowest low.
And amidst these scarred and near empty streets
That echo to an orange-coloured
Sodium-lamp strangeness, no words can be
Expressed through a mouth as dry as this;
No pen can be held with hands as cold as these:
They have lost their lustre and vibrancy.
And as tidal formations swell from this
Critical juncture of interaction,
I awake to the sound of an insistent
and lugubrious clunk that threatens
Disaster, at any moment, as the
suffocating smell of
High-powered heat enters my hotel room
Struggling with a heavy sash window,
I let in the February wind with its
Eye watering, buffeting, persistent
An anxious hand sliced open your letter,
Releasing a puff of disintegrated
Paper that is caught in the light of a
As words, heavy with emotion, pull me
down like leaden weights.
In retrospect I should not have encouraged
you to have read those messages …
How much might have changed if I had said:
“Fiona, you don’t need to read them!”
So much in our lives is shaped by the form
that letters take … the words … the tone:
For we live in a forest of kelp whose
Ink-soaked and fibrous landscape has been boiled,
Compressed, bleached and dried, and so they retain
Their resonant power when down flows the night
Of endless concepts upon this lone and
You said to me: “I know I can trust you …
I can see it in your eyes.”
Where is that trust now, and what is it worth?
Like scattered ashes from the night before:
“Of Eros and of dust.” (Auden, line 96)
Reality is morning’s realm not the
Magic of blue hour’s nocturnal light:
An impure light, below the horizon,
That is seen through a dark and convex eye:
For this is the light of appetence through
which our fallen souls do see.
But on that evening of serendipity,
The place I phoned you from, at the junction
Of 66 Street and Broadway, expressing
My disorientation, turmoil
And you, just a few blocks walk away,
Redeemed me out of that situation.
We both knew the significance of its
Synchronicity, acutely aware
Of its interconnection in our lives,
As if passing, at great speed, over
Its jolting movement throwing us together.
And you kept on looking, as I was speaking,
With a look that was beyond the event …
A kiss on the cheek and then you were gone
That captured a moment of deep impact.
Even all these years later and the power
of it still
Resonates through my chest with a thumping
A relationship that never was, and
Yet has slowly evolved and developed
Like a grinding, cracking glacier shelf
Scraping away at our emotions down
To the bedrock of our identity,
That exposes a firm foundation,
Which is the rock of our ascension.
And upon this rock a confluence
Of longitudinal stretching, tidal
Formation, melt water wedging and
Seismic activity creates the right
Conditions for a calving event …
For this birth is an inconceivable
Gift that has come into this world from
As a collapsing, awesome, fearful roar
That reconfigures the atomic weight
of all these moral elements,
Played out on a canvas of unified
stasis in a studio barn in
Springs, East Hampton,
Which traces the course of this secret love
that spells its nameless name.
And this is where I want to leave it …
Remembering that brief moment when,
With our genial driver, as city shadows
Drift into our cab, we approached the
Blue-lit expanse of George Washington Bridge,
And you lyrically expounded on that
Spanning the Hudson … spanning the night.
Auden, W.H. “September 1st, 1939”
Jason Smith was born in Croydon in 1962. He is married with no children. He has been working on the railways, as a Station Assistant, for twenty years. He is self-educated with no published credits. In 2001-02, he part-financed poetry readings in NYC by withholding his rent payments.
February Network News
'I can't get over / how it all works in together' (James Schuyler, 'February')
Our day-long spring festival of poetry continues to take shape. We're delighted to say that Alice Notley, Charles Bernstein, Denise Riley, Robert Hampson, Karen Sandhu, Mark Ford, Agnieszka Studzinska, Peter Robinson, Betsy Porritt, Jeremy Over, and I (! briefly and nervously) will be reading. Geoff Ward will chair our roundtable discussion, which will feature a presentation from Yasmine on our forthcoming book of interviews with New York School poets, from Nick Selby on his forthcoming book on Robert Creeley, from Heleina Burton on 'open reading' and John Ashbery, Martyna Szot on Joe Brainard, Matt Sowerby on poetry organising and performance, Sonia Quintero on the Newham Poetry Group, and Caroline Harris and Briony Hughes on new publishing / editing ventures and publishing communities ... Dell Olsen and Will Montgomery will open the day with a joint talk. The event will be held at Senate House in Bloomsbury, on Saturday 27th May, and is being hosted in conjunction with Royal Holloway's Poetics Research Centre. Details of how to register and attend will be available soon.
We're thrilled to share a long poem written by Jason Smith, 'Exit 66 Street & Broadway'. The poem relates to events that took place in October 2001. The two poems that have particularly influenced its composition are Philip Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings and W.H. Auden's 'September 1st 1939'. Other poems of influence have been John Ashbery's poem 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror', Elizabeth Bishop's 'Sandpiper', Anne Waldman's 'The Lie', Maggie Nelson's 'A Halo Over The Hospital (But your mouth gets so dry)' and Hart Crane's The Bridge.
Nick Sturm joined us for a conversation about the nature of critical storytelling, the energy of the interdisciplinary, the ways in which mimeos and little magazines reorient how we read and teach, the rogue spaces of literary fandom and the ephemera of research, collaboration as love and care, and the unprofessional, informal, and public-facing aspects of writing. You can watch the interview on our website or on our Youtube channel. Thank you Nick!
Jess Cotton's superb critical biography of John Ashbery is out in April and available for pre-order from Reaktion.
Granary Books is pleased to present a short list of books, chapbooks, and broadsides by Joanne Kyger.
Anne Waldman's Bard, Kinetic is out now with Coffee House Press. Anne also has a great article up on Lithub - 'Satyrs and Poets and Jazzmen and Muses: Anne Waldman on Life at Bennington in the Early 1960s'.
Alice Notley's Early Works and The Speak Angel Series are out with Fonograf later this month.
Peter Robinson's Retrieved Attachments is out with Two Rivers Press this month.
Matthew Rana has just published Ardour with Nion Editions (Berkeley). Ardour is a dialogue with Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s (c.1797–1869) Urdu Divan and the latest instalment of Matthew's serial poem ‘The Daud’, an inquiry into Urdu poetry and the ghazal, ongoing since 2003. Copies are available via Small Press Distribution.
Rosa Campbell, Jack Parlett and Joel Duncan edited a special issue of Women's Studies (Vol. 51, Issue 8), Eileen Myles Now, featuring poetry, scholarly essays, reviews, Myles in conversation with Maggie Nelson, and the return to print of Myles's 'The Lesbian Poet'. Contributors include CAConrad, Nick Sturm, Matthew Holman, Stephanie Anderson, Joel Duncan, Jane Goldman, Gina Gwenffrewi, and E. C. Mason.
Patricia Spears Jones has been interviewing other poets for Poets House Open House on WBAI.99.5 FM (all archived at Poets House), including Angela Jackson, Peter Covino, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Jordan E. Franklin and Jade Yeung, and Brenda Coultas. Patricia herself will be on Molly Twomey's Just to Say later - email firstname.lastname@example.org for the Shareable Zoom link.
Tibor de Nagy Gallery presents Trevor Winkfield: the Solitary Radish (January 28th-March 4th). Peter Gizzi has written a wonderful essay about Winkfield's 'drama of rhythm, of music, of the pleasure of composition', which you can read here.