Were the urbane, avant-garde poets of the New York School secretly nature lovers like Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Annie Dillard? In Urban Pastoral, Timothy Gray urges us to reconsider our long-held appraisals of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, and their peers as celebrants of cosmopolitan culture and to think of their more pastoral impulses. As Gray argues, flowers are more beautiful in the New York School’s garden of verse because no one expects them to bloom there.
Along with the poets whose careers he chronicles, Gray shows us that startlingly new approaches to New York City art and literature emerge when natural and artificial elements collide kaleidoscopically, as when O’Hara likens blinking stars to a hairnet, when painter Jane Freilicher places a jar of irises in her studio window to mirror purple plumes rising from Consolidated Edison smokestacks, or when poet Kathleen Norris equates rooftop water towers with grain silos as she plans her escape route to the Great Plains.
The New York School poets and their coterie have become a staple of poetics, literary criticism and biography, cultural studies, and art criticism, but Urban Pastoral is the first study of the original New York School poets to offer sustained discussion of the pastoral and natural imagery within the work of these renowned “city poets” and also consider poets from the second generation of the New York School—Diane di Prima, Jim Carroll, and Kathleen Norris.
Moving beyond the traditional boundaries of literary criticism to embrace the creative spirit of New York poets and artists, Gray’s accessible, lively, and blithely experimental book will shape future discussions of contemporary urban literature and literary nature writing, offering new evidence of avant-garde poetry’s role within those realms.