Glossary Home Movements

New York School of Poets

The New York School was a group of artists, writers, dancers, and more who were primarily active in New York City in the 1950s and 60s. 

These creators drew their inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including jazz, experimental music, abstract expressionism, and surrealism. Often, the New York School poets are contrasted with the confessional movement in contemporary poetry. The latter valued personal, emotional, first-person narratives while the New York School imbued their work with pop culture, witty turns of phrase, and humor. Their work was almost always written in response to contemporary events and lacked the seriousness that is found in almost all confessional poems. 

New York School of Poets Definition and Literary Examples


New York School Definition

The New York School was a loose group of poets and visual artists, along with musicians, and dancers, who worked in New York. The writers who belonged to this movement valued spontaneity and humor in their verse. Often, they wrote about contemporary events and cultural movements. 

The poetic movement is closely related to the visual arts side of the New York School. Artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were inspired by writers like John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara and vice versa. 

Wrtiers of the New York School of Poetry 

Generally, the New York school of poetry is divided into the first and second generation of writers. These can be explored below:

First Generation 

  • John Ashbery
  • Kenneth Koch
  • Frank O’Hara
  • Barbara Guest
  • James Schuyler

Second Generation 

  • Bill Bergson 
  • Ted Berrigan 
  • Ron Padget
  • Alice Notley 


Examples of New York School Literature 

Why I Am Not a Painter by Frank O’Hara

Why I Am Not a Painter’ is one of the most important poems of the New York School, particularly of the “first generation” of writers. The poem was inspired by O’Hara’s experience with painters in New York. It details an interaction with Michael Goldberg. Here is a quote: 

I am not a painter, I am a poet.

Why? I think I would rather be

a painter, but I am not. Well,

The poet uses simple, easy-to-read language that allows readers from all walks of life to enjoy his expression of his own artistic qualities. 

Explore more Frank O’Hara poems.

Hard Times by John Ashbery

Also of the first generation of poets, John Ashbery is considered to be one of the most influential writers in the New York School. He published ‘Hard Times’ in Shadow Train in 1981. It describes the modern world and what Ashbery sees in its future. Here is a quote: 

Trust me. The world is run on a shoestring.

They have no time to return the calls in hell

And pay dearly for those wasted minutes. Somewhere

Throughout, Ashbery uses a conversational and confident tone. He asks readers to trust his judgment on the world, particularly in regard to the fact that it is running out of its limited resources. 

Discover more John Ashbery poems

Wrong Train by Ted Berrigan 

‘Wrong Train’ is one of the many important literary works that Berrigan contributed to the New York School of poetry. Berrigan is of the second generation of New York School writers, and within this poem, he connects a speaker’s experiences while waiting for a train to the afterlife. Berrigan presents this idea with vivid imagery. Here are a few lines: 

[…] Never enough pay. A deja-vu

That lasts. It’s no big thing, anyway.

A lukewarm greasy hamburger, ice-cold pepsi

that hurts your teeth.

Explore more Ted Berrigan poems

The Day Lady Died by Frank O’Hara

This thoughtful, modern poem is a wonderful example of what the poets of the New York School were trying to accomplish with their verse. The poem was written in memory of the jazz singer Billie Holiday. She passed away from complications due to liver diseases in July 1959. Here are the first lines: 

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

The first person narrator describes walking through New York, lingering in a bookstore, buying alcohol, and then learning that Billie Holiday has passed away.

Read more Frank O’Hara poems.

FAQs 

What is New York school in literary movement?

New York School refers to a group of writers in New York during the 1950s and 60s who valued descriptions of their contemporary lives over first-person, emotional narratives.

How do you write a New York School poem?

In most cases, a New York School poem uses straightforward and easy-to-read language. You might choose to describe contemporary events that you’ve seen for yourself and the impact they had on your community, refer to pop culture, use humor, and include witty statements. Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery created some of the best-known examples of New York School poetry.

What is John Ashbery’s poetry known for?

His poetry is known for its clear interpretation of modern events and an insightful approach to everyday life. Formally, his poetry is highly regarded for its intricate use of form and rhythms, as well as his ability to subtly shift his speaker’s tone.


Related Literary Terms 

  • Dirty Realism: a literary movement of the 20th century in North America. The movement’s authors use concise language and clear descriptions of the darkest parts of reality.
  • Futurism:  an avant-garde movement that originated in Italy in the 20th century. It was part of the broader Futurist art movement.
  • Genre:  a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Fugitives: a movement comprised of a group of poets and scholars from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in the mid-1920s.
  • Experimentalism: one part of modernism and postmodernist literature. Writers take risks, try strange new techniques, and attempt to create something that’s never been seen before. 
  • Postmodernism: a literary movement that began in the late-20th century. It was a reaction to modernism after World War II. 


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