National Poetry Month: Favorite New York Poets

Over on our Twitter feed we’ve been hosting a little chatter about people’s favorite New York poets, in honor of the soon-to-be-past National Poetry Month. Among the favorites people have suggested are Frank O’Hara, Edgar Allan Poe, Allen Ginsberg, W. H. Auden, Edna St. Vincent Millay, W. S. Merwin, Robert Lowell, Ken Koch, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, Jim Carroll, John Ferris, F. G. Lorca, and Langston Hughes. I had suggested that people not list Whitman, since it’s hard to imagine how he wouldn’t be the presiding poet in any reckoning.

Are there others you’d add to the list?

By way of a longer post observing National Poetry Month, I thought I’d point readers to a couple anthologies of NYC-related verse. I’m linking to Amazon, but wouldn’t it be nicer of you to ask for these titles at your neighborhood bookstore?

The most obvious recent anthology, perhaps, is I Speak of the City: Poems of New York, edited by Stephen Wolf and John Hollander and published by Columbia University Press in 2007. It has quite a range, from the 17th-century Dutch poet Jacob Steendam to Tuli Kupferberg’s “Greenwich Village of My Dreams” to work by half a dozen poets who were under 40 when the book came out. These are “poems of New York” rather than poems by New York poets, if you’re splitting hairs. The entries explicitly take the city as their topic and affirm, as the authors suggest in their introduction, the Whitmanian idea that the city itself is a great poem. (For another collection in this vein, see Poems of New York, the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets volume edited by Elizabeth Schmidt and released in 2002.)

Another title to suggest, and one we’ve used in past versions of our Writing New York course, is Miguel Algarin and Bob Holman’s Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe (Holt, 1994). The legacy of one of the city’s multi-faceted downtown scenes of the early 1970s, the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe has always done more than just poetry — in addition to its ongoing slams, it also features film events, a theater program, and jazz and hip hop — all ways of pushing poetry’s limits. The anthology includes work from 1990s then works back to “founding” poems from the movement’s 70s origins, and also includes work drawn from “The Open Room,” the ongoing weekly open mic session in which “poetry in all stages of gestation” finds an audience. As Algarin’s introduction makes clear in its moving evocation of the poet Miguel Piñero’s Loisaida funeral, the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe reveals the power of words to organize, preserve, and memorialize community.

Finally, to broaden your view to include an outer borough — the one most centrally identified with ongoing arts scenes at this point — check out Broken Land: Poems of Brooklyn, edited by Michael Tyrell and Julia Kasdorf and published by NYU Press in 2007. Beginning with Whitman, then looking back to the Lenni Lenape Indians, the cast of poets will, in many instances, overlap with the volumes above, but the subject matter here is specifically BK. “It’s so full of the sights and sounds of Brooklyn streets,” the editors write, “that it’s the next best thing to being there.”

When the volume was new, co-editor Michael Tyrell participated in a series of Q&As via the Times‘s City Room blog. As part of the Q&A, one reader want to push the relationship of poetry to place even further — to the level of the neighborhood rather than the borough:


Are there any good poets from Midwood, either well-known or under-appreciated?

— Posted by Edo


Brooklyn College in Midwood has long been a hub for excellent poets and poetry. Its Master of Fine Arts program is particularly strong, and alumni include the poet and novelist Sapphire, and Anselm Berrigan, Ted Berrigan’s son and a fine poet in his own right. Allen Ginsberg, who was on the faculty of the M.F.A. program, wrote a charming and funny poem called “Brooklyn College Brain,” which conveys the awkward humor of being a famous poet and a writing teacher. In a third-person voice, it offers a series of instructions: get an identity card, workshop poems in the “Bird Room,” and “have some office hours.” I would also recommend a poet named L. S. Asekoff, who is also on the M.F.A. faculty; his poem, “The Widows of Gravesend,” along with Mr. Ginsberg’s, appears in “Broken Land.”

I threw in that extended quotation just in case any of our readers were miffed that we’ve lacked in Midwood literary coverage on this blog.

Other favorite volumes you’d recommend?

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