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Highfill, Mitch—Poetry Project Newsletter
Highfill, Mitch. "Review of The Angel Hair Anthology." Poetry Project Newsletter (February/ March 2002): 25-26.

It was the Spring of 1966. U.S. soldiers were climbing into underground Tunnels in Vietnam. The body count was in full swing. Martin Luther King Jr. was active in Chicago. The Beatles' Rubber Soul was getting a lot of airplay. Lewis Warsh and Anne Waldman put out the first issue of Angel Hair. It included new works by Jonathan Cott, Lew Ellingham, Lee Harwood, Denise Levertov, Charles Stein, and Gerard Malanga. Later issues would typify the emergence of a group of writers who literally changed the rules and delivered on the promises of The New American Poetry (Donald Allen's anthology of 1960). This was where you would find the works of Bernadette Mayer, Jack Anderson, Ted Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Lewis MacAdams, Dick Gallup, Rene Ricard, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, Joanne Kyger, Lorenzo Thomas, Joe Ceravolo, Tom Clark, Steve Carey, Bill Berkson, Jim Carroll, Larry Fagin, and, of course, the works of Anne and Lewis. Angel Hair was oversized, with simple letterpress titles (except for the last issue, Spring 1969, which featured a cover by George Schneeman).

The relevance of this short run was probably beyond the imaginings of either editor at the time, Frank O'Hara. Jimmy Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, and John Ashbery had already emerged and been given the designation, "The New York School." The critical stance toward their works was in development, but what these poets had in common was already being debated, pro and con. It wasn't until the publication of C Magazine, Adventures In Poetry (two other crucial magazines of the period) and Angel Hair that readers could really say what the designation meant. Obviously, there was a new attitude about daily life. Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman were writing poems that simply listed the activities of their day(s). Ted and Larry Fagin were known for their top ten lists of things they did, favorite songs, favorite books, etc. There was a glorification of the mundane in these works, as well as another strain which reflected a more interesting set of activities to write about, namely sex, drugs, and rock and roll (in that order). It was, after all, the sixties, and there was a lot of consciousness expansion going around in those days. Imagine John Crowe Ransom writing on acid, or imagine Ted Hughes writing about rolling up a joint and smoking it with W.D. Snodgrass. A new bloom was on the rose, and these poets were enjoying a period of prosperity and freedom from the 50's mores that would have been impossible six years earlier. There was also a willingness to experiment with form, to focus on the plasticity of language (especially in works by Clark Coolidge, Aram Saroyan, and Bernadette Mayer). This sense of word play and abstraction in the midst of every day life was already present in Ashbery, Koch, O'Hara, and Schuyler, but it became so much more pronounced in the works of the so-called second generation of New York School poets.

The magazine was not to be the only output of Angel Hair. As publishers of small-press poetry books, they would publish over 35 books and broadsides, including six or seven books vital to the development of a great deal of what has emerged since, such as Bernadette Mayor's Eruditio Ex Memoria, Moving, and The Golden Book of Words; Clark Coolidge's Own Face and Ing; Joe Brainard's I Remember; and Hannah Weiners's brilliant Clairvoyant Journal. Anne was running the Poetry Project in those days, and she lived nearby at 33 St. Mark's Place, where poets and artists would party before and after Poetry Project events. So she had knowledge of and access to an enormous array of writers, and Angel Hair reflected that range. Although considered a New York School vehicle, Angel Hair published books by Lee Harwood, John Weiners, Robert Creeley, and Charlie Vermont as well.

Holding this new book in hand, one feels a reflection, however distorted by the passage of time, of just how exciting it was to pick up Ted Berrigan's Nothing For You, hot off the press. Ted Greenwald's Makes Sense still does so. As Creeley says in the excerpt from ln London, "The song of such energy/ invites me."

The Angel Hair Anthology includes work from all six issues of the magazine, as well as selections from all of the books that the press published (except Eat This! By Tom Vietch). So there are some odd entries, such as Kenward Elmslie's brilliant and baffling Girl Machine (1971) and Britton Wilkie's Limits of Space and Time.

Another marvelous feature of this book is the section "Angel Hair Memoirs," where most of the contributors write brief memoirs of the times, or the circumstances of being published by Angel Hair, or the specific entries themselves. Along with these memoirs are pictures. Frank O'Hara in 1964 in his Broadway loft. Clark Coolidge playing drums in 1967. A nude photo of Coolidge, Carol Clifford, Gerard Malanga, Tessie Mitchell, Dick Gallup, Tom Veitch, Katie Schneeman, and Anne Waldman, 1972, at the Schneeman's apartment on St. Mark's Place. A young Tony Towle at work. Anne Waldman and her mother, Anne Waldman and Philip Whalen, Bob Rosenthal and Jim Brodey, 1977 at Dick Gallup's apartment. I like a particularly wind-blown photo of Kenward Elmslie, Anne and Lewis on the beach in Westhampton in 1968. Everybody I've talked to about this book admits to starting with this section, even though it is in the back of the book.

There is a developing context for this anthology. In recent years, there has been a significant increase of interest and awareness of the New York School. Penguin republished Ted Berrigan's Sonnets and Joe Brainard's I Remember. They also published Alice Notley's Descent of Alette. There is a retrospective of Joe Brainard's artworks touring now; it just left NYC. Granary Books brought out a lovely bibliography of Ted Berrigan a few years ago, as well as the magnificent bibliography of the mimeo era, A Secret Location in the Lower East Side. The New York School has come to occupy a more robust locale in academia, and in the publishing world. The old Adventures In Poetry imprint has been revived as a book publisher, already in print with new books from Charles North and John Ashbery. Perhaps we will see more major works of the sixties and seventies come back into print. At least some of this work has been rescued already, and can be found in this 619 page masterpiece anthology.

It is appropriate that this review appear in The Poetry Project Newsletter, for so much of the work herein was conceived or performed at the Poetry Project, and some of the ghosts invoked in the book roam the grounds of this place.





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