Poem-a-Day - Summer Camp: the New York School

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July 20, 2022

The New York School of poetry began around 1960 in New York City and included poets such as John AshberyBarbara GuestKenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. Heavily influenced by Surrealism and Modernism, the poetry of the New York School was serious but also ironic, and incorporated an urban sensibility into much of the work. An excerpt from Ashbery’s poem “My Philosophy of Life” demonstrates this attitude:

Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea—
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

The following activities have been adapted from “Teach This Poem: ‘Having a Coke with You’ by Frank O'Hara.” They can be done alone or with a guardian, sibling, friend, or partner.
  1. Warm-up (quick write): What are some simple things that you consider fun? Why? 

  2. Before Reading the Poem: Silently observe the images of the painting The Polish Rider by Rembrandt van Rijn and the statue Horse and Rider by Marino Marini. Look carefully at each image. What do you notice first? Why? Look again: what else do you notice? Join with a partner and share your observations. 
     
  3. Reading the Poem: Silently read the poem “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara. What do you notice about the poem? Annotate for any words or phrases that stand out to you or any questions you might have. 
     
  4. Listening to the Poem (If you have a partner, take turns reading the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud, and write down any additional words and phrases that stand out to you. Call back the lines that you like by saying these lines aloud with your partner.
     
  5. Small-group Discussion: Share what you noticed in the poem with your partner. Based on what you just shared, what connections can you make between the poem and the images you viewed earlier? 
     
  6. Whole-class Discussion: What do you think is the relationship between the speaker and the “you” in the poem? Why? Why does the speaker allude to several works of art, and what is the purpose of these allusions?
     
  7. Extension for Grades 7-8: Explore and read more poems about love on Poets.org. Choose one of these poems to read closely. Share your poem with your partner by either reciting the poem from memory or creating your own emulation or original poem. 
     
  8. Extension for Grades 9-12: Explore and read more poems about love on Poets.org. Choose to closely read either a classic love poem or a contemporary love poem. Share your findings with your partner in a debate about the differences between classic poetry and contemporary poetry. Be prepared to share why your chosen form is the best representation of love.
Read and listen to “Poet as Immortal Bird” by Ron Padgett and “Anthropocene Blues” by Anne Waldman. Follow poets.org on TikTok for more videos.

Poem” by Alice Notley 
Poem” by James Schuyler
Poem” by Joe Brainard 
A Certain Slant of Sunlight” by Ted Berrigan
Why I Am Not a Painter” by Frank O’Hara
The Past” by Barbara Guest
Honestly,” by John Ashbery

The following poets belong to the first and second generation of New York School poets. Click on their names to read their biographies:
John Ashbery
Barbara Guest
Kenneth Koch
Frank O’Hara
Ted Berrigan
Alice Notley
Ron Padgett
Anne Waldman
Joe Brainard
Kenneth Koch
James Schuyler
Allusion is a reference to a person, event, or literary work outside the poem.
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