31 March (1971): James Schuyler to Trevor Winkfield

In this letter, James Schuyler, poet of the “New York School,” addresses Trevor Winkfield, who occasionally worked as his editor. Winkfield founded a few small poetry journals in the late 1960s, one of which was Julliard, mentioned below. Schuyler, in the only major hiatus he took from the West Village after 1950, stayed twelve years in the home of Fairfield Porter, near Southampton. Porter was married, and came from a very respectable New England family; in a group of bohemians and revolutionaries, Porter was often seen as the aristocratic dilettante. It was in such a group that he came to know Schuyler, and their relationship deepened into a tentative romance. Porter frequently sketched his muse, while Schuyler invoked a kiss from Porter in “O Sleepless Nights.”

Southampton, New York

March 31, ’71

Dear Trevor,

Somehow, just when I’m off on one of my N.Y.C. ventures, I always seem to feel an impulse to write—scribble—a note to you. You must represent stability to me. Yes, that’s it.

My other reason for writing you, however, is: before all the hiatuses—strikes, Xmas, what-have-yous, you said something about a feeling of death as far as a next issue of Juillard goes. And of course Juillard must not die; nor you feel bored. It’s an ill-kept secret that I’m one of the judges for the O’Hara award competish, & I’ve just finished reading—acute indigestion—what seemed like a century’s subscription to World, with a few lifetimes of Mother & Fuck You tossed in. While not at liberty to say who this year’s Mick Jagger of the N.Y. School is (Kenneth K., O’Hara Foundation top-kick is away ‘til next week), there were some very good poets among the mass’s and I thought you might like to ask some of them for works—? Yes? No?

Have you ever exchanged magazines with Keith Abbott? He is, or was, Blue Suede Shoes. I like a lot of his poems—sort of West Coast Padgett, with a lot of the dilution that might imply—also someone he’s published named Pat Nolan, who’s a little closer to being a West Coast Larry Fagin; or perhaps is to Abbott what Fagin is to Padgett? Only different—(I have the feeling you just decided never to publish any more American writers). Then there was somebody in Providence, Rhode Island named Randy Blasing. And I forget whether you’ve ever published anything by John A’s friend (not friend in—oh help—a friend, not a boyfriend) John Koethe? (pronounced, K-T & not like Goethe). The one I most particularly liked is Charles North, who studied (at St. Mark’s Church, maybe?, or the New School) with Tony Towle. I think he has quite a gift.

I was disappointed with some of the ex-Koch Columbia poets. He seems to turn people on, but it doesn’t always last when they graduate & come unplugged. However, just to have had Ron for a pupil assures him of Teacher immortality—je pense—

Katie Porter, F & A’s elder daughter (22) is taking pre-Med at Columbia & a course with Kenneth, who, at the beginning of the term, told her her poems were “too thinking.” Katie called her mother up and said Kenneth is a great teacher, but she finds she much prefers John Ashbery’s poetry. Ta-tum. (But she’s gone on to write some poems they both like—& me too.)

Kind friends at Angel Hair published a poem of mine as a giant, handsome, totally impractical broadside. Part of the impracticality comes out in the rarity—& expense—of suitable mailing tubes. I’m sending one to you, & also one to a friend in Italy: would you be so kind as to extract one (I suggest you not take the one signed, Kisses to Edith—but as Don Giovanni says—Liberty Hall) and then send the other one to:

Edith Schloss, 18, via Vetrina, Roma, Italy

(and who might she be? Why the first Mrs. Rudi Burckhardt, of course: & do look her up if Rome should fall across your path).

Rudi’s latest movie: subject: dope has gotten very mixed reviews from friends. But all agree Joan Fagin & Tessie Mitchell on speed (with speeded up camera) are great while Jim Carroll, who does, at times, have a scary H-problem struck some as in spooky taste.

There is a new place in N.Y.C., by the way, where they show all Cornell’s own movies—all the collage ones & hand-tinted ones—so you’d better come visit us…

Now you write me. I’m going to NY partly to see Harry M., who is here because his friend, ex-Ambassador to Laos, is getting married enroute to becoming “our” Ambassador to Tokyo. “Just tell the Ambassador it’s a friend of Harry Matthews’s calling, & come get me out of here—!” love, Jimmy

And thank you for the stupefying, great, incredible local English newspapers.

Notes: Keith Abbott was finishing his MA at Western Washington State at the time of this letter, eventually becoming quite a prolific poet and novelist.

John Koethe went on to win the Frank O’Hara Prize in 1973 for Domes.

Charles North maintained strong ties to Schuyler both geographically and artistically, earning both his friendship and admiration.

Edith Schloss, to whom Schuyler forwards along his poem, displayed some of her abstract work at MOMA and wrote as an art critic for Art News magazine where the two most likely met. In her autobiography, she describes Schuyler:  “Jimmy’s obliqueness, covering old hurts and an unacknowledged past, was thick and strange. He said so little you felt embarrassed in his company. Only once in a while he let out with a sentence that was so sweetly pungent and bright, it cleared the air like lightning.”

From Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-1991. Edited by William Corbett. New York: Turtle Point Press, 2004. pp. 329-331.


Charles North interview in which he speaks of his love for Schuyler’s poetry.

The collage art of John Ashberry and  Winkfield, who recently exhibited their work at the Tibor de Nagy gallery. 

Fairfield Porter’s letters to and portraits of Schuyler. 

Schuyler on reading.