James Schuyler – Freely Espousing (1969)


“… The courtliness of [James] Schuyler’s verse sprang miraculously from the shambles of his life. He was a late bloomer, 46 years old when his first full-length collection, Freely Espousing, was published in 1969, and each successive volume of poems seemed wrenched from an ever more precarious existence. Schuyler enjoyed scarce advantages to begin with. He was born in 1923 in Chicago to Midwestern, middle-class parents who were divorced by the time he was 6. He was forced to take the name of his antagonistic stepfather after his mother’s remarriage and rarely saw his father (a ‘heavy, jolly, well-read man’) again. (He changed his name back in adulthood.) He attended Bethany College in West Virginia—not Harvard, like his future New York School confreres Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. Having fared poorly in his studies, he left Bethany without a degree and in 1943 joined the Navy. That ended with a dishonorable discharge: he went AWOL on a drunken bender, and at his hearing it came out that he was gay. All his life Schuyler would struggle with alcoholism and manic depression, with hospitalizations paid for by friends—W.H. Auden and James Merrill among them. Schuyler was Auden’s secretary during a sojourn on Ischia in 1949. ‘Well, if this is poetry, I’m certainly not going to write any myself,’ he reminisced in an interview late in life. His long apprenticeship must have frustrated him; he developed antagonisms toward his mentors, including his friend and occasional roommate Frank O’Hara. They had a falling out that remained unresolved at O’Hara’s death, in 1966, at the age of 40. Schuyler’s elegy for O’Hara, ‘Buried at Springs,’ starts with a shock: ‘There is a hornet in the room/and one of us will have to go/out the window into the late/August midafternoon sun. I/won.’ It was O’Hara’s highly enjambed lyrical monologue ‘The Three-Penny Opera,’ published in Accent magazine in 1951, that moved Schuyler to try his hand at poetry. The big revelation: “it’s the matter of where the line turns,” Schuyler explained to himself in his diary.  …”
The Nation – Scoured Light
Jacket2 – James Schuyler’s ‘Freely Espousing’
Locus Solus: The New York School of Poets – “Freely Espousing”: The Supreme Court’s Rulings on Same-Sex Marriage
Freely Espousing (Audio)

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