As readers of this blog will know—I have an obsession with Frank O’Hara and the poets of The New York School. I don’t know why and I don’t spend much time wondering about it either.
But what I was thinking about today, this first day of September, one of the most fabulous summers on record, was that the NY School, Frank et al always seem to represent a lightness, a summer-ish-ness (though my boy James Schuyler also has many great fall and winter poems—see “Korean Mums” for example). Maybe it is because many of their poems are about friends and being with friends and that easy camaraderie that existed among the poets and painters that inhabited the NY School (which readers of this blog will know was not actually a school).
From there I began to muse about the common muse, one that at least three of the major posts of the NY School claimed to have inspired them. The poets muse was a painter: Jane Freilicher. Jane played muse to Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and James Schuyler. (I do not include Kenneth Koch, though he was part of the group and even though he had a Jane poem because I’m not sure how much of a role she played in his writing outside of a correspondence between the two.)
Anyway, Jane was someone these poets could indulge in witty repartee with, she was a writer of letters and postcards, she kept the group together in the sense that she was not in competition with them or the various talents and egos each of the poets possessed. From what I can read between the lines, she was friend, sister, perhaps even mother to the group. Maybe all three. Certainly she held the key.
The story goes that when John Ashbery arrived in New York City to stay the summer in Kenneth Koch’s Greenwich Village apartment he was told to pick up the key from his upstairs neighbor: Jane Freilicher. Thus blossomed a friendship that has lasted 60 years!
So in my dreaming and pondering this first of September as summer is passing away and tomorrow begins the school year and unofficially the beginning of fall—I feel nostalgic and long for my own Jane, my own muse. For that one person who will come and wake me up creatively, or mentally challenge me to stop fiddling my life away with unimportant work, or to simply come out and play and forget the heartache of rejection and the endless work of querying. My Jane will tell me I’m onto something, to keep at it. She will want to hear about my latest project. She will say of those emails that clutter my inbox informing me that my manuscript or story or characters just didn’t hold their attention or they aren’t the right person to represent my work—Jane will say bullshit! WTF! Jane will invite me to join her and Joe in the Hamptons where she has a studio, where the others are gathering on the beach for the last barbeque of the season, she will say forget about all that. Life is so much more than this!
Thanks Jane. You are the best.
Jane Freilicher, front right, with her friends in the Hamptons in the 1950s.