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All Poets Welcome

The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s

Daniel Kane

Publication Year: 2003

This landmark book, together with its accompanying CD, captures the heady excitement of the vibrant, irreverent poetry scene of New York's Lower East Side in the 1960s. Drawing from personal interviews with many of the participants, from unpublished letters, and from rare sound recordings, Daniel Kane brings together for the first time the people, political events, and poetic roots that coalesced into a highly influential community. From the poetry-reading venues of the early sixties, such as those at the Les Deux Mégots and Le Metro coffeehouses to The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, a vital forum for poets to this day, Kane traces the history of this literary renaissance, showing how it was born from a culture of publicly performed poetry. The Lower East Side in the sixties proved foundational in American verse culture, a defining era for the artistic and political avant-garde.

The voices and works of John Ashbery, Amiri Baraka, Charles Bernstein, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Kenneth Koch, Bernadette Mayer, Ron Padgett, Denise Levertov, Paul Blackburn, Frank O'Hara, and many others enliven these pages, and the thirty five-track CD includes recordings of several of the poets reading from their work in the sixties and seventies. The Lower East Side's cafes, coffeehouses, and salons brought together poets of various aesthetic sensibilities, including writers associated with the so-called New York School, Beats, Black Mountain, Deep Image, San Francisco Renaissance, Umbra, and others. Kane shows that the significance for literary history of this loosely defined community of poets and artists lies in part in its reclaiming an orally centered poetic tradition, adapted specifically to open up the possibilities for an aesthetically daring, playful poetics and a politics of joy and resistance.

Published by: University of California Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii


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pp. PS1-PS12

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pp. ix-xi

I gratefully acknowledge all the poets, writers, scholars, and reading series organizers who took the time to share their stories and ideas with me through interviews, phone calls, and e-mails: Bruce Andrews, John Ashbery, Carol Bergé, Bill Berkson, Charles Bernstein, Sara Blackburn, Jerry Bloedow, Peter Cenedella, Paul Chevigny, Tom Clark, Steven Clay, Andrei Codrescu, ...

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pp. xiii-xix

In the early to mid-1960s, a growing poetry-reading scene was developing in dozens of cafés and lofts around Manhattan, particularly in the neighborhood known as the Lower East Side. Especially significant reading series in this area were centered, chronologically, at Mickey Ruskin and Ed Kaplan’s Tenth Street Coffeehouse, at Ruskin and Bill Mackey’s Les Deux Mégots coffeehouse ...

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1. Community through Poetry

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pp. 1-26

During the early to mid-1960s, before the founding of the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in 1966, a series of poetry readings based in various coffeehouses on the Lower East Side of Manhattan began to receive growing attention from the local press and the wider literary community. These readings, the most important of which began at Les Deux Mégots (on East Seventh ...

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2. Oral Poetics on the Lower East Side

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pp. 27-56

Poets of the Lower East Side directed attention to the function of art in society by reinvigorating the tradition of the poetry reading. Readings were not just public presentations of texts, but events that defined a contemporary avant-garde as they redefined the way poetry was used in contemporary American culture. Amiri Baraka’s description of his writing practice helps us see how ...

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3. The Aesthetics of the Little

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pp. 57-122

On the Lower East Side throughout the 1960s, much of the poetry that was read at places including Les Deux Mégots, Le Metro, and the Poetry Project could best be disseminated through the mimeograph magazine and the smallcirculation, low-cost bound magazine. The mimeograph in particular allowed for speedy, cheap reproduction. That speediness lent mimeographed materials ...

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4. The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church

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pp. 123-152

Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor of what was then known as New Amsterdam, founded St. Mark’s Church, officially called St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie. The original chapel was built in 1660. Stuyvesant’s land holdings extended from what is now Broadway to the East River and Fifth Street to Seventeenth Street. This property was known as Stuyvesant’s “Bouwerie,” derived from the ...

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5. Anne Waldman, The World, and the Early Years at the Poetry Project

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pp. 153-186

Anne Waldman was in many ways a natural choice to inherit the director position at the Poetry Project. Born in 1945, brought up in Greenwich Village, and associated with St. Mark’s Church since her early teens, Waldman was part of an intergenerational bohemian milieu that would inform the choices she made as arts director. Her mother, Frances LeFevre, had been involved with ...

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6. Bernadette Mayer and “Language” in the Poetry Project

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pp. 187-202

By the early 1970s, things were changing at the Poetry Project. The Reverend Michael Allen left New York City in 1970 for a position as dean of the Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. With Allen’s departure, the Project was now being led by a new generation of reading series organizers and administrators, including Larry Fagin and Steve Facey. New York School ...

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Epilogue: Bob Holman, the Poetry Project, and the Nuyorican Poets Café

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pp. 203-208

A poetry slam involves a group of poets reading their work to an audience— members of this audience then score the poet’s poem and performance, and the winner receives some kind of symbolic or cash prize.1 In his introduction to Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Cafe, Cafe founder Miguel Algarín writes that slams in the early 1990s at the Nuyorican started with ...


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pp. 209-272


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pp. 273-288

Sources and Permissions

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pp. 289-293


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pp. 295-306

Production Notes

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p. 307-307

Playlist for compact disc

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pp. 309-310

Image Plates

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pp. PS1-PS12

E-ISBN-13: 9780520936430
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520233843

Page Count: 348
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American poetry -- New York (State) -- New York -- History and criticism
  • Poets, American -- Homes and haunts -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • American poetry -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.) -- Intellectual life.
  • Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.) -- In literature.
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