- Poetry in the Field of Vision
In a 2004 article in this journal, Daniel Kane describes one of his first encounters with Angel Hair, the little magazine edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh that served as one of many unofficial gathering places for the Downtown poetry scene in the 1960s and 1970s. "I felt initially as if I were looking through the window of a building across the street and witnessing a fairly glamorous group of people joking around, laughing, and talking about each other," he writes. "Being outside looking in, of course, is not a comfortable position."1 The ideal response to this discomfort, as he demonstrates through a brilliant reading of a particularly dense stanza from Ted Berrigan's "Bean Spasms," is to read the poetry from both the inside and the outside—as isolated artifact and as woven into a complex tapestry of local reference. Kane shows that one can in fact appreciate the best poems in Angel Hair and of the second-generation New York school more generally without a full immersion in the "microscopic social exchanges that took place between these affiliated writers," but that it is equally critical to read the texts in their original conversational environment, "to go to the party" ("Angel Hair" 359, 365). [End Page 412]
As a scholar, editor, and interviewer, Kane has been committed to inviting more readers to the party and—by tracing connections between poets, artists, activists, and cultural impresarios—revealing it to be a larger and less exclusive event than it might seem, for example, to a first-time reader of one of Berrigan's proper-name-filled poems. His first two books, All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s and What Is Poetry: Conversations with the American Avant-Garde, a single-author monograph and a collection of interviews, were both published in 2003. Accompanied by a CD and raucously filled with the voices of its subjects, All Poets Welcome approaches the conversational mode as closely as scholarship can, eschewing critical posturing in the service of framing another telling anecdote or caught moment from a reading or performance. The method is appropriate to the artistic life-world whose history Kane has been instrumental in preserving, more recently through his edited essay collection, Don't Ever Get Famous: Essays on New York Writing after the New York School (2006). As a historian more than as a critic, Kane has made a strong case that the gossipy, collaborative, rigorously informal, sexually liberated Lower East Side scene and its artifacts have lasting aesthetic and countercultural value.
We Saw the Light: Conversations between the New American Cinema and Poetry returns to the neighborhood and some members of the group of poets with whom Kane has made his readers familiar. In extending the notion of "conversation" across media to explore the relationships between poets and filmmakers, poetry and film, however, Kane sets up a more text-immanent approach, one that yields more wide-ranging interpretive findings than his previous work. The aim of the book goes beyond documenting the connections between such understudied institutions as the Filmmakers Cinematheque and the Millennium Film Workshop in the world of film and Le Metro and the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in the world of poetry, which Kane does in his richly detailed opening chapter and extensive notes. Nor is We Saw the Light satisfied with limning the social forms and artistic products of the collaborative friendships between poets and filmmakers such as Robert Creeley and Stan Brakhage, [End Page 413] John Ashbery and Rudy Burckhardt, and the several others that form the "conversational" framework for each chapter. These influential relationships are barely known among contemporary poetry scholars, and to present their history alongside even a modest attempt to read a few key works would be a significant contribution. But Kane is interested in a connection between film and poetry far more deeply interfused. The artists he examines were engaged in a common quest for "new and...