The New York School really began, strangely enough, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at Harvard University where several of its most famous members were students along with other postwar poets Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, and Richard Wilbur. It was at Harvard that Kenneth Koch met John Ashbery and that John Ashbery published Frank O’Hara, later meeting him in the flesh at an opening of a show of Edward Gorey’s watercolors (Gorey was Ashbery’s roommate). All three eventually ended up in New York City, where they became involved with each other and with a number of painters, including Jane Freilicher, Nell Blaine, Larry Rivers, and Fairfield Porter.
Everyone, it seems, wrote for Art News or worked at the Museum of Modern Art, except for Koch who taught and pioneered the teaching of poetry to children. The poetry and art worlds were deeply intertwined, and collaboration between visual artists and writers continues to be a salient characteristic of the New York School. In 1953, for instance, John Bernard Myers of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery published O’Hara’s Oranges in an edition of about twenty mimeographed copies. Issued in gray “three-clasp binders,” some of the copies contained oil paint sketches by Grace Hartigan (the publication was in fact to accompany the exhibition of her work at the gallery). In 1952 Myers had produced, somewhat more “professionally,” O’Hara’s A City Winter, with some copies containing drawings by Larry Rivers.
This was followed in 1953 by Koch’s Poems, with prints by Nell Blaine, and Ashbery’s Turandot, with plates by Jane Freilicher. These volumes were all printed letterpress with decorative covers. In 1969, Myers published an anthology, The Poets of the New York School, which included O’Hara, Koch, and Ashbery as well as James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, Joe Ceravolo, Kenward Elmslie, Frank Lima, and Tony Towle. James Schuyler, whose May 24th or So was published (unaccompanied by art) by Tibor de Nagy in 1966, had arrived on the scene (he was to become one of the most famous of the residents of New York City’s Chelsea Hotel) and, in 1972, had published the mimeographed anthology 49 South. His Freely Espousing was published by Paris Review Press in 1969 with a jacket by Alex Katz, and Hymn to Life, The Crystal Lithium, and The Morning of the Poem were all published by Random House with covers by Fairfield Porter.All the major figures of the New York School were to find commercial publishers, but continued to provide work to the small presses and mimeograph magazines (Barbara Guest, for instance, appeared in several issues of “C” magazine, and Ashbery’s The New Spirit was published by Larry Fagin’s Adventures in Poetry). In 1970, An Anthology of New York Poets, edited by Ron Padgett and David Shapiro (with a cover by Joe Brainard), was published by Random House. It featured work by Schuyler, Koch, Ashbery, and O’Hara scattered throughout the book, which also included Clark Coolidge, Kenward Elmslie, Ted Berrigan, Harry Mathews, Tony Towle, Tom Clark, Tom Veitch, Lewis MacAdams, Frank Lima, John Giorno, Joe Ceravolo, Jim Brodey, John Perrault, Bill Berkson, Michael Brownstein, Ed Sanders, Peter Schjeldahl, Aram Saroyan, Ron Padgett, Dick Gallup, Bernadette Mayer, Edwin Denby, and David Shapiro.