Saturday, August 30, 2008


One of the New American poets who seems to be receding fast from view is Joel Oppenheimer. A one-time student at Black Mountain & a contributor to Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, plus for many years a regular columnist with the Village Voice, Oppenheimer died at the age of 58 twenty years ago. Today there is a bare bones stub at Wikipedia, nothing at the Electronic Poetry Center and just 20 copies of all his books combined in the warehouse at SPD. If it weren’t for more copies of work available through the rare books network of, and his papers at the University of Connecticut, plus one book you can read most of via Google Books, he’d have largely disappeared altogether.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is that Oppenheimer was part of the New York-Projectivist/post-Projectivist scene, that included Paul Blackburn, Armand Schwerner, Clayton Eshleman, Jerry Rothenberg, Michael Heller, Robert Kelly, Diane Wakoski, George Economou, Ed Sanders, Jackson Mac Low & others. This scene seemed to go in different directions after (a) Blackburn’s death, (b) the transformation of Caterpillar into Sulfur & (c) the diaspora of these poets away from lower Manhattan, especially to Southern California. I don’t recall that Oppenheimer was ever really a part of the scene around Caterpillar, tho, and it may be that his job with the Voice had already taken him away from the Blackburn-centric world around St. Marks before Eshleman’s journal really got going.

Still, like the Zen cowboy scene on the West Coast around Coyote’s Journal, which was quite apart from the Beat scene even if it included the likes of Gary Snyder, Lew Welch & Phil Whalen, New York likewise had a scene that was quite distinct from what one nominally thinks of as the New York School. Without somebody to step up to the preservation of Oppenheimer’s work, he in particular is at risk of becoming one of the disappeared.


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