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The Last Avant-Garde

The Making of the New York School of Poets


David Lehman (View Bio)
Hardcover: Doubleday, 1998; Paperback: Anchor Books, 1999.

The Last Avant-Garde

A richly detailed portrait of one of the great movements in American arts and letters, THE LAST AVANT-GARDE covers the years 1948-1966 and focuses on four fast friends--the poets Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Kenneth Koch. Lehman brings to vivid life the extraordinary creative ferment of the time and place, the relationship of great friendship to art, and the powerful influence that a group of visual artisits--especially Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, and Fairfield Porter--had on the literary efforts of the New York School.

"Lehman has written a valuable book, one both entertaining and highly informative." — W. B. Thompson, Michigan Quarterly Review  (Read the full review)

"Very readable ...Lehman writes to be understood. It's a lively book about art and poetry at a formative moment in the development of postwar American culture." — Robert Hass, Washington Post Book World

"Through a careful balance of serious criticism and biographical sketch, Lehman succeeds brilliantly in characterizing the lives and works of four poets — John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler.... Lehman is delicate in his appreciations.... [H]is clarity and earnest enthusiasm will entice readers." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The overseeing editor of the annual Best American Poetry regards four poets who were young together in New York in the 1950s and whose verbal experimentation was inspired by the abstract expressionist painters of the just-previous generation as the last revolutionaries in U.S. literature. [A] splendidly lucid, keenly sympathetic book (this is how to write about poetry).... Superb popular cultural history." — Booklist

"Pertinent and lucid ...a highly readable and fittingly hybridized book: part cultural history, part speculative essay, part literary criticism, part biography." — Daniel Kunitz, New York Observer

"Lehman himself would perhaps best be described as a man of letters, an occupation that has all but disappeared with the advance of literary professionalism. He's a distinguished poet in the New York School mode, the general editor of the annual series THE BEST AMERICAN POETRY, which just celebrated its tenth year, and a literary journalist, the author of a book on the Paul de Man affair. Lehman's background as a journalist contributes to the strengths of THE LAST AVANT-GARDE; he does an excellent job of rendering the lives and productions of his four central authors.... Lehman is refreshingly and usefully old-fashioned in his focus on the web of particular connections among poets and their friends and supporters, and between poets and the life made available by particular times and places." — Vernon Shetley, Raritan

"In the week and a half since Kenneth Koch's death, nobody has written about his life or his work as well as David Lehman did four years ago when Koch was still alive.... THE LAST AVANT GARDE is David Lehman's highly underrated 1998 profile of the four men who did for American poetry what Pollock and de Kooning did for American art." — Seattle Weekly

"An intelligent, spirited encomium ...and a cultural corrective." — Kirkus Reviews

"A vivid, substantial contribution." — San Francisco Chronicle

"A highly readable, informative compendium of cultural and literary history, literary criticism, and biography that educates the reader about the poets' lives, work, and relationships with each other.... Lehman has issued a challenging proclamation that will compel readers to consider for themselves the scope of the avant-garde." — Contemporary Poetry Review

"[Lehman] has a spirited story to tell and he tells it with spirit." — The New York Times Book Review

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