scholarship on poetry & visual art
My scholarship explores the interdisciplinary poetics of post-WWII innovative American literature with a particular focus on the "second generation" New York School poets and artists, roughly 1960-present. The poets Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley are at the center of this work, including a book project on Berrigan’s poetry and ongoing critical and editorial work on Notley’s writings. Like my teaching with undergraduate students, this scholarship is multimodal—including a digital publishing project, essays, book chapters, interviews, and podcasts—and relies on primary source archival research as well as direct engagement with the writers I study. Excerpts from recent scholarship are included below. This work has been supported by a Fellowship at the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library in Emory University's Rose Library, a Strochlitz Travel Grant to the University of Connecticut, and is regularly highlighted at the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog. My past archival work includes research at Stanford University, the University of California at San Diego, and the University of Essex.
My current book project is the first critical book on the poetry of Ted Berrigan. My interest in Berrigan can be traced back to my undergraduate thesis on Allen Ginsberg and the intersections of Cold War-era politics and poetics.
I also regularly publish about my research on my blog, Crystal Set, which includes an ongoing essay series about rare and out-of-print editions of New York School books.
My forthcoming scholarship includes an essay for Hyperallergic on Alice Notley’s collages, a book chapter on William Burroughs’s “textual infection” of the New York School, and an essay for the Poetry Foundation about the Umbra poet Lorenzo Thomas.
A full list of my published scholarship and reviews is included below, as well as a selection of conference presentations and lectures.
DIGITAL SCHOLARSHIP PROJECT: Alice Notley’s Magazines
This digital publishing project makes available fully searchable facsimile PDF editions of the three different magazines edited by poet Alice Notley. This includes the complete runs of Scarlet (1990-1991) and Gare du Nord (1997-1999), both co-edited with Douglas Oliver, and CHICAGO, a legal-size mimeograph magazine published from 1972-1974 in Chicago and Wivenhoe in Essex, England. Click through to the project page to read the issues, see complete tables of contents, and read the essay “‘Guided by Right Spirit’: The Radical Editorial Vision of Alice Notley and Douglas Oliver in Scarlet and Gare du Nord.”
Bookending a decade of incredible work and new life, Scarlet and Gare du Nord are vital records of the collaborative refusal and care that Notley and Oliver produced together as they moved between New York City and Paris. Scarlet, published in five issues from 1990-1991, seeks to establish a poetry newspaper that is "guided by right spirit," a tacit reference to the political party "Spirit" founded by Will Penniless and friends in Penniless Politics, and tracks the shifting literary and political landscapes concurrent with the First Gulf War and the ongoing AIDS crisis. The magazine's run concluded in March 1992 with the publication of The Scarlet Cabinet, a compendium of books by Notley and Oliver, including the first complete publications of The Descent of Alette and Penniless Politics, both of which were serialized in the magazine. The end of Scarlet also marks the end of Notley's life in New York City in the iconic apartment at 101 St. Marks Place. Five years later in Paris, Notley and Oliver began publishing Gare du Nord, a magazine "to act as a rail crossing-point" between glossy poetry magazines and the emergence of online poetry websites, and more widely, between cultures, between genders, and between genres. The five issues of Gare du Nord span from 1997-1999. The "right spirit" of Scarlet, what they describe as "work which unities vision to concern," extends to Gare du Nord in Notley's and Oliver's commitment to a radical editorial vision that values magazine publishing as an extension of those intimacies, truths, and questions which are the subject of one's life, not a personal marketing strategy or poetic allegiance.
ESSAY: “Unceasing Museums: Alice Notley’s ‘Modern Americans in Their Place at Chicago Art Institute,’” at ASAP/J—with Notley’s original essay republished here (March 2019)
As Notley wanders through the museum over the course of at least two days, she describes a partial renovation of the Art Institute in 1974 that moved portions of the twentieth-century American paintings to a new exhibition space. The renovations instigate a narrative for Notley; the almost magical reordering of these paintings provides a new way for the poet to understand the fluid, contingent arrangements in her writing process. While Notley catalogues the intimate reciprocity she has built with dozens of paintings, much of the essay finds her attention yoked to Excavation, de Kooning’s “midcentury masterpiece,” a painting acquired in 1952 after its showing in the Art Institute’s 60th Annual American Exhibit. Following its acquisition, De Kooning’s Excavation was villainized by Chicago anti-modernists for being a “monstrous” painting. “We doubt,” one critic speculated, “whether there are many Chicagoans who would like to see more and bigger de Koonings and his ilk hanging in the permanent collection.”
ESSAY: “Life in Scatter” on Bill Berkson’s memoir Since When: A Memoir in Pieces at the Poetry Foundation (January 2019)
When Berkson left New York for Bolinas, California, in 1970, Berrigan sent him off with the chiding question, “What are you going to do out there, raise chickens?” Bolinas, a town of fewer than 2,000 people, had an unusually high population of artists. At various points, poets such as Berrigan, Creeley, Joanne Kyger, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Alice Notley, Philip Whalen, Aram Saroyan, Tom Clark, Lewis and Phoebe MacAdams, and Donald Allen called the place home. Berkson’s time there, which lasted into the 1990s, began with his work as the editor and publisher of Big Sky magazine and books under the Big Sky imprint. From 1971 to 1978, Berkson produced a dozen issues of the comic book–size Big Sky, with covers by artists such as Katz, Guston, Joe Brainard, Red Grooms, and the underground artist Greg Irons, renowned for his iconic concert posters for the Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore in San Francisco. The magazine’s second issue, packed with work from New York School poets and Berkson’s new Bolinas neighbors (and featuring on its cover Katz’s ink drawing of a “monster portrait of Edwin Denby”), is a quintessential second-generation New York School document. It packages 1970s rural coolness in a new visual idiom more indebted to Guston-esque cartoonishness than to abstract expressionism. Simultaneously, Big Sky published more than 20 books, many of which—Bolinas Journal (1971) by Brainard, Phoebe Light (1973) by Notley, Gentle Subsidy (1975) by Steve Carey, and Studying Hunger (1975) by Mayer—are gems of that era.
BOOK CHAPTER: “'Fuck work': The Reciprocity of Labor and Pleasure in Joe Brainard's Writing," in Joe Brainard’s Art edited by Yasmine Shamma (Edinburgh University Press, 2019)
As Richard Deming shows, Brainard’s ambitious work ethic and his art’s ‘emphasis on labor, attention, and gratitude’ produces a devotional aura full of humor and free of Pop Art’s ironized repetitions. ‘Devotion is a practice, an activity,’ writes Deming, and rather than Andy Warhol’s machine-like coolness or his friend Ted Berrigan’s goofy sketches, ‘the devotion of [Brainard’s] art is to the act of devotion itself’.[i] Brainard’s 1975 Fischbach Gallery show, a comic, fanciful flood of 1,500 miniatures, is testament enough to his meticulousness. But devotional labor is often a simultaneous articulation of commitment and uncertainty, an act of attentive care that is also an anxiety-ridden self-flagellation. The latter quality is what Lee Wohlfert’s review of the Fischbach show in People describes as Brainard’s ‘rigorous logic,’ the seemingly endless transformation of ‘pack-rat clutter’ into his aesthetic ‘obsessions’.[ii] Brainard’s devotion is a description of the practice that opens up the time for such obsessions to emerge, be arranged, and materialize.
Both in his visual art and his writing, it is Brainard’s aesthetic sense of the glimmering underside of consumerism, not materialism or capitalistic labor as an end-in-itself, that motivates his aesthetic. The objects lining the store shelves—shampoo, soda bottles, clothing—like the objects that he would use in his intricate pop assemblages, attract Brainard’s attention for their aesthetic value—a color, a line, a texture—and not for their use value.
Berrigan’s January 1966 article on Alice Neel, “The Portrait and its Double,” with its titular allusion to Antonin Artaud, serves partly as an opportunity to arrange and merge various influences. Neel’s two 1960 portraits of O’Hara, which are described in the essay, likely drew Berrigan to her work, whose “fiercely independent realist” style, as he describes it, had been suffering from a comparative lack of recognition under the heroic pressures of abstract painting. Here Berrigan is interested in describing the effects of Neel’s tendency to create two portraits of each individual she paints: the first more stable and recognizable, a casual portraiture; the second more allegorical and symbolic, a way of externalizing interior crisis. He describes her doubling as a process of necessary emotional echoing: “Each second portrait has resulted because Alice Neel has seen another person in her subject. Whether what she has seen makes ‘more’ or ‘less’ of the person, or ‘something else,’ both her vision and the new portrait assert the possibility of other results.” The possibility of other results, of repetition and transformation, is also what motivates Berrigan’s acts of doubling, such as when he appropriates the lines of other writers in order to generate new energies, or when the lines of The Sonnets continually reappear in an out-of-sync parade of echoes.
INTERVIEW: "Seeing the Future: A Conversation with Alice Notley" at the Poetry Society of America (October 2017)—an interview on the occasion of Alice Notley: Live in Seattle, a vinyl-record recording of Notley performing released by Fonograf
Nick Sturm: What does it mean to be irreducible?
Alice Notley: Oh, well, everything is. That's the problem with the thing between a university and the people who are working in the field. The university's job is to be conservative, it's their job. They're supposed to say things and hold onto them and teach them and make sure that they're handed on from generation to generation.
The poet's job is this entirely other thing. It's to respond to what's going on right now at the same time as knowing everything already that the university is teaching. It's a very hard job and you don't get paid for it. I've only recently come to see that the world doesn't think very highly of me. I always thought that I would get a great deal of respect for being a poet but then the world really does only respect people whose work is monetary. It's sort of like being a trainspotter or something. I think that's how they think of you, that you're being a trainspotter. I've always thought that it was the greatest thing anyone could be and I thought that everybody must know that it was the greatest thing that anyone could be, that that was what I was trying to do. My parents were willing to go along with me because they were from an earlier generation and even though neither one of them went to college and my father didn't graduate from high school, they respected poetry and it had an aura.
PODCAST: “Teaching the Archives,” episode 416 of Lost in the Stacks, a research library radio show on Georgia Tech student radio WREK (March 2019)
It’s not every day that I have the opportunity to hop on the radio to talk about teaching the archives, let alone to curate a set list of Ted Berrigan-centric New York School-related songs, but that’s exactly what Lost in the Stacks, the research library rock’n’roll radio show at Georgia Tech’s WREK asked me to do for our episode “Teaching the Archives.” It was so fun to be able to talk about the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University and Berrigan’s poetry in such a vivid, energetic medium. Lost in the Stacks describes itself as “the original research-library rock'n'roll radio show! Broadcasting on WREK Atlanta, each show features an hour of music, interviews, and library talk united by a common theme.” It’s an incredible show with episodes about open access issues, citizen archiving, exciting original research, all things library culture, and refreshing perspectives on the work of libraries, archives, and the folks who make them run—plus great music.
Full list of published scholarship and reviews (2010-2019):
“On Joanne Kyger’s chapbook Trip Out & Fall Back,” essay contribution to digital archive series “Chapbooks of the Mimeo Revolution” hosted by Poets House, September 24, 2019: https://digitalcollections.poetshouse.org/digital-collection/chapbook-collection/Trip-Out-%26-Fall-Back
“On James Schuyler’s chapbook The Fireproof Floors of Witley Court,” essay contribution to digital archive series “Chapbooks of the Mimeo Revolution” hosted by Poets House, July 24, 2019: https://digitalcollections.poetshouse.org/digital-collection/chapbook-collection/The-Fireproof-Floors-of-Witley-Court
“‘Fuck work’: The Reciprocity of Labor and Pleasure in Joe Brainard’s Writing,” in Joe Brainard’s Art, edited by Yasmine Shamma. Edinburgh University Press, April 20, 2019: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/joe-brainards-art-9781474436663?cc=us&lang=en&
“Teaching the Archives” episode 416 of Lost in the Stacks, a research library radio show on Georgia Tech student radio WREK, March 15, 2019: http://lostinthestacks.libsyn.com/episode-416-teaching-the-archives?tdest_id=157087
“Unceasing Museums: Alice Notley’s ‘Modern Americans in Their Place at Chicago Art Institute,’” in ASAP/J with republished edition of Notley’s original essay, March 12, 2019: http://asapjournal.com/unceasing-museums-alice-notleys-modern-americans-in-their-place-at-chicago-art-institute-nick-sturm/ and http://asapjournal.com/modern-americans-in-their-place-at-chicago-art-institute-an-article/
“Life in Scatter: Bill Berkson’s memoir reveals a poet both of—and ahead of—his time,” The Poetry Foundation, Jan. 28, 2019: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/149049/life-in-scatter
“‘Thinking with my hands’ in the archive: Second Generation New York School Gems,” Archives and Special Collections Blog, The University of Connecticut, Jan. 14, 2019: https://blogs.lib.uconn.edu/archives/2019/01/14/thinking-with-my-hands-in-the-archive-second-generation-new-york-school-gems/
Review of What is poetry? (Just kidding, I know you know): Interviews from The Poetry Project Newsletter (1983–2009) edited by Anselm Berrigan, Georgia Review, Spring 2018.
“Seeing the Future: A Conversation with Alice Notley,” Poetry Society of America, Oct. 25, 2017: https://poetrysociety.org/features/interviews/seeing-the-future-a-conversation-with-alice-notley
“From J to C: Jack Spicer’s and Ted Berrigan’s Shared Mimeograph Revolution,” Following the Fellows Series in connection with Emory University’s Rose Library Fellowship, August 23, 2016: https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/marbl/2016/08/24/ftf-nick-sturm/
“‘All this pain is necessary’: Amiri Baraka’s SOS: Poems 1961-2013,” ArtsATL, April 4, 2016: https://www.artsatl.org/review-all-pain-necessary-amiri-barakas-sos-poems-1961-2013/
“In the Garble: A Review of Alice Notley’s Negativity’s Kiss,” Fanzine, Feb. 18, 2016: http://thefanzine.com/in-the-garble-a-review-of-alice-notleys-negativitys-kiss/
“The Pollock Streets: Ted Berrigan’s Art Writing, Part I & II,” Fanzine, Dec. 12, 2015 and Jan. 18, 2016: http://thefanzine.com/the-pollock-streets-ted-berrigans-art-writing-part-i/ and http://thefanzine.com/the-pollock-streets-ted-berrigans-art-writing-part-ii/
Review of SOFT THREATS, Alexis Pope. On the Seawall: http://www.ronslate.com/thirteen-poets-recommend-new-recent-titles/
Review of GREAT GUNS, Farnoosh Fathi. On the Seawall: http://www.ronslate.com/fourteen-poets-recommend-new-and-recent-titles/
“Broken Umbrellas”: Authors on Artists Series. Bright Stupid Confetti: http://brightstupidconfetti.blogspot.com/2013/06/authors-on-artists-nick-sturm-on-broken.html
Review of NOTES FROM IRREVELANCE, Anselm Berrigan. Coldfront Magazine.
Review of BRIGHT BRAVE PHENOMENA, Amanda Nadelberg. On the Seawall: http://www.ronslate.com/eighteen-poets-recommend-new-recent-collections/
Review of LEAVING THE ATOCHA STATION, Ben Lerner. Puerto del Sol.
Review of NEW YEAR’S DAY, Genya Turovskaya. Coldfront Magazine.
Review of I WANT TO OPEN THE MOUTH GOD GAVE YOU BEAUTIFUL MUTANT, Bianca Stone. Read This Awesome Book: http://readthisawesomebook.blogspot.com/2012/04/i-want-to-open-mouth-god-gave-you.html
Review of OF LAMB, Matthea Harvey & Amy Jean Porter. Read This Awesome Book: http://readthisawesomebook.blogspot.com/2012/04/of-lamb-by-matthea-harvey-amy-jean.html
Review of OBJECTS FOR A FOG DEATH, Julie Doxsee. Whiskey Island. Republished online in The Volta: http://www.thevolta.org/fridayfeature-objectsforafogdeath.html
Review of EITHER WAY I'M CELEBRATING, Sommer Browning. Whiskey Island. Republished online in The Volta: http://www.thevolta.org/fridayfeature-eitherwayi'mcelebrating.html
Review of CALIFORNIA, Jennifer Denrow. Read This Awesome Book: http://readthisawesomebook.blogspot.com/2011/12/california-by-jennifer-denrow.html
Review of TOPOGRAPHIES DRAWN WITH A DIVINE CHAIN OF BIRDS, Tim Van Dyke. iO: A Journal of New American Poetry.
Review of THE DISINFORMATION PHASE, Chris Toll. Read This Awesome Book: http://readthisawesomebook.blogspot.com/2011/11/disinformation-phase-by-chris-toll.html
Review of chapbooks from Emily Pettit, James Gendron, Luke Bloomfield, Erika Jo Brown, and John Deming, H_NGM_N.
Review of MONEY SHOT, Rae Armantrout. The Laurel Review, Summer 2011. Republished online in The Volta: http://www.thevolta.org/fridayfeature-moneyshot.html
Review of THE NERVOUS FILAMENTS, David Dodd Lee. The Laurel Review, Summer 2011.
Review of FABLES, Sarah Goldstein. The Rumpus: https://therumpus.net/2011/07/fables/
Review of THE TREES THE TREES, Heather Christle. HTMLGIANT: http://htmlgiant.com/reviews/heather-christles-the-trees-the-trees/
Review of DESTROYER & PRESERVER, Matthew Rohrer. On the Seawall: http://www.ronslate.com/nineteen_poets_recommend_new_recent_titles
Review of LE SPLEEN DE POUGHKEEPSIE, Joshua Harmon. Barn Owl Review: http://www.barnowlreview.com/reviews/harmon.html
Review of I AM NOT A PIONEER, Adam Fell, On the Seawall: http://www.ronslate.com/twenty-poets-recommend-new-recent-titles/
Review JEREMY SCHMALL & THE CULT OF COMFORT, Jeremy Schmall. HTMLGIANT: http://htmlgiant.com/reviews/jeremy-schmalls-jeremy-schmall-the-cult-of-comfort/
Review of I HEART YOUR FATE, Anthony McCann. H_NGM_N.
Review of THE BIGGER WORLD, Noelle Kocot. Coldfront Magazine.
Review of THE GRIEF PERFORMANCE, Emily Kendal Frey. Barn Owl Review: http://www.barnowlreview.com/reviews/Frey.html
Review of COME ON ALL YOU GHOSTS, Matthew Zapruder. Barn Owl Review: http://www.barnowlreview.com/reviews/zapruder.html
Select conference presentations and lectures on the New York School:
“‘Guided by Right Spirit’: The Radical Editorial Vision of Alice Notley and Douglas Oliver in Scarlet and Gare du Nord,” New Work on the New York School Symposium, Birmingham University, UK; July 6, 2018.
“‘Thinking of you’: The Sociality of Reading in Ted Berrigan’s Early Books,” Annual Conference, The 45th Annual Louisville Conference on Literature & Culture since 1900, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY; Feb. 24, 2017. Chair of panel.
“Poetry and the Living Archive,” Stokes Center Invited Faculty Lecture at the University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL; Feb. 7, 2017.
“The Archive is Alive at Emory,” with Katy Bohinc and Ali Power at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archive, and Rare Book Library at Emory University, Atlanta, GA; Oct. 20, 2016.
“‘Many things are current’: Ted Berrigan’s Early and Ongoing Prose Works.” Annual Conference, American Literature Association, San Francisco, CA; May 28, 2016.
“Ted Berrigan, William Burroughs, and 1960s Mimeo Magazines.” Lecture in Dr. S.E. Gontarski’s course “Rethinking Textuality at the End of the Gutenberg Galaxy: Beckett, Burroughs, et al.” Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL; Sept. 29, 2015.
“Code Switching ‘the code of the west’: Clear the Range, Ted Berrigan’s Erasure Novel.” Annual Conference, Thinking Serially: Repetition, Continuation, and Adaptation Conference, The Graduate Center, CUNY. New York, NY; April 23, 2015.
“The Textual and Political Pleasures of Bernadette Mayer’s Utopia.” Annual Conference, MadLit 2015, “Dirty Talk: The Forms and Language of Pleasure.” University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI; Feb. 27, 2015.