A Comprehensive Poetry Anthology Remembers a Vibrant Era in Buffalo
by Jan Jezioro
An Outriders Anthology: Poetry in Buffalo 1969-1979 and After by Jan Jezioro (Outriders Poetry Project, 2013)
…the Indian and White man’s
City-Without, the Hole-in-the-Scheme,
Refuge, the “Paris”-Sewer…”
—Charles Olson, “Buffalo Ode”
One of the most influential poets of post World War II America, Charles Olson served as a visiting faculty member of the University at Buffalo from 1963 to 1965, after serving first as a visiting professor, then later as rector, at Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1951 to 1956, when the college closed. Olson, who worked with musician John Cage and poet Robert Creeley, influenced a generation of American poets, so it is fitting that the lines from his poem ‘Buffalo Ode’ were selected by Max Wickert, retired professor of English at UB and the editor of An Outriders Anthology: Poetry in Buffalo 1969-1979 and After, as the epigraph to the new collection published by the Buffalo-based Outriders Poetry Project. The collection features the chronologically arranged poems of more than 130 poets, based on their first reading for the Outriders, a complete roster chronicling the professional careers of participating poets, and a detailed chronology of literature and the arts in Buffalo, 1960-1980.
Wickert’s introduction is peppered with personal anecdotes of those heady times, including the student strike in the spring of 1970, and the arrest of several faculty members, including Wickert, who defied the university administration’s injunction against unauthorized assembly, enforced by a heavy-handed Buffalo police contingent in riot gear who patrolled the campus with guard dogs. On a lighter note, Wickert’s strange, first encounter, after a booze- and weed-fueled party with the one of his idols, “one-eyed Creeley”, has an almost surrealistic quality to it, but in the event, “neither he nor I ever mentioned the episode again.”
Olson left UB a year before Wickert joined the faculty, but Wickert writes, “I certainly felt the aftershocks of his presence. He had been a star appointment in Albert Cook’s ambitious and audacious hiring plan and he had exploded onto the campus, changing heads and lives.” These were exhilarating times for the UB Department of English, which hired such luminaries, or soon-to-be luminaries, as Leslie Fiedler, Creeley, Irving Feldman, John Logan, Mac Hammond, Carl Dennis, and John Barth.
Outriders was formed in 1968 as a reading exchange between young and not-yet-established poets, when Logan and Wickert were invited along with several of their graduate students to give a reading at Syracuse University. “We thought up the Outriders moniker (academics that we were) as an allusion to the Monk in The Canterbury Tales,” writes Wickert, “who, although vowed to stay cloistered by the Benedictine Rule, had license to travel as an ‘outridere’ to far-flung monastic properties, and indeed to go on pilgrimage. Young twentieth-century American poets, who worked mostly in colleges in (we imagined) monk-like isolation, would surely benefit by visiting one another, especially if youth or obscurity prevented their being invited and paid to read under more prestigious auspices. We hoped to become an ever-growing pro bono network of creative writing students. Though unable to pay each other, we could at least help out with rides, meals, beds, publicity and expenses.”
For whatever reasons, the return visit by the Syracuse poets never happened, and in early 1970 the Outriders modified their agenda. As Wickert notes, “Buffalo poets would still ‘ride out,’ but into the local community rather than to far-away colleges and bars.” The Outriders reading series in bars took place over a period of 10 years in frequently shifting venues, including Aliotta’s on Hertel, The Library on Bailey, The One-Eyed Cat on Bryant Street, and the original Tralfamadore Café at Main and Amherst. By this time, Outriders was also involved in various supplementary activities, including the pilot program of Buffalo’s Poetry-in-the-Schools program.
“The last sets of Outriders reading at the Tralfamadore,” Wickert writes, “overlapped with the 1978 and 1979 Buffalo Summer Poetry Festivals. During the late ’sixties and early ’seventies, the UB English Department had enjoyed the luxury of adding a prestigious visiting summer faculty to its already illustrious permanent one. These included poets of stellar reputation like Amiri Baraka, Basil Bunting, Gregory Corso, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, William Empson, Galway Kinnell, Kenneth Rexroth, Nathaniel Tarn and James Wright, to say nothing of novelists and critics like Kenneth Burke, Anthony Burgess, Hugh Kenner, Harvey Swados, and Tzvetan Todorov.”
But money, perhaps inevitably, dried up, and the weekly readings stopped in 1979.
“Outriders then hibernated until revived in 2009 as a small press,” says Wickert, when it published its first volume, The Spaces Between Us, by the under-valued Buffalo-based poet Ann Goldsmith. It continues to issue new volumes, the latest being the Outriders annual competition winner, Venus Transit, by Jerry McGuire.
A book-launch reading and reception will take place on Wednesday, April 17, 7:30pm, at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington Street. Admission is free. Visit www.outriderspoetryproject.com for more information.blog comments powered by Disqus
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