Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler, 1951-1991, Revised Anniversary Edition

William Corbett, editor

This updated edition of James Schuyler’s letters to three dozen intimates, published on the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth, offers delicious insights into the vital lives, friendships, and sensibilities that sprang from the influential New York School.

On New York in the summertime: “Makes me think Thoreau was right and Whitman was wrong.”

On conducting himself post-breakup: “I would like to do it with as much silence and grace as a loose tongue and a trick knee permit.”

On his sister-in-law’s antipathy toward the town beatnik: “His crimes against society seem to consist of long hair, tight pants and a Honda—I’m not sure which she minds most.”

Such effervescent and scathing takes on life, nature, love, and art are on joyous display in James Schuyler’s letters to John Ashbery, Ron Padgett, Barbara Guest, Alex Katz, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, and many more. They paint an indelible picture of a charmingly self-deprecating gentleman with a deliciously wicked tongue. “Jimmy wrote letters for the most civilized of reasons,” a friend of his once said: “to inform and to entertain.” And that they do, in inimitable style. Peppering his aperçus with the occasional “tout de sweetie” and “pet noire,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Morning of the Poem holds forth on everything from Dante and Delacroix to travel and gardening to the delicate workings of his own poems and those of others. While his tone ranges from the lightly graceful to the racily profane, each letter is exquisitely tuned to its recipient. And they have only grown more savory and valuable with time.