"Writing, for me, is a way of 'talking' the way I wish I could talk."
Artist, poet, book designer, cartoonist, memoirist, and gay icon, Joe Brainard is almost uniformly celebrated by those who've read him and too-little known by those who haven't. Now, with a gorgeous edition of his collected writings released this May by the Library of America, he may begin to see something of the wider audience he deserves.
Brainard was part of a small circle of friends--sometimes known as the second generation of the New York School following Ashbery, O'Hara, and their cohort--that has come to define the downtown New York literary scene of the sixties and seventies. These writers, including Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, Peter Schjeldahl, Anne Waldman, and Ron Padgett, have forged a powerful but wildly varied legacy in American letters. But among them it is Brainard, more often a painter or collagist than poet and uncertain of his abilities on even his best days, who might best capture the spirit of our own moment, decades later. In his writing Brainard adopted some of the style of his friend and hero Frank O'Hara, a tireless (often speed-fueled) patter of observance paired with honesty and aphorism. With Brainard the barrier between solipsism and truth is obliterated. There is a strange pop-grace in his famous incantation, implicit in all his work but explicit in his great, generous-hearted memoir: I remember, I remember, I remember.
In this collection, edited by his lifelong friend Ron Padgett, we see Brainard range through hilarity, doubt, worry, lust, vivacity, gossip, and exuberance with always always an effortless originality. It's enough to inspire even the most jaded reader.
Excerpts from The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard
"Reading Isherwood--I am thinking about the difference--the possibility of the difference--of writing about yourself as 'me' as opposed to 'a human being'. And I suspect that yes, there is a difference. And that tho I pretend to write about 'me', I am secretly more aware of myself (writing-wise) as 'a human being' and that this may well be my salvation!" [pp.439-440]
"I want to tell you what I did today. Not because I did anything very exciting. But because I am drunk and I want something to do. And just because I want to tell you what I did today." [p.251]
"Funny, I don't remember having much to do with how I got this way." [p.362]
"Art to me is like walking down the street and saying 'Don't you love that building?' (Too.)" [p.361]
"The little blue flowers on my toilet paper this morning struck me as being more than a bit unnecessary." [p.369]
"Now you know that life is not so simple as I am making it sound. We are all a bit fucked up, and here lies the problem. To try and get rid of the fucked up parts, so we can just relax and be ourselves. For what time we have left." [p.281]