Contact Highs: Selected Poems, 1957-1987

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"Alan Ansen's first book," James Merrill has noted, "Disorderly Houses (1961), dedicated to both W. H. Auden and William Burroughs, was also his last to be published commercially. Since then this prolific and unpredictable poet's work has been available only in editions of his own devising, distributed to friends at his own caprice. As one of the happy few, I can report that his gifts remain as brightly unnerving as ever."
Though perhaps best known as the model for some of the most flamboyant characters in Beat ...
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Overview

"Alan Ansen's first book," James Merrill has noted, "Disorderly Houses (1961), dedicated to both W. H. Auden and William Burroughs, was also his last to be published commercially. Since then this prolific and unpredictable poet's work has been available only in editions of his own devising, distributed to friends at his own caprice. As one of the happy few, I can report that his gifts remain as brightly unnerving as ever."
Though perhaps best known as the model for some of the most flamboyant characters in Beat fiction (Rollo Greb in Kerouac's On the Road, A. J. in Burroughs's Naked Lunch, Dad Deform in Corso's American Express) and as Auden's secretary (he helped Auden with the syllabification of The Age of Anxiety), Alan Ansen is an accomplished poet in his own right. Having affinities with both the Beats and the New York school of poets, Ansen fuses Beat sensibility with formalist rigor. Contact Highs is the first comprehensive collection of his poetry, and includes a biographical introduction, an afterword by poet Rachel Hadas, and a bibliography of Ansen's elusive works.

"Alan Ansen occupies a specialized evolutionary niche in twentieth-century letters, and his poetry has unjustly been too long obscured by its unfashionable classicism and its author's self-effacing stance towards a poetic career. His writings achieve the scarcely possible: transmuting existence into life." (William Burroughs)

"Ansen is the most delicate hippopotamus of poets with his monstrous classical versifications—he gets conversational fatness 'into stricter order' by use of weird echosyllabics, polyphony, strict rhymeless pindarics, self-annihilating sestinas, mono-amphisbaenic and echo rhyme, skeltonics, versicles & alcaics coherent Palindromes & such like master eccentricities—a hangup on Forms which interestingly pushes academic models beyond polite limits into the area of lunatic personal genius—This is an amazing book, with many sad poems." (Allen Ginsberg)

"Whatever the styles, the cadences are powerfully relentless and informed by an intellectual complexity rare today. As witty as O'Hara, Ansen also plunges into the depths of the human condition. This may be one of the more significant poetry publications of the decade; four stars." (Library Journal)

"[Contact Highs] careens in voice from a tone of bravado—an unwavering insistence on seeing the universe in all its mockery and injustice—to one of unabashed tenderness. And such conflict implies the poetry's central tension: a desire to be immersed in life's drama, rather than merely to judge it. Ansen . . . is a vivid creator of worlds with words, but never too sober in his verbal wizardry. Sly and wild in the manner of Gregory Corso or Allen Ginsberg, the poet marries exultant anarchy to traditional forms. Dismissing 'shameless lyrists' who 'warble their hearts' content,' like an 'eerie oddity' Ansen 'retails his uniqueness' with some bitterness but more brio, and many readers will be grateful." (Publishers Weekly 10-20-89)

"Ansen's poetry . . . joins Apollonian reserve and formal skill to Dionysiac drug taking and homoeroticism. Between those poles, however, he creates a space of truly living poetry. Recommended." (Booklist 10-1-89)

"Beautifully wrought formal (though outrageous) verses. . . . His poems speak for themselves, combining playfulness with astonishing erudition, in the fashion of the better poets of what was in my mind 'the Ginsberg nucleus.'" (Carl Solomon, American Book Review Nov-Dec 90)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This collection, gathering 30 years of work by American expatriate Ansen ( Disorderly Houses ), careens in voice from a tone of bravado--an unwavering insistence on seeing the universe in all its mockery and injustice--to one of unabashed tenderness. And such conflict implies the poetry's central tension: a desire to be immersed in life's drama, rather than merely to judge it. Ansen, who has lived in Greece for the past 25 years, is a vivid creator of worlds with words, but never too sober in his verbal wizardry. Sly and wild in the manner of Gregory Corso or Allen Ginsberg, the poet marries exultant anarchy to traditional forms. Dismissing ``shameless lyrists'' who ``warble their hearts' content,''sic, 95 like an ``eerie oddity'' Ansen ``retails his uniqueness'' with some bitterness but more brio, and many readers will be grateful. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Though relatively unknown, Ansen has been a real actor in literary history for the past 30 years. As amanuensis to Auden, his origins are steeped in formalism. His subsequent introduction to Ginsberg and company radically altered his course. A thinly disguised figure in several of Kerouac's novels, he did drugs with Corso and was very close to Burroughs, and his poetry reflects this wonderfully checkered past. The styles range from the drug-induced ``Heroin'' through a sestina dedicated to Ashbery to Audenesque formalism that rhymes. Whatever the styles, the cadences are powerfully relentless and informed by an intellectual complexity rare today. As witty as O'Hara, Ansen also plunges into the depths of the human condition. This may be one of the more significant poetry publications of the decade; four stars.-- Ivan Arguelles, Univ. of California Lib., Berkeley
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780916583453
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1989
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.57 (w) x 8.43 (h) x 0.72 (d)

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