Arts: Live poetry - it's back from the dead

New York Diary
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ON NEW Year's Day, the poet Robbie McCauley asked an audience of hundreds in an East Village church to shout out the names of white people. Taylor Mead, the former Andy Warhol superstar, shouted back: "Barry White!" This was no Baptist revival meeting gone awry but the 25th anniversary of the all-day reading at St Mark's Poetry Project. An audience of 800, the largest since the Seventies, jammed into the church to catch 10 hours of poets - and a generous helping of celebrities cum poet wannabes such as Patti Smith, Eric Bogosian and Jim Carroll. It was like a roots consciousness group for New York's most brooding celebs.

There were the annual poetry fest's staples - down with sexual McCarthyism, up with the Whitmanesque yawp. There were the Steinians, the Ginsbergians, the Untouchables, the poetry graduates reading prettily bland stanzas.

One young experimentalist was complimented by two florid nymphet ravers named Magnolia and Ginger. Another gazed wistfully at what she called "impressive packages" of the male rock'n'roll poets.

The best thing about this event is that it shows that New York poetry, with its 350 monthly readings, isn't dead - though that's not to say it's totally alive, either.

The only New York art form pronounced dead as often as poetry is painting. For a while, gallery owners and critics have argued that painting is making a comeback, as young painters in Brooklyn explore neo-geo patterns and swirls. This week, the gossipy New York magazine carried an article strewn with photos of gleaming-faced 29-year-old painters in front of their colourful canvases.

Damian Loeb is one of those painters - a draftsman now in the big league. At his opening on Thursday, uptown at Mary Boone, Loeb, wearing a policeman's jacket, stood in front of his large photo-realist-like paintings of largely appropriated images. There were Ku Klux Klansmen and the bloody corpse of a half-naked woman on a subway platform with men in Santa Claus costumes reading tabloids. His paintings were on sale for $15,000. Amid the younger men in Pradaish attire was an older man in a houndstooth jacket, one of Loeb's collectors.

He told me that today's art market was "a collector's paradise". "There's so much going on in Damian's pictures," the collector said proudly, referring perhaps to the painting of bubble-headed LA teenagers in a car, with men in fatigues gunning people down behind them.

Loeb and the other new New York painters have been touted as a fresh breed, a firm departure from the decadent Eighties painters, modest, even idiosyncratic, with Loeb's work some of the flashiest of the lot. No monumentalist canvases or monumental prices.

"Painting certainly is alive. I don't foresee it dying any time soon," says David Frankel, a critic for Artforum. He adds that the public pronouncement of painting's new life is "commercial as well as intellectual. For a moment it became important to say that painting was dead. That became a problem for people trying to sell art".

One of the best things about poetry is no one says it's alive to fatten their pocket books. Forty years ago, the poet and critic Frank O'Hara wrote a line that could describe the rush to birth and death certificates in art: "Naming things is only the intention to make things."