Schwerner, Armand

Alternative names
Birth 1927
Death 1999

Biographical notes:

Papers of a well-known performance poet associated with experimental poetry in the New York City area from the mid-1960s to mid-1990s. Educated at Cornell and Columbia universities, Schwerner is the author of nine works of poetry, the most critically famous being The tablets, a serial long poem written over two decades. Schwerner's work is celebrated for its formal innovations and adaptation of chance writing strategies. Schwerner died in February 1999.

From the description of Armand Schwerner papers, 1945-1999. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 47852145


Armand Schwerner was born on May 11, 1927, in Antwerp, Belgium. His family immigrated to the United States in the mid-1930s, and settled in New York City. He attended Cornell University, where he published his first poems in the CORNELL REVIEW. Schwerner then attended Columbia University, earning a B.A. in 1950 and a M.A. in 1964. In 1964 he began teaching English at Staten Island Community College.

In the late 1950s, Schwerner published poems in small magazines, and his first book of poetry, THE LIGHTFALL, appeared in 1963 from Jerome Rothenberg's Hawk's Well Press. During this period he also co-authored with Donald Kaplan a satiric prose book, THE DOMESDAY DICTIONARY, published by Simon and Schuster in 1963.

In the mid-1960s, Schwerner began writing a long serial poem, "The Tablets," which was framed as translations of erratic texts on clay tablets from an extinct culture in the Near East. The first publications of "The Tablets" announced that these poems were "transmitted through Armand Schwerner," who, in turn, represented himself in a fictional form in the poem as the "scholar/translator." Numbered serially, the first eight "Tablets" were published by the Cummington Press in 1968 as THE TABLETS I-VIII, and a subsequent volume, THE TABLETS I-XV, was published by Grossman in 1971. Three subsequent collections of poems gathered expanded versions of "The Tablets," which finally culminated with a posthumous edition of 27 complete tablets, accompanied with journal notes and divigations, from the National Poetry Foundation at the University of Maine in 1999. THE TABLETS were also used in two theatrical productions, one eponymous staging by the Living Theater in their 1989-1990 repertory and another entitled DRAGON BOND RITE, in 1995.

Schwerner's works of collected poetry also include IF PERSONAL (1968); SEAWEED (1969); THE BACCHE SONNETS (1974); THIS PRACTICE (1976); THE WORK, THE JOY AND THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1977); SOUNDS OF THE RIVER NARANJANA (1983); and SELECTED SHORTER POEMS (1999).

Schwerner was adept as a translator, concentrating on work from Native American texts, but he also produced a translation of PHILOCTETES by Sophocles, as well as an incomplete version of Dante's INFERNO, which he was working on at the time of his death. Schwerner read his poetry at dozens of venues throughout his career, often collaborating with other artists, or providing his own musical improvisations.

Schwerner died in February 1999.

From the guide to the Armand Schwerner Papers, 1945-1999, (Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD)


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  • American poetry--20th century


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