Alan Ansen
Contact Highs: Selected Poems 1957-1987
Introduction by Steven Moore
Afterword by Rachel Hadas

"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.

    "He is a puritan in a G-string, an anarchic formalist, a golden-hearted ghoul. A temperament of dangerous complexity is sustained by a cosmopolitan literary intelligence unlike any other I know. The present volume should win him that audience so airily forgone, but from the beginning so utterly deserved."--James Merrill

    "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. No one who knows Ansen can call him to mind without seeing his irrepressible grin and, perhaps, thinking of the Chinamen of Yeats's 'Lapis Lazuli'--'Their eyes, mid many wrinkles, their eyes / Their ancient, glittering eyes are gay.' This gaiety and love of life finds ample expression in these extraordinary poems."--William Burroughs

    "Forty years I have known Ansen and his works, poems, essays, memoirs, yet it never occurred to me that he was--or would be--anything but a secret carefully kept between us and the Muse. His little books, privished, kept arriving, and my consciousness of their creator's prowess kept mounting; but only now, upon the gathered evidence of his own choice within the work, can I recognize, and relish, my misapprehension. The poems of Alan Ansen have become, on this showing, an open secret, the corrugated illumination of a whole life, as separate and marginal as any one life can be, as learned and accomplished as prosodic will can make them, wonderfully joined to that other, common life we all hope to live when we are released from the undisclosed freak show. I am amazed that American poetry has lacked this tonality--not Auden's or Kallman's, for all the assiduous apprenticeship--but a resonance of the acknowledged ego, sane, fractious and inquiring, eager for pleasure but appalled by rote . . . I feel as if a national treasure had suddenly been restored to the museum, without my knowing it had been missing! How elevated this poet's Selected Poems soars--Identified Flying Objects, raised aloft by that confided-in Muse, who now holds Alan very close indeed."--Richard Howard

    "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

    "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

    "Thanks to the Dalkey Archive Press, [Ansen] is a rediscovered classic. His work is important and stands on its own. His functioning as catalyst to the other writers makes his work all the more significant."--Miami Sun-Sentinel

    "How on earth he's never been published over the years is unbelievable, a national disgrace. Now the Dalkey Archive has remedied the oversight and given us Ansen's unique style of poetry. With an informative extended introduction and a final afterword it is a book that brings to the light a writer more a cult figure to date than anything else. Step forward Alan Ansen."--Beat Scene (London)

    "This is a valuable book, bringing together as it does a wide selection of Ansen's poetry, an informative outline of his life, an interesting critical survey of his work, and a useful bibliography of his earlier books. It should be of interest to those who like to find out about the minor or fringe figures of the Beat movement, but it would be a pity if that was the only reason for reading it. Ansen ought to be considered in his own right as a poet, and my own view is that he has written sufficient poems of note to justify this kind of attention."--The Kerouac Connection

    "Ansen's work is subversive--in both procedure and in subject matter--of bourgeois sensibility. He investigates subterranean territory, openly exploring drug experimentation and homosexuality. Further, he often uses poetic forms and meter, to undermine them. The art of Ansen's work inheres in the tension between the long poetic line and the shorter metrical verse, between managing the rush of sensory impressions and surrendering to them. At points Ansen is aware that he must do violence to language when he controls it. . . . Contact Highs is a remarkable collection of poetry by an accomplished poet. . . . We should be grateful to Dalkey Archive Press for producing this handsome volume and preserving the work of this rare Beat treasure."--Contact II

    "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

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