Rare Book Monthly
Daisy Aldan: An Appreciation of the Poet as Teacher
By Renée Magriel Roberts
The profession of “poet” has always been an economically marginal, readily forgotten occupation. So few poets achieve recognition in the canon of literature, while the vast majority labor for little or no economic reward. Ordinarily we encounter poets in books, with no experience of the person in real life.
From 1960 to 1964, in what I have always viewed as an almost mystical time in my life, I was fortunate enough to attend the High School of Art & Design, one of New York City’s special high schools. This period (mid 60’s) was kind of a time warp, where art education was actually funded and supported. The new principal, John B. Kenny, who was a gifted artist in his own right, hired real artists and writers to work at the school — as opposed to art education majors, or folks who had studied art theory. Sculptors from Steuben Glass taught me ceramics; Tom Wesselmann, the Pop artist, was my illustration teacher. And Daisy Aldan, a gifted poet and editor, was hired to teach English, specifically poetry, and to manage the literary magazine. The idea of the “artist-in-residence” was integrated throughout the school structure, as opposed to being like an alien from another planet surrounded by traditional classroom goings-on.
What this meant, for us students, was that we were literally surrounded by excited, working artists. It was a school that nobody ever wanted to leave, overflowing with incredible work, music, literature, an excitement that also translated into the “core” subject areas. It was a very happy school.
Having Miss Aldan as a teacher, was like having a combination of the European continent and the Greenwich Village literary scene brought into the classroom. We were fascinated, but largely unaware of the importance of the writing and the people to whom we were introduced. For example, one day she brought Anaïs Nin to our class to talk about Cities of the Interior. We were constantly exposed to the work of European and American poets, especially those of the Beat Generation whom Miss Aldan knew well, for she was not only a poet and a teacher, but also the editor of a publication called “Folders”, which included original and reproduction art works and poetry. By combining translation work (she was a gifted translator of Mallarmé, Anaïs Nin, Rudolf Steiner, and Arthur Steffen), writing, teaching, and editing and promoting the work of others, Miss Aldan created a viable living for herself, and also afforded herself the luxury of not only writing luminous poetry, but of having the time to encourage others to write as well. Our classes were filled with music, experimental writing, and rich mythological studies.