Jane Freilicher (1924–2014)

Jane Freilicher, 1965.

BELOW IS a slightly expanded version of the text that was read in my absence by Anne Waldman at the Poetry Project celebration of Jane Freilicher on December 12, 2014. It’s in the form of a letter to Jane and her late husband Joe Hazan’s daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hazan, who is also an accomplished painter. Maxine Groffsky’s literary agency represented Robert Rosenblum, Kirk Varnedoe, and the New York School poets James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, and Harry Mathews. She is an editor emeritus of the Paris Review.

Jane Freilicher, Twelfth Street and Beyond, 1976, oil on linen, 50 x 60”.

Dear Lizzie,

It seems so odd. The past few years of us waving at each other across crowded rooms, and Jane and me doing mostly likewise, except for one terrific lunch at Maxine Groffsky’s last year . . .

It was at a Jane-and-Joe party in Spring 1959 that I met almost everyone––including Jane and Joe, Frank O’Hara, Maxine, and a few others––who would be important to me in the following years.

Everyone mentions Jane’s wit and no-nonsense approach to art and everything else, but at the core was that seldom-remarked-upon integrity. She was “Jane” in every respect.

Regrets: Why I never got to write about Jane’s work beats me. Maybe because she never asked––I don’t think she knew how I loved what she did, even though once or twice I tried to tell her. Maybe it went with missing too many of her shows after moving to California.

Speaking of which, one of my favorite moments: Jane alighting from a car in Bolinas after driving up from Santa Barbara, where she had a residency, remarking on the blue-green coastal landscape: “Now I see what the painters here are up against––that awful palette!”

Two of her pictures have brightened my life everywhere I’ve been since getting them, the first soon after that party in 1959, the other, a knockout “Plaster Venus” drawing in the early 1960s. Years later, when I showed her the first one, probably from the mid-1950s––its splurge of white narcissus with a decisive flat orange vertical in the center of the bulbous vase, all in a wilderness of red, green, and blue thumb-size marks––Jane said, “Oh, the years of struggle!"

I could go on, but this is really just to register a feeling of loss as well as what a wonder she was.


Bill Berkson is a poet, critic, and professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, who divides his time between San Francisco and New York.