The munificence of Trevor Joyce

At left, Trevor Joyce at the Prague Poetry Festival, 2009. Photo by Pam Brown.

For over four decades Joyce has sought a vitality and innovation in his writing that continues to distinguish his poetry among national and international communities of poets. Here, formal constraint is an enabling device through which the chosen themes, ideas, and source texts are aligned and vivified. Joyce’s willingness to delineate these sources indicates a poetry always in excess of its constituent parts. Sources recur across collections and the notes that organize one poem become a palimpsest for another.

Bruce Andrews: 'Debauching the Sine Wave'

“tipped / lobes”

Corona was the first book by Bruce Andrews that I read, circa 1976. I was drawn to it for its strict, if oblique, economies, but also because its exclusions reveal as much as its manifest content. I suppose my primary “rubric” for poetry is that it not assume a place for itself, but rather that it construct such a place in fidelity to the contingent logic that requires it to be as it is and not otherwise. For better and worse, as they say.

No less intriguing, however, was the sense that Andrews was building — that is, batching and sorting “mouth signatures” via “all kinds / of robbery” — a scalable vocabulary for the work to come, albeit I had no idea of how capacious that scale would soon become. Was the magisterial mayhem of The Millennium Project already present in nuces in the “tipped / lobes” of Corona?


Corona, 2011, collage, digitized print, 16 ½ x 16 ½ inches, by John Ashbery. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

I knew John Ashbery before I met him, by which I mean that I subsequently realized that I’d adopted in my teens and early twenties more or less the same tastes and attitudes as John had a generation earlier.

I actually first came across John’s name as the translator of an essay on Raymond Roussel, the French protosurrealist writer who felt from early childhood that he was predestined for greatness, to the extent that he thought he had been born with a star on his forehead.

'Boiled Dinner'

A tasteless comedy in one act

John Ashbery.
John Ashbery.


Jean Hache-Béret, a famous French poet
Miss Guinevere Moxley, a pursed American poet
Ambrosine Philpotts, a humorless Queer Theorist
James Schuyler, himself
Velma Handler, a powerful literary critic
Pearl Indeterminate, a slightly less powerful literary critic, archrival of Handler
First Café Waiter, an American PhD candidate writing about Jean Hache-Béret
Second Café Waiter, a poet and graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop who blatantly imitates Hache-Béret in his work

Excerpts from 'The Poet as Art Critic'

Acrobats, c. 1972, collage, 3 ½ x 5 ½ inches, by John Ashbery. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

Being an art critic is for the most part a low-paying job. It is particularly insecure if you do not have a position at a university. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was far worse than it is now.