John Ashbery

John Ashbery in conversation with Bruce Kawin, WKCR radio, May 5, 1966

Transcription by Gregory Dunne

For years I have been listening to an interview on WKCR radio, recorded on May 5, 1966, in which John Ashbery did something he rarely did — a close reading or "explanation" of a poem. In this rare instance, it was "These Lacustrine Cities." The whole interview lasts 27 1/2 minutes, but toward the beginning Ashbery reads the poem for interviewer/host Bruce Kawin, after which the poet discusses it for 13 minutes. I am compiling this note during the weekend of John Ashbery's death. I found myself pondering this portion of the poet’s disarming talk about his poem:

“Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.” Well again, you have two conflicting things, three really: disappointment and tears, kind of combining to make something rather beautiful and pleasant to look at, like a rainbow. In other words, a final contradiction, which is one of many, which this poem is made up of, and which life and history are made up of.

For years I have been listening to an interview on WKCR radio, recorded on May 5, 1966, in which John Ashbery did something he rarely did — a close reading or “explanation” of a poem. In this rare instance, it was “These Lacustrine Cities.” The whole interview lasts 27 1/2 minutes, but toward the beginning Ashbery reads the poem for interviewer/host Bruce Kawin, after which the poet discusses it for 13 minutes, after which the poem is recited again.

I am compiling this note during the weekend of John Ashbery’s death. I found myself pondering this portion of the poet’s disarming talk about his poem:

“Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.” Well again, you have two conflicting things, three really: disappointment and tears, kind of combining to make something rather beautiful and pleasant to look at, like a rainbow. In other words, a final contradiction, which is one of many, which this poem is made up of, and which life and history are made up of.

Barbara Guest in C: A journal of poetry

'Looking at Flowers Through Tears' and 'Sturm Nacht'

Barbara Guest's note to Ted Berrigan
Barbara Guest's Note to Ted Berrigan, Courtesy of Fales Library Archive and Hadley Guest

“Dear Ted,” Barbara Guest writes in the note above, “Would they were writ in gold. Affection--though--Barbara.” This was the cover note Guest included with her submission of two poems, “Looking at Flowers Through Tears” and “Sturm Nacht,” for the summer 1964 issue of C: A Journal of Poetry. Guest's poems appeared alongside work by John Ashbery, John Wieners, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, and others; she was the lone woman writer in this and the other two issues in which her work appeared: Volume 1, Number 5 (October/November 1963) and Volume 2, Number 11 (Summer 1965). For a more complete catalogue of the Table of Contents for this and other issues of C, I recommend visiting the RealityStudio site, “Index to the Contents of C: A Journal of Poetry.” Below are the images of the manuscript versions of the two poems from Volume 1, Number 9 (summer 1964) as they appear in the Fales Library archive.

C: A journal of poetry

A collage

C cover by Joe Brainard
“C” cover by Joe Brainard, courtesy of Fales Library Avant Garde Archive

C: A Journal of Poetry  first appeared in May of 1963, edited by Ted Berrigan and published by Lorenz Gude. It became an influential showcase for the work of New York School poets and artists — like Berrigan himself, along with Ron Padgett, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Dick Gallup, David Shapiro, and others — it was a predominantly male list, though Barbara Guest and a few others (including Alice B. Toklas!) made appearances. The Fales Library has only a partial collection of the journal; all of the images included below are from that archive. To match the scattershot nature of the image collection, this commentary will be a collage of quotes from friends and fellow poets of Berrigan's in Nice to See You: Homage to Ted Berrigan, edited and introduced by Anne Waldman for Coffee House Press in 1991.  

John Ashbery in conversation on Close Listening

©Susan Bee, 9-15-08

John Ashbery in conversation with Charles Bernstein on March 18, 2016. Listen here (28:20): MP3. Ashbery talks about his two shows of collages at Tibor de Nagy gallery and the relation of these collages to his poetry; about his engagement with French poetry, including the work of Pierre Martory, Giorgio de Chirico , and Raymond Roussel; and about his love of television cooking shows. 

This is program #148 of Close Listening. Close Listening is produced for Clocktower Radio in collaboration with PennSound. Full series available for streaming or download here.

John Ashbery in conversation with Charles Bernstein on March 18, 2016.

(28:20):  MP3

Ashbery talks about his two shows of collages at Tibor de Nagy gallery and the relation of these collages to his poetry; about his engagement with French poetry, including the work of Pierre Martory, Giorgio de Chirico , and Raymond Roussel; and about his love of television cooking shows. 

'Outside of knowledge'

On the poet-scholar

In the summer 2012 issue of n+1, Nicholas Dames has a pretty good essay describing how contemporary realist novelists of what he calls the “Theory Generation” — educated in American universities after 1980, steeped in deconstruction and poststructuralism — have been “thinking back on their training.”[1] In their novels (including The Corrections, The Marriage Plot, The Ask, A Gate at the Stairs), “contemporary realism has its revenge on Theory” by treating it, in bildungsroman style, as one of the educational “follies of

Forty-five-minute collaborative close reading of Ashbery's 'Just Walking Around' (video)

Here is a video of me leading a forty-five-minute-long collaborative close reading of John Ashbery’s poem “Just Walking Around” at Friends’ Central School in December 2013 — with a group of parents, students, and teachers. The audio isn’t great, but turn up the sound and watch these people grapple with Ashbery’s love of being aimless and counterproductive! 

Twelve poets each teach a poem to high-school students in 20 minutes

Video and audio recordings at PennSound

In 2009 and again in 2010, I invited six poets — each year, so twelve total — to teach one poem each to high-school juniors and seniors. Each session lasted twenty minutes. And we preserved all twelve sessions as video and audio recordings. Go here to watch or listen to them. The poems were:

1. John Ashbery, "This Room"
2. Erin Moure, "The Frame of the Book"
3. Harryette Mullen, "Trimmings"
4. John Keats, "[This living hand]"
5. Yvor Winters, "At the San Francisco Airport"
6. William Carlos Williams, "The Last Words of My English Grandmother"
7. Lorine Niedecker, "[I married...]"
8. Robert Creeley, "The Sentence"
9. Helen Chasin, "The Word Plum"
10. Frank Sherlock, "Wounds in an Imaginary Nature Show"
11. Harryette Mullen, "Zombie Hat"
12. Basho, selected haiku; John Ashbery, "37 Haiku"

Four introductions to John Ashbery across five decades

Kenneth Koch, Richard Howard, David Lehman, Susan Schultz

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

The 35th episode of PennSound podcasts presents an anthology of introductions to readings given by John Ashbery: Kenneth Koch in 1963, Susan Schultz in 1996, David Lehman in 2008, and Richard Howard in 1967.

Ongoing 'Planisphere' notebook

At right: John Ashbery. Photo by Arielle Brousse.

1.

People are much too free with the phrase “a great book of poetry.” They think if the book has ten really good pieces in it then it’s a great book.

They don’t talk that way about albums. For it to be a great album it can’t just have some hits. You have to consider the not-hits, too.

Gertrude Stein anew

A review of 'Stanzas in Meditation: The Corrected Edition'

A Gertrude Stein renaissance is afoot. It is difficult not to think how celebrated Stein is, to paraphrase her Stanzas in Meditation.[1]During the past two years, she made a cameo (played by Kathy Bates) in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and several exhibitions of her art collection circulated at major museums.

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