John Ashbery

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.

Ten newly found recordings of poems performed by Ashbery

Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, we at PennSound have just now located recordings of ten of John Ashbery’s poems. They had been preserved in a Segue Series audio tape, dating from a 1978 reading Ashbery did with Michael Lally at the Ear Inn. We had left the Ashbery portion of this reading not quite identified, and have now corrected that oversight. On Ashbery’s PennSound page now, and on the Segue series page, you will now see — and can hear — these segments:

  1. A Box and its Contents (1:42): MP3
  2. The Heralding Shadows of a New Adventure (2:01): MP3
  3. Haunted Landscape (3:28): MP3
  4. Five Pedantic Pieces (1:02): MP3
  5. The Cathedral Is (0:17): MP3
  6. Silhouette (2:36): MP3
  7. A Tone Poem (0:59): MP3
  8. Metamorphosis (2:26): MP3
  9. Sleeping in the Corners of Our Lives (1:21): MP3
  10. from Litany (19:59): MP3

John Ashbery's "The Skaters": digital edition and archive

It is my great pleasure to announce Robin Seguy's  genetic edition of John Ashbery's great poem "The Skaters." This is the first in the newly created Text/works series, a digital library that intends to make freely accessible critical editions and analytic tools for an array of 19th to 21st century French and American poetry collections.

Jane Freilicher, back at Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Yesterday, during a poetry reading at Tibor de Nagy Gallery for Jane Freilicher, “Painter among Poets,” Lawrence Schwartzwald photographed Freilicher, now 88, gazing at the iconic image taken in 1952 by photographer Walter Silver of her and John Ashbery at Tibor de Nagy. (Photographs should not be reproduced without consent of the photographer.)

Further notes on my obsession with "Some Trees"

It's a love poem but perhaps, ultimately, it's directed at someone in particular.

Perhaps John Ashbery’s “Some Trees” is a love poem for Frank O’Hara. They met at the time the poem was written, and they shared a twangy, bumpkin, non-Harvard accent. “These accents seem their own defense.” See, above, two pages from Andrew Epsteins Beautiful Enemies. You might have to enlarge the image to read it easily. See the marked block quote in the middle of p. 236.

Ashbery live webcast interview: audio recording segmented by topic

New at PennSound

On February 12, 2013, I interviewed John Ashbery in his Chelsea (New York, NY) apartment, and moderated a discussion with people gathered at the Kelly Writers House, while many hundreds more watched via live webcast. Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, PennSound’s Ashbery page now offers the audio-only version (in downloadable MP3 format, as always) of the discussion, and, also, links to audio excerpts segmented by topic. Here are those segments:

  1. on humor in Ashbery’s poems (3:53): MP3
  2. on Ashbery's relationship to nature and the country (4:00): MP3
  3. on “Auburn-Tinted Fences,” “Soonest Mended,” and living outside the margin (7:13): MP3

Ashbery interviewed, 2013

On February 12, 2013, I interviewed John Ashbery in his Chelsea apartment, and moderated a discussion with people gathered at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia while hundreds watched via live webcast. The live webcast, of course, was recorded and here is a link to the YouTube recording of the GoogleHangout video. Ashbery was the first of three 2013 Kelly Writers House Fellows, and this was his second time as a Fellow; he is the only writer, in 14 years of the series, to be asked to serve as a Fellow twice. The previous visit was in 2002. On Monday, February 11, the poet met for three hours with students in the KWH Fellows Seminar and then gave a public reading (also available as a recorded webcast). During the reading he performed several poems from his new book, Quick Question, and read two unpublished poems — one of them having been written just a few days earlier.

Ashbery's silences sampled

"It reads a kind of ecopoetics back into the poet’s auditory performance."

In the spring of 2012, Christian Hawkey was invited to participate in a festival celebrating John Ashbery at the New School (called How to Continue: Ashbery Across the Arts). Each participant — poets, dancers, filmmakers — was invited to engage his or her work using a variety of media and disciplines, and Hawkey chose to explore his audio archives, or rather, the various recordings of John Ashbery that Pennsound has compiled over the years, beginning with his 1961 reading for the Living Theater

He became especially interested in listening to the room tone and background noise in all the recordings: the recorded texture of the room, the sound made by the recording device itself, and the non-vocal presence of Ashbery himself (a page turning, lighting a cigarette, sipping from glass of water and swallowing). Working with a friend, the artist Simone Kearney, Hawkey scanned the roughly 45 extant recordings on Pennsound to find, in each one, a clip of “silence” — a brief 3-to-7-second non-vocal moment (longer proved impossible to find) between poems, or between commentary and poems, or between title and poem. They then assembled the clips into one audio file.

It was surprisingly difficult to do this, they found, since most sound engineers remove as much dead sound and background sound as possible, or they snip off the silence at the beginning or end of a reading.

Ashbery: 64 indispensible poems

In the past two months I've systematically re-read every poem John Ashbery has published, from earliest to current (Quick Question, 2013), and in the second half of that time I've taught (or, rather, led discussions with my students on) several hundred poems. For whatever it’s worth (I don't suppose much), here is my list of 64 poems I deem indispensible to a whole understanding of Ashbery’s writing. Note that six of these 64 “greatest” are from his newest book.

Ern Malley

Brilliant hoax poet

Man believed to be Ern Malley, Sydney to Melbourne night express, 29 April 1941,
Man believed to be Ern Malley, Sydney to Melbourne night express, 29 April 1941, Sun Photo Archive.

Jacket 17 is perhaps my favorite among all the forty glittering habiliments; exploring a dozen aspects of fakery and forgery, which one distinguished contributor identifies as the very heart of poetry. The jewel in the crown of Jacket 17 is the Ern Malley hoax of 1943: it inspired Ashbery as a young man, and opened the world’s eyelids to the dark energy from the bottom of the planet. Here it is, in relentless detail:
Faking Literature: Patrick Herron: Ken Ruthven’s Faking Literature (and Ern Malley)
Faking Literature: The Bibliography Ken Ruthven: — 25 pages of rare and hard-to-find source materials (including Ern Malley)
Girls on the Run: Michael Leddy: Lives and Art: John Ashbery and Henry Darger (and Ern Malley)
John Ashbery and John Kinsella and John Tranter (and Ern Malley) — ‘The Ern Malley poems’

Ern Malley Feature
Ethel Malley — Letter to Max Harris, 28 October 1943
David Lehman — The Ern Malley Hoax — Introduction

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