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:
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.)
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 Epstein’s Beautiful Enemies. You might have to enlarge the image to read it easily. See the marked block quote in the middle of p. 236.
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 During the reading he performed several poems from his new book, Quick Question, and read two unpublished poems — one of them having been written just a few days earlier.
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.
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.
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’
Thanks to Anna Zalokostas, PennSound’s vast Ashbery page now includes links to segments of a recording of his appearance on The Book Show in 1992. Hosted by Tom Smith, The Book Show was produced by the New York State Writers Institute at SUNY Albany. On this program, Ashbery discusses Flow Chart (1991) and Hotel Lautréamont (1992).