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).
[»»] Thomas Fink: David Shapiro’s ‘Possibilist’ Poetry [»»] David Shapiro (in conversation with John Tranter, 1984) [»»] David Shapiro: Six poems (from A Burning Interior, 2000) [»»] The Weak Poet [»»] Light Bulb
John Ashbery talks for five minutes on being an art critic and on the influence of Jane Freilicher on his poetry: MP3. The recording was segmented from a longer recording of proceedings at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery 60th anniversary program held at The New School in New York on January 31, 2011. The conversation with Jane Freilicher was moderated by Jenni Quilter. Links to recordings of Ashbery’s other comments during this program are here, on PennSound’s Ashbery page.
1. a vast electrical disturbance 2. a cut-up of student examination papers 3. tremendously funny 4. spanking new/old stuff just out & need-to-get 5. a work that travels at the velocity of glacial drift 6. more complex hygronomy from the author of A Kind of Waffle
When, in the obscure depths and glib surfaces of John Ashbery’s poetry, philosophy paints its gloomy picture of the present world, we see that a form of life has grown old. It cannot be rejuvenated, but only understood. Only when dusk starts to fall does the owl of Minerva spread its wings and fly... these words came to me in
1. the street 2. the form of gray tiles arranged as a rebus in a dream 3. a seizure of earnest talk with a young girl 4. a book 5. the spur of a moment of surprising apprehension 6. a fit of impatience after reading 100 Multiple-Choice Questions
Charles Bernstein commissioned me to write a piece that would bring Wallace Stevens' reputation among contemporary poets up to date - from 1975 to the present. The essay I wrote, as has been noted here before, was published in the fall 2009 issue of Boundary 2. Here is a PDF version of the entire article, called "The Stevens Wars."
In it I discuss the varying responsiveness to Stevens in the writings of (in order of appearance) Susan Howe, Ann Lauterbach, Michael Palmer, Charles Bernstein ("Loneliness in Linden" is a rejoinder to "Loneliness in Jersey City"), Lytle Shaw, Robert Creeley, Jack Spicer, Peter Gizzi, John Ashbery, John Hollander, and again Susan Howe as a very different sort of response than that of Hollander.
Recently my students and I finished up a "chapter" of English 88 on the New York School. The final class in this part of the course was devoted to some collaborative close readings of several poems by John Ashbery: "The Grapevine", "What Is Poetry", and "Hard Times". (Well, the discussion of "Hard Times," due to lack of time at that point, is really just me reading the poem and making a few comments.) A number of people watched the video live on their computers at home and work, and several of them telephoned in to ask questions or make comments. Here's your link to the video recording of the class.