A Gertrude Stein renaissance is afoot. It is difficult not to think how celebrated Stein is, to paraphrase her Stanzas in Meditation.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.
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 During the reading he performed several poems from his new book, Quick Question, and read two unpublished poems — one of them having been written just a few days earlier.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.