John Ashbery

An introduction to basic New York School modes

an old mini-lecture prepared for an online course

For my survey of modern & contemporary American poetry (English 88) I once (1999) made a recording of a really basic mini-lecture on three fundamental types of New York School poems: anti-narrative, non-narrative, pastiche. The whole thing is plausible enough, although obviously there are more "types" and much more to say about pastiche. Recently we converted a RealAudio file of this recording and produced a new mp3, which I've linked to "chapter 8" of the course. So here is that old talk as an mp3.

The beginnings concept (PoemTalk #9)

John Ashbery, 'Crossroads in the Past'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Our PoemTalkers — this time, Gregory Djanikian, Tom Devaney and Jessica Lowenthal — gathered to talk about a late poem by John Ashbery, “Crossroads in the Past,” from his book Your Name Here (2000). Amid the usual Ashberyean ontological bounty, here’s a poem that disentangles the crossed lines of narrative middles and ends (and beginnings). Straightens things out, or at least imagines the goodness of such straightness. And indulges in a nostalgia for the way things were at the start.

Is it age — or the loss of a loved one — that draws an anti-narrative poet to beginnings at the end? That, in short, is the question we posed of this poem. And does such a thing undermine a career-long devotion to middles with implied pre-stories? The wind blows in the direction it blows, and can’t be “wrong.” What about a “relationship”? Can — or should — a relationship be talked back to its beginnings, a narrative housecleaning?

Jessica and Greg decided finally that the apparently definitive ending dead-ends in an obvious imagery and sentiment. Tom and Al disagreed, seeing the poem as thus a meta-poem: a poem about the poet who has reached a point where he must re-imagine “the beginnings concept” and who realizes its failure.

John Ashbery read this poem as a Kelly Writers House Fellow in the spring of 2002. We have video recordings of the reading and an interview/conversation moderated by Al Filreis.

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