John Ashbery

Ashbery on the decision to write short vs. long poems (and more)

New at PennSound

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).

  1. reading "Light Turnouts" (0:43): MP3
  2. introduction (0:56): MP3
  3. the writing of Hotel Lautreamont and the figure of Lautreamont (3:43): MP3
  4. discussing the title poem and the implications of the hotel (3:58): MP3
  5. when the poems in Hotel Lautreamont were written in relation to Flow Chart (1:21): MP3
  6. deciding to write short v. long poems (2:55): MP3
  7. the evolution of Flow Chart (1:10): MP3
  8. Ashbery describing his writing process (3:44): MP3
  9. cultural noise as inspiration and all-inclusivness as an overriding aesthetic concern (3:15): MP3
  10. abstract expressionism in relation to his poetry (2:13): MP3

David Shapiro

Feature in Jacket 23

David Shapiro lives surrounded by art and music. Photo by Claudio Papapietro for
David Shapiro lives surrounded by art and music. Photo by Claudio Papapietro for the Riverdale Press, copyright © Claudio Papapietro and the Riverdale Press, 2009. Used with permission.

[»»] 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

Ashbery on Jane Freilicher and on being an art critic

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.

Veronica Forrest-Thomson

 Photo credit: Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Cambridge, 1972, copyright © Jonathan C
Photo credit: Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Cambridge, 1972, copyright © Jonathan Culler 1972, 2001

Jacket 14 carries an article by Brian Kim Stefans on the British poet Veronica Forrest-Thomson. (You can read it here.)

I had been excited by her first critical book, and had  been waiting for decades to find someone as smart as Brian to introduce her to a wider public. His piece begins:

One of the misfortunes of the lack of attention being paid to English poetry of this century is the obscurity of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, a poet who died in 1975 at the age of 27. Forrest-Thomson is the author of Poetic Artifice, a book that outlined a theory of poetry from a critical perspective — i.e. a tool to determine the success or failure of a poem rather then merely a vocabulary for describing the phenomenon of a “poem” — but one which, rather than confirming or resisting a “tradition,” concentrated on those elements of the poem that resist quick interpretation or, in her terms, “naturalization” by the reader or critic.

John Ashbery's jacket

Photo of John Ashbery wearing a jacket: by John Tranter (R77-8)
Photo of John Ashbery wearing a jacket: by John Tranter (R77-8)

I first came across John Ashbery’s work in the late 1960s. It had a great influence on my own poetry. As I say in my 2009 doctoral thesis, “the three poets who have most influenced [my] work [are] Arthur Rimbaud, the Australian hoax poet ‘Ern Malley’, and the contemporary US poet John Ashbery.”

The connections are interesting. As a young man, Ashbery lived in France for a decade, and he has recently translated Rimbaud’s “Illuminations”. Ern Malley: back in 2002 John wrote a few poems in the “voice” of “Ern Malley”, whose writing inspired him as a young man at Harvard. Jacket number 17 publishes two of these poems, “Potsdam” and “Aenobarbus”, here.

Wallace Stevens of the New York School

At a conference entitled "Wallace Stevens, New York, & Modernism," hosted by NYU, I gave a paper in which I somewhat puckishly imagined Stevens as a New York School poet.

Ashbery on memory and aging

Here's an audio clip of John Ashbery talking about memory and old age. (And here's the context for that statement.)

Tom Clark reviews '100 Multiple-Choice Questions' by John Ashbery

From Jacket #15 (December 2001)

100 Multiple-Choice Questions is

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

The Stevens wars

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.

Teaching Ashbery

A Video

Engilsh 88, November 2008, Arts Cafe of the Kelly Writers House, Philadelphia

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.

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