John Ashbery

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 & 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.

American poetry after 1975

American Poetry after 1975
Duke University Press
a special issue of boundary 2
(Volume 36, Number 3, Fall 2009)American Poetry after 1975
Duke University Press
a special issue of boundary 2
(Volume 36, Number 3, Fall 2009)
Paperback - $14.00
[ISBN13 978-0-8223-6719-2]
225 pages

It's entirely on-line via University of Pennsylvania library e-resources under "boundary 2 / Duke University Press Journals":

The Duke University Press page for the book: link.

Charles Bernstein / American Poetry After 1975: Editor’s Note / 1
Jim Rosenberg / Bios / The Logosphere / The Finite-Made Evolver Space /3
Peter Gizzi / Eclogues / 9
Christian Bök / Two Dots Over a Vowel / 11
Lytle Shaw / Docents of Discourse: The Logic of Dispersed Sites / 25
Tracie Morris / Rakim’s Performativity / 49
Jennifer Scappettone / Versus Seamlessness: Architectonics of
Pseudocomplicity in
Tan Lin’s Ambient Poetics / 63
Craig Dworkin / Hypermnesia / 77
Jonathan Skinner / Poetry Animal / 97
Herman Rapaport / A Liquid Hand Blossoms / 105
Kenneth Goldsmith / In Barry Bonds I See the Future of Poetry / 121
Joyelle McSweeney / Disabled Texts and the Threat of Hannah Weiner / 123
Brian Reed / Grammar Trouble / 133
Juliana Spahr / The ’90s / 159
Al Filreis / The Stevens Wars / 183
Nada Gordon / Not Ideas about the Bling but the Bling Itself / 203
Marjorie Perloff / “The Rattle of Statistical Traffic”: Citation and
Found Text in Susan
Howe’s The Midnight / 205
Elizabeth Willis / Lyric Dissent / 229
Tan Lin / SOFT INDEX (OF repeating PLACES, PEOPLE, AND WORKS) / 235
Benjamin Friedlander / After Petrarch (In the Rigging) / 241

- - -

The abstract of my essay:

The Stevens Wars
Al Filreis

What reputation and influence has Wallace Stevens had in the years since 1975? The infamous Stevensean disaffection has tended to prohibit definitive legacy, and yet this, in the end, has been productive, forestalling closed arguments among poetics Lefts and Rights, keeping Stevens's work from theoretical alliances until past the point when such would fix its standing in contestations between, for example, theoretical as distinct from historical approaches. To the extent that Stevens can seem anything to anyone, the legacy is of little impact. The many imitations of Stevens's special rhetoric tend to riff on a single poem or idiomatic stance, quick-take attempts at posing in a particular ironic position, one abandoned as quickly as assumed. Among contemporary poets whose own writing contemplates Stevens's overall position, however, a larger pattern does emerge—two Stevenses. First, a meditative Stevens: unagonistic, verbally ruminative, romantic (but called "postromantic"), a repository of human responses, post-Christian yet lyric—a poet whose verse does not make truculent, discordant claims but rather "eke[s] out the mind," forming "the particulars of sounds." Secondly, a languaged Stevens: theoretical, serial, and nonnarrative, metapoetically radical, sometimes satirical (and antinarrative), always obsessive about the state of poetics and insisting on consciousness of the compositional mode as itself a pressure inducing the poem to be composed—a poet whose middle and late seriatic styles befit rather than reject the cyclonic modernist historical modes adopted early and briefly by Eliot, grandly and insistently by Pound, and later by Williams.

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