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 During the reading he performed several poems from his new book, Quick Question, and read two unpublished poems — one of them having been written just a few days earlier.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.
Poet, translator and essayist Murat Nemet-Nejat’s most recent work includes the poem The Spiritual Life of Replicants (Talisman House, 2011), the translation of the Turkish poet Seyhan Erozçelik’s Rosestrikes and Coffee Grinds (Talisman House, 2010), and the memoir/essay “Istanbul Noir” (in Istanbul: Metamorphoses in an Imperial City, Talisman House, 2011). Nemet-Nejat’s translation of the Turkish poet Birhan Keskin’s book Y’ol (Ro(a)de) will be published in 2012. He is currently working on “Things,” part VI of the seven-part poem, “The Structure of Escape,” of which The Spiritual Life of Replicants is part V.
On January 31, 2012, Murat visited the Kelly Writers House and read, in part, from The Spiritual Life of Replicants and spoke about the structure of “The Structure of Escape.” I recommend to readers of this commentary the audio and video recordings of that reading. After the event, I asked Murat if he would like to write for Jacket2 about his seven-part project, and he agreed. Here, below, is what he has written. — Al Filreis
I was honored recently to be asked by Kevin Varrone to read and record a section of his emergent long series poem on baseball, Box Score. Above is the section he asked me to perform, and here is the recording I made for him. I can’t wait to see (and listen to) this book.