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.
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
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.
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 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 0-8223-6719-X [ISBN13 978-0-8223-6719-2] 225 pages
The Duke University Press page for the book: link.
Contents: 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
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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.
Rare it is that John Ashbery explains one of his poems. But, in a radio interview in 1966, he did that just. He read "These Lacustrine Cities" and then went line by line offering various sorts of explanations - paraphrase, sources for phrases and words, a sense of the process of composition. Now we have released a PennSound podcast, #18 in our series, featuring this recording, which aired on WKCR. The podcast is 18 minutes long.
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.