Ashbery's silences sampled

'It reads a kind of ecopoetics back into the poet’s auditory performance.'

In the spring of 2012, Christian Hawkey was invited to participate in a festival celebrating John Ashbery at the New School (called How to Continue: Ashbery Across the Arts). Each participant — poets, dancers, filmmakers — was invited to engage his or her work using a variety of media and disciplines, and Hawkey chose to explore his audio archives, or rather, the various recordings of John Ashbery that Pennsound has compiled over the years, beginning with his 1961 reading for the Living Theater

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. Hawkey became increasingly fascinated with this project because it reads a kind of ecopoetics back into the poet’s auditory (and by extension textual) performance: what is normally elided in recordings (background, room tone, noise) is here entirely foregrounded, and Hawkey thinks this is analogous to, true to, aspects of Ashbery’s own aesthetic, where junk speech or everyday speech (that which is often censored from normative “literary” writing) is, in his work, front and center, foregrounded as sociolect, various vernaculars, ideolects.

Here is the recording.

Christian Hawkey, star of When You Think Of It, is the author of three books of poetry: The Book of Funnels (Verse Press, 2004), Citizen Of (Wave Books, 2007) and Ventrakl (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). He also co-directs, with Rachel Levitsky, OoRS

Here, in order of appearance, are the recordings from which the silences and other forms of ambience were taken:

1. Reading at The Living Theatre, New York City, September 16, 1963

2. Reading at the Washington Square Art Gallery, NYC, August 23, 1964

3. Interview with Bruce Kawin on WKCR Radio, May 5, 1966

4. Reading at YM-YWHA, with an introduction by Richard Howard. Episode #23157: "The Poetry of John Ashbery," March 27, 1967

5. Appearing at Poetry's 19th Annual Poetry Day, WFMT Chicago, November 17, 1973

6. The Songs We Know Best, 1973

7. Potpourri of Poetry Reading at the Naropa Institute, Summer 1975

8. Reading for WBAI-FM, Produced by Susan Howe, New York, May 14 and June 7, 1975

9. Reading in Buffalo, October 15, 1975

10. Reading at Sanders Theater, Harvard University, sponsored by the Woodberry Poetry Room, May 16, 1976

11. Reading at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, May 17, 1977

12. Appearing with Barbara Guest on P.E.N. Portraits, hosted by Anne Fremantle, WNYC, May 22, 1977

13. Segue Series Reading at the Ear Inn with Michael Lally, September 16, 1978

14. Reading at the Science Center, Harvard University, November 9, 1978

15. Lecture on Giorgio de Chirico at the Poetry Project, NYC, March 22, 1979

16. Reading at the University of Arizona, November 4, 1980

17. Reading at Harvard University as part of the Morris Gray Lecture Series, October 16, 1985

18. Reading at the Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, NM, November 20, 1985

19. WQXR Radio Program, New York, April 8, 1986

20. New Letters on the Air: a production of New Letters Magazine, University of Missouri, Kansas City, August 1986, Ashbery's Commencement Address to students at the Kansas City Art Institute

21. Reading in Boylston Hall, Harvard University, November 10, 1987

22. Recording for Radio Helicon, hosted by John Tranter, ABC, June 19, 1988

23. John Ashbery reads Eliot as part of "In Different Voices: T.S. Eliot at 100," organized by Richard Howard, Symphony Space, New York City, October 22, 1988

24. Reading at the Poets' Corner Vespers Service for the Induction of Wiliam Faulkner and Wallace Stevens, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC, October 22, 1989

25. Reading at 92nd Street Y with James Schuyler, November 11, 1989

26. Reading for the Modern Languages Auditorium, University of Arizona, Septeber 12, 1990

27. "Poets Reading in the Village", April 25, 1991

28. Reading excerpts from Flow Chart on WBAI Radio, New York. April 25, 1991

29. Reading and interview on The Book Show, 1992

29. Reading of "Syringa" for WNYC's 50th Anniversary, June 13, 1994

30. 1996 Lyrikmagasinet Reading; May 15

31. Reading for Wednesdays @ 4Plus, University at Buffalo, October 12, 1996

32. Appearing on BBC Radio 3, Contemporary American Poetry Program, July 24, 1999

33. From The Voice of the Poet, 2001

34. Reading at the Kelly Writers House, March 25, 2002

35. In discussion with Al Filreis, March 26th, 2002 must switch (this is before Kelly writer’s house)

36. From The Key West Literary Seminar, 2003

37. John Ashbery, Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series, Beinecke Library, September 20, 2006

38. Mo Pitkin's, New York, June 6, 2007

39. Reading Pierre Martory at "Poets in the Sheep Meadow Fold, AWP, New York, February 2, 2008

40. Reading at Haverford College, February 19, 2008

41. Reading and Forum at The New School, April 15, 2008

42. from State of the Union: a Poetry Reading, at the CUNY Graduate Center, October 30, 2008

 43. New York Review of Books Podcast, 2009

 44. Reading at St. Mark's, Introduced by Charles North, New York, May 14, 2009

 45. Reading for the Tibor de Nagy Gallery 60th Anniversary Program at The New School, New York, January 31, 2011