Al Filreis

John Ashbery in conversation with Bruce Kawin, WKCR radio, May 5, 1966

Transcription by Gregory Dunne

For years I have been listening to an interview on WKCR radio, recorded on May 5, 1966, in which John Ashbery did something he rarely did — a close reading or "explanation" of a poem. In this rare instance, it was "These Lacustrine Cities." The whole interview lasts 27 1/2 minutes, but toward the beginning Ashbery reads the poem for interviewer/host Bruce Kawin, after which the poet discusses it for 13 minutes. I am compiling this note during the weekend of John Ashbery's death. I found myself pondering this portion of the poet’s disarming talk about his poem:

“Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.” Well again, you have two conflicting things, three really: disappointment and tears, kind of combining to make something rather beautiful and pleasant to look at, like a rainbow. In other words, a final contradiction, which is one of many, which this poem is made up of, and which life and history are made up of.

For years I have been listening to an interview on WKCR radio, recorded on May 5, 1966, in which John Ashbery did something he rarely did — a close reading or “explanation” of a poem. In this rare instance, it was “These Lacustrine Cities.” The whole interview lasts 27 1/2 minutes, but toward the beginning Ashbery reads the poem for interviewer/host Bruce Kawin, after which the poet discusses it for 13 minutes, after which the poem is recited again.

I am compiling this note during the weekend of John Ashbery’s death. I found myself pondering this portion of the poet’s disarming talk about his poem:

“Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.” Well again, you have two conflicting things, three really: disappointment and tears, kind of combining to make something rather beautiful and pleasant to look at, like a rainbow. In other words, a final contradiction, which is one of many, which this poem is made up of, and which life and history are made up of.

Discussion of Elizabeth Willis's "Survey"

Elizabeth Willis at the Kelly Writers House

Today we are making available — through the ModPo site — a discussion, hosted by me, with Emily Harnette, Anna Strong Safford, and Amaris Cuchanski, of Elizabeth Willis's "Survey." It's one of the new poems in Willis's recent New & Selected Poemstitled Alive. This link

https://www.coursera.org/learn/modpo/resources/rdFga

— will take you inside the ModPo site, which is free and open (but one must enroll for access).

Here is a link to the text of the poem. And here is a link to the PennSound recording of Willis performing the poem (at Kelly Writers House).

Caroline Bergvall's introduction to 'VIA'

Click here to view a full-sized scan of the introduction Caroline Bergvall wrote to her poem “VIA” for the collection titled Fig (Salt Books, 2005). A ten-minute recording of Bergvall performing “VIA” is available at PennSound. Episode #64 of the podcast series PoemTalk is a discussion of “VIA.” I have published a note on two versions of the piece here. A twelve-minute video discussion of “VIA” produced for the open online course ModPo is available here.

Dan Hoffman on 'The Raven' (video)

The late poet-critic Dan Hoffman, who years ago wrote Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, talks about “The Raven” at the Kelly Writers House. (To see other clips from Writers House programs on YouTube, click here.)

Zero Visibility, by Grzegorz Wróblewski

Grzegorz Wróblewski’s new book, Zero Visibility, translated by Piotr Gwiazda*, has reached me — and I’m thrilled to have it. Wróblewski is constantly fascinating; he is often precise and whacky both. Many modes are here in this new book. One — perhaps my own favorite — is surrealist post-Soviet consciousness:

Cosmonauts

What was going through his mind when for the first time in his life
my dog saw a horse? He frozen like a statue, erect, hypnotized.

It was as if he had encountered a space alien.
He didn’t move until the horse disappeared over the horizon …