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Posts Tagged ‘John Ashbery’

The Age of Udge

September 2, 2015 | by

Learning a word from John Ashbery.

From Edward Burtynsky’s Oil, 2012, color photograph.

It started, as things sometimes do, with an Ashbery poem: “Staffage,” from his book A Wave.

The poem is more than thirty years old now, and it’s remarkable how well it captures the generation then just being born: “I am one of a new breed / Of inquisitive pest” (the poem makes clear-ish that this is a pest from the perspective of the older speaker, not in the eyes of the poet himself) “in love with the idea / Of our integrity, programming us over dark seas / Into small offices, where we sit and compete / With you, on your own time.”

It’s a kind of prophecy Ashbery can still pull off, for instance with the artisanal children of today in a poem from 2015’s Breezeway called “Seven-Year-Old Auroch Likes This”: “Will research tell us tomorrow / of normal morals? Take a Brooklyn family / in fracture mode, vivid, / energizing, throbs to the earlobes … Exeunt the Kardashians.” I predict this poem will make perfect sense in thirty years. Read More »

The Clear Movie-Theater Dark

July 28, 2015 | by

53

From the cover of Issue 53, by Louis Cane.

Happy eighty-eighth to John Ashbery. Many of his poems from the Review are available online, but I wanted to share a meditative passage on film from “The System,” a long prose poem published as fiction in our Spring 1972 issue.

In 1971, Ashbery read from “The System” at St. Mark’s Church, in New York. Someone captured his prefatory remarks on tape, and they’re pretty illuminating in suggesting an approach to the poem:

Oh. I don’t think I have the last page of it with me. Well, it doesn’t really matter, actually. I don’t … I do like the way it ends, but it’s kind of an environmental work, if I may be so bold. If you sort of feel like leaving at any point, it won’t really matter. You will have had the experience. You’re only supposed to get out of it what you actually get out of it. You’re not supposed to really take it all in … you know, think about other things. I am disturbed that it’s incomplete, but maybe that’s good.

You can read the whole thing in Issue 53. Read More »

James Tate, 1943–2015

July 9, 2015 | by

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James Tate at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in 1965. Photo: Elsa Dorfman

James Tate, who wrote that the main challenge of poetry “is always to find the ultimate in the ordinary horseshit,” died yesterday in Massachusetts at age seventy-one. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the William Carlos Williams Award, Tate’s poems were “always concerned to tell us that beneath the busyness and loneliness of our daily lives, there remains in us the possibility for peace, happiness and real human connection,” wrote Adam Kirsch in the New York Times.

Tate was born in Missouri but lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, since 1971. “I’ve imagined that every character and every single event takes place in this town, Amherst,” he once confessed. But John Ashbery once opined that Tate is a “poet of possibilities, of morph, of surprising consequences, lovely or disastrous, and these phenomena exist everywhere.”

His poetry is often described as absurdist, and indeed the speakers in his poems come across as bewildered narrators who are as inquisitive as they are clueless—which is all part of their charm. His poetry has also been described as comic, ironic, hopeful, lonely, and surreal; “I love my funny poems,” he said, “but I’d rather break your heart. And if I can do both in the same poem, that’s the best.Read More »

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Gluey and Scissory

June 18, 2015 | by

Ashbery_Bingo Beethoven_2014_collage on vintage Bingo board_8.25x7.5in_300dpi

John Ashbery, Bingo Beethoven, 2014, collage on vintage bingo board, 8 1/4" x 7 1/2". Photo courtesy Tibor de Nagy

Our Spring 2009 issue featured eleven collages by John Ashbery, who’s been working in the medium since he was an undergrad at Harvard—roughly the same time he began to write poetry. “One thing he obviously values in collage is its implied anyone-can-do-it modesty, its lack of high-artiness, its resistance to monumentality,” the New York Times says of his art:

His own collages have this character. They’re light and slight. They feel more like keepsakes than like art objects, souvenirs of a life and career that gain interest primarily—some might say entirely—within the context of that life and career.

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The Guillotine Messes with Your Head, and Other News

May 27, 2015 | by

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Unknown printmaker, Les formes acerbes, 1810.

  • You probably haven’t been worrying about John Ashbery, but if you have, don’t—he’s still got it. His new collection, Breezeway, expands the range and influence of what might be called his trash magic; reading his poems “is sometimes unnerving, as though somebody had given you your own garbage back as a gift, cheerfully wrapped. Ashbery is nearly eighty-eight; more than ever, his style is a net for the weirdest linguistic flotsam.”
  • The photographer Mary Ellen Mark is dead at seventy-five. She was known for the intimacy of her photographs and for her unflinching choice of subjects: prostitutes, homeless teenagers, mental patients, and heroin addicts. But her earlier goals were more modest: “She had two main ambitions in high school … to become the head cheerleader and to be popular with boys. She succeeded at both.”
  • Nothing begets insanity like a bloody revolution—and so the French Revolution seems to have left a preponderance of madness in its wake. The journals of Philippe Pinel, a contemporary French physician, remark on the era’s various delusions, such as “that of the clockmaker, convinced that he had already been guillotined. Somehow the verdict had been reversed, but his head had become confused with others in the basket and he had been given back someone else’s … Pinel staged an intervention, this time by a fellow patient who cheerfully pointed out the absurdity of his delusion. The clockmaker ‘retired confused amid the peals of laughter all around him and never again spoke of his change of head.’”
  • This is graduation season, wedding season—and Father’s Day is just around the corner. You need gifts that bespeak of your intense thoughtfulness and generosity. Here’s one: a gold locket containing a strand of Mozart’s hair. Estimated value: twelve thousand euros.
  • Reminder: Los Angeles is a complicated place. “Growing up in L.A. taught me that beautiful people get away with practically anything: it is an aesthetocracy. To be beautiful is to transcend, to move through the world frictionlessly, as consistently pleasant as the weather: temperate, no clouds, photo ready … It is possible to become so healthy that you become sick … It’s a paradoxical lifestyle, self-improvement as an ethos. It demands one remain just shy of perfect, leaving some room to improve.”

Poets on Photography

December 10, 2014 | by

The latest issue of Aperture magazine focuses on the relationship between literature and photography. The editors were kind enough to share the feature below, in which four poets discuss some of their favorite photographs. It appears in Aperture magazine #217, Winter 2014, “Lit,” as “Collectors: The Poets.”

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© Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photos

John Ashbery

Sergio Larrain, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Before the Deux Magots Café, 1959. 

I lived in Paris mostly from 1955 to 1965. This photograph, called Boulevard Saint-Germain, Before the Deux Magots Café, Paris 1959, is by Sergio Larrain. The Café Deux Magots was a favorite hangout of mine, at least when I was flush enough to afford it. I could conceivably have been there when the picture was taken. The photograph sums up beautifully the atmosphere of Paris on a rather chilly autumn afternoon, with well-dressed and well-behaved tourists sipping their café exprès and two fashionable cars, a sports car and a sedan. The three people chatting around the sports car are almost crystallizations of Parisians of that now distant era. The young man at far left, with his back to the camera, is an iconic silhouette of the time, with pleasantly rumpled clothes and both shoes planted firmly on the pavement. I keep this card tucked into a picture frame over my desk to remind me of the past in all its melancholy variety. Read More »

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