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Posts Tagged ‘John Ashbery’

Poets Want Their Privacy, and Other News

April 2, 2014 | by

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Smile, you're on CCTV.

 

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John Ashbery Reads “A Boy”

March 18, 2014 | by

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Today the composer Christopher Tignor releases a new record, Thunder Lay Down in the Heart, whose title track is a twenty-minute work for string orchestra, electronics, and drums. The composition is named after a line from John Ashbery’s 1956 poem, “A Boy,” and it begins with a haunting new recording of Ashbery reading the poem in his Chelsea apartment, which Tignor has graciously allowed us to feature here.

Tignor says:

“A Boy” rang out to me while I was writing “Thunder Lay Down in the Heart.” My song titles usually come in response to the music, and I often find myself looking through books of poetry to turn my mind on in that way. When I was a student at Bard, I studied poetry with Ashbery—he was my advisor—and when I read this poem, I responded right away to the conflict between the protagonist and the visceral narrative tension of the storm: the sound, like thunder, of falling “from shelf to shelf of someone’s rage,” the rain at night against the box cars, the inevitable flood.

It’s precisely that kind of unfolding I hoped to embody in my musical work, with its own flooded lines, dry fields of lightning, and cabbage roses. A reviewer recently described the work as its own “vast electrical disturbance.” Hard to disagree.

 

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“Snow Is a Hat Worn By Mountains”

February 13, 2014 | by

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Some might suggest that for a literary blog to feature three snow-related posts in a day is excessive. Well, tough. The weather has always been a great common denominator. And to our credit, we’ve refrained from calling this “Winter Storm Pax” or “the snowpocalypse.” We have standards.

Here, then, are seven poems from our archives fit for a snowy night. I won’t claim they’ll warm or comfort you—they’re poems, not pap—but they’re terrific reads, and they will be of some help. Next time you share an elevator with a distant colleague, you’ll use the weather as a conversational crutch, as one does; but instead of saying, “Man, it’s cold out!” you’ll say, “Snow is a hat worn by mountains.” You’ll make a lasting impression.

Note, too, that the majority of these poems were published in the spring or summer: a reminder that what’s unendurable now will be desirable in a few months’ time.

Debora Greger, “To the Snow” (from The Paris Review No. 154, Spring 2000)

Snow, let go. It’s late,
You are cornmush. You are cold.
Let me cover you with this white sheet.
No one will know.

Agha Shahid Ali, “Snow on the Desert” (from No. 107, Summer 1988)

the sliding doors of the fog were opened,
and the snow, which had fallen all night, now
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened

out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus.

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Art House: On “John Ashbery Collects”

October 22, 2013 | by

Installation view of "John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things."

Installation view of "John Ashbery Collects: Poet Among Things," at Loretta Howard Gallery, New York.

So just what is the “thingness of the thing” that Heidegger was talking about? The phrase’s riddlesome poetry could easily have been penned by John Ashbery, instead of the crusty German phenomenologist. Is Heidegger suggesting that material things possess an essence, an abstract quality that both defines and constitutes, say, a shoe—its shoeness? Perhaps, but Ashbery, in fact, offers a more straightforward assessment of the unseeable stuff that makes stuff stuff in the opening lines of “Grand Galop”: “All things seem the mention of themselves.” Such are my thoughts as I roam the rooms of Ashbery’s Hudson, New York, home … well, only to the degree that the galleries at Loretta Howard, in Chelsea, have been decorated with trompe l’oeil drawings—wainscoting, doorways, mantels—to look like the rooms of the poet’s well-appointed nineteenth-century house.

Thoughtfully curated by Loretta Howard Gallery and poets Adam Fitzgerald and Emily Skillings, the show offers a selection of Ashbery’s own paintings, prints, collages, bric-a-brac, and furniture; it’s all cozily arranged to conjure as much domestic atmosphere as might be had in a gallery space. Kitschy figurines, VHS tapes (Daffy Duck and Jack Benny among them), bawdy toys, and hand-painted plates line the shelves of cabinets and bookcases that could have been lifted whole from Ashbery’s parlor. Other items, like the French Provincial chairs and Oriental rugs, have been. They complement a piano drawn on a wall on which are hung several selections of early twentieth-century sheet music (“Mr. and Mrs. Is the Name,” “Flirtation Walk”), as if resting on the instrument’s music desk.

Alongside such homey items (the cartoons playing on the TV jangle in a familiar way with the filigree wallpaper designs) are pieces by many of the poet’s friends and artistic confederates, such as Joan Mitchell, Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Trevor Winkfield, Jess, Alex Katz, Jane Freilicher, and Willem de Kooning. There’s a gemütlich vibe, equal parts wry and melancholic, generated by this assemblage of things cultural that ably recalls the mood and manner of Ashbery’s writing. To elucidate this point, the curators include wall text featuring apt passages of his verse that treat the world, if not the mind, as a congeries of curios, a kind of Cornell box. Of course, the show includes a few of those; with poems populated by Popeye, Henry Darger, Chopin, Faust, Parmigianino, and a myriad of other, less identifiable references, it’s no surprise that Ashbery is a devotee of Cornell’s eclectic connoisseurship. Both share an affinity for the metaphysique d’ephemera, an aesthetic that elevates the trivial to the transcendent. Read More »

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Contra Dancing with Pierre Reverdy

September 11, 2013 | by

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“I’d have to go up or it’s better if you come down and, arm in arm, let’s go somewhere else where no one looks at us,” says Pierre Reverdy in his poem “Further Away Than There.” So many of Reverdy’s tiny geometric poems are like this: refreshingly, dizzyingly cubist. You think you’re reading a poem but are being manipulated to move around it in a way that’s cinematic.

Reverdy’s is the latest in The New York Review of Books’s new poetry-in-translation series. The tiny ultramarine-and-turquoise book is packed with embittered, contemplative, spooky, lyrical, and emotionally honest poems. Reverdy dares to move a sentence into strange and misleading territory but it seldom makes no sense. The fourteen translators, who include Rosanna Warren and John Ashbery, are as disparate in tone, syntax, and translation style as you can get. It’s hats off to Reverdy, then, for producing work so exacting that it reads consistently and lucidly in English.

At the center of the French avant-garde, Reverdy founded Nord-Sud in 1917 with Apollinaire and Max Jacob, and was close friends with the cubist painters Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris. It’s because of these friendships that Reverdy became associated with literary cubism. (In March 1917, Juan Gris launched his treatise on cubism, “Sur le Cubisme,” in Nord-Sud.) Though Reverdy’s Nord-Sud lasted only a year, it embodied and advanced the avant-garde movements, especially surrealism and dadaism, that coalesced and overlapped in wartime Paris.

I skimmed the book from the back forward first, to see where Reverdy ended up. The varied forms (prose poems, fractured lines, squares, paragraphs) force you to constantly reassess, but the diction seemed deliberately chosen. Then I looked at Juan Gris’s paintings online. In Fruit Dish, Pipe and Newspaper, the diagonals cut up, down, and across the canvas. Turning back to the Reverdy, I closed in on a few poems, and found a parallel technique in a sentence in Always Alone: “In the street when our arms threw up a bridge, no one looked up and the houses tilted.” What an extraordinary scene—the pull between love and its boundaries, their private public space, houses tilting presumably around the lovers. Read More »

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Poetry Must Still Dance: An Interview with Ange Mlinko

June 17, 2013 | by

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The Spring issue of The Paris Review includes a long poem by Ange Mlinko, “Wingandecoia.” It took me a few rereads, but, after a bout of Google searching, I saw this poem trace its arc in several directions—those of time, of place, and of musical imagination. Along the way to understanding, Mlinko treats the reader to lines that feel both alive and spectral. Some are even like incantatory but welcome earworms.

Mlinko has also published three books of poetry—Matinees, Starred Wire, and Shoulder Season. And this fall her next book, Marvelous Things Overheard, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Between books, she writes on language and the arts for The Nation. 

Like the two poems you published in issue 199 of The Paris Review, “Wingandecoia” contains many unfamiliar words and names. How do you see these poems, and that idea, figuring into your forthcoming book, Marvelous Things Overheard?

The book is partly an exploration of time. The sixth-century brigand poet, the Macedonian general, and the ineffectual managers of the lost colony at Roanoke are allowed a measure of strangeness through the language each poem invokes. It amounts to a kind of foreign language within our familiar one. I grew up listening to languages my immigrant parents didn’t want to teach me, so I get a regressive pleasure out of feeling my way through sounds to their possible meanings. Not “getting” a word, or a line, or a poem at first read was never an obstacle for me—in fact, it was a seduction.

And then, obviously, these words are beautiful. Wingandecoia is a beautiful word. So is psittacines. So is pot pot chee. They suggest rhymes, anagrams, and puns. They make music, which I think is an indispensible pleasure. Read More »

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