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Posts Tagged ‘John Ashbery’

The Ultimate Example of Everything, and Other News

August 27, 2014 | by

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John Ashbery at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2010. Photo: David Shankbone

  • Our poetry editor, Robyn Creswell, on the New Museum’s current show, “Here and Elsewhere”: “So many of today’s iconic images are made in the Middle East … For visual artists working from the region, this surfeit of spectacles poses a challenge. When everyday life—at least as it is experienced via a computer screen—regularly throws up these images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
  • Ben Lerner at the Met: “What interests me about fiction … is in part, its flickering edge between realism and where a tear in the fabric of a story lets in some other sort of light.”
  • Things that—according to the students and faculty of the first Ashbery Home School, a new writing conference in Hudson, New York—John Ashbery is “the ultimate example of”: “surrealism, realism, hyperrealism, distance, proximity, translation, tradition, the grotesque, the beautiful, the blind, the all-seeing, the old, the young, the queer, the hetero, the hedgehog, the fox, the human, the alien, the bric-a-brac in the cupboard, the masterpiece on the wall, painting, cinema, architecture, life.” (NB the author of this list describes it as “incomplete and incompetent.”)
  • A brief history of the problem of sorting, classifying, and otherwise categorizing things: “It is tempting to think making categories is a straightforward scientific enterprise, and that debates will be clearly settled once we’ve amassed enough data. But the history of science shows this not to be the case … The nature of scientific categories is not merely an empirical issue; it’s also a philosophical one, and one affected by self-interest and social forces.”
  • Today, in posthumous gifts: more than three thousand of Doris Lessing’s books are to be donated to a public library in Zimbabwe, where she lived for twenty-five years.

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Radical Middle

July 2, 2014 | by

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John Constable, A View at Hampstead with Stormy Weather, ca. 1930.

July 2 is the midpoint of the year—we’re 182 days into 2014 with 182 to go. This is obscurely depressing, although there is something neat about its falling on a Wednesday. It’s all downhill from here, you might say—although sometimes people use that expression as a positive, meaning smooth sailing, so take it as you will.

Everyone finds New Year’s Day dreary. But summer, for all its promise of leisure and romance and ease, has an urgency that is sad in its own way. From the moment it starts, it’s on the wane—days ever shorter, relentlessly shifting sands in a Wizard of Oz–style hourglass. Outside my window, someone is actually playing “Summertime” on a saxophone. He’s probably thinking that we are in New York in hot weather, and it is iconic. The pressure is immense. The high-pressure weather is stifling.

Ashbery touched on it. “Soonest Mended” is about much more than the mundane, although it conjures the mundane vividly. Amidst the dissection of proverb—and allusions to pressures of art, and youth, and time—he manages to put into words the particular melancholy of the midpoint.

Alas, the summer’s energy wanes quickly,
A moment and it is gone. And no longer
May we make the necessary arrangements, simple as they are.
Our star was brighter perhaps when it had water in it.
Now there is no question even of that, but only
Of holding on to the hard earth so as not to get thrown off
With an occasional dream, a vision: a robin flies across
The upper corner of the window, you brush your hair away
And cannot quite see, or a wound will flash
Against the sweet faces of the others, something like:
This is what you wanted to hear, so why
Did you think of listening to something else? We are all talkers
It is true, but underneath the talk lies
The moving and not wanting to be moved, the loose
Meaning, untidy and simple like a threshing floor.

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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

thunder lay down in the heart

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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