Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Watching John Ashbery Write

I love the piece (subtitled above) by Larissa MacFarquhar in the current New Yorker on Ashbery. Here's a nice passage: "He's trying to cultivate a different kind of attention: not focussed, straight-ahead scrutiny but something more like a glance out of the corner of your eye that catches something bright and twitching that you then can't identify when you turn to look."

This is why I can't read Ashbery for a long stretch but like him in small doses. A whole book becomes numbing, unlike, say Charles Wright, where a book keeps building on itself to something huge. Ashbery's books (not that I've read many of them, maybe just a couple) are really collections of singular poems, and while the cumulative effect might force another kind of experience, it's not one I want to stay with long. Picking up one poem at a time though (at least certain ones, including two of the three in the New Yorker this week) is kind of a thrill.

3 comments:

Robert said...

I know I shouldn’t be surprised at how much hostility the New Yorker piece generated in some people who love Ashbery, but it did. I saw someone accuse MacFarquhar of “character assassination,” but the “assassination” mainly seemed to consist of her mentioning that Ashbery is Episcopalian. By the way, there’s a link to the article available here.

I got very interested in Ashbery many years ago through reading “Three Poems,” his book of three long prose poems, which is a strange introduction to his work but maybe a good one. Anyway, I got interested enough to start writing my master’s thesis on “Three Poems,” but then I decided to write about someone else instead, and then I decided to just forget it because I didn’t want an M.A. anyway.

Ashbery does seem to capture something of the unique feel of our times, a sort of gentle, bemused paranoia, but that’s probably just my take on it. I also think he’s like Merwin only in the sense that they’ve both written some great poems but have inspired a lot of terrible imitators.

Diane K. Martin said...

Wondering why Robert's comment is here but the number of comments to Beverly's post is still zero. I may have to take this up with Blogger.

I shouldn't be up at this hour, but I can't sleep. It's not safe for me to talk about anything right now. however. I just want to see if commenting here revs the counter.

Dissertation Writing said...
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