In Which We Return to the Ashbery Well to Sate Our Pro-RIAA Enemies With Poetic Magnificence

Ashbery is the Man, You Will Forget About Your Luv For the RIAA

by Alex Carnevale

I was looking back at the Table of Contents of my MFA thesis today.

Can You Hear Me When I Call
Dead Thing
The Watchtower
The Experiments
My Notes As They Were On This Day Etc and My Apologies

Anyway, to go with this collection, we were charged with writing a critical paper on a subject in our choosing. Although I am a prose concentrator, I decided to write about a poet whose voice I admired and wished to replicate from the very moment someone gave me a book of his. It’s not very original, but John Ashbery is, after all, the greatest living poet. You’d have to search back in the archives to get my Top Ten Writers of All Time post to find out where he ranks there, but the fact of the matter is this–Ashbery is courageous, endlessly interesting, and less concerned with how his audience receives his work than the quality of work itself.

His most recent collection was Where Shall I Wander, which Will reviewed here back during our days at Brown. They just put out his selected prose. A lot of his reviews are archived here. Not his art reviews, but reviews of his work.

Anyway, I’d read Where Shall I Wander before, but it’s actually a lot more fun when you’re not expecting the world of it, and these two poems (on back to back pages) in particular gave me roughly the same amusement that Juliette talking to Ben in a tape recorder does on Lost. A lot.

Really awesome illustration Ben Yaster did for the Indy of Ashbery.

Idea of the Forest

I enjoy all this emerging, holding of hands–
What isn’t better than holding hands? For we get to see
into the distance, far from ways other carved,
even a little reality, darker intake
though there was a shadow brain in their regular nipples
as the auto thought to stop. I’ll bring the devilled eggs.
Sincere messages are my form of expression.
Follow the giant home but don’t let him see you. Remember
the grass will always let you out. Just don’t steal out.

–John Ashbery

The Injured Party

This one knows;
this one went hence like a conversion
as Chopin played in their living rooms
and bats tilted through the long summer.

Making love to the cement, a dropout
had seen sheaves before.
The appeal wound its way through the courts,
pausing, now and then, for a drink of water,
ending in a “stale mate.”

And for a number of years, our track record
was zero and polite. Those who remembered us at all
were amazed to be greeting us this side of heaven.
We fidgeted with our hair, pleaded with the presiding judge,
but the end was my initials, and the date, carved in roman numerals.
Oh, I see. You’re here of those who love us.
The others are outside.
The wind is blowing.

We paint the word “winter” on the door.

–John Ashbery

Between two book-length prose efforts, Ashbery and fellow poet and New School professor Kenneth Koch released a small chapbook through the “publisher” Interview Press. Little more than a pamphlet, it is titled “John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch (A Conversation).” Ostensibly a play-like interchange between the two speakers, parts of both speakers read like each other, and the content matter is the farthest thing from what a stately Paris Review interview might offer. Ashbery comes off as the more central figure, with Koch alternately instructor and pupil to his friends. It’s a highly humorous discourse that shows how funny both poets can be, but at times it’s also as instructive as it is funny:

KOCH—John, do you think we both might be too much concerned with matters of taste? or don’t you think it’s possible to be too much concerned with it?
ASHBERY—What else is there besides matters of taste?
KOCH—How would you change that statement if you wanted to put it in a poem? I thnk that statement would seem too pompous to you to put into a poem. Or too obvious.
ASHBERY—I would not put a statement in a poem. I feel that poetry must reflect on already existing statements.
ASHBERY—Poetry does not have subject matter, because it is the subject. We are the subject matter of poetry, vice versa.
KOCH—Could you distinguish your statement from the ordinary idea, which it resembles in every particular, that poems are about people?
ASHBERY—Yes. Poems are about people and things.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“On Teasing (live)” — Nina Nastasia (mp3)

“Black Books” — Nils Lofgren (mp3)

“I Don’t Blame You (live)” — Cat Power (mp3)


We defended Don Imus. It will be the last time we will be doing that.

William Logan bashed Adrienne Rich.

Molly explored TV as only she can do.

5 thoughts on “In Which We Return to the Ashbery Well to Sate Our Pro-RIAA Enemies With Poetic Magnificence

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