« | Home | »

Equal Terms

Tags:

It’s the scale of things you notice first in John Ashbery. Plenty of his poems have a way with the short line and the ‘regular’ fit. But the long line, extended into the deafening silence that’s always about to ensue – this is the Ashbery signature.

It’s an old, American question: from sea to shining sea, what is all that space about? And why are we here, if not to fill it?

Ashbery prefers the urbanity of the coast, but he has a sense of the wide and worrying expanse at his back. It’s wrong to think his poetry doesn’t go there. It spends a lot of time roaming in the middle of nowhere, but it doesn’t advertise its adventures with spurs and chaps, or commendable species identification, or intimate encounters with the void. Ashbery is more like an elegant host managing a party where the conversation is about to go dead.

He is also a great reader, generous, attentive, ready to offer his listeners a way into any of his poems. The Pennsylvania recorded poetry archive has grown a marvellous subcolony – PennSound Daily – and it’s leading at the moment with a John Ashbery week. A week is a not a long time in poetry, but even when this one is up, you can still hear a range of Ashbery’s readings, from 1966 to 2009. Mark Ford has likened Ashbery to Whitman for his willingness to involve ‘the reader on equal terms’. These pieces prove it.

Was Whitman a good reader? There is a spooky wax-cylinder recording of ‘America’, thought to have been read by the author and well worth listening to, even if it booms and scrapes like a sound-effect in an early David Lynch film.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Higgs Boatswain on Cold War Ghosts: Although the paranoid fear of the Russian East is undoubtedly a deep-seated nightmare in the psyche of the liberal West, it is not quite so cliched as...
    • Stu Bry on Trump and the Doomsday Machine: Surely the death knell for MAD was the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002? Reagan had Alzheimers and was under the influence of Teller. Bush...
    • Jeremy Bernstein on Trump and the Doomsday Machine: Let me endorse "The Atomic Cafe'. The test that is described was one of the ones I saw in 1957 in which soldiers were marched the "ground zero" and so...
    • IPFreely on Trump and the Doomsday Machine: So what about a remake of Dr. Strangelove before reality closes in on us? For a very good summary of the nuclear arms race viewed from the American...
    • streetsj on Trump and the Doomsday Machine: Ironically Trump's irrational unpredictability improves the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. Putin has successfully anticipated that the West woul...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement