Monday, October 27, 2008
I just read all the John Ashbery links that Ron Silliman recently collected. it has been several years since I last read much Ashbery. we'd gone down to visit Beth's aunt and mother on the Jersey shore. I brought Flow Chart with me. that, some writings by Lenin, and sitting thru the better portion of a James Bond movie marathon resulted in a series of poems, to wit: The Lenin Poems. which has little to do with my initial instigation here, thoughts on Ashbery. I think it might be said that Robert Grenier championed Ashbery in class. we wrassled with the texts something fierce. the main book that we read was Tennis Court Oath, a monumental book, tho at the time the disjunction and the coolness of the author voice really distressed me. Three Poems had just come out. I responded to that better, because it turns out that I always liked the possibility of prose tho I did not realize it then (a Richard Grossinger reading broke the realization home). Grenier invited several of us Franconian poet types to dinner with Ashbery when JA came to read. Ashbery arrived from NYC by bus. Franconia was definitely The Sticks. I wonder what he was paid. Franconia had a modest event when I was there, the headliners of which were David Bromberg and the Holy Modal Rounders. Bromberg, whose claim to fame was session work with Dylan, got $750 plus room and board. the very awesome Holy Modal Rounders, a 6 piece electric band at the time (they began as an acoustic duo), got $150. Grenier was active in getting poets to the distant realm of New Hampshire. Ashbery is probably shy but he was warm enough socially. I remember we went on a road trip looking for an antique store where years ago Ashbery had seen some interesting piece that he hoped to find again. now that seemed weird. I believe we located the store but the piece was no longer available. during dinner Ashbery asked if there were any poems we would like him to read. I said "Le Livre est Sur la Table", I hope that's the title, from Some Trees. he dismissed that poem as inconsequential, and did not later read it. I liked it for being jokey, or at least what I perceived as so. astrological talk arose and JA and I connected for both being Leos, as likewise Grenier. JA noted that Leos and Cancers get along, and that O'Hara was a Cancer. of course now we know that O'Hara was born 3 months prior to the June 26 birth date he has been assigned. anyhoo, I was honoured to be included in this select group. the reading itself was a let down. it was a large room, or small auditorium. the audience was sparse, and spread thru out the room. so it was a terrible venue for Ashbery. and he read without much inflection, as I recall. I know that he read "The Skaters" and a portion of A Nest of Ninnies, which I have to admit has influenced my writing enormously. I felt sorry for him, stuck with such a weak crowd. his poetry has a blur to it, like the stuff that shows up as New Yorker column filler. there are so many of these pieces that fear, it seems, declamation. picaresque moods and moments. I am amazed at his popularity, his work does not seem user friendly but I guess they give satisfying pictures without that dowdy weight of the poet's impinging biography.