The Ashbery Enigma

ashbery by elaine de kooning

If anyone has ever strugggled trying to relate to the work of John Ashbery (or to have sensible discussions with those who idolize him), S Shirazi has illuminated the darkness for us. It’s alright to throw up your hands and admit, “I don’t understand what he’s talking about!” You mustn’t be embarassed. Nobody–not even the Blooms and Vendlers of this world–probably has any more than an inkling of an idea what Ashbery so impenetrably–at times valiantly–versifies.  Except, of course, for the venerable poet himself.

In their comic disjunctions, abrupt swerves and mundane deflations, his poems function something like grown-up Mad-Libs, but with the names of Renaissance painters instead of fart or booger.” Read all of Shirazi’s essay here.

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Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."


January 2008
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