Monday, September 4, 2017

Remembering John Ashbery

The end of life as we know it happened yesterday. There will be no more new Ashbery poems, once the as-yet-unpublished ones emerge. His work was one of those things that made life worth living, as Aaron Belz noted.

There's a video on this page of an Ashbery reading at the Creeley 70th birthday celebration in Buffalo, October 1997. I had the privilege of introducing him.

And here's an anecdote I put on my facebook page. David Kellogg was kind enough to call it the "most Susan Schultz of all Susan Schultz stories" for combining poetry with baseball. As I recall, I hijacked Creeley's TV after that Ashbery reading to watch the Cardinals in the playoffs!

Early in my career at UHM I taught 20th century poetry in English, a course that no longer exists (!). I had a student, a baseball player, who wore a sublimely bored face to class week after week. When we started Ashbery, I offered the throw-away line that his poetry is often about the experience of being unable to concentrate, and this kid instantly perked up. For the rest of the semester, he wrote Ashbery imitations, Ashbery essay . . . Then he pitched one pre-season game for the Rainbows, and I went. It was a Rick Ankiel-like performance--there were no strikes, and the balls missed not just the zone, but also the catcher. Craig Howes told him I'd been there (I was hoping he'd never know). So he looked at me and said he'd been telling friends he felt he "slipped on the cake of soap of the air and drowned in the bathtub of the world."

Here's the poem my student quoted so aptly:

One of my favorite of my own essays on Ashbery shows the influence of Hawai'i on the younger critic:

And there was this book. Thanks for helping me get tenure, JA--

And I had a wonderful time writing this essay on Ashbery writing about Harold Bloom, which also appeared in my The Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (Alabama, 2005).

While writing about Ashbery is never easy, it is also a lot of fun. One of myriad reasons I so love his work. There are more blurts about him on this blog, here: (this somehow doesn't show up for me, so put "John Ashbery" into the blog's search engine, vroom vroom).

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