"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Ashberyan Habits

Okay, so Ron has a piece on his blog about the New Yorker piece on Ashbery. Tons of people (most notably Gina and Janice) have mentioned that I should read it and that it's "odd."

I haven't read it. I'm a busy lazy man. But I have read this excerpt, posted by Ron:


This is how Ashbery reads. When he sits down with a books [sic] of poems by somebody else he goes through it quickly. He forms a first impression of a poem almost at once, and if he isn’t grabbed by it he’ll flip ahead and read something else. But if he’s caught up he’ll keep going, still reading quite fast, not making any attempt to understand what’s going on but feeling that on some other level something is clicking between him and the poem, something is working. He knows implicitly that he’s getting, thought he would find it difficult to say at this point what, exactly, he’s getting. It’s the sound of the poem, though not literally so – it’s not a mater of musicality or mellifluousness or anything like that, and he never reads poems aloud to himself – it’s something like the sound produced by meaning, which lets you know that there’s meaning there even though you don’t know what it is yet. Later, if he likes the poem, he will go back and read it more carefully, trying to get at its meaning in a more conventional way, but it’s really that first impression which counts. (He reads prose quite differently, particularly the sort of dense, baroque prose he loves, such as that of Proust or Henry James: extremely slowly, savoring every word.)


What is notable about this (or at least notable in my world) is that this is EXACTLY how I read, with the exception that if a poem sounds good in my head, I usually return to it later and read it aloud. Otherwise, this is me. I'm sorta like John Ashbery. Who'da thunk it?

17 comments:

CLAY BANES said...

Yeah, but you don't look like him. Not yet.

Scoplaw said...

Um. Don't we all read this way? I mean seriously, what's the opposite - that we pick up a book of poetry and read it aloud from first word to last word, deeply pondering the meaning of each line?

Sure, you skim through new volumes, sure you see if anything grabs you, yes it's not enough that the poem only sound good or only mean clearly, yes you go back and reread more deeply those poems that tend to grab you, and yes it's rare that your first impression does not jive with a deeper reading, that the poem will prove better or worse on the deep read.

The thing I most dislike about Ashbery (actually The Cult of Ashbery) is that they often implicitly argue against analysis - you could walk away from that excerpt and think that a) Ashbery reads differently than most poets who've been practicing for awhile and b) that difference isn't due to some kind of informed "ear" that's been trained by reading tens of thousands of poem - rahter that he's possessed of some cool mystical "something" that allows him a (dare we say) poetic insight into poems.

john marc said...
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Scoplaw said...

"I noticed pretty much all of the poet's personalities would vary from reading to reading..."

Erm. Hmm. What?

Erin B. said...

This is less about Ashbery than about a pair of poems you wrote. Actually, it has nothing to do with Ashbery.

Thing is, I bought the new Quarterly West because you and Charles Jensen are in there. So I guess what I mean is thanks. Right good stuff it is in there. Right good.

Tony said...

Scop,

Um. No, I don't think we all read this way. Of course, I'm coming from a perspective and situation in which "all" includes a lot of English PhD types. It is my experience that most people who I know who are a) poets or b) academics who study and "read" poetry, read primarily for meaning. Most people don't know how to approach a poem if it doesn't immediately reveal a basic well-established narrative or lyric strategy. Now, I think you overstate things a bit--I'm not suggesting that most readers of poetry "deeply ponder" each line on a first reading, but I think that Ron is on to something when he suggests that this "Ashberyan" mode of reading is one that might be profitably "taught."

Of course, this style of reading may be more prevalent in the "post avant" community than amongst poetry readers in general. I don't know. I don't know many real life "post avanters."

Your criticism about Ashbery and his admirers is tangetial at best, and disingenuous at worst. The excerpt I quoted was about HOW Ashbery reads poems by others, not about how others read Ashbery. In any case, however, I would argue that poets such as Ashbery DO require different reading strategies than say, Robert Lowell.

When folks like you (excuse me for generalizing) complain about Ashbery (or insert whatever "post-avant" poet you want here--in fact, it always amuses me that the "SOQ" contingent STILL picks on Ashbery, when he's about as mainstream as they come these days...why not criticize Linh Dinh, for example...)it's always on the grounds (though this is usually implicit) that the poetry cannot be analyzed in the same way as Lowell, Wilbur, et. al, and therefore lacks "craft." Um...[clears throat]...that notion of "craft" is still more or less New Critical, though usually informed by the workshop poetics of the 70s and 80s (that is, New Crit minus the NC regard for ambiguity).

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Tony said...

Erin,

Thanks!

Tony

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Whimsy said...

Wow. I guess I should leave a bunch of comments and then delete them. It leaves a sort of intellectual residue.

Anyway. Yeah, Tony, my thought exactly ... that I read like that, too. I thought it was just that I was impatient and didn't want to *really* read too closely work that might not be worth the effort. So, maybe Scop is right in that many of us read that way, but I think I connect more with your description of the process.

BTW, if I get to the Bay Area before the 9th, I'll try to hook up with you for a drink, OK?