Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Ashbery, born July 28, 1927

"At North Farm"

(John Ashbery)

Somewhere someone is hurtling furiously toward you,

At incredible speed, traveling day and night,

Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents,

through narrow passes.

But will he know where to find you,

Recognize you when he sees you,

Give you the thing he has for you?

Hardly anything grows here,

Yet the granaries are bursting with meal,

The sacks of meal packed to the rafters.

The streams run with sweetness, fattening fish;

Birds darken the sky. Is it enough

That the dish of milk is seat out at night,

That we think of him sometimes,

Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?

From a 1983 interview in The Paris Review: I often wonder if I am suffering from some mental dysfunction because of how weird and baffling my poetry seems to so many people and sometimes to me too. Let me read you a comment which appeared in a review of my most recent book, from some newspaper in Virginia. It says: “John Ashbery is emerging as a very important poet, if not by unanimous critical consent then certainly by the admiration and awe he inspires in younger poets. Oddly, no one understands Ashbery.” That is a simplification, but in a sense it is true, and I wonder how things happened that way. I'm not the person who knows.

When I originally started writing, I expected that probably very few people would read my poetry because in those days people didn't read poetry much anyway. But I also felt that my work was not beyond understanding. It seemed to me rather derivative of or at least in touch with contemporary poetry of the time, and I was quite surprised that nobody seemed to see this. So I live with this paradox: on the one hand, I am an important poet, read by younger writers, and on the other hand, nobody understands me. I am often asked to account for this state of affairs, but I can't.

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