Ashbery to Ashbery

You are John Ashbery
You are John Ashbery. People love your work but
have no idea why, really. You are respected by
all kinds of scholars and poets. Even artists
like you.

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You

Quizilla, etc.

Ashbery’s works are characterized by a free-flowing, often disjunctive syntax, extensive linguistic play, often infused with considerable humor, and a prosaic, sometimes disarmingly flat or parodic tone. The play of the human mind is the subject of a great many of his poems.

Naturally, I was curious. I checked out some Ashbery over at poets.org and it was not my thing remarkably individual and challenging work.

“The difficulty of [Ashbery’s] poetry,” Shetley explains, “arises in great measure from [the] decision not to write the sort of poem [Robert] Lowell was writing, not to produce within the paradigms offered by the New Criticism.” (VS 104). Again, a curious account of poetic evolution, implying as it does that one can simply decide, as an act of will, to write a certain kind of poem. Ashbery, I would posit, could no more have written a Lowell poem than, say, a Mayakovsky one, his sensibility, ethos, and culture being so different.
— Normalizing John Ashbery by MARJORIE PERLOFF

Occasionally I am challenged as to why I write spec fic.

- Why don’t you write for a genre that actually sells, deb?

Not often, because most people don’t really mind, & the people that do mind usually know what spec fic is, & so don’t have to ask. And the people who mind and DON’T know what spec fic is, well, they get to hear my rant about Shakespeare and Milton and Shelley (and if I’m feeling cruel I just make stuff up), and so on ad infinitum.

- Do you write that stuff because you’re a big Stephen King fan? *Are* you a Stephen King fan? Really? Gee, I didn’t know he wrote short stories.

In rare moments, the questions stump me. Usually in a good way. They make me think. They challenge me to examine what I’m doing &, more importantly, what I *think* I’m doing.

- Do you write genre because it’s a small pool? Do you do it to keep yourself safe?

And then I have to pause, nod, and begin to intellectualise myself out of the corner into which I’ve been backed. Mostly I do this not to defend myself, but to defend a genre I love. Truth is, though, love is generally not intellectual. Not all of it, anyway. I can talk about ‘thrill’ & ‘awe’, but that’s not the whole of what I feel for genre.

- So do you want to be like that woman who wrote Harry Potter? What’s her name again? Yeah. You like writing for kids?

And I wonder: is there a reasonable, rational justification for why we write to one form or school or trope or genre?

Do we choose our stories or do they choose us?

Mostly I don’t wonder these things, because it is enough to even *find* a direction let alone to second-guess it.

- Yeah, I guess you’re right, Shakespeare did write supernatural stuff, but that’s ancient history, hey. I mean, what’s happening with sci-fi nowdays? Isn’t it dead?

Vernon Shetley’s essay in a book ominously called After the Death of Poetry: Poetry and Audience in Contemporary America (1993). In Shetley’s scheme of things, the three significant American postwar poets are Ashbery, Bishop, and Merrill [snip]. Given these parameters, he is forced to conclude that “Poetry is dead. With that judgment I have no interest in arguing, if what it means is that poetry is unlikely in any foreseeable future to regain an audience like the one enjoyed by Tennyson, or even by Frost. But it seems to me that poetry still has an enormous job of work to do, posthumously, as it were. If nothing else, poetry’s death should haunt the rest of the culture.”
— Normalizing John Ashbery by MARJORIE PERLOFF

SF is dead. Long live SF.

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