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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Ashbery’s *

* (restored)

‘The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot be.’
— John Ashbery

 

 

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Four Earlier Poems

 

Some Trees

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

 

Street Musicians

One died, and the soul was wrenched out
Of the other in life, who, walking the streets
Wrapped in an identity like a coat, sees on and on
The same corners, volumetrics, shadows
Under trees. Farther than anyone was ever
Called, through increasingly suburban airs
And ways, with autumn falling over everything:
The plush leaves the chattels in barrels
Of an obscure family being evicted
Into the way it was, and is. The other beached
Glimpses of what the other was up to:
Revelations at last. So they grew to hate and forget each other.

So I cradle this average violin that knows
Only forgotten showtunes, but argues
The possibility of free declamation anchored
To a dull refrain, the year turning over on itself
In November, with the spaces among the days
More literal, the meat more visible on the bone.
Our question of a place of origin hangs
Like smoke: how we picnicked in pine forests,
In coves with the water always seeping up, and left
Our trash, sperm and excrement everywhere, smeared
On the landscape, to make of us what we could.

 

My Erotic Double

He says he doesn’t feel like working today.
It’s just as well. Here in the shade
Behind the house, protected from street noises,
One can go over all kinds of old feeling,
Throw some away, keep others.
The wordplay
Between us gets very intense when there are
Fewer feelings around to confuse things.
Another go-round? No, but the last things
You always find to say are charming, and rescue me
Before the night does. We are afloat
On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,
Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight
That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams
As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.

I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to.
Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.
Thank you. You are too.

 

What Is Poetry

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow

That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believe it. In school
All the thought got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us — what? — some flowers soon?

 

 

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Progression

 

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Four Recent Poems

 

 

More Feedback

The passionate are immobilized.
The case-hardened undulate over walls
of the library, in more or less expressive poses.
The equinox again, not knowing
whether to put the car in reverse
or slam on the brakes at the entrance
to the little alley. Seasons belong
to others than us. Our work keeps us
up late nights; there is no more joy
or sorrow than in what work gives.
A little boy thought the raven on the bluff
was a winged instrument; there is so little
that gives and says it gives. Others
felt themselves ostracized by the moon.
The pure joy of daily living became impacted
with the blood of fate and battles.
There’s no turning back the man says,
the one waiting to take tickets at the top
of the gangplank. Still, in the past
we could always wait a little. Indeed,
we are waiting now. That’s what happens.

 

Just Walking Around

—–What name do I have for you?
Certainly there is not name for you
In the sense that the stars have names
That somehow fit them. Just walking around,

An object of curiosity to some,
But you are too preoccupied
By the secret smudge in the back of your soul
To say much and wander around,

Smiling to yourself and others.
It gets to be kind of lonely
But at the same time off-putting.
Counterproductive, as you realize once again

That the longest way is the most efficient way,
The one that looped among islands, and
You always seemed to be traveling in a circle.
And now that the end is near

The segments of the trip swing open like an orange.
There is light in there and mystery and food.
Come see it.
Come not for me but it.
But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.

 

The New Higher

You meant more than life to me. I lived
through you not knowing, not knowing I
was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to
where you were living, up a stair. There
was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were called together and where
we had been there was nothing there,
nothing that is anywhere. We passed
obliquely,
leaving no stare. When the sun was done
muttering,
in an optimistic way, it was time to leave
that there.

 

Always Merry and Bright

Across the frontier, imperfect sympathies are twinkling,
a petite suite of lights in the gaga sky.
Most of the important things had to be obliterated
for this to happen. Does that interest you, ma jolie?
Something else would have happened in any case,
more to your liking perhaps. Yet we can’t undo the sexual posture
that comes with everything, a free gift.
Now the blades are shifting in the forest.
The ocean sighs, finding the process of striking the shore
interminable and intolerable. Let’s pretend it’s back when we were young
and cheap, and nobody followed us. Well,
that’s not entirely true: the cat followed us
home from school sometimes. Men in limousines followed us
at a discreet distance, the back seat banked with roses.
But as we got older one couldn’t take a step
without creating crowd conditions. Men dressed like reporters
in coats and hats with visors, and yes, old ladies too,
crooning about the loss they supposed we shared with them.
Forget it. It all comes undone sooner or later.
The vetch goes on growing, wondering
whether it grew any more today
Such, my friends, is life, wondered the president.

 

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Side Show

 

“Acrobats” (circa 1972)

“Chutes and Ladders I (for Joe Brainard)” (2008)

“Conservatory” (circa 1972)

“Chutes and Ladders III (for David Kermani)” (2008)

“Mannerist Concern” (2008)

Holland Cotter: Of the hundreds of openings in the city this fall, this one will be particularly distinctive. Because the artist is the pre-eminent American poet John Ashbery, making his solo debut as professional artist at 81, with a modest but polished exhibition of two dozen small collages at Tibor de Nagy Gallery. (read more)

 

 

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Others think

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Movies


Much On The Cliffs: The Philosophies of John Ashbery


John Ashbery accepts lifetime achievement award at 2011 National Book Awards


John Ashbery reads “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”


10 Questions for Poet John Ashbery


Poet’s View: John Ashbery

 

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Interview

 

Guernica Magazine: In a recent interview, the poet Robert Pinsky says he hates poetry that is “dumbed down.” In an earlier interview with Billy Collins, Collins emphasizes almost the opposite stance, criticizing difficult poetry as self-indulgent and perhaps hiding something. Is either of them right? Are they both right? What do you say to someone who tells you that many readers are just used to a more linear thought process than your poems convey?

John Ashbery: I guess I would have to side with Pinsky. I came of age in the mid-twentieth century when modernism was at its height. It was more or less expected that great literature (Joyce, Pound, Proust, Stein) would be hard to read, and people seemed actually to look forward to that. I remember how excited I was when my tutor at Harvard assigned me James’s Wings of the Dove, perhaps his most difficult book. My feeling was, “Gosh, this is really hard to read, but I’m sure I’ll have learned something by the time I finish.” And I did. Though it would be impossible to summarize in a few sentences. Somehow the word “accessible” never turned up in discussions of poetry in that era.

Guernica: Can someone, say a student who’s resistant to your work, be taught how to read you? Is it an issue of negative capability?

John Ashbery: I don’t think a student who is resistant to my work ought to be taught how to read it. It’s best if he or she tries to live with it a while, leaves it, comes back to it, leaves it again, etc. That’s how I first read modernist poetry. And yes, negative capability is certainly a valuable asset.

Guernica: How do you think of your writing as experiment, which you mentioned earlier? There never seems to be a particular procedure involved unless you’re working with a form like the pantoum or the sestina.

John Ashbery: Well, the pantoum or the sestina, which we all use occasionally, are forms which take the poem really out of the hands of the poet in attempting to satisfy the constraints that are the trademark of these forms. Therefore one can allow one’s unconscious mind to go about forming the poem in a way that is even more effective than what the Surrealists practice, called “unconscious writing,” which I don’t think ever gets that far from consciousness. Having to accomplish a task that is almost mechanical is a far more effective way of liberating one’s unconscious mind to write the poem. That’s only one small example, though. In general, I think we intended to avoid the classical norms that were dominant in poetry. When we were in college, for instance, we were kind of rebelling against the academic climate by any means that we could.

Guernica: Was it useful for you to know Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler—the other young poets so often associated with you, I mean.

John Ashbery: Oh yes. When we were young, we were our only audience. We would write poems and read them to each other, and in fact, for quite a few years, I didn’t really think that anybody else was going to be interested. My first book was not at all successful. I’m talking about the Yale University one, which I think they printed 800 copies of, and it took eight years to run out. And the second one got universally panned. At that point, I kind of questioned myself: if no one is ever going to read it, should I go on writing it? Shouldn’t I do something that will affect people, some other form of art perhaps? I can’t say that I ever thought this out in any detailed form, but I perhaps gradually realized that this is what I enjoy doing most, and I was going to go on doing it. And perhaps someday somebody would like it.

Guernica: And, of course, they did.

John Ashbery: Yes, strangely. [laughing]

 

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The Occasion

John Ashbery Collected Poems 1956–1987

 

(Library of America)

‘With this volume The Library of America inaugurates a collected edition of the works of America’s preeminent living poet. Long associated with the New York School that came to the fore in the 1950s, John Ashbery has charted a profoundly original course that has opened up pathways for subsequent generations of poets. At once hermetic and exuberantly curious, meditative and unnervingly funny, dreamlike and steeped in everyday realities, alive to every nuance of American speech, these are poems that constantly discover new worlds within language and its unexpected permutations.’  (Buy it)


(l. to r.) John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Barbara Guest, Gerard Malanga, Kenneth Koch

 

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*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Nice add, thank you! ** Keatoccoli, I love broccoli, how did you know? I started a coin collection when I was a nerdy six year old, but I got bored. It’s probably worth a fortune now. Christ knows where it is. That would make an interesting episode for that reboot of ‘The Twilight Zone’: One day a very wealthy gay guy wakes up and every twink in the world has become an escort. ** Sypha, Sounds like premise for a heck of a short story or even novel? Get on that? Or maybe I should take the bait and write ‘God Jr. Jr.’? ** _Black_Acrylic, ‘Euphoric recall’: is that an actual term? It’s so nice. ** politekid, Well, hey again! I’m super seriously flummoxed and appalled in the extreme by power trips. Anarchist and all of that, obvs. (Spellcheck turned anarchist into antichrist). Yeah, do report in re: your Tate till assignment. Which till, do you know? Like entrance tickets or the guy handing out those headsets with preprogrammed tour narration or taker of the funds of postcard purchasers or … ? I like being in the Tate. Good building. I like the Tanks. I think everything I’ve liked there was in the Tanks. Or mostly. Ha ha, your ‘Waiting Room’ ‘misreading’, but, hm, Fugazi ironic? Maybe, I guess. Now I have two listen to it again. Oh, wow, 1400 entries, yeah, don’t get too excited, but … you never know. And feedback is nice, depending. Anyway, my respective votive candle is lit. Thanks for the instagram link. Yeah, it looks appealing. Darn, our movie comes out in France on the 15th, and we’ve already been told to be here just beforehand in case the press wants to talk to us or something. Well, yeah, put the text online, cool. And maybe iPhone that thing? Yeah, the blog’s stupid glitch about not seeng comments from the outside is really annoying, and I’ve talked to all the blog doctors I could, so I’m just hoping it self-heals or something. Hooray! Rock your Tuesday or vice versa. ** Steve Erickson, Oh, thanks, I’ll do that, thank you. I didn’t read that New Yorker article, but sure, it makes sense. I guess the thing is to wind the addictions down less and less unhealthily? Like, I’m sure my coffee addiction is some relic of my cocaine days. I never drank coffee until I quit cocaine. But that’s one with a simple through line. I don’t know if there’s a healthy-ish substitute for Klonopin’s effect out here somewhere. I don’t know anything about such streaming services, but … Everyone, Please listen up. Here’s a question from Steve. Can you help him out? Question: ‘Can anyone recommend streaming sites for watching TV shows on-line?’ Thanks! ** Misanthrope, I too love the pound coin. It’s kind of the perfect coin. To hold in your hand, not to turn your pocket into an anchor. Yet more phobias. You’re full of them, that’s so interesting. I wonder where they came from? Can phobias be traced back to some infinitesimal source in infancy or something? Huh. Deep breaths. Me too. ** Right. I was thinking about John Ashbery the other day, which I do fairly often, I guess, but in that case it made me want to restore this old post about him that dates from the days when he was still alive and totally kicking. See you tomorrow.

12 Comments

  1. Ashes is now, has been, and forever will be, superb. He deals with consciousness and emotion like few writers do. Read “Three Poems.” It mak take awhile but it’s worth it.

    A great many years ago at a party in dancer Douglas Dunn’s loft in place known now but not then as Soho, Ashes put the moves on maybe. Maybe it was the timing because it totally threw me. Allen Ginsberg who was standing nearby noticed and came to my “rescue” as it were. It’s a moment from my life I wish I could re-live, and correct.

    Frank O’Hara, “At the Old Place”

    Joe is restless and so am I, so restless.
    Button’s buddy lips frame “L B T TH O P?”
    across the bar. “Yes!” I cry, for dancing’s
    my soul delight. (Feet! Feet!) “Come on!”

    Through the streets we skip like swallows.
    Howard malingers. (Come on, Howard.) Ashes
    malingers. (Come on, J.A.) Dick malingers.
    (Come on, Dick.) Alvin darts ahead. (Wait up,
    Alvin.) Jack, Earl, and Someone don’t come.

    Down the dark stairs drifts the steaming cha-
    cha-cha. Through the urine and smoke we charge
    to the floor. Wrapped in Ashes’ arms I glide.

    (It’s heaven!) Button lindys with me. (It’s
    heaven!) Joe’s two-steps, too, are incredible,
    and then a fast rhumba with Alvin, like skipping
    on toothpicks. And the interminable intermissions,

    we have them. Jack, Earl and Someone drift
    guiltily in. “I knew they were gay
    the minute I laid eyes on them!” screams John.
    How ashamed they are of us! we hope.

  2. Broccoli, broccioli maybe. Paying hookers with Krugerands. “Your money’s on the dresser, punkrock.” Oh wait, I know the Twilight Zone… ew the Twilight Zones so creepy, I almost hurt myself… Haha. They will soon learn the ways. “Money first, gentlemen.” I have been meeting so many boys. There’s one that if I eat him I’m sure I won’t get laid again for a thousand years before he’s out of my stomach. Poetry is my saving grace.
    “See that place over there, Simba, that’s Parnasse. You gonna get raped.” I’m off for days time for a breakthrough on the novel. Hugs

    Steve,

    losmovies.com is the best that i know of

  3. Thanks for the Paris Ass report earlier, glut of edgy boy images and all, Dennis. Will definitely have to take a closer look at Congrats.

    Is After 8 new? I don’t remember hearing about it, but then I haven’t been in Paris since (yikes) 2011. I hope Un Regard Moderne is still going strong?

    I read Some Trees years ago; not sure I was ready for it. Definitely need to take another look soon, after I get home.

    Finally checked out this place; I do recall your appreciation for pastry:
    https://www.poempatisserie.com

    Bill

  4. Euphoric recall is a nice phrase and I believe it’s to do with drugs, like how the addict is always chasing that elusive first high, never to re-enter the paradise of their happy memories. But then I use it to apply to many other contexts, such as experiencing any great artwork for the first time, or even hearing the sound of coins in the Mario game. Still we keep going back to the Nintendo and chasing that mysterious sound.

  5. Here’s my review of the Drums’ BRUTALISM: https://www.gaycitynews.nyc/stories/2019/8/drums-music-2019-04-11-gcn.html

    Taking about 25% of the amount of Klonopin I was taking a year ago is definitely an improvement. I’m just wondering if that’s as far low as I’m going to be able to go. The reasons I want to quit are 1)I don’t think I need it anymore and 2)taking tranquilizers for almost half my life led to memory damage. But I now question whether the first is actually true, even if I have a better handle on my anxiety.

  6. Hello Mr. Cooper! I’m that student of English & American Lit from Poland, I think I commented few times like million years ago, but I read your blog all the time (especially the escorts and international slaves posts, they are so fascinating !) Anyways, I came across a podcast you did in 2011 (Otherppl with Brad Listi) and I have some questions ! :0 You mentioned that you had a boyfriend whom you ‘shared’ with William Burroughs and that he was writing a memoir about the experience. Was it published? If so, could you share the title by any chance? Also, you mentioned that you write porn to ‘cleanse your palette’ (I’m pretty sure you also talked about it here a few times). Would you ever consider sharing any of this stuff? Not necessarily in print, but maybe here? Also, do you read any erotic stories yourself or is this not something you are interested in?
    Another question is something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Did you have any propositions to have ‘The Marbled Swarm’ translated into Polish/ published? It is my personal favorite and I reread it numerous times! <3 I think that the complex language of the novel really could be reflected in Polish. Especially since the marbled swarm itself is inspired by French and the intricacies of French can be rendered very well in Polish (for example, translations of Genet's works are absolutely wonderful and lively in my language. They are much better than English ones, in my opinion.) Anyways, I think it would be a worthy endeavor, though definitely a challenge for the lucky translator.
    Oh, yes, and the last thing, I saw on the blog that you'll be attending Malta Festival in Poznań but I can find any specifics on their website :(( Do you know anything more about this event?
    Sorry for asking so many questions, I hope it's okay 🙁
    Have a nice day !
    Julia Gloria

  7. Dennis, Ashbery! One can never have enough.

    I’ve often wondered about the origins of phobias. I’d look it up, but I think there’d be pics of all the shit I hate on such a page and I’d get…triggered. So to speak. Most times, when I encounter one, it’ll bug me for days. DAYS! Ugh. I don’t need that.

    Hmm, well, I think I’ve told you about my theory about the amphibians. When we first moved here, we 6 and 4, my brother and I. It was kind of rural, if only because most of the houses hadn’t been built in this community yet. We’d go out and hunt/pick up toads -I could barely type that and look at- put them in our pockets, bring them home, make little houses for them out of shoeboxes. Well, one time, we caught this very large one. It was late at night. So we put it in a jar, put holes in the lid, with the intention of setting him up a house the next day.

    I get up the next day and go out on the porch, and lo and behold, the fucker’s dead…and on his back all splayed out. Here’s my theory: that was my first experience of death. I can’t even look at those fuckers now at all. Even at 47, I shiver and get goosebumpy and just freak out. Oh, man, just the thought, you know. I’ve had dreams of people coming at me with those things, and I always end up killing the person.

    So in that case…yeah, I think trauma could be the origin in a lot of cases.

  8. Jojimbo (aka you-x)

    April 10, 2019 at 7:31 am

    Holy fuck! Thank you for this, Dennis. I was writing on a long brewing novel and listening to Airport 5 and later came here only to find this delightful post of the sublime JA. I know not what else to say except my gratitude reverberates through the ages surely disturbing numerous municipal codes <3

  9. Jeffrey Coleman

    April 10, 2019 at 8:00 am

    DENNIS.

    SOME FORCE IS TRYING TO PREVENT ME FROM POSTING AT YOUR BLOG. I FEAR I MIGHT HAVE BECOME TRAPPED IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE WHERE SHIT IS ALL… WONKY. YOU SHOULD SEE/HEAR SOME OF THE STUFF WE’VE GOT GOING ON OVER HERE. HOW IS IT IN YOURS, PRETTY CHILL? I HOPE SO. ANYWAY, IF YOU SOMEHOW GET THIS MESSAGE, PLZ SEND HELP.

    YOURS, JEFF.

  10. Jeffrey Coleman

    April 10, 2019 at 8:06 am

    DENNIS, THE CURSE PREVENTING ME FROM POSTING AT YOUR BLOG, SAME CURSE THAT SENT ME TO THIS… THIS CURSED PARALLEL UNIVERSE, IT SEEMS TO STILL BE BLOCKING ME. CAN YOU SEE THESE MESSAGES ON YOUR END?!

    I CAN SEE YOU-X UP THERE, COULD BE CHILLING WITH YOU-X ON YOUR BLOG LIKE IN OLD DAYS, BUT INSTEAD I’M… I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON, DENNIS.

  11. Jojimbo (aka you-x)

    April 10, 2019 at 8:28 am

    What a delight! I don’t know if this comment will make it past Akido and I have forgotten my witticisms and charm. SO, Dennis you indirectly introduced me to J Ashbery via an interview many years ago (2010?)… Tennis Court Oath. Personally I fell for Houseboat Days. Lots of love! /swoon

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