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John Ashbery Was a Quiz Kid.

Anthony Howell; ‘Ashbery created intense little collages, and he was a collage in himself. Another artist he admired was Trevor Winkfield – also a poet – and British – whose iconic yet enigmatic paintings have disparate emblems in them which never quite collide, though they ought to; something one can understand the quiz kid responding to; the paintings are full of things which might mean, but do they? A feeling one can get when deep in Ashbery’s lines.’

The by-ways of John Ashbery.

Anthony Howell: ‘For the poet, at least, Ashbery is the model of the art-critic. His manner is urbane, and he refers to Satie and to Wallace Stevens more often than to Cezanne. The melange of the arts evoked by his writing suggests a cafe-society sadly missing these days, now that art-mags are no longer modeled on the Paris Review but gleam at us from the racks, like trade-journals for the purveyance of some non-applied craft.’

John Ashbery’s illumination of a mercurial adolescent.

Martin Sorrell: The translations made by an American octogenarian of a mercurial French adolescent bring us as close as we are likely to get in English to the wellspring of his genius. The distance in age and place between poet and translator is a happy irony. Ashbery’s Illuminations are set to become classic.

What are perversions?

Anthony Howell: ‘The text is appropriately supplied with examples from films, and Benvenuto makes interesting points about our propensity to seek out and happily identify with the perverse vicariously via fiction – drama and film enabling a catharsis similar to a positive outcome from analysis, though it appears that analysis has no obligation to come to a conclusion: one can go on seeing one’s analyst as one might any confessor. The devil ensures that temptation is an ongoing affair.’

The prose poem.

Anthony Howell: ‘I am taken by the notion that the prose poem “forsakes the tool of the line break, just as blank verse forsakes rhyme, or free verse forsakes a standardised metre. Art seems to evolve, to grow, when some time honoured tenet is “let go of” – though this tendency to grow by relinquishment often offends pundits and traditionalists – who may accuse blank verse of “not rhyming”, for instance; ignoring the absurdity of their judgement.’

Asprezza.

Anthony Howell: ‘[In Drummond] one senses an intellectual struggle, a willingness to attempt something new. Drummond should be recognised as a pioneer: a poet prepared to experiment in his day, who made the madrigal his own. He is far more than a footnote in criticism devoted to Milton or Jonson.’

Retrospectives 1: Thomas, Moore, and Craig.

Peter Riley: ‘In most critical accounts of English poetry, the period called “the 1940s” has for a long time been considered a disaster. The conventional history is that all was going well enough with Auden, Spender, Day Lewis et al., and suddenly under the cover of war a race of demented poets were let loose who produced incomprehensible ravings which cannot be taken seriously for a moment. In fact the 1940s was not a disaster zone for poetry, it was a disaster zone for criticism, which was caused initially by moves in academia, especially Cambridge, to apply the established forensic expertise in locating literary frauds through the centuries to current production, thus assuming the right to intervene, with praise and blame as appropriate, in the production and reception of new poetry.’

Fear and loathing in the Royal Festival Hall.

Anthony Howell: ‘There is a lack of breadth that still dogs the selection process, I think as a direct result of prize-winners apotheosising into judges. In the end it all begins to feel samey. There are far too many “of”s – usually attached to death, love, or something equally gloomy, and so the poems not only feel samey, they feel doomy. Again and again we were urged to confront the death of a loved one or our own death. Surely there is more to poetry than a maudlin sense of nostalgia for those no longer with us?’

How’s the Mood-Board?

Nigel Wheale: ‘Is it best understood as labouring to give birth to the current stage, of global cultural exchange courtesy of the internet, which accelerates and intensifies so much of what was being described as ‘postmodern’, but to the point where there is no point in trying to categorize the infinity of data and the potential that it offers? This will be the mode for the foreseeable future, with ever more integrated transactions between technology and flesh, babes wi-fi-readied, USB implants tucked discretely behind each ear.’

The year-end bedside reading table

Anthony Howell: ‘What makes a poet readable? There cannot be a formulaic answer. This is the problem with the standard model so lauded by our Oxbridge elite – as anally compressed as Ian Hamilton, with a closed form, forever ruled by the dictates of significance and economy, and very tightly organised on the page. ‘

The New York School.

Peter Riley: ‘There was obviously a pressure to innovate in the art/poetry context which for the poets meant a careful violation of what was considered the proper (weighty) substance of poetry, by intense, “abstract” configurations as much as by anti-poetical everyday banter. I find it impossible to know what the balance will finally be; between recognition of the remarkable, original, moving and sometimes profound poetry made possible in this unusual context, and a verdict which considers it as all little more than a set of aestheticist gestures, 1890s style, thrown up by a manipulated market.’

Transits of Venus.

Martin Sorrell: ‘This transition to the vertical was as swift and fluent as had been the movement from lying to sitting, and even more startling. For what we saw, as she stood there, ramrod-straight, was that she had only one leg. The other one ended well above the knee. But there she was, perfectly balanced, perfectly still. She said a few words to her companion, presumably about a dip. Five hops took her into the water. For a minute or two, she simply floated; then she started to move.’

Genetically modified.

Peter Riley: ‘There was a sense of a rather shaky solidarity of the innovative, the only major flaw in which was an evident lack of interest on the part of these and other foreigners in the innovative British poetry with which we surrounded them. None of us ever got a reciprocal invitation. Ten to twenty years later it all feels rather different. If I now think there are problems with a lot of this poetry, am I betraying a trust or exhibiting my own faltering instability?’

Afterism.

Anthony Howell: ‘My initial take, leafing through the large Norton publication which is the anthology, is that Americans go on too long. Endless, separated, hardly ever rhyming couplets, for instance, or very long lines indeed, and plenty of them. Some of the poems here get to be as expansive as a Morris Lewis! And these Norton anthologies never skimp on pages, so, inevitably, there is lots of stuff I like, some using narrative, others more abstract. I appreciate the breezy chatty poems of Albert Goldbarth, and a poem called ‘Impossible Blue’ by Ann Lauterbach, whom I associate with the London art scene and New York.’

Postmodernism and history.

Anthony Howell: Without postmodernism’s new take on history, Alison Marchant’s ‘archival art’ might never have surfaced, including her exhibition celebrating the cross-dressing (and very postmodern) Hannah Cullwick and the fetish photography of her eccentric husband Arthur Munby (who were an 1860’s couple similar in a way to Goude and Jones).