Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ashbery and MTV

Thanks to Frank Wilson for drawing my attention to this weirdly heartening story. MtvU, a subsidiary of MTV, has chosen John Ashbery as the network's laureate. It was Frank who asked me to review Ashbery's lastest collection for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
As regulars will know, I am a craven fan of Ashbery, but I always assumed this was a rather specialised taste. This was not because he is 'difficult' - he isn't for people who read poetry regularly - but because a)to a rough approximation nobody cares about poetry and b)Ashbery obsessively evades direct statement, one of the easiest consolations of poetry. Or, as he put it in The Skaters, a poem that's been sending shivers down my spine for 30 years now, 'as I said I am not ready/ To line phrases with the costly stuff of explanation, and shall not,/ Will not do so for the moment.'
If you are wondering what consolations he offers instead, try this from later in The Skaters. 'He' is the poet.

'But it is here that he is best,
Face to face with the unsmiling alternatives of his nerve-wracking existence.
Placed squarely in front of his dilemma, on all fours before the lamentable spectacle of the unknown.
Yet knowing where men are coming from. It is this, to hold the candle up to the album.'

The spine of somebody at MtvU must also shiver.

1 comment:

  1. i was reading The Sun the other day & as usual threw it aside with a sneer of loathing after 5 minutes - not so much the sentiments, many of which i share - but the thuggish, crude language. A pretty girl called Sarah, for example, will always be called "pretty Sarah" with a sort of horrible, paunchy leer. It's the linguistic equivalent of the soundtrack to 24, which tells you what to feel at every point, in an obtrusive, clumsy way. It seems to me it must diminish and brutalise sensibility, to enter into that deliberately small box.

    So perhaps a few random acts of poetry might act as a countervailing force to some extent. The problem is that what's stupid & base, and requires no effort, is generally more seductive than what is subtle and penetrating, and often difficult.