Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reading Difficult Poetry

“When you interpret Ashbery at all, you risk having skeptics tell you that you made it all up: that the poems demonstrate ingenuity not from the poet but from his interpreters, who find music in static, meaning in randomness, synthetic silk in a succession of sow’s ears. The same objections used to be (and occasionally still are) levelled at people who spent time rereading Eliot, or rereading Gertrude Stein (whom Ashbery admires). No one can prove that Ashbery’s poems mean anything. But no one can prove that your life means anything, either: on a good day, you feel able to keep on living it, as John Ashbery has kept on writing, following a plan where a plan seems to fit, but otherwise making it up as you go.”

- Stephen Burt, in 'John Ashbery: Everything Must Go’ from Close Calls with Nonsense (Graywolf Press, 2009) p. 246

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