Other Traditions (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)

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9780674006645: Other Traditions (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)
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One of the greatest living poets in English here explores the work of six writers he often finds himself reading "in order to get started" when writing, poets he turns to as "a poetic jump-start for times when the batteries have run down". Among those whom John Ashbery reads at such times are John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Raymond Roussel, John Wheelwright, Laura Riding, and David Schubert. Less familiar than some, under Ashbery's scrutiny these poets emerge as the powerful but private and somewhat wild voices whose eccentricity has kept them from the mainstream-and whose vision merits Ashbery's efforts, and our own, to read them well. Deeply interesting in themselves, Ashbery's reflections on these poets of "another tradition" are equally intriguing for what they tell us about Ashbery's own way of reading, writing, and thinking. With its indirect clues to his work and its generous and infectious appreciation of a remarkable group of poets, this book conveys the passion, delight, curiosity, and insight that underlie the art and craft of poetry for writer and reader alike. Even as it invites us to discover the work of poets in Ashbery's other tradition, it reminds us of Ashbery's essential place in our own. (20001029)

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Review:

Where others have deconstructed and codified, Ashbery is intimate and revealing, be the subject England, Romanticism, Brooklyn, Marxism, Nashville, or Modernism. In each essay, he attempts to grasp and convey the strange originality of each writer's work, providing a 'user-friendly' set of illuminating commentaries about the legacy and dignity of writing and the nature of truth and poetry.--Scott Hightower "Library Journal "

Ashbery can be a difficult writer to get to grips with. His long unspoolings of memory, bewilderingly jarring fractured narrative, swings and lurches from one register to another, and a vocabulary which can range from the high-flown to the demotic within a single sentence, are both unsettling and invigorating.--Michael Glover "Financial Times "

John Ashbery is arguably one of the two or three greatest living American poets...To spend a few hours in [his] company, even on the page, is a civilized entertainment not to be missed...Ashbery discusses six minor poets who have influenced and energized his work...All these poets were, to say the least, a trifle unbalanced, but each at his or her best created a distinctive verse music, a heard melody that haunts even when the actual meaning of the words remains elusive. Ashbery fans will recognize this feeling.--Michael Dirda "Washington Post Book World "

[This] book of essays about the work of several lesser-known poets...is a pure pleasure to read. Ashbery is a keen and knowledgeable commentator, paying graceful homage to these artists' work, to his own history as a poet and reader, and to the rich mysteries of poetry itself...a quiet triumph.--Lisa Beskin"Boston Review" (05/01/2001)

One of our foremost (and most difficult) living poets...[Ashbery] has always been reluctant to offer exegesis of his twisting, witty, but obscure verse. Called upon to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton lectures, he does the next best thing, discussing his interest in six minor poets who have spurred his own writing...Ashbery finds in them [a] common denominator: ...each of them is someone for whom the mere act of versifying is its own end, with the flash of language in motion often taking precedence over 'meaning'--a quality that could fairly be ascribed to Ashbery himself...An impressive performance by a central figure in modern American poetry.--Kirkus Reviews

[Ashbery] has chosen [the six poets] for the inconsistency in the quality of their work, often due to turbulent lives, and often the cause of their obscurity. But he unearths their shining moments, examples of their best, most lasting poems. He untangles their lives from their work, their obscurity from their talent and their importance to us from their obscurity.-- (10/29/2000)

[Ashbery] details his relationship with six minor poets, including John Clare and Laura Riding--the more obscure talents he turns to when his poetic mind needs refueling.-- (11/01/2000)

[This is Ashbery] at his most accessible. Each of the six poets [he] discusses...is one of his favorites, one he turns to for a 'poetic jump-start' at times of creative ebb. Ashbery celebrates obscurity, championing the work of minor poets...The chapters are chronicles of disappointment, madness and suicide, all leavened by Ashbery's wit, his obvious pleasure in revealing the eccentricities of his subjects. The critical readings of the poems themselves are tougher going, as Ashbery attempts what may be impossible: the explication of the indeterminate.-- (11/12/2000)

Whether it is due to bad luck on the poet's part or simply a lack of merit, the strength of minor poetry, Ashbery would say, lies precisely in its imperfection. [His] Norton Lectures attempt to solve that puzzle, namely, the degree to which originality is the product of a peculiar kind of inability...Other Traditions is an entertaining and shrewd little book. To begin with, the life stories of the six poets he discusses are all amazing. Ashbery is an accomplished raconteur and the lectures are full of delightful anecdotes...The lectures also provide abundant hints about Ashbery's own method. As he readily admits, poets when writing about other poets frequently write about themselves.-- (11/30/2000)

Recklessness (and in some cases, fun) is the salient feature that connects the six little-known and disparate writers that Ashbery chose to discuss in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures...In his analysis of [the poets], Ashbery is particularly alert to what is 'askew' in their work, to the ways they throw the reader 'off balance, ' to the 'fertile short-circuiting' of expectations that their best poetry achieves.-- (01/01/2001)

From the Back Cover:

"Clare's modernity is a kind of nakedness of vision that we are accustomed to, at least in America, from the time of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, down to Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg. Like these poets, Clare grabs hold of you ... tell[s] you about himself, about the things that are closest and dearest to him ... It is like ... 'instant intimacy.'"

"What then are we to do with a body of poetry whose author warns us that we have very little chance of understanding it? ... Why, misread it, of course, if it seems to merit reading ... This is what happens to any poetry: no poem can ever hope to produce the exact sensation in even one reader that the poet intended; all poetry is written with this understanding on the part of the poet and reader; if it can't stand the test of what Harold Bloom names 'misprision, ' then we leave it to pass on to something else".

"And why, anyway, should there be but one reading? Once after a poetry reading, I was asked one of those un-questions that people ask poets: 'Do you make up your ideas or do they just come to you?' I was so busy wishing I knew the answer that I forgot to ask why both couldn't be the case, and several other things as well. 'The Visitor' could as well be a parable of Eden, of Christ accepting the inevitability of martyrdom, or it could be only a story whose meaning is self-contained ... The central axis of ambiguity is Schubert's own".

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9780674003156: Other Traditions (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)

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ISBN 10:  0674003152 ISBN 13:  9780674003156
Publisher: Harvard University Press, 2000
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