Monday, December 22, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 23.1

Flow Chart
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Ashbery, John
Flow Chart

Here's my brief description of driving John Ashbery around Buffalo in 2006, lifted from the Poetry Project Newsletter:

Our first night, we ate dinner at a little bistro. While waiting for a table, I noticed J.A. sipping his martini and mumbling something as he watched a TV set behind the bar. “Jeopardy” was on, and he wasn’t just talking to himself, he was answering the questions – all of them! Turns out he did a stint on a Chicago radio program as a whiz kid in the thirties. I took J.A. and partner David Kermani to the American falls, then on the Buffalo Entropy Tour and the Buffalo Architecture Tour. (Out of a nervous desire to impress, I actually bought and read a book on Buffalo architecture beforehand). J.A. asked if I knew of a particular street in Buffalo on which his uncle used to live and which he often visited as a boy. I told him it was now quite a dangerous neighborhood, which seemed to quell his desire to drive down memory lane. Unfortunately, it didn’t quell mine. I drove them through the desolate East Side streets, past the boarded up homes and shops, until we reached the street he’d known. As we turned the corner a (literal) gang of teenagers was standing in the street, blocking our passage. We took a collective deep breath, which we then collectively let out as they moved aside. At the reading, all the Buffaliterati and, I think, the whole Friday night gallery crowd at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, showed up. J.A. read to a full house and received a standing ovation. During the Q & A, one hostile questioner asked, “Do you want other people to understand your work or do you not give a shit about us?” to which J.A. replied, quoting Stein, “I write for myself and for strangers.”

Flow Chart opens:

Still in the published city but not yet
overtaken by a new form of despair, I ask
the diagram: is it the foretaste of pain
it might easily be? Or an emptiness
so sudden it leaves the girders
whanging in the absence of wind,
the sky milk-blue and astringent? We know life is so busy,
but a larger activity shrouds it, and this is something
we can never feel, except occasionally, in small signs
put up to warn us and as soon expunged, in part
or wholly.

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