Monday, August 27, 2007

John Ashbery and mtvU

The New York Times reports that mtvU, an MTV Networks subsidiary broadcasting on college campuses, has chosen John Ashbery as its first poet laureate:

Excerpts of his poems will appear in 18 short promotional spots — like commercials for verse — on the channel and its Web site (, which will also feature the full text of the poems). . . .

Mr. Ashbery, who was the poet laureate of New York State from 2001 to 2003, was immediately receptive. "It seemed like it would be a chance to broaden the audience for poetry," he said.

The poems used in the campaign span his career, and the spots are simple: on a white background, black text floats in to a sound like a crashing wave, appears on the screen for a minute, then floats away. From "Retro" (2005): "It's really quite a thrill/When the moon rises over the hill / and you've gotten over someone / salty and mercurial, the only person you've ever loved." From "Soonest Mended" (2000): "Barely tolerated, living on the margin / In our technological society, we are always having to be rescued" . . . .

Though his roots are in 1950s bohemia, Mr. Ashbery is perhaps not the most obvious choice for the iPod generation. He works on a typewriter and doesn’t listen to popular music, with the exception of a chance encounter with the Peaches & Herb song "Reunited" in a cab in the 1980s; it inspired his poem "The Songs We Know Best." ("Just like a shadow in an empty room / Like a breeze that’s pointed from beyond the tomb / Just like a project of which no one tells — / Or didja really think that I was somebody else?")

But Mr. Friedman is optimistic that verse will find its new audience, and mtvU plans to continue the program with other laureates after Mr. Ashbery's one-year tenure is up.
Read the rest:
An 80-Year-Old Poet for the MTV Generation (New York Times)
And look and listen:
Poet Laureate John Ashbery (mtvU)
[Note to mtvU: Didja have to center each line? What's wrong with a left margin?]

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