Friday, October 4, 2013

Ashbery at criticism

In the latest Poetry Project Newsletter (no. 236), John Ashbery writes about a new book from Robert Elstein, Helen Arms (Green Zone Editions, 2013). Ashbery zooms in on a line from an earlier poem, “Hermes Holding an Orange”: “I’d shake hands, but I left my mittens in the cafeteria”:

The ambiguities are multifarious. Why would forgetting mittens preclude a handshake? Surely, it would be rude to shake someone’s hand with a scratchy mitten on yours. And why were they left in the cafeteria? It sounds like they were left on purpose, but if so, what could that be? Is it part of some anarchist plot or meant, perhaps, to ease things for the next customer? But one mustn’t break butterflies on wheels. The butterflies will do just fine for themselves.
That’s lovely, and it’s a reminder that the line between literary criticism and parody can be a fine one, very fine, the kind drawn with a 0.38 mm Uni-ball Signo gel pen, or an erasable ballpoint.

And if you’re wondering, Ashbery writes as an admirer: “I’ve been waiting six years for a sequel to Robert Elstein’s slim volume, The Hollandaise, whose manic vocabulary knocked me out of my chair the first time I read it.”

Related reading
All John Ashbery posts (Pinboard)
The Poetry Project

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