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Other Traditions

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World

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

Los Angeles Times Book Review

[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.
— Susan Salter Reynolds

Utne Reader

[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.
— Nicole Duclos

New York Times Book Review

[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.
— Taylor Antrim

Financial Times

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

New York Review of Books

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.
— Charles Simic

New Republic

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.
— Mark Ford

Providence Phoenix

John Ashbery's Norton Lectures, just published as Other Traditions, are a fine introduction to the lives and work of six little-known and very eccentric poets, from Thomas Lowell Beddoes to David Schubert. Ashbery, whose own work is known for its disjunctions and sudden shifts of attention, delights in the similar strangenesses he has unearthed in these poets. They are happily removed from the mainstream, indulging their private obsessions and crank theories, but Ashbery has a sure sense of their similarities to each other, and to himself. By the end of the book, Ashbery's own place in the poetic tradition has become much clearer.
— Adam Kirsch

Boston Review

[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

London Review of Books

These lectures perform an invaluable service, in that they create a new context for the reconsideration of neglected poets. Ashbery offers thumbnail biographies of each poet while focusing on the way in which the poems themselves lead their own life. With the exception of Clare, little of the work that Ashbery discusses is easily accessible. Some has rarely appeared in print...The lectures in Other Traditions are the record of abiding passions...Ashbery's lectures reveal his extraordinary curiosity and stamina as a reader; he is willing to wade through tedious stretches of verse and revisit a poet's work frequently, with nothing to go on but the memory of having once been stirred.
— John Palattella

Bay Windows

Holding up a lantern, Ashbery becomes a guide, leading the reader through the reverse narrative of his literary influences. He offers the notion that influence often happens inadvertently. Thus, his book can be read as a map charting the development of one of our most eminent poets. He allows the reader a personal perspective—replete with musings and asides. The tone of his sweeping prose is that of a friend and mentor.
— Dean Kostos

Washington Post Book World - Michael Dirda
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.
Los Angeles Times Book Review - Susan Salter Reynolds
[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.
Utne Reader - Nicole Duclos
[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.
New York Times Book Review - Taylor Antrim
[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.
Financial Times - Michael Glover
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.
New York Review of Books - Charles Simic
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.
New Republic - Mark Ford
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.
Providence Phoenix - Adam Kirsch
John Ashbery's Norton Lectures, just published as Other Traditions, are a fine introduction to the lives and work of six little-known and very eccentric poets, from Thomas Lowell Beddoes to David Schubert. Ashbery, whose own work is known for its disjunctions and sudden shifts of attention, delights in the similar strangenesses he has unearthed in these poets. They are happily removed from the mainstream, indulging their private obsessions and crank theories, but Ashbery has a sure sense of their similarities to each other, and to himself. By the end of the book, Ashbery's own place in the poetic tradition has become much clearer.
Boston Review - Lisa Beskin
[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.
London Review of Books - John Palattella
These lectures perform an invaluable service, in that they create a new context for the reconsideration of neglected poets. Ashbery offers thumbnail biographies of each poet while focusing on the way in which the poems themselves lead their own life. With the exception of Clare, little of the work that Ashbery discusses is easily accessible. Some has rarely appeared in print...The lectures in Other Traditions are the record of abiding passions...Ashbery's lectures reveal his extraordinary curiosity and stamina as a reader; he is willing to wade through tedious stretches of verse and revisit a poet's work frequently, with nothing to go on but the memory of having once been stirred.
Bay Windows - Dean Kostos
Holding up a lantern, Ashbery becomes a guide, leading the reader through the reverse narrative of his literary influences. He offers the notion that influence often happens inadvertently. Thus, his book can be read as a map charting the development of one of our most eminent poets. He allows the reader a personal perspective--replete with musings and asides. The tone of his sweeping prose is that of a friend and mentor.
Susan Salter Reynolds
[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.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Michael Dirda
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.
Washington Post Book World
Taylor Antrim
[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.
New York Times Book Review
Mark Ford
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.
New Republic
Scott Hightower
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.
Library Journal
Nicole Duclos
[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.
Utne Reader
Michael Glover
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.
Financial Times [UK]
Charles Simic
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.
New York Review of Books
Adam Kirsch
John Ashbery's Norton Lectures, just published as Other Traditions, are a fine introduction to the lives and work of six little-known and very eccentric poets, from Thomas Lowell Beddoes to David Schubert. Ashbery, whose own work is known for its disjunctions and sudden shifts of attention, delights in the similar strangenesses he has unearthed in these poets. They are happily removed from the mainstream, indulging their private obsessions and crank theories, but Ashbery has a sure sense of their similarities to each other, and to himself. By the end of the book, Ashbery's own place in the poetic tradition has become much clearer.
Providence Phoenix [Rhode Island]
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006645
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2001
  • Series: Charles Eliot Norton Lectures Series , #2022
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 1,330,014
  • Product dimensions: 0.38 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 8.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Ashbery has published more than twenty books of poetry, including Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and Flow Chart, and is the winner of every major American poetry prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost Medal.
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Table of Contents

1. John Glare "Grey Openings Where the Light Looks Through"

2. Olives and Anchovies The Poetry of Thomas Lovell Beddoes

3. The Bachelor Machines of Raymond Roussel

4. "Why Must You Know?" The Poetry of John Wheelwright

5. "The Unthronged Oracle" Laura Riding

6. David Schubert "This Is the Book That No One Knows"

Notes

Index

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