ASHBERY TRANSLATES RIMBAUD. YAWN.

 

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Lydia Davis.  A failure to illuminate.

So a cushy, middle-class American academic, John Ashbery, with a sense of humor so dry it crumbles, has translated a 19th century French teenager, Rimbaud, whose poetic sensibility was largely shaped by a missing father—a situation exploited by a nasty relationship with an older French Symbolist poet, Verlaine. 

Well, isn’t that swell?

Ashbery might be summed up like this:

Moe:  Say…that’s no poem!

Curly:  Sure it is!  It rhymes, don’t it?

Larry:  But poems don’t have to rhyme no more!

Curly(with Moe): Yea!

Moe (with Curly): Yea!

Curly (exchanging a look with Moe):  Huh?

Moe (exchanging a look with Curly):  Huh?

Larry:  Huh?

Moe:  Wait a minute…what did you just say?

Curly:  He said poems don’t have to rhyme no more, and you agreed!

Moe:  I did, did I?

Larry: Fellas, here comes John Ashbery!  Scram!

Lydia Davis has given us a slavishly perfunctory ‘two-thumbs-up’ “review” of Ashbery’s review of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, and Blog Harriet’s reaction is “Wow.”

True Criticism continues to die, killing literature for good, and all Blog Harriet can do is approve with girlish glee.

A true critic can see what’s going on: Lydia Davis, once married to Paul Auster,  is trying to be the Gertrude Stein of the 21st century, with that fictional style two parts laudanum and one part tedium, which wows  undergraduates who have a lot of creative urges, but don’t know how to write a proper sentence.

Lydia Davis’ fiction sells about as well as Ashbery’s poetry: not well at all, and there’s a real danger that as the years pass, they will simply be forgotten.

But riches and fame are possible if one translates a timeless work—even if knowledge of the author, time and language is spotty. There’s always plenty of English translations to consult, after all.  Tweak an existing text and voila! a “translation.”

Lydia Davis—esteemed translator of some Proust and Bovary— in her Times review, has not even one suggestion regarding Ashbery’s translation: it’s perfect, according to Davis.   The nuanced French of RimbaudAll that nuance bodily moved from one entire, vastly different language to another!  And Davis agrees with Ashbery down to the last sentence, the last article, the last punctuation mark!

Memo to Ashbery: you owe her one.

One suck-up review for man, two reputations made for mankind.

The editors of Blog Harriet, in triplicate swoon (Rimbaud, Ashbery, and Davis) practically speechless themselves, eagerly quoted the following to prove the genius of all three.  Note the sheer audacity of Davis’ suck-up:

In a meticulously faithful yet nimbly inventive translation, Ashbery’s approach has been to stay close to the original, following the line of the sentence, retaining the order of ideas and images, reproducing even eccentric or inconsistent punctuation. He shifts away from the closest translation only where necessary, and there is plenty of room within this close adherence for vibrant and less obvious English word choices. One of the pleasures of the translation, for instance, is the concise, mildly archaic Anglo-Saxon vocabulary he occasionally deploys — “hued” for teinte and “clad” for revêtus, “chattels” for possessions — or a more particular or flavorful English for a more general or blander French: “lush” for riches, “hum of summer” for rumeur de l’été, “trembling” for mouvantes.

Even a simple problem reveals his skill. In one section of the poem “Childhood,” there occurs the following portrayal of would-be tranquillity: “I rest my elbows on the table, the lamp illuminates these newspapers that I’m a fool for rereading, these books of no interest.” The two words sans intérêt (“without interest”) allow for surprisingly many solutions, as one can see from a quick sampling of previous translations. Yet these other choices are either less rhythmical than the French — “uninteresting,” “empty of interest” — or they do not retain the subtlety of the French: “mediocre,” “boring,” “idiotic.” Ashbery’s “books of no interest” is quietly matter-of-fact and dismissive, like the French, rhythmically satisfying and placed, like the original, at the end of the sentence.

It takes one sort of linguistic sensitivity to stay close to the original in a pleasing way; another to bring a certain inventiveness to one’s choices without being unfaithful. Ashbery’s ingenuity is evident at many moments in the book, and an especially lovely example occurs in the same poem: he has translated Qu’on me loue enfin ce tombeau, blanchi à la chaux as “Let someone finally rent me this tomb, whited with quicklime.” Here, his “whited with quicklime” (rather than “whitewashed,” the choice of all the other translations I found) at once exploits the possibilities of assonance and introduces the echo of the King James “whited sepulcher” without betraying the meaning of the original.

This is what Davis selects to prove Ashbery’s translating genius?  “Of no interest” for sans intérêt? 

Is she kidding?

And let’s just randomly insert “echos of the King James” into—Rimbaud!  Shall we?

And I’m so anxious to read Rimbaud for “hued” and “clad.”  That “mildy archaic Anglo-Saxon vocabulary” is just what Rimbaud needs!

Did Ashbery manage to slip in any references to Popeye?

Lydia Davis, in her Times review gives the standard “lice-infested” gloss on Rimbaud, the standard: ‘a ruffian, good golly, but boy, what a genius!’

Rimbaud is, well, cool.  But the hipsters, in their worship of his gin-soaked, hyperbolic poetry, tend to leave out the uncomfortable facts: Rimbaud, the Catholic, Latin-learned, strictly-brought-up boy with a soldier father who left him for good when he was 6 years-old, pitifully looking for a father-figure, was essentially kidnapped and raped at 17 by the woman-and-child-abusing, murderous, grotesque scumbag, Paul Verlaine.  We hear a lot about Verlaine “the Symbolist” (that over-used term) but little about the actual sickening human being, Rimbaud. As for Rimbaud’s France, it was shaped, among other things, by another scumbag, the aggressive, Opium War, Empire-building, Napoleon III.

Baudelaire, Poe’s translator, a generation earlier, had already done Rimbaud; Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm” pretty much sums up the whole thrust of Rimbaud, except with Rimbaud we add in a lot of joyous, colorful, bad taste.

But John Ashbery has translated Rimbaud’s garish French into “mildly archaic” English, and Lydia Davis and the New York Times approves!  Hurray!

27 Comments

  1. Nooch said,

    June 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    The news is out,
    It’s all over town—
    The “Times” has run out—
    Gray Lady Down.

  2. Bill said,

    June 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Is Ashbery’s translation a strong work by itself or a significant improvement over other translations? That’s what a reader of a review would want to know and it sounds like this review doesn’t tell us.

    You are too dismissive of Rimbaud, however. A stellar poet, not just hip. Have you been reading too much Yvor Winters? He lumps all late or post-Romantics together.

    • thomasbrady said,

      June 20, 2011 at 6:01 pm

      Bill,
      I don’t doubt that Rimbaud is extremely clever, but isn’t he bombastic and in bad taste? And is he really that different from Baudelaire? The Third French Republic was a grotesque entity—I liked the French better before they became allies with Britain’s Opium War Empire.

      Yvor Winters was putrid, one of the 20th century’s big Poe-haters. He was just another cranky oddball of bad taste and little talent. He was part of the Pound clique, associated with Ransom’s clique within that clique, and was the West Coast Writing Program officer in that little army. He was just another Modernist brick in the wall. Winters…ugh.

      A much better strategy than simply attacking Poe and the Romantics outright was to replace them with little poetry personality cults of wretched taste and titilating bombast: that’s all these ‘decadents’ serve to do; it’s just part of the whole campaign run by misanthriopic, sneering little minds looking to make names for themselves by re-writing literary history. There’s always some little movement or group which confines itself to some ghetto-movement in the name of ‘experimentation’ but at bottom they are just haters of beauty and the middle class.

      Tom

      • Bill said,

        June 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        Tom,
        You couldn’t be more wrong about Rimbaud. I won’t say there is no bombast or bad taste anywhere in his work, but on the whole it represents the late Romantic fusion of vision and realism at a very high level. Maybe you would like to look at R.G. Cohn’s The Poetry of Rimbaud.

        I first took a look at The Defense of Reason as a esult of your discussions of Winters. Agreed he almost willfully misunderstands Symbolism and other late Romanticisms, including Poe’s. But for all that he is a very intelligent critic. His appraisals of the limitations of Pound and Eliot, and the strengths and limitations of Dickinson, Hawthorne, and James, and the greatness of Melville are well-informed and just. I’d recommend him to anybody.

        Let’s say he underrates Poe, but let’s not overrate Poe, either. There is a kinship between Poe’s poetry and that of the language poets, an overreliance on theory and a resulting eccentricity. Nothing of Poe’s verse ranks with the best of Browning or Tennyson.

        Let me thank you for reminding me to read Winters and for your caveats on him. Also for the Bate recommendation. Bill

        • thomasbrady said,

          June 21, 2011 at 7:37 pm

          Bill,

          Modernism is nothing but the classics written over again—but in bad taste.

          We are only too happy to make Rimbaud a great example of this; he was 1. precocious 2. wrote accomplished classical verses when very young and 3. quickly turned corrupt and self-pitying and bombastic and jaded when still very young.

          I love the “gigantesquement belle’ of works like “Sun & Flesh” with their classical imagery, the sensual celebration, the romantic pangs, the fallen Man sorrow, but perhaps he saw too much and went through too many phases too fast and had no where to go—I’m not sure what happened, but some nasty things apparently happened to him in his personal life. His relationship with Verlaine has vulgar appeal, but it apparently killed Rimbaud as a poet.

          I have no use for Rimbaud’s poetic “theories.”

          Poe was the fruit: his French imitators, the rotting fruit…

          Occasionally there’s a startling thought or image, but the anthologized pieces that are most often brought forward, “The Drunken Boat” and “Season in Hell” are really awful—self-pitying, bombastic…

          Tom

  3. Anonymous said,

    June 18, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    PS. I’ve read the review. I like Rimbaud very much but have never spent much time with John Ashbery. Ms. Davis only tells me that she likes the translation. She doesn’t say that Ashbery achieves in his English something like what Rimbaud achieves in his French. However she offers an engaging summary of Rimbaud’s career.

  4. Come on, Now said,

    June 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    A lot of this is simply untrue. Lydia Davis and John Ashbery are in no way in danger of being “forgotten,” if this is even such a terrible thing, and their work you discuss here is hardly being done for fame alone. In fact, there are few other writers of our time who have a better chance at making it into anthologies, if this is even such an honorable thing; Ashbery, a good twenty or so years older than Davis, already has. And if anyone listens to Harold Bloom– perhaps inadvisable– the 20th C of American poetry belongs to Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, and John Ashbery. Davis has herself been credited with picking up a rich legacy of American short story writing from the great Donald Barthelme, for which she was famous long before she published translations. In short: Davis and Ashbery are among the privileged few who can work because they want to work, and I see no reason to assume they have other reasons to work. There is little else for them to prove unless they want to write Harry Potter-type blockbusters, which I highly doubt. They are lucky to have a readership who see a good quality in their work.. I sometimes see this quality, too, even if I am wary of phoned-in reviews like this one.

    Nonetheless, you can’t possibly believe this:

    But riches and fame are possible if one translates a timeless work—even if knowledge of the author, time and language is spotty. There’s always plenty of English translations to consult, after all. Tweak an existing text and voila! a “translation.”

    It’s not even an exaggeration; it’s just a lie. Translators get paid very little for how much time goes into what is difficult, difficult work. Davis herself would never have had the time or money for her first published translation, Swann’s Way, had it not been for her selection as a MacArthur Fellow a year prior. Furthermore, which writers can you name who have ridden the carefree, lavish ease of a translator’s life to fame? Even one?

    Yes, this review is shitty. But you can just say that without misrepresenting all sorts of things to come to a conclusion that is more frantic and strangely angry than conclusive.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    June 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Come on,

    Scant pickings, I agree. But I should have been more clear: Beowulf and Dante’s Inferno are still best-sellers because they are taught in school—if your translation becomes the chosen text, I’d imagine you could quit your day job. Recently, of course, Heaney did Beowulf and Pinsky, the Inferno. John Ciardi translated the Inferno without knowing any Italian. Pound “translating” Chinese is another example of grabbing for glory. Tweaking English translations and calling yourself a translator is a dubious enterprise, and reviews of this activity should be stringent, not puffery. That’s all I’m saying.

    Tom

  6. Bill said,

    June 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    PS. Loved your Three Stooges.

  7. June 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    A Sampling of Lines from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock” If T.S. Eliot Had Been Mentored by the Three Stooges instead of Ezra Pound

    Let us go then, youse and I . . .

    Do I dare
    Distoib the universe?

    In the room the women come and go,
    Talking of Curly, Larry, Moe . . .

    I have measured out my life with coffee spoons . . .
    You knucklehead! That’s not coffee—it’s gun powder!

    And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
    Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

    The yellow fog . . .
    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
    And seeing that it was a soft October night,
    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
    Zzzzz—mimimimimi—zzzzz—mimimimimi . . .

    We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
    By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
    Till human voices wake us—
    whoop whoop whoop whoop whoop!
    —and we drown.

    Larry Gaffney

  8. June 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    “Should not some portion of the earnings of rappers and punkers, of Justin Biebers and Celine Dions, really be diverted to classical composers (other than Philip Glass and Steve Reich), or given to poets who still believe in meter and rhyme and communication, rather than in nonsensical Ashberiesque verbal masturbation?”
    John Simon

    http://uncensoredsimon.blogspot.com/2011/03/french-without-tears.html

  9. bug said,

    July 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    well, i think you can credit ashbery and davis with a genuine concern with and affection for words, and if they’ve enjoyed some minimal “success” (very minimal in the larger, or anything larger than this, scheme of things), it seems rather petty to smear them for that. objections to bad taste? can you be serious? and rimbaud another victim! well, aren’t we all.

    i’m not going to subject myself to a second taste, so i’m not going to go back and check, but i don’t think any of you have even read the book in question, have you? you sure have a lot to say…

    myself, i’m looking forward to it, despite not having particularly enjoyed anything ashbery’s written since ‘tennis court oath’, which i consider a masterpiece… inasmuch as a book of avant-garde verse can be a masterpiece, i guess. so i think this translation probably deserves better than a yawn from someone who hasn’t even read it.

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 16, 2011 at 7:11 pm

      bug,

      I did have a chance to look at Ashbery’s translation, and I didn’t notice anything new. But one can tell that Davis is blowing smoke—she offers not one negative, and the positive is verging on the inane, as her review is clearly eager to fawn. My piece was more a review of her review, than a review of ashbery. She has a certain obligation to prove her positive, and she doesn’t. As Kant says, the agreeable is a private judgment, the beautiful, a public one, but aesthetic judgments, even though they may be reflective, are not cognitive—that’s why they are aesthetic. Davis wasn’t even in this realm; she was attempting to prove cognitively how Ashbery improved Rimbaud, and for me, she failed miserably. I’ll give you just one example. Davis writes:

      Even a simple problem reveals his skill. In one section of the poem “Childhood,” there occurs the following portrayal of would-be tranquillity: “I rest my elbows on the table, the lamp illuminates these newspapers that I’m a fool for rereading, these books of no interest.” The two words sans intérêt (“without interest”) allow for surprisingly many solutions, as one can see from a quick sampling of previous translations. Yet these other choices are either less rhythmical than the French — “uninteresting,” “empty of interest” — or they do not retain the subtlety of the French: “mediocre,” “boring,” “idiotic.” Ashbery’s “books of no interest” is quietly matter-of-fact and dismissive, like the French, rhythmically satisfying and placed, like the original, at the end of the sentence.

      Davis makes quite a case for Ashbery’s:

      I rest my elbows on the table, the lamp illuminates these newspapers that I’m a fool for rereading, these books of no interest.

      Another translation from 2002 I happen to have in front of me:

      I rest my elbows on the table, the lamp brightly illuminates newspapers and boring books I’m dumb enough to reread.

      Davis claims that “no interest” has a subtlety which “boring” does not. Really? How so?

      Further, Davis claims that “rhythmically” Ashbery is closer to Rimbaud than other translations, but only if we pronounce “interest” the same way as we pronounce “intérêt”—which we do not.

      I think the second translation (by Wyatt Mason) is better. It flows more smoothly, expresses the meaning more naturally in English, and I like how “brightly illuminates” rather than “illuminates” adds a subtle banality and irony to the “illumination” of these texts perused by the poet in his subterranean chamber.

      Tom

  10. bug said,

    July 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    well, i’ll have to get back to you on all of that. i was persuaded by the review when i first read it, despite some of its obvious shortcomings… it seems that the nytimes book review isn’t much interested in actually reviewing books at all these days, so much as offering entertaining commentary… but it’s hard days in the newspaper business, even at the nytimes, even at $6 a pop on sunday! but i don’t see how ‘true criticism’, whatever that might be, is served by this discussion, which is essentially a review of a review of a review.

    surely you don’t mean that davis was trying to “prove [that] Ashbery improved Rimbaud”? you mean that she was trying to prove that he improved on the existing translations, right?

    and actually i do think that ashbery is more subtle, and certainly more elegant, in the examples you give. my french isn’t good enough to know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. i was always happy with louise varese’s translations, to be honest.

    • Rambo Stallone said,

      April 15, 2015 at 2:16 am

      Wow. Haven’t seen this New Directions cover pic in a while. I used to treat this book like the Bible…the image is striking – like matches and gasoline !

  11. thomasbrady said,

    July 18, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Yes, improved on the existing translations, not on Rimbaud’s French; now that would be a double career-ender:

    Ashbery Re-Writes Rimbaud In French, Claims Rimbaud Is Now Better. Lydia Davis Agrees

    One wouldn’t expect, perhaps, that Ashbery would be so safe in his translation. In the example above, anyway, Ashbery’s “these books of no interest” is prosaically literal. Yet, upon reflection, one shouldn’t be surprised, since Ashbery’s style is to “play it safe” in a huge way, since he writes “critic-proof” poetry—work that makes no sense, and, for that very reason, cannot be “criticized.”

  12. bug said,

    July 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    well there are plenty of poets who don’t make sense… most don’t make sense… he’s just better at it than most. more lyrical, at least. i think that people find it difficult to criticize what he does because he’s so good at what he does… but that doesn’t mean that he’s “critic-proof” at all… that’s a cop-out, i think. and if you’ve read enough of his work, you can certainly make criticisms based on what he’s set out to do and failed at, and there are many instances of that. but my main criticism of ashbery is that he has disowned his own best, most experimental work… which is a way of saying that i kind of agree that he does play it safe. but even his default safe mode puts to shame most experimenters. if ashbery’s poetry had never enjoyed any ‘popular’ success, we’d probably be sitting here saying that there’s no justice in the world. i’m not a huge fan, but if you want to talk about living poets, who’s in his league? is there anyone?

    • thomasbrady said,

      July 18, 2011 at 9:45 pm

      Bug,

      If I put Billy Collins or Sharon Olds or Louis Simpson, or Margaret Atwood, or Stephen Dunn, or William Kulik, for instance, next to Ashbery, wouldn’t that be comparing apples to oranges?

      First, how do you think Ashbery is experimental? Second, can you give me an example of how Ashbery wildly succeeds or fails? He seems very ‘one-note’ to me, obscurity that’s always—obscure.

      Poets like Collins or Olds, on the other hand, hit the ball out of the park, or strike out. Ashbery? He always hits a single. Or, more accurately, Ashbery’s always up, and it’s always three and two.

      Tom

  13. August 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    “To translate a literary work is to make love to a woman who will always be in love with someone else. You can ravish her, worship her, even ruin her; but she’ll never be yours to possess. Less romantically, I’ve sometimes thought of translation as being akin to cooking. At your disposal is the meat of an animal, and it’s up to you to create dishes from it, to make it digestible. But the novelist or poet has the more Godly job. He gets to create the animal.”

    — from the novel Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

  14. Anonymous said,

    August 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    What an unsavory way to put it, so to speak.

    Btw I’m still waiting for my library to get the new Ashbery translation. I went back and read Mason’s, which I think is quite good.

  15. Anonymous said,

    August 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    And I’ve gone back and read several bios of Rimbaud… The initial comments re Rimbaud’s “victimization” by Verlaine seem to be even more ludicrous than I originally thought.

    Why say stuff like that when you don’t know what you’re talking about?

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 14, 2011 at 11:16 pm

      The simple facts are: Rimbaud was a confused 17 year old wth a missing father and Verlaine a much older married man, who eventually went to prison for shooting Rimbaud. True, Rimbaud was a precocious poet and possessed by a certain bitterness and fearlessness and cynicism. We don’t like to think of Rimbaud as a victim because this interferes with our perception of him as the lengendary bad boy—but perhaps we should look to our simple humanity rather than otherwise.

  16. November 6, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    From the novel Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles:

    A savvy German scholar calling himself Christoph Luxenberg—a shielding pseudonym—recently concluded that the passages in the Koran promising a bevy of dark-eyed virgins to dead Muslim males is a mistranslation. Read in the original Syriac, the Koran instead promises rare and presumably delicious white raisins, which, while mildly tempting in the way of dried fruit, hardly approach the moist allure of seventy-two spread-eagled sweeties beckoning with a curled finger in the way of pulp-fiction vixens. Would the jihadists who flew [the] planes into the twin towers & the Pentagon have licked their lips before impact in the expectation of raisins? Let us not forget that suicide is a profoundly self-interested act. Luxenberg’s revelation has lately stiffened my resolve when my translating seems worthless, a chore of lingual accountancy. The right word matters, it says to me. The wrong ones infect, spread disease. Words are everything…

    …I hated everyone/everything because ultimately there was no ending or outcome that wasn’t going to hurt me or them or us all. Yet at the same time I didn’t or couldn’t believe all that. There were words that could fix this, there had to be. We could bandage or bury this night & all the others like it with the right words, by saying them, believing them, crawling inside them together, inhabiting their worn confines, lighting a candle, and growing old within them….

  17. November 6, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    More from the novel Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles:

    …I found myself nearing manhood with scant instruction on living, so for lessons I turned to books, and in books of poetry—particularly those of Baudelaire, Keats, Neruda, Lorca, Yeats, the Beats—I discovered the life I thought I wanted: heart-fueled, reckless, close to the bone, earthly existence set to a rolling, overspilling boil. Let me say upfront that this is no way to read poetry. When Neruda writes about how great it would be “to go through the streets with a green knife letting out yells” until you die of the cold, he does not intend for you to take him literally. The dearth of green knives in your neighborhood cutlery emporium ought to be clue number one, but just you try explaining that to a vulnerable seventeen-year-old. Because I loved the way words & images bounced through my head when I read poetry, the way it impelled my life as nothing else did, revved it like a floored gas pedal, I began writing it.

    I won’t afflict you with the subsequent details of my C.V., which are boring even to me. Suffice it to say that I experienced some degree of “success” in my thirties, almost all of it due to poems I’d written in my twenties, and while those years did feature a fun and dizzying burst of acclaim & minor awards & tweedy/boozy hoopla—I remember thinking This is it, the Byronic jackpot when a pair of lithe & giggly female grad students showed up unannounced at my door one night, bearing a fifth of vodka and a book of poems they wanted me to sign—it all quickly fizzled out. One of the girls awarded me an unsolicited handjob but her manner was so clinically lackluster—I felt as if I was having a pimple squeezed—that I stopped her partway through, complaining of a stomachache. When she inquired if it might be gas the night sunk that much further. I milked my brief limelight for what I could—fellowships, grants, community-college readings—but, as I was unable to sustain the momentum (i.e., having bankrupted my cache of youthful poems), my sell-by date soon passed. “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,” Eliot wrote, and, oh Tom, I know the sight. I don’t want to draw the line too rigidly here, or assign sentimental blame, but the fact remains: All the “success” that I had stemmed from the fevered work of my twenties, from the poems I wrote pre-[marriage and fatherhood]. By the time anyone noticed the fire, it had already burned down to ashes. Despite my sweaty efforts, I was never again able to match the tone & quality of those early, fumbling, greasy, howl-at-the-moon poems. I was a confessional poet who no longer wanted to confess. Sometimes, when I read my work in public, I felt like a stand-in—an acquaintance presenting the works of a deceased poet, like Kenneth Koch at Frank O’Hara’s memorial service reading O’Hara’s grand, sweet poem about talking to the sun. “This was the work of a great poet,” Koch told the crowd. Immodest words to that effect would run through my head as I read: This is the work of a great poet. Such a shame that he’s gone. A few hours later would find me plastered at some professorial cocktail party, saying pbbbbt when anyone would ask what I was currently working on. After a while only the misfit male grad students fell for my drunk poet routine but they’re easy marks anyway. They’d feed me vodka till five A.M., hoping for a tragic Dylan Thomas moment—a pickling they could eulogize….

  18. noochinator said,

    April 3, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    Comment #4 above mentioned Donald Barthelme — here’s him reading his short story “I Bought a Little City”:

  19. noochinator said,

    April 14, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    More Barthelme! This is him reading his Castaneda spoof “The Teachings of Don B.: A Yankee Way of Knowledge”:


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