The Picture of Little J.A.: A New Biography of the Young John Ashbery



John Ashbery, fall 1955, after arriving in Montpellier, France to begin his Fulbright.

Karin Roffman’s new book, The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Lifethe highly anticipated, first full-fledged biography of Ashbery — was recently published, and my review of the book appeared in the New York Times Book Review several days ago.  As I write in the review:

like a classic bildungsroman, The Songs We Know Best tells the story of a shy, sensitive, preternaturally gifted boy who weathers a lonely childhood on a farm, awakens to the joys and mysteries of art, poetry and sex as a teenager, and finally assumes his true vocation as a poet when he arrives in the big city and falls in with a circle of revolutionary writers and artists. It is also an affecting narrative about growing up gay in a virulently hostile, intolerant culture — a moving portrait of an artist who not only survived that ordeal as a young man but became, improbably enough, one of the greatest poets of his age.

Thanks to Roffman’s “exhaustive research — especially her deep dive into unpublished early poems, newly uncovered diaries and extensive interviews with Ashbery himself,” the book is “a treasure trove for scholars, fans and casual readers alike.”

Indeed, the book is crammed with illuminating and fascinating new details that will surprise and delight even those of us who know Ashbery’s work, and the criticism of it, well.  Among other things, the book unearths a good deal of personal, even juicy material about Ashbery’s private life, including his early crushes and romantic relationships (giving us moments like this one, which may be a little TMI for some: “he and Dick Sanders hugged, kissed, and fondled each other, and John ejacluated for the first time”).

Here are just a few of the many little tidbits from the book that I enjoyed but didn’t get a chance to mention in my review:

~ Roffman reprints and analyzes the absurdly precocious poem called “The Battle” that Ashbery wrote at the ripe old age of 8 (opening lines: “The trees are bent with their glistening load, / The bushes are covered and so is the road”). She explains that the poem was a huge hit with Ashbery’s parents and extended family and even made its way from rural western New York where Ashbery grew up to the exotic foreign land of Manhattan, where the poem was recited to great praise at the apartment of a famous novelist named Mary Roberts Rinehart. Once young John was “informed of his poem’s journey to NewYork City and told that it had received great acclaim, he felt inspired to write more.”  But, alas, it was not to be: the poor little guy was unable to recreate the magic and simply could not write a new poem, so “he decided to quit writing poetry altogether” and didn’t write another poem for 7 years!

Ashbery gave Roffman access to a diary he kept as a teenager, which no previous scholars have seen or referred to, and not surprisingly, it is a goldmine of information about the adolescent Ashbery: wry meditations on the boredom of life on a rural farm, thoughts about art and literature, cryptic notes about his early infatuations and trysts with boys (sometimes written in Latin or French to throw his prying mom off the scent), along with wonderful comments that presage the poet he would become — like when he recorded in his journal that he was “doing nothing vigorously,” which seems so quintessentially Ashberyean.

The book includes a revelation that I don’t believe has been disclosed before: Ashbery had a brief and very stormy romantic relationship with the painter Fairfield Porter not long after meeting him in the early 1950s. Ashbery and Porter later became very close friends, but I can’t recall previous references to the fact that their relationship began with a sexual encounter.  Roffman notes that after they slept together in Porter’s studio, “John immediately felt he had made a terrible mistake”; Porter quickly developed a “fixation” on Ashbery, became “antagonistic” when Ashbery rebuffed him, and told Jane Freilicher that “he wanted to leave his wife, Anne, for John.”  Then things got even more dramatic: “John refused to see him. Miserable at being cut off, Fairfield punched John when he saw him unexpectedly at the San Remo Café.”  Only months later were Ashbery and Porter able to “repair their friendship after the fumbled intimacy.”

Justin Spring’s biography of Fairfield Porter (2000) broke new ground by discussing Porter’s largely hidden bisexuality for the first time, detailing the extended sexual relationship he had with James Schuyler.  However, in that book, Spring merely notes Porter’s early attraction to Ashbery and discusses a poem called “The Young Man” that Porter wrote for Ashbery, which quietly expressed his homoerotic feelings for the young poet.  But Spring says nothing about their having slept together and how it affected their relationship, so the revelation in Roffman’s book is news.

Here’s another juicy bit that I don’t recall being divulged before. It’s well-known that Ashbery got a chance to meet his idol, W. H. Auden, during his time at Harvard, but apparently their bond went a little further than is often assumed: during a visit to Harvard, Auden attended a Harvard Advocate event, and the two “chatted a while, and then Auden invited John to walk with him back to his hotel suite.  After accompanying him as far as his room, however, John demurred.  Despite his boundless admiration for the man as a poet, he ‘could not go to bed with him’ and returned to his dorm room, where he described the almost-sexual encounter” to a friend.

The following year, Ashbery decided to write his senior thesis on Auden’s work, but had a very difficult time completing the essay.  Procrastination, a lack of motivation, and depression left him unable to write the thesis;  Roffman also touches on “the difficulty of writing about a gay artist (and near love interest).”  Imagine trying to write a senior thesis on a famous writer, who wanted to sleep with you, and who you rejected!

The book includes a few more details about Auden and Ashbery that were new to me: six years later, Auden would of course choose Ashbery’s manuscript for the Yale Younger Poets Prize (passing over Frank O’Hara’s manuscript in the process), an award which led to the publication of Ashbery’s first book.  That much is known, but apparently it was Auden “who insisted he pick a title from one of the poems in the volume, and thought Some Trees best, a decision about which John was ambivalent.”  Ashbery informed Roffman in an interview that he “had included his best experimental poems in the manuscript, but Auden removed any poem that had objectionable language, including ‘White’ (because of ‘masturbation’) and “Lieutenant Primrose” (because of ‘farting’).  Ashbery accepted all Auden’s changes, but he privately objected.”

Also, as is well-known, Ashbery wasn’t crazy about the begrudging introduction Auden wrote for Some Trees.  Roffman suggests Ashbery’s displeasure may have gotten back to Auden himself, who — she reports for the first time — once told a friend that Ashbery was “‘the most ambitious person’ he had ever  known,” which, given Auden’s circle of acquaintances, is saying something…

This is just a glimpse of the many gems of literary gossip and new insights that abound in this biography.  As I said in my review, “The Songs We Know Best offers up a feast of new details, documents and colorful anecdotes that will be foundational for any future understanding of Ashbery.”

You can check out my review in the New York Times Book Review here, and for more coverage of the book, see excellent reviews by Mark Ford in the Guardian, Evan Kindley in the New Republic, and Matthew Bevis in Harpers.

Posted in Book Review, Fairfield Porter, Jane Freilicher, John Ashbery, Mark Ford, W. H. Auden | Leave a comment

Happy 90th Birthday to John Ashbery!

Ashbery USA Poetry 1

Today is the 90th birthday of John Ashbery, who was born on July 27, 1928.  At LitHub, Adam Fitzgerald and Emily Skillings have “invited 90 of his dearest friends, collaborators, and admirers to pick a favorite line from his vast published corpus…and write about it in 90 words or fewer.”

It’s a wonderful selection of meditations, reminiscences, and commentary on many of Ashbery’s most enduring, moving, funny, and beautiful lines, with illuminating remarks by quite the roster of Ashbery fans and readers, including Rae Armantrout, Susan Howe, Jim Jarmusch, Paul Muldoon, Alice Notley, Don Share, and Helen Vendler.

Here, to celebrate this monumental and happy occasion, is “The Task,” which was the first poem in Ashbery’s 1967 volume The Double Dream of Spring.  It’s an old favorite of mine and one of Ashbery’s many poems about “preparing to begin again,” about the need to keep moving onward, especially when there is “so much in the night to come” and “reaches to be attained.”


They are preparing to begin again:
Problems, new pennant up the flagpole
In a predicated romance.

About the time the sun begins to cut laterally across
The western hemisphere with its shadows, its carnival echoes,
The fugitive lands crowd under separate names.
It is the blankness that follows gaiety, and Everyman must depart
Out there into stranded night, for his destiny
Is to return unfruitful out of the lightness
That passing time evokes.  It was only
Cloud-castles, adept to seize the past
And possess it, through hurting.  And the way is clear
Now for linear acting into that time
In whose corrosive mass he first discovered how to breathe.

Just look at the filth you’ve made,
See what you’ve done.
Yet if these are regrets they stir only lightly
The children playing after supper,
Promise of the pillow and so much in the night to come.
I plan to stay here a little while
For these are moments only, moments of insight,
And there are reaches to be attained,
A last level of anxiety that melts
In becoming, like miles under the pilgrim’s feet.

Happy 90th birthday to John Ashbery!



Posted in Alice Notley, Jim Jarmusch, John Ashbery, Paul Muldoon, Poems, Rae Armantrout, Susan Howe | Leave a comment

Buried at Springs: Frank O’Hara’s Funeral (7/27/66)

O'Hara Tombstone 2

51 years ago today, Frank O’Hara was buried in Green River Cemetery, in Springs, New York, just steps away from the grave of one of his heroes, Jackson Pollock, two days after being struck down by a dune buggy on Fire Island.

O’Hara’s sudden death at the age of 40 in a bizarre accident left the New York art and literary worlds reeling.  The funeral itself has become the stuff of lore.  Brad Gooch opens his biography of O’Hara (City Poet) with a lengthy and colorful description of the funeral, where a long list of famous writers and artists gathered to mourn and where emotions ran high:

The mourners arrived from all points.  Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler drove down from Provincetown (because small planes made Frankenthaler nervous).  The poet Bill Berkson flew in from Newport.  Alex and Ada Katz made the trip down from Maine.  Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky chanted “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” all the way from Manhattan in Larry Rivers’s car.  Barnett Newman had vowed never to return to the Hamptons after Pollock’s funeral in 1956, but he and his wife, Annalee, reneged and rented a limousine and driver…Al Leslie heard the news on the beach and came straggling to the cemetery in his swimsuit with towel… Willem de Kooning wore splattered workclothes as did many of the other painters and sculptors…A yellow bus hired by the Museum of Modern Art made a sweltering three hour trip from Manhattan filled with curators, directors, assistants, and secretaries.

O’Hara’s longtime roommate and sometime lover Joe LeSueur “appeared weeping, supported on one side by the poet Barbara Guest and on the other by the painter Robert Dash.”  O’Hara’s close friend and protege Bill Berkson spoke movingly, “John Ashbery broke down trying to read the last several lines of O’Hara’s ‘To the Harbormaster,'” and Larry Rivers delivered his notorious “violent eulogy, full of raw fury,” describing in excruciating, graphic detail how O’Hara’s body looked in the hospital after the accident and eloquently expressing the pain of losing his “best friend.”

“As the coffin was lowered into the ground,” Gooch writes, “mourners filed by.  Reuben Nakian, a white-haired sculptor, had attached to it a terra-cotta sculpture of his Voyage to Crete series, from a show then at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by O’Hara. Stephen Holden, a young poet [and now film critic for the New York Times], tossed in a laurel wreath.  Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky intoned Indian sutras, while Jack Smith, the auteur-director of Flaming Creatures, snapped photographs.”

Descriptions like this of O’Hara’s funeral testify to the incredible range of his friends admirers — with scruffy bohemian poets mourning alongside the most celebrated of painters, classical composers, actors, and avant-garde filmmakers mingling with museum officials, and wealthy patrons of the arts, poets of the New York School grieving with their Beat counterparts, and so on.

For example, in this wonderful photograph, one can see Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch walking away, grief-struck, from O’Hara’s graveside arm in arm.

Ginsberg and Koch at O'Hara funeral 2

Allen Ginsberg and Kenneth Koch, leaving Frank O’Hara’s grave, 7/27/66. (Alex Katz can be seen in the background in a dark tie and suit).

And here is a photograph of Larry Rivers reading his famous eulogy, with Bill Berkson and Edwin Denby to the left behind him, and John Ashbery (with sunglasses) to the right.

Larry Rivers and John Ashbery at Frank O'Hara

As I mentioned in this post a couple of years ago, the New York Times covered O’Hara’s funeral in an article entitled ‘200 Pay Tribute to Frank O’Hara.’ Among other things, the piece discusses Larry Rivers’s eulogy and John Ashbery’s moving recitation of “To the Harbormaster,” while managing to misspell the names of John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, and David Shapiro.”

Many poets would soon write moving elegies for O’Hara, including James Schuyler, who titled his “Buried at Springs.”




Posted in Alex Katz, Alfred Leslie, Allen Ginsberg, Barbara Guest, Bill Berkson, David Shapiro, Edwin Denby, Frank O'Hara, Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, James Schuyler, Joe LeSueur, Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers, MoMA, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning | 7 Comments

Visit John Ashbery’s Nest, Virtually

Ashbery Nest

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of attention paid to John Ashbery’s unusual and beautiful house in Hudson, New York, and its relationship to his poetry and aesthetics.  I’ve written about this before on a number of occasions, including about the concept behind “The Ashbery Home School” writers retreat (which at least originally involved a visit to the Ashbery home), a recent gallery exhibit devoted to Ashbery as collector, and a gathering of critical essays on Ashbery’s “created spaces” in Rain Taxi.

If you aren’t one of the lucky few to be able to visit Ashbery’s home in person, rest easy: you can now visit this remarkable house virtually, thanks to “John Ashbery’s Nest,” a stunning new project produced by Karin Roffman (who has just published a biography of Ashbery’s early years), in conjunction with the Yale Digital Humanities Lab.

As the website puts it:

“John Ashbery’s Nest” is a website centered on a virtual tour of the Victorian home of American poet, collagist, art critic and collector John Ashbery (1927-).  The site provides a unique opportunity not only to see the art, objects, books and furniture in this house–the only home Ashbery has ever owned–but also to hear Ashbery read from related poems and talk about the provenance and resonance that these things, including the space itself, have played in his creative life.  Ideally a visit to the interior of the (virtual) house makes one want to return to the interior life of the poems and vice versa, each illuminating the other.

Ashbery purchased the home in Hudson, New York at the age of fifty-one in 1978 and painstakingly restored and decorated it over a fifteen-year period.  Using the 4000 square-foot house (the only home he has ever owned) as a place to display his many collections of small decorative objects, ceramics, furniture and art work, each of the fourteen rooms provides an original frame for his unique assemblages.

In exploring the sights and sounds of the Hudson house, we hope you will experience the wonder and intimacy of being in “the middle of things,” a reality that echoes in Ashbery’s poems. Hear John Ashbery read his poems.  Listen as Ashbery discusses the history of the house and the provenance of furniture and objects with his partner David Kermani. Learn more about Ashbery’s long interest in houses and collections and the ways these personal interests play out in his poetry, art criticism and collages and vice versa.

The website is overflowing with stuff to look at, investigate, watch, and listen to — there are video clips and recordings of Ashbery discussing the objects in his home and reading his poems, archival details about the objects and their provenance, pieces by Ashbery that reveal his fascination with houses and collecting, and critical writings on the topic.

This project seems to be a work in progress, and so far, the virtual tour is limited to the Central Hall of the home.  However, you can see photos and read about other rooms in the house.  The creators explain that they plan to complete a virtual reality tour for 14 rooms in the house over time.

“John Ashbery’s Nest” is a real feast for any Ashbery fan, while also standing as a great example of what digital humanities scholarship can achieve.  You can check out the whole site here.





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Young John Ashbery on Joyce’s “Ulysses”: “It’s Dirty!”


Image result for ulysses gabler   587ee-johnashbery1953

The past couple of years, I’ve had a mini-tradition of posting something about the New York School poets and Ulysses on each Bloomsday — as you can see in these posts about Frank O’Hara and James Schuyler.  So in that spirit, here’s a little tidbit I came across in Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best, her new biography of Ashbery’s early years, about the poet’s first encounter with the great book.

In the summer of 1945, after graduating from high school and just before leaving for college at Harvard, Ashbery “lounged in bed and read” for two straight weeks.  His reading list included Joyce’s Ulysses, and it prompted him to write to one of his high school friends, urging him to start the novel: “You ought to: It’s dirty!”

In later years, Ashbery seemed less enthusiastic (or more playful) about the novel, as Schuyler related in the passage from “The Morning of the Poem” I discuss here.  Schuyler recalls Ashbery slipping him one of “his trick test questions”: “I don’t think / James Joyce is any good, do you?”

But for the young Ashbery — as for so many other brainy teens — Joyce’s masterpiece, that “most dangerous book,” was a forbidden and illicit pleasure, to be passed around like contraband, and there’s no question it left a lasting imprint on his work.

Posted in Frank O'Hara, James Joyce, James Schuyler, John Ashbery | Leave a comment

Andrew Sean Greer’s “It’s a Summer’s Day” and Echoes of Frank O’Hara

                       Image result for frank o'hara

In this week’s New Yorker, there is a story by Andrew Sean Greer which quietly takes its title from a poem by Frank O’Hara.  Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve posted about a recent New Yorker story taking its title from a poem by Frank O’Hara: a few years ago, the magazine published Don DeLillo’s story “Midnight in Dostoyevsky,” which is a phrase DeLillo borrowed from O’Hara’s “Meditations in an Emergency,” as I wrote about here.

The title of Greer’s story, “It’s a Summer’s Day,” alludes to the last lines of Frank O’Hara’s wonderful 1954 poem “Homosexuality,” which one of the characters quotes at the story’s climax: “It’s a summer day, / and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.”

The story centers on a hapless, insecure “minor novelist” named Arthur Less who has travelled to Italy to attend an award ceremony for a prize he is certain he will not win. He reminisces about an affair he had years earlier with a celebrated, much older poet named Robert Brownburn.  There are a few hints scattered throughout the story that Robert may be loosely modeled on John Ashbery — for example, Greer mentions Brownburn’s “Library of America photograph,” a telling detail which may remind one of the oft-mentioned fact that Ashbery is the first living poet to ever be published by that esteemed series.  The story also mentions that Arthur “once found Robert’s exertions on the tennis court amusing” (perhaps a very subtle nod to Ashbery’s famous early book The Tennis Court Oath?), and features a pivotal moment when Robert learns that he (like Ashbery, for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror) has won the Pulitzer Prize.

At the end of the story, Arthur recalls a conversation with Robert on the day of his Pulitzer ceremony, which is studded with several allusions to Frank O’Hara (who was, of course, one of Ashbery’s closest friends). In this extended riff, Robert muses about the folly and allure of literary prizes:

“Prizes aren’t love. Because people who never met you can’t love you. The slots for winners are already set, from here until Judgment Day. They know the kind of poet who’s going to win, and if you happen to fit the slot, then bully for you! It’s like fitting a hand-me-down suit. It’s luck, not love. Not that it isn’t nice to have luck. Maybe the only way to think about it is being at the center of all beauty. Just by chance, today we get to be at the center of all beauty. It doesn’t mean I don’t want it. It’s a desperate way to get off, but I do. I’m a narcissist; desperate is what we do. Getting off is what we do. You look handsome in your suit. I don’t know why you’re shacked up with a man in his fifties. Oh, I know, you like a finished product. You don’t want to Add-A-Pearl. Let’s have champagne before we go. I know it’s noon. I need you to do my bow tie. I forget how because I know you’ll never forget. Prizes aren’t love, but this is love. What Frank wrote: ‘It’s a summer day, and I want to be wanted more than anything else in the world.’”

When Robert says “Maybe the only way to think about it is being at the center of all beauty.  Just by chance, today we get to be at the center of all beauty,” he is clearly referring to O’Hara’s “Autobiographia Literaria,” which memorably ends with the exclamation:

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

Then, to sum up his deep affection for his lover, he directly quotes from the poem “Homosexuality,” O’Hara’s great poem about taking pride in queer identity and same-sex love — merely mentioning that it’s something “Frank” once wrote (without giving the poet’s last name, seemingly to suggest Robert’s intimacy with O’Hara).

I just wanted to note this set of echoes in case other obsessive O’Hara-watchers like me out there might be interested to know about this close connection between Greer’s funny and compelling story and Frank O’Hara (and perhaps John Ashbery as well).

The New Yorker has also published a brief interview with Greer (which mentions the O’Hara connection) here, where you can also listen to him read the story.  The story is also an excerpt from Greer’s forthcoming novel, Less.

Posted in Andrew Sean Greer, Fiction, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, NY School Influence | Leave a comment

Book announcement: “Attention Equals Life” (with discount code)


Book Cover

As I’ve mentioned a few times here before, my second book, Attention Equals Life: The Pursuit of the Everyday in Contemporary Poetry and Culture, was recently published by Oxford University Press.  Although it is not strictly a study of the New York School of poets, the book has a great deal in it for anyone interested in the movement.

Attention Equals Life focuses extensively on several poets central to the New York School, with chapters devoted to James Schuyler and Bernadette Mayer (and an array of poets influenced by her).  Most broadly, the book explores one of the New York School’s most distinctive features — a fascination with using poetry to capture daily life in all its dailiness. I also borrowed my title from a remark of Frank O’Hara’s — “attention equals Life, or is its only evidence”– and O’Hara himself hovers over the whole book as a kind of guiding spirit.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here, but if you order it directly from Oxford University Press, here, using the following discount code, you can receive a 30% discount:  AAFLYG6

If you’re interested, you can hear me discuss the book and read some portions of it on this podcast, a recording of a reading I gave in Tallahassee, Florida a few months ago.  Also, a brief excerpt from the chapter on Bernadette Mayer was published by Berfrois.

Here is a description of the book, followed by the blurbs and some of the comments from reviews, along with the book’s table of contents:

Poetry has long been thought of as a genre devoted to grand subjects, timeless themes, and sublime beauty. Why, then, have contemporary poets turned with such intensity to documenting and capturing the everyday and mundane? Drawing on insights about the nature of everyday life from philosophy, history, and critical theory, Andrew Epstein traces the modern history of this preoccupation and considers why it is so much with us today. Attention Equals Life argues that a potent hunger for everyday life explodes in the post-1945 period as a reaction to the rapid, unsettling transformations of this epoch, which have resulted in a culture of perilous distraction. Epstein demonstrates that poetry is an important, and perhaps unlikely, cultural form that has mounted a response, and even a mode of resistance, to a culture suffering from an acute crisis of attention.

In this timely and engaging study, Epstein examines why a compulsion to represent the everyday becomes predominant in the decades after modernism and why it has so often sparked genre-bending formal experimentation. With chapters devoted to illuminating readings of a diverse group of writers–including poets associated with influential movements like the New York School, language poetry, and conceptual writing–the book considers the variety of forms contemporary poetry of everyday life has taken, and analyzes how gender, race, and political forces all profoundly inflect the experience and the representation of the quotidian.

By exploring the rise of experimental realism as a poetic mode and the turn to rule-governed “everyday-life projects,” Attention Equals Life offers a new way of understanding a vital strain at the heart of twentieth- and twenty-first century literature. It not only charts the evolution of a significant concept in cultural theory and poetry, but also reminds readers that the quest to pay attention to the everyday within today’s frenetic world of smartphones and social media is an urgent and unending task.

* * *

“A book of enormous breadth and ambition, Attention Equals Life is at once astonishing and reaffirming, challenging and clarifying. It engages more broadly than its scholarly focus would suggest. Epstein (Florida State Univ.) explores contemporary poetry’s obsession with the quotidian, setting that obsession in literary context (both historical and current) and identifying it as contemporaneous with cultural interest in the ordinary, the commonplace, the “real.” His argument is persuasive, the information is abundant and compelling, the endnotes and bibliography are extensive if not exhaustive, and the style is accessible. This book has something for everyone—poets, critics, teachers of literature and contemporary culture, fans of contemporary poetry, and even those who think that no poetry of value has emerged in the US since Robert Frost. The book is demanding in that the author consults and embraces theorists and practitioners from many fields. Though it is not for everyone, Attention Equals Life will richly reward those willing to take up the challenge.  Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. — J. A. Zoller, Choice

“Theoretically adept, poetically alert, and socially perceptive–serious about ethics as about aesthetics–this book reveals how the quotidian and its immersive immediacies are fundamental to contemporary cultural practices. Epstein keenly traces the anti-sublime practices of skeptical realism with acute attention.” –Rachel Blau DuPlessis, author of Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work

“Andrew Epstein has written a wonderful book that sensitizes us to the way that a strain of experimental poetry has sought to attend to daily life in all its complexity and obscurity without desiring to transcend it. Theoretically nuanced, historically compelling, and politically astute, Epstein writes about the skeptical realism of everyday life poetry with energy, wit, and perspicacity.” –Ben Highmore, author of Cultural Feelings: Mood, Mediation and Cultural Politics

“Is poetry the most potent remedy for our Age of Distraction? If so, Andrew Epstein argues, then it works most effectively not through escaping into transcendence or imaginative transfiguration but through a rigorous attention to the everyday. In Attention Equals Life, he demonstrates brilliantly how several generations of American poets (from James Schuyler and A.R. Ammons to Bernadette Mayer, Ron Silliman, Kenneth Goldsmith, and Claudia Rankine) join together with theorists of the everyday (the American Pragmatists and continental thinkers such as Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Lefebvre, Debord, and de Certeau) to probe the promise and limits of the quotidian. By inventing a variety of constraints, techniques, and projects, the poets succeed in revealing directly what the theorists can only assert: that the ordinary is extraordinary.” –Stephen Fredman, author of Contextual Practice: Assemblage and the Erotic in Postwar Poetry and Art

“[An] expansive new book… A significant contribution to the study of post-World War II literature and western thinking.” —Journal of Poetics Research

Here is the book’s table of contents:

Introduction: The Poetics of Everyday Life Since 1945

Chapter 1: The Crisis of Attention, Everyday Life Theory, and Contemporary Poetry

Chapter 2: “Each Day So Different, Yet Still Alike”: James Schuyler and the Elusive Everyday

Chapter 3: “The Tiny Invites Attention”: A. R. Ammons’s Quotidian Muse

Chapter 4: Writing the Maternal Everyday: Bernadette Mayer and her “Daughters” (Hoa Nguyen, Susan Holbrook, Laynie Browne)

Chapter 5: “There is No Content Here, Only Dailiness”: Poetry as Critique of Everyday Life in Ron Silliman’s Ketjak

Chapter 6: Everyday Life Projects in Contemporary Poetry and Culture (Kenneth Goldsmith, Claudia Rankine, Brenda Coultas, Harryette Mullen)

Conclusion: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Beyond

I hope you’ll check it out!  Again, you can receive a 30% discount if you order the book directly from Oxford University Press, here, using the following promo code: AAFLYG6.

Posted in Bernadette Mayer, Claudia Rankine, James Schuyler, Kenneth Goldsmith, Ron Silliman | Leave a comment