David Kermani, on behalf of John Ashbery, sent me some interesting comments that Ashbery had made about this poem that didn’t appear in the Times alongside the poem. Apparently, the editors asked Ashbery how he would describe the piece, what gave rise to it, and what themes or concerns it deals with.
Ashbery provided the following remarks, which are quite a bit more expansive than the caption that did appear (which simply refers to “Ashbery’s evocation of American ennui”). Ashbery’s comments point to his long-standing fascination with found language and overheard speech, and also suggest he had “American urban life and its discontents” on his mind when writing the poem.
I thought it might be useful to share the comments here (with Ashbery’s blessing).
Much of my poetry has its source in overheard conversations or newspaper articles. The title, which translates as “tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow,” is something often overheard in Italy. The last line was something somebody said that was quoted in the Times, though I can’t exactly remember where or when. The rest of the poem seems to be about American urban life and its discontents.
One intriguing footnote to this footnote: Ashbery’s reference to the last line being a quotation from the Times prompted me to look around for it, only to discover that he seems to have found the phrase in a piece on fashion — which feels strangely appropriate, given this poem’s appearance in T Magazine.
A post on the NY Times’s “On the Runway” blog from June 22, 2012, about Calvin Klein designer Italo Zucchelli, features the following passage, which ends with the same phrase as Ashbery’s poem:
About a third of the way into his spring 2009 show, an unusual mood of excitement took hold of the crowd.
“We had this fluorescent yellow sweater, and people started mumbling,” Mr. Zucchelli recalled. “Then we sent out AJ Abualrub, with his ash-gray hair, in a full-on yellow suit, and people really started clapping.” Shortly after, the same young model came out in a neon red suit, and the assembled editors and buyers let out a cheer.
“It’s unusual that they scream anywhere,” the designer said. “Maybe they used to clap in the 1980s at a Thierry Mugler show, but that was a spectacle. It was a moment, what can I say?”
Ashbery has always been a magpie, lifting language and ideas from a dizzying array of sources, but from the world of high fashion? It was a moment, what can I say.