“To ashbery,” “to kenneth,” and “to brainard”: Poets’ Names as Verbs

If you could turn the names of your friends, or your favorite poets, into verbs, what actions would they signify?  What would it mean, for instance, “to keats,” “to plath,” or “to ashbery”?

In a playful 1969 letter to Bill Berkson, James Schuyler mused about just this, and came up with some amusing possibilities:

“But you be the judge, and please be frank (if you can’t be frank, be john and kenneth). Say, maybe our friends’ names would make good verbs: to kenneth: emit a loud red noise; to ashbery: cast a sidewise salacious glance while holding a champagne glass by the stem; to kenward: glide from the room and not make waves; to brainard: give a broad and silent chuckle; to machiz, shower with conversational spit drops — but I said friends, didn’t I — cancel the last.  To berkson and schuyler I leave to you.”

(Schuyler to Berkson, 7/25/69, Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler).

Here Schuyler riffs on the names of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Kenward Elmslie, Joe Brainard, and Herbert Machiz.

This kind of name game was not Schuyler’s province alone: as I mentioned before, in one of his poems, Kenneth Koch poem turns the name “Rilke” into a funny verb: “Norris Embry said to me on Hydra one morning, when I was being / Supersensitive and profound on an unimportant subject, / ‘Kenneth, you’re Rilking!’”

One could compile a whole dictionary:

to rilke: to be supersensitive and profound an an unimportant subject.
to kenneth: to emit a loud red noise.
to brainard: to give a broad and silent chuckle.

Feel free to add your own — what would it mean “to schuyler”?  Or “to ezra,” “to eliot,” or “to ginsberg”?

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This entry was posted in Bill Berkson, James Schuyler, Joe Brainard, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Letters / Correspondence. Bookmark the permalink.

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