Ashbery's "Europe"

From a letter Frank O'Hara wrote to Ashbery on July 14, 1960: "Europe is carrying all before it, it is on everyone's lips and in their heads."

In an undated letter (from around 1960) Kenneth Koch wrote to Ashbery to say that of all the poems Ashbery was sending over rrom Paris, poems which were to form The Tennis Court Oath, "Europe" was the most influential. Koch desperately says of this piece, "I can't seem to do what you do. Huh! All I want to do is imitate you" (letter dated January 25, 1960).

On January 7, 1960, O'Hara says of the "long poem" ("Europe"): it is "the most striking thing since The Waste Land."

Ashbery week 4 (February 4)

selection of later poems from Notes from the Air:
from Wakefulness
Like America [PS]
The Dong with the Luminous Nose

from Your Name Here
This Room [PS]
Memories of Imperialism [PS]
Crossroads in the Past [PS] [listen to PoemTalk about this poem]
The Underwriters [PS]

from Chinese Whispers
I Asked Mr. Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait [PS]
Oh Evenings
Her Cardboard Lover
The Haves
Like Air, Almost
The Blessed Way Out

from Where Shall I Wander
Annuals and Perennials [PS]
Heavy Home
The Template
Sonnet: More of Same [PS]

four introductions to John Ashbery

1. Kenneth Koch in 1963: [mp3]
2. Richard Howard in 1967: [mp3]
3. Susan Schultz in 1996: [mp3]
4. David Lehman in 2008: [mp3]

Ashbery, week 3 (January 28)

Final selection of poems from the Library of America Collected Poems:

Note: "PS" indicates at least one PennSound recording of Ashbery reading the poem; listen to all recordings of each poem. 

from A Wave
At North Farm [PS]
Rain Moving In
Just Walking Around [PS]
The Ongoing Story
Down by the Station, Early in the Morning
Around the Rough and Rugged Rocks the Ragged Rascal Rudely Ran
Purists Will Object [PS]
Ditto, Kiddo
So Many Lives

from April Galleons
Forgotten Sex
No I Don’t
Posture of Unease
Vaucanson [PS]
Disguised Zenith [PS]
October at the Window [PS]
Letters I Did or Did Not Get
Life as a Book That Has Been Put Down
Sighs and Inhibitions
The Big Cloud
Polite Distortions

Selection of poems from Notes from the Air (collected later poems):

from Hotel Lautremont
Light Turnouts
Notes from the Air [PS]
On the Empress’s Mind [PS]
The Phantom Agents
Elephant Visitors [PS]
[untitled]  prose poem
No Good at Names
A Hole in Your Sock
How to Continue

from And the Stars Were Shining
Token Resistance
The Mandrill on the Turnpike
The Love Scenes
Well, Yes, Actually
Mutt and Jeff

from Can You Hear, Bird
A Poem of Unrest
At First I Thought I Wouldn’t Say Anything about It [PS]
No Longer Very Clear [PS]
Operators Are Standing By
Sleepers Awake
The Problem of Anxiety
Today’s Academicians

Ashbery, week 2 (January 21)

Readings from the Library of America Collected Poems:

[Note: "PS" = listen to all recordings of Ashbery reading the poem on PennSound.]

from Three Poems
The System [PS; several excerpts] [read Ron Silliman's comment on Three Poems & listen to Ashbery describe the writing of the prose poems]

from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Forties Flick [PS]
Man of Words
The One Thing That Can Save America [PS] [listen to Al trying to get J.A. to talk about this poem]
Tenth Symphony
Fear of Death [PS] [listen to JA commenting on this poem]
Ode to Bill
No Way of Knowing
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror [PS; several excerpts] [read some notes about this poem]

from Houseboat Days
Street Musicians [PS] [read Andrew Epstein on this poem about O'Hara's death]
Unctuous Platitudes [PS]
The Explanation
Business Personals [PS]
Saying It to Keep It from Happening
Daffy Duck in Hollywood [PS] [read some class notes on this poem]
And Ut Pictura Poesis is Her Name [PS]
What Is Poetry [PS]
The Ice-Cream Wars [PS]
Blue Sonata [PS]

from As We Know
My Erotic Double [PS]

from Shadow Train
Paradoxes and Oxymorons [PS]
The Ivory Tower
Here Everything Is Still Floating
Hard Times
We Hesitate
The Desperado

Ashbery, week 1 (January 14)

readings from Library of America Collected Poems:

[Note: "PS" indicates that an audio recording of Ashbery performing this poem is available at PennSound's Ashbery page. You should listen to all recordings of the poem at PennSound.]

from Some Trees:
The Instruction Manual [PS]
The Grapevine [PS]
The Picture of Little J.A. in a Prospect of Flowers [PS]
Some Trees [PS]
The Painter [PS]
And You Know [PS]

from The Tennis Court Oath:
The Tennis Court Oath [PS]
“They Dream Only of America” [PS]
Rain [PS]
White Roses
Faust [PS]
The New Realism [PS]
Europe [Read this note on "Europe"; and this too]

from Rivers and Mountains:
These Lacustrine Cities [PS] [Listen to Ashbery's discussion of the poem.]
Rivers and Mountains [PS] 
Into the Dusk-Charged Air [PS]
The Ecclesiast [PS]
A Blessing in Disguise
The Skaters [PS] [Read abstract of essay about this difficult poem; & read Charles Bernstein on Rivers and Mountains with emphasis on "The Skaters."]

from The Double Dream of Spring:
The Task [PS]
Soonest Mended [PS] [Read these class notes on this poem.]
It Was Raining in the Capital [PS]
Decoy [PS]
Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape [PS]
Definition of Blue [PS]

Ashbery on the self

In an interview, John Ashbery said: "The self has been replaced by the simultaneity of all of life, everything happening in a given moment becomes the source of the poem, rather than the writer thinking about what he or she is going to write."

"Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her"

Here is the screenplay of Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her: PDF.

"Nine Lives"

Here is the screenplay of Nine Lives: PDF

"Mother and Child"

Here is the screenplay of Mother and Child: PDF


Rodrigo Garcia has co-conceived and co-produced one of the first series of scripted drama for the web. It's called "WIGS." He has himself written and directed several of these mini-series. One of them is Christine; here is the screenplay for that series: PDF. And here is the link to the 12 episodes.

notes on position papers & other seminar responsibilities

Here are some notes on papers and other responsibilities:

CLASS SESSIONS: They are 99% pure discussion--a real, honest-to-goodness seminar--and thus it's completely and utterly crucial that you attend every week. You are also required to attend the Monday evening presentations by the Fellows themselves, and--no exceptions!--the Tuesday morning programs in their entirety.

POSITION PAPERS: You will write a response to the readings every week (well, you may skip one). These are informal "position papers." They are to be 300-400 words in length and must be sent to the Fellows listserv any time before 6 AM on the Monday morning of the week's class. Four of these papers will be evaluated closely--at least one each on Ashbery, Malcolm and Garcia. Each week, bring a printed copy of your position paper to class. At the end of class you can decide if the paper you hold in your hands is one of the four you will turn in for evaluation.

LISTSERV RESPONSES: Each week you will respond to one of the position papers sent to the listserv by your fellow Fellows seminarians. Send your response before noon. Your response should be sent to the listserv and should make a rejoinder to one point in one paper. These responses should be one short paragraph in length, about 100 words. Be sure to make it clear which point in which person's position paper is the one to which your response is responding. The listserv address is whfellows13 [at]

PROJECTS: A special project will be assigned to you--after you give us your top four choices. These, too, should be sent to the listserv--any time before 6 AM on the date indicated on the projects list. Length: whatever is appropriate for fulfilling the purpose of the project but no less than 750 words. These need not be fancy or high-toned, but, rather, straightforward and lucid and, if apt, organized into short titled sections to make for easy reading. If you are not assigned a project, see Al or Lily ASAP so that we can devise one.

OBLIGATIONS DURING FELLOWS' VISITS: As an absolutely vital part of the seminar, you will be called upon to volunteer during the two-day visits of the Fellows. Fulfilling this (mostly pleasurable) function is as much a requirement as the others listed here. If Lily has not asked you to take on a role during the visits, be sure to ask her what you can do to help.

FINAL EXAM: There will be a wildly comprehensive, personalized final exam. It will be sent to you by email, to be written at your convenience ("take home") any time during the exam period.

Above, at right: Vince Levy introducing Robert Coover in 2009.

books (and DVD) to buy for this seminar

Books to buy:
John Ashbery, Collected Poems, 1956 – 1987 (Library of America)
John Ashbery, Selected Prose (University of Michigan)
John Ashbery, Notes from the Air (Ecco)
John Ashbery, Planisphere (Ecco)
John Ashbery, Quick Question (Ecco)
Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer (Vintage)
Janet Malcolm, Iphigenia in Forest Hills, (Yale University Press)
Janet Malcolm, In the Freud Archives, (NYRB Classics)
Janet Malcolm, Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice (Yale University Press)
Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Vintage)  

DVDs to buy or watch online:
In Treatment, season 1

Films by Rodrigo Garcia you’ll need to watch:
Mother and Child
Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her*
Ten Tiny Love Stories*
Nine Lives*  

*should be available on Netflix Instant Watch

Fellows web page - archive worth viewing

Be sure to take a long look at the Writers House Fellows web page, which includes the history of the program since 1999, and links to video and audio recordings of all the readings by and discussions with the Fellows over the years.