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John Ashbery on themed books

I was listening to an interview with poet John Ashbery (from the excellent PennSound archive) and was struck by the following exchange with the host, Tom Smith. Smith is referring here to Ashbery’s collection of poems Hotel Lautreamont:

Tom Smith: Does it have a particular principle of organization we could talk about, or does it reflect a span of time, a creative span of time?

John Ashbery: No, none of my collections of poetry has a principle of organization as some poets like to do. I suppose it merely reflects a span of time, the time in which it took to write the poems. I write pretty regularly, and when I feel I have enough to make a book, I put them together and send them to a publisher.

I was interested in this because so much of the received wisdom about publishing poetry suggests that Ashbery’s method is the wrong way to do it. Of course, it helps if you’re John Ashbery, but it was important to me to be reminded that there are as many ways to create a manuscript as there are poets to create them.

Published in Poetry


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