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Terence Winch
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Thank you, David. I never met him, but as a young poet I was fascinated and thrilled by his mastery of rhyme.
Thanks for this, David. You were lucky to have known him so well for so long, and so was he.
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I met John Asbery in November of 1973 when I went with a group of friends to hear him read in DC. Maybe it was the Library of Congress. I can’t remember. Michael Lally had turned me on to John’s 1970 book, The Double Dream of Spring, which knocked me out. This was poetry that was at once grand, symphonic, silly, profound, and comic all at once. His formal virtuosity and his mastery of language set a new standard for many of us young poets back then. We stayed in touch over the years. John read in Washington with some regularity and would often put me on the guest list for pre- or post-reading get-togethers. He loved a good party, preferably one that included plenty of drink, dope, wit, and attractive young men. [photo at left by Allan Penn from the New York Times Magazine] He was extraordinarily prolific. In his 60s, he published one of my favorite Ashbery books—the dazzling, monumental Flow Chart, a 216-page epic of the imagination that I regard as one of the most significant works of literature in English (“It’s my Sonata of Experience, and I wrote it for you”). I count another 14 books after that (not including his essays, translations, and art criticism), an astonishing late-life output that continued up to 2016’s Commotion of the Birds. It seemed like every 18 months or so, a new Ashbery book would show up. I waited for, bought, and read each one, hoping they would keep coming forever. John’s death yesterday, 3 September 2017, at age 90 brings that streak to an end. Though I hope a few more posthumous books will appear to help all his friends and readers adjust to a world that no longer includes him. My deepest condolences to David Kermani, John’s spouse, friend, collaborator, and companion for the past 40 years or so. This evening I read though Flow Chart. Here are a few excerpts that called out to me: Words, however, are not the culprit. They are at worst a placebo, leading nowhere (though nowhere, it must be added, can sometimes be a cozy place, preferable in many cases to somewhere)... ◙ ...Still, life is reasonably absorbing and there’s lots of nice people around. Most are well fed and relaxing, and one can improve one’s mind a little by going out to a film or having a chat with that special friend; and before you know it it’s time to brush your teeth and go to bed.” ◙ So what’s to feel nervous about? We all know that we have to live for a certain time and then unfortunately we must die, and after that no one is sure what happens. Accounts vary. ◙ ...I have the feeling my voice is just for me, that no one else has ever heard it, yet I keep mumbling the litany of all that has ever happened to me, childish pranks included, and when the voluminous sun sets, its bag full, one can... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Earle. It's great to have you & Stephen Reichert offer your own favorite Liam poems. The poems live on!
Thanks, Lynne. I had forgotten that Liam was the one who brought you to Mass Transit---I have that to thank him for as well.
I remember well that night you and I stumbled in upon Liam and his entourage before a reading he was doing in DC. At some restaurant/bar downtown. That was when we both had actual jobs in the nation's capital. Thanks for "My Memoir." Odd that it didn't make it into his book.
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It's difficult for me to accept that 10 years have passed since my old friend Liam Rector took his own life. We had known each other since my early days in Washington, DC, where we were both part of the Mass Transit open poetry reading group started by Michael Lally in the early 1970s. We became better friends in the '80s and after, and I still miss his often outrageous, but always smart and funny perspective on life and poetry. I wrote about him here a year after his death. And Wikipedia offers this short bio. [photo at left by Parrish Dobson] I learned of his death very quickly after it occurred from his longitme friend and protege David Fenza. I was shocked, but in some ways not surprised. Liam had hinted very clearly that suicide was something he regarded as a real option for him. It was over-the-top, dramatic, arresting, absolute---an act, in other words, that fit his personality perfectly. I respect his right to take his own life. I don't know what he was contending with that pushed him to this extreme, but I suspect it was a combination of medical problems and spiritual despair. He left behind his wife, Tree Swenson, herself a significant figure in the New York literary world back then; his daughter Virginia from his second marriage; and a multitude of friends, colleagues, and students. He is a hard person to forget, and I miss him still. Here is a message he left on my answering machine sometime not too long before his death. I offer it not because of its flattering praise of my work, but to give a sense of the kind of friend he could be---full of appreciation and support for the people he cared about: Liam Rector phone message Here are two of my favorite poems of Liam's: OLD COAT Dressed in an old coat I lumber Down a street in the East Village, time itself Whistling up my ass and looking to punish me For all the undone business I have walked away from, And I think I might have stayed In that last tower by the ocean, The one I built with my hands and furnished Using funds which came to me at nightfall, in a windfall.... Just ahead of me, under the telephone wires On this long lane of troubles, I notice a gathering Of viciously insane criminals I'll have to pass Getting to the end of this long block in eternity. There's nothing between us. Good I look so dangerous in this coat. MENTAL MOMMY Home from school at six years old, first grade, And uncle there to tell me Mommy Gone, Mommy not be coming back any Time soon, Liam, Mommy had to go to Mental hospital. Nervous breakdown. Years later Mommy, when she gets out Of mental, often says, "If you're A bad boy for me Liam you're Going to send me back, back Into mental hospital, like you did First time." At 13... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Alright, David! (I hope Stacey doesn't see this.)
Go, David! Great stuff.
Toggle Commented Jan 1, 2017 on Happy Holidays! at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for this, Michael. Ray was a good friend for many decades. You introduced us ca. 1972 & we kept in touch thereafter. He was a singular man & writer. I will miss him---it's hard to accept that I can't just pick up the phone & give him a call.
Nice work, Ms. Harwood!
Brilliant! But now you've made me feel like I've just flunked my Hitchcock comprehensives.
Thanks for this, Jerome. If Michael had stopped writing 20 or 30 years ago, he would still have easily qualified, IMO, as a major American poet. The fact that he is still turning out brilliant work today only solidifies his importance.
This looks great, but you can't "continue reading" without subscribing to the WSJ. Which is frustrating. I love Coleridge. "Kubla Khan" is the greatest poem in English.
Great post. I always loved Jack Benny. And Jimmy Durante. And John Ashbery. And drinking. And Mickey Rooney (Scottish; real name: Joe Yule; cf. Joe Christmas). And so forth.
"...swift, dishy, insightful, entertaining"---true of the book and its author.
Thanks, Janey---I still remember what a thrill it was when you published my little chapbook Nuns and got Edward Gorey to provide the cover image.
But I'm glad you & your work are still with us. Thanks, Tom.