Are there corridors of poetic power? I only hope they are more about turning lights on than secretly manipulating the worldâ€™s ideas through some sort of word-play. At a reading in Hartford in late February 2007, I asked John Ashbery what it was like at 80, to be considered a part of the American literary landscape, like Wallace Stevens or William Carlos Williams? He said the idea terrified him. He always thought of himself as an outsider, controversial, often doubting the value of the work he produced and pushing, he said, always pushing toward something new. To be part of the landscape, a part of the system or establishment, he said, troubled him because in order for that to happen something had to change, either the establishment or him. Writers work differently for every reader. Some engage by ringing the bell that resonates in the readerâ€™s core. Others try to make readers ring the bell within themselves. Still others prefer the imagined sound of the bell over any that actually sounds within or without. Really, it is up to thinking readers to find those writers who work for them, or who seem to write for them. So, if there are corridors of power, Iâ€™m pretty sure theyâ€™re in publishingâ€“poetryâ€™s corridors are still passages in a labyrinthine box garden to me. And I, for one, am less interested in finding the exit than the center.
In comments to my post on Ashbery, which has shuffled off the main page, Kenneth (whom I do not know) left this comment. I thought it was so insightful I wanted to bring it to the top of the deck: