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Other Traditions (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) Paperback – 1 Dec 2001

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Product Description


"John Ashbery is arguably one of the two or three greatest living American poets." -- Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"Recklessness... is the salient feature that connects the six little-known and disparate writers that Ashbery chose to discuss." -- Mark Ford, New Republic

"[Ashbery] untangles their lives from their work, their obscurity from their talent and their importance to us from their obscurity." -- Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[This is Ashbery] at his most accessible. Each of the six poets [he] one of his favorites. -- Taylor Antrim, New York Times Book Review

About the Author

John Ashbery has published more than twenty books of poetry, including Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and Flow Chart, and is the winner of every major American poetry prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Poetry Society of America's Robert Frost Medal.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Unusual perspective on poetry 2 Oct. 2000
By Jonathan Mayhew - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Instead of offering predictable comments on well-known poets, John Ashbery has chosen to explain his preference for seemingly eccentric figures like John Clare and Raymond Roussel. While Ashbery is a difficult poet, his prose is reader-friendly; this book, then, provides insight into Ashbery's own unique poetic sensibility, as well as into the poets and writers he has chosen.
This book provokes thought about issues of literary value. Why does Ashbery find supposedly "minor" figures more inspiring of his own writing? Are his arguments for the value of these figures ultimately convincing? Do marginality and eccentricity have an intrinsic value for him? Before reading this book I did know something about Laura Riding, Raymond Roussel, and John Clare; the other writers came as revelations to me. I am not convinced that every figure treated is of equal interest, but I am fascinated by Ashbery's own responses to these practically unknown "cult authors."
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
a doorway 29 Sept. 2002
By NotATameLion - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a while, I come across a book that opens up new doors for me. They introduce to me to areas of life that I otherwise might never have encountered. Other Traditions by John Ashbery is just such a book.
I have always had a love for, but limited knowledge of, Poetry. It was Edward Hirsch's great book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry that first introduced me to Ashbery's work. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living poets. Therefore, I jumped at the opportunity to read Other Traditions.
Other Traditions is the book form of a series of lectures given by Ashbery on other poets. Ashbery writes about six of the lesser-known artists who have had an impact on his own life and work. All of them are fascinating. They are:
-John Clare, a master at describing nature who spent the last 27 years of his life in an Asylum.
-Thomas Lovell Beddoes, a rather death obsessed author (he ended up taking his own life) whose greatest poetry consists of fragments that must often be culled from the pages of his lengthy dramas.
-Raymond Roussel, a French author whose magnum opus is actually a book-length sentence.
-John Wheelwright, a politically engaged genius whose ultra-dense poetry even Ashbery has a hard time describing or comprehending.
-Laura Riding, a poet of great talent and intellect who chose to forsake poetry (check out the copyright page).
-David Schubert, an obscure poet who Ashbery feels is one of the greatest of the Twentieth Century.
The two that I was most pleasantly surprised by are Clare and Riding.
Clare has become (since I picked up a couple of his books) one of my favorite poets. He is a master at describing rural life. I know of no one quite like him. Ashbery's true greatness as a critic comes out when he depicts Clare as "making his rounds."
Riding, on the other hand, represents the extreme version of every author's desire for the public to read their work in a precise way--the way the author intends it to be read. Her intense combativeness and sensitivity to criticism is as endearing as it is humorous.
Other Traditions has given me a key to a whole new world of books. For that I am most grateful.
I give this book my full recommendation.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
What Ashbery Values 28 Feb. 2001
By Thomas E. Defreitas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Here are six essays by John Ashbery about six of his favourite minor poets, ranging from John Clare, born in 1790s England, to David Schubert, born 1913 in New York. John Brooks Wheelwright and Laura Riding are included, from the early 20th century, as is Raymond Roussel (a French precursor to anti-novelists, a specialist in parenthetical labyrinths, and endlessly detailed descriptions of bottle-labels). We have, too, the doomed author of "Death's Jest Book," the 19th-century poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes.

These essays are engaging and readable, informed and informative without being pedantic. There are anecdotes, too (about Riding, most notably, who is aptly diagnosed by Ashbery as "a control freak"). We notice that half of the authors are homosexual or possibly so, most either committed suicide or had a parent who did so, three were affected by mental problems, and the majority were ardent leftists (Riding being an exception).

To this reader, the two Johns, Clare and Wheelwright, are the most immediately endearing, and David Schubert's disjunctive colloquial tone does fascinate. Some of the comments about the gang of six do shed some light into Ashbery's curious methods: Clare's mucky down-to-earthiness and Beddoes' elegant, enamelled "fleurs-du-mal" idiom both being "necessary" components of poetry, in Ashbery's view. Some of Wheelwright's elastic sonnets have a Saturday Evening Post-type folksiness that is often found in Ashbery's own poetic inventions; Schubert's poems (in Rachel Hadas's words) "seem(ing) to consist of slivers gracefully or haphazardly fitted together." An aside: Look at the first two lines of Schubert's "Happy Traveller." Couldn't that be John Ashbery? About Raymond Roussel, whose detractors accuse him of saying nothing, Ashbery mounts an impatient defence that reads like a self-defence: "If 'nothing' means a labyrinth of brilliant stories told only for themselves, then perhaps Roussel has nothing to say. Does he say it badly? Well, he writes like a mathematician."

We learn that Ashbery is not fond of E E Cummings, and he is unconvincingly semi-penitent of this "blind spot": Cummings, with his Herrick-like lucidity, his straightforward heterosexuality, and his resolute nonleftism, would not appear to fit nicely into Ashbery's pantheon. Ashbery even takes a few mischievous swipes at John Keats -- rather, he quotes George Moore doing so. Ashbery will doubtless forgive his readers if our enthusiasm for the poetry of Keats and Cummings remains undiminished.

There is much in the poetry explored by "Other Traditions" that is dark and bothersome; but there are felicities. These lectures form a fascinating kind of ars-poetica-in-prose by one of America's cleverest and most vexing of poets.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Gem of Oddities 7 Dec. 2006
By Eddie Watkins - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is much smaller than I thought it would be, but this only enhances its gem-like charm; from its rich cover to its finely homespun interior. I thought at first I had heard it all before from Ashbery, in his short Schubert and Roussel essays, and in comments dropped in Reported Sightings; but even when covering the same ground he subtly brings forth new worlds. It's refreshing to hear him talk of these beloved poets, like a tour through the comfortable rooms of his mind, which of course also offers countless insights into Ashbery's own career of poetic journeys. I recommend this book to both literary scavengers of the past and arcane poets of the future, but especially to the intriguing combination of both living a dream right now.
Excellent Ashbery! 10 Feb. 2014
By Ulrik Skeel - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ashbery's writing flows like the music of Mozart, but free from the heavy clichés of classicism. To talk about difficult things in a light way is the divine gift (or the result of a hard work) mr. Ashbery divides with us, his readers.
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