ASHBERY SIGHTINGS: ELISA GABBERT's "THE WORD PRETTY"

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Elissa Gabbert’s “The Word Pretty” (Black Ocean, 2018) a delightful collection of lyrical essays on “writing, reading, and living,” includes this reference to and quote from Wayne Koestenbaum’s “My 1980s and Other Essays” (FSG, 2013), in her essay “The Art of the Paragraph” on pages 66-67, in writing about transitions between paragraphs. Enjoy this double Ashbery sighting:

Accordingly, it’s in the essays that don’t use section signs that I appreciate the transitions most. Take, for example, the first two paragraphs of Koestenbaum’s “John Ashbery’s Lazy Suzan”:

A John Ashbery poem behaves like a lazy Susan. Spin it and get whatever condiment you want, without having to say “pardon my reach.”

His poems offer a model of writing-against-fatigue, a method of incorporating lethargy in the compositional act: “I’m too tied to write” and “I want to write” can coexist, sing together, in utterances equally industrious and dithering. How hard does and Ashbery poem work? Very hard. Not hard. Call it the Lazy Susan Sublime.

Because two paragraphs are not enough to see these transitions as a pattern versus an isolated instance, let’s look at the fourth and fifth paragraphs too:

Consider each Ashbery poem an instruction manual on how to spend time fruitfully by wasting it, by growing distracted, blurry, foggy, garrulous, horny contrapuntal. Reading Ashbery, we enter a fugue state, polysemy (Polly Seamy) overtakes us.

After Ashbery, it’s impossible to use an idiom seriously. He corrupts our sincerity function, perverts it, encourages us never to mean what we say. It’s banal to be transparent.