Now Beautifully Translated into Catalan: Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

From the publication Núvol, with translation by Google Translate, some wonderful news from Barcelona:

Barcelona, September 16, 2019

John Ashbery. Self-Portraiture in a Convex Mirror

By: Montserrat Garcia Ribas

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror , translated by Melcion Mateu

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, translated by Melcion Mateu

Two years after the death of American poet John Ashbery (1927-2017), the Girona publishing house Libros del Siglo publishes, for the first time in Catalan, the bilingual edition of his most valued book, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror , translated by the poet Melcion Mateu ; a poetry collection published in 1975, winner of the Pulitzer, National Book and National Critics prizes, of which the famous poem that gives title to the book is part. It is presented Friday September 13th in the Book Week in Catalan, at 8:00 p.m.

In 2017, at the age of ninety, John Ashbery (Rochester, New York, 1927- Hudson, New York, 2017) died—poet, dramatist, narrator, critic and translator—with thirty poetry and other essay books, narrative and theater published. He was one of the most prominent poets of the New York School, along with Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara, among others, and one of the great North American poets of the second half of the 20th century. He also worked on painting and collage, and in recent times, from 2008 to 2017, he exhibited his works at the Tibor The Nagy Gallery in New York.

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror is the second poetry collection of John Ashbery translated into Catalan. The first, Some trees (1956), published in 2001 by Edicions 62 and also translated by Melcion Mateu. We should be grateful for his obsession with the poetry of Ashbery. He met and interviewed the poet personally and maintained correspondence while translating his books. In Spanish, several Ashbery books have been translated, including—twice—Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror: Javier Marías translated only the long final poem, published by the publisher Visor in 1990, while the book was published entirely in 2006, with translation and prologue by Julián Jiménez Heffernan

Eternally aspiring to the Nobel, Ashbery owes to this book of 1975 a good part of his subsequent fame. In several interviews, when asked about this book, he stated: "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror opened a new period in the sense that it was my first book to receive considerable attention, but I am not sure in what sense it is different from the previous or subsequent works, with the exception of the poem that gives it its title, which has become my most well-known work and has an essayistic style, a formal tone that is quite different from everything I have written before or after. It is written in the classical style of American poetry. It is not one of my favorite poems. It is not my most characteristic style. Maybe that's why people like it.". 

The reflection of an obsession

Sometimes there are signs that appear throughout time and that all of a sudden are made present in a way that we can not obviate, obsessively. For example, one day John Ashbery, in 1950, saw The New York Times review of a book on the painter Francesco Mazzola , “Parmigianino,” accompanied by a reproduction of his self-portrait, of 1524, which is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where he is contemplating his image reflected in a convex mirror. Ashbery wanted to write about this picture that fascinated him but did not know how to do it. He years later saw the painting in Vienna. and some time later, in the case of an old bookstore, he saw a book with the picture on the cover. He began to write about the painting, but things did not flow as easily as in other poems. He knew he was writing a poetry different from what he had written so far and surely did not imagine that he would not write a poem like that one again.  

What has a small picture with a central face that occupies everything? Someone looks closely, looks through a convex mirror; a deformed image that says more than one mirror. Ashbery goes into this vision, in everything behind his gaze, in the soul in the image. A poetic voice becomes a variety of voices and perspectives that make up a mosaic of everything human and at the same time meditate on art, with a melancholic and serene tone. Life and art, the everyday life of the present and the past, unite through these verses in the creation of a world. Perhaps to know fully, to catch all of our own truth, we must look in the same way, with the image a little deformed. John Ashbery is also looking at this convex mirror as when it were first discovered. Is it he himself who looks from the painting of Francesco Mazzola? Possibly it is, and he and we are all. 

The final long poem—557 lines—is undoubtedly the best-known poem by the author, often referred to as a masterpiece, but paradoxically, in more than one aspect, as Melcion Mateu writes in the prologue, it is the work least Ashberian of the collection and perhaps of all the corpus of the poet. This is what is known as ekphrasis, or poetic description of a plastic work, but "here the painting brings a convex and deformative poetry, and it becomes a starting point to reflect on the nature of the creative act, as it does to through various textual quotes from the Life of the best architects, painters and Italian sculptors of Giorgio Vasari, among other texts. The text rages about the deformative character of any mimetic approach to reality, the isolation of consciousness about the world around it and the impossibility of capturing time in a voluble existence. In the repeated spherical images that cross the poem, the nature of the world is perceived as a globe: reflections that go and come in a circular way, but that are not solved and push us to an open end. "

At the end of the book, the magnificent postlude by the writer Eloy Fernández Porta illuminates the poetry of Ashbery and this great poem that runs between a network of interrogations and artistic and literary references, but above all highlights the way he has Ashbery of subverting them, as is the case of the use of "interrogatio with literary value, and not just conceptual. And to present the answer as a speculation—"from Latin speculum , mirror" —and not just as information," among others, within the framework of the great theoretical questions that affect the relationship between art and literature, posed in the publication period of Self-portrait. The essential points of this poem are the identity and its relationship with the otherness, as well as a more extensive idea of the figurative self (painter, poet, reader) as an imaginary construction, along with meta-poetic discursiveness and digressions . Fernández Porta emphasizes the distinctive sonority of the Ashberian texts ("tonal hospitality," in the words of Helen Vendler ), "an eloquent way that, in spite of the occasional shadows and darkness of writing, makes the reader feel automatically included: Side by side, accomplice, as if between himself and the author there was always an understatement. "

There were stones that were read like sunspots 

Melcion Mateu speaks of two books in one: the thirty-four poems - and not so brief poems - of the first part, most representative of the poetic Ashberian, and the long final poem that gives title to the whole. He affirms that "the poemary is and is not representative of the Ashberian style: a way of transforming it over and over again and incorporating a multitude of styles, amalgam and collage of surrealism, symbolism, romanticism and more or less realism dirty. Cultures and erudite references coexist with folklore, cinema, comic strips and kitsch, the dialogs and the vulgar registries are juxtaposed to the refined diction of a neoromántico paisajismo; the broad scenarios of American nature are mixed with urban life, the voices of anonymous characters are interspersed with those of a lyrical or a second person who can be singular or plural. It is a poetry that sometimes seems good to read—For its close tone, in warm times—but it is often difficult to understand, to grasp in its verbal wealth, its universe of references, its unpredictable turns and its complexity. "Ashbery's poetry He has points of contact with abstract expressionism, although his poems are not eminently visual. He has been related to the artistic and musical avant-garde of New York, although he may have a greater affinity with contemporary music ( John Cage , Elliot Carter ). 

As Antoni Clapés explained in 2001 when he spoke of the book Some Trees , "Ashbery has never hidden the fascination and influence that Wallace Stevens exercised on him , especially since both are very conceptual writers who, in his speech, reflect and formulate hypotheses about the reality and the nature of things. They find it impossible to imagine and apprehend any immediate reality, and hurry to (re) create another, remote, unrealistic, dreamed. Ashbery, however, taking his own path, talks about what generates surprise, perplexity, and even a sensation of absurdity. The voices of Eliot and Pound, as well as those of Frost and Auden, are more or less distant in the poetry of Ashbery. And all of them have been configuring their particular words: a writing that incorporates prose voices to make more fluid, more diffused if you want, the borders between poetry and prose. A writing that would attack him, perhaps unwillingly, in postmodernity. " In an interview, Ashbery himself speaks of some essential points to interpret his poetry": frequent changes in tone and voice are an aspect of my writing that I favor because it seems to me that this is how we perceive knowledge: in a fragmentary, altered, contradictory, way that is difficult to see and to listen to. I look at verbally expressing something that can only be communicated in a nonverbal manner. "

If I had to choose some poems from the first part of the book, I would choose, among others: "Grand Galop", "As One Put Drunk Into the Packet Boat" and " Scheherazade."

The poet's mission is to write poetry

I look at imagining the childhood of the poet in the village of Rochester, the writing of his first poem at age twelve, the traumatic death of his younger brother at only nine years, the abandoned learning of painting, the desire to write, to look, to listen. Also the experience in Harvard and the impact of his trip to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, and especially New York and Hudson, both places where he lived. 

The poetic voice of John Ashbery has left the mark in the poetry of the second half of the twentieth century. He has had great advocates (and followers) but also detractors. He is considered a great poet for the majority, the creator of a unique poetic universe that drinks from different cultural and artistic traditions. It shows a disillusioned look of life, sometimes cruel and ironic, sometimes fun and also melancholic. It creates a kind of mythology of American life, as if it were a new Whitman, with a multitude of voices and looks that alternate and often overlap as an infinite palimpsest that reveals contradictory feelings. In the opinion of Harold Bloom , Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, was a masterpiece. He said that there was no one writing at that time in the English language with more possibilities than Ashbery to survive the severe judgments of time... He placed him in the American sequence that includes Whitman , Dickinson , Stevens and Crane . The scenario is America and plural. Mr. Sam Abrams, in an article in 2007, considered John Ashbery the most prominent living poet at the time, the last descendant of the great tradition of High Modernity, the direct heir of TS Eliot and Wallace Stevens.

The publication of Autoretrat in a convex mirror in 1975 confirmed him as a poet. He was 48 years old; He was in the middle of his life and writing. After living a few years in Paris, while working as an art critic, he had returned to the USA. I do not know if I had to imagine that I would live for almost two years and I would never stop writing. In an interview in recent years, when mentioned that he is still very prolific and that he never seems to stop writing and publishing, Ashbery says: "The poet's mission is to write poetry." So, until the end.