Last night at the Tishman auditorium on West 12th, in a room that resembles an inside out Easter egg with layers of pink and white, cross-hatched icing, surrounded by poetry luminaries and MFA students, we witnessed a generous reading by John Ashbery; a delicate performance of poems spanning the length of his career. At his most sentimental Ashbery delivers lines like late afternoon "light like honey in the trees," and piercingly concrete intellectual imagery: poetry is what's left when all the ideas have been combed out, imagine if you will the furrows of life, the long, neat lines...
Funny and warm, he also possesses great timing: "this is from a long poem...in fact I'll start at page 105," pause. "You don't have to know what came before. It won't help..." By the end one could see that Ashbery had found a way to touch some larger pulse, to transcribe the dialogues of some more grand and pedantic conversation with a faux nonchalance. Obviously just the right amount to both satisfy and unsettle so many.
"He just came up one day and had a look around," was a line that seemed to capture Ashbery's essence. This sense of us meandering in a lost garden, bemused, a little lost, but in no particular panic about it. He said "They could keep on doing what they were doing--it was okay. Only don't say that he said so. But it was okay."
And that's precisely what one felt in the end.