Reading John Ashberry


I’ve been meaning for some time to write about what it is like to read John Ashberry. I mean Ashberry's paste. He has books like The Vermont Notebook and Some Trees, books with recognizable names—and these are not the kind of writing I care about. (A note on what "recognizable" means here: the names are not recognizable among the general public though they are available there; rather, I mean they are recognizable among people who undertake to read Literature. I'm not concerned with my perceived status as part of either group, Literature seekers or the general public; in fact I am hostile to the notion of anyone belonging to one group or the other. I just know that my audience will appreciate my explicitly recognizing the difference, for it is the kind of thing that usually goes unremarked. This distinction is the kind of thing that draws readers to this Internet-bound journal, people who seek, above all, precision. Thank you for indulging me on this parenthetic.) Besides these famous books, there is the Ashberrian paste; sorry. This paste includes the words from books such as Three Poems, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, and many more. If you love Ashberry, now I tell you to drop your defenses. “Paste” (my use of the term) is inevitably going to have the ring of the derogatory. There is a homogeneity to it. Paste, I say, because there is a sameness to all this stuff. You know what I mean—I can see it in your eyes: if, when you first began to read Ashberry, you were not careful, your consciousness did glaze over. But sameness is not intrinsically negative. There is a sameness to all the sex you can have. There is a sameness to all of Shakespeare. In Ashberry the sameness is like cold water but it is also like a blossoming head trip, in which you go away from what you know and travel deeper into what you realize you've always been expecting; and by "always" I mean since the beginning of your life. Your guide takes on the topic of existence but without leaving Central Park; that is, he writes poetry. That is all locked into the sameness, the sameness, of paste. There is a consistent sensation as you move through it. Each step (each line of writing) has its own way to hold you. It keeps you there, delivers you to the next moment when it is over, hands you off to the next line. You're already there before you know it; he has passed you along with perfect meaning, but we must say with empty meaning. This paste is clean. It does not get dirty with connection. Please don't think about the words he uses. They don't mean anything, except as they do, and, there: they've accomplished their purpose, and here we are. Besides being clean in itself, the paste is clean-burning. The paste smith holds you close by doing a contemporary dance, something like a foxtrot but with an interesting counterstep every fourth beat that you think must originate from a Spanish speaking country. He manages to stay in the light, always difficult when you're walking a dog in this part of the world. The stone building between us and the sun overshadows two ponds, and to us it seems for a moment that the entire city is cast in shadow.