Geoffrey G. O’Brien: Canceled Pastoral: Ashbery’s “The Instruction Manual” and Genre Responsibility

This essay was originally delivered as a talk at Saint Mary’s College, September 16, 2015.

The poet and critic Allen Grossman has said that poetry addresses itself to two fundamental problems or limits: death and the barrier of other people’s minds. What he doesn’t discuss in this formulation are the material conditions in which those problems present themselves and in which any poetry that tasks itself with confronting them is written. But such conditions—economic and social—obtain in any historical moment from antiquity to the corporatist present and not only affect a poem’s situation, they constitute a third limit: the poet’s constrained imagination of those other limits, death and people, and of poetry’s capacity to reach and traverse them. One crucial version of that third limit is time, which at all times is an economic commodity—the act of composition is a labor that requires time and thus freedom from other labor, either purchased with one’s own work or by virtue of the work of others, usually both. Poetry has several ways of forgetting the fact that it’s underwritten by labor, that there is endless occupation supporting its vocation, the easiest of which is, like Grossman’s account of the poetic task, simply not to mention it. A specific, reliable form of this unmentioning is called pastoral.

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Poetry: rob mclennan

from mmm

Unbutton. You are born.

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Barbara Claire Freeman interviews Andrew Joron

joron-theremin-3Andrew Joron is the author of Trance Archive: New and Selected Poems (City Lights, 2010). Joron’s previous poetry collections include The Removes (Hard Press, 1999), Fathom (Black Square Editions, 2003), and The Sound Mirror (Flood Editions, 2008). The Cry at Zero, a selection of his prose poems and critical essays, was published by Counterpath Press in 2007. From the German, he has translated the Literary Essays of Marxist-Utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch (Stanford University Press, 1998) and The Perpetual Motion Machine by the proto-Dada fantasist Paul Scheerbart (Wakefield Press, 2011). As a musician, Joron plays the theremin in various experimental and free-jazz ensembles. Joron teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University.

barbaraclaire photeBarbara Claire Freeman is a literary critic and professor of literature who has recently turned her full attention to writing poetry. She is the author of The Feminine Sublime: Gender and Excess in Women’s Fiction (U.C. Press), among many other works of literary theory and criticism. Formerly an Associate Professor of English at Harvard, she teaches creative writing in the Rhetoric Department at UC Berkeley. She is the author of Every Day But Tuesday (Omnidawn Publishing, 2015), Incivilities (Counterpath Press, 2009) and two chapbooks: #343 (Chapvelope Press, 2014) and St. Ursula’s Silence (Instance Press, 2010). Selections from these collections won the Boston Review/Discovery Prize and the Campbell Corner Prize (Sarah Lawrence College). New work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fence, Lana Turner, the PEN Poetry Series and Prelude.

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Bay Area Lit Scene: Studio One Reading Series


What: Studio One Reading Series
When: December 4th, 2015
Where: Studio One Art Center, 365 45th Street, Oakland, CA

Review by Kevin Kvist Peters, Bay Area Lit Scene Editor.

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