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Girls on the Run
ISBN: 978 1 857544 35 0
Categories: 20th Century, American
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Published: September 1999
215 x 136 x 5 mm
Publisher: Carcanet Press
To everyone's surprise the bus stopped.
Our stalwart little band of angels got on it, and were taken for a ride
Into the next chapter, a dim place of curlicues and bas-reliefs.
from Girls on the Run
'Did you read that book I was telling you about? Ach, it concerns puberty.'
Girls on the Run, a poem in twenty-one chapters, is written 'after Henry Darger' (1892-1972), the 'outsider' American artist who toiled for decades, tracing images from comic strips, colouring books and other ephemeral sources, creating an enormous illustrated novel about the adventures of a plucky band of little girls. Ashbery provides a species of verse translation of Darger's haunted, faux-innocent images of tumbling, frolicking, fleeing children. 'An illustration changes us' the poem says, introducing us to the dramatis personae of his and Darger's hybrid world: Tidbit, Dimples, Pete, Pliable, Dave, Uncle Margaret (and his wren ranch), Aunt Clara, Persnickety Peggy and dozens more, not forgetting Rags the Dog or Mr McPlaster, the school principal.
Does chapter ten veer into the poet's own autobiography? Do Darger's images trip an early nerve in memory? This isn't narrative as such - with Ashbery it's never narrative as such - but characters, fears and desires come and come again, erratic pulses, passions. There is the joy of losing the 'I' in the wild momentum of the gang.
Eros is everywhere, ripe-cheeked, mischievous, yet there's no consummation or repose: in the end the sweet, sinister world of the poem is, like the world of Darger's pictures, like the world itself, a smiling avenue, a burning carousel. Ah, 'But I am getting ahead of my story.'
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