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Girls on the Run
ISBN: 978 1 857544 35 0
Categories: 20th Century, American
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Published: September 1999
216 x 135 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.'
'The careering, centrifugal side of Girls on the Run is one of its most effective tools in creating its special ainbience of good-humoured menace ... Ashbery has made the slush of signification, the realm where words slip, slide, perish and decay, uniquely his own.' - David Wheatley, Times Literary Supplement, 30 June, 2000 Praise for John Ashbery 'Praised as a magical genius, cursed as an obscure joker, John Ashbery writes poetry like no one else.' The Independent 'Great poetry, as T.S. Eliot said, can communicate before it is understood: Ashbery communicates in a way that both pays homage to language and transcends it at the same time.' The Guardian 'John Ashbery's Collected Poems 1956-1987, edited by Mark Ford (Carcanet), was a book I found inexhaustible. Possibly the greatest living English-speaking poet and one of the most prolific, Ashbery takes language to its limits, so that words serve as pointers to shifting experiences that elude description. Containing his masterpiece 'Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror', one of the most penetrating 20th-century meditations on what it means to be human, this collection succeeded in stirring my thoughts as well as delighting me.' John Gray The Guardian Books Of The Year 2010 'The language of [John Ashbery's] books is informed by his roving enthusiasms for particular composers. His tastes are both eclectic and out-of-the-way.'- Michael Glover, 'A blue rinse for the language,' The Independent, 13 November, 1999 'In his seventies John Ashbery offers a sprightly and energetic alternative. Instead of being sluggish he demands that the self must be even more alert, more vigilant, more attentive to the world around it, not indifferent to and weary of it. Alert, vigilant, attentive ... Wakefulness, the brilliantly evocative title of Ashbery's collection.' - Stephen Matterson, 'The Capacious Art of Poetry,' Poetry Ireland Review 62, 114 'Harold Bloom regards [John Ashbery] as something akin to a genius...' - Michael Glover, 'The poet as frustrated composer,' Book and Poetry Review section, The Independent, 14 August, 1998 '...Ashbery is still exuberantly dedicated to the truthful rendering of experience as a flow of sensations that defy interpretation. Consciousness is not so much a stream as a series of jump-cuts from one haunting or zany impression to the next. His best poems have a weirdly, intriguingly satisfying quality.' - Alan Brownjohn, 'Creating a sensation,' Book and Poetry Review section, The Sunday Times, 10 January, 1999
'Stemming in part from Mallarme and in part from Whitman, Ashbery's work creates a tension in which the fine networks of linguistic reverie are balanced by the strong sense of American tradition.'- Peter Ackroyd, 'Books of the Year,' The Times Literary Supplement, 4 December, 1992 '...an Ashbery [poem] does not stand on its own but floats off into the reader's limitless consciousness like a balloon. Balloons can be very beautiful, inspire longing and also make you smile.'- Grey Gowrie, 'Where the commonplace is wonderful,' Book and Poetry Review section, The Daily Telegraph, 5 October, 1996 'John Ashbery's distinctiveness as a poet paradoxically resides in his ability to evade all single identities; like Whitman, he feels most fully himself when he contains multitudes ... [Ashbery] deploys a staggering variety of dictions, ranging from fragments of novelettish narratives to lyrical dream-visions, from the cliché of public speech to scraps of surrealist collage...'- Mark Ford, 'Free-wheeling towards the abyss,' Times Literary Supplement, 27 December, 1991 'Notoriously hard to characterise, Ashbery's poetry has been likened to many things - a spiritual experience or an animated cartoon ... No poet's lines are more accommodating to other voices and idioms ... Like restless guests, his subjects arrive and mingle, don unlikely disguises and abruptly announce they are "off on some expedition"...Such poise lends authority to his "positive melancholy," makes even his excesses ... masterly, and ensures that The Ashbery remains the destination of choice, the place "where everything gets unravelled just right."'- Julian Loose, Book and Poetry Review section, The Guardian, 3 November, 1992 'The Mooring of Starting Out is filled with illustrations glimpsed through luminous, funny, formidably intelligent and often heartbreaking poems.'- Andrew Zawacki, 'A wave of music,' Times Literary Supplement, 12 June, 1998 'John Ashbery is probably the most highly regarded living poet in America ... The "story" element in Ashbery comes over in fragmented and non-consequential ways, but the fragments have a strong power of visual evocation, and a startling precision of outline ... His focus is on a bravura artifice, a depersonalised surface crackling with "possibility," a brilliant randomness in which analogy with Action Painting asserts itself with special force...'- Claude Rawson, 'A poet in the postmodern playground,' Times Literary Supplement, 4 July, 1986
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