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Girls on the Run

John Ashbery

Cover Picture of Girls on the Run
Categories: 20th Century, American
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
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  • 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.'


    John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. His books of poetry include Breezeway ; Quick Question ; Planisphere ; Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, which was awarded the 2008 International Griffin Poetry Prize; A Worldly Country ; Where Shall I Wander ; and Self-Portrait in ... read more
    Awards won by John Ashbery Winner, 1997  Gold Medal for Poetry Winner, 2001 Wallace Stevens Award Winner, 1995 Robert Frost Medal Winner, 1976 National Book Critics Circle Award (Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror) Winner, 1976 National Book Award (Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror) Winner, 1976 Pulitzer Award (Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror)
       '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 'That Ashbery had these several extended works underway simultaneously testifies not only to his unflagging fealty to the form but also to his extravagantly various powers of invention and intelligence... Even as the references that undergird these projects range from the reassuringly familiar to the dauntingly obscure, as is typical with Ashbery, they characterize a rarefied mental atmosphere, one in which the poet's droll self-awareness deflates what otherwise might be pretension... Ashbery recognized the porous border between decision and delusion, between finality and its seeming appearance. This collection of unfinished works allows readers to tread that border as well.'

    Albert Mobilio, Poetry

    'This is an exciting missing piece of the jigsaw for Ashbery enthusiasts. Here language fizzes with a vital "off-kilter quality" and an Ashberian state of open-ended possibility.'

    The Poetry Book Society Summer Bulletin

    'I'll keep returning to The Wave, knowing that each time I do, I'll connect with poems, and lines in poems, I haven't noticed before and recconect with those that have resonated already'
    Pam Thompson, The North
    'John Ashbery's final collection of poetry disguises itself well as a mid-career high. The energy and modernity of his strange little worlds tell nothing of his age.'
    Stand Magazine


      'More than a century after Arthur Rimbaud composed his Illuminations they are reborn in John Ashbery's magnificent translation. It is fitting that the major American poet since Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens should give us this noble version of the precursor of all three.'
    Harold Bloom
    'A fine collection of poems rooted in 21st-century America.'
    Robert McCrum, The Observer
      'More than a century after Arthur Rimbaud composed his Illuminations they are reborn in John Ashbery's magnificent translation. It is fitting that the major American poet since Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens should give us this noble version of the precursor of all three.'
    Harold Bloom
    'Quick Question, with the hushed intensity of its music and great lyric beauty, could only be Ashbery.'
    Ian Thomson, Financial Times
     The book invites the reader to poetic gluttony. It serves as a corrective to the monoglot provincialism by which the Anglophone world is still bedevilled.
    Sean O'Brien, Independent
     'The lyrics in Breezeway, a new collection by the octogenarian poet John Ashbery are as good as his finest. I especially like the final poem, poignantly reprising the last line of Keats' Ode to a Nightingale', "Do I wake or sleep?"'
    Salley Vickers, The Observer - The New Review, 29.11.2015.
      '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
       '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
        '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
You might also be interested in:
Cover of Collected Poems 1956-1987
Collected Poems 1956-1987 John Ashbery,
Edited by Mark Ford
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