Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Poem by John Ash

John Ash was born in Manchester, England, in 1948. He has lived in Cyprus and in New York City and has taught at The University of Iowa and the University of California at Berkeley. Since 1996, he has lived in Istanbul and teaches at Bosphorus University. In this country, his work has appeared in a number of publications, including the The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Paris Review. He has published (my count, I may be off here) ten collections of poetry, including Disbelief (1987) and Selected Poems (1996). His most recent book is To the City (Talisman House, 2004).

Writing of that most recent collection in Poetry the critic Peter Campion said, "John Ash could be the best English poet of his generation. Yet somehow it seems inappropriate to play the old ratings game with him. Ash lives as an expatriate in Istanbul, a vantage point from which the machinations of 'po-biz' must seem very far away. And that distance isn't merely a geographical fact but a condition of his work."

Here's a poem from The Burnt Pages (Random House, 1991), his first book to be published in the United States. Something about this poem--perhaps it is the persistent inquiry of the second-person protagonist, observing the "other" who may be the writer's self--reminds me of Rilke.


These glances press against you like the surges of the breeze
off the Hudson crossing Hudson Street.
What could be going on in the mind of the young,
upwardly mobile person shopping for vitamins and beansprouts
hard by The First National Church of the Exquisite Panic?

Doesn't the whole city cry out to him
that he must do something remarkable today?
One assumes (one can assume anything)
that behind the charming pediment of a smile
there is an interior to be explored, a suite of rooms––
a place at least big enough for a piano and a bed.

Perhaps there is only darkness, you say,
a wormeaten stair curving down from nowhere
to nothing, but that would be too bad to think of
on a day in January of such warmth it seems
a gesture of forgiveness, like the scarf
a neglected relative sent to you.

On 15th Street we assume the best, that
you will find the thing you have been looking for
in the hat shop on Greenwich Avenue,
or that winter like a curse is spent once and for all.

On 13th Street the banners blow
in sad celebration of family, friends, and lovers.
In the little triangular park by Horatio
where the homeless slept last summer
they are building a fountain from the last century.
Ah, streets where are you taking us?


Blogger Panayoti Kelaidis said...

I just discovered John Ash's Byzantine Journey--which is simply awesome: wanted to find out more about the man and his poetry--and stumbled on your Blog: thanks for printing the poem: it's terrific. Now I shall proceed to buy a few of his poetry books. How fun it is to discover a new writer who appears to be an extraordinary talent that resonate so much!

7:52 PM  

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