American poet John Ashbery talked to TIME some time ago about fame, poverty and art criticism.
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.
1 John Ashbery doesn't think of himself as the most important living poet in America.
2 John Ashbery reads what critics say about him.
3 John Ashbery enjoys reading his poetry in public.
4 John Ashbery thinks poetry is less popular these days.
5 John Ashbery is gay.
6 John Ashbery lives off poetry.
7 John Ashbery would rather be America's most important living poet than anything else.
Hi, I’m Belinda Luscombe. I’m an editor-at-large at Time Magazine, but you’re not here for me. You’re here for John Ashbery, often called America’s most important living poet. Thanks for letting us come here, Mr Ashbery.
Thank you for coming.
You won an award from the National Book Association last night. Are you, in fact, America’s most important living poet?
I don’t think so important. I get talked about a lot. But for many years the jury has been out and probably will be on the question of my importance. I enjoy writing the way I do, which doesn’t please a lot of people, pleases others enormously.
Do you ever read what the critics write about you, what poetry and literary critics write about you and just think, this is hysterical or this is ridiculous?
No, I don’t feel that this is ridiculous because I don’t know. Maybe they’re right. I haven’t got that much confidence in my writing. That’s more like, you know, hope rather than confidence.
Do other forms of poetry interest you, poetry slams, those kind of things?
I don’t really like poetry readings very much, including my own. I hate the sound of my own voice, for an instance I can’t stand listening to myself reading poetry. And that goes true for most other poets.
Do you think that there’s any way in which poetry, which in my lifetime and probably in yours seems to have become less and less popular, do you think there’s a way that it can become more part of people’s life again?
No… My perception is…
I’m prepared to be wrong.
… is that there’s a much bigger audience for poetry than there was when I was young. In fact, when I began writing there was really only one poetry magazine in the country. Poetry. Today there seems there’s so many magazines, presses, so many poets I have the impression that poetry is liked more by those who like it than was the case in the past.
Now you grew up in an era where it was considered shameful to be gay, and that is no longer the prevailing view, I would say.
You don’t… well? I guess the jury’s out.
Nobody told me.
It’s certainly not as prevailing as it was. Would you go that far with me?
Do you think if that attitude had been current in your life it would have changed your work?
I’ve never been sure how that would’ve worked. There’s a school of criticism who says that my poetry is so tortuous and obscure because I’ve been trying to cover up the fact of my sexuality all these years. And I think that’s an interesting possibility and there may indeed be some truth in it. But I’m not quite sure how much and whether that’s the generating force in my poetry. I think I would’ve been attracted to this kind of poetry anyway.
Do you currently make a living off your poetry?
Heavens, no. I mean, gosh, no. Sucks, no. No, not at all. I’ve made a living teaching, which I’m now retired, that’s one thing poets can do and many of them do to survive.
If you could swap places and you could, instead of being America’s most important living poet, you could be America’s most important living something else, what would you like it to be?
I don’t think I’d wanna be anything else. I think I, I’d rather stick with poetry.
Mr Ashbry, thanks very much.
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