Monday, September 4, 2017

John Ashbery & Louise Brooks encounter in Paris

The American poet John Ashbery has died. He was 90 years old. Ashbery was the first living poet to have a volume published by the Library of America dedicated exclusively to his work. But more than that, his 1975 collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, was the only winner of the book world's unofficial "triple crown": the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle prize. In 1985, Ashbery was named a MacArthur “genius,” and in 2011, Ashbery was given a National Humanities Medal and credited with changing "how we read poetry."

Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. He attended Harvard, and long lived in New York City. He was grouped with Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch as part of the avant-garde "New York School" of poets, although Ashbery believed what they really had in common was living in New York. Read one obit of the poet HERE (Associated Press), and another HERE (NYT Times).

I met him once, when he did a rare drop by book signing at the bookstore I once worked at. (He signed more than a dozen books for me, including translations of surrealist writers.)

It was then that Ashbery told me of his encounter with Louise Brooks, in a Paris hotel lobby in the late 1950s. As Ashbery explained, the hotel manager noticed that the poet was from Rochester, New York - and that was where Brooks was then living. (It's likely both registered as being from the upstate New York town.) And so, they were introduced....

I can't remember how the subject of Louise Brooks came-up (though I suppose I am always talking about the actress), but it might of had to do with Ashbery's friends, the New York poets Frank O'Hara and Bill Berkson. Both had written poems "about" Louise Brooks, and both were "fans" of the actress' films. Ashbery, as it turned out, was also interested in the actress. (Interestingly, Frank O'Hara's roommate in college at Harvard was the illustrator / artist Edward Gorey, another admirer of Louise Brooks.)

New Yorkers love Louise Brooks, just as she loved New York. Below is a picture (via Wikipedia) of Paul Auster and John Ashbery at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. Auster, as many may know, is a novelist and the author of Lulu on the Bridge.

Paul Auster John Ashbery BBF 2010 Shankbone

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