Forty-one years ago, as part of a reading series organized by the Academy of American Poets and held at the Guggenheim from the mid 1960s through 1980, John Ashbery gave a reading at the museum. This flyer promotes the series’ 1972–3 season, which in addition to Ashbery featured Robert Bly, Carolyn Kizer, and Tomas Tranströmer.
Before his reading, Ashbery sat down for an interview on the WNYC Round and About the Guggenheim radio program with museum staffer Mimi Poser and David Kalstone, an English professor at Rutgers. The interview has been digitized and made available as part of the Guggenheim Museum Archives’ Reel to Reel collection. In the interview, Ashbery, Poser, and Kalstone, discuss how poetry relates to art, how Ashbery got his start as an art critic, and how he goes about writing a poem.
There are gems interspersed throughout the program. Describing his process, Ashbery says, “A phrase will occur to me that seems to define a kind of area which could be filled with a poem.” Touching on translation (and the difficulty of understanding an author’s intent), he notes, “People are wrong who say that it’s impossible to translate poetry from one language into another. It is possible. It’s of course impossible in the way it is impossible to read a poem and know exactly what the writer intended you to feel to begin with.” Meanwhile, Poser and Kalstone lament the decline in their contemporaries’ reading habits.
The interview closes with Ashbery giving a reading of “Soonest Mended,” which, he says, is “about as close to an autobiographical poem” as his poetry gets.
Listen to the entire interview on SoundCloud and explore other clips from the Reel to Reel collection.