What is Ashberyland?
[FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS]
This site, for those happy seniors enrolled in “Issues in Contemporary Poetry,” will serve as a repository for thoughts on the “current American scene” and on some of the most celebrated poetry of the past 18 years (or thereabouts).
These students, and everyone else who is involved with Ashberyland, hopes that, as you read through these pieces, you will stumble upon at least one poem that speaks to you in a powerful way, one that you will see as meaningful, that promises to stick with you throughout your life.
Furthermore, it is our sincere hope that great contemporary American poetry might, in some small way, serve as a means for overcoming the regionalism that has given shape to the present contours of our United States of America.
So whether you reside in Darien, Connecticut, or Chanute, Kansas, or Fort Fairfield, Maine, or Garden City, Texas, or San Narcisco, California, there is a fantastic poem somewhere out there — one that will allow you to connect to different types of high school students from around the country — and this poem has stopped, and it is waiting for you.
[FOR TEACHERS OF POETRY]
Because there simply must be other lost souls out there who, prevented by curricular requirements or personal taste or general inertia, find themselves forever confined to the old standards—to the Frosts and the Dickinsons, to the Plaths and the Whitmans—extolling the virtues of long departed saints when there are worthy verses being composed by vital practitioners of the craft.
For these teachers who are looking for new poems to put before their students, poems produced within the lifetimes of those students, these teachers might take an interest in the work of our students and the results of their semester-long group project.
Today’s working poets, whether they be MFA-wielding upstarts or anthologized institutions, may have nothing to gain from the thoughts of our students. Certainly when it comes time to tranquilly recollect the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, no poet envisions his reading audience as a group of slouching, texting, spaced-out teenagers sitting in a computer lab. And this is fine and this is good.
But perhaps a few will take the time to ponder what these young folks have to say about their work. While there is neither a Stephen Burt nor a Marjorie Perloff in the bunch, they bring an unexpected reservoir of experiences to our enterprise. And though many of them have needed to make major adjustments to adapt to the wordplay, self-reflexivity, dislocations, allusiveness, complexities and experimentation that marks so much of contemporary poetry, they have nonetheless brought to their readings an irresistible zest, a youthful swagger, and immediacy, insights, ovations.
[JOHN ASHBERY, 1927 – 2017]
from “But What is the Reader to Make of This?”
…. The surprises history has
For us are nothing compared to the shock we get
From each other, though time still wears
The colors of meanness and melancholy, and the general life
Is still many sizes too big, yet
Has style, woven of things that never happened
With those that did, so that a mood survives
Where life and death never could. Make it sweet again!
It our quest to survey every square inch of the land of contemporary poetry, we pledge to map all of the various paths set forth by all of the various trailblazers. And yet, if we are serious about modeling creativity for today’s high school students and demanding that they suspend their obsession with literalism in favor of abstraction, it seems to us altogether fitting to name that “land” after the recently departed patron saint of anti-literal abstraction.