Thursday, January 20, 2011

This Recording posted this classic irreverent interview between John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. I had read some quotes from it before, but I had never read the whole thing until today. An excerpt:

JA: I think we should clear up the question as to whether the ambiguity in our work is the result of modern life's having made us so ashamed of our experiences that we cannot write about them in any other way, or whether we feel that if we turn quickly around we'll discover something that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

KK: The first possibility you mention I don't understand – how can "modern life" make us ashamed? – but the second is very appealing. I don't feel, by the way, that what I am after in my work is ambiguity.

JA: What do you feel that you are after?

KK: Guess.

JA: I give up.

KK: Do you mean to say that you have been reading my poems all these years thinking ah there he's succeeded in getting that ambiguity he's after, and oh there he hasn't? I mean you don't really think that a main aim in my poetry is to be ambiguous, do you?

JA: Well, it would help if you would consent to give a straight answer to my last question.

KK: I think the difficulty of my doing so has considerable bearing on the topic under discussion.

JA: Since you refuse to reply unambiguously, I must conclude that ambiguity is the central thing in our work.

KK: I have always liked your poetry, but your command of logic leaves me speechless with admiration.

JA: Perhaps this has some bearing on the topic of our discussion.

KK: I don't see how.

JA: I assume you were being ironic when you said my command of logic left you speechless with admiration. Therefore poetry is not logical or is not necessarily so.

KK: What you say is very unclear, but I suppose you mean that since I find one of your remarks illogical and since I like your poems, that therefore I must like poems which are illogical. But I don't find your poems either logical or illogical. If you want this interview to have the logic of a poem and not ordinary logic we will have to start over again.

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