This column for Process is about poetry that tries to make sense of sharing time together as it passes. For that I turn to John Ashbery, about whom I have never been willing or able to write, except in a very brief and unsatisfying conclusion to my first book. I live with several of Ashbery’s poems ricocheting around in my consciousness, along with stray lines by Herbert, Dickinson, McKay, and Rich. The idea of writing something about his poetry is particularly daunting because it carries a lot of emotional weight. More than anything else, the name Ashbery calls to mind the people who shaped and continue to shape what I know or feel about poetry. So when I think about Ashbery, the situation in which I think about his poetry is, almost automatically, a social one.
To begin at the beginning is a cliché, Dylan Thomas knew, worth opening with, and also a task more difficult than it seems.
In this conversation about Process, Jacquelyn Ardam and her undergraduate advisee, Cole Walsh, demystify the senior thesis. Cole’s thesis, “Mak[ing] Bright the Arrows: Recovering the Political Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay,” examines the poetry of the underserved Millay, whose work with the sonnet, Cole argues, deploys its “memorable speech” to intervene within the isolationist politics of the United States.
For this two-part installment of Process, I asked eight scholars who had just finished a book—their first or their fourth—to write informally about their experience. Conferences often feature roundtables about writing and publishing, but I thought it might be a good addition to have some personal anecdotes, stories less attached to the mechanics of the industry and more to the quiddities of the book-writing process. A book might arrive as an artifact, but it begins as a dream or a compulsion or a hunch. No review or reading, however generous, does justice to the messiness of the life that seals itself into the final object of the book, as though in anticipation of the spell that may someday release it. The intent here is not so much to demystify as to re-enchant.