Walt Hunter is Associate Professor of World Literature at Clemson and author of Forms of a World: Contemporary Poetry and the Making of Globalization (2019). Some Flowers, a collection of poems, is forthcoming in 2022. He is currently working on a monograph for Oxford University Press titled The American House Poem, 1945–2015.
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.
It’s rare to read an account of the process of learning about a new artform or medium from the beginning. Maybe because, at least for me, it’s hard to remember the first time I read a poem or a novel or saw a painting or heard a piece of music. Or maybe because that experience merges uncomfortably with a non-critical stance of “appreciation,” a word that doesn’t deserve some of the pejorative associations attached to it.
This summer, the modernist scholar Johanna Winant and I found ourselves working on a number of converging projects, from book chapters to essays on Stanley Cavell’s philosophy and Donald Hall’s poetry. Below we reflect on the process of writing together, sharing work, and discovering the kinds of friendship that collaboration makes possible
I’m taking over the Process blog from Lesley Wheeler at the moment when I’m nearly finished the process of writing my first book and am waiting for page proofs from the press.
The assignment for this column is “process” or, the writing life. How does interesting and inspiring work come to be?