Saturday, June 4, 2011

He rode off in many different directions

The other night we went to hear poet John Ashbery speak at the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) and were delighted by his easy sense of humor. Ashbery was born in Rochester and even took painting lessons in the basement at MAG when his high school in Sodus, NY cut their art program. He seemed very relaxed and at home in the gallery (though he's probably always like that).

The talk coincided with a beautiful piece of experimental book-making that's currently on view in the museum - a setting of Ashbery's poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. When asked about how he felt about the popularity of that poem he gave a great response that I'll try to capture here:

'It's funny how popular this poem is because it's not necessarily the direction I went in. In fact, I've tried to go in many directions, like, He saddled his horse and rode off in many directions.'

Two things I love about this statement: 1. The manner in which he delivered it, with the craft of a poet and the lightness of an improv comedian and 2. The confidence with which he is able to speak about such a non-traditional approach to life.

Everywhere we go we are told to choose one thing to do and to learn to do it well. We're discouraged from working on many things at once lest we confuse our audience with too much noise. Yet, if we are a curious about life's mysteries, then we are bound to pursue many different directions simultaneously. So thank you, John Ashbery, for spontaneously crafting this silly and meaningful line. I'm glad we were there to hear it.

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