yellow cabs! And they also had what I knew to be a healthy disrespect for the dominant poetry of their time. This was crucial.

This was over twenty years ago. Lots has happened in the meantime. I know Eliot wasn’t an alien (give or take) and that most poets have messy lives. And I know I don’t want poetry to tell me information I already know. And I’ve read the poetry of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery over and over again. Not all of it, but lots of it. And I discovered the poetry of James Schuyler, and am glad I did. And I’ve written about them and reviewed them. And I can now count a younger generation of New York poets, people like Paul Violi, Charles North and Tony Towle, as friends. We’ve sat at dinner tables together and laughed and talked. And I feel privileged because they are lovely people, and great poets, but this is not really my point. What I’m working toward is something vaguer and yet so crucial to me I know I’m not sure how to say it.

I was in the pub a week or so ago with a friend, and we were talking poetry, and he mentioned (for the zillionth time) a poem of Ashbery’s that I introduced him to a long time ago, which mentions “the pudding people”. It’s a poem from “Can You Hear, Bird”

I knew we should have stopped back there
by the pudding station
but the pudding people were so - well -
full of themselves.

And my friend always laughs and asks me who the pudding people are, and what it all means. And we got to talking about how someone recently said to me they don’t find Ashbery interesting. They don’t find what he has to say very interesting, and how what he has to say about life is just more or less one narrow thing, which precludes him from being “great”. Now, I have no idea if Ashbery will, in time, be considered “a great poet”. I don’t care much. Sometimes but not all the time Ashbery’s poetry absolutely touches some kind of node or button in me and awakens my sleepy dormant parts into realising and noticing that life, this “life”, is this and that and the other. And I don’t know what it all means but this is how it is -- difficult and confusing, swathed in ignorance and folly, and blessed by moments of sharp insight and wonder. And he awakens in me a way of knowing the world which is the way I want to know the world but often forget about in my waking walking life. Ashbery doesn’t tell us how to live, he tells us how we live. Or, rather, shows us. It’s not instruction or information. It’s not “meaning” in the conventional sense. It certainly isn’t meaning in the same way a poem has meaning when it tells you how sad it is someone died, or how mean it is that people are mean.

There is something subliminally revelatory about this poetry when it works, which is not all the time. But when it does it’s a remarkable thing. There is also the sense that these people wrote good things, honest and good things, with no regard for what the people who run poetry world thought about it all.

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