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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

Remembering John Ashbery
Marina Warner
THROUGH THICK AND THIN, Michael Schmidt kept publishing John in the UK (and it was mostly thin when it came to an American poet like Ashbery), and after I’d chosen A Wave for one of those end-of-year roundups, I was invited to lunch to meet John. That book of John’s seemed to me to catch the feeling of feeling in the ordinary flow of things, with his exceptional verbal dexterity and the sensitivity, humour and absorptiveness that I have always loved being drawn into by Ashbery’s writing; he also manages to combine this rapt quality of attention with inconsequentiality, a kind of mood that I associate with Paris and with the poetry of Verlaine and the music of Reynaldo Hahn. I was sat next to him, which was a great boon, and he asked me what I was working on. ‘French fairy tales’, I said, and he immediately exclaimed, ‘Oh! I am translating Mme d’Aulnoy.’ John always spoke with languid elegance, but I could tell he meant that he really rated her; he’d undertaken the work out of interest for its own sake – nobody had asked him.

He was the first person outside the immediate circle of fairy tale aficionados who had ever expressed knowledge of her, let alone enthusiasm. ‘La Chatte blanche’ (‘The White Cat’), the story he had chosen to translate, displays D’Aulnoy’s feline wit at its most rococo and hedonist, and Ashbery’s marvellously tuned version gave me the idea to create an anthology. I asked other writers to translate other fairy tales by women of the ...

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