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

Can you hear Bird? Jeremy Over
DAUNTED BY the prospect of meeting W.H. Auden, one of his poetry idols, John Ashbery asked Kenneth Koch what you were supposed to say to someone like Auden. Koch suggested that just about the only thing to say was ‘I’m glad you’re alive’. I carefully rehearsed a witty variation on this theme once after a London reading, as I waited in line to get my copy of Chinese Whispers signed by Ashbery, with a copy of my own first book concealed just beneath my cloak. The nervous blurt that I subsequently managed to deliver fell somewhat short of its target. Ashbery just gazed benevolently upon me, or perhaps a little over my shoulder and, with the bemused air of a discreetly avant-garde member of the Royal family, apologised for his lack of hearing but yes, of course he’d be delighted to read my book if I’d care to send a copy via his publisher.

It’s rather late in the day to try and get this right again now, but seeing as the opportunity has arisen I’m glad you were alive John Ashbery and will be, for quite some time, under our ‘boot-soles’ as it were. So thank you. And thank you, by the way, for not dying from a spinal infection in 1982, but instead giving us another thirty-five years and seventeen more books. Thank you for becoming the ‘later’ John Ashbery before you became the late one. The later Ashbery was the one I knew and loved.

Thank you for all your generous poetry and essays. And ...

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