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This interview is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

In Conversation with John Ashbery Kasia Boddy

KASIA BODDY: I understand that the original title of Wakefulness was The Whispering Gallery. Why did you change it?

JOHN ASHBERY: I found, after taking an informal survey, that most people didn't know what a whispering gallery is - the acoustical phenomenon, you know, like the one in St Paul's Cathedral. They didn't necessarily think of that when they heard the title Whispering Gallery, which may be just a gallery full of whispers and which is just too weirdly poetic in a way that I'd perhaps overdone in the past with titles like Shadow Train, for instance. I discovered also that there is a book by John Lehmann called The Whispering Gallery. Not that that really seemed to matter very much because few people remember the book, although Mark Ford, who's very clever, did ask me whether I was alluding to it. Wakefulness just seemed a better title, perhaps less pretentious. In fact, Wakefulness was the original title that I was going to use. For some reason I changed it to The Whispering Gallery.

Was 'Wakefulness' always going to be the first poem in the book?

No, I just arranged that when I got ready to send the book to the publishers.

Does the order in which the poems are read matter a lot to you?

No, not particularly. I just arrange them rather haphazardly so that they won't seem too repetitious, so that the ...


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