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

Optimism Sam Riviere
DURING THE SUMMER I corresponded with the Australian writer Jessica Yu as part of a ‘polyvocal’ project commissioned by an Edinburgh-based independent gallery. At one point in the mile-long email thread that resulted, Jessica wrote that she liked a sensation of ‘relaxing into an awareness of the obscurity of one’s own motives’, and I wrote back that it made me think of John Ashbery. I could have put something like ‘Ashbery country’, but I didn’t know at that time if Jessica knew or enjoyed John Ashbery’s poetry. We were discussing writing and marriage.

In July I stayed for a month at an isolated location with no internet access as part of a writers’ residency I had applied for in early 2016. Jessica and I continued our correspondence by letter, and I read several early-ish Ashbery books I hadn’t read before: Rivers and Mountains, The Double Dream of Spring, A Wave; I reread Some Trees. At the same time, I was reading Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (ten pages as soon as I woke up, to seal my morning stupor), and Jonathan Bate’s biography of John Clare. Also some French poets in dated English translations, and Leonard Koren on Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese ‘unfinished’ aesthetic sensibility. These books, as I wrote to Jessica in a letter composed awkwardly in MS Word (a letter in Times New Roman is wrong), began to swim together over the days, assisted by the way I seemed to be reading Deleuze and Guattari as a kind of modernist poem, drifting through whole sections with little-to-no orientation, while the Clare biography I approached more as a pacey period novel. Ashbery’s ...


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