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This report is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

on John Ashbery

John Ashbery’s Birthday
Alan Brownjohn
I never noted exactly where and how it was I began my distant, but greatly valued, acquaintance with John Ashbery. I have not made it to New York or any part of the USA, even now. It can only have been at a time when John was visiting London, when I was ‘chairman’, as it was then called, of the Poetry Society (still in its mansion in Earl’s Court Square), and we persuaded him to come and read.

On the first of the two occasions he read I was provided with an idea for introducing him by a delightful moment on the rush hour Piccadilly line train I was crammed into on my way to the event. The man standing jammed up against me could hardly avoid taking in something of the contents of the Penguin edition of Houseboat Days which he was more or less compelled to browse over my shoulder. Half an hour later, I was able to dispense with my prepared notes and tell John and the audience that my fellow passenger had asked me for the author and title of the book so that he could go on reading it – though he couldn’t accept my immediate invitation to join me for the reading.

It is quite likely that on the same evening I established with John that he and I shared a birthday, 28 July. The result of that was that we began to exchange annual greetings cards, also on those occasions exchange knowledge of other people born on the same date. There ...


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