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This article is taken from PN Review 99, Volume 21 Number 1, September - October 1994.

Ecclesiast Bryan Appleyard

The poetry I carry about with me is a ragged, random athology - fragments, occasional whole poems, sometimes just two or three words, sometimes little more than a rhythm. There are things that, having once been read, stick, often for no obvious reason: there are many other, perhaps far greater things that are quite forgotten until the next reading.

John Ashbery accounts for many pages in my private anthology. He is an extraordinarily memorable poet. Fragments, lines and paragraphs cling to the memory after one reading. Whole passages of 'The Skaters' are with me for good and many times an apparently untraceable phrase has echoed in my mind for days only to turn out to be one of Ashbery's. I have even, I confess, written Ashbery, convinced I had been unusually inspired until, days or weeks later, I remembered the source.

An unusual number of these adhesive moments occur in one particular poem - 'The Ecclesiast'. This seems to date from the early 1960s and, I think, I would first have read it in 1970 at Cambridge. One dubiously subjective clue to the dating of my own familiarity with the poem is the fact that I remember recasting the lines 'The night is cold and delicate and full of angels/Pounding down the living.' as 'The night is cold and delicate and full of joints etc…' This instantly evokes the latter stages of a stoned autumn evening on a sofa with a loose floral cover in ...


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