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

Poetry the Hard Way Eavan Boland

I interviewed John Ashbery for this piece on a summer day thirteen years ago. I drove for an hour or so south of Dublin on the Wexford Road and found him in the unlikely setting of Gorey, a small and graceful market town which, besides having an enterprising arts festival, published a newsheet with the inspired title of The Gorey Detail. Ashbery was courteous and - for a shy and reticent man - both deft and exact in his answers. Some of the answers are in this piece. But there is a constraint in literary journalism, even when the paper is as hospitable as the Irish Times. And so I made mistakes. I brought a tape recorder and took down most of his answers in that way. I also brought a notebook and to that less verifiable source I trusted one of his most interesting answers. When I came to transcribe it, however, it didn't seem clear enough and so I excluded from the article the most compelling thing he said, and one which I've often thought back on. American poetry, he remarked - this is his exact phrase - suffers from the Cordelia syndrome. The best answers - this is a paraphrase now - are unvarnished and the less reliable ones are - what? At this point my notes are unclear. My pen skids off the page perhaps, or I leaned over and changed a tape or the man from Porlock entered with a tray of coffee. I ...


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