Every once in a while, I come across a book that opens up new doors for me. They introduce to me to areas of life that I otherwise might never have encountered. Other Traditions by John Ashbery is just such a book.
I have always had a love for, but limited knowledge of, Poetry. It was Edward Hirsch's great book How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry that first introduced me to Ashbery's work. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest living poets. Therefore, I jumped at the opportunity to read Other Traditions.
Other Traditions is the book form of a series of lectures given by Ashbery on other poets. Ashbery writes about six of the lesser-known artists who have had an impact on his own life and work. All of them are fascinating. They are:
-John Clare, a master at describing nature who spent the last 27 years of his life in an Asylum.
-Thomas Lovell Beddoes, a rather death obsessed author (he ended up taking his own life) whose greatest poetry consists of fragments that must often be culled from the pages of his lengthy dramas.
-Raymond Roussel, a French author whose magnum opus is actually a book-length sentence.
-John Wheelwright, a politically engaged genius whose ultra-dense poetry even Ashbery has a hard time describing or comprehending.
-Laura Riding, a poet of great talent and intellect who chose to forsake poetry (check out the copyright page).
-David Schubert, an obscure poet who Ashbery feels is one of the greatest of the Twentieth Century.
The two that I was most pleasantly surprised by are Clare and Riding.
Clare has become (since I picked up a couple of his books) one of my favorite poets. He is a master at describing rural life. I know of no one quite like him. Ashbery's true greatness as a critic comes out when he depicts Clare as "making his rounds."
Riding, on the other hand, represents the extreme version of every author's desire for the public to read their work in a precise way--the way the author intends it to be read. Her intense combativeness and sensitivity to criticism is as endearing as it is humorous.
Other Traditions has given me a key to a whole new world of books. For that I am most grateful.
I give this book my full recommendation.