John Ashbery, Translator

I know you think of him as a poet, and of course that’s what he is, and pretty much the best of the best at that. But I’ve also been reading his translations from the French for years with great pleasure, e.g. to give one of many examples, his translation of the late 17th century fairy tale The White Cat by Madame d’Aulnoy that I sometimes assign to my students. And now that Ashbery’s collected translations are forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in two plump volumes (one each for poetry and prose, pub. date for both April 8, 2014), I am astonished to see quite how much he has in fact translated, with prose by over a dozen authors – above all Raymond Roussel and Giorgio de Chirico, along with some Jarry, Michaux, Leiris, Artraud etc. – and poems by some two dozen poets from the 16th century on, including Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Max Jacob, Supervielle, Reverdy, Eluard, René Char, Pierre Martory, Serge Fauchereau and many more. A very impressive compendium, and what a treat to see Ashbery’s always sure-footed voice applied to the work of so many different writers. I can’t wait to dive in. And if you share that sentiment and would like a sneak preview, you’re in luck, because Ashbery will be appearing this week at the 92nd St. Y along with poet Mark Ford (to whom Ashbery’s volume of French poems is dedicated), and the forthcoming translations are sure to figure in the program along with Ashbery’s new book of poems, Quick Question, and Ford’s Selected Poems. With any luck, there’ll even be advance copies available for sale. Helen Vendler and Eugene Richie (co-editor of the Ashbery translations along with Rosanne Wasserman) will moderate. Thursday, April 3 at 8:00 p.m., Lexington Ave. at 92nd St.

The 92nd Street Y has a nice big auditorium and doesn’t often sell out, but this is one event for which securing a ticket in advance (the cheap seats start at $7.50) isn’t the worst idea. Wish I could be there myself, but I’ll be off in Boston spending the evening with Jenny Erpenbeck.

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