Allen Ginsberg – John Ashbery Inscription

Allen Ginsberg inscription in a presentation copy of of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Maurine and Other Poems presented to poet John Ashbery photo: Christina Davis, Woodberry Poetry Room/Houghton Library, Harvard University

Jeffrey Careyva is currently hard at work at the, frankly enviable, task of cataloging the
John Ashbery Reading Library (“more than 5,000 books of poetry, art criticism, architectural history, philosophy, religious history and cookbooks collected over the poet’s lifetime”),
part of a generous bequest from the poet’s estate, to Ashbery’s alma mater, Harvard and to its world-famous Houghton Library.

Careyva, in a lively account, recounts his progress and on-going discoveries – here 

“Ashbery’s archived books have”, he notes, “revealed some fascinating things about him, his peers, and”, he adds, “maybe even about myself”

Among the treasures, a number of wonderful (wonderfully-revealing) inscribed books.

Here is his copy of Ground Work – Before The War, poet Robert Duncan‘s 1984 gathering (published after a 15-year publishing silence)

“Dear John, Drink deeply then of that brew/ the hand out of space extends to you/ returning youth and beauty to another space/ beyond the writing hand known as/ the Shadow in the light we knew.”

“One of the most mesmerizing inscriptions”, he writes, “comes from the hand of Allen Ginsberg”

“On May 14, 1970, Ashbery, Ginsberg, and Kenneth Koch participated in an evening reading at Barnard College to support the “Columbia Faculty Action for Peace Committee,” among other anti-war organizations. Two weeks later, Ginsberg appears to have given Ashbery a copy of Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s Maurine and Other Poems (1888), replete with a little message and a striking occasional poem”

“For John, an old favorite, from Allen Ginsberg, May 27,1970, Cherry Valley, NY, Memento”


Cuffs rolled, Gallois right hand, Double Dream
on podium –
Watch gleam by microphone, office monotone
voice, blue striped shirt –
Tie & jacket on a chair “refreshed [he] somehow
Shaved chin in neon glow, voice in a coffin
of dogs, that average Springtime
syntax talking thru War, river flood, “mountains
shaking” but the voice talks
As mind talks, loquacious undisturbed
as cigarette smoke leaves the mouth,
thin thought shapes trembling in air, forming
satanic eyebrows & noses,
blue clouds moving thru neon, rivers
tumbling over themselves, brain
cauliflower –

May 14 1970
Barnard College [xxx]

We look forward to further revelations and discoveries as this work progresses.

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