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Video: The Other Twenty-Three Hours


July 22, 2008


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From The Poet's View: Intimate Profiles of Five Major American Poets, which features Kay Ryan, John Ashbery, Louise Glück, Anthony Hecht, and W. S. Merwin. Available in the Poetry Store.


Perhaps if I spend an hour—or at the most two hours, when I'm feeling really inspired—I'm done for the day and then there's the problem of what to do with the other twenty-two or twenty-three hours of the day. I feel I should be doing something important. But what?

I usually don't write autobiographical poetry, but this sort of turned out that way accidentally; I realized after I'd finished it, since in fact I did have a brother who died when we were both children.

[Ashbery reads "The History of My Life"]

I always wanted to go to France, ever since I was a child and read French fairy tales and writers like Balzac and Proust. It was just a thing I always wanted to do and ended up doing.

It took me a while to adjust to being in a country where a foreign language was spoken. My own poetry derives very much from hearing colloquial—or even worse, American—being spoken around me, especially in New York where you'd overhear strange things being said and I'd often incorporate them into poems. I didn't have that sort of cushion in France, and it took me a while to adjust and to learn how to write all over again without the background noise of American in my ears.