by Philip Rowland

"Celebration of Failure":
             The Influence of Laura Riding on John Ashbery

    In the 1960's, John Ashbery named Laura Riding as one of the "three writers who most formed my language as a poet," the other two being "the early Auden" and Wallace Stevens.(i) More recently, in Other Traditions (2000), he has related how "Laura Riding once took me to task in a letter for daring to say publicly that I felt I had been influenced by her."(ii) Given the strict definition of "influence" attributed to Riding—entailingG one's actually "follow[ing] her principles of conduct"—and "the test of what Harold Bloom names ‘misprision'" (to which Ashbery appeals in his essay), it follows that "one must misread Riding in order to be enriched by her."(iii) Indeed, to say that Ashbery has shown no sign of renouncing the writing of poetry, as Riding did not long after the publication of her Collected Poems in 1938, would be an understatement. Nor does he bring serious consideration to that decisive step in her career and her work subsequent to it—the work, that is, of Laura (Riding) Jackson. Moreover, in the course of his essay Ashbery cites only one, early poem, "The Thinnest Shadow" (in Some Trees) to illustrate Riding's influence—and "not because it's a favorite, but because it seems marked by Riding's concision more than others more satisfying to me, poems in which her influence is more diffuse."(iv) In this essay, I attempt to fill this gap more satisfyingly, even while risking a "more diffuse" reading of both authors.

    To claim kinship between Ashbery, a poet famous for "fence-sitting / Raised to the level of an esthetic ideal," and Riding, who in the preface to her Collected Poems defines a poem as "an uncovering of truth of so fundamental and general a kind that no other name besides poetry is adequate except truth," might not seem very likely.(v) When for instance, in "Ode to Bill," Ashbery proffers an answer to the "fundamental" question, "What is writing?" his tentative, conversational response could hardly contrast more with Riding's bold assertion. "Well," he says,

In my case, it's getting down on paper
Not thoughts, exactly, but ideas, maybe:
Ideas about thoughts. Thoughts is too grand a word.
Ideas is better, though not exactly what I mean.
Someday I'll explain. Not today though.(vi)

    Riding, while sounding so much more certain, does however prove no less unwilling to classify poetry in terms of "knowledge":

Knowledge implies specialized fields of exploration and discovery; it would be inexact to call poetry a kind of knowledge. It is even inexact to call it a kind of truth, since in truth there are no kinds. (PLR, 484)

    In this respect, both poets seem to promise much (albeit self-deprecatingly in Ashbery's case: "Someday I'll explain"), only to significantly fail to deliver. That is to say, they both pursue a truth that is not to be known in the usual sense implying "specialized fields of exploration and discovery" and verifiable criteria. As the opening of Ashbery's "Winter Weather Advisory" suggests, the Stevensian "one idea" is not simply to be "had":

What have we proved? That we don't have the one idea
Worth having, that all else is beneath us,
If within our grasp?(vii)

    Thus the poem may be said to spring from, or in the words of Ashbery's "A Wave," to "pass through pain."(viii) For Riding, in her "Celebration of Failure," the passage through pain affords a hard-won "inch of wholeness":

Through pain the land of pain,
Through tender exiguity,
Through cruel self-suspicion.
Thus came I to this inch of wholeness. (PLR, 135)

    In Ashbery, the pursuit of "wholeness" typically unfolds in terms of "pain, expiation, delight, more pain"—a predicament neatly summarized in "Darlene's Hospital":

And the serial continues:
Pain, expiation, delight, more pain,
A frieze that lengthens continually, in the happy way
Friezes do, and no plot is produced,
Nothing you could hang an identifying question on.
(A Wave, 58-9)

    As we chart this "serial" in the work of both poets, Ashbery's work will be seen to exemplify and extend Riding's post-poetic view of poetry as "stylized failure-of-expression"(ix)—a verdict anticipated to a considerable degree by her own poems. According to that view (to put it briefly), poetry "scares away failure" with "aesthetic success," its promise of truth-telling compromised by its necessary artifice.(x) Or as her "Celebration of Failure" concludes:

And haughty judgement,
That frowned upon a faultless plan,
Now smiles upon this crippled execution,
And my dashed beauty praises me. (PLR, 135)

    Indeed, not long after the publication of her Collected Poems in 1938, Riding became convinced that she had reached "the breaking-point … at which division between creed and craft reveals itself to be absolute," and went on to write only in prose.(xi) As Jerome McGann points out, her purpose was "to reacquire ‘those common risks of language, where failure stalks in every word.'"(xii) While Ashbery's ultimate allegiance to "craft" over "creed" seems plain enough, his poems continually call that allegiance into question, often as a way of going on. In attempting to uncover the extent to which he rises to the challenge of Riding's example, I will pay particular attention to his prose Three Poems (1972).

    Three Poems strives to find a "middle way": between "leaving out" and "putting it all down"; between the "one" and "the many"; between knowing and, as critic Stephen Fredman puts it, "dwelling … resolutely … in not-understanding."(xiii) The third and shortest of the Three Poems, "The Recital," finds that the twin poles of anxiety and delight, pain and pleasure, are traceable to a "single source"—itself "a thing one can never cease wondering upon," never cease rehearsing:

The single source of so much pain and pleasure is therefore a thing that one can never cease wondering upon. On the one hand, such boundless happiness for so many; on the other so much pain concentrated in the heart of one. And it is true that each of us is this multitude as well as that isolated individual; we experience the energy and beauty of the others as a miraculous manna from heaven; at the same time our eyes are turned inward to the darkness and emptiness within. (TP, 115)

    Such passages may well have inspired Robert Creeley's praise of Three Poems for being "as near a communal self as I've witnessed," and for its "offering a possible way out of the postmodern dilemma of the self, in which writing no longer speaks for the self as a social entity."(xiv) Ashbery may be understood as being very much concerned with holding open the possibility of what Martin Buber termed "relation"—in which a seemingly retrogressive "moving backward to a position of I-it" (a movement into "latency") "may be the prelude to a new movement towards I-you," as Pamela Vermes explains.(xv) The poem "Ostensibly" depicts this movement, concisely, as the possibility of "the coals / Fall[ing] alight ... from growing dim"(xvi); while in Three Poems, the "bloom or grace" of "frontal happiness" (TP, 71) is seen to be a necessarily transient, if climactic, moment: like Buber's event of "encounter," it must inevitably pass into latency.(xvii) Ashbery concludes that "its beauty cannot be said to have universal validity but must remain fundamentally in doubt" (TP, 114). Riding sought to resolve such doubt, not just through her final renunciation of poem-writing, but also in the poems themselves, as in this instance from "There is Much at Work":

The succession of fair things
Delights, does not enlighten.
We still know nothing, nothing.
Beauty will be truth but once. (PLR, 73)

    Indeed, many of Riding's poems prefigure the leaving-behind of the vagarious poetic procedure that such "dwelling in not-understanding" seems to dictate. "Nothing So Far," for instance, beautifully portrays a vision of "universal validity" shadowed by "fundamental doubt":

Nothing so far but moonlight
Where the mind is;
Nothing in that place, this hold,
To hold;
Only their faceless shadows to announce
Perhaps they come—
Nor even do they know
Whereto they cast them. (PLR, 363)

    As the abrupt slippage from noun to verb indicates ("Nothing in that place, this hold, / To hold"), the poetic act of the mind seems ultimately to reinforce the mind's sense of itself as a place of confinement, or "hold." Ashbery's "Recital" describes this, the epistemological "quandary" of the poetic predicament, as quasi-Promethean:

And the proof is that we cannot even imagine another way of being. We are stuck here for eternity and we are not even aware that we are stuck, so natural and even normal does our quandary seem. The situation of Prometheus, bound to the crags for endless ages and visited daily by an eagle, must have seemed so to him. We were surprised once, long ago; and now we can never be surprised again. (TP, 115)

    But what sort of "proof" is this: that "we cannot imagine another way of being"? Perhaps—as Buber would be quick to point out—what we interpret as ignorance in fact signifies a kind of latent, or withheld, knowledge. His concept of dialogical relation is important in this respect. For unlike the transient "event" of encounter, it holds open the possibility of latency:

Two friends, two lovers, must repeatedly experience how I-you is succeeded by I-him or I-her, but does it not often seem in those moments as though a bird with a broken wing is trying secretly to fly? And does not an incomprehensible and, as it were, vibrating continuity manifest itself at times between you-moments?(xviii)

    It is worth noting that for Riding also (writing on "The Idea of God" in her periodical of the mid-thirties, Epilogue): "Relation is the only admissible principle of duality."(xix) Ashbery's project, especially in Three Poems, is very much to confirm the unknowable, "vibrating continuity ... between you-moments"; the latent "possibility" of the "bird with the broken wing" flying—not perhaps, as he puts it, the "boundless leagues we had been hoping for," but far enough to keep it out of the "indifferent, prowling cat's" clutches:

We are like sparrows fluttering and jabbering around a seemingly indifferent prowling cat; we know that the cat is stronger and therefore we forget that we have wings, and too often we fall in with the cat's plans for us, afraid and therefore unable to use the wings that could have saved us by bearing us aloft if only for a little distance, not the boundless leagues we had been hoping for and insisting on, but enough to make a crucial difference between life and death. (TP, 111)

    Our "sulking because [we] cannot have the moon" is put down to "childishness": for Ashbery (as for Buber) the real challenge is to be reconciled, or attuned, to the ebb and flow of relation—open (to recall Vermes's explanation) to the possibility of a "moving backward to a position of I-it being the prelude to a new movement towards I-you."

    This implies a state of readiness approaching selflessness. In "The Wind Suffers," Riding envisages it, starkly, as one's "further dying" (PLR, 95). A memorable statement of this paradox is that of the seventeenth century philosopher, Pascal:

As I write down my thought it sometimes escapes me, but that reminds me of my weakness, which I am always forgetting, and teaches me as much as my forgotten thought, for I care only about knowing that I am nothing.(xx)

    This could almost stand as an epigraph to Ashbery's work, epitomizing his improvisational practice, grounded in "not-understanding"—a selflessness or humility of sorts. As he himself has stated:

I think every poem before it's written is something unknown and the poem that isn't wouldn't be worth writing. My poetry is often criticized for a failure to communicate, but I take issue with this: my intention is to communicate and my feeling is that a poem that communicates something that's already known by the reader is not really communicating anything to him and in fact shows a lack of respect for him.(xxi)

    Thus Ashbery invites the reader's participation while avoiding the difficulties, that dog Riding's work, of a didacticism at odds with itself. On the other hand, Riding's practice, while not nearly so improvisational, works on the same basic premise: the poem's—and by extension, the self's—will to "know that [it is] nothing." "What is a poem? A poem is nothing," Riding flatly asserts, in Anarchism is not Enough. "It is not an effect (common or uncommon) of experience; it is the result of an ability to create a vacuum in experience … it is a vacuum and therefore nothing."(xxii) (Anarchism, 16). Paul Auster's comments on Riding's poetry may help us understand what she means by this, and most of what he says is as applicable to Ashbery:

Turned in upon itself, challenging its very right to exist, the poem, in her hands, becomes act rather than object, transparence rather than thing. There is nothing here, nothing in her work we could call a subject, if not the attempt to uncover the origin of the work itself. Everything takes place in absence, in the distance between word and utterance, and each poem emerges at the moment there is nothing left to say. The why of the poem usurps the how and becomes its generating principle, its will to seek its own annihilation, to render itself light. But the struggle is an impossible one: to win is to lose. And yet, it is the only struggle possible.(xxiii)

    Or as James Schuyler comments pithily, in his poem "A Few Days": "John is devoted to the impossible."(xxiv) And as Riding herself says, in her late essay, "Poetry and the Good": "poetry is what might be called a hidden institution: it itself is invisible, and nothing generally wrong can show in it until it is turned inside out"(xxv)—a verdict which fits both Auster's description of her poetry as "turned in upon itself, challenging its very right to exist," and, metaphorically at least, Ashbery's "Introduction" to his own poetic strategy:

First, pain gets
Flashed back through the story and the story
Comes out backwards and woof-side up. This is
No one's story! (A Wave, 34)

    In this poetics of "pain" the poem must, as Riding's "Poem Only" concludes, be "Cruel if kind and kind if cruel / And all if nothing" (PLR, 112), if only because (as Ashbery notes with devastating simplicity in "Unreleased Movie"): "There is so much we know, too much, cruelly, to be expressed in any medium, / Including silence."(xxvi) This often leads Ashbery, unlike Riding, to resort to the gambit of twiddling his thumbs to make "do" at least until something "better" comes along. Here are three separate instances:

            Suddenly all is quiet again.
            I want to talk about something.
            It's not that easy. Pay no attention.

There is still another thing I have to do.
I've never been able to do this

I've never really done this before.
            See, I couldn't do it. Does this
            make a difference to you, my soul's
windshield wiper? See, I can try again.(xxvii)

    Such lines may seem frivolous, but they are significant for "claim[ing] complicity" with what Riding sees as "the troubles of a book" (in the poem of that name):

The trouble of a book is thirdly
To speak its sermon, then look the other way,
Arouse commotion in the margin,
Where tongue meets the eye,
But claim no experience of panic,
No complicity in the outcry,
The ordeal of a book is to give no hint
Of ordeal, to be flat and witless
Of the upright sense of print. (PLR, 84)

    While Ashbery's poetry cannot, of course, escape the "flat and "witless" quality "of the upright sense of print," it can strive to turn itself "inside out," so "challenging its very right to exist":

And it is well then to recall
That this track is the outer rim of a flat crust,
Dimensionless, except for its poor, parched surface,
The face one raises to God,
Not the rich, dark composite
We keep to ourselves. (A Wave, 15)

    Such reminders and caveats abound in Riding's poetry. "Poet: A Lying Word" emphasizes its point by foregoing verse: "It is a false wall, a poet: it is a lying word. It is a wall that closes and does not" (PLR, 234), while "Doom in Bloom" coolly articulates an awareness that "Weakly we write upon / The closing surface of oblivion" (PLR, 360). If it is fair to say that Riding became dissatisfied with "flaunting" her words "against despair," with their "blossom[ing] failure," then we might describe Ashbery as being tirelessly engaged in trying to hold "the closing surface of oblivion" open. As a result, "there is certainly plenty of monotony"—to appropriate his own comment on Stein's Stanzas in Meditation—"but it is the fertile kind, which generates excitement as water monotonously flowing over a dam generates electrical power."(xxviii) In this sense, his poetry achieves a deceptive effortlessness that is at the same time fecund in suggesting that "rich, dark composite / We keep to ourselves."

    In these respects, and for all its lack of emphasis, Ashbery's poetry maintains something of "the value" of the "struggle" accorded by Auster to Riding's poetry. Ashbery could be said to write in keeping with Riding's view "that behind whatever is said is a consciousness of what is left unsaid, and an implication of ideal completeness, by the discontent with which the single statement is uttered."(xxix) But while Riding's poetry voices such "discontent" with increasing urgency, Ashbery normalizes it. Quick to acknowledge that for all we "leave out," "something soon comes to stand in their place," Ashbery privileges neither the strategy of omission nor that of inclusion. Rather, his "tactic of exclusion" generates its own "middle way" by seeming to include that which would otherwise have been "left unsaid."(xxx) It is a pragmatic way around the problem.

    To recap: On the one hand, Ashbery would seem to take account of Riding's verdict as to poetry's effecting what she calls, in "The Last Covenant," "truth-magic of the moment"—a sleight of hand that (in Ashbery's words) "saves it from embarrassment / By ringing down the curtain" so that "for a few seconds no one would notice" and "The ending would seem perfect."(xxxi) As Auster says, "to win is to lose" in this "struggle." On the other hand, where Riding "won" out of the problem by "losing" in the grandest manner—that is, simply by stopping—for Ashbery the problem remains pronounced. For as a poet who may be described (in (Riding) Jackson's words) as at once "furiously intrigued by" and disillusioned of "the idea that the characteristics of impotence that [Riding] identified in poetry [might] be outwitted," he must relax the "struggle" simply to ensure its continuance. In so doing, he risks forfeiting something of his claim upon our attention. "There is nothing of radical difference that any of them [poets] can do except to show the prison, which their word-webs tapestry and disguise, to be a prison," pronounces (Riding) Jackson(xxxii)—nor would Ashbery seem to disagree, about forty years into his career, as to the impossibility of putting up much more than "Token Resistance." His "World's End" (also the title of a seminal Riding poem) is delimited by the modest injunction: "I can only tell you how to stop things happening."(xxxiii) Or else it's a matter of "Saying It To Keep it From Happening" (to borrow another poem-title).(xxxiv) While his poetry could be seen as expertly demonstrating Riding's post-poetic assertion that "in speaking that is under poetry's protection, failure is scared away until all's said," he would seem to do so openly—no pretence is ever made of having "said [it] all."(xxxv) The process by which, according to (Riding) Jackson's analysis, "small felicities of utterance magnify themselves into a persuasive appearance of truth,"(xxxvi) is continually debunked by his foregrounding the discrepancy between "the figured representation of our days" and "the justification of them," as "The Recital" puts it:

Perhaps no art, however gifted and well-intentioned, can supply what we were demanding of it: not only the figured representation of our days but the justification of them, the reckoning and its application, so close to the reality being lived that it vanishes suddenly in a thunderclap, with a loud cry." (TP, 113)

    Interestingly—that is despite (in my opinion) the more stimulating work of his early-to-middle period—Ashbery began to incorporate clear references to Riding's work quite late in his career, around the early nineties—a side-effect, perhaps, of his work on the Charles Eliot Norton lectures, later collected in Other Traditions, to which I referred at the beginning of this essay. Perhaps he has grown so used to what a poem in Hotel Lautreamont (1992) calls "The Old Complex," that Riding's "rugged black of anger" with its "uncertain smile-border" has ceased to threaten, turning instead into "the rugged blade of anger" he can "regulate," noting the "occasional black steed." Though as he is quick to point out: "Of course you have to actually take the medicine," thus reinstating the poetics of pain, and the notion of the poem as a kind of preventative medicine (that "scares away . . . failure").(xxxvii) But—to adapt Fredman—Ashbery's "aesthetic analogue to experience" is so embracingly relativistic as to induce a sort of spiritual agoraphobia that contrasts with Riding's harder-won "inch of wholeness"—a consequence, in no small part, of her less derivative and more concise—more absolutist—poetic language. In mind of these differences, the principal point of confluence between Riding and Ashbery is particularly significant: their radical scepticism. In this regard, and especially as to tone, Ashbery comes closest to Riding in her early prose—the short stories in particular.

    When asked to "comment" on her "influence" upon Ashbery, Riding suggested that "perhaps … what he found stimulating" was "the variety of tempers perceivable there—a certain pictoriality, in this."(xxxviii) In "The New Spirit," we do indeed find "a certain pictoriality" in the variety of the authorial perspectives presented. "The anonymous author's … reading," described by Riding in her story "An Anonymous Book,"(xxxix) is analogous to the reader whom Ashbery addresses as "you," and Riding's "writing but of his reading, which remains reading for all my writing," is tempered, in "The New Spirit," in a vision of their both being "lost" in the "becoming" of the dialogical "medium":

I seem to hear you and see you wishing me well, your eyes taking in some rapid lateral development
reading without comprehension
and always taken up on the reel of what is happening in the wings. Which becomes a medium through which we address one another, the independent life we were hoping to create … A permanent medium in which we are lost, since becoming robs it of its potential. (TP, 13)

    This state of being "lost" eventually culminates in a corresponding "rescue." Towards the end of "The System," Ashbery reflects: "For we are rescued by what we cannot imagine: it is what finally takes us up and shuts our story, replacing it among the millions of similar volumes that by no means menace its uniqueness but on the contrary situate it in the proper depth and perspective. At last we have that rightness that is rightfully ours. But we do not know what brought it about" (TP, 104).

    At the same time, Ashbery shows just how far into the "end" of the "story" the imagination, given free rein, can go. In more recent work he has grown fond of reminding us that we are, after all, always free to say things like: "the heck with endings. I don't think I want to wear those socks."

… The conventional wisdom is that we
desire what's unattainable (reclining clouds, distant factory chimneys)
for precisely that reason. No allowance is made for the goodness
that might be lurking therein, like love in a tongue-tied child
whose cheek one pinches as one passes along to bigger and better
disappointments. We never know what we could walk back to except
when we do go back, and then it's as if not knowing and knowing
were the same thing.(xl)

    Making "allowance" for "the goodness … lurking" within one's "desire" for the "unattainable," with the implicit pain or sense of failure involved in "pass[ing] along to bigger and better disappointments," marks, I would suggest, what Riding calls in "A Last Lesson in Geography": "the beginning of the sixth sense, the sense of speech … a sense suffered rather than enjoyed, a sense of the impossible, which in the weak people had meant stuttering notions of immortality, and in the strong people, up to now, only a terrible crying out sometimes with a pain they didn't feel" (Progress, 250). In this story—re-published, for the first time (1964), by Ashbery, in Art and Literature—the function of "speech" is to realize this conception of "pain," to allow ourselves to "feel" it. As the pain takes precedence and "the strong people"—those who aspire to speak—die, so "the sense of speech" becomes the embodiment of the truth: "She was the body now, and the body had but one sense now, the sense of speech" (Progress, 250). As Ashbery suggests, speech is something we "do," and only in "doing"(or embodying) it do we understand what we really mean: "We never know what we could walk back to except when we do go back" (my emphasis). This is not to speak the truth exactly, but to speak, as Riding stresses, in the "knowledge … that the words [the body] spoke were only broken meanings of the word that she spoke … a word not to say but to know" (Progress, 251). In Ashbery's terms, it truly is "as if not knowing and knowing were the same thing": saying has supplanted knowing, yet (in "A Last Lesson's" terms) the speaker's saying does not supplant "hers."

    From a broader "geographical" perspective, however, this position is seen to be nothing short of precarious. "You see how it is all a matter of the humour of the thing," Riding comments archly (Progress, 251). Even in our "smiling"—given that we are "not quite sure what we are smiling at"—is found a trace of anxiety. That is to say, we cannot help but wonder:

But beyond this? To go on smiling, and to feel not merely that we do not altogether understand, but that, in effect, we do not altogether exist, that, in effect, only she altogether exists, that only the truth altogether knows—in which we cannot give ourselves a perfect lesson, since we as a whole do not altogether exist?
    That is the question: can we, in these circumstances, go on smiling? (Progress, 253)

    In terms of Ashbery's "Introduction," it is as if the "pain" has been transformed from a singular pain (signalled by the "I" that holds sway in the earlier part of the poem) to a plural "fretful vacillating around the central / Question" that remains unidentified but nonetheless "brings us closer, / For better or worse, for all this time" (A Wave, 34). This open-ended state of relation both cements and defers its pledge. To enact it represents, firstly, a conscientious recognition of what (Riding) Jackson describes as "the spiritual failure-that-is-success of poetry"; and secondly, a self-conscious celebration of this "failure."(xli) Ashbery proves that if the poet chooses not to accept what Riding sees as "the unchallengeable logic of [her later] linguistic position," this need not prevent him rising impressively to her challenge, through an articulate awareness of the work as "stylized failure-of-expression." Besides, as Riding concludes—in a strikingly Ashberyan passage—near the close of her "Last Lesson in Geography": "I do not feel that things are quite so bad as they seem. A great deal of pleasure would, I feel, be thrown away if our attitude became too stoical" (Progress, 253).


     (i.) See The Poets of the New York School, ed. John Bernard Myers (Philadelphia: Graduate School of Fine Arts, 1969), 29.

     (ii.) John Ashbery, Other Traditions (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Norton, 2000), 117. See also pp. 69-70.

     (iii.) Ibid., 117-19. The reference to "misprision" is on p. 102.

     (iv.) Ibid., 118.

     (v.) The Ashbery quotation is from "Soonest Mended," in The Double Dream of Spring (1966; reprint, New York: The Ecco Press, 1976), 18. The Riding quotation may be found in The Poems of Laura Riding: A Newly Revised Edition of the 1938/1980 Collection (New York: Persea Books, 2001), 484. Further references to this book will be made in the main text as PLR and by page number.

     (vi.) Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1972; reprint, New York: The Viking Press, 1975), 50.

     (vii.) April Galleons (London: Paladin, 1990), 66. First published in 1984.

     (viii.) A Wave (Manchester: Carcanet, 1984), 68. First published in 1981. Hereafter cited as A Wave.

     (ix.) "Poetry and the Good," PN Review, 18:4 (March/April 1992), 21.

     (x.) Jerome McGann discusses the implications of Riding's view that (as he puts it) "aesthetic successes are illusions of truth" in Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 126. Her statement, "In speaking that is under poetry's protection, failure is scared away until all's said," is made in The Telling (London: Athlone Press, 1972), 66.

     (xi.) See the preface to Riding's Selected Poems: In Five Sets (New York: Persea Books, 1993),12. The Selected Poems were first published by Faber and Faber in 1970—the first major instance in which Riding allowed her poems to reappear in print.

     (xii.) McGann, Black Riders (as note 10), 126.

     (xiii.) The first mention of "leaving out" and "putting it all down" is made in the opening sentences of "The New Spirit," the first of the Three Poems: "I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave all out would be another, and truer, way." See Three Poems (New York: The Ecco Press, 1989), 3, (Three Poems was first published in 1970.) Further references to this book will be made in the main text as TP and by page number. The Stephen Fredman quotation is from his Poet's Prose (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 106.

     (xiv.) The first quotation in this sentence is from Creeley's 1979 Modern Language Association address, quoted by Stephen Fredman in Poet's Prose (as note 13), 115. The second quotation is Fredman's paraphrase of Creeley.

     (xv.) Pamela Vermes, Buber (New York: Grove Press, 1988), 43. See also Martin Buber, trans. Walter Kaufmann, I and Thou (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). "Latency" is Buber's word (in Kaufmann's translation). See page 68-9, for instance, where Buber writes: "And even love cannot persist in direct relation; it endures, but only in the alternation of actuality and latency." Ashbery uses similar terms in distinguishing between "the frontal and the latent" in "The System." See TP, 71, for instance, where he writes: "In addition to these twin notions of growth, two kinds of happiness are possible: the frontal and the latent."

     (xvi.) April Galleons (as note 7), 56.

     (xvii.) See, for instance, I and Thou, 62: "the You encounters me by grace—it cannot be found by seeking"; nor is it to be held on to wilfully, encounter being only something "actual."

     (xviii.) From "Antwort," quoted (in Pamela Vermes' translation) in Vermes, Buber (as note 15), 42.

     (xix.) Laura Riding and Robert Graves, ed. Mark Jacobs, Essays from Epilogue 1935-1937 (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2001), 10.

     (xx.) Blaise Pascal, trans. A.J. Krailsheimer, Pensees (London: Penguin, 1966), 240.

     (xxi.) William Packard, ed., The Craft of Poetry: Interviews from "The New York Quarterly" (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 112—quoted by Stephen Fredman in Poet's Prose, 114.

     (xxii.) Anarchism is Not Enough, ed. Lisa Samuels (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), 16. Anarchism was first published in 1928.

     (xxiii.) Paul Auster, The Art of Hunger (Los Angeles: Sun and Moon Press, 1992), 21.

     (xxiv.) James Schuyler, A Few Days (New York: Random House, 1985), 78.

     (xxv.) "Poetry and the Good" (as note 9), 21.

     (xxvi.) April Galleons (as note 7), 27.

     (xxvii.) The first quotation is from Hotel Lautreamont (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1992), 53. The second and third are from And The Stars Were Shining (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1994), 95 and 87, respectively.

     (xxviii.) "The Impossible," Poetry, 90 (July 1957), 250.

     (xxix.) "From A Private Correspondence on Reality," in Essays from Epilogue (as note 19), 168.

     (xxx.) The phrase "tactic of exclusion" is from a review by Andrew Duncan in Angel Exhaust, 9 (Summer 1993), 77.

     (xxxi.) From "Vaucanson," in April Galleons (as note 7), 26.

     (xxxii.) This and the previous quotation, beginning "furiously intrigued …" are from "Poetry and the Good" (as note 9).

     (xxxiii.) Both "Token Resistance" and "World's End" are from And The Stars Were Shining (as note 27), 3 and 28, respectively.

     (xxxiv.) From Houseboat Days (1977). See Ashbery's Selected Poems (London: Paladin, 1987), 234.

     (xxxv.) The Riding quotation is from The Telling (London: Athlone Press, 1972), 66.

     (xxxvi.) Ibid.

     (xxxvii.) "The Old Complex," Hotel Lautreamont (as note 27), 107.

     (xxxviii.) Interview with Elizabeth Friedmann, PN Review, 17:4 (March/April, 1991), 72.

     (xxxix.) Progress of Stories (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1982), 335. Hereafter cited as Progress. "An Anonymous Book" also appears in Anarchism is Not Enough (as note 22), 181.

     (xl.) Hotel Lautreamont (as note 27), 71.

     (xli.) "Poetry and the Good" (as note 9), 21.