Girls on the Run: A Poem

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9780374526979: Girls on the Run: A Poem

A book-length poem that is at once tragic and hilarious.

Girls on the Run is a poem loosely based on the works of the "outsider" artist Henry Darger (1892-1972), a recluse who toiled for decades at an enormous illustrated novel about the adventures of a plucky band of little girls. The Vivians are threatened by human tormentors, supernatural demons, and cataclysmic storms; their calmer moments are passed in Edenic landscapes. Darger traced the figures from comic strips, coloring books, and other ephemeral sources, filling in the backgrounds with luscious watercolor. John Ashbery's Girls on the Run creates a similar childlike world of dreamy landscapes, lurking terror, and veiled eroticism. Its fractured narrative mode almost (but never quite) coalesces into a surrealist adventure story for juvenile adults.

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About the Author:

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927 and educated at Harvard and Columbia. He is Charles P. Stevenson Jr., Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College and lives in New York City and Hudson, New York.

Review:

"Ashbery is our universal poet."--Harold Bloom

"When we read [Ashbery], we know we are in the presence of the sublime."--David Yaffe, Civilization

"This beautiful long poem presents Ashbery at his most contradictory: it is both his most Homeric and 'narrative' long poem, yet at the same time his most joissant, collage-based work in years. It borrows from the imagery of Henry Darger (1892-1972), an American 'outsider' artist who devoted decades to a mammoth, illustrated novel about the plight of the fictional 'Vivian' girls. Ashbery's adaptation follows the adventures of dozens of characters with names like Pliable, Bunny, Mr. McPlaster, Uncle Margaret, and Fred--recalling 'Farm Implements and Rutabegas in Landscape,' Ashbery's talismanic Popeye riff from the '70s. The sentences are often short, somewhat 'off' ('Trevor his dog came, half jumping.'), and they set up deeply bizarre narrative situations: 'Hold it, I have an idea, Fred groaned. Now some of you, five at least, must go over in that little shack. / I'll follow with the tidal waves, and see what happens next.' Classic Surrealism erupts frequently in well-timed bursts: 'The tame suburban landscape excited him. / He had met his match. / Dimples replaced the mollusk with shoe-therapy.' Elsewhere, Ashbery jibes obliquely at the epic tradition, laconically laying down the blandest of similes with pseudo-stentorian bluster, while at other moments the meditative, universal Ashberian persona breaks through, with apt sophistication and terrible humanist relevance: 'The oblique flute sounded its note of resin. / In time, he said, we all go under the fluted covers / of this great world, with its spiral dissonances, / and then we can see, on the other side, / what the rascals are up to.' More memory than dream--the never-was memory of constant companionship, of 'fun,' of names that resonate with mystery (even 'Fred')--the poem recalls a land that was never boring and whose physical environment, while somewhat foreboding, was as safe as the womb and as colorful as Oz."--Publishers Weekly

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