Ashes for Saddam
- Why are we in Iraq? "Saddam even tried to kill my Dad," the
Poet and painter and politician wield their power differently. Men in
my family occasionally win small-potatoes elections in Ontario,
Canada; but these men are really business men. I know Eugene McCarthy
and have published him in Unmuzzled OX; but McCarthy's really a
I met Ramsey Clark through Daniel Berrigan but Dan's a poet and
priest, yes, but really Dan's an activist.
In the art world however there's the interesting case of the
Alex Katz and his son, the writer Vincent Katz. Over the years
written art criticism for the Village Voice, Art in America and ART
News. I interviewed MaCarthy and Berigan and W.H. Auden and Allen
Ginsberg and oh yeah Andy Warhol. I love art but at the moment the
analogy between the politics of the art and poetry world and that
politics of the whole world concern me and inform my view of George
Poets have worked as art critics for the last two hundred years,
from Baudelaire and Apollinaire in France to Peter Schjeldahl and
John Ashbery today in New York.
At the urging of a painter and art dealer who were in fact supplying
the labor and money Unmuzzled OX hosted a Vincent Katz reading at
the dealer's gallery. Because of his father, art world
flocked to the event. The dealer and the painter regarded the event
as a great success. A year later Jeff Wright's Cover sponsored
and Vincent reading at a different gallery. The painter who
originally urged me to sponsor the first reading came up to me after
the second reading and bitterly summed up Vincent as untalented,
unpleasant and very successful. This painter, as you might expect,
shortly afterwards gave up painting altogether and left New York.
I think Vincent Katz is in fact quite talented but I had to admit
that I found Vincent and his father unpleasant and rude. We had just
met, but they seemed to dislike me. Why? Could it be--art world
Perhaps it stems this passage from a poem rewriting Aesop which was
printed a number of times in the 1970s and has had an odd tendancy to
pop up in literary discussions:
"Yuh, that's the same ox,"
Said the crab, in whose mouth
Appeared a toothpick.
"Started to lose weight.
The farmer has a mean dog
Who likes to sleep in the manger
And whenever the ox
Goes to eat
He growls and snaps and won't let him.''
"What a selfish beast!" said Robin
"He can't eat oats and yet
Won't let those eat who can.
What's this dog's name?"
"Ashbery," answered the crab.
"Oh Ashbery," said Robin
"He's given me a lot of trouble too.
I used to visit the grape arbor
With the intention of repast
And Ashbery would bark
And I'd have to run off, hungry.
But I now believe those grapes are sour."
"Things always work out," said the crab.
"Uh hun, uh hun," said Robin.
Calling John Ashbery a dog-in-the-manger in 1976 may have been a bad
politico-literary move. Ashbery had stood me up for an interview and
I thought that was a witty way of expressing my displeasure.
I had done something like this in 1971. I was a grad student and
Ashbery read in a poetry series I ran. In a poem I joshed that his
work was difficult, then said I was being "snarky." Someone
shown Ashbery the poem, because the next time he read in my series he
requested that a Tenniel illustration for The Hunting of the Snark be
used for the poster.
I think he didn't find it so funny the second time. Wouldn't
rather be a cat than a dog in the manger? Or maybe folks no longer
wage wars the way Pope and Swift did in the days of The Dunciad.
Despite some evidence of other activities, it seems to me that John
Ashbery has spent the last thirty years quietly revenging himself.
Indeed, a well-known poet, editor and novelist recently asked
me, "Why does John Ashbery hate you so very much?"
Watch who you badmouth in poems or the poems may bite you back.
Ashbery is an arbiter of taste. He has declared Aklex Katz one of the
great living painters. Do you think maybe my name came up in
conversations between John and Alex? "He even called my Man a
Alex would then say, if so, to his son.