John Ashbery’s new Selected Prose is stacked high at St. Mark’s Bookshop, and my quandary is this—do I pack my 25-lb. boy in his 8-lb. stroller and brave the stairwells of the subway to buy this book today? It’s like running an obstacle course. It is no exaggeration to say that I’ll spend half the day fretting about this book, which I desperately want, but being unable to bring myself to leave the neighborhood to get it. It is no exaggeration to say I rarely leave Park Slope. Having a child in New York City is punishing, and the subway is only one of many reasons.
Park Slope is one of the few habitable neighborhoods of New York, and it has the virtue of bookstores and independent record stores in a concentrated area. But none of the bookstores seem to have Ashbery’s Selected Prose. It is a neighborhood renowned for its literariness, but it is the literariness of novelists, not poets. Or it is the literariness of the New York Review of Books, where real poets are certified by British or Irish accents.
Apropos an earlier post, I learn from my Raymond Williams’ Keywords that there is a history between “intelligent” and “intellectual” that stretches back to the early 19th century, and uses a quote of Byron’s to exemplify an unfavorable view of the “intellectual.”
Past the halfway mark in Schuyler’s letters, I’ve learned quite a bit about what to see in Rome, gardening, baking brownies, gossip, painting, and of course how to be a poet. He confirms what I already thought: Read everything and be otherwise as daydream-lazy as possible.