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John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Episode Summary
A staged reading of John Ashbery's great, dense work-one of the defining poems of the 20th century. Six readers, accompanied by projected text and image, illuminate and bring to life Ashbery's tonal shifts and juxtapositions.

Directed by Jim Paul with technical direction by Beth Thielen.

Participant(s) Bio
John Ashbery (Poet/Author) has won nearly every major American award for poetry since his second volume, Some Trees, was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series in 1956. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. Ashbery began writing about art in 1957, serving as executive editor of Art News (1965-72), and art critic for New York Magazine (1978-80) and Newsweek (1980-85). A selection of his art writings was published in 1989 as Reported Sightings.

Director's Statement: Since its publication in 1975, I've been reading John Ashbery's long poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, gradually encompassing its modulated proceedings and always surprised at its further depths and gorgeous highlights. The work is ostensibly a description and meditation of Francesco Parmigianino's Mannerist masterpiece, and my exploration of the poem has led me to a similar exploration of the painting.

I decided to set the poem for six voices with projected text and images, as a way of arraying its juxtapositions, embodying its tonal shifts in different voices and keeping Parmigianino's painting in view as the poem proceeds, that it might offer some further illumination of the work.

Jim Paul (Director) is a poet and writer, author of several books, including Medieval in LA and Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots. He teaches in the English Department at Hunter College in New York and is House Manager of the Ancram Opera House, where this Ashbery work was first produced in 2009.

Joan Arnold (Reader) is a teacher of yoga and the Alexander Technique with a private practice in NYC. She has written essays and features for New York Woman, American Photo, Self, New Age Journal and others. Joan is Executive Director of the Ancram Opera House.

Tom Curwen (Reader) is an award-winning staff writer and editor at the Los Angeles Times. He was editor of the Outdoors section, a writer for the features section and deputy editor of the Book Review. He has a master's degree in Creative Writing from USC and was a recipient of a 1991 Academy of American Poets prize. In 2002, he received a Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for mental health journalism.

David Kipen (Reader), author of The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, and translator of Cervantes' The Dialogue of the Dogs. Until January 2010, he was the Literature Director of the National Endowment of the Arts, where he directed the Big Read and the Guadalajara Book Festival initiatives. He also served from 1998 to 2005 as book critic, and before that book editor, for the San Francisco Chronicle. His introductions to the WPA Guides to Los Angeles and San Francisco are forthcoming.

Louise Steinman (Reader) is curator of the ALOUD series for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. She is the author of two books and performed for many years with her own theater company, SO&SO&SO&SO and toured internationally with Ping Chong and the Fiji Company.

Beth Thielen (Technical Director) is known for her one-of-a kind artist books. She has worked as artist and educator with at-risk populations. Her work is in the Library of Congress, the Getty Museum of Art and various collections and museums.

Terry Wolverton (Reader) is author of seven books: including Embers, a novel in poems, which she is adapting as a jazz opera; Insurgent Muse: life and art at the Woman's Building, a memoir; The Labrys Reunion and Bailey's Beads, novels; and three collections of poetry. She has also edited fourteen literary anthologies, including Mischief, Caprice, and Other Poetic Strategies. She is the founder of Writers At Work, a creative writing center in Los Angeles.