Girls on the Run is a tragic and hilarious poem, loosely based on the works of the "outsider" artist Henry Darger (1892-1972). For decades this recluse toiled at an enormous illustrated novel that recounted the adventures of a plucky band of little girls. The Vivians are constantly threatened by human tormentors, supernatural demons, and ...
Girls on the Run is a tragic and hilarious poem, loosely based on the works of the "outsider" artist Henry Darger (1892-1972). For decades this recluse toiled at an enormous illustrated novel that recounted the adventures of a plucky band of little girls. The Vivians are constantly threatened by human tormentors, supernatural demons, and cataclysmic storms; their calmer moments are passed in Edenic landscapes that suggest both Little Nemo and the works of Le Douanier Rousseau. Darger traced the figures from comic strips, coloring books, and other ephemeral sources, and filled in the backgrounds with luscious watercolor. In Girls on the Run, John Ashbery has created a similar childlike world of dreamy landscapes, lurking terror, and veiled eroticism. The fractured narrative mode of his poem almost (but never quite) coalesces into a surrealist adventure story for juvenile adults.
Publishers Weekly, 1999-02-22 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 FredÄrecalling "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 dreamÄthe never-was memory of constant companionship, of "fun," of names that resonate with mystery (even "Fred")Äthe 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. (Apr.)
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