Behind the Meatball Curtain

by Andrew Felsinger

I published the following poem in Issue #4 of -VeRT Magazine as having been written by John Ashbery :

"Meatball Curtain"

Literally, they say, "choked."
But pissing into the snow loosens nothing up.
I mean I; the reason why this remoteness
Haloes the how the day went,
Mathematical probability of the
Sound attached to the Seine's hypotenuse of ice
And the grafittoed monuments
Experienced as examined pulses, signals
To be precipitated in desire
The way a name gets spelled out magically
In blotto green light the sleet sparkles across.

But must admit I don't know for sure who wrote the poem. Is Jacques Debrot the author? He has similarly written both sides of an interview with John Ashbery, published by 2nd Story Books.

I knew the poem could be of dubious authorship, but chose to publish the work nonetheless. It contains a clumsy elegance that I also recognize and enjoy in Ashbery's work. I like to think of "Meatball Curtain" as something that perhaps Ashbery could have jotted down, a minor yet worthy work allowed to slip from his desk, a poem pinned to his corpus, an homage to the intricacies (mysteries) of identity and art.

But a poet researched the work and was offended by this coloring outside the lines. The work has been subject to a lather of Listronics (See August/September) as well as threats of a lawsuit. There have also been claims that "Meatball Curtain" somehow hurts or annoys John Ashbery himself! I have been, therefore, asked to remove John Ashbery's name from "Meatball Curtain" and make this retraction.

I was struck by such information. In an earlier and "legitimate" interview in Jacket Magazine Ashbery professes his admiration for literary frauds. What is more, Ashbery's work often displays a sort sliding / unidentifiable personal pronoun, (the very opposite of "I mean I"?) in which it is perhaps understandable to imagine this next step, of abstracted authorship, as inevitable.

What is more, John Ashbery is not known to use computers. How would he know of this little, new, West Coast, poetry web 'zine? It seems far afield. I can not seriously imagine John Ashbery pensively reading "Meatball Curtain" and wondering over its supposed prescient and nefarious contents.

One possible explanation may be that such work requires scandal? Note the following email :

Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 12:54:40 -0600
Reply-To: kent johnson <kson@HOTMAIL.COM>
Sender: british & irish poets <BRITISH@JISILUK>
From: kent johnson <kson@HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: Dear John Ashbery
Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed

Dear Jacques,

You interviewed me, and I showed you around the apartment, even letting you browse the rarest, most limited-edition books. And then you changed certain things I said. I left it well enough alone, even against my deeper instincts. But please don't take the confidence too far. I understand from Andrew Felsinger of VeRT magazine, that you intend to publish there a poem I sent you three years ago, specifically designated for your now-defunct magazine. I would remind you of copyright conventions, in case you have forgotten (or didn't know about them?). Let me tell you that when Frank was laid out, the long suture lines along his joints were like mountain ranges. "What about our vacation in Kabul?" he breathed, a hundred martinis on his breath. "Go back to sleep," I wept.And anyway, the poem was written by Joseph Ceravolo before he died. Plus, I don't appreciate being made a part of some obscene charade about Jacques Lacan, especially when the matter has insulted people in England with whom I have close relationships, like Peter Riley and Lawrence Upton. I'm sending this through Kent Johnson, whoever he is, since I am not subscribed to Listbot, even though I know who Jordan Davis is, of course, through Kenneth.


The email is the work, obviously, of Kent Johnson. It was posted to the British-Poets Listserve in order, I surmise, to stir up interest in "Meatball Curtain," which at the time was about to be published in Issue #4 of -VeRT Magazine. The email is interesting in a number of ways: It states that the poem was "written by Joseph Ceravolo before he died." And there is this reference to "Frank"? Well, as interesting as this may be, I don't have the inclination to follow up these leads, if that is what they are? I am not as interested in the poem's creation as I am in the authorless fiction that allows for this semi-stateless object to float in an Ashberian ether. In a kind of no-zone.

To expose this poem as a fraud is, perhaps, part of *the plan*? To, somehow, square this circle. If so, then, I've done this, my part.