After a week spent at the very first session of THE ASHBERY HOME SCHOOL in Hudson, NY, poet-correspondent John Rufo reports on his findings:
Do you see John Ashbery as a god and, if he enters a room, do you gasp? The range here was wide, like the range of ages at the workshop. Assembled at Ashbery Home School were several sleepy-headed nineteen-year-olds disappearing in and out of cigarette smoke on the porch of the triumphantly-named arts-center “Time & Space Limited,” retired schoolteachers whose translations of Latin American poetry and classics were stamped out in their spare time between grading dithered papers on Emily Dickinson’s [Because I could not stop for Death], and middle-aged married poets who fled MFAland while the getting was good. All “homeschoolers” had at the very least heard of Ashbery – except maybe one whose poetry was so good that you didn’t feel it was worth wondering what rock he’d been hiding under for the past century. Some homeschoolers never read more than one or two of Ashbery’s books, resigning their readerly post after Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and the prose-y depths of Three Poems. Others could barely let their tongues wriggle forward without one of Ashbery’s lines gushing out of memory, tumbling like Little Nemo tangled amidst sheets in the last panel of Winsor McCay’s comic-dream Slumberland. And if that last reference seems unfair, arcane, or old-fashioned, I only use it because Ashbery himself made the same allusion at his own reading. I have only one of the old fellow’s poems by heart and it’s a relatively short one.  But if anyone says you can’t memorize Ashbery, director and founder of Ashbery Home School Adam Fitzgerald is a walking, talking, never-sleeping testament to the severe untruth of that claim.
Wait, Ashbery’s not running this thing? Well, for starters, he’s 87 – very freshly 87 as a matter of fact.  The Ashbery Home School was founded and run by Dorothea Lasky, Timothy Donnelly, the aforementioned Adam Fitzgerald, and, with Tracy K. Smith, make up its “core” faculty. No one in the program saw our Wizard of Oz until his wonderful reading on Wednesday, and he was whisked away shortly after that. Let’s just say it often seemed like “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” especially when the homeschoolers tiptoed about his Hudson home, taking off their shoes at the door to not disturb the priceless Persian rugs their nude feet crossed over. And it was David Kermani, not John, jousting his walker-cane at the thing-filled nooks and crannies of the Hudson Home, where kitsch collides with de Kooning. One got the sense that, if, like the protagonist of Pixar’s Up, David and John could hoist the house up with balloons and sail away to Paradise Falls, they would certainly take the money and run. Yet Ashbery’s aura, even in absence, flooded Home School non-stop. When citing poetic or artistic examples, student and faculty’s listing always ended with “and, of course, John Ashbery is the ultimate example of” surrealism, realism, hyperrealism, distance, proximity, translation, tradition, the grotesque, the beautiful, the blind, the all-seeing, the old, the young, the queer, the hetero, the hedgehog, the fox, the human, the alien, the bric-a-brac in the cupboard, the masterpiece on the wall, painting, cinema, architecture, life. 
How can John Ashbery be all of these things? He’s not, but it’s undeniable that us moths attracted to his porch light descend from different species of, well, moth. As Andrew Rippeon, a visiting poet and professor at Hamilton College, explained to me, Marjorie Perloff and Harold Bloom become unexpected bedfellows under the roof of the John Ashbery Bed and Breakfast. Ashbery’s work does the wink-and-stab-you-in-the-back routine better than anyone else. The blandest method of boiling down his poems connects them to his spry wizened charisma, and the other blandest mode takes up Nietzsche-like street-proclamations of his wild genius, hugging a horse before they wheel you down to the local looney-bin.
Your Ashbery is not my Ashbery? Well, my mother isn’t your mother.
But who’s going to verify your personal mythology? poses Archie Rand, the Brooklyn-based painter whose spooky collaborations with Ashbery in Heavenly Days Illuminated interrogate the shadows of autobiography. Here’s the central problem with both Ashbery’s poems and Home School: you could be alluding to almost anything in your work, and no one could be certain of your saying so. The most personal, or private, occurs when one speaks about the thing most superficially distant from the self: the Japanese moon-print, the Daffy Duck cup, a home seized up in 1978 after a first visit. Even without professing the “I,” we may be confessing our sins in the smallest parenthesis. However, there’s no way of knowing. And who wants solid verification anyway? Why spoil the slumber-party? Toward the end of his Wednesday-night reading, Ashbery began explicating the references in his new poems. Suddenly he stopped and murmured, “wait, what am I doing?”
Put aside if you like it or not – does it provoke you? asks Karin Roffman, Ashbery’s official biographer, on the first night of the Ashbery Home School. Although “favorite” might be the single most overused word at this poetry Valhalla meets summer camp, folks are more often inclined to discuss how so-and-so’s writing has impacted their own work, how Rilke’s “you must change your life” dictum isn’t wishful thinking.  John Ashbery, in one sense the most impersonal great poet we’ve got, caused Andrew Field to whisper to me before his reading, “this is like seeing our century’s Walt Whitman.” I replied, “you’re making me nervous.” And something strange crawled across us when Ashbery entered, pushed via wheelchair by Adam Fitzgerald, the new driving the old and the old driving the new. Though Harold Bloom posited something Freudian for poetic predecessors in his Anxiety of Influence, the relationship at Ashbery Home School was more along the lines of Aretha Franklin’s gospel-shout R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And we’re all trying to find out what it means to us.
 “My Erotic Double” from As We Know, published in 1979, the year after Ashbery bought his Victorian-era house in Hudson, around 12 years before my own Upstate, NY house was purchased.
 Approximately 27 days before my birthday, John chalks-up a new age on July 28 of every year.
 An incomplete, incorrect, and incompetent list, surely, but it’s a personal list I’ve extensively Venn-diagrammed with color-coded ink on my Hudson hotel-walls. Don’t tell the management.
 And, speaking of favorites, my favorite Ashbery is definitely the “prose-y depths” of Three Poems. According to Adam Fitzgerald, it’s also John’s favorite of his own books. Favorites are tricky, but not unfounded.