This week: Ashbery’s art collection, Screwtape takes the stage, new poetry from Criterion Books & more from the world of culture.
Petty Theft, by Nicholas Friedman (Criterion Books): “They take the stage in Abilene, road-tired/ and a little high. A year back, Bob became/ the man who shot The Outlaw Jesse James;/ now he’s the man who shoots his sickly brother,/ over and over, for a modest fee.” In the poem “The Outlaws of Missouri, 1883,” Nicholas Friedman describes the year after Robert and Charles Ford killed their gang leader Jesse James, during which the brothers went around to different public audiences, recreating their famed moment. “[W]hen/ Bob’s “bullet” catches Charley below the ear,/ he falls like a gunnysack, the way he will/ after pressing a revolver to his chest/ in Richmond, snuffing the laudanum dropper’s call,/ the fevers of consumption, and the shame./ Bob will follow silver into Creede,/ where he’ll get neck-shot by the man who killed/ the man who killed The Outlaw Jesse James.” It is no surprise that while all eyes are on the spectacle of James’s demise, Friedman is focused on the less sensational deaths of Robert and Charles. In Petty Theft, winner of the eighteenth annual New Criterion Poetry Prize, Friedman takes the reader along to carnivals, Cape Cod, the Omey Races, the Jersey Shore in 1963, and the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi—to name just a few—and points out the puddles, the fruit flies, the barbed wire there, items that few would have noticed but which, thanks to Friedman, are suddenly filled with considerable meaning. Petty Theft will be released Tuesday, December 18. —RH
“Works from the Collection of John Ashbery,” at Kasmin Gallery (through December 22): John Ashbery, who died last September, will be remembered by history as a leading poet of the New York School, but his first aspiration was to be a painter. The farmer’s son gave up this particular dream sometime during his time at Deerfield and Harvard, where he studied literature and fell in with writer-classmates like Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Robert Bly. But Ashbery soon began supplementing his poetic output with art criticism (in those pleasant times a viable way to make ends meet), writing exhibition reviews for Newsweek, New York, and ARTnews magazines. His circle soon expanded to include painters such as Fairfield Porter, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, and others, many of whom eschewed the bombastic, goliath-forging sensibilities of the Abstract Expressionists. This week is the last to see an exhibition of works from Ashbery’s personal art collection, in Chelsea’s Paul Kasmin Gallery, which assembles these exceptional artists, and others, into a single room. Highlights include Porter’s 1952 portrait of Ashbery, Alex Katz’s seven-by-nine-inch Untitled (White Rose) (1965), and Freilicher’s 1954 still life The Painting Table. —AS
The Screwtape Letters, at Acorn Theatre (December 18 through 30): Screwtape, one of Satan’s senior tempters, has a tough job: guiding Wormwood, a rookie demon, through his first assignment in leading a human to hell. In C. S. Lewis’s epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters(1942), readers soon learn that the road to damnation doesn’t look much like the guidebooks: it’s a “a gentle slope . . . without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,” and the role of the tempter is more subtle than he—or his human charge—thinks. Max McLean brought Lewis’s satirical twist on the conversion story to the stage in 2006. Since then, the diabolical pair (here played by Brent Harris as Screwtape and with Tamala Bakkensen and Anna Reichert taking turns as Toadpipe) have toured the country in a production sponsored by McLean’s Fellowship for Performing Arts. Give in to temptation and buy tickets now: The Screwtape Letters is only at Acorn Theatre on Forty-second Street until December 30, when the nationwide tour leaves Manhattan. —HN
“Alex Gordon Lecture in the History of Art: ‘Seeing God and the Duke: The Charterhouse of Champmol,’ ” by Susie Nash, at the Frick Collection (December 19): It’s all coming up Carthusians at the Frick this year. There’s still time to see the wonderful “Charterhouse of Bruges” exhibition, which Karen Wilkin reviewed for The New Criterion and I reviewed for Spectator USA, and this week brings more on the marvelous monks. Susie Nash of the Courtauld Institute will speak on Dijon’s Charterhouse of Champmol, founded in the 1380s by Philip the Bold, and its noteworthy artistic holdings. —BR
From the archive: “The fictive music of Wallace Stevens,” by Bruce Bawer (February 1986). On the legacy of the poet Wallace Stevens.
From the current issue:“Dickinson alive in Philadelphia,” by Andrew L. Shea. On “Between Nature and Abstraction: Edwin Dickinson and Friends” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.