Editor’s note

Welcome to our critical and genetic digital edition of “The Skaters,” the long poem that concluded John Ashbery’s 1966 collection Rivers and Mountains.

In its current state, this edition offers:

     – a plain text version of the poem, with optional display of the lines and stanza numbers;

     – the transcription of two typescript drafts of the poem, as well as 20 poems and fragments—18 of which are unpublished,—pertaining to the first typescript's dossier. The genetic dossier is displayed, with all variants, in four formats: HTML and XML-TEI, along high-resolution image files and searchable PDFs of the original pages;

     – three annotated versions of the text: one showing “referential” data such as names, places, time markers, etc., the second the use of personal pronouns, and the third thematic data such as sounds, colors and weather notations throughout the text;

     – a full searchable index, with links to the poem lines;

     – a few elements of quantitative analysis, such as number of occurrences and frequencies for lexical items, etc.

The present prototype should soon be enriched, among other things, by a lemmatized version of the index, a part-of-speech parsing of the poem, and an expanded set of annotations.

We do hope that this project, rather new, we believe, in the field of contemporary poetry, will encourage all scholars concerned with accuracy, but, even more, all readers caring for the texts they enjoy and curious about the way they actually work to acknowledge the gain that digital media can represent in the understanding and appreciation of literary texts.


We will happily close this note by stating what we owe, for we owe much: first, of course, to John Ashbery, for his generosity in lending the manuscripts used for this edition, and, even more, for making accessible to all, through a free and public website, a copyrighted text—may his example be followed by many others! To Charles Bernstein (University of Pennsylvania), we owe the initial idea of this edition as a first step in our personal research project, and a constant support and enthusiasm. To Karen Koch, for her authorization to publish two poems (“Cleopatra's Last Class” and “Poem”) co-written by John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch. To David Kermani, for his support of the project, his help in making the unpublished material accessible, and his invaluable knowledge of the Ashberian bibliography. To the Kelly Writers House and Al Filreis (University of Pennsylvania), who offered us, through a $2000 grant, the means for the scanning and OCR processing of the manuscripts. To Leslie Morris (Harvard libraries), for the images of the Harvard typescript. To Jeffrey Boruszak, for his diligent proofreading. Our chair, Kevin Platt (University of Pennsylvania) granted us a break in the usual course of our schedule to work on this time-consuming project. Sabine Arnaud-Thuillier obligingly shared with us her knowledge of OCR technologies, regular expressions and the Unix shell, and took generously on her time to help us with the scanning and processing of the material. May the reader feel as we do obliged to them all!

Except for them, this edition was made without any external support, institutional or otherwise, as a pure labor of love. Since love, as we all know, doesn't prevent mistakes, some must have slipped into these pages, for which we only are responsible, and will gladly correct them if the reader lets us know what they are.


This edition is for Charles, with gratitude and affection.

Robin Seguy,                
Philadelphia, 10.XI.2011-4.IV.2013