THREE POEMS by John Ashbery


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Aside from the start of confronting chunks of prose (and relatively discursive prose at that) there are other surprising changes in store here. ""The New Spirit"" of the first poem seems at bottom to be seriousness of a fairly high order, signalled by a shift of emphasis: ""The cold external factors are inside us at last, growing in us for our improvement, asking nothing. . . . And what about what was there before?"" That is the primary locus, inside where the existential psychologists are wont to go; but it is a little harder to pin down those factors and their dim antecedent. For one reason Ashbery supplies no solid cognitive referents for most of what he talks about, though we recognize a kind of universal subjectivity. For another, his developments and tones are as cannily unbalancing as ever, a subliminal collage of outlooks and dictions. The new format gives his technique a wide play; but technique here is the clerk of consciousness and that is basically what distinguishes these poems from prose in a similar style. The style is stretched to cover a range of experience that it had seemed to exclude by its very nature, and this with no cession of its original cool sentience or comic prerogatives. These are something new and may be difficult to adjust to, but they bear Ashbery's stamp and that is recommendation enough.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1971
Publisher: Viking