WAKEFULNESS by John Ashbery


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It's been over forty years since Auden selected Ashbery for the Yale Younger Poets, and time has revealed the method to Ashbery's surreal madness: difficult, disjunctive, dreamlike, his poems exist for their own sake, imploring us to luxuriate in their very immediacy. Ashbery's jaunty and urbane poems feign naivetÆ’, a faux casualness--jokey and chatty--that's betrayed by his sudden bursts of measured abstraction. In ""Tangled Stars,"" he puns his denial of personality: ""I decline the irregular verbs/of which our life is composed,"" and elsewhere makes sport of history (""the past never happened here""). ""The Friend at Midnight"" reminds us that ""everything is its own reward,"" that each day bears its own ""canonicity,"" that only the utter nowness of things can spare us ""the mess of inner living"" (""Dear Sir or Madam""). Dizzying in their non-sense, Ashbery's centerless tropes sing their own disapproval: a warning to readers untutored in his ""churlish ways""--this is poetry at its most demanding, and not always worth the candle.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
Page count: 96pp
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"