John Ashbery
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Michael Robbins writes:

Other poets stand in line for places at poetry’s funeral; Ashbery’s attitude is: screw it, I’ll bury the old boy myself. Who could resist the charms of a poet who writes, ‘Say this for warmer climes, though:/Bears are let out at night to patrol the streets,’ or ‘Call me potatoes/and soap. Call me soap and potatoes’? Who would want to? And just when you’re thinking Ashbery has read so much James Tate that his yaks have forgotten how to recognise real emotion, the tone turns on a dime into one of subdued retrospect:

In the morning hope flushes the city anew.
I guess it was just that I always thought of snow
at the wrong times and defeatism came
       charging through the barricades.
It always knew where to find me.
Funny, few can now remember how water
came in pails once, and sails were free
for anyone who needed them for a boat.

Ashbery is thinking of snow, and of wrong times, throughout Planisphere. ‘I’m barely twenty-six, have been on Oprah/and such,’ the narrator says in ‘Attabled with the Spinning Years’, and then, as if startled to notice the late hour:

Surely that isn’t snow? The leaves are still on the trees,
but they look wild suddenly.
I get up. I guess I must be going.

It’s almost wistful, the way that offhand colloquialism signals an understandable preoccupation with mortality.

(LRB 24 September 2009)

Published by Carcanet Press Ltd
27 December 2009
ISBN: 9781847770899

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