John Ashbery: Mapping the Unconscious

Charles McGrath reviews a book of prose and a book of poetry by John Ashbery in the New York Times:

Once thought to be willfully ”difficult” and impenetrably obscure, Ashbery now, at 77, seems almost avuncular, the grand old man of American poetry, both wise and ironic — the party guest he describes in one of his new poems, who is ”bent on mischief and good works with equal zest.” We may not know much Ashbery by heart, but we recognize his voice the instant we hear it, because nobody else writes this way:

Attention, shoppers. From within the
commas of a strambotto, seditious
watermarks this time of day. Time to get
and, as they say, about.

Ashbery has written more than 20 books — most of them of consistently high quality, with the exception of the tedious ”Flow Chart” — and he has been around so long, reinventing himself over and over again, that the experience of reading him now is a little like re-enacting the central drama of most Ashbery poems: the experience of suddenly coming upon something that is both deeply familiar and more than a little strange.

More here.