He is interested in how the intelligible confounds us – ‘Sometimes the drums would actually let us play/ between beats and that was nice’ – and how, in our craving for the authoritative statement, which poetry all too easily panders too, there are always ironies in play that we would rather disregard: ‘All this,’ he writes, ‘because I meant to be polite to someone’ (‘Has To Be Somewhere’). His wonderful titles, among other things, make us suspicious of entitlement.
Ashbery has taken Robert Frost’s dictum ‘Look after the sound and the sense will take care of itself’ to its logical (and illogical) conclusions. He has found a language for poetry that is evocative without being informative. Because he never claims to speak on the reader’s behalf, we can overhear ourselves as we read them. In the words of these late, remarkable poems, reading him is ‘like practising a scale: at once different and never the same’. There are no poems like these.
more from The Observer Review here.