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This review is taken from PN Review 109, Volume 22 Number 5, May - June 1996.

CHALK AND CHEESE JOHN ASHBERY, Can You Hear, Bird (Carcanet) £9.95
YVES BONNEFOY, The Lure and the Truth of Painting: selected essays on art, edited by Richard Stamelman (University of Chicago Press) £31.95
YVES BONNEFOY, New and Selected Poems, edited by John Naughton and Antony Rudolf (Carcanet) £12.95
OSIP MANDELSTAM, The Voronezh Notebooks, translated by Richard and Elizabeth McKane (Bloodaxe) £7.95

Of the post-Surrealist poets in France none has achieved greater eminence than Yves Bonnefoy, now in his early seventies. In postwar American poetry the most prominent figure has been John Ashbery, who will be seventy next year. Both Bonnefoy and Ashbery have, in their different ways, honoured the achievements of Surrealism whilst recognizing the movement's limitations; both have also been - with or without Surrealism to account for it - 'beyond' poetry, having very successfully written art criticism free of any of the 'professional' jargon of the discipline. They have both addressed, though with very different ends in view, the age-old issue of ut pictura poesis;they share an admiration for de Chirico's 'metaphysical melancholy' (Reported Sightings) and for Balthus's 'realism of the improbable' (The Lure and the Truth of Painting. Yet they are really chalk and cheese, with even less in common than, say, the ghost of Baudelaire and the ghost of Walt Whitman, each central to the tradition in which each of these figures find themselves.

The distance between them is ironically, but not unfairly, represented by, Ashbery's self-alignment with a cartoon character - he is 'Daffy Duck in Hollywood' in Houseboat Days (and, as John Shoptaw records, considered admitting as much half-way through Flow Chart) - and Bonnefoy's use of the pseudonym 'Jean Sauveterre' in a review for Lettres Nouvelles of Ludwig Goldscheider's book on Michelangelo. This review appeared only a month or so after the publication of Bonnefoy's extraordinary first book of poems, Du ...


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