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This review is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

THE ENCHANTED MAKER JOHN ASHBERY, A Worldly Country (Carcanet) £9.95

A Worldly Country offers few surprises for those readers already versed in John Ashbery's work. Ashbery's characteristic Looney-Tunes surrealism is in full effect - there is 'Tweety Bird' filled with 'sullen mockery', there are 'crows' punching time clocks 'not far from the Adirondacks', there are even 'word-rabbits' 'hippity-hopping along'. Aspects of 'high' and 'low' cultures jostle amiably together in phrases including 'Ovid, in the infomercial', as traditional forms including the pantoum are employed and lightly vandalised. Allusions to especially significant literary predecessors like Walt Whitman seed the poems throughout, helping us ground Ashbery's mildly disorientating free-associative mode within an American Renaissance paradigm. The self-reflexive moves Ashbery is variously loved and loathed for are also on display. In 'Yes, "Señor" Fluffy', interjections like 'What's your name down there' jolt us into becoming self-aware of our roles as readers. Similar effects are achieved in 'So Long, Santa' ('That's all any of us gets, / why I am happy with you, alone, just us'), 'Asides on the Theorbo' ('it's all right not to know / where any of this is coming from. Trust your judgment'), 'The Recipe' ('I hope you're not listening [but you are, / somewhere])', and any number of other poems. Ashbery makes these moves to remind us - as he has for so much of his career - that personal interpretation contingent on any number of variables is pretty much the only way we make sense of his poetry and, by extension, the world.


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