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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

Remembers Patrick Mackie
I WAS WITH SOME POETRY FRIENDS in a pub near Holborn, shooting the breeze before a reading two of us were participating in. The breeze was fairly dark on that day, for various reasons. It was the weekend following Donald Trump’s inauguration for one thing; it was January in London for another. Let us hope that it was genuine curiosity, at least as much as the need to keep the conversation going, that caused one friend to ask which poet I thought of as the main background presence for my own writing. He did not quite phrase the question in terms of influence. I did not have to think to know that the answer was John Ashbery. But for some reason, the name felt a little flat on my tongue, as if this was an important fact about myself that I had not been nourishing or had grown inattentive to. Further comment seemed called for, and what I found myself saying next was that, for me, Ashbery was the sky. It was true, and of course it remains so. The sky is not something that just goes and dies one day.

But then, what is it that we actually get from the sky? Both everything and nothing. My friend seemed surprised by my answer. Perhaps Ashbery is by now so pervasive in my stuff that he no longer shows through on the surface. I first started reading him intensely within the mainly hapless ambit of the 1990s British poetry world, a fate which left me absurdly free to ...


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