PN Review Print and Online Poetry Magazine
Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
Mark FordLetters And So It Goes
Letters from Young Mr Grace
(aka John Ashbery)

(PN Review 239)
Kei Millerthe Fat Black Woman
In Praise of the Fat Black Woman & Volume

(PN Review 241)
Henry Kingon Toby Martinez de las Rivas
(PN Review 244)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Next Issue John McAuliffe poems and conversation Charles Dobzynski translated by Marilyn Hacker Maya C. Popa in conversation with Caroline Bird Richard Gwyn With Lowry in Cuernavaca Jane Draycott Four Poems
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PNR 250 Poetry Archive Banner
Monthly Carcanet Books
PN Review Blog

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

Remembers Ben Hickman
I FIRST STARTED reading Ashbery because I’d heard he was a surrealist and I was an 18-year-old boy. What a disappointment Some Trees, therefore, was. Ashbery’s first book had none of the clash and clamour of traditional avant-gardism, none of the metaphoric juiciness I thought the best poetry was supposed to have. Just these awkward, spare poems that began unannounced, chatted for a while in the middle, before hesitating to an ending.

Then there was the title poem, a more obviously brilliant love lyric in which ‘you and I / Are suddenly what the trees try / To tell us we are’, that ends simultaneously joyous and hushed:

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

The hallmarks of the Ashberyan are here: immanence, multiplicity, contradiction, reticence. The final couplet suggests what would become the central dialectic of Ashbery’s career: how surface is our only means to depth, puzzling and wondrous as it may remain.

Ashbery was just twenty-one when he wrote ‘Some Trees’. Like most love poems, it speaks of the singular event, and is in this sense untypical of the work for which Ashbery would become renowned. In general this work is more interested in flow, but flow of a particular kind ...

Searching, please wait... animated waiting image