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This article is taken from PN Review 99, Volume 21 Number 1, September - October 1994.

In a Glass Darkly F.T. Prince

When I read Some Trees, which John Ashbery sent me in 1956, I had seen very little of his poetry, and though I was impressed by the sophistication and elegance of the book, I felt more or less baffled throughout. As I made my comments, I knew they were inadequate, and I could do little better as he continued to send me his books, in those years when he was living in Paris and when we sometimes met in London. I read him assiduously, and after some time became involved to the point of thinking I might learn something from him. In fact I have never been able to. Eventually, as the poetry moved towards its maturity and efflorescence, in The Skaters, for example, and Three Poems, I could not fail to see that he had extraordinary powers, and remember telling him so - though I suppose he hardly needed to be told.

By this time I have more confidence in my impressions of his work than I had thirty or forty years ago, and it seems worth trying to make some general observations.

I see his writing now as deeply American, in what has notoriously been one of the central modes of twentieth century poetry - the Franco-American. Modernism announced itself, in English, with a reaching-out from native American experimentation to European, mainly French, innovations. Pound's short-lived attempt to promote 'Imagisme' was a reflection of the general modernist acceptance of France as a source ...


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