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

Weather and Turtles in John Ashbery's Recent Poetry Richard Francis

I can't help wondering if to some extent recent Ashbery poetry is the victim of the earlier achievement, at least so far as the reception of the work is concerned. 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror' is a landmark - phew, that's got that out of the way. Another modern master has been ensnared, caged: framed indeed, and that's his picture (by Parmigianino) painted on the wall. The piece is a wonder all right: there it all is, the problem of surface and depth, the vexed question of realism, the irony implicit in the concept of ars longa, vita brevis. And the bonus is the cool reflective language, the consistency of tone, the blank verse look of it on the page, even if, obstinately, it refuses to scan in an appropriately blank way. Although the poem problematizes the relationship between subject and object, at least it has an object, that picture in the gallery. Not quite the same thing as a tree, or a lover, but it's something. Perhaps indeed the postmoderns can succeed where all the king's horses and all the king's men (Eliot being the number one) failed, and put the Humpty Dumpty of artistic tradition back together again. OK, it comes out looking rather more like an egg than one would ideally want: 'One would like to stick one's hand/Out of the globe, but its dimension,/What carries it, will not allow it.' We are all carried by the globe, and as those mathematicians of the postmodern, the ...


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