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

As My Way Is: John Ashbery's Gift Peter Robinson

Through 'a gauze-curtained window giving directly onto the sidewalk of West Fifty-third Street', John Ashbery once looked out of a major retrospective to where 'unexpected light from the street and the veiled backdrop of traffic and passers-by produce one of those subtle dislocations of everyday life that are at the heart of de Chirico's art.' The Italian painter combines in the cityscapes of his 'metaphysical' period three features dear to Ashbery - the mundane, the imaginary, and the distinctly individual: 'if the symbolic meaning of recurring images like the bananas, clocks, gloves and artichokes remains unknown, they are obviously repositories of deeply personal feelings and experiences', he wrote. That glimpse of West Fifty-third Street seems one such apparently arbitrary confrontation, an occasion when meaning starts to stir. Glancing back at the world as if it were a picture when you're reviewing an art exhibition, such truant attention is one of poetry's mainsprings. Ashbery's 'The Instruction Manual' takes as its starting point a similar truancy:
 
As I sit looking out of a window of the building
I wish I did not have to write the instruction manual on the
   uses of a new metal.
I look down into the street and see people, each walking
   with an inner peace,
   And envy them - they are so far away from me!
Not one of them has to worry about getting out this manual
   on schedule.
And, as my way is, ...


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