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

The Irish Ashbery Dennis O'Driscoll

The writ of John Ashbery scarcely runs in Ireland. His writings are known from reputation rather than from reading - and his reputation here does little to encourage readers. As long ago as 1981, in a review of As We Know, I lamented the fact that 'it is the more somnific aspects of his work which seem to have gained notoriety in this part of the world'. Later that year, Ashbery gave his first poetry recital in Ireland, an event which took place not in Dublin but in a village hall (not quite a disused shed) in Co. Wexford.

The Co. Wexford reading was organised by James Liddy who has brought to his own poetry some of the New York School spirit of risk, adventure and wit. And if Ashbery's American preeminence leaves most Irish readers of poetry cold, Ashbery himself is equally sceptical about Ireland's poetry hierarchy, declaring James Liddy to be 'one of the most original among living Irish poets, perhaps the most' and adding, 'His work has not received the attention accorded his more famous contemporaries, Seamus Heaney and Thomas Kinsella, for example, but I am convinced of its superiority.'

Seamus Heaney's response to Ashbery's very different style can be found in a published conversation with Joseph Brodsky where he remarked that Ashbery's poetry 'is a centrally heated daydream. And it's also sorrowful, it knows that it's inadequate'. Thomas Kinsella, whose later work has deep modernist roots, might be expected to be ...


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