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

The Influence of John Ashbery in Britain Ian Gregson

Over the past fifteen years in Britain a number of writers - John Ash, Peter Ackroyd, Peter Didsbury and most recently Mark Ford - have been directly influenced by the work of John Ashbery. However, his influence has been both more and less than this suggests. On the one hand, his example has made many poets rethink their views on language and poetic meaning so that his influence has spread to writers who are fundamentally different from him - Peter Porter is an interesting example of this. On the one hand, it's misleading to regard the poets listed above as mere imitators - they've all learned from Ashbery but they've used what they've learned and combined it with elements, often of an identifiably British kind, to create something of their own.

These two kinds of cross-fertilisation have been extremely healthy and often produced work as valuable as that written by Ashbery himself. So in Porter's recent poems there has been an encounter between the realist assumptions that had previously shaped his poems and the linguistic scepticism that selfconsciously undermines the shapes of Ashbery's. This has issued in a compound of the 'real' - his characteristic sense of place and fact, of historical event and cultural detail - and the fictive. As a result the tone of his poems has been creatively destabilised so that they open into questions now, where previously they had solidified into statement. He's an obsessive poet in a way that runs counter to ...


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