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This report is taken from PN Review 128, Volume 25 Number 6, July - August 1999.

'I'm not so sure how little all this is' Penny McCarthy

Once in a blue funk, an editor invites me to review Ashbery's poetry. This time, the volume in question is Wakefulness, as in, I think, 'our little life is rounded with sleep'. Carcanet Press, £7.95 pb 96pp ISBN 1 85754 334 3. 'Now, wasn't that easy?' to quote Ashbery as he tries to sneak past the critical moment without experiencing it, in 'The Friend at Midnight'. No, I think the publication details will not suffice: a considered response is called for. The unconsidered response would be to write the stuff back at him, as many poets have been atempted to do, and as he himself writes back at poetry, overtly in 'Baltimore', the second poem in the volume in question: 'Take this, metamorphosis. And this. And this. And this.'

But why is the volume in question, and why am I in a blue funk? Answers: 'Because the middle poems seem to have imploded'; and, or 'or alternatively', 'Because I do not have enough poetic nous to appreciate these poems.' 'One Man's Poem', for example, I cannot but read as a Chomskian demonstration that even where syntax holds up, the actual items in the orderly progress of adjective, subject noun, verb, adverb - 'green ideas sleep furiously' - may make of the whole a nonsense, indecipherable except (aha!) to the man who wrote it.

The twins schlepped raisins and plums,
my dogbeat, for as far as we forgotten
come together to make sense ...


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