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This article is taken from PN Review 4, Volume 4 Number 4, July - September 1978.

On Reading John Ashbery Grevel Lindop

FIRST, here are a few pictures. Look:


The girls, protected by gold wire from the gaze
Of the onrushing students, live in an atmosphere of vacuum
In the old schoolhouse covered by nasturtiums.
At night, comets, shooting stars, twirling planets,
Suns, bits of illuminated pumice, and spooks hang over the
                                      old place;
The atmosphere is breathless. (1)


And again, this time with movement, like a clip from a film:


It was ninety-five years ago that you strolled in the serene
             little port; under an enormous cornice six boys
                    in black slowly stood.
Six frock coats today, six black fungi tomorrow,
And the day after tomorrow-but the day after tomorrow
                itself is blackening dust. (2)


And a third, this time with one mode cutting across another:


And hiding from darkness in barns
They can be grownups now
And the murderer's ashtray is more easily-
The lake a lilac cube. (3)


I begin with these, not to suggest that Ashbery is all picture, that his poems are simply images to hang on the walls of the mind or to watch dumbly like television; still less to imply that he has no statements to make, no ideas or meanings. I begin here simply because this is where Ashbery begins. Most of his poems offer ...


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