Friday, February 02, 2007

"I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free."

How good is that line? It's so odd, and yet right on--we want things that are "immortal and free," don't we? I've had a difficult relationship to reading Ashbery. When I first discovered "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" in college, I was spellbound. The poem thinks so hard and so obsessively about its many subjects. But there are no other Ashbery poems like it. It took me years to learn how to read his more typical poems, the ones that range everywhere and anywhere, held together only by the bemused, somewhat kermudgeonly voice that utters them. But he's inescapable, and for poetry that thinks its way through itself, there's nothing better. But so many of the poems are unsatisfying. Or are they? I'm never sure what I think when I pop out the end of one, which, perhaps, is a testament to their, as Kafka said, "indubitableness."

Next week his new book, A WORDLY COUNTRY hits stores. It's not unlike his last few--full of that same Ashbery product--but there are a number of standout poems, especially the first one, which is rhymed. And maybe there's something about those trademark poems that we still need. Maybe he's still struggling to say something that needs to be said, and that struggle is important to bear witness to.

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