John Ashbery

Ashbery Mode edited by Michael Farrell

November 2019, no. 416

The recent death of Les Murray can be likened in its significance to the passing of Victor Hugo, after which, as Stéphane Mallarmé famously wrote, poetry ‘could fly off, freely scattering its numberless and irreducible elements’. Murray’s subsumption of the Australian nationalist tradition in poetry, including The Bulletin schools of both the 1890s (A.G. Stephens) and 1940s (Douglas Stewart), has delineated an influential pathway in our literature for more than fifty years. Yet the death in 2017 of the American poet John Ashbery might be viewed as equivalent in its effect, given the impact of his work on several generations of local poets, which has in many respects constituted a counter-stream to Murray’s often narrowly defined nationalism. Ashbery’s voice has been infectiously dominant in English-language poetries over several decades, in a manner similar to T.S. Eliot’s impression on poets of the earlier twentieth century. Critic Susan Schultz, the publisher of this volume, has charted the dynamics of its transcultural influence in her aptly titled collection, The Tribe of John (1995)

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The collage on the cover of Breezeway, John Ashbery's twenty-eighth book of poems, encapsulates his erudite multifariousness. The juxtaposition of Raphael's angel from Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints and de Chirico's The Enigma of Fatality with a nineteenth-century advertisement from Spanish Málaga resembles the pools of moments s ...

Our competing lifestyles lost us the Australian double
that semester. And couldn’t we then arrange
to do the other, and was the desert that limitless,
and why not say so? You see, griping comes naturally

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