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Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Ash of Himself?

It is always fun when The Economist reviews poetry. Who is their anonymous reviewer, I wonder? Someone rather dry, serious, even-handed, and a little conservative, perhaps. They were recently a little baffled by Muldoon. Now they seem slightly puzzled by Ashbery. The good thing is, their review of 384-page Notes From The Air: Selected Later Poems (Ecco, or in the UK, Carcanet) actually engages with the poet's language, rather than entirely recoiling from it, as some British critics do. Here are some of the things they say: "beguilingly casual"; "delicately playful"; "perpetual shifting of tones"; his tone can be "alarmingly inconsequential"; "endlessly digressive". His manner is "free-flowing, conversational" - lines often "untrammeled by any concern about whether or not they scan". And, finally, "Mr. Ashbery likes using similes in his poetry" - that last not so surprising, as most poets do. Reading this, one might almost think that Mr. Ashbery was the direct heir of Mr. Eliot, the Mr. Eliot of "Prufrock", not "Four Quartets" - almost all the critical comments could refer to his early ironic, conversational style. Or rather, one might think him a direct descendant of Laforgue and Corbiere - and Mallarme. One might also think The Economist, so calm on money matters, might be less alarmed about the seeming inconsequence, and "Dada-like" elements, of the poetry. More to the point, they might worry less about lines "scanning" - free verse dispensed with that concern 90 and more years ago. Eyewear looks forward to reading the collection, thought it knows some of the poems already.
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