Where Shall I Wander Paperback – 30 Mar 2005
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'Among the poets of the New York School, Ashbery has been the most influential in opening up new possibilities for the American lyric.' Helen Vendler, New Republic, 25th February 2005. '...vintage Ashbery. The ease and the seeming casualness of the voice works in direct opposition to the complexity of the message.' - The Economist, March 2005.
About the Author
JOHN ASHBERY was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. He is the author of twenty books of poetry, many available from Carcanet. Widely honoured internationally, in Europe he has received the Horst Bienek Prize from the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (Munich), the Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize from the Academia Nazionale dei Lincei (Rome), and the Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poesie (Brussels), all for lifetime achievement. He has produced twenty-one volumes of poetry and received the Pulitzer Prize for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror in 1977. In 2002 he was named Officier of the Legion d'Honneur of the Republic of France.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
...Like all good things
life tends to go on too long, and when we smile
in mute annoyance, pauses for a moment.
Rains bathe the rainbow,
and the shape of night is an empty cylinder,
focused at us, urging its noncompliance
closer along the way we chose to go.
As far as I'm concerned, what is conveyed in Mr Ashbery's new book is wisdom enough for a lifetime--his own or anyone's.
his precursors, to use a word popularized by his biggest literary fan, harold bloom, were the french symbolists and surrealists, and the american poet wallace stevens. like stevens, asbery's verse has always been immersed in place. whereas stevens place is a kind of dreamed spanish south america, ashbery's place remains the middle north america. even when foreign authors and countries are mentioned, you know he's in the united states. in the title poem, Where Shall I Wander, the poet asks `Is it Japan/where you are? and offers harrowing clues of `slate prisons', `blood forming at the end of an icicle', `fire tongs (not to be confused with chinese tongs, that would be a red herring, now that would be hot)', `conversations at night not meant to be overheard'. all this is preceded by the assertion `it is understood that this is now the past, sixty, sixty-four years ago.' subtract from the publication date of the book in 2005 and the `now' is pearl harbor, war prisoners and maybe the interred japanese american citizens. but that's just the first few stanzas. the rest of the poem reads like a wander through new york city's museum of modern art.
a word to the wise has always been not to read too much into any bunch of accumulated words, which does not hold with ashbery, his words are an invitation to read into them as much as you can possibly imagine.
reading mallarme, baudelaire and latreaumont to see how those french poets manipulated phrases in their language (a reading that holds up in most english translations), is a step toward an appreciation of how ashbery's poetry of no (noh?) meaning, reflects, in a similar manner, with his selection of words, mood and the american place.
the first surprise of this volume occurs more than a third of the way into the book. ashbery's Interesting People of Newfoundland is so readily understandable as to question whether ashbery is having more fun with us than usual by suggesting that the way we're used to having words in meaningful order is for him, a new found land?
so precisely where does he wander? always around home.
John Ashbery, the Old Man of the Mountains of the L=A=N=G= (okay, that's enough, I'm not spelling out the whole silly thing) movement, has gradually, in his poetry, been sounding more and more like a normal human being over the past forty years. With Where Shall I Wander, Ashbery passes almost fully into the realm of normaldom; there are a few obvious twists that pop up from his irresponsible youth, but when you couch them in such poems as this, one can rationalize them as influences from the dadas, say, or the futurists, rather than the rather senseless stuff Ashbery and his contemporaries turned out for so long.
All this is to say, of course, that Where Shall I Wander is not only easily Ashbery's finest book to date, but it's the kind of book that you might be able to hand someone who "doesn't like poetry" and have them come away with it with that "wow, I actually understood that!" look:
"Newfoundland is, or was, full of interesting people.
Like Larry, who would make a fool of himself on street corners
for a nickel. There was the Russian who called himself
the Grand Duke, and who was said to be a real duke from somewhere,
and the woman who frequently accompanied him on his rounds.
Doc Hanks, the sawbones, was a real good surgeon
when he wasn't completely drunk, which was most of the time.
When only half drunk he could perform decent cranial surgery.
There was the blind man who never said anything
but produced spectral sounds on a musical saw. "
(--from "Interesting People of Newfoundland'")
There are times, as in the poem above, when Ashbery has an almost Hayden Carruth feel to some of his work, but the voice is incontrovertibly Ashbery's-- rambling and slightly talky like Carruth's, but with a crotchety feel that's all Ashbery, cod love him for it.
Even better, the author photo on the back can be used to scare pets and small children on the train. "Intense" does not begin to describe the look in Ashbery's eyes; either he wants to pull your spleen out with a dull tea spoon and eat it in front of you, or there's a really big chocolate sundae behind you, and Ashbery's going through withdrawal. Either way, it will either fascinate or scare you (and everyone around you).
Great stuff, on all counts. While I know Ashbery's reputation precedes him among casual readers of poetry ("difficult" and "Ashbery" were words that for years went hand-in-hand), give the man a chance and pick this up. You will no doubt find yourself more than pleasantly surprised. ****