John Ashbery - Old-Style Plentiful
I tend to get over-enthusiastic when new things by poets (musicians, etc) I follow come out, so I will have to revisit what I’m about to say in a few months, but, that said, the new book by John Ashbery is perhaps his best book in twenty years. He has all of his conversational strength here, but he’s able to focus it down much more tightly than usual. What this yields is a book of, by and large, shorter poems with shorter lines, and more imaginatively centered. His aesthetic, and his imagination, are still ranging and encompassing, but here, in A Worldly Country, he’s playing it more unified, and the outcome is as focused, and powerful, as his poetry’s ever been.
Here’s a poem. See what you think.
I guess what I’m saying is
don’t be more passive aggressive
or purposefully vague than you have to
to clinch the argument. Once that
happens you can forget the context
and try some new bathos, some severity
not seen in you till now. Did they
send the news of you? Were you forthcoming
in your replies? It’s so long ago
now, yet some of it makes sense, like
why were we screwing around in the first place?
Cannily you looked on from the wings,
finger raised to lips, as the old actor
slogged through the lines he’s reeled off
so many times, not even thinking
if they are tangential to the way we
slouch now. So many were so wrong
about practically everything, it scarcely seems
to matter, yet something does,
otherwise everything would be death.
Up in the clouds they were singing
O Promise Me to the birches, who replied in kind.
Rivers kind of poured over where
we had been sitting, and the breeze made as though
not to notice any unkindness, the light too
pretended nothing was wrong, or that
it was all going to be OK some day.
And yes, we were drunk on love.
That sure was some summer.