John Ashbery - Planisphere
Planisphere is one of the best looking books of poetry I own. They did such a good job in the presentation. Not only that, but it matches Ashbery’s work better than any previous Ashbery book. From the star charts matching the title, to the turned over frame with the cartoons.
Such a presentation amplifies the work.
And the work itself is John Ashbery. There’s really nothing to say other than that. You get what you expect to get, though, of course this getting is that Ashbery has long ago found a way to be most things all at once . . . and where is there to go after that? Well, following the logic of the last twenty years, if you’re Ashbery, that means you continue to delimit the language project. Fidelity of vision, I suppose you could call it. Or fidelity of process. Or maybe it’s both. Anyway, it’s my contention (and the contention of others as well, I’m not the first to say this) that John Ashbery is the critical contemporary American poet, the one that we should all have a working understanding of.
So, what Ashbery should everyone own?
I believe that every poet must own something by Ashbery, not just read it, but own it, whether you accept him or resist him. I suppose that book should be the first Selected Poems. After that, perhaps the second selected poems (Notes on Air), I guess. Those two would seem critical texts for all poets and readers of poetry.
After that, if you find yourself in opposition, you might as well stop. But if you find yourself in sympathy, you should pick up Planisphere. It’s a thick book, and, as I said, wonderfully produced.
Here’s the opening poem.
Is it possible that spring could be
once more approaching? We forget each time
what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides, “mugwump
of the final hour,” lest as agenda—horrors!—be imputed to it,
and the whole point of its being spring collapse
like a hole dug in sand. It’s breathy, though,
you have to say that for it.
And should further seasons coagulate
into years, like spilled, dried paint, why,
who’s to say we weren’t provident? We indeed
looked out for others as though they mattered, and they,
catching the spirit, came home with us, spent the night
in an alcove from which their breathing could be heard clearly.
But it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen
daily. That’s how we get around obstacles.