I’m traveling with limited internet access, but it’s National Poetry Month. That means it’s not hard to find good poetry on the internet. For this week, let me direct you to The New York Review of Books’ feature on John Ashbury.
[S]omething irrevocably and personally fastidious does emerge from the industrial process which digests his love of art deco and old B movies, and—to quote Webster’s dictionary on the term—shows “the progress of materials through various stages by means of a manufacturing process.” That “schematic diagram,” claims the jacket copy, is “nothing less than the entire poem itself.”
Industry is now old hat in poetry, but perhaps not quite in this sense. Ashbery’s total and seemingly effortless absorption in the dense technology of modern living is a million years away from the days of the Thirties, when poets self-consciously made pylons stride across the uplands like nude giant girls. And yet Ashbery begins with “an emptiness / so sudden it leaves the girders whanging in the absence of wind.” His “newness” has a long history behind it, a history of poetic properties broken down for recycling but suddenly reconstituted in unexpected and effective ways, to lie around like the stranded monster rotting in the reeds of Rimbaud’s Bateau Ivre.