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About the Poet A native of Rochester, New York, John Ashbery (b. 1927) is the prolific author of twenty three volumes of poetry, plus fiction, plays and criticism. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including The Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, all of which were garnered by his 1976 collection Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. This was the first and remains the only time that one book has been awarded all three of the major American literary prizes and demonstrates Ashbery's centrality to American poetics in the post-war period.

This leading role is all the more remarkable given the uncompromising experimentalism of Ashbery's work. A key concept is "indeterminacy"; a refusal of finality and closure and a rejection of traditional forms of linear narrative. The subject of an Ashbery poem is more likely to be the process of thought itself rather than the object of the mind's attention. An early poem, 'The Instruction Manual', is a good introduction as it traces the narrator's wandering consciousness from the text of the title through his kaleidoscopic vision of the Mexican city of Guadalajara, back to the reality of the manual which nevertheless has "made me dream". This circular movement is characteristic; it's the journey not the destination that's important, as in his tellingly entitled poem 'Just Walking Around': "the longest way is the most efficient way,/The one that looped among islands, and/You always seemed to be traveling in a circle." Not surprisingly, Ashbery favours the long poem and his restlessness is also evident in his use of language which mixes high and low culture to produce a poetry of disjunction and non-sequitur. Playful and rigorous, Ashbery's poems embrace plurality enacting the hope expressed in 'For John Clare': "There ought to be room for more things,for a spreading out, like."

As befits a poet alert to the instability of meaning and identity, Ashbery eschews explanations of his Archive-recorded poems. The text exists in its own right: Ashbery's precise, largely unmodulated tones are just the medium through which it is conveyed.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 18 October 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Which books contain this poem?
  • Selected Poems - Ashbery 1998
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