Poetic Words: Don Chiasson on John Ashbery

A good review of John Ashbery’s latest book of poems in the New Yorker caught my eye.

Dan Chiasson on the quality of “things almost being said” in his work.

Ashbery’s style prizes such mistakes and misapprehensions, as though looking for the word on the tip of the tongue. William James described consciousness as the “alternation of flights and perchings,” suggesting that we tend to overvalue the “perchings,” the nouns or the primary verbs in a sentence that steal the spotlight from the little words, like “in,” “and,” “but,” “or,” and “of.” It was James, a profound influence on Ashbery, who coined the term “stream of consciousness,” and who insisted on what he called a “reinstatement of the vague and inarticulate to its proper place in our mental life.” James’s “flights” and in-between zones find, in “Breezeway,” a breezeway: a structure between structures, a place to rest that is not a resting place, a “long Q & A period” before the big event is adjourned—a period marked, as in the title of one poem, by deliberate “Andante and Filibuster.”

I love the title of Ashbery’s volume: Breezeway is a term I previously associated with things like corridors in an airport parking lot or walkway in a high school (there were bleak ones in mine). The kind of flotsam, jetsam, lagan and derelict word that Ashbery spins his poetry out of.

From the Boston Public Library's Flickr Stream
From the Boston Public Library’s Flickr Stream
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