A Worldly Country

John Ashbery, Author . Ecco $23.95 (76p) ISBN 978-0-06-117383-7

If Ashbery's last several books have tended to sound the same, it could be because they indicate a restlessness to express something that won't quite come out, "a murky, milky precipitate/ of certain years." In the 58 lyrics of his 26th book of poems, Ashbery (Where Shall I Wander , 2005) shows his complete mastery of his late idiom: associative leaps ("Everything has a silver lining; it's a matter/ of turning it over and scrubbing some sense into it"), flippant philosophical statements ("Much will be forgiven those/ on whom nothing has dawned") and chatty quips ("I say, would you mind if I light up in bars?"). Surprises include the cleverly rhymed title poem and a lovely metaphysical piece called "Litanies": "It is important to be laid out/ in a man-made shape. Others will try/ to offer you something—on no account/ accept it." There is no trademark long poem, but many of these short pieces forebodingly acknowledge that "the dark/ wants, needs us." While the mood elsewhere in this book often seems light, these poems are more about the failure of, or provisional failure of, lightness. Still inimitably questioning, Ashbery continues to inhabit a worldly country all his own. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/18/2006
Release date: 02/01/2007
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