And the Stars Were Shining

John Ashbery, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $18 (99p) ISBN 978-0-374-10500-6
Readers have at times confused Ashbery's ( Flow Chart ) interest in examining the appearances of things with a lack of poetic depth. The reasons? Perhaps that Ashbery is typically intrigued by surfaces because his main theme is the perception of reality; and, being of a more lyrical than critical inclination, he pursues philosophical investigation in, by and through poetry, so that his poems tend to embody the idea that is their subject. In his 16th collection, Ashbery once again addresses his chosen theme--and others--through many tightly bound short poems and a longer piece in 13 parts, the title poem. And while his main concern is the work of the imagination, he begins to sound a more narrative voice, while never allowing the poems to develop into true extended narratives. The poet is less reticent (though still far from explicit) in committing himself to the ideas sown in his work. Also, he takes up an unaccustomed subject: the discerning of a poem after the poet's passing, implying his own death. Characteristically, it is in his longer poems that Ashbery holds a situation up to the light and approaches it most variously and richly. Though readers may not grasp or even catch sight of every angle, they will be gripped. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/31/1994
Release date: 02/01/1994
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