Can You Hear, Bird: Poems

John Ashbery, Author
John Ashbery, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $20 (0p) ISBN 978-0-374-11831-0
Reviewed on: 10/30/2000
Release date: 11/01/2000
Paperback - 175 pages - 978-0-374-52501-9
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The talky voice that has been unflappably echoing American culture and crossing it with higher-tone concerns returns in a fullness of wry, observant wit. Ashbery (And the Stars Were Shining) is clearly uncomfortable with the academic industry that has grown up around him: many of these poems directly address readers, critics and would-be biographers: ``suppose this poem were about you--would you/ put in the things I've carefully left out'' he asks, coolly enumerating such possibilities as ``descriptions of pain, and sex.'' Ashbery is best known for wrapping philosophical musings in a candy-coated shell, pointing out the hairline cracks of irony. He's at it still, in poems like ``My Philosophy of Life,'' which concludes: ``Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas./ That's what they're made for! Now I want you to go out there/ and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too./ They don't come along every day. Look out! There's a big one...'' In these 100-plus short lyrics, prose poems and one long poem, Ashbery continues to charm us into thought. (Nov.)
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