Hotel Lautreamont

John Ashbery, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (157p) ISBN 978-0-679-41512-1
Blandishments, chitchat, jokes, parodies, personae and all kinds of slang circulate freely through Ashbery's ( April Galleons ) latest collection. As always, his work will frustrate readers who must know just what it's about. Curious and spectacular details no sooner come up than they vanish; distractions and even boredom have their places; and Ashbery's central preoccupations--passing time, the ambiguities of identity--are as ordinary as they are enduring. The title of the volume alludes to the self-styled Comte de Lautreamont, a 19th-century French author much admired by the Surrealists. By putting the count's name to a commercial establishment for travelers--or providing him with a family seat--Ashbery leads us to consider his relation, as an American, to the traditions of French poetry. He is a past master at slipping across established boundaries of discourse, and the limit of his work is perhaps that it is so entirely urbane. Tempered by irony, his poems are mitigated by sentiment, as if their author is resigned to the fact that the conventions they send up are about as satisfactory as anything gets. Still, the poems continually surprise us with the question of what to make of them. Are they psychological evocations, linguistic abstractions, a commentary on the way we live now, confused echoes of a redeemed tongue, or simply arbitrary in their inspiration? Ashbery's art allows for all these readings--and then some. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1992
Release date: 10/01/1992
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