John Ashbery, Author . Qua Books $20 (48p) ISBN 978-0-9708763-0-0

"Red Skelton asked me if I had a book coming out. He seemed drowned/ in lists of trivia and itching-powder dreams—/ you know, the kind that make you wake up/ and then sort of fall back asleep again./ His brother was cleaning up after the elephants..." Each of these 30 short lyrics displays the quiet, attentive mastery that has become Ashbery's trademark since April Galleons, when he seemed to put away his avant-garde party suit permanently and adopted the "French Zen" persona he credited his old friend Frank O'Hara with founding. One poem has the speaker ruminating nostalgically on the now-extinct "pancake clock" ("It had tiny Roman numerals embedded in its rim"), while another, "Random Jottings of an Old Man," starts as a Seuss-like spectacle of evicting an unwanted poetry-producing houseguest, and morphs into a wistful, Proustian revelry of sounds and senses: "The pianola never recovered from the loss." If only for this new emotion he's invented—"flagrant" longing for "multiple directions"—Ashbery's new book is great: accessible, yet challenging our habits of feeling. (Jan.)

Forecast:Qua books, a new venture from New England poets Michael Gizzi and Craig Watson, "publishes exceptional literary works in high-quality limited editions... present[ing] vital works by under-represented writers as well as key editions to bodies of work by recognized masters." As the press's first book, this title from longtime Farrar, Straus & Giroux author Ashbery should generate some attention and win the press shelf space. Meanwhile, the grapevine reports lots of new Ashbery material already in the can and queued up at FSG for release later this year.

Reviewed on: 01/21/2002
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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