cover image Flow Chart: A Poem

Flow Chart: A Poem

John Ashbery. Alfred A. Knopf, $20 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-40201-5

Ashbery invents and reinvents his self in this book-length stream-of-consciousness poem. In manically articulate free verse of long, supple lines, he conjures a secular landscape dotted with shadows of ancient gods, wherein he ferrets out ``signs of life in the land of waiting.'' Bathos sets the mood: Alvin and the Chipmunks, Osiris, Mercury and Argus share common ground. Everyday reality is transmuted by imagination, wish, memory, and by the poet's romantic dialogues with an unnamed significant other. Is the universe a big joke, or is there meaning, perhaps even an organizing principle, behind it? Are free will and predestination reconcilable? How does one move beyond ``a lifetime of self-loathing and shallow interests''? Ashbery ( Some Trees ) weaves a haunted, haunting music around these and other big questions, squeezing joy, ennui, despair, hope and a thirst for belonging out of ordinary experience. (May)