A bold, striking new collection of poems from one of America’s most influential and inventive poets.
With more than twenty poetry collections to his name, John Ashbery is one of our most agile, philosophically complex, and visionary poets. In Breezeway, Ashbery’s powers of observation are at their most astute; his insight at its most penetrating. Demonstrating his extraordinary command of language and his ability to move fluidly and elegantly between wide-ranging thoughts and ideas—from the irreverent and slyly humorous to the tender, the sad, and the heartbreaking—Ashbery shows that he is a virtuoso fluent in diverse styles and tones of language, from the chatty and whimsical to the lyrical and urbane. Filled with allusions to literature and art, as well as to the absurdities and delights of the everyday world around us, Ashbery’s poems are haunting, surprising, hilarious, and knowing all at once, the work of a master craftsman with a keen understanding of the age in which he lives and writes, an age whose fears and fragmentation he conjures and critiques with humor, pathos, and a provocative wit.
Vital and imaginative, Ashbery’s poems not only touch on the “big questions” and crises of life in the twenty-first century, but also delicately capture the small moments between and among people. Imaginative, linguistically dazzling, and artistically ambitious, Breezeway is John Ashbery’s sharpest and most arresting collection yet.
In the title poem of his latest collection, Ashbery (Quick Question), arguably the most highly lauded living American poet, writes, "We have to live out our precise experimentation./ Otherwise there's no dying for anybody,/ no crisp rewards." This volume continues Ashbery's precise experiment the particular, breezy conflagration of voices for which the poet has become so well known and offers readers occasional pointed musings on mortality. It is a playfully obtuse collection; Ashbery's ear catches idiosyncrasies of speech and literature and presents our many modes of language back to us. This method, when applied to our mortality and to the poet's own, both charms and cuts: "We all have to fail/ at end of days," he writes. Put another way, "We're not gonna be here anymore." Repetition, often a source of pleasure or grounding in poetry, is not to be found here, Ashbery's voracious ear and familiar method are reliable: "Whatever we're dealing with catches us/ in mid-reconsideration. It's beautiful,/ my lord, just not made to be repeated,/ that's all." While it is difficult to bemoan a lack of urgency in the poems of an 88-year-old who has won every conceivable honor, this collection feels too comfortably Ashberian to light a real spark in its readers.