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John Ashbery 1927-2017

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‘Part of John Ashbery’s charm,’ Mark Ford wrote in the LRB in 1989, ‘is his self-deprecating uncertainty about the whole business: “Some certified nut/Will try to tell you it’s poetry.”’ The LRB published more than fifty poems by him,[*] the first of them in 1995 (a late start for us, nearly forty years after his first collection and twenty after Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror). ‘Die Meistersinger’, from last year, begins:

Only those who actively dislike poetry didn’t like him. The others could care less. There were too many other things to worry about, like is my licence expired yet? Fortunately there were a few in-between, those who school themselves to take an interest in everything, which is not to say they’re not truly, deeply interested in the things that matter most. To them he was a special case, something to take home and place on the library table, and talk about. To them he was truly unique, like the first in what would become a memorable series.

‘The clock is running over,’ it ends, ‘and an octopus wears my wallet now.’


[*] We’ve temporarily taken down the paywall, so non-subscribers can read them too.

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