John Ashbery American Literature Analysis
Ashbery’s poetry is a battleground for literary critics: Some consider him the finest poet of the late twentieth century; some consider him an occasionally good poet whose work is often of questionable literary quality; some critics dismiss him as entirely worthless. The main reason for this is quite simple: His poems often do not make sense. Ashbery knows this; indeed, his work is deliberately impossible to paraphrase much of the time, and he willingly admits that many of his poems are meaningless, given the way in which readers and critics ordinarily try to turn poems into prose as an element of their value as art. It is possible, for example, to identify certain Ashbery poems as clearly nonsensical. What confuses the issue is the fact that many of his poems are a teasing combination of what looks like sensible prose or poetry mixed with passages of seemingly arbitrary confusion. It is not a matter, however, of Ashbery’s being unable to speak clearly; it is a deliberate element in his work, which he not only defends but also espouses as having literary and intellectual merit.
Perhaps the best way to approach the matter is through two ideas: that art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, particularly the plastic and aural arts, has been strongly inclined to move toward the nonrepresentational, and that Ashbery has spent a considerable amount of his time as an art critic, supporting the most experimental members of the American school of...
(The entire section is 4057 words.)
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