Planisphere : new poems

by John Ashbery

Paper Book, 2009




New York : Ecco, c2009.


"The poetry of John Ashbery has been awarded virtually every conceivable literary prize including the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Griffin, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Planisphere is a new collection by one of America's most innovative and influential poets - an exceptional artist whose work stands alongside the finest of Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens, and Hart Crane. For more than half a century Ashbery has been producing timeless works such as Chinese Whispers, Hotel Lautreamont, A Wave, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, and Where Shall I Wander. Planisphere is proof that the master only improves with age."--BOOK JACKET.

User reviews

LibraryThing member PaulCranswick
Ashbery is an almost canonized poet and leader of the influential so-called New York School of poets. He won the American Triple Crown for poetry in 1976 for his collection "Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (The Pulitzer, The National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award).

He is still prolific where others have become soporific and he was in his eighties already when he published this, at first sight, generous collection of 99 poems organised for the reader in alphabetical order by title (a listomaniac like me cannot fail to notice such detail).

That said, and having read and enjoyed individual poems of his before, this collection is very much Ashbery spinning the wheels and retreading familiar poetic landscapes with most often imperfect results. There were gems here and he still has the ability to nail a line or two but there was a feeling of him trying to hang a complete poem on the odd decent phrase. We had a couple of killer lines and phrases surrounded by a smegma of the banal, the discordant and the distinctly un-poetic. Some of the work here is frankly close to gibberish and some of his list poems are self-indulgent as well as crass.

I sometimes feel that a collection of thirty or so pages from a poet I like is too little to justify a whole book but the opposite applied here. An editor with a more attuned or less tired ear would surely have condensed and re-worked some of these ideas into about half the content to achieve a sharp and fulfilling anthology. This felt like stodge where the odd morsel of protein was buried under a diabetic load of free verse carbohydrate.

Not the place, I would hazard, to start the bibliography of John Ashbery.
… (more)
LibraryThing member DonnaMarieMerritt
There are lines here and there that make me catch my breath. But, overall, Ashbery's PLANISPHERE is a difficult read and one wonders if he understands it himself or if he's just splattering paint on a canvas.
LibraryThing member Richard.Greenfield
I’m intrigued by Ashbery’s obsession with forgetfulness and lost time in Planisphere. So many of the poems in Planisphere suggest speakers who see their lives as if from outside themselves, as debris, or fragments, sources of which they forget. In “The Later Me” the speaker “shrinks” from the earlier version of himself—a version of himself that has been repressed and even wished to be dead. In “B____’s Mysterious Greeting,” the speaker nostalgically dreams of the famous French salon Les Deux Magots being located in New England— the first American wilderness—and the intellectual wellspring of Transcendentalism. But Americans writers fled America for Les Deux Magots. I wondered if this was a subtle critique of the kind of American intellectualism (ie Emerson) Ashbery has never cared about in his career—like a Situationist misprision of a Paris map used to navigate the streets of London. Ashbery has always cared more about Surrealism, European poetry, Stevens-style High Modernism, and the urbane. The landscape is a stage (Paris or New England)—“The drawn curtain of a snow shower.” I note the whiteness of such a landscape—and the seeming heteronormative values of the middle class mall shoppers having sex that Ashbery depicts in that landscape. The speaker giggles at his apparent foolishness in expecting difference to happen in this landscape. This is a landscape where the self is erased or hides invisibly in whiteness, among “those self-forgetting trees.” (It might be pushing it, but I picture the Hudson Valley where Ashbery lives). Another image of snow is also linked to the disappearance of someone who desires to make a connection: “Who dials the phone and is further gone into snow/ than the mass of individuals could be?” (“Idea of Steve”). Forgetfulness seems to be linked to self-diminishment and lost time. In “For Fuck’s Sake,” there is the image of people among stalks forgotten by the tide, and in “The Logistics” a visit to the past is seen as “time lost.” One of the perplexing questions I have about all of this is whether or not Ashbery sees forgetfulness and self-erasure as a problem or as an opportunity, and how this ties into his poetics. Meghan O’Rourke, in a piece for Slate advising us how to read Ashbery, finds that "He is the first poet to achieve something utterly new by completely doubting the possibility—and the value—of capturing what the lyric poem has traditionally tried to capture: a crystallization of a moment in time, an epiphanic realization—what Wordsworth called “spots of time.” Ashbery has updated the lyric poem by rejecting this project, finding it fundamentally inauthentic." I think she is right, but I think we are seeing something a little different here. To settle on “a spot of time” is to memorialize and thus to point toward death. Indeed, for some poets, this loss of time, the passage of time, the approach of death, the loss of youth and the experiences of the past, would lead to deeply metaphysical and perhaps somber “August” or “late” poems trying to accept the eventual end-- mutability the most prevalent poetic subject of all time. In “Giraffe Headquarters” he mocks the “tragic, unquestioning, amusing love of youth” and reduces life to pulling on pants over underpants. There is the hint of death in the line “In five months my service expires” but note how it comes through the pastiche filter of consumer culture-- the language of someone discussing a warranty plan or a cable tv package. Given that pastiche, I find it difficult to take seriously the sentimental line that follows it : “Then we shall be together always.” I did an interesting experiment that rewards this reading; I read all of the last lines of the book. Try it. There’s hardly a whiff of deathly pathos. For Ashbery, perhaps all of this loss is a boon? Could it be that what was once a rejection of lyric epiphanic closure (finality) for him (on an aesthetic basis) has been actualized into rejection of closure as death? Planisphere is a book that enacts continuous life affirmation? I think the question is important for me because it helps deepen my understanding of Ashbery’s counter-intuitive model of lyric.… (more)


Page: 0.9261 seconds