"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.
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.