As We Know (Penguin Poets)

by John Ashbery

Paperback, 1986





Penguin Books, (1986)


Dating from one of the most studied creative periods of John Ashbery's career, a groundbreaking collection showcasing his signature polyphonic poem "Litany" First published in 1979, four years after Ashbery's masterpiece Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, the poems in As We Know represent the great American poet writing at the peak of his experimental powers. The book's flagship poem, the seventy-page "Litany," remains one of the most exciting and challenging of Ashbery's career. Presented in two facing columns, the poem asks to be read as independent but countervailing monologues, creating a dialogue of the private and the public, the human and the divine, the real and the unreal--a wild and beautiful conversation that contains multitudes.   As We Know also collects some of Ashbery's most witty, self-reflexive interrogations of poetry itself, including "Late Echo" and "Five Pedantic Pieces" ("An idea I had and talked about / Became the things I do"), as well as a wry, laugh-out-loud call-and-response sequence of one-line poems on Ashbery's defining subject: the writing of poetry ("I Had Thought Things Were Going Along Well / But I was mistaken"). Perhaps the most admired poem in this much-discussed volume is "Tapestry," a measured exploration of the inevitable distance that arises between art, audience, and artist, which the critic Harold Bloom called "an 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' for our time."   Built of doubles, of echoes, of dualities and combinations, As We Know is the breathtaking expression of a singular American voice.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member smichaelwilson
This collection didn't manage to appeal to me, something in the poems kept me at arm's length, or - more likely - it's the other way around. Litany was lost on me; even when listening to a live reading of the poem, I can't wrap my head around listening to two separate streams of thought
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simultaneously. Late Echo was the first poem in the collection that had an impact on me, and I found his short series of one-sentence (two if you count the title) poems - The Cathedral Is, I Had Thought things Were Going Along Well, Out Over the Bay the Rattle of Firecrackers, and We Were on the Terrace Drinking Gin and Tonics - impressed me for some reason. Other than that, a great collection of poems, but not for me at this time.
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