Three Poems – John Ashbery (1972)

1960s: Days of Rage


“… (John) Ashbery’s most recent volume, ‘Three Poems,’ restates his commitment to hermetic language in more extreme terms than ever before. The very modesty of the book’s title is a provocation, for these are not poems at all, but meditations couched in a maddeningly elusive prose style. Never, I think, have the simple forms of prose been waylaid so masterfully into statements that defy interpretation. The volume is divided into three sections of varying length, entitled ‘The New Spirit,’ ‘The System’ and ‘The Recital,’ which, we are informed, ought to be read in sequence as a trilogy. The nature of the sequence eludes me, since I can discover little in the way of development or resolution in the over‐all movement of the poems. But this, and all my other attempts at explanation, must be taken quite tentatively, since ‘Three Poems’ has a way of keeping its secrets. The keeping of…

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