It's different when you have hiccups. Everything is-so many glad hands competing for your attention, a scarf, a puff of soot, or just a blast of silence from a radio. What is it? That's for you to learn to your dismay when, at the end of a long queue in the cafeteria, tray in hand, they tell you the gate closed down after the Second World War. Syracuse was declared capital of a nation in malaise, but the directorate had other, hidden goals. To proclaim logic a casualty of truth was one.
Everyone's solitude (and resulting promiscuity) perfumed the byways of villages we had thought civilized. I saw you waiting for a streetcar and pressed forward. Alas, you were only a child in armor. Now when ribald toasts sail round a table too fair laid out, why the consequences are only dust, disease and old age. Pleasant memories are just that. So I channel whatever into my contingency, a vein of mercury that keeps breaking out, higher up, more on time every time. Dirndls spotted with obsolete flowers, worn in the city again, promote open discussion.
If Ashbery's last several books have tended to sound the same, it could be because they indicate a restlessness to express something that won't quite come out, "a murky, milky precipitate/ of certain years." In the 58 lyrics of his 26th book of poems, Ashbery (Where Shall I Wander, 2005) shows his complete mastery of his late idiom: associative leaps ("Everything has a silver lining; it's a matter/ of turning it over and scrubbing some sense into it"), flippant philosophical statements ("Much will be forgiven those/ on whom nothing has dawned") and chatty quips ("I say, would you mind if I light up in bars?"). Surprises include the cleverly rhymed title poem and a lovely metaphysical piece called "Litanies": "It is important to be laid out/ in a man-made shape. Others will try/ to offer you something-on no account/ accept it." There is no trademark long poem, but many of these short pieces forebodingly acknowledge that "the dark/ wants, needs us." While the mood elsewhere in this book often seems light, these poems are more about the failure of, or provisional failure of, lightness. Still inimitably questioning, Ashbery continues to inhabit a worldly country all his own. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.