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On the Outside Looking Out
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In readings attuned to the textual, sexual and historical specificities of Ashbery's poetic project, from "Some Trees" through the vast summation of "Flow Chart", Shoptaw introduces readers to the poet's processes of production. The first reader with full access to Ashbery's manuscripts and source materials, he is able to reveal the poet at work. He shows us, for instance, how Ashbery built "Europe" and "The Skaters" upon children's books picked up at a Paris "quai" and how he drew on his own unpublished lyrics for the long dialogue "Fantasia on 'The Nut-Brown Maid'". Shoptaw argues that Ashbery's poems are less self-referential or non-representational than misrepresentative: fractious assemblies of odd details, cryptic substitutions, and artful and artless discourses. He traces Ashbery's misrepresentative poetics to diverse sources - Walt Whitman, Raymond Roussel, W.H. Auden, Gertrude Stein, Elizabeth Bishop, Jackson Pollock, and Elliot Carter, among others. Ashbery's poetry, as Shoptaw demonstrates, is inevitably "homotextual" while refraining from taking homosexuality as a topic. Ashbery disorients his poems with unexpected silences, lapses or wrong turns in arguments, mock confessions, and sudden abstractions. As this book reveals, Ashbery's misrepresentations yield a richer and stranger representation of ordinary experience. Ashbery takes his paradoxical stand on the outside looking out of an American culture and history we recognize as our own.
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