Location, Location, Location

CUNY Prof Angus Fletcher Discovers American Poetry's Scenic Overlook

In aligning Whitman and Ashbery, A New Theory may disturb the thumbnail consensus on both: big bear Uncle Walt, the "accessible," "earthy," "popular" former newspaperman who translated High Romantic sublimations into the American demotic; and the elusive JA, the "difficult," "abstract," "private" New York School star, scion-in-verse of Wallace Stevens. How would history be different if, say, Bill had given Monica a copy of Ashbery's (in)famously experimental The Tennis Court Oath? (Blatantly unrepresentative sample line: "the clean fart genital enthusiastic toe prick album serious evening flames"!)

CUNY 's Fletcher yokes Whitman and Ashbery.
photo: Jennifer Esperanza
CUNY 's Fletcher yokes Whitman and Ashbery.

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Especially after reading A New Theory, though, the ample affinities leap and spark: Ashbery's "At North Farm" scans like the answer-poem to Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," "Some Trees" appears as the forest neighbors to "I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing," and so on and on. "Whitman and Ashbery share a fascination with the myriad small details of life that make it what it is, day to day," Fletcher says. "They project these details into a tapestry, a larger description of our democratic life and hopes and fears. They share a freedom of form; they keep inventing new poetic shapes. They write poems endlessly, as their chosen form of life, as their continuing biography of the soul." And they implore us to make a fuss, to pay attention: "The environment-poem stays in the present," Fletcher says, "and tells us always, There is more here than meets the eye, so keep looking."

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