So much has been said of John Ashbery, pro and con, regarding the man’s poetic accomplishment, that to go over the details here would be to dither between a number of points better analysts have already raised. Since his death in 2017, there have been and will continue to be many encomiums, and I’m sure a few open critiques, too. I won’t engage in such, here, as I haven’t read enough of Ashbery’s entire oeuvre to launch into full-throated hagiography, and I’m more than happy to let a hardier soul tackle whatever the hell Flow Chart is.
But “Illustration” from his 1956 collection Some Trees is a perfect example of John Ashbery at his best, although less mysterious, and less remarkable, than some of the pieces from, say, 1976’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. In this way, however, such sensitivity to frontal analysis lends itself well to younger poets learning the craft who might otherwise be stumped by the later book’s longer, more densely-packed enigmas. […]