One of the greatest living poets in English here explores the work of six writers he often finds himself reading “in order to get started” when writing, poets he turns to as “a poetic jump-start for times when the batteries have run down.” Among those whom John Ashbery reads at such times are John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Raymond Roussel, John Wheelwright, Laura Riding, and David Schubert. Less familiar than some, under Ashbery’s scrutiny these poets emerge as the powerful but private and somewhat wild voices whose eccentricity has kept them from the mainstreamand whose vision merits Ashbery’s efforts, and our own, to read them well.
Deeply interesting in themselves, Ashbery’s reflections on these poets of “another tradition” are equally intriguing for what they tell us about Ashbery’s own way of reading, writing, and thinking. With its indirect clues to his work and its generous and infectious appreciation of a remarkable group of poets, this book conveys the passion, delight, curiosity, and insight that underlie the art and craft of poetry for writer and reader alike. Even as it invites us to discover the work of poets in Ashbery’s other tradition, it reminds us of Ashbery’s essential place in our own.