Ashbery as Precursor to Conceptual Poetry?


So I’m wondering if the first generation of New York Poets, Ashbery in particular, can be read as precursors to conceptual poetry.  Why?  The New York Poets seem to have also written poems that, in some ways, do not seem intended to be read completely; or they at least make the experience of reading so baffling and difficult at times as to suggest to the reader that thinking about what they are doing is more important than reading them through and through.  It’s like Ashbery’s work is this last mind-bogglingly incredible gasp of absurd florabundant creativity before Google and Conceptual poetry come on the stage and change the game again. 

Let me back up here.  I don’t mean to say that we don’t read Ashbery, because reading him can be the most exhilarating experience possible.  Yet it can also be this lesson in futility; I cannot count the times I have started Litany or Flow Chart without finishing them.  So what am I saying?

In Ashbery’s poetry, there seem to be these red flags that suggest some historical continuity between his aims and the aims of Conceptual poetry.  And his poetry seems to betray (at times) both an anxiety about and a love for technology and information, as if it were one person’s last stand/groan/attempt against the Googles of the world to show how inclusive and far-reaching one mind can be…?  (Debatable point.)  

Well, so what might be the similar aims of Ashbery and Goldsmith?

1.) To write an unreadable poem.

2.) To change the way we think about reading.

3.)  To change the way we think about writing.

4.) To make attempts at mastery seem absurd.

5.) To provoke new ideas.

6.)  To update poetry to keep it relevant and contemporary.

7.)  To astonish through sheer daring.

I’ll have to write more on this later.  But suffice it to say that, if one lesson of Conceptual poetry is that the thinkership is as important as (more important than?) the readership, then the sheer amount of people interested in poetics provoked into thought by Ashbery seems to warrant a recontextualization that places him as a precursor to the current trends.  




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