Ashbery's Forms of Attention

University of Alabama Press, 2006 - 161 .
A major contribution to Ashbery studies and to poetics in general. Andrew DuBois assesses John Ashberys career as a poet in the context of changes in 20th-century aesthetics, the rise of the information age, and the proliferation of aural and visual stimuli. The issue of attention, he argues, is useful not only for understanding the problems of perception and concentration in an age of information overload but also for understanding how Ashberys poetry and poetry in general contend with those issues. Ashberys art, DuBois demonstrates, embodies the conflicts between traditional and postmodern forms of communication. The lack of traditional narrative frameworks or forms in Ashberys poems creates problems of attention. This strategy places a heavy burden on the reader, since Ashberys contenta mélange of cultural references and sympathiesdefies set forms. Yet Ashberys concern with traditional poetic conventions is still clear in his work, and it is the tension between past and present modes of poetic discourse that best describes Ashberys work as a poet. Among other subjects DuBois addresses Ashberys many rolesas theorist, postmodern metaphysical, and enemy of poetic decorum; his experiments in ekphrasis (poems that take other art works as their subjects); his prose; his mastery of the long form as a vehicle for extended meditation; and his use of stream-of-consciousness as a poetic strategy. In highlighting the major aesthetic and cultural impulses underlying Ashberys work, DuBois illuminates not only the lasting relevance of his poetry but also the larger issues of attention and perception in reading, thinking, and being in the postmodern era.


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The Oath of the Tennis Court lifesize preparatory drawing
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Action etching
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Triumph etching
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 (2006)

Andrew DuBois is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. He received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Harvard University in 2003 and was the recipient of a Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation for 200203.