A beloved poet returns
With A Worldly Country, revered writer John Ashbery offers his 26th book of verse. The Rochester, New York, native and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet turns 80 this year, and the pieces in this new volume find him in a phase of life in which looking back seems more disturbing than trying to puzzle out what's to come. In Image Problem, he comes to grips with past perspectives: The solution may therefore be / to narrow the zone of reaction to a pinprick / and ignore what went on before, even when we called it life. Marked by flights of verbal fancy, Ashbery's poems display an inquisitive yet reflective mindset. His delicately constructed lines contrast with the weight of his themes: age, mortality, the movement of the seasons, an awareness of his own precarious position in the universe. Reflected in the window / of a pharmacy, he writes in Litanies, you know the distance you've come. The precisely rhymed title piece reflects a hard-won wisdom on the part of the poet: So often it happens that the time we turn around in / soon becomes the shoal our pathetic skiff will run aground in. / And just as waves are anchored to the bottom of the sea / we must reach the shallows before God cuts us free.