It is a commonplace that John Ashbery's poetry is, in some important sense, “about time,” but we lack an account of the specific experience of temporality it enables. Part of the bizarre power of Ashbery's best poetry is that it seems to narrate what it is like to read Ashbery's best poetry. When his work manages to describe the time of its own reading in the time of its own reading, we experience mediacy immediately. This review of John Ashbery's Collected Poems, 1956–1987 (Library of America, No. 187) explores what I call the “lyric mediacy” of Ashbery's work and considers how his poems' complicated play with temporality interacts with his rapid canonization.
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