In 1957, a young John Ashbery reviewed Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation for Poetry magazine. Titled “The Impossible,” the essay explores difficulty as a means of readerly intimacy and participation. Ashbery's later “G.M.P.” describes the pathos of the writer's impossible desire to be “really understood”; the early essay, which I revisit in its published form and through notes and drafts, makes an argument about difficult writing itself: that it can demand not just intellectual but affective response. Ashbery calls attention to a poetics of intimacy in Stanzas and reads its grand representational goals in relation, rather than opposition, to personality.

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