Sunday 30 March 2008

Ashbery and the lyric

In his thoughtful review of Ashbery's A Worldly Country and Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems in the current issue of TLS, Stephen Burt writes, "Against a confessional model, in which we feel closer to a poet the more he reveals of his biography, Ashbery suggests that we see further into his soul the less we know about the person outside the poems: lyric poetry, of the kind that he writes, works not by telling us all about poets' documentable, material lives, but by revealing only the inner man."

This statement speaks equally for my own approach to lyric for the last eight or nine years. While I've occasionally written and published more patently biographical poems, my interest in writing them has been to understand something larger about the personal relationships presented rather than documenting or investigating the self. As it was well put by a poet from my London workshop, looking at a poem I'd written about what meals are like at the family home, the perspective was interestingly "anthropological," and that is generally my attitude toward the poems that go into the manuscript The Weather in Normal (such as "The Diagnosis" and "His Pantoum" from TLS last year).

But the bulk of my writing focuses on developing a lyric that uses metaphor, figurative narratives, etc. to investigate the interiority, the consciousness that accompanies certain events. Personal narrative that presents some insight as the ultimate gain of the experience/poem often limits the extent of the reader's participation by its biographical particulars, whereas I think a figurative narrative or structure more easily allows the reader to inhabit/extrapolate the experience of the poem to him/herself. It also facilitates a more nuanced understanding of what that experience may mean or represent. Or so I believe.

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