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John Yau on John Ashbery’s Recent Collages

By Harriet Staff


At Hyperallergic, John Yau guides readers through poet John Ashbery’s recent collages, on view until January 28th at Tibor de Nagy Gallery. Yau writes, “Made in the past couple of years, the collages offer yet another view (actually, more like two or three) of someone who has delighted and confounded his readers and, more recently, viewers, since the publication of Some Trees (1956), which was chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets.” More:

The journey or the dream, the unavoidable movement from one domain to another, is one of the themes running through a number of the recent collages. In others, which use a game board as the ground upon which Ashbery has affixed various images, a terrain is re-imagined. We seem to encounter the most unlikely and ordinary things, all of which are mysterious portents of what lies ahead. The other thing that struck me about these works is how gay some of them are. For a poet who is notorious for writing opaque poems in which autobiography and transparency are dispensed with, a number of collages celebrate the youthful male body with an innocence that is touching, tender, and, frankly, poignant and sweet.

In “To the City” (2016), two young men in shorts are trying to hitch a ride, presumably to the crammed, teeming medieval city that looms up behind them. One of the young men, who is sitting down, holds a bouquet of flowers in his left hand while waving his right thumb in the air. Standing beside him, his pal looks off in the distance, hoping that someone will stop and take them wherever they want to go.

Next to the young men, two characters out of George Herriman’s comic strip Krazy Kat reenact another version of a journey, with Offisa Pup trying to halt Krazy Kat, who is lugging a big box down the road toward the young men. Krazy Kat, of indeterminate gender and referred to as “he” and “she” in the comic strip, was in love with a grumpy mouse, Ignatz, who was given to throwing bricks at poor Krazy. Was Krazy Kat the first comic strip to explore the subject of unrequited love between different species? Is it important to know, in light of the big strawberry pasted near the two men, that “strawberry” is slang for “someone who exchanges sex for drugs?” What about the big hand rising up behind them?

Continue at Hyperallergic.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, January 9th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.