John Ashbery Turns 87


On Monday of this week, legendary New York School poet John Ashbery turned 87 years old. On his blog, Locus Solus: The New York School of Poets, Andrew Epstein featured a meditation on some of Ashbery’s relevant lines for his birthday, highlighting the closing lines of “The System”:

It seems truly impossible, but invariably at this point we are walking together along a street in some well-known city.  The allegory is ended, its coils absorbed into the past, and this afternoon is as wide as an ocean.  It is the time we have now, and all our wasted time sinks into the sea and is swallowed up without a trace.  The past is dust and ashes, and this incommensurably wide way leads to the pragmatic and kinetic future.

Epstein also points to lines from “Someone You Have Seen Before,” which explicitly mention a birthday: “their happiness is for you, it’s your birthday.”

To Epstein’s collection of Ashbery lines about time and change, I’ll add some of my favorite from Ashbery’s masterpiece “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”:

No previous day would have been like this.
I used to think they were all alike,
That the present always looked the same to everybody
But this confusion drains away as one
Is always cresting into one’s present.

Read more in this Coldfront post about Ashbery, Proust and Time.