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The Desire to Communicate: Reconsidering John Ashbery and the Visual Arts

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Silvia Maria Magalhaes Carvalho

The present study springs from a genuine admiration for John Ashbery’s achievement. It aims at exposing those facets of Ashbery’s poetry which have been neglected by critical opinion, but which, paradoxically, were instrumental in winning the poet a leading position among the most innovative and daring American poets of today. This study reviews John Ashbery’s long-term professional engagement as a visual-art critic and researches conceptual developments and orientations in the visual arts, which have influenced the poet’s activity as a creative writer. Tracing analogies between the poetry of John Ashbery and the work of some of the enfants terribles of twentieth-century art – Marcel Duchamp and the Pop Artists, among others – opens new avenues of interpretation for an oeuvre which has often been considered difficult and solipsistic.
Contents: An Overview of Critical Opinion on the Influence of the Visual Arts upon John Ashbery’s Poetry – «As a Painting, so Also a Poem?» A Close Reading of «And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name.» – Early Twentieth Century Art and the Work of John Ashbery – Modernist Painting and Ashbery’s «The Painter» – The Poem as Autonomous Literary Construct – Marcel Duchamp and John Ashbery – Poetics of Imitation and Reconciliation.