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A captivating experiment in traditional poetic form, from one of the most untraditional American poets ever to set pen to paper
At first glance, John Ashbery’s Shadow Train seems to embrace the constraints of traditional poetic form—but closer reading reveals that this work is Ashbery at his revolutionary best. In fifty poems, each consisting solely of four connected quatrains, Ashbery apparently plays by the rules while simultaneously violating every single one. Over and over again, the familiar, almost sonnet-like sixteen-line form creates an outline of a poem within which, one would expect, poetry is meant to arrive—as a station waits for a train. And yet, as with many of the world’s greatest poems, the act of creating poetry also relies on the reading and the reader—in other words, as this collection’s signature poem “Paradoxes and Oxymorons” puts it, “the poem is / you.”
In Shadow Train, Ashbery demonstrates how language influences our experience of reality, creating it and sustaining it while also remaining mysterious and ineffable: constantly arriving, but impossible to catch.
appeared: Issues (Brown University), “Catalpas”; New York Review of Books, “Qualm” and “Caesura”; The New Yorker, “The Pursuit of Happiness”; Times Literary Supplement, “Paradoxes and Oxymorons,” “Or in My Throat,” and “A Pact with Sullen Death”; Yale Review: “Tide Music” and “Unusual Precautions”; Zero: “Night Life” and “But Not That One.” Copyright � 1980, 1981 by John Ashbery Cover design by Mimi Bark 978-1-4804-5911-3 This edition published in 2014 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
having second thoughts and coming back To be wary about this, to embellish that, as though life were a party At which work got done. So we wiggled in our separate positions And stayed in them for a time. After something has passed You begin to see yourself as you would look to yourself on a stage, Appearing to someone. But to whom? Ah, that’s just it, To have the manners, and the look that comes from having a secret Isn’t enough. But that “not enough” isn’t to be worn like a livery, To be
Shadow Train But Not That One The Vegetarians About the Author Publisher’s Note Long before they were ever written down, poems were organized in lines. Since the invention of the printing press, readers have become increasingly conscious of looking at poems, rather than hearing them, but the function of the poetic line remains primarily sonic. Whether a poem is written in meter or in free verse, the lines introduce some kind of pattern into the ongoing syntax of the poem’s sentences; the
and sample them here. It means that a disguised fate Is weaving a net of heat lightning on the horizon, and that this Will be neither bad nor good when experienced. Meanwhile The night has been pushed back again, but cannot say where it has been. A Pact with Sullen Death Clearly the song will have to wait Until the time when everything is serious. Martyrs of fixed eye, with a special sigh, Set down their goads. The skies have endured Too long to be blasted into perdition this way, And
And are wise for today, allowing as how people, Dressing up in their way, will repeat your blunder out of kindness So it won’t happen again. Seriously, the magazines speak of you, Mention you, a lot. I have seen the articles and the ads recently. Your name is on everyone’s lips. Nobody comes to see us, because You have to forget yourself in order to forget other people, At which point the game is under way. My personality fades away As dreams evaporate by day, which stays, with the dream