The Time of its Being Furthered

Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, 2011: 90-91

I put down the book and began to think: this strange experience of reading, the sense of harmony between the rhythms of a reproduction and the real, their structural identity, so that the subject of the sentence was precisely the time of its being furthered — this was what I valued in one of the only people I described as a “major poet” without irony, John Ashbery. … Reading an Ashbery sentence, an elaborate sentence stretched over many lines, one felt the arc and feel of thinking in the absence of thoughts. … The “it” in an Ashbery poem seemed ultimately to refer to the mysteries of the poem itself. … The best Ashbery poems, I thought, although not in these words, describe what it’s like to read an Ashbery poem; his poems refer to how their reference evanesces. And when you read about your reading in the time of your reading, mediacy is experienced immediately. It is as though the actual Ashbery poem were concealed from you, written on the other side of a mirrored surface, and you saw only the reflection of your reading. But by reflecting your reading, Ashbery’s poems allow you to attend to your attention, to experience your experience, thereby enabling a strange kind of presence. But it is a presence that keeps the virtual possibilities of poetry intact because the true poem remains behind you, inscribed on the far side of the mirror: “You have it but you don’t have it. / You miss it, it misses you. / You miss each other.”

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