The Mysteries of John Ashbery

“I have a natural horror of letting people see how my mind works,” a 23-year-old John Ashbery wrote to the painter Jane Freilicher in 1950. It’s not a surprising sentiment. Ashbery, who will turn 90 at the end of this month, has always been a notoriously elusive poet. His work combines a tone of intimacy and revelation with an intractable obscurity: It is just forthcoming enough to make you realize how much is held back.

THE SONGS WE KNOW BEST: JOHN ASHBERY’S EARLY LIFE by Karin...

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