Dating from one of the most studied creative periods of John Ashbery’s career, a groundbreaking collection showcasing his signature polyphonic poem “Litany”
First published in 1979, four years after Ashbery’s masterpiece Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, the poems in As We Know represent the great American poet writing at the peak of his experimental powers. The book’s flagship poem, the seventy-page “Litany,” remains one of the most exciting and challenging of Ashbery’s career. Presented in two facing columns, the poem asks to be read as independent but countervailing monologues, creating a dialogue of the private and the public, the human and the divine, the real and the unreal—a wild and beautiful conversation that contains multitudes.
As We Know also collects some of Ashbery’s most witty, self-reflexive interrogations of poetry itself, including “Late Echo” and “Five Pedantic Pieces” (“An idea I had and talked about / Became the things I do”), as well as a wry, laugh-out-loud call-and-response sequence of one-line poems on Ashbery’s defining subject: the writing of poetry (“I Had Thought Things Were Going Along Well / But I was mistaken”). Perhaps the most admired poem in this much-discussed volume is “Tapestry,” a measured exploration of the inevitable distance that arises between art, audience, and artist, which the critic Harold Bloom called “an ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ for our time.”
Built of doubles, of echoes, of dualities and combinations, As We Know is the breathtaking expression of a singular American voice.