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John Ashbery, who is 70, received this year  the American Academy of Arts and Letter's Gold Medal for Poetry, 'awarded every six years to honor the distinguished career of a poet.' It is no less a tribute that his first five books of poems are definitively collected in The Mooring of Starting Out. This is the best possible introduction to the brilliant, difficult and beautiful work of this poet: 1956's Cheshire cat-like Some Trees and the cut-ups and ellisions of The Tennis Court Oath six years later slowly evolved into the lyric mastery of Rivers and Mountains and The Double Dream of Spring, culminating in the prosaic Three Poems, a founding text of postmodernism. Ashbery's poetry, which he continues to offer us, will, as Harold Bloom has said, take its place alongside that of Whitman and Stevens.
We see us as we truly behave:
From every corner comes a distinctive offering.
The train comes bearing joy;
The sparks it strikes illuminate the table.
Destiny guides the water-pilot, and it is destiny.
For long we hadn't heard so much news, such noise.
The day was warm and pleasant.
"We see you in your hair,
Air resting around the tips of mountains."
A fine rain anoints the canal machinery.
This is perhaps a day of general honesty
Without example in the world's history
Though the fames are not of a singular authority
And indeed are dry as poverty.
Terrific units are on an old man
In the blue shadow of some paint cans
As laughing cadets say, "In the evening
Everything has a schedule, if you can find out what it is."