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Hotel Lautréamont
     

Hotel Lautréamont

by John Ashbery
 

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Critics, scholars, students, and other readers of contemporary poetry have long appreciated Ashbery's uncanny mastery of the cadence and lyricism of colloquial speech, but they have been less sensitive to the equally important influences in his work of such "outsider" French poets as Arthur Rimbaud, Raymond Roussel, and Isidore Ducasse (a/k/a Count de

Overview

Critics, scholars, students, and other readers of contemporary poetry have long appreciated Ashbery's uncanny mastery of the cadence and lyricism of colloquial speech, but they have been less sensitive to the equally important influences in his work of such "outsider" French poets as Arthur Rimbaud, Raymond Roussel, and Isidore Ducasse (a/k/a Count de Lautréamont). These sometimes overlooked presences are wonderfully alive in this collection of lyric poems, which first appeared in 1992. Now back in print, Hotel Lautréamont underscores Ashbery's ability to be both tragic and playful, dense and volatile, passionate and impersonal. As David Herd observed in New Statesman and Society, this is "a poetry fully and startlingly engaged with the way things happen."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Blandishments, chitchat, jokes, parodies, personae and all kinds of slang circulate freely through Ashbery's ( April Galleons ) latest collection. As always, his work will frustrate readers who must know just what it's about. Curious and spectacular details no sooner come up than they vanish; distractions and even boredom have their places; and Ashbery's central preoccupations--passing time, the ambiguities of identity--are as ordinary as they are enduring. The title of the volume alludes to the self-styled Comte de Lautreamont, a 19th-century French author much admired by the Surrealists. By putting the count's name to a commercial establishment for travelers--or providing him with a family seat--Ashbery leads us to consider his relation, as an American, to the traditions of French poetry. He is a past master at slipping across established boundaries of discourse, and the limit of his work is perhaps that it is so entirely urbane. Tempered by irony, his poems are mitigated by sentiment, as if their author is resigned to the fact that the conventions they send up are about as satisfactory as anything gets. Still, the poems continually surprise us with the question of what to make of them. Are they psychological evocations, linguistic abstractions, a commentary on the way we live now, confused echoes of a redeemed tongue, or simply arbitrary in their inspiration? Ashbery's art allows for all these readings--and then some. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In Ashbery's great work, the mysterious surfaces and atmospheres of his poetry are charged with a unique power, as evasive yet as luminous as an aurora borealis, rendering his difficulties well worth the undertaking for serious readers. Unfortunately, in his first book since last year's Flow Chart ( LJ 5/1/91), Ashbery seems caught in a tedium vitae that flattens out his best effects with inconsequences, the elegiac occulted by the depressive. In this collection, too long by at least half, Ashbery alternates between launching his style in a more jarringly surrealist direction and just meandering along, ``living the life/ reserved for those who have never thought things out clearly,'' telling us ``To mope/ is human; I mope, therefore I am.'' There are some lovely poems here, but they are crowded out by many lesser renditions written in the manner to which their author is perhaps too accustomed. For completists.-- Frank J. Lepkowski, Oakland Univ., Rochester, Mich.
Donna Seaman
Ashbery loves dichotomies. He strings words together like long, swaying suspension bridges across the deep, watery ravines that lie between the past and the present, knowing and not knowing, fantasy and fact. He lures us across, cautioning, "Don't look down." His poems require fleet-mindedness and surrender, but when you comply, they hold you and guide you to the other side, where you arrive happily disoriented and elated, perhaps relieved, giddy, and a little proud. Ashbery is stunningly prolific; this is his fifteenth poetry collection, and it is spectacularly lyrical, contemplative, and playful. Literary allusions jostle references to everydayness, while an adept surreality makes for startling juxtapositions. Ashbery uses well-worn phrases and cliches like you'd slip on a pair of trusted old shoes for a long walk through as yet unexplored terrain, then dazzles us with gushes of fresh, surprising modulations. Even at his most personal, Ashbery remains aware of his place in the world's cycle of time, life, and art. An exciting and vaulting collection.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679415121
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/13/1992
Edition description:
1st ed
Pages:
240

Read an Excerpt

But it is shrouded, veiled: we must have made some ghastly error.

You mop your forehead with a rose, recommending its thorns.

Must we thrust ever onward, into perversity?

Only night knows for sure; the secret is safe with her.

You mop your forehead with a rose, recommending its thorns.

Research has shown that ballads were produced by all of society;

Only night knows for sure. The secret is safe with her:

the people, then, knew what they wanted and how to get it.

-from "Hotel Lautréamont"

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