‘..there is so much to tell now, really now': the return to realist storytelling in John Ashbery's A Worldly Country (2007)

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper/skriftligt oplægForskning


As has been argued by Brian McHale and Marjorie Perloff, narrative has had a comeback in postmodernist poetry after its relative eclipse in modernist poetic writing. At the same time, however, postmodern poets reintroduce narrative in a merely weakened form. For as a result of the legacy of scepticism towards continuous narrative left by modernist poetics and its emphasis on the lyrical or epiphanic moment, postmodern poetry’s reinvestment in storytelling is never made in perfectly good faith. So, if postmodern poets tell stories, they only do so by “allud[ing] to story” or “foreground[ing] the narrative codes themselves and calli[ng] them into question” (Perloff). Accordingly, the narrative world of the postmodern poem is typically subjected to “a kind of blanket de-realization” and “fragmentation” (McHale).

The aim of this paper is to extend McHale and Perloff’s concepts of weak narrativity in postmodern poetry in relation to John Ashbery’s most recent book of poems. While Ashbery might have stopped short of whole-hearted storytelling earlier on in his career, the later poet seems to insist on the capacity of narrative to endow his poetic universe with a sense of continuity and the realism of the classical novel. Yet, and this will be my main claim, Ashbery’s poetic stories are never quite straightforward. Often they are interspersed with odd narrative details that call attention to themselves as what appears to be a straight story’s ‘queer moments’. Thus, I shall argue that Ashbery combines modernist poetry’s epiphanic lyricism with the conventions of realist storytelling in order to construct a queer realism that perhaps the genre of poetry leaves a larger scope for than does the novel at present.
Antal sider6
StatusUdgivet - 2008
BegivenhedESSE 2008: The Ninth International Conference of the European Society for the Study of English - Department of English, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Danmark
Varighed: 22 aug. 200826 aug. 2008
Konferencens nummer: 9


KonferenceESSE 2008
LokationDepartment of English, University of Aarhus