ABSTRACT

Dozens of poems in Ashberys oeuvre reflect encounters with visual media. Throughout a career that spans 50 years and 23 volumes of poetry, Ashbery has borrowed artists’ imagery and lexicon, taken titles from art generically (“The Painter,” “The New Realism,” “Statuary”) and specifically (de Chiricos Double Dream o f Spring, Davids The Tennis Court Oath), mentioned artists (Caspar David Friedrich, Overbeck, Millet, Caravaggio), and collaborated with them (Joe Brainard, Jonathan Lasker, Elizabeth Murray). His critics have long recognized the importance of this influence, and explored the diverse instances in which the visual arts inform his “logic / O f strange position” (MSO 56)1-his characteristic poetic mode of transcribing the obliquities, undertones, and intervals of perception as he goes.2 But critics have overlooked the ways Ashberys “strange position” vis-a-vis the visual arts makes him particularly responsive to the distractions and framings of the museum setting. As “Tapestry” explains,

It is difficult to separate the tapestry From the room or loom which takes precedence over it. For it must always be frontal and yet to one side. (AWK 90)

The site of exhibition and the site of creation-the “room” where the tapestry is displayed, and the “loom” where it is made-demand notice. They “precede” and even take priority over the work, superimposing a perceptual movement from frontal gaze to glimpse askance. This peripheral vision is a difficulty, a complication of the impulse to separate the objet dart from its

surroundings and its making, but for Ashbery it is a necessary complication. As he writes elsewhere, this context of room and loom, institution and artistic process, conditions any viewing of an aesthetic object: “True, it is only a picture, but someone framed and hung it; / it is apposite” (HL 82). Curatorial intentions, matters of framing and hanging, give a picture its contiguity with its surroundings and also its aptness, its pertinence. Ashberys approaches to pictures treat these surroundings in apposition to the works they frame, invoking a “logic of strange position” that reflects both aesthetic response and critical appraisal.