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The scheme of common language : a comparison of John Ashbery and Amy Gerstler

McGill University
Publication Date
  • Ashbery
  • John -- Style
  • Gerstler
  • Amy -- Style
  • Literature
  • Philosophy


There are two traditions in English poetry: elevated and down-to-earth. The former is characterized by formal style, use of verbal associations, and philosophical subject matter. The latter is informal, uses worldly images and makes specific points. When elevated style uses common language, i.e. words drawn from specialized contexts, those words bring with them the down-to-earth spirit. They convey an effect of honesty, indicting the abstraction of elevatedness as an evasion. John Ashbery calls up that effect to discredit it, to show that down-to-earth poetry's implied access to the world is delusive and his personalized internal view is honest. Amy Gerstler accepts the indictment, letting it bring her poems to an epiphanic connection with reality. This distinction reflects their generational difference, between Ashbery's postmodernists who see no possibility of understanding reality, and Gerstler's post-postmodernists who instinctively hope for that understanding while accepting postmodernist epistemological pessimism.

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