The Paris Review

Unlocking the Unconscious Through Poetry

Thiago Rocha Pitta, Heritage, 2007. Courtesy of the artist, Galeria Millan, São Paulo, and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen. © Thiago Rocha Pitta

On the cover of this pocket-sized edition of John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, the poet stands in a doorway. He wears the somehow simultaneously ill-advised and completely stylish ensemble of a half-unbuttoned patterned shirt and tight beltless pants. Looking closer, the doorway seems to open not to a room or to the outside but to a closet: on a shelf behind him there is a pot or urn, and the flatness of the photograph makes it seem a bit as if he is wearing it on his head, like a bizarre hat. He is looking straight out of the front of the book, with a direct, slightly furrowed expression. He is about to smile beneath his full mustache. Something strange is just about to happen.

When I bought this copy of , in 1993, I had just begun a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. Full of a desire, secret to everyone including myself, to live a creative life, I was skeptical about, but also attracted to, poetry. Now, holding this same book in my hand, I remember that time, and how Ashbery’s poems at first didn’t seemto me. The poems offended my sense of what poetry, and art, should do. 

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