In John Ashbery’s haunting 1992 collection, just as in the traveler’s experience of a hotel, we recognize everything, and yet nothing is familiar—not even ourselves
Hotel Lautréamont invites readers to reimagine a book of poems as a collection of hotel rooms: each one empty until we enter it, and yet in truth abundantly furnished with associations, necessities, and echoes of both the known and the alien. The collection’s title poem is itself an evocative echo: Comte de Lautréamont was the pseudonym taken by Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, a radical nineteenth-century French writer about whom little is known except that he produced one remarkable presymbolist epic prose poem called The Songs of Maldoror and died of fever at the age of twenty-four in a hotel in Paris during Napoleon III’s siege of the city in 1870.
Addressed to lonely ghosts, lingering guests, and others, the poems in Hotel Lautréamont present a study of exile, loss, meaning, and the artistic constructions we create to house them.
Open Road Media; September 2014
- ISBN: 9781480459106
- Read online, or download in secure ePub format
- Title: Hotel Lautréamont
- Author: John Ashbery
Imprint: Open Road Media
In The Press
“No poet is more surreal, more disjunctive and musical, more subtly allusive (note the nod to Stevens in ‘It Must Be Sophisticated’) than John Ashbery. In Hotel Lautréamont he is also tremendously funny. You don’t have to understand these poems to love them; you need only that suspension of disbelief that constitutes an audience’s pleasure before the magician’s flourishes and wonders.” —Michael Dirda, TheWashington Post Book World
“The career of a great writer must be one of constant self-renewal, and [Hotel Lautréamont] provides evidence of [Ashbery’s] continuing poetic development. The epic intent of his previous volume, Flow Chart, has been replaced here by the more characteristic mood of his lyrics and elegies; but these are shorter poems which display an increased command of language and of form. Stemming in part from Mallarmé and in part from Whitman, Ashbery’s work creates a tension in which the fine networks of linguistic reverie are balanced by the strong sense of an American tradition.” —Peter Ackroyd, The Times Literary Supplement
“Like Emerson’s essay ‘Experience,’ these poems lament that the magnitude of what we feel is so much less than the magnitude of our losses. . . . And for all the talk by academic critics of difficulty in his work, Mr. Ashbery is extremely forgiving, a poet, like Wordsworth, of superb passages who doesn’t insist that one dig out the gold in every line. His virtuosity is amiable, never affecting to dangle readers over the abyss.” —Tom Sleigh, The New York Times
“Ashbery’s phrases always feel newly minted; his poems emphasize verbal surprise and delight, not the ways that linguistic patterns restrict us. This sense of freedom is produced by Ashbery’s diction (no American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound) as well as his formal choices. . . . Yet his work is permeated by a sense of urgency. He writes to outpace his last thought, refusing to rest in it, proceeding at a rate that is not hurried but dogged, in it for the long haul.” —Langdon Hammer, The New York Times Book Review
“Hotel Lautréamont traces an exile—an ambulatory self-exile in both senses of the term: of the voluntarily chosen, deeply wanted, and escorted, and of the self that walks out on the self until it runs out of land. . . . Ashbery’s exile is positive, the fulfillment of a promise, the reconciliation with a stranger who never faces you, but keeps looking onward, drawing you out. In his configuration, exile is the refusal to be rendered homeless by constituting that home everywhere.” —Cole Swensen, Conjunctions
About The Author
John Ashbery was born in 1927 in Rochester, New York, and grew up on a farm near Lake Ontario. He authored more than thirty books of poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism, his work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and he won numerous American literary awards for his poetry, including a MacArthur Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a National Humanities Medal. His book Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975) won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. For many years, Ashbery taught graduate and undergraduate poetry courses at Brooklyn College and Bard College, and his most recent book of poems is Quick Question, published in 2012.