A Serpentine Gesture
240 pages, 6 x 9
21 figs.
Release Date:15 Jun 2022

A Serpentine Gesture

John Ashbery's Poetry and Phenomenology

University of New Mexico Press

In "A Serpentine Gesture": John Ashbery’s Poetry and Phenomenology Elisabeth W. Joyce examines John Ashbery’s poetry through the lens of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s conception of phenomenology. For Merleau-Ponty, perception is a process through which people reach outside of themselves for sensory information, map that experiential information against what they have previously encountered and what is culturally inculcated in them, and articulate shifts in their internal repositories through encounters with new material. Joyce argues that this process reflects Ashbery’s classic statement of poetry being the "experience of experience." Through incisive close readings of Ashbery’s poems, Joyce examines how he explores this process of continual reverberation between what is sensed and what is considered about that sensation and, ultimately, how he renders these perceptions into the "serpentine gesture" of language.

This study by Elisabeth W. Joyce, which uses phenomenology in the way Ashbery uses a houseboat (sturdy, yet never still), allows the poetry to move. Joyce is a marvelous guide to Ashbery’s work, tracing it line by line as it unspools into the future, that time when we find ourselves reading it with her. Susan M. Schultz, author of A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry

Elisabeth W. Joyce is a professor at Edinboro University. She is also the author of Cultural Critique and Abstraction: Marianne Moore and the Avant-Garde and "The Small Space of a Pause": Susan Howe’s Poetry and the Spaces Between.




Chapter One. Ashbery and Phenomenology

Chapter Two. Perception and Experience

Chapter Three. Time, Lyric, and Perception

Chapter Four. Space

Chapter Five. Memory: "That Stalled Moment"

Chapter Six. Motility and Motricity

Chapter Seven. Order and Meaning: The Transcendence of the Everyday


Works Cited



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