Dan Chiasson at The New Yorker:
John Ashbery’s latest book of poems—his twenty-sixth, not counting various compilations and re-issues—is “Breezeway” (Ecco). As with most of Ashbery’s work, its medium is composed partly of language foraged from everyday American speech. The effect is sometimes unnerving, as though somebody had given you your own garbage back as a gift, cheerfully wrapped. Ashbery is nearly eighty-eight; more than ever, his style is a net for the weirdest linguistic flotsam. Few others of his generation would think to put “lemon telenovela” or “texasburger” in a poem, or write these lines: “Thanks / to a snakeskin toupee, my grayish push boots / exhale new patina / prestige. Exeunt the Kardashians.” He has gone farther from literature within literature than any poet alive. His game is to make an intentionally frivolous style express the full range of human feeling, and he remains funnier and better at it, a game he invented, than his many imitators.
It’s common for people to prefer a prior Ashbery, though few can agree on which one. There is the noncompliant poet of “The Tennis Court Oath,” his 1962 book, giddy in his defiance of meaning; the poet of childhood and its longueurs whom we encounter in his seven-hundred-and-thirty-nine-line poem, “The Skaters” (1966); the sublime meditative poet of “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (1975); the elegist of “Your Name Here” (2000).