“Do I wake or sleep?” asks John Ashbery in his newest collection, as if to preempt a reader’s inquiry on this excursion into the interstices between observation and projection, literary and pop culture, high seriousness and innuendo. Like Borges’s Shakespeare, Ashbery’s speakers are both dreaming and dreamed, as they “Remark the comparative zip and panache / of those beautiful hammerhead sharks,” or apprehend political or cultural phenomena in a voice “whose torque proclaims it other.” Ashbery’s trademark comic-book hyperrealities pop with an undiminished verve, as in the title poem where he writes: “Batman came out and clubbed me. / He never did get along with my view of the universe.” Punctuated by unsettling questions that keep pace with the cultural moment, Ashbery’s latest offers a collage of marginalia brought to center stage and eerily lit by a submerged psychic disturbance, as in the poem “A Breakfast Radish,” where he writes, “Whatever we’re dealing with catches us / in mid-reconsideration.” We might call this whimsy if it didn’t seem like a “cloud of knowing,” to comprehend our own unknowing. 

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2015.