In 1958 John Ashbery sailed for Paris to gather materials for a thesis he intended to write about Raymond Roussel, who at the time was an all-but-forgotten French poet, playwright and novelist. Ashbery discovered Roussel in 1951, when his friend Kenneth Koch shared with him a souvenir from a yearlong sojourn in France. It was a faded copy of Roussel's Nouvelles Impressions d'Afrique (1928), a poem comprising four cantos, each written in a single sentence that expands to an epic length through a system of nested parentheses. Not one of the cantos contains a single impression of Africa, which helps account for why, several years before taking his own life in 1933, Roussel had been called "the Proust of dreams." It was in part by immersing himself in those dreams that Ashbery learned to manufacture exotic realities in a matter-of-fact way. Ashbery's poem "The Instruction Manual," for instance, written in the mid-1950s, could very well have been titled "Nouvelles Impressions de Métal." The speaker of the poem is at his job and must write an instruction manual about the uses of a new metal; instead, he blithely conjures up a vivid and precise travelogue about Guadalajara, a place he has never visited.
For more click here.