From "The Instruction Manual - How To Read John Ashbery" by Meghan O'Rourke:
Ashbery's second radical move was to change the way the poet saw himself in relation to contemporary society. Though particular poems don't have specific subjects, he may write more about America—and with a more persuasive ambivalence—than any of his peers. "You spoke from the margin," he says in Where Shall I Wander, a common enough artistic sentiment; but where Ashbery differs from Baudelaire or Eliot is that, like Whitman and Emerson, he (often) sees himself as fundamentally more like his fellow-man than unlike. In this, he marries two previously unmarried literary traditions—continental avant-gardism and Romanticism. Perhaps it's this hybrid impulse—his reluctance to identify too strongly with any single tradition—that motivates his bringing together all different kinds of dictions and styles in a single poem, from slapstick to the didactic, from the earnest to the skeptical, while privileging none.