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The Tennis Court Oath

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  408 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
A 35th anniversary edition of a classic work from a celebrated American poet who has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. John Ashbery's second book, The Tennis Court Oath, first published by Wesleyan in 1962, remains a touchstone of contemporary avant-garde poetry.
Paperback, 94 pages
Published December 1st 1977 by Wesleyan (first published 1962)
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Open by Andre AgassiRafa by Rafael NadalA Champion's Mind by Pete SamprasYou Cannot Be Serious by John McEnroeThe Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey
Books on Tennis
43rd out of 143 books — 109 voters
Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria RilkeAutumn Sonata by Georg TraklThe Cantos by Ezra PoundThe lyrical poems of Hugo von Hofmannsthal by Hugo von HofmannsthalSelected Poems and Fragments by Friedrich Hölderlin
Best Poetry Collections of the 20th Century
115th out of 121 books — 9 voters

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Robert Beveridge
Jan 19, 2008 Robert Beveridge rated it liked it
Shelves: finished

2 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
3.0 out of 5 stars When it's good, it's very very good. But when it's bad..., June 28, 2004

John Ashbery, The Tennis Court Oath (Wesleyan, 1962)

Reading Ashbery's The Tennis Court Oath probably doesn't rank high on the list of many people's favorite things to do. But reading it while you've immersed yourself in a glut of Charles Simic is an especially bad idea. Simic is the quintessential surrealist writing in English today; Ashbery is sort of a we
Timothy Green
Feb 19, 2009 Timothy Green rated it it was amazing
This might be Ashbery at his best -- most of the poems leave enough low branches to get a toe-hold and start climbing, and even those that I couldn't access after several reads feel like they're worth exploring, with just a little boost. These aren't easy poems -- they're complicated and artful, but also full of passion. See my blog post for one example. Or look at one phrase mentioned there, "the thirteen million pillars of grass," which at once alludes to Whitman and Lot's Wife, and thus joy, ...more
Jul 26, 2016 Matthew rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
What had you been thinking about
the face studiously bloodied
heaven blotted region
I go on loving you like water but
there is a terrible breath in the way all of this
You were not elected president, yet won the race
All the way through fog and drizzle
When you read it was sincere the coasts
stammered with unintentional villages the
horse strains fatigue I guess . . . the calls . . .
I worry

the water beetle head
why of course reflecting all
then you redid you were breathing
I thought going down to mail this
May 09, 2013 i! rated it liked it
For those that are facing Ashbery for perhaps the first time and coming away with not-a-lot, just go and read some Barthelme stories, and then come back and read Ashbery's "Faust" and "Idaho". The same zeitgeist-seeking ghost is reappearing in both mens' works.
Near the end: still ambivalent but better than before.
For maybe every five or ten lines that read pretty limp and 2weird4u ("lemons asleep pattern crying" ["Europe"]) are lines like
"My stick, but what, snapped the avalanche" ("The Unknown
Landon Kramer
The first few poems are best heard behind a screen, maybe in a doctor's office, a cancer ward, when you're losing hope, but something in the way that people try to use words makes you feel hope. He teases the boundary between his ideas and yours, when he furnishes fragments of ideas and you have to assemble their source, which is yours. The book is also a nice world to be in: flowers, boyhood, houses, Stars and Stripes, and urban errands. "Rain" is exemplary of the best thing about the book, and ...more
Jul 31, 2007 Mitch rated it it was amazing
Great Ashbery book, with over-the-top poems like the Divine Sepulchre, an amazing sense of humor, and more drama than he evokes later on. Brilliant lines, almost every one of them would make a great jump-off point for another poem. Here Ashbery is bright-eyed, ready for anything, pure potential. No wonder everyone fell in love with him, he was a dazzling genius!
David Kim
Jun 16, 2012 David Kim rated it really liked it
When I read this many years ago when my mind was fresh and pliable, it was amazing. Now re-reading it it is barely comprehendible. He said writing like this is can come from exercising a muscle in your brain. But now I think reading it also requires exercising a muscle in your brain...getting older I feel simplicity can be just as complex.

Ashbery wants to make poems like paintings. The "Imagists" did it at like level 4. He does it at like level 10.
Well, my understanding is that Ashbery wrote this book as an experiment in fragmentation, to see how far fragmentation could run outside sense or cohesive meaning. And, for me, I'm grateful he pulled away from this style. At least so that I could enjoy books like Houseboat Days and Rivers and Mountains.
May 21, 2009 Rupert rated it liked it
I have to admit that I haven't been able to completely meld with Senor Ashbery's oeuvre yet like I have with Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch and Ted Berrigan. I recognize his brilliance and razor chops, though, and get blown away by specific lines. I will keep studying his words until the gates creak open.
Jun 12, 2008 Paul rated it it was amazing
This book, Ashbery's second, is one of the most important books of the last half century (post-1950), and it remains influential. A hallmark of innovation and a new postwar tone that has come to be called the postmodern.
Adam Cogbill
I'd rate this, but Ashberry's pretty much inaccessible to me. Maybe someday...
david blumenshine
Aug 13, 2011 david blumenshine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-poetry
Only three stars for now, need to revisit this several times. Alot to get at
Nov 18, 2012 Joe rated it it was ok
not for me. even less so than some trees. though I liked "europe" and "idaho."
Jun 22, 2008 Jessica rated it liked it
Think this is the most difficult work I've ever read.
Rachel burns
Jul 21, 2012 Rachel burns rated it it was amazing
It's Ashbery, what else needs to be said?
Jul 24, 2007 Steven rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves
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John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. He earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia, and he traveled as a Fulbright Scholar to France in 1955. Best known as a poet, he has published more than twenty collections, most recently A Worldly Country (Ecco, 2007). His Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking, 1975) won the three major American prizes: the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, ...more
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“An Additional Poem

Where then shall hope and fear their objects find?
The harbor cold to the mating ships,
And you have lost as you stand by the balcony
With the forest of the sea calm and gray beneath.
A strong impression torn from the descending light
But night is guilty. You knew the shadow
In the trunk was raving
But as you keep growing hungry you forget.
The distant box is open. A sound of grain
Poured over the floor in some eagerness--we
Rise with the night let out of the box of wind.”
“The Unknown Travelers

Lugged to the gray arbor,
I have climbed this snow-stone on my face,
My stick, but what, snapped the avalanche
The air filled with slowly falling rocks

Breathed in deeply--arrived,
The white room, a table covered
With a towel, mug of ice--fear
Among the legs of a chair, the ashman,
Purple and gray she starts upright in her chair.”
More quotes…