Oyster Boy Review 17  
  Fall 2003
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'Some of these tunes hold up remarkably well.' The Seventies as We Lived Them.

Cy Dillon

  The Vermont Notebook.
John Ashbery & Joe Brainard.
Granary Books, 2001.
104 pages, $15.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1887123598

It goes without saying that any book of poetry and graphic art worth reprinting, as this one certainly is, must have certain qualities that transcend the time in which it was written. On the other hand, any really important book also embodies its own age to a degree that realizing its underlying values and assumptions and participating in its revelation is a far better way of understanding that age than reading a whole library of political history. The Vermont Notebook, naive as it seems in some aspects, tells readers as much about the 1970s in America as the best works by the mature writers of the same period. Of course, by 1975 John Ashbery had already developed the ability to confound, amuse, and fascinate readers that still confronts us regularly, and Joe Brainard was known as one of the best and most driven of the young New York artists. But their combined view is fresh and light without avoiding the darker elements of American life. Ashbery's lists, made-up letter and journal entries, and complex ramblings address subjects like corporate greed, the environment, gay eroticism, and fast food. Brainard's illustrations, at once the best of Pop Art and Minimalism, go with the text the way Paul Desmond's graceful saxophone solos complemented the struggle of Brubeck's piano. This is a reprint well worth putting in any collection of 20th century American poetry. It opens lost doors to the complexity and richness of an era that is just far enough in the past to suffer from the categorizing, simplifying tendency of human memory.