Despite all of his honors and awards, American poet John Ashbery was never able to escape the long-standing criticism of his work as apolitical. This is especially true for Ashbery’s collage poems from the late 1950s and early 1960s, which represent some of his most avant-garde experiments with language—but also some of his most challenging, opaque texts to read. This article returns to an early collection of poems from this period, The Tennis Court Oath (1962), to reevaluate the criticisms of Ashbery’s politics through the lens of Emily Apter’s “unexceptional politics”: a variety of micro-level political interventions that can, over time, impact macro-level politics on a national or even global scale. Using select concepts from Apter’s text as a critical heuristic, this article demonstrates how the experiments of The Tennis Court Oath are deeply political in nature, opening up space within the dominant political discourses of the twentieth century in order to allow alternative narratives to make their presence known.

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