Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ashbery Under My Arm

I've been prancing around this life with John Ashbery's collected first five books, The Mooring of Starting Out. Knocked out (or knocked myself out with) Some Trees the first weekend I got it in Chicago. Been poking along The Tennis Court Oath, like I think is necessary/crucial with Ashbery. Seriously, I read like three poems and go WOOSH. Constantly baffled and inspired and overwhelmed by these poems. Ashbery writes the world's best riddles. Ashbery writes the deeper into the English language than anyone I've every encountered. Definitely, setting this hunk aside til a later date to finish the last three books. 

Learned much from this Perloff (she's queen right?) essay about Ashbery, "Normalizing John Ashbery."

Breakthrough narratives, it is true, are always forced to simplify the work of the past from which the new text deviates. I plead guilty to this charge in my own references to Eliot or Stevens in The Poetics of Indeterminacy (1981). Of course the symbolic structure of The Waste Land is not as easily understood as I implied in that study, but I stand by my original distinction between the "logic of metaphor" (Eliot's phrase for St. John Perse) of The Waste Land and the much greater indeterminacy of the Ashbery lyric in question, "These Lacustrine Cities" from Rivers and Mountains (1966). Indeed, however great the debt Ashbery owes to the "modernism" of Eliot, one would never, as I suggested in my book, mistake an Ashbery poem for an Eliot one. Nor can one take short extracts from a given Ashbery poem (Longenbach does this with reference to passages about poetry like the lines from "Syringa" that begin "Its subject / Matters too much and not enough") and treat these extracts as containing within themselves the "meaning" of the poem in question.
"A Last World" might be my favorite poem from "The Tennis Court Oath." I read it, tonight, Election Day, and go hmmmmmmmmmmmmm into the night. 

Then one could say nothing hear nothing
Of what the great time spoke to its divisors.
All borders between men were closed. 
Now all is different without having changed 
As though one were to pass through the same street at different times
And nothing that is old can prefer the new.   
And of course, the title poem of Some Trees is a pure delight of existence on existence because of existence

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Some comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Place in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

 I love hearing poets read their work DUH


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