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Old 09-03-2017, 03:52 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is online now
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Default R.I.P. John Ashbery

http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/t...1927-2017.html

Maybe I'll finally read Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
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Old 09-03-2017, 04:57 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Here are two Ashbery poems I like:

Some Trees

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
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

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

. . . . .

Street Musicians

One died, and the soul was wrenched out
Of the other in life, who, walking the streets
Wrapped in an identity like a coat, sees on and on
The same corners, volumetrics, shadows
Under trees. Farther than anyone was ever
Called, through increasingly suburban airs
And ways, with autumn falling over everything:
The plush leaves the chattels in barrels
Of an obscure family being evicted
Into the way it was, and is. The other beached
Glimpses of what the other was up to:
Revelations at last. So they grew to hate and forget each other.

So I cradle this average violin that knows
Only forgotten showtunes, but argues
The possibility of free declamation anchored
To a dull refrain, the year turning over on itself
In November, with the spaces among the days
More literal, the meat more visible on the bone.
Our question of a place of origin hangs
Like smoke: how we picnicked in pine forests,
In coves with the water always seeping up, and left
Our trash, sperm and excrement everywhere, smeared
On the landscape, to make of us what we could.
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Old 09-03-2017, 07:09 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
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"Some Trees" is quite fine. My favorite poem of his, though, is "The Instruction Manual":

We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses.
What more is there to do, except stay? And that we cannot do.
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Old 09-03-2017, 11:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Novick View Post
Maybe I'll finally read Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
I did. Some first thoughts here.
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Old 09-04-2017, 01:58 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Reading Ashbery, which I did in the same Library of the Americas edition, tends to make me think of Orwell's praise of limpidity in "Politics and the English Language": I would say that limpidity is not a primary virtue of Ashbery's work. This is also true of a poet like Wallace Stevens, reminding me usefully that great art need not be limpid: "Il ne s'agit pas de comprendre, il suffit d'aimer", said Monet. And yet, my doubts remain about this direction in verse and its achievements. For what it's worth: since the Library of the Americas, for one, is obviously happy with this art.
"Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" I thought was tremendous - a monument - when I last read it.

Cheers,
John
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Old 09-04-2017, 07:32 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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I adore that Monet quote, John, and it has gone straight into my journal. I like it more even than the opening of Robert Hass’s Praise, which I have long remembered and admired:

We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and
unpredictable. He hesitated to
answer, and then said judiciously:
“I think I shall praise it.”


I’ve tried to read Ashbery a couple of times and have failed; I could not get my hook into anything. This no doubt says more about me than about Ashbery. He seems to want to make a virtue out of the necessity of facing an incomprehensible world, unlike e.g., Frost, who strove for those ‘momentary stays’. I shall no doubt try again someday.
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Old 09-04-2017, 07:58 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Michael,

Thank you for that Robert Hass quote, and for the Frost as well. He does seem a world away from Ashbery.
To my own way of thinking, language uncoupled from meaning is whipped cream. But "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" blew me away when i read it and then when i reread it. I think it's very fine.

Cheers,
John
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Old 09-04-2017, 09:03 AM
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Don Jones Don Jones is offline
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For anyone who wants to make “sense” of Ashbery’s poetry, I suggest the remarkably perceptive essay on his work by the poet and critic Mary Kinzie in her essay Irreference from her book The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose.

Given the title of her book one might come to think that Ashbery’s poetry points to the supremacy of prose over poetry in our day. Like much of non-metric, it might as well be prose. And at times beautifully so.

Kinzie points to his system of poetic construction by which he makes sense of experience. Whether using verb tenses or word particles, which Kinzie exhaustively explores in his poem Houseboat Days, Ashbery teases out some kind of meaning from his words.

One summary Kinzie gives of his poetry: The “plot” of an Ashbery poem is a matter of the arraying of tense movements to support metaphors and images of time consciousness—a stylized and masked durée. The ebb and flow of the images (deluge and rapidity versus hollowness and contraction) produce a time consciousness based on nostalgia.

“Nostalgia” leapt out at me as a primary emotion in Ashbery’s poetry—that is, for those who ever felt any emotion besides frustration or anger when reading him! If his writing is quicksand or his meaning as fixed as mercury balls slipping through one’s fingers, then as Kinzie beautifully puts it: …it is helpful to view his relation to the heterogeneous dreck of the modern world as primarily an elegiac one. It is poetry of continual loss. Including of one’s mind if that was all you had to read on a desert island.

For me, I am mostly indifferent to his poetry because after a while I need terra firma. His ocean of wave after wave of images, statements and mis-directions sooner rather than later leave me wanting the downright conventional like a beautiful sonnet. On the other hand his dexterity of language is impressive, overwhelmingly so. I’m convinced he would have made an outstanding metrist (technically he could do anything). But he applied his genius elsewhere: taking a sledgehammer to any kind of rational discourse, argument and clarity.
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Old 09-04-2017, 09:59 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Don,

Very nicely argued. I was just rereading some Ashbery stuff I've written, and came across this line of his: "Much that is beautiful must be discarded". It seems apt.

Cheers,
John
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Old 09-04-2017, 12:38 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is online now
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Aaron N., Your blog post is a fine piece of literary analysis. Did you like the poem? I think yes, yes?
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