John Ashberry

May 9, 2007


Norton says: “Perhaps no postwar writer has influenced so many different kinds of poets, whether identified with formalism or antiformalism, with enoconfessionalism or the avant-garde.”
Writes in seemingly antithetical modes, from fragmentary free verse and prose poetry to traditional verse forms
In his poetry the self is elusive, multiple and fractitious; the so-called real world is forever mutating and slipping away
Is fond of unexpected juxtapositions, sentence fragments or run on’s, and allusions to contemporary jargon
Ashbery said:

“Most of my poems are about the experience of experience.”


Barely tolerated, living on the margin/ IN our technological society, we were always having to be rescued/ On the brink of destrucion, like heroines in Orlando Furioso/ Before it was time to start all over again./ There would be thunder in the bushes, a rustling of coils,/ And Angelica, in the Ingres painting, was considering/ The colorful but small monster near her toe, as though wondering whether forgetting/ The whole thing might now, in the end, be the only solution. / And then There always came a time when/ Happy Hooligan in his rusted green automoblie/ Came plowing down the course, just to make sure everything was O.K.,/ Only by that time we were in another chapter and confused/ About how to receive this latest piece of information./ Was it information? Weren’t we rather acting this out/ For someone else’s benefit, thoughts in a mind/ With room enough and to spare for our little problems (so they began to seem),/ Our daily quandary about food and the rent and bills to be paid?/ To reduce all this to a small variant,/ To step free at last, minuscule on the gigantic plateau-/ This was our ambition: to be small and clear and free.

This is what you wanted to hear, so why/ Did you think of listening to something else? We are all talkers/ It is true, but underneath the talk lies/ The moving and not wanting to be moved, the loose/ Meaning, untidy and simple like a threshing floor.
These were some hazards of the course,/ Yet though we knew the course was hazards and nothing else/ It was still a shock when, almost a quarter of a century later,/ The clarity of the rules dawned on you for the first time./ They were the players, and we who had struggled at the game/ Were merely spectators, though subject to its vicissitudes/ And moving with it out of the tearful stadium, borne on shouldrs, at last./ Night after night this message returns, repeated/ In the flickering bulbs of the sky, raised past us, taken away from us,/ Yet ours over and over until the end that is past truth,/ The being of our sentences, in the climate that fostered them,/ Not ours to won, like a book, but to be with, and sometimes/ To be without, alone and desperate./ But the fantasy makes it ours, a kind of fence-sitting/ Raised to the level of an esthetic ideal. These were moments, years,/ Solid with reality, faces, namable events, kisses, heroic acts,/ But like the friendly beginningof a geometrical progression/ Not too reassuring, as though meaning could be cast aside some day/ When it had been outgrown. Better, you said, to stay cowering/ Like this in the early lessons, since the promise of learning/ Is a delusion, and I agreed, adding that/ Tomorrow would alter the sense of what had already been learned,/ That the learning process is extended in this way, so that from this standpoint/ Non eof us ever graduates from college,/ For time is an emulsion, and probably thinking not to grow up/ Is the brightest kind of maturity for us, right now at any rate,/ And you see, both of us were right, though nothing/ Has somehow come to nothing, the avatars/ Of our conforming to the rules and living/ Around the home have made- well, in a sense, ‘good citizens’ of us,/ Brushing the teeth and all that, and learning to accept/ The charity of the hard moments as they are doled out,/ For this is action, this not being sure, this careless/ Preparing, sowing the seeds crooked in the furrow,/ Making ready to forget, and always coming back/ To the mooring of starting out, that day so long ago.

-Soonest Mended

Title is from the proverb “Least said, soonest mended”

The first of the undecoded messages read: ‘Popeye sits in thunder,/ Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,/ From livid curtain’s hue, a tangram emerges: a country.”/ Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How pleasant/ To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she scratched/ Her cleft chin’s solitary hair. She remembered spinach

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment/ Succumbed to a strange new hush. “Actually it’s quite pleasant/ Here,” thought the Sea Hag. “If this is all we need fear from spinach/ Then I don’t mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Good over’ -she scratched/ One dug pensively- “but Winpy is such a country/ Bumpkin, always burping like that.” Minute at first, the thunder
Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,/ The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched/ His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.

-Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

Play on the title of the painting “Farm Implements and Vegetables in a Landscape” by Jacob van Ruysdael
Formally a Sestina: See definition Here


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