john asbery on writing & reading a poem



John Ashbery being intense in 1962

“Paradoxes and Oxymorons”


This poem is concerned with language on a very

plain level.

Look at it talking to you. You look out a window

Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t

have it.

You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.


The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and

cannot.

What’s a plain level? It is that and other things,

Bringing a system of them into play. Play?

Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be


A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,

As in the division of grace these long August days

Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know

It gets lost in the stream and chatter of typewriters.


It has been played once more. I think you exist

only

To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then

you aren’t there

Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem

Has set me softly down beside you. The Poem is

you.


—from Shadow Train (1981)

If infinitely many monkeys are set before typewriters, the statistical paradox goes, they will sooner or later produce Shakespeare’s plays. Ashbery’s poem “has been played” like a record or a trick. But perhaps it is the reader’s trick as well. In the communication system, the ideal reader now resembles the Divine Paradox: “I think you exist,” the poet asserts, “and then you aren’t there.” In his final paradox, the poem is you,” varying the dedication “the poem is yours,” Ashbery yields himself to the reader, who nevertheless continues to “miss” him.


—from John Shoptaw, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery’s Poetry (1994)

Advertisements