Saturday, September 15, 2012

a John Ashbery poem

appreciation: John Ashbery's "Farm Film"—

Looking at a single poem by John Ashbery and thinking about it seems almost a transgression of his intent to resist such frangible readings, if that is his intent or one of them.

Schemes frustrate or elongate meanings enter my tongue like a retort rebuttal that stretches the Plasticman of my sense lapse to an aerymaspian beaten goldleaf.



Takeitapart, no one understands how you can just do
This to yourself. Balancing a long pole on your chin
And seeing only the ooze of foliage and blue sunlight
Above. At the same time you have not forgotten

The attendant itch, but, being occupied solely with making
Ends meet, or the end, believe that it will live, raised
In secrecy, into an important yet invisible destiny, unfulfilled.
If the dappled cows and noon plums ever thought of

Answering you, your answer would be like the sun, convinced
It knows best, maybe having forgotten someday. But for this
She looked long for one clothespin in the grass, the rime
And fire of midnight etched each other out, into importance

That is like a screen sometimes. So many
Patterns to choose from, they the colliding of all dispirited
Illustration on our lives, that will rise in its time like
Temperature, and mean us, and then faint away.

This is page 17 in "Shadow Train" (1981), which I've been reading at recently. How many poems, how many pages of poetry has he published since then, a thousand, two thousand?—

I don't know, but I know I haven't read the majority of them.

It's absurd to focus my attention on one old poem like this, and to appreciate it for reasons which are probably spurious since

they are personal, autobiographical—

that is, I spent part of my childhood on a farm.

—Didn't Ashbery himself grow up on a family farm in western New York state, or am I remembering this wrong, but if I'm right do I have the right to read this poem with that biographical fact

if it is a fact (which it is: the first sentence in the bio note of the hardcover edition of Shadow Train says: "John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927, grew up on a farm in western New York, and was educated at Deerfield Academy, Harvard, and Columbia, where he specialized in English literature.")

in the forefront of my responsive attendance? What am I allowed to do when I read an Ashbery poem,

what are the parameters of a permissible perusal?

And regardless in any case I'm scarcely capable of scratching at the surface of the probes raised by any of his works—

So: Unforgivable and misguided of me to say as I read it, Yes:

yes, I know from firsthand the farmer's occupational obsession, how he is constantly "being occupied solely with making / Ends meet," the endless seasonal scrabble to "balance" the crops and the cash income,

to plant and reap the seed, and to "believe that it will live." The belief in one's childhood

which remains back there always growing, always being "raised / In secrecy, into" its "destiny, unfulfilled."

I can think of ways I passed time/entertained myself in the tedium of the farm child not unlike

"Balancing a long pole on your chin / And seeing only the ooze of foliage and blue sunlight / Above."

Teetering a rake or pitchfork on your head, raising in secrecy the unforgotten itch of hickeyrash summer sweat as it films the skin's ooze toward a blue endless day . . .

raising that question the "dappled cows and noon plums" could have answered, and if they had, your answer to theirs could only have been like the sun's, passing with conviction and hence forgotten in its maybe someday—

But the days of childhood blur like winter and summer midnights etching each other out with their recurrent rime and fire, their cold and warmth, their years

with only a stray unimportant in the scheme of anything memory standing out here and there, for example the time your mother

stubbornly refused to come in the house while she looked in the grass for one lost clothespin

and it's getting late, it's supper, it's getting dark, why, why won't she come in!?

You can "takeitapart" (though the jamming together of the very words of that thought indicates the opposite) and try to make these straws these strains cohere in a pattern,

but the patterns overlap like a montage where the screen of all these images "you have not forgotten" collide collate their "dispirited / Illustration on our lives . . ."

and this collision "no one understands," least of all yourself, how can you do this to yourself, put it together take it apart (either way),

the collision of lost seasons and occupations, the cohesion will rise its beanpole like Jack and his poor cow-stalk mother, his plum-mom,

will rise (elevate) its time like the rising temperature that augurs long summer days of boredom

with attendant itches that cause all kinds of erections and their harvest of ooze—

like that phallic pole astride my chin—

no, but the poem will mean us, and then faint away.

Fade, feint. A way.


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