Tuesday, July 26, 2011

open discussion July 25: Mary Jo Salter, Ashbery

O Pen – July 25

Au Pair – Mary Jo Salter
My Philosophy of Life -- John Ashbery
Spacing in Concentration – a response to John Ashbery (yours truly)
2 poems from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror – John Ashbery

I started with a quote from an article by Lisa Russ Spaar, and join her in feeling grateful for the ways in which reading allows what Sven Birkerts calls "the delicious excavation of the self through another's sentences."

The poems this week take different points of view – a French au pair, a philosopher, a noun-laden, myth-referenced “hop ‘o my thumb” where we join we’re not sure who, doing what , and a Rimbaldien “jeu of je” in a drunken boat. "Ashbery involves us in sentences whose machinery makes us feel how, not what, they mean. . . ." Note the paradox of "ecstatic stillness" in the extract of his title poem "Self-Portraitin a convex mirror" below:

Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied"
By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission
That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,
Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane,
The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
Posing in this place. It must move
As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.


So.. a sharing of AA ADD : age-activated attention deficit disorder—
And how an Ashbery poem allows us to Frank-O’Hara our way through a day, and yet delve into just what living a day, as a philosopher is all about. What affect inflects, injects… not in an Dantesque journey through various circles, but rather more like “a stranger who accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below” – but that’s not enough – Ashbery adds a friendly, tongue-in-cheek tone with an edge of humane “as the bookcase slides shut”. It is not scary, because you can trust him to handle the scenario (he does say "it is customary for such things to happen on such occasions” and further, introduces
a pleasant fragrance at this point. What coaxes us (rhymes with hoaxes Gus) to join in leaps with a sense of “anything goes” is a delightful blend of recognizing ourselves in surprising ways – understanding that whatever point one thinks one has, is usually not the point – but rather, living the “gaps” fully.

Words… how we use them, understand them – how a poem allows us to teeter on the edge of lines, as in Mary Jo Salter’s poem, surprises ways of thinking – new layers of “self” to discover. We share our stories -- for instance how one person couldn’t get past the first stanza of Mary Jo Salter’s poem, which mentions flags in a flippant, dancing, derogatory way, as she had just returned from her uncle’s funeral and an elaborate flag folding ceremony and what a flag meant to him as marine. And yet, as we read each stanza, other questions appeared – what we worship, value, how we cope with life, what we hope for, as we wore the lens of a speaker describing what the au pair saw.

Ashbery ‘s Hop o’ my Thumb, is a complex story combining myth (Undine and Ariadne) and the fairy tale much like Hansel and Gretl (
Undine, or Ondine is the water nymph and title of the Giraudoux play written in 1938 that tells the story of Hans, a knight-errant who has been sent off on a quest by his betrothed. In the forest he meets and falls in love with Ondine, who is attracted to the world of mortal man. The subsequent marriage of people from different worlds is of course folly. Ariane is the French version of Ariadne, the one who helped Theseus out of the minotaur’s labyrinth in Crete. Massenet’s opera, written in 1937 tells the story of Ariane and her sister Phèdre. The two sisters are both in love with Theseus, yet he chooses Phèdre over Ariane. When Phèdre is killed by the toppled statue of Adonis, Ariane travels to the underworld to beg Perséphone for her sister's resurrection. Softened by Ariane's offering of roses, Perséphone complies and Phèdre returns to earth. Theseus is then made to choose among the sisters again and once more chooses Phèdre, abandoning Ariane on the banks of Naxos. Distraught, she is lured into the sea by the voices of the beckoning sirens.

And as for the drunken boat—whether or not you subscribe to 19th century lit and Rimbaud – or fairy tales.. to thread wishes and desires , a gentle human element pulls you in. The self-portrait, is not obsessed with self in lines like this: “Did they notice me, this time, as I am,
Or is it postponed again? ” but rather ends on a larger universal truth. The last stanza is worthy of memorizing!
The night sheen takes over. A moon of cistercian pallor
Has climbed to the center of heaven, installed,
Finally involved with the business of darkness.
And a sigh heaves from ah the small things on earth,
The books, the papers, the old garters and union-suit buttons
Kept in a white cardboard box somewhere, and all the lower
Versions of cities flattened under the equalizing night.
The summer demands and takes away too much,
But night, the reserved, the reticent, gives more than it takes.

Below is a “clin d’oeil” to Ashbery’s manner of soaking up details from art, literature, history, philosophy, living in the 20th century.


Thank goodness there's a name for this disorder.
Somehow I feel better,even though I have it!!

Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A..A.D.D. -
Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.
This is how it manifests:
I decide to water my garden.
As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.
As I start toward the garage, I notice mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mail box earlier.
I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.
I lay my car keys on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full.
So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first.
But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first.
I take my check book off the table, and see that there is only one check left.
My extra checks are in my desk in the study,
so I go inside the house to my desk where
I find the can of Pepsi I'd been drinking.
I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Pepsi aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over..
The Pepsi is getting warm, and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.
As I head toward the kitchen with the Pepsi, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye--they need water.
I put the Pepsi on the counter and
discover my reading glasses that
I've been searching for all morning.
I decide I better put them back on my desk,
but first I'm going to water the flowers.
I set the glasses back down on the counter,
fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote.
Someone left it on the kitchen table.
I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV,
I'll be looking for the remote,
but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table,
so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I'll water the flowers.
I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on to the floor..
So, I set the remote back on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill.
Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do..
At the end of the day:
the car isn't washed
the bills aren't paid
there is a warm can of Pepsi sitting on the counter
the flowers don't have enough water,
there is still only 1 check in my check book,
I can't find the remote,
I can't find my glasses,
and I don't remember what I did with the car keys.
Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all damn day, and I'm really tired.
I realize this is a serious problem, and I'll try to get some help for it, but first I'll check my e-mail....
Do me a favor
Forward this message to everyone you know,
because I don't remember who the hell I've sent it to.
Don't laugh -- if this isn't you yet, your day is coming!!

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