Saturday, November 17, 2007

John Ashbery - Notes from the Air

John Ashbery
Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems

Someone You Have Seen Before

It was a night for listening to Corelli, Geminiani
Or Manfredini. The tables had been set with beautiful white cloths
And bouquets of flowers. Outside the big glass windows
The rain drilled mercilessly into the rock garden, which made light
Of the whole thing. Both business and entertainment waited
With parted lips, because so much new way of being
With one's emotion and keeping track of it at the same time
Had been silently expressed. Even the waiters were happy.

It was an example of how much one can grow lustily
Without fracturing the shell of coziness that surrounds us,
And all things as well. “We spend so much time
Trying to convince ourselves we’re happy that we don’t recognize
The real thing when it comes along,” the Disney official said.
He's got a point, you must admit. If we followed nature
More closely we'd realize that, I mean really getting your face pressed
Into the muck and indecision of it. Then it’s as if
We grew out of our happiness, not the other way round, as is
Commonly supposed. We're the characters in its novel,
And anybody who doubts that need only look out of the window
Past his or her own reflection, to the bright, patterned,
Timeless unofficial truth hanging around out there,
Waiting for the signal to be galvanized into a crowd scene,
Joyful or threatening, it doesn't matter, so long as we know
It's inside, here with us.

But people do change in life,
As well as in fiction. And what happens then? Is it because we think nobody's
Listening that one day it comes, the urge to delete yourself,
"Take yourself out," as they say? As though this could matter
Even to the concerned ones who crowd around,
Expressions of lightness and peace on their faces,
In which you play no part perhaps, but even so
Their happiness is for you, it's your birthday, and even
When the balloons and fudge get tangled with extraneous
Good wishes from everywhere, it is, I believe, made to order
For your questioning stance and that impression
Left on the inside of your pleasure by some bivalve
With which you have been identified. Sure,
Nothing is ever perfect enough, but that's part of how it fits
The mixed bag
Of leftover character traits that used to be part of you
Before the change was performed
And of all those acquaintances bursting with vigor and
Humor, as though they wanted to call you down
Into closeness, not for being close, or snug, or whatever,
But because they believe you were made to fit this unique
And valuable situation whose lid is rising, totally
Into the morning-glory-colored future. Remember, don't throw away
The quadrant of unused situations just because they're here:
They may not always be, and you haven't finished looking
Through them all yet. So much that happens happens in small ways
That someone was going to get around to tabulate, and then never did,
Yet it all bespeaks freshness, clarity and an even motor drive
To coax us out of sleep and start us wondering what the new round
Of impressions and salutations is going to leave in its wake
This time. And the form, the precepts, are yours to dispose of as you will,
As the ocean makes grasses, and in doing so refurbishes a lighthouse
On a distant hill, or else lets the whole picture slip into foam.

* * * * * * * * *

So anyway, a second selected poems by John Ashbery is certainly something to celebrate. I was unaware that one was on the horizon, and now here it is before us.

Mine’s on its way from It’ll be here next week. I hope this means that Ashbery will get talked about for his more recent work. It’s been my opinion that with the number of Ashbery’s books available, he’s mostly been talked about for what can be found in his first selected poems. Now people have a second volume . . .

Other things from the bookshelf this afternoon:

AWE, by Dorothea Lasky. I purchased this on the recommendation of Michael Dumanis, and am about halfway through. So far, I’m finding Lasky to have the most disturbingly innocent voice in American poetry.

In the batter’s box, warming up for upcoming reading are several books I’ve purchased but haven’t gotten to yet, by Robert Hass, Cate Marvin (which I started, and was enjoying quite a bit, but then misplaced and then just found again this afternoon), Andrew Zawacki (which I accidentally purchased twice [anyone need a copy?]), and Paula Cisewski.

On the way, along with the Ashbery, from Amazon: Peter Gizzi and Tony Tost . . . what a great time for poetry . . . !


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