Tuesday, July 13, 2010

John Ashbery - Houseboat Days

I’m currently rereading Houseboat Days, one of my favorite books by John Ashbery. Here are two poems from it that occur next to each other, and have both been reprinted many times since.

And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name

You can’t say it that way any more.
Bothered about beauty you have to
Come out into the open, into a clearing,
And rest. Certainly whatever funny happens to you
Is OK. To demand more than this would be strange
Of you, you who have so many lovers,
People who look up to you and are willing
To do things for you, but you think
It’s not right, that if they really knew you . . .
So much for self-analysis. Now,
About what to put in your poem-painting:
Flowers are always nice, particularly delphinium.
Names of boys you once knew and their sleds,
Skyrockets are good—do they still exist?
There are a lot of other things of the same quality
As those I’ve mentioned. Now one must
Find a few important words, and a lot of low-keyed,
Dull-sounding ones. She approached me
About buying her desk. Suddenly the street was
Bananas and the clangor of Japanese instruments.
Humdrum testaments were scattered around. His head
Locked into mine. We were a seesaw. Something
Ought to be written about how this affects
You when you write poetry:
The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.

What Is Poetry

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow
That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believed it. In school
All the thought got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us—what?—some flowers soon?


At 7/13/2010 11:48 AM, Blogger Jeff Alessandrelli said...

My favorite Ashbery book. Quite a bit better than Self-Portrait in my opinion (although it obviously has more than its fair share of poems/moments as well).

At 7/13/2010 4:37 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

It's one I go back to a lot. It's similar to Self-Portrait in some way I'm not able to articulate right now. It would take more reading and thinking, but there is a type of poem he was interested in writing at that time that really resonates with me as a reader.


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