Just Walking around, with John Ashbery

This week has just seemed to have no free time in it; not sure what happened there. But I’m finally trying to relax a little bit on this Saturday morning before heading out to Queens for the afternoon… I think the Reverie might have to wait until tomorrow, sorry guys! This is for Donna’s prompt inspired by John Ashbery. I stole the title and the line as an epigram, and decided to write about what I’d say to him if I was actually fortunate enough to spend a chunk of time with him. (Not outside the realm of possibility completely, since he lives in NYC somewhere.)

John Ashbery, for the record, is one of my favorite poets. (Note his presence in my list of emulation on the sidebar.) It took me a while to like him: a lot of his poems are meandering, seem unnecessarily wordy, and occasionally veer into obtuse symbolism. But they really do stay with you, and while a short poem could probably convey the same feelings and thoughts in less time, it wouldn’t last nearly as long. My favorite Ashbery poem is still the one inscribed on the Irene Hixon Whitney bridge in Minneapolis, which I discovered unexpectedly while crossing it on an August night exactly three years ago (how cool is that?), when I had just begun writing. You can read it here!

Words that you never see anywhere else turns up in his poems. I thought “particolored”, “rubifying”, “lampblack”, and “horehound” were nice additions.

Just Walking Around, with John Ashbery

The longest way is the most efficient way. –John Ashbery

John– Mr. Ashbery– you’ve done it again.
Somehow you’ve gotten your hooks in, though I swore
up and down that this time, I wouldn’t be swayed.
How many times have I said this poem
could have been a tenth the size, thought about
throwing the book across the room in frustration.
Here is the Hudson Valley: but you have populated it
with furtive angels scribbled in lampblack and spit,
given the rubifying sugar maples names and stories,
sent children running with kites along the steep banks.

I used to wonder where you got your mythology;
I think you panned it out of the mountain streams
and plucked it from the mouths of fish.
Certainly, someone has asked, where do you get
your inspiration–do you bottle morning fogs over the town?
Do you turn over every pebble on the path, looking for
some polysyllabic gem? John: you know
I have the utmost respect for you, but I wanted
poems which sing and lift gossamer faces, not these
beautiful densities. (I may crack my teeth.)

But the trick is to swallow them whole,
these Cole landscapes rolled into oblong verses
like hard candy: butterscotch poems, horehound poems,
ancient and slow to dissolve. I’ve been letting them
percolate in my chest; once in a while, a synonym rises
unexpectedly, catches in my throat. (Is that you,
Mr. Ashbery?) And I’m starting to see that this richness is
how you get your words to last— to not vanish
to spin a particolored yarn that, like a stage magician,
I could go on pulling forever from the nest of my cheek–

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