And Some Were Playing Cards,
and Some Were Playing Dice
And there you have it. I can’t overpraise your response
Though I can clock it by its choked glimmer,
Like a night sound for which there is no explanation.
And I can see farther out of the situation of you and me
By the wan halo it insistently projects.
I am here. There is no such person as you,
Yet you are funny, and silly, and in your voice there are
Abrupt meanders and chambers so casual I cannot
Think of listening any longer. Deaf, you understand too much
And absolutely do not want this knowledge
Though to people on earth it looks like a circus in the sky
And the weather that depends on it is talked about for days.
– John Ashbery, from April Galleons
Of who we and all they are
You all now know. But you know
After they began to find us out we grew
Before they died thinking us the causes
Of their acts. Now we’ll not know
The truth of some still at the piano, though
They often date from us, causing
These changes we think we are. We don’t care
Though, so tall up there
In young air. But things get darker as we move
To ask them: Whom must we get to know
To die, so you live and we know?
– John Ashbery, from Some Trees
Sitting between the sea and the buildings
He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait.
But just as children imagine a prayer
Is merely silence, he expected his subject
To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush,
Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.
Without a doubt, Ashbery can be daunting to read. Five lines in and you can start to feel lost. What you expected to find based on the title or opening line is fading in the distance. Keep going and your second and third assumptions seem like childish fancies.
The Slate article I linked to at the bottom of “No, I Don’t” offers some tips on navigating Ashbery. “Navigate” is a good word. I think of reading Ashbery (whose poetry I relish but, more often than not, don’t get) as floating on an ocean. You dip in and out of swells, sometimes noticing seaweed pass by or the shadow of a fish, occasionally paying attention to the direction and strength of the current and — hey, look, there’s a cloud.
In other words, I just enjoy the ride of Ashbery. Certain lines click with something I’ve experienced, felt or thought. Or they resemble something I know about. Others are just the movement of a wave taking me to the next set of lines.
No I Don’t
I have no adventures, the adventurous began,
Except for my hearing, which as you know, can be undependable.
Sometimes staying in the house can be bad. But then, returning,
To find some vine that has licked out over an eave
Like an unruly eyebrow, something that wasn’t there
Moments ago, can stop you in your tracks. I mean the way
Things have of just happening once the principle
Of happening has been laid down for them can be alarming
Or like a rush of bubbles to the nose, depending. Mostly
Faces are good to me though, I lap them up like lukewarm tea.