Monday, September 4, 2017

This houseboat day

On parking my car in the driveway,
after an amiable lunch in town,
I flicked open one of my detested
devices to see if there were any
urgent messages to address, before
joining my English Cocker for an
afternoon constitutional about the
grounds. Nothing pressing, apart
from word from The New York Times,
of the exit of the most-cited En-
glish language poet at this page,
at the permissible age of ninety.

One doesn't like to hear of an ex-
tinguishment of wonder and genius,
at any age. Deep into his 80s, he
found himself translating the boy
Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations, 
for which practitioners of three
languages will never forget him -
English, French, and Male Youth.

Preparing to attest to these few
facts I did observe the precaution
of counting citations here, for
William Shakespeare. They are in
second place, voluminously, but I
reckon that John Ashbery engages
the search engine as translator,
as well as poet - much as David
Ferry, and long may he do so.

I have accepted the loss of Shakes-
peare, on the premise that it will
never take place, as I listen to
Mozart, too, to stay hip with the
times. John Ashbery is the most un-
cannily American, uncannily contem-
porary poet in my reading, and not
least for his having seeded his
work with breathtaking likelihood
of future accompaniment, to people
in our place, never abandoning the
voice of fraternity, once removed.

Insulting as the vestal virgins of
his art may take this familiarizing
embrace to be - and couldn't we all
voice that objection - one declares
it on the grounds of Ashbery's per-
sistent, prescient sharing of our 
place. His poetry will be a fixture 
of guest rooms, of bedside tables, 
of daybreak at the barricades, and
at twilight of illusion, lifting. 
He is constantly being found.

As here, where I enjoyed my lunch
today in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I had a good companion, but then I
always do.

           And Others, Vaguer Presences

           Are built out of the meshing of life and space
           At the point where we are wholly revealed
           In the lozenge-shaped openings. Because
           It is argued that these structures address themselves
           To exclusively aesthetic concerns, like windmills
           On a vast plain. To which it is answered
           That there are no other questions than these,
           Half squashed in mud, emerging out of the moment
           We all live, learning to like it. No sonnet
           On this furthest strip of land, no pebbles,

           No plants. To extend one's life
           All day on the dirty stone of some plaza,
           Unaware among the pretty lunging of the wind,
           Light and shade, is like coming out of
           A coma that is a white, interesting country,
           Prepared to lose the main memory in a meeting
           By torchlight under the twisted end of the stairs.

John Ashbery
Houseboat Days
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977©

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