Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wonder v. Fatigue

"I think you (and John, too, for that matter) must watch what is always the great danger with any 'surrealistic' style, namely of confusing authentic nonlogical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue." - W.H. Auden, in his 1956 rejection of Frank O'Hara for the Yale Younger Poets Prize. I heard Ashbery (who was 29 in 1956) read on Monday, at the Y, his breath hardly caught between poems, and bearing easy. He actually didn't read one of his poems that, for whatever reason of timing and light, struck me the most, back in May 2004, when it appeared in The New Yorker:

by John Ashbery

Dear spit, the week is turning over
with the world. All is angry shouting outdoors.
I feel like one of St. Ursula's virgins
taking a last look at shelving rock and tree,
sailing into what must be the ineffable
if indeed it means anything to itself.

Tomorrow the stone judge will be here,
then more and more pioneers,
covering the basin as far as one can see
into blue beginnings. The have their place
in the populations, but are nominally
no more than we, planted here to survey them
and moving backward with sips of the tide.

We knew the tower bridge was jury-rigged,
the spirit spoof a trickle in the eye of God
we behold from a questioning though necessary
distance. In summer it was straw hats and licorice,
which, fading, leave a taste for other novelties
and sundries. It is never too late for stealth,
mourning itself, or the other irregular phantoms.

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