1970 saw the birth of the first annual Earth Day. It also saw the publication of John Ashbery's The Double Dream of Spring. Named for a de Chirico painting, it's filled with poems nearly as opaque and puzzling as the banner image from which the title springs.
Some Trees, Ashbery's first book written in 1956, won Yale Younger Poets Prize. That year it was judged by W.H. Auden, who once talked about a poet needing a little censor in his head to cut out all extraneous words and who famously confessed he didn't understand a word of what he'd read.
Ashbery does not have that censor. Not one little bit.
I haven't dipped into that earlier book yet. However, I can attest to the fact that Ashbery's later book, The Double Dream of Spring, published some 14 years later, continues the obscurity trend, although it does also contain some poems that are more easily ingested.
From "John Clare":
I say this because there is an uneasiness in things just now. Waiting for something to be over before you are forced to notice it. The pollarded trees scarcely bucking the wind-- and yet it's keen, it makes you fall over. Clabbered sky. Seasons that pass with a rush. After all it's their time too-- nothing says they aren't to make something of it.
There is an uneasiness in things just now... That's certainly a line I can relate to in the current political climate, when I'm almost afraid to simply open links to CNN.com or NYTimes.com anymore.
Ashbery is widely viewed as a genius, not because he's so difficult, but because he freed the written line from academic constraints in a move mirroring abstract expressionism in painting. His unique style has brought out the copycats by the scores-- imitators writing poetry difficult to understand, poetry filled with both high-falutin' allusions to things like "eidolon" and to pop culture as well. But always at the heart of an Ashbery poem is a connecting thread of good, sound sense, a desire not to impose a false sense of order over a chaotic, ever-changing world.
I like best Ashbery's take on his own work, in an essay in he which he comments on Borges as well:
‘Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces molded by time, certain twilights in certain places—all these are trying to tell us something, or have told us something we should not have missed or about to tell us something. The imminence of the revelation that is not yet produced is, perhaps, the aesthetic reality.’ The imminence of a revelation not yet produced is very important and hard to define in poetry and probably is the source of some of the difficulty with my own poems. But I don’t think it would serve any useful purpose to spare myself or the reader the difficulty of that imminence, of always being on the edge of things.
This entire blog is devoted really to the sense in that line alone: to the idea of opening a space in your life that will allow for the imminence of a revelation, to being on the edge of things in order to leave the old behind, to make something new, something that will, I hope, with grace, courage, be better.
Sustainable Outfit Details:
Blouse from Greene Street Consignment in Chestnut Hill. Sandals by sustainable designer Swedish Hasbeens-- their company is all about fair labor practices and they use vegetable dyes on their leather! Crossbody bag from Tradesy-- an online secondhand site for clothing, shoes, and purses. Brass necklace from Second Time Around in Center City, Philadelphia. You can also shop their feed on their Instagram page @2taPhilly. Happy hunting!
French-American dual citizen on a green journey, making a Paris out of Philly or a Philly out of Paris, depending on the day.