Frank O’Hara, Collected Poems
(Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1995)
Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection September 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001)
Frank O’Hara “How Roses get Black”, 3
• the poem seems to contain at least two anti-heroes, the violent “you”, bent on destruction of ornamentation against the modernity of the radiator, burning symbolist roses who also has some biblical precedence with reference to the burning bushes. Then the “I” who is the narrator and thus able to transform the “you” from Moses to John the Baptist by asking for the leonine head of the “you”. This “I” owns and creates the “you”, defining his heroism in the act of destruction which refers of course to the “you’s” act of destroying the roses in the first three stanzas. The line “Heros alone destroy, as I destroy” is straight out of “In Mem...”
• what is of issue here is the different manifestations of enunciation through pronominal versus nominal signification, Arthur versus the “you” roses assumed by the “I”. The subjective realm is here at odds with the objective which is wishes to destroy in order to create some kind of identity for itself, in this case an avant-garde identity of nihilism especially emphasised because of the use of roses as motif, cf. Baudelaire and the violent influx of modernity, radiators, lighter fluid etc. The loss of amusement due to reflection indicates that the tense is the present always, the power of the “I” to enunciate the “you” without whom however the “I” would not exist shows a much greater emphasis on the force of O’Hara’s persona here as opposed to the continuing elision of self one finds in the early Ashbery.
• the final couplet sets the isolated “you” at the beginning whilst previously the “I” was end word, interposed in the gap between then is poetry and poetry is ability to speak of things and not then to define them, which may be tantamount to destroying them, but to become them.
• the poem them is radical in its aggressive refusal to succumb to the laws of desire and enunciation, as well as to fulfil the role of the Orphic poet as namer, another reference to beheading which is occurring throughout the poem, “leonine head”, beheaded roses, “your head in tallow”, breathing, talking etc. which is in contradistinction to either basic symbolism, the rose, or the anti-symbolism of perhaps surrealism, burning the rose. Instead we have an aesthetic based on being and becoming, of aggressively denying and taking over the conditions of existence, the other as “you” and as external world.
Frank O’Hara “Oranges: 12 Pastorals”, 5-9
• obviously a few notes in reference to this, that is greatly influence Grace Hartigan, that is was originally 14 parts (is this true), that eight of the twelve originally had days of the month as titles. Its presence in “Why I am not...” and its co-presence with “Second Avenue” and “Easter” as exemplars of his early surrealistic style. It would be a good section therefore to take these three large poems from the early period and read them in detail with reference to each other? Then to move away entirely from a chronological ordering and merely deal with aspects of self???
• the poem juxtaposes beauty and filth in the manner in which “Easter” is composed of deaths and rebirths so this early configuration relies more on duality whilst a poem like “In Mem...abandons duality in favour of multiplicity. In this instance then the duality matches with the dualism of “How Roses Get Black”.
• according to my notes there are a number of motifs running through the piece:
-epithets (not surrealistically used)
-flowers (Rimbaud again)
-circles (Pastoral theme)
-water (Modernist symbolism, Pastoral)
-monosyllables (rhythmical units)
-verbs of violence
-hands/faces (again the Orphic)
-he/she lover (not yet full homosexuality)
• it is worth noting that a number of these motifs are held in common with Ashbery’s work and that this may be an earlier, richer version of the poems held in “The Tennis Court Oath”, also the import of the pastoral, rural, childhood realm which is prevalent in birth as they shared similar rural, small town upbringings.
• section 1: the prose paragraphs, inherited from Rimbaud, present fairly strict narrative units across which the motifs do not cross quite as one might expect. Thus sentence one is descriptive, sentence two the story of Tess, sentence three again descriptive, sentence four returns to Tess, now as Ophelia. Sentence five then is an apostrophe to the pastoral force as force of destruction rather than regeneration.
• section 2 (November): the “I” is introduced here into the narrative of Tess, now beneath the sea in sentence 1, this carries on the theme of aborted birth, circles and colours. Sentence 2 introduces an early O’Hara archetype, the god of Pan, “god of the attainable and always perfecting fruit.” This may be a homotextual version of the anti-pastoral with fruit here being the “perversity” of being a fruit which contravenes the so-called natural laws of reproduction and birth that the pastoral celebrates. Here the “I becomes Hamlet at the end and again the section ends with water as source oblivion rather than rebirth.
• section 3 (February): The longer paragraphs here give way to much shorter lines. Sentence 1 sounds a lot like The Wasteland, and retains the dual structures which predominate here, fire/water. The motif of this section is speech, the Orphic, which here is screaming or quietened or from the mouths of beasts. The association with shit and repose also refers to the ground or the “earthy” humour of the piece, water on the other hand is process. Both however lead to death.
• section 4 (March): again speech, here in writing however is the transformations of sense the poem aims at in phrases such as “a week is seen one day to be a weed!”. Again this relates to Ashbery but here is made explicit, that language contains the traces of its other which relates to a basic duality here which is a little structural, but which becomes multiple later and thus post-structural. It also relates directly to the pastoral/anti-pastoral in that in each element of birth there must be death also. However here week and weed are not opposites but show how the symbolic becomes disseminated into the merely metonymic, week becomes weed due not to associative transformation but due to the contiguity of the final consonant. Note however how the internal vowels and consonants between week and weed show a process of gradual transformation.
• sentence 2-3: the broken vase relates again to the destruction of ornamentation and possibly to Keats, here the “you” comes in and note the relinquishing of agency here as it is the lungs which speak not the speaking subject, hinting at the systematic aspect of language. Sentence 4 again associates water with death, but note here the conflation of earth and water, “let me get underneath” which is in keeping with the idea of metonymic transformations. In these sentences we get a reiteration of motifs, and the drama of the fragmented rhythms of the penultimate sentence which approaches coherence by making a narrative of aspects of the motifs, is then undermined by the final sentence which gives up on the water and turns instead back to breath/animals. It would seem then that poetry here or speech in general is the result not of civilisation but of system and animalistic urges. The lizards later become snakes of course.
• section 5: Sentence 1 introduces another myth, that of Prometheus, who is the poet in defiance. This mythological narrative, much more in keeping with the pastoral, is undermined by sentence 3-4 with the narrative of Bellini who is becoming the pastoral scene. The final two sentences put forward a potential for coherence: first the implications of the anti-pastoral, and second a summary of our modern fate: the mountain of Prometheus, the implications of flesh, existential loathing, the urge to continue which is futurity I guess.
• section 6 (July): Begins at last with a lover’s discourse but enlightenment is restricted. We seem to be in a kind of a childhood playroom. The first half is an idyllic childhood romance, ruined by the rape aspect of sentence 6. Sentence 7 juxtaposes the city versus the country, here favouring the rural, the bush is right out of Ashbery. This is the key central section linking the anti-pastoral motifs with the onset of sexuality, not it is interesting that this should occur in patriotic July.
• section 7 (June): sentence 1 brilliantly associates the empty sun with the coin in a coupling of motifs which is incredibly Derridean. Here, the coin, which is of course language for the poet, is sick and blue. Sentence 2 juxtaposes airy Orpheus with earthy Pan, the two forces from which he is forging his coin, in sentence 3 he is going through a series of metamorphoses which is reminiscent of Ovid but also of The Tempest. The last sentence revives the sun and instead of the coin we have the mirror which is a different economic system altogether which rebounds the self back on the self rather than spending it on others.
• section 8: (May): sentence 1 shows the loss of feminine sexuality. Sentence 2 sets him up as a Whitmanic Orphic poet with the absent she being Eurydice then but also the absent she of homosexual love. This section then uses Pan as a kind of anti-Orpheus aiming at destroying the romantic love ideal and its associations with the pastoral. The feminine principle is mocked, transformed and killed, whilst male fertility is celebrated. The final dance is that of the traditional pastoral masque.
• section 9 (August): Again a return to love lyric, again in a rural/pastoral setting here the spermy sweat. Note how here the mythic love gives way to the quotidian at the end, and early indicator of later style. The last sentence is more in keeping with traditional conceptions of enunciation and desire.
• section 10: Here the feminine is retained but problematised as sexual union becomes increasingly contra to the purpose of procreation and the beautiful. Note the early familial conflation: soul of 1st cousin = my soul, yet “you are the soul” also. Thus the I in this passage is: monster, brother, lover, woman, half-sister, you, us, 1st cousin, me, Alice. This again is an early multiplicity of self through the contiguity of the personas and the word soul, the soul in the poem is not a symbolic node then but rather an occasion and a location wherein subjectivity can be problematised.
• section 11: shift from a pagan to a more Christian world. This is the longest section with the longest sentence. The dead king is obvious, the jewels come from Rimbaud again. Note then that after the multiple soul of the pagan world, we return to the trinity of the Christian soul. Sentence 4-9 is an early version of the later myth of poet/self who is creative and in the process of being created, but is also threatened directly by death due to this self-as-representation i.e. here the “doll”, the doll is also a symbol of the feminine and perhaps false or childish sexuality which is put to death here. Ophelia and Tess then have been reduced from cultural icons to toys.
• section 12: Taxonomic beginning, the “symbols” which are not symbolic contain the world of erection and destruction which is symbolic/erotic potential and textual disappointment. Sentence 5 locates the world and poem as one. Sentence a satanic mockery of Ophelia’s death and the final sentence mocks the idea of historic time by the encryption of posterior in “O my posterity!” the redemption through filth then is the concluding topos of the anti-pastoral, I can use all my pastoral theory at this point to open up this trope.
• excellent poem then to show the self conveyed through the process of the allegorical and its relation to pastoral via Benjamin.
Frank O’Hara “Autobiographia Literaria”, 11
• a good contrast to “Oranges” it is also a good point of contrast to really autobiographical poems such as “Ode to Michael Goldberg” again theoretically this fits in to the work of de Man on autobiography. Note the childish nature of the piece and the diction, the myth of the alienated poet is contravened at the end by a Stevenseque sense of wonder of self as poet. This alienated self is directly contrastive to the multiple self of “Oranges” which is a much more mature work although the critics prefer this version of self for obvious reasons. Self as poetic centre is later to be problematised as his conception of poetry as active process akin to being is developed in relation to AbEx. Note that “Melmouth the Wanderer” 10-11 is another early version of self as alienated, a self that will later be dropped.
Frank O’Hara “Today”, 15
• mentioned by Koch in relation to the appearance of elements never before seen in poetry this can link into the taxonomic aspects of Ashbery for here we do not have the all inclusive lines of Whitman nor the long lists of Ashbery suggesting that this selection of objects is a privileged one. I think it would be good to read this poem directly in relation to Lowell’s “My Father’s Bedroom”. Here the privileging of the objects is as in Lowell directly dictated by a time period, not that of the deep, Freudian historic past but of the now and of today.
• stanza 1: the opening exclamation marks a non-significant aspect of his poetic language as a speech act, exclamation, and also the tendency towards reduction to syllabic work such as in the earlier “The Drummer” 12, where the poem is dominated by internal syllabic coincidences, and in “Oranges” where the monosyllabic has an important role. This could indicate a basic avant-garde asceticism to go along with the surreal exuberance which marks Ashbery’s avant-garde phase also, a kind of luxury of asceticism. The opening list has no possible internal motivation, as in Whitman’s and Ashbery, but is entirely coherent as simply a list of three things which are beautiful. The second list, a list of four items, however begins motivation towards pill-sized and shaped items which extends back into the previous list. In fact the tow lists are limited by three lexical groupings: pill-sized items, Americana, aleatory. The reduction of this to stuff and the irony that they, poets, have never talked about these things adds a certain ironic tinge to these items, making them more important than otherwise. Thus their semantic charge comes not form signification but from their role within poetry.
• stanza 2: here the homily of the ending ruins the poem. He makes a bid for the local and particular even with the profound topologies of serious poetry, “beachheads and biers”, stressing the semantic charge. The fact that they are important because they have meaning not because he uses them shows the role of the subject as centre of meaning is not yet established here. The final idea of meaning coming from their rock-like stability is disappointing and very WCW, but this is his early period.
Frank O’Hara “Memorial Day 1950”, 17-18
• beginning of date specific poems, the critics read this as a kind of elegy to his avant-garde influences and is particularly political in it turns to Europe on an American holiday.
• stanza 1: the first line is a nice inversion suggesting the pre-eminence of the poet here with the world relegated to an after thought and predicated on the subject. Note here again as in “Oranges” the association with creation and destruction.
• stanza 2: here he seems to be rejecting the inclusiveness of poems such as “Oranges” but he does not abandon them. Perhaps the problem was with the choice of things temporally as “last things” which again suggests that like Lowell, objects for O'Hara are temporally located. The rejection of art-as-dictionary is a rejection of poet as namer which will be dropped in favour of poet not as maker but as poem itself.
• stanza 3: here the mix of early influences is discussed from the profound challenge of Guernica, ignored at this point, to the more traditional influences of stones, sea and heroism. The destruction of the blue guitar is both a reference to Stevens and to Picasso.
• stanza 4: thinking with bare hands establishes still further the vital importance of hand-eye metonymy in the work of the New York School as here is directly relates to the gestural aesthetics and later I guess the whole body based aesthetics of AbEx. Blood on hands is an element of Pollock’s Number 1, 1948. The topographical certainty is rich in associative power, “we knew vertical from horizontal” perhaps a good section heading. Relation here between Dada and AbEx is the much more constructive nature of AbEX, note here the stanza ends with new objects which are much more modern and American than the blue guitar and the paint, chewing gum and flowers.
• stanza 5: The role of poetry here seems directly related to the avoidance of death associated here rather misogynistically with the woman-as-dolls of “Oranges” which is also a symbol of artificiality I guess.
• stanza 6: rejection of dream narration in favour of eroticism, yet the primacy of love is straight out of Breton. Confluence of sewage and sea relates directly to “Oranges”, and in contrast to these eternal images, the planes are the influx of modernity and futurism. Thus we have pan-European visions and the concluding association of poetry with the utility of a machine.
• stanza 7: critic sees this as a post-modern re-constitution of avant-garde masters. Of additional interest is the relating of naming to making, naming here is intentionality so is increasingly moving towards the subject as central.
Frank O’Hara “A Pleasant Thought from Whitehead”, 23-4
• Perloff notes that Whitehead is an organicist philosopher.
• stanza 1: begins as an I do this poem but also to a degree a kind of mock philosopher’s discourse beginning with positivist particulars. The appearance of the pelican of course relates to Whitehead’s conception of the relation between man and animals.
• stanza 2: here the lines relating reader to poet are significant for the way in which “my” frames the reader and the “you” again emphasising the importance O'Hara places on his own self in relation to the other. This also refers generally to the economy of gazing in American poetics from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” through to “Self-Portrait...” Here the gaze of eye metonym is important as it is also and early form of Personism where the poem gets transported as a kind of image retained on the retina. However here there is a wider distribution for just as the pelican carries the poems out into the realm of the other, so the other/lover is watched over by stars, another version of silver eyes here, and thus communicate them on to a friend. Here we have early Personism but the modern contraption of the phone is replaced by more quirky symbolist means of communication.
• stanza 3: here we have a kind of coda for this process with eyes equalling poems equalling all poems. Thus the organicist, neo-Bergsonian philosophy if referred to via Whitehead.
Frank O’Hara “A Note to John Ashbery”, 33
• interesting poem addressed to Ashbery in that it contains simply a plethora of unusual nouns taken from flora and fauna in a manner very different to Ashbery yet it does hit on the taxonomic word-measures he was to move into during this decade. This is essentially a musical poem with animals plus metonymic motifs combing to make it into poem unit. Typical example of the metonymic action of his poetry as a whole or at least his anti-symbolism.
• perhaps a good piece to return to to look at these transformational systems such as “Anyway we crane over the wave gawk / pleasantly and make a scaly leg” where basic narrative, we look over and make a leg, is transformed both by metonymic networks and sonic involution, “leg gawk” “pleasantly leg”. The whole poem works in this tripartite dynamism then:
1. narrative: your poetry is like this, it does this, and so we will
2. metonymic networks: held in check by the predominance of tropical motifs, animals, traditional symbols (sun, tree), note the circles of “green-ringed”, “roll”, “nooses”, “hoop”, “around our neck”, “sun”, “mangoes”, “tub”, “Fords (wheels?)”, “rosary”, “belly-button”.
3. sonic involution: for example “ford” comes from “tub of frogs” and the predominance of d in the following line
Frank O’Hara “Poem (All the mirrors in the world)”, 39
• opening sentence is staggered over three stanzas of non-rhyming couplets beginning an early push and pull based on the thoughts expressive size versus the constrictions of poetic design and form.
• stanza 1-3: here we have a double system of self-reflection which is in keeping with the doubling of the stanzas here, that of the basic specula self and another form of this which is self emerging within a multiple, articulated and highly desiccated system as rain, self here also associated with natural process and as centre of whole world.
• stanza 3-6: seems sentences last 3 stanzas but overlap. Here the shift is from self reflection in mirror/rain to the formation of self through childhood. Now the mode of reproduction of self becomes shadow, shadow and later memory, and a third person is needed as mediator as poet cannot face up his own self here. Note here the rain becomes water and the mirror shadow.
• stanza 6-10: now the modern mirrors seem those of bars, possibly gay bars, where self looks for being through the reflection of it in others yet this kind of public dissemination of self, literally, is preferred to the secrecy of childhood sexuality.
• stanza 11-12: nice simple conclusion, the elongations of innocence are complex but seem the continuation of the child in the man with the rain and mirror forming a duality of possible self-destruction. Thus this early sense of self as composed of self-reflection, dissemination and childhood scenes is the basic model of self that the later poems militate against.
Frank O’Hara “Poem (Although I am a half hour)”, 39-40
• stanza 1: early I do this love poem. The first line is interesting for it uses American syntax plus enjambment to transform the poet from person to time segment with none of the tricks of the so-called “surreal” pieces. It is a simple but effective conceit conveying the totality of being contained within this time segment which is both empty as the poet has missed his lover, and full for this gap or non-meeting is enough to open up the gap of poetry which is also that of Personism i.e. to look at the phone analogy from the other perspective not as a replacement for poetry but because the beloved is absent and so must be reached out to in some fashion. The final irony being that he is early not late. The colon reduces the lost beloved to the metonymic signifiers of keys-table-toilet which is more in keeping with the Lowell piece.
• stanza 2: again time here is used, reduced from half an hour to a minute, and also the use of ordinary syntax to decentre sense here so one gets the sense of a minute and a leave taking but the interrogative adds a sense of confusion, loss, and also that this minute would never have been enough.
• stanza 3: the connections relate simultaneously to the infra-structure of the city, the connection of lovers and of sentences themselves. As is now common here there is again an undermining of assumptions as the lover says goodbye by promised to stay with poet, reflecting the ability of language to simply say what is not.
• stanza 4: centre stanza it is also central. The running on of lines is halted and the stanza unit is as isolated from other units as poet himself. Another specular image, this time of the window reflecting and again the ironic aspects predominate as the mirror should be to look through but instead it reflects and also is transformed into the page which becomes a scene of reflection, representation, but also enlightenment.
• stanza 5: need a name for this language usage here of “pick up the dirty room”. He is taking the whole for the parts, that is it is what is in the room that makes is dirty, not the room itself yet the room becomes what is in it at that time just as the window becomes a mirror.
• stanza 6-7: again the window simply does not work, see “I heard a fly buzz...”, here syntactic order is not a means of communicating similar ideas but of temporally and spatially framing the event, thus each sentence if grammatical but the whole is fully articulated by what is missing from them which is simultaneously a sense of ordering and the lost beloved.
Frank O’Hara “Poem (Let’s take a walk, you)”, 41-2
• the dropped foot stanzaic form is used to effect here just as the quatrains are used above to convey the sense of the process which the poet is going through, first of the parcelling up of time into units which are both significant, half hours, minutes, and insignificant, today tonight it is all the same. Here the after thought or dropping down etc. is used in a variety of ways: mimetically as toes and guttering, as a mode of emphasis in the reference to blood, as point of launching an ellipse, and finally to end on an isolated yet related emotional beat.
• stanza 1-2: a flaneur, city poem the water becomes transformed from gutter water to blood then to open sea in stanzas 3-4.
• the poem then is not peripatetic but a series of halted and potential journeys with the feet being reduce to toes so that total metrics if pulled down to a level of just sticking your toes out into it as into a cold sea. Quite clever actually.
Frank O’Hara “Poem (The stars are tighter)”, 43-44
• note the crypt-word “brighter” in the first line.
• significant early prototype for “Into the Dusk Charged Air” the poem works in a quite complicated fashion to configure its simple groupings of elements:
1. locations#1, proper names: New Hamphsire, New Guinea, Key West, Race Point, Long Beach, Philippines, Jereboam
2. locations#2, spatiality: stars, deeper, property, hang over, out over, a cloud, on waves, sunset, in the, can be everywhere, even where we go, I aboard, you in a, all bearings
3. locations#3, things: stars, property, earrings, your wash, a cloud, knives on waves, Ferris wheel, sunset, mud, thumb, sky, white regatta
4. remainders: colours, processes (rain), similes, generalities (alcohol), verb to be, exclamation (oh)
• the sky, which is the symbol of space, can be everywhere then in the poem that is everything can be reconfigured in spatial terms. In a sense this is a little more complex and ambitious than Ashbery’s version as he is not content here to list nouns in relation to a limited system of verbal actions, but he wants to transform all elements into the basic metonymic aspect of the sky i.e. its spatiality, so even those points in the poem which are not locations become locations, that is objects become the space they occupy textually and in the realm of the real, whilst even those points which are not relating to topographical categories, stand out as locations of non-topography.
• there is a double verb action here, verbs of being and identity and verbs of motion: tighter, deeper, hang, flash, pump.
Frank O’Hara “A City Winter”, 75-77
• it is actually a series of 5 sonnets with differing stanzaic breaks either after 8 lines or not at all, and with the use of indented final couplet in some but not all. Finished probably in the winter of 1952.
• sonnet 1: sets up a dialogue between elements of rationality and bureaucracy, and the emotive world in a manner again very similar to early Ashbery ending in a simple erotic underpinning of the traditional rationality/emotion dichotomy
• sonnet 2: here there is a basic figure of the ship from sonnet 1, “blood-sunk triremes”, there is a tripartite elements here of the gutter/sea motif from “Poem (Lets take a walk, you) combined with a somatic/sexual motif carried on from concluding couplet of previous section and the ship itself. The ship is also the body by association, and relates to the gutter mentonymically but the ship/body allows for the figurative work here to all operate in a metonymic rather than symbolic fashion though with the retention of the symbolic aspects of ship/water/body.
• sonnet 3: this sonnet then disperses cohesion in favour of a narrative coherence based around I/self-loathing and sexual love. However there is a series of motifs of horizontal elements: highway, worm, lay, rainbow, spoon, tongue, blood (arteries), which becomes vertical, “eaten up, gobbled down”, volcano, flames, flowers, the chalice, ending in a turn pike. Sexual love here then is not dealt with thematically but transformed through the imagery into number of forces from drugs, through road journeys to explosions and the holy.
• sonnet 4: carries on motif of eye from 3. Here the journey is taken up again but now through a forest, the final couplets move his conception of love closer to that in “In Mem...” in that the subject is divided, “and to me! I run!”, and the power of love to kill. Death and love are heavily associated here but in much more fraught imagery than later when it seems a more conception of the process of elegy and love.
• sonnet 5: ends then in a death by drowning from “Oranges” and The Wasteland, here the previous element of water is replaced by a kind of spermy/tears/speed/sea mix which brings together the richness of previous imagery into a water symbol which is so determined that surely it is a mixture beyond sustainability. Add into this the fact that the lake is frozen, and also that it becomes a mirror and it is an almost impossible motif. He then brings in blood (red), then stresses the whiteness and moves thus onto Moby Dick. In stanza 2 it becomes then snow but the final coda again returns to the divided self here synechdochically the heart and the eye which perhaps could relate back to the initial emotion/rationality split: “hidden city, white / swan”??
these sonnets then set up an incredibly rich but also limited field of activity around the event of sexual desire and its effect on the subject. They seem not to be of the present-tense nature of the later poems but what he is effectively doing here is performing his sexuality and love within one kind of textual unit, which he later drops in favour on more post-modern versions. There is no theme here nor any symbolic work, only theme and symbol operating in a transformational manner within the allegorical spatialities of the poem.
Frank O’Hara “Easter”, 96-100
• a work of basic duality, birth and death, the institution of theme does not occur effectively until the declaration “strangely here features are Easter”, p.99, which of course works cataphorically to reinstate and distribute the implications of the title within the body of the poem, this line then subsists midway between cataphoric confirmation of the titular proscription, and an anaphoric repetition of this within the remainder of the poem. It exists thus in a temporal zone between two vital forms of textual repetition: a past tense that is for all intents and purposes a finding of what is new in what already has been, and a future tense where what will be discovered in the future will be merely a confirmation of current expectations. This element of repetition is conveyed in the regularity of the anapaests here and the repetition of e, a, s, and t in the line.
• Further, the duality of repetition fits in with the theme of birth/death for the cataphoric/anaphoric impetus is, according to the law of poeticity, both a thematic birth for the poem, it allows us to ascertain what the poem is about, and a formal death for the poem, it moves it from the realm of a progressive to a regressive dynamism. In this sense the dynamic of such a text is that which paradoxically moves towards semantic coherence and at this point dies as a progressive text, whilst simultaneously confounding coherence and thus dying semantically but living formally.
• like all these poems and following the taxonomic/paratactic impetus to be found in Ashbery also, there is a limited number of fully distributed motifs:
• what needs to be done here is to situate these motifs in relation to a number of aspects:
1. the intertextuality of the motif distribution
2. the nature of the motif and the movement between symbolic and surrealistic that these quasi metonyms provide
3. the semantic coherence they provide when presented thus
4. their textual distribution and rhythms
5. their relation to the laws of cataphora and anaphora and how this sets up taxonomic and paratactic poetics
• section 1 (96-7): the opening couplet immediately conveys the doubling that is going to be the basis of the poem unit as a whole and will not only dictate its taxonomic/paratactic distributions, but also in effect defines the point of decollation via the future anterior of the event of this i.e. by saying this will be doubled. Thus we have the double “razzle dazzle”; doubling of consonants and vowels, zz, gg, mm, tt, oo; repetition of consonants and vowels, a, i, and t; and the double of balanced clauses of the lines with the first clausal disruption of this coming in the second to last line, “it’s the night like I love it all cruisy and nelly”. Throughout these balanced clauses, reminiscent of Pope’s antithetical couplets and the alliterative tradition of The Seafarer, are dominant.
• the lexicon here is rich, but delimited so that what at first seems surreal later comes to be redistributed as music as in Ashbery, with each element pulled into cohesion to such a degree that any elements which do not “fit”, cohere as representatives of the necessarily aleatory. “Maggots” refer to dead flesh and have the double gg, they are “razzle dazzle” for the music of it but also in keeping with the mot-themes of light, the tattooing again has a musical presence but also establishes a series of penetrations: “perforated mountains”, “fucked”, “bleeding”. The mountain and city refer to Golgotha and Jerusalem, they are “glassy” reference light, the “filigree” echoes the patterning of the tattoo, the blood is obviously the passion, the chaste bird contrasts to the fucking yaks, “the boulevard of falling stars” re-calls the city, Christ’s passage and the heavens also, the following two lines reflect this in symbolic fashion, then the I appears in the discourse of camp and the night which was the night of death, now becomes the night for cruising and sex adding an erotic charge to the f’s and the sleeps.
• it is phrase measured and internally each phrase is articulated in a dual manner but the paratactic accumulation is held within sentence units conveying some basic sense of semantic coherence based simply on dividing one group of phrases from another suggesting internal identity and external difference.
• section 2, 97: the second line here indicates how he has moved on from the surreal into the metonymic: “like a mattress’s teeth brushed by love’s bristling sun” is a compound surreal image. The use of “like” or “as” always takes the image closer to the allegorical for metaphor suggests much more identity and synthesis whereas simile exists often because of this basic contiguity a is like b. The mattress’s teeth comes from nowhere, however immediately it can be seen to be musical due to the doubling, and the distribution of teeth anaphorically, and beds cataphorically (“sleeps”, “night”), still the basic juxtaposition is surreal, however then the image develops due to metonymic association: teeth can be brushed. The final image of love’s sun fits as the sun is symbolically easily associated with love just as love is metonymically associated with beds, but the bristles comes internally from the initial surreal association. The image then consists of a surreal/symbolic/metonymic interchange.
• the use of basic taxonomy exists in this passage also: “the gardens of the sea’s come / a mast of the barcatine lost flaming bearer of hurricanes / a hardon a sequoia a toilet tissue / a reject of poor people.” The initial image relates cataphorically back to previous narrative of water and sex, and the mast of the second works both anaphorically and cataphorically referring to the “come” and the “sea” but also to the “hardon”. The final triptych then is a totally motivated list as the hardon refers all over and directly laterally to “toilet tissue” and the “sequoia” is a tree from the west of America relating to the mast.
• I would say then that this is enough to demonstrate the basic system of these types of poems:
1. the musicality
2. the motif based cohesion operating cataphorically and anaphorically in relation to the original titular proscription
3. the tripartite system of imagery: symbolic/metonymic/surreal
4. the use of motivated taxonomy
5. the means by which the rhythm of all of this establishes cohesion with the paratactic construction
6. the individual instances of the mode of decollation, here the doubling up of birth and death imagery, begins with maggots and ends on breath.
• the basic questions remain how does one get from section to section, what is the status of each section, and how does one come to end the poem. The final question has particular relevance here as the poems basic dynamism is between life and death as in “Oranges” is was between the pastoral and the anti-pastoral, and essentially there is no resolution to this cycle.
• section 3, 97-8: is short and adds little except to extend the sea narrative
• section 4, 98: continues with the sea motif and is less dense much more taxonomic in a basic sense of simply listing things
• section 5, 98: the narrative here becomes feminised and more urban, opening up a new motif of figures of authority very similar to those on TCO, thus we have sultans, popes, mystics, officers, pilots.
• section 6, 98-99: now in a feminine forest, it is useful to note that “Easter” is also feminine here though the symbolism is strictly Christian and also weirdly Whitmanic. Here the ship seems to emerge into a basic symbolism, “And the ship shoves off into the heady oceans of love / whose limpidity is the exile of the self”.
• section 7, 99: again a short section this is predominated by motifs of sound.
• section 8, 99-100: opening line combines the extremes of racism, sexual desire, repetition and music suggesting these are all combined to create the poets sexuality. Here we have the only indented line and the conclusion in a biblical flood and the simple ending of a breath. The conclusion then is masterful really, the obscenity of the flood of words is arrested “like a breath” i.e. the poem ends as if it were just one breath and it is over. The breath/expressive sense of this is Orphic but it also destabilises the poem’s density suggesting it was just a breath and obviously this relates directly to the themes of birth and death for life is like a breath. The poem ends on a note of suspension, breathing in again, and yet it is a terminal suspension as it is also death.