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John Ashbery, The Tennis Court Oath

John Ashbery, The Tennis Court Oath
(Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1962)

Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection March-April 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001)

General Notes: Shoptaw

· Shoptaw includes an Ash. quote which explains away the nature of this poem as a description of leaving the Atocha Station:
“It strikes me that the dislocated, incoherent fragments of images which make up the movement of the poem are probably like the experience you get from a train pulling out of a station of no particular significance. The dirt, the noises, the sliding away seem to be a movement in the poem. The poem was probably trying to express that, not for itself but as an epitome of something experienced; I think that is what my poems are about” (cf. A. Poulin Jr., “John Ashbery,” The Michigan Quarterly Review 20.3 (1981)).
· yet he notes it is not the collage of automatism and Dada, nor is it such an exception to the poetic practice of ST, with a number of poems being able to be put in ST, only now the horror (cf. Artaud) can be more openly expressed, notes also the influence of painting (cf. Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell [AbEx], Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns [collagists and assemblagists] Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher [gestural realists].
· the influence of painting is apparent in the title which refers to Jacques-Louis David’s painting of the French Revolution The Oath of the Tennis Court (1791), one study of which has a few painted heads on nude bodies, whose unfinished nature resembled the purposely erased and unfinished works of de Kooning and Rivers.
· locates influence in his exhibition notes “The New Realist”, a trend “making use of the qualities of manufactured objects” (in this case language).
· notes the term New York School, was originally coined as an opposition to the Black Mountain poets, except the NYS had no school, poetics or manifesto, their only real point of fusion coming from their collaborative work (cf. Locus Solus).
· also cites a passage from unpublished Ash. piece on Reverdy, “A Note on Pierre Reverdy”:
“Though all rules were seemingly abolished, the poets were careful to observe the rules of grammar and syntax: “Take care,” wrote Breton. “I know the meaning of each of my words and I observe syntax naturally: syntax is not a discipline, as certain oafs believe.” But does one always observe these rules when one is writing automatically? If one corrects a poem after writing it, doesn’t one happen automatically on the correction? The discipline as it was practised by the surrealists seems arbitrary and sterile.” (50).
· notes also through Ash. translations of Reverdy, his influence on the disjunctions of this verse Ash, likens to “novels compressed into a tiny space by some superhuman force” (50-51), also influence of contemporary French poets (Roche, Pleynet, Martory), also Gertrude Stein (cf. “The Impossible”).

“The Tennis Court Oath”, 11-12

· very much the accentuation of the practice of ST, firstly heightened by the removal of punctuation and of the formalist restrictions which held the disjunctions together. Yet prosody and the thetic, is replaced merely by prose and painting here, and throughout. We have paradigms of prose narratives, combined in paradigms of now established avant-garde compositional techniques of collage, action painting, incompletion etc.
· the influence of Reverdy is clear also, (a whole novel compressed into a few lines by some superhuman force.) The emphasis is still, therefore, on narrative.
· five “stanzas”, they are more divisions than stanzas. The lack of punctuation introduces a problem with capitalisation as some lines are, some are not, then any beginning with “I”, is held in between. Each stanza does not begin with a capital, nor is there any reason for determining length of line or stanza (2 syllables-32, 1 line-22), any progression is away from the elliptical style of the early sections to the rangy prose of the later, then contracted only to produce something akin to a couplet at the very end.
· like ST, there is a lexical means of reading that predominates Ash. work as a whole, here the interactions relate to:
-violence (Artaud and horror): title, bloodied, blotted, terrible breath, your fears, blood shifted, sharp edge (guillotine re. water beetle head), particular cry, pleading, darkness in the hole
-liquids: blood, water, breath (condensation), fog, drizzle (picking up weather), kettle, clouds (picking up the season), blood
-aesthetics: a terrible breath, stammered, you were breathing, “you dance/in the spring” (cf. W.C.W), lettering
-phonic doubles: blood, blotted, drizzle, stammered, worry, kettle, jabbered, lettering, also palatal “t’s” again, as well as “o” sounds in various guises
· of these only the violence is maintained into the poem’s end, and then only by implication of violence, fear and darkness. In a manner again typical of later Ash, a lexicon is picked up, allowing associations to develop into a second or third lexicon, then the original lexicon is dropped and a new lexicon followed through.
· there is collage, but it is “collage” of limited and pre-manufactured entities: topography (outside world, interior), negations (early precursor to language of indefinite), snippets of narrative/conversation, sonic involution (“to one in yon”, “were there there was”).
· the only real narrative is that of the tension between prosody and prose, and the movement towards an ending: the race—“there was no turning back” which is a symbol of prose, which interacts with the “breath” and the implication of decapitation.
· the conclusion however is more easily symbolic, referring, as Shoptaw notes generally, to The Wasteland: ref. to sexual union, darkness, the patient (of Prufrock?), the lilacs (renewal) vs. the darkness, the final phrase “glad he brought you” being an actual conclusion: we are going somewhere, we get there (a dark hole), we go home and we are glad.
· theoretically here should pick up the phrase as minimum unit, as well as the ready-made phrase, and the formalist tension between prose and poetry. It is an advancement on the limited experiments of ST, using prose as a release into a new style of later poetry, a process repeated later with TP leading to SPCM.

“They Dream Only of America”, 13

· Shoptaw notes it is one of his most anthologised poems and typifies what Ash. called his “intermediate” style of the time between ST and “Europe”. Generally seen as a “detective lyric” (63), which Perloff likens to an overheard conversation and Shoptaw sees its power less in juxtapositions than in what he calls misrepresentations.
· thus he sees the romantic “dream” as justified by the encrypted “to be lost in a crowd”, only the pillars of grass replace the people [and refer to Whitman of course], what then follows is a fugitive narrative of barns, night driving, and waiting for liberation. We expect representative substitutions, hiding from someone for example. All these misrepresentations add up to a cover-up by the omission a various aspects of otherwise familiar discourse and whilst the actual pieces can never be re-assembled, the genre is so familiar as to allow us to satisfactorily fill in the gaps.
· notes also biographical details...written before a planned return to America (Eden), and the pillars is a homotextual ref. to Whitman, but also Lot’s wife and thus the destruction of Sodom, sees the spermal “honey” and the phallic pillars, key, cigar as parodic but also find the names of Ash. and his lover Martory, in “And the murderer’s ash tray is more easily—”, thus “The utopian “American dream” here fantasizes a time and a place where gay lovers could come out of their violet cubes.” (66).
· concludes the poem holds, however, no inner answer, the search for liberation is ambiguous as liberation is also horror, the poem remains constructed then of detective, homotextual, autobiographical and utopian/political aspects that do not construct a representable discourse.
· is Shoptaw is right then we have here a new kind of discourse. His poetry is not without discursive qualities but, of course, the old divisions between form and theme no longer hold, nor is it enough to say the theme of the desire for anonymity and liberation matches the elliptical and freed-up style.
· the poem then is a love lyric, travelogue and though the detective discourse is apparent to a degree, Shoptaw shows it to be much more personal than that, and much more affecting.

“Thoughts of a Young Girl”, 14

· Shoptaw rightly notes the similarity of this to his earlier NY style, the story seemingly drawn from Rapunzel though the dwarf suggests confusion with Rumplestiltskin.
· poem consists to two disjointed sestets mirroring the narrative-commentary of ST and unlike “Le Livre...”, the comment is not on physical details but on the more transitory form of an epistle. Shoptaw admires the lightness of touch here but I just find it a little too cute.

“America”, 15-19

· foil to “They Dream...”, here the dream is real. An amazing poem there is a narrative sense and this sense of feeling of narration dominates these poems. We are in America dealing with certain issues of patriotism, sexuality, love, violence, landscape, all very political and very serious. We have two oceans and thus two continents: America (here) and later Europe. There is a basic sense of bureaucracy and the internal scenes (office, room, hall, apartment etc.), are policed by watchmen (janitors, sentries [reminiscent of ST]) whilst outside there is a sense of freedom which is patriotic by use of the stars of the flag. The flag is complex as we know it is crypt word to “fag”, it recalls the pink stripes of “The Tennis...”, as well as the ribbons which could be the yellow ribbons of war (Korea?), it is also the square shape which represents enclosure as opposed to the circularity of fruit, the disc, the bush.
· The dream of America is opened up here and it is as if one’s private realm (room-despair) is not free, yet the stars suggest a potential for a future freedom which would match Shoptaw’s analysis of “They Dream...”.
· Section 1: “piling upward” is the sorites method of composition here but also picks up the discourse on numbers, stones (cairns, buildings, the stars), much later becoming mush (Sec.4). The first two lines like the last two, can be read quite traditionally as the thematic summation say of Paterson or “Canto IV”, thus, “Piling upward/the fact the stars” opens up a debate of aspiration and building, but also of limitation in that fact is singular whilst stars are plural. Fact-stars being one major axis around which the poem operates. This section opens up a lexicon: business, bureaucracy (the office, facts, archives), interiors/exteriors (the door, the stars, the apartment), homosexual love (pear [fruit] tree, the bed, the genderless person), morsels (numbers, pebbles, stones, people, pills), violence/murder mystery) (the accident, the anarchist)
· Section 2: the ribbons over the pacific could refer to the war, later the other sea will therefore fully situate the continent. Here, we have quite an enclosed narrative of homosexual love, couplings of all sorts (morsels), and a sense of impending destruction through the fire, but into this there is hope by way of nature and light so that we get the sense of ambiguity Ash. must have experienced re. America at the time as both the promised land for him, he does return after all, and yet also a place of threat. The ending is very much again from The Wasteland, the same passage even, Part 1, ll.30-43. Takes us back to “The Tennis...”, adding a further political aspect, and suggesting some kind of renewal via romantic but also heterosexual love.
· Section 3: now threat and love are in conflict. We have public and private and the figure of superman becoming rather camp. Images of campness match those of nature and the round the bush sequence, the disc being a crypt word for “dick” or “discussion”? The janitor is not a malicious character but fears the intruder, i.e. change, sexuality. And yet change must come, “can’t keep inside”.
· Section 4: a sense of patriotism America is evoked here by superman, football, the flag, but also by its hypocrisy “Forbidden categorically/but admitted/beyond the cape”. The stars seem to represent then a utopian future which Ash. still believes in and the hall represents perhaps a midway point between hiding and revealing one’s unacceptable secrets.
· Section 5: perhaps this is “Europe” or is an other America. Things are of a smaller scale here “Tens of persons” and the vision is lost “blinded”. The image of the chain returns here, not as one of linkage but of collapse and perforation.. The scene of section 1 is returned to but seems more weary this time with the parked cars blocking the streets, the archives becoming just storage, and embrace is strangling. Yet he seeks for and finds an aspect of hope from the outside, a feather, of peace, an angel, not snow. Thus the ending again seems to summarise the poem which is about how America perhaps can aspire, through outside help, perhaps Europe or spirit?
· the poem is a major stylistic development from STANZA Lexicons, involuted rhyme, end words, articulation are all used, but almost naturally, not at all in the enclosed artificial formalism of a Sestina. It resembles a Sestina/Canzone mix, with certain key words recurring in a variety of settings that act as refrains. This gives cohesion, allows for associations to build up, but does not disallow the power of other phrases coming in also. Thus it has the machine of language but is open enough to allow the machine to be permanently breached by the glossolia of poetic language.

“Two Sonnets”, 20

· quite clear that there is a dual relationship here between ST, both in the articulated sonnet forms and then in the double articulation of having two sonnets.
· “Dido” means prank which relates associatively to “The Idiot” and is also encrypted into it.
· “Dido”: stanza one is a complex analysis of the body’s threat to itself and the desire for the bodies products to be conceived beyond self-reflexivity and probably reticence. Like, “Some Trees”, this has a paraphrasable meaning. This is undermined by part two which tells an urban story of lurid violence. Much is taken from America, but the simplicity of America gives away to a more decadent palette. One does get the feeling, because of the precedence of “America”, that perhaps the first stanza is inside and the second out, note the lines of stanza one are shorter, more pithy, and the vocabulary more direct.
· “The Idiot”: stanza one is a mock narrative of poetic/sexual alienation, ameliorated somewhat by the friendly “help” of sailors (cf. “In Mem...”). Again, similar to the fairytale narratives of STANZA
· obviously the two sonnets are related and refer to love, violence, alienation and bodily fluids, but the prank comes out as very serious, whilst the idiot is much more lucid. More a further articulation of ST, than anything, but “Dido” does add nicely to the themes of “America”.

“To Redouté”, 21

· a painter, reprinted from exhibition catalogue of Redouté’s flowers.
· three part interaction between the flowers themselves, the experience of seeing them, and the internal discourse of the collection (light, water, darkness, tears).
· very Symbolist, it describes the process of seeing/being I feel, with the shapes, colours, experiences taking on a logic of their own that is, however, occluded from us.
· poem oscillates between the experience of seeing and the transcendence it affords (the light), the conclusion being a discourse on the sublime: “It grieves for what it gives/Tears that streak the dusty firmament”.

“Night”, 22-24

· the similarities to “America” and “The Tennis” are here but it is much less interesting as it does resemble merely a collage of ready manufactured phrases put together not at random but following an encrypted narration of mystery and growing up.
· stanza one: despair “boots” on the gold again picking up the despair/hope dichotomy of these poems. It’s his birthday (bildungsroman).
· stanza two: adolescence, growing up matched by flowers, couriting eventually they move away.
· stanza three: in retrosepect of the “detritus” of passed years. Again picks up sides and the detective women seem to be in search of the significance of the pastanza
· stanza three: split by an ellipse, re; euqivalences, the narration is arrested and a series of non-sequitors tells a contemporary narration perhaps of current sensations.
· stanza four: a kind of rural homestead, note the rustic misuse of was, seems like there are two characters catching up on news of the pastanza
· stanza five: contemporary, urban setting, similar to O’Hara and Schuyler’s New York, the diverse sensations are immediate, relflexive and also the beginnig of new strands thus the stanza ends back in a watery, rural setting relating back to a rural childhood.
· stanza six: fishing takes the place of detective work and water becomes the predominant symbol again! Night, darkness, is seeping in, thus death here is much less melodramatic than at the beginning, but some how more insistent.
· stanza seven: back to the bidungsroman, “we were growing away from all that”, the pool becoming stasis. Ends in a moment of pasue between the house, interior, and the rural. Is it too outlandish to associate the rural with the innocence of his youth and the house as the sophistication of his adult sexuality? The fly is for fishing of course, the kids perhaps those of a childhood sweetheart his homosexuality disallowing him such domestic settings.
· more narratology than prosody, uses lexical groupings but it is more demotic, more open, relating more to styles that will come later perhaps?

“How much longer will I be able to Inhabit the Divine Sepulcher...”, 25-27

· Shoptaw sees it in partnership with “Our Youth”, seeing though as a rambling anthology of all Ashbery styles up to this point. Written June 1957, it explores a basic “relational system of surface and depth, and “buried past”, in a number of styles: overblown metaphor, balladic lament, novelistic realism, pop surrealism, practical philosophy, cinematic sincerity, collagist disjunctions and a proverbial, pastoral narrative.
“This articulation of the parallel spaces of public and private life will underpin much of Ashbery’s later poetry...” (69).
· there are two levels then, narrative and associational, cutting across each other and yet also motivating the poem to a type of cohesion.
1. Narrative: the sepulcher as security—breached by light—the sepulcher becomes us in biography, history (2 types)—then have a post-sepulcher world where uncertainty leads to panic—now we have to live it all again post-sepulcher
2. Associative: 3 types:
-natural images of regeneration, grounding, paralysis, or in interaction with light or sometimes through non-logical combinations
-3 uses of natural imagery e.g. stanza 2, rock = security interacts with light leaving moss?
· there is a tripartite use of words:
1. as symbols
2. as points of interaction
3. merely as words/material
· woven into this are poetic voice statements, authorial speech acts of different tone and status: narrative, descriptive, reflective, imagistic
· we do have a number of exemplary coda, a common tactic also generally, thus here we have: “darkness interrupts my story/Turn on the light” and “Because what does anything mean//The ivy and the sand” which bring in the two main elements of the poem:
-darkness vs. light
-plants vs. rock
· these are returned to and encased within the two sepulchers: the divine sepulcher and the long sepulcher that hid death.
· all this could give us a kind of “basic” theme for the poem: ruminations on a post-sepulcher world conveyed through interactive motifs of light/dark, plant/rock, all mapped out over a landscape of the sea and a house/interior.
· this might then be reducible to basic themes of security/paralysis vs. freedom/uncertainty which predominate, but never at the expense of the irreducibility of the means by which these themes come out in practice.

“Rain”, 28-31

· the rain picks up on the ongoing narration of water in his poetry and again uses a rather mundane noun, monosyllable, (cf. Night), which is both loaded with symbolic potential but also rather tired at this point, he then as in night, goes on not to exploit the symbolic potential.
· the poem again revolves around a mundane and familiar lexicon. It would be interesting here to consider the lexical limitations he imposes on himself, in confrontation with the total freedom of association which allows for more exotic terms to creep in. Also, that a poet like Mallarmé spends a religious amount of time on the choice of his lexicon, which he manipulates in Kabbalah-like fashion. Ashbery does the same in these poems but if one considers the lexicon he chooses one is almost confounded to say why: water, flowers, darkness, metaphors of writing, utensils and furniture, snow, buildings, colours, floors, letter, rods. These diverse but essentially banal nouns do conspire to make a narrative but, he seems more interested in the possible rhythmic interactions than the connotative power.
· thus when the poem seems to stop to provide a coda of lexical concerns: “Mixture of air and wind/Sand then mud/A flower, lost in someone’s backyard”, this does seem to summarise a set of concerns in the poem at this point, but gives us little more than this.
· the topographies are the same and recurring motifs from other poems also crop up, it seems to tell the story of a letter (page, letter arrives, train, missing letter) but, typically, this is dropped in favour of an alternate narrative conclusion relating to the city, a liet-motif up to this point.
· the final couplet, “You behind me in the van/The flat sea rushing away” places the poet midway between two forces familiar in his work “you” and “the sea”, as many works it ends in the symbol of the sea (renewal, the infinite?).
· rain is crypt worded throughout but not obsessively, what needs to be plotted is the poly-rhythmic interactions of motifs internally, how these motifs refer externally to other poems or generally, and also all those elements which are random but which find their place in syntactic norms. It is between lexical and syntactic norms, in interaction with the poem unit cut into by the variety of discourse which is both motivated and random that we must be turning our attention all the time.
· note also the design features, these fragmented designs are rare in Ash. and relate only to this period of the late fifties, at this time O’Hara was writing, or had written his most ambitiously designed works.

“A White Paper”, 32

· Shoptaw sees “crushed hope” as the crypt word here.
· 2 five line quatrains, the white paper is picked up on both by the comparatively tiny space the poem takes up, and the indentation which makes it more central on the page between Mallarmean borders, a white paper is a discussion document in England and indeed this may be a symbol of the blank page as scene of discourse and discussion.
· the possible encryption of “crushed hopes”, may be compensated for by the discursive quality of the qualification “And if...”, providing a discourse between authority and alienation (alien, thought, political, judge) and the lyrical possibilities of language (barking to hear the night, of what he spoke, the rhyme of stanza 1: abbac, with “contaminations” then rhyming with “emotions”, and the assonance of “a’s” and “e’s”, returning in the phonic crypt word “azaleas”, and over syllabic word which really emphasises the vowel sounds. Thus “paper heaps”, does seem to combine the discursive disappointments with creativity and phonetic motivation in the work as a whole.

“Leaving the Atocha Station”, 33-34

· Shoptaw includes an Ash. quote which explains away the nature of this poem as a description of leaving the Atocha Station:
“It strikes me that the dislocated, incoherent fragments of images which make up the movement of the poem are probably like the experience you get from a train pulling out of a station of no particular significance. The dirt, the noises, the sliding away seem to be a movement in the poem. The poem was probably trying to express that, not for itself but as an epitome of something experienced; I think that is what my poems are about” (cf. A. Poulin Jr., “John Ashbery,” The Michigan Quarterly Review 20.3 (1981)).
· yet he goes on to say that possible Ash. is being disingenuous here as he is not representing experience but misrepresenting it, turning it into a surreal horror that conveys the “interpenetrability of a foreign culture” which means the poet must misrepresent this as he did in the “local colour” of Guadalajara in “The Instruction Manual”. The difference being the influence of Artaud’s horror.
· and further, Shoptaw sees the whole thing as linguistically contrived with two discourses always overlapping e.g. line one between light over the horizon causing darkness, and honey spilling over the newspapers weather report.
“With its symbolist horror and artifactitious appearances, The Waste Land indeed looms large over “Atocha.” Then again, the homotextuality of “Suddenly and we are close / Mouthing the root” partially uncovers practices alien to some heterosexual tourists.” (44).
· the poem registers the nowness of experience, but also, as Shoptaw notes it is contrived, not only internally/linguistically, but also in reference to other poems in the series especially “The Tennis...”, “America”, “Night” and “Rain”. We seem to be developing a repetitious sequence of collages here as referred to perhaps by the cyclical aspect of the poem which of course cuts across its powerful linearity: “And pulling us out of there”, “Time, progress and good sense” vs. “for that we turn around”, “next time around”.
· other points of interest would be the O’Hara, Schuyler and Koch train/travel poems: “The “Unfinished””, “Poem??”, “A Few Days”, “The Departure from Hydra”, generally this movement of Ash. into the aesthetics of now which again he rarely does, and also the lexical syntax of lines such as: “rural area cough protection / murdering quintet. Air pollution terminal / the clean fart genital enthusiastic toe prick album serious evening flames”.

“White Roses”, 35

· strangely constructed almost entirely of refrains of motifs from all the other poems, the title even picking up on “White Paper” (paper roses?), it is as if he had garnered his lexicon and is here, reviewing what he has amassed so far. The internal coincidences are so strong here that it is ludicrous to see it as a collage, it is something much more akin to bricolage than collage.
· this has got to relate to early interests in troubadour formalism.
· the last two lines which suddenly break out into long, elegant lines convey again the double interests of this collection: the urban, street life and the rural/pastoral. Thus we can begin to see that there are two topographies: rural/urban, internal/external which are separate and can interact, they also open up the theme of America, giving the poetry a point of interaction between private and public realms, primarily here of sexuality I think.
· the flowers are of course symbols of femininity, especially through dandelions, but also of rebirth and creation, white roses/paper.
· it is very interesting with what care Ash. constructs his collections, but also how really certain poems have to be seen in this context.

“The Suspended Life”, 36-38

· four sections showcase four narrative styles all of which are travelogues of a kind. The first thing is that it puts paid to the idea that “Atocha” is merely a mimetic piece recreating the experience of leaving the station, though Shoptaw’s comments already show this.
· here then we have an “Atocha” style narrative (the most mature avant-garde statements of the collection and of Ash’s career), followed by a taxonomic narrative (this returns again in RM and VN), a subjective thought association section (akin to O’Hara and Schuyler in its chatty quotidians, as well as Koch in the more surreal sections), and finally a straight forward narrative of arrival, taking us into familiar landscapes of lakes, stone, death etc. The conclusion is early disillusionment but breached by “The green shall not pierce your tippling sanctity”. Yet ends on a note of urban/suburban banality a kind of, at the end of these marvellous journeys, little has changed and life goes on which gives meaning to the title of course. Is the first line to suggest a dream narrative like “Instruction Manual”.
· wonderful poise he is developing here.

“A Life Drama”, 39-40

· very beautiful somehow, he is developing the end words of ST into an internalised system of repetition, associative disjunction and associative development in which the estrangement of the juxtapositions is vouchsafed by the security of “rhyme”, i.e. poetry. Thus this is never hard to follow, it just doesn’t militates into representable meaning, meaning can only come as a feeling sustained in the process of reading.
· a lot more work needs to be done on this double process I might call a lexical based syntax.
· return to these narratives later but theory is not yet developed enough, need now only to ally it with the sublime aspect of the third avant-garde, that of tuché-automaton i.e. it happens-will it happen again, and the Kantian sublime of representing the unpresentable. These early pieces are very much involved with the sublime process of PL, but later it may be more thematic?

“Our Youth”, 41-42

· Shoptaw sees this as one of a pair with “Sepulcher”, as poems about lost youth and found sexuality in the “intermediate style”. Seemingly formal quatrains open with ellipses, common feature of the collection, questions, sensuous nights and sentimental imagery of childhood, but despite the suggested nostalgia of the title, the poem give us no retrospection nor immediacy and we are left between the immediacy of innocence and the certainty of experience.
· Shoptaw notes romantic particulars of Arabs etc., uneasy syntax of innocent and guilty interrogations, a repression of the wonder of hands reducing the poem to a kind of minimalism which invites us into the poem, whilst the final quatrains return us to animated ellipses of the beginning. There is no solution for sexual and textual problems here except escapism.
· can be compared to “Little J.A.” and “A boy”, as much less lexically controlled and much more of a more clearly postmodern collage of narrative discourses that later becomes his demotic speech of course.

“The Ticket”, 43

· a love poem, the title refers to “Atocha” as well as “White Paper”,
· stanza 1: the details of love are bracketed within two statements referring to the experience of writing love letters, again letters. The “letters” are seemingly a scene set in a winter garden of inconclusiveness “her hand not leading anywhere”, and intent “working to carry out the insane orders given you”. Again, the setting is the house/interior.
· stanza 2: this is later, therefore not the process of writing but of remembering. Here, we are in a more automated world of the orders of stanza 1, the ladder not being uncertain. Note the negation of negation here, uncertainty being a positive value increasingly in Ash.. The final line is another kind of experience, the experience of experience but heavily censored: “Automatically taking the things in, that had not been spoiled, sordid.”, as if the love of stanza 1 has been amputated (stump, telegraphed, blood). Again, another forbidden love lyric.
“An Additional Poem”, 44

· ST style of narrative. Very simple, very beautiful forbidden love lyric.
· the motifs of the elliptical poems are here taken up and given a simple significance: the ship of cruises being lovers, the forest and sea symbols of being lost and of oblivion and power, the light equalling an ambiguous illumination as night contains love, the trunk/box/interior being where the acts of love occur.
· The final lines are symptomatic of his later, much more urbane style, yet also contain homotextual elements as the “grain” is also seed and so we rise is erections. Thus, the lovers are liberated.

“Measles”, 45-46

· Shoptaw in reference to the apology in this poem, makes the point that these poems are dominated by written discourse especially that of ST [also of TCO generally], with sonorous rhymes and starched diction. A style later to be replaced by speech patterns.
· stanza 1 & stanza 2 are the kind of playful narratives typified by ST and similar to the childhood romances etc. of our youth.
· stanza 3. picks up the more naval motif coupled with the ongoing use of the forest, ending with a seeming apology for these “pennies”. This could be sincere as he does later disown this collection. Pennies could be seen to be the morsels also, that is the limited number of words continually rearranged.
· stanza 4. surprisingly self-referential, it seems to convey a sense of what he is trying that is an economy coupled with autobiography. At the moment he has no persona, Shoptaw warns this will follow in RM.
· stanza 5. a struggle to express and a sense of the “daylight” words as being without threat but also without any real penetration.
· stanza 6. but it is in the night where the truth of this highly sexual collection resides with the invitation/letter/white paper/ticket all being symbols of an invitation to make love. The last three lines contain crypt word between / the street (sheets) suggesting the raging of these poems to be sex, and in the street!, whilst the last line suggests an artificiality, that perhaps the poet is weary of the writing down of love when one could be experiencing it.

“Faust”, 47-48

· another sestina, tells a playful narrative of the phantom’s relation to the opera “Faust”, which eventually gets to do without him, settling for “hunger instead”. Actually less radical than earlier formalist experiments as the length of lines allows a narrative, of sorts, to be constructed and followed through.

“The Lozenges”, 49-50

· stanza 1: tells the story of a figure bored in a depot. The banality of the setting interrupted by a brief lyricism: “Tell me asparagus fern / Are you troubled by the cold night air? / The plane had passed him” suggesting a longing to be free from the banal vocabulary of his existence “...a moth-eaten curtain his the fire extinguisher.”
· he it investigating here a vocabulary that holds many secrets in that it is the vocabulary of everyday life yet that is also mysterious to us, the way “lozenge” is and sounds. A depot is a storehouse, emporium, place for soldiers; a lozenge is a diamond figure, a facet, a pill, thus relating to medicine motifs. The poem represents a facet of a life within the storehouse of lives/living.
· stanza 2: the depot begins to fill with a bewildering array of details and numerous discourses that feature in all the poems here in some way. The lexicon here is dizzying and brilliant, more richer than that of say, measles.
· stanza 3: does seem to bring together the disappointment of the man of the depot, with the depot’s linguistic potential.

“The Ascetic Sensualists”, 51-54

· the paradox of the title seems to refer directly to the poetic methodology on display here, and comes back to the depot/lozenge dialectic if you like: namely between the infinity of the possible code, versus the restriction of the system, in this case poetry.
· stanza 1: “All...All these numbers easily... Why... / Unwashed feet and then...typhoid fever...” Read allegorically in keeping with the title these opening lines seem accurately to convey the effect of “taking” the tennis court oath. A sense of totality and ease on the one hand, then of incomprehension. The unwashed feet i.e. the liberties he is taking here with the last bastion of poetry, namely free verse. This is ironically followed by ST style internal rhymes: “feet”, “fever”, “leading”, “head”, “feed”, “reed”. Suggesting that whilst the feet are unwashed, they are still feet.
· stanza 2: a sense of pastoral, retrospective calm.
· stanza 3: the ideality begins to be corrupted with balloting, stains and the onset of autumn.
· stanza 4: Latinate structures interpolate the green/cave discourse of the poems. The final two lines seem to dramatise childhood traumas of identity, a scream ending the sentence again suggesting the horror of literature.
· stanza 5: “The scissors, this season, old newspaper.” Clues as to the collagist technique. The rest of the stanza including the prose taxonomy perhaps being the symptomatic result of this ethos. A good subtitle as conveys the interaction of the process with the specificity of the season: homosexual, exiled, hopeful, post McCarthyism.
· stanza 6: whilst this is the most extreme side of the poetics on display here, it is not without control as the lexicon is limited to violence and internal repetitions/associations. The irony of the colon being the disruption of metonymic semantics and yet this is how metonymy can work.
· The funerals repeat the process of the oath: collage, repetition, association, involuted rhyme, syntactic abuse, a literal metonymy substituted for semantic metonymy, inter-textuality.
· the eleventh funeral again operates ideogrammatically, showing a continuing influence of the cantos.
· the final prose stanza is dense and suggests a contrast between two halls: the open-ended loggia, and the closed basilica. He states that there is a farewell taking place, hence the “funeral décors”, though now we cannot say if he is getting the oath out of his system, or he saw this as the inevitable style of his future. It ends with reference to light/power and the perverted pleasures of homosexuality. the symbolic ending being a point of suspension: politeness (reticence) and the broad seas (expression?). As if he is torn between the two, hence he is an ascetic sensualist, a man of overwhelming desire which must operate always under semantic, linguistic and sociological restrictions.

“Landscape”, 55

· if it is a landscape it is the landscape of the motifs of the collection, particularly the civic/mechanistic aspect which is seen often as the perpetrator of violence.
· Here they are called the “square doctrines”, and are coming apart. The ending of the balloons rushing out into the street is now becoming typical, as is the reference to paper, here the original paper.
· the ladder seems a systematic movement upwards, its failure being a loss of faith but not of trying to have faith which will become much more typical later on.

“A Last World”, 56-58

· Bloom notes this as the one good poem in the collection and it certainly stands out as an exemplar of the later Ash.
· Shoptaw notes it was written during an Adriatic cruise, 1957. For the first time on this scale the poem makes the story of homosexual awakening and subsequent evasions representative of the world of alternative sex, marking new phase in his homotextuality:
“a shift from writing misrepresentative details and conventions to considering the history of misrepresentativeness as such: the way things have become.” (69).
· This new look of things recalls Stevens’ Major Man, and is an outline for “The Skaters” and “A Wave”. Especially in its sense of autobiographical history for here looking back means not only the past changing, but he who looks also.
· The theme seems to be the need for atrocities in the past to allow for liberation in the present.
· Unlike most poems in TCO, the poem measures itself in sentences. Notes parallels in the hospital imagery to Schuyler’s “Elizabethans” and in the jungle imagery of traditional sexual roles Guest’s “His Jungle”. Also notes the influence of David Schubert, subject of one of Ash. Norton lectures.
· the title, apart from being a pun on last word, comes from Lloyd Hughes’ silent thriller based on dinosaurs which is itself based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story. Ash. uses this primitivism but they do not guarantee sexual security.
· notes the use of a “Tiresian” old man as well, suggesting in the transition from private to public sexuality that is one knew more about the private, the public would be less oppressive and one could speak openly without synonyms. Yet this is Ash. world of poetry, that of synonyms.
· the poem then tells the story of the history of homosexuality if you like, as the poet recollects it, from childhood innocence, through sexual difference, to the backward glances of the Tiresian bi-sexual figure. This is followed by opening this discourse into that of poetry which is the synonym by which forbidden sexuality exists. A tension between the public and private realm is developed here. At this point he looks back again at an alternative, pagan sense of the beginning of sexual difference, via the initiatory rites and Troy. Finally, the war is over and the men go home, this is followed by sexual imagery very akin to Whitman ending with remembering of our comrades.
· the use of the horse in the final section diffuses the easy ending up to this point. The horse becoming a powerful symbol for the conflation of many issues: childhood, the western (civilisation), the Trojan horse of synonym, the pony express delivering the non-synonimical truth. Whilst we gallop into the flame of sexual desire, we also go nowhere as the horse only rocks and this rocking motion is an early temporal prototype for the wavic motion.

“The New Realism”, 59-62

· remember the Ash. essay and the reference to the use of already manufactured realities. In this case we have a number of manufactured products:
1. signifying practice
2. poetic language
3. the intertextual/homotextual
4. cultural/demotics
· I think that there is little to be said except about the use of motifs here, but generally it operates in the same manner as earlier works such as “Rain”, “Night” etc.
· the first lines pick up on issues from “A World Apart”.
· the fist group of motifs centre around sexual imagery, exotic fauna and fruit, some kind of engine/plant/bank.
· second stanza mixes banal interiors with a sense of explosion and sexuality
· third stanza: a fort, Africa, the bank again, a plantation raising slavery and the suffragettes, a western motif, a desert/jungle, a dog, the poetic “I” appears, finally mechanistic destruction gives way to flowers and the poem ends on the central contrast of the oasis: “Yellow over the hot sand, green as the green trees”.

“The Unknown Traveller”, 63

· very much the stanzaic articulation of STANZA
· the poem ironically, is not a journey as so many of these poems are.
· stanza 1: beautiful, haiku-like comparison of the falling of snow, of ash (cf. the Volcano of “Realism”) and of stones. The stone and snow are recurrent symbols in all these works, without ever being fixed.
stanza 2: the breathing is now synonymous with poetry, the interior usually the space for homosexuality, here it seems starched and dead. The “ashman”, Ashbery, is a child under the chair, as “she” sits upright.

“Europe”, 64-85

· Shoptaw relates this the Rauschenberg’s erased de Kooning, suggesting ST was Ash. de Kooning. Quotes Ash. re: the idea that even if fully erased, there must be something (cf. The Mystic Writing Pad), and that Europe was an attempt to obliterate the poetry that was coming to him at that time which he didn’t like (cf. quotes from Osti?). Also influenced by Anton Webern.
· notes that O’Hara wrote two poems influenced by “Europe”. “Poem (“‘We’ll probably pay for it in August’ the radio says), and “What Appears to be Yours” (CP 380).
· in the poem, the motifs of section one are continually reformulated.
· completed the poem in fall of 1958 in Mathews’ Paris home, constructed, like “Idaho” from a forgotten novel by William Le Queux Beryl of the By-plane. The novel is set almost entirely in England, not Europe, concerning three pilots and a plane, the Hornet, equipped with a “silencer”, all designed to defeat the “enemy from within”.
· the novel is full of detective story strategies, a technique being copied by the Nouveau Roman at this time of course. At this time Ash. was doing detective work on Roussel and translating a detective novel into French.
· in the novel, nothing is as it seems, producing an aura of paranoia akin to McCarthyism. Juxtaposes sections 104-107 and a section from the novel, see insert.
· this opens up the poem as a whole providing contextual significance, clues, dismembered words which can take on other significances, often self-reflexive, the wreckage of the novel is strewn over the pages like the wreckage of the Hornet plane.
· sees “Europe” as a “bi-plane of lyricism on the one wing, and a network of detections, judgements, and executions on the other” (63) re: its homosexual sub-text, hence the keeping of “Europe” in inverted commas both emphasises its self-reflexivity, but also to mimic and pervert the repressive character of its investigations.
· like the other poems of this set, there is a music/collage interaction of motifs, the same motifs generally, referring to homosexuality, youth, authority, bureaucracy, modes of communication, poetry, rural settings vs. urban, sex generally, night and day, secrecy, the sky, trees/phalluses, journeys, interiors/constructions, horror and disgust, involuted rhymes, involuted motifs, sickness, birds, geography, air/breath, colours, flowers, jewels, animals, children, rock, snow, units, letters, the hole, water, weather/seasons, violence.
· added into this are, typically, a series of specific motifs that develop internally either associatively or in an aleatory fashion, plus the motifs suggested by the crypt text, here the Beryl novel.
· the poem then, like the others both summarises and proposes.
· note the design and fragmentation: there are numerous discourses here: coda (1), prose (8), music (47), collagist (80), imagist (32), lyrical (57), articulated (107), grid (104), minimal (102), basic juxtaposition (101).
· it is dominated by numbers: two (sexual couplings, the two texts, juxtaposition), three (Morse code, many images come in threes, movement from juxtaposition to basic poem) and four (the four words of 104, the completion of the grid of metaphor). That there are 111 sections is three ones, one being the individual units/morsels of the poem, and three plus one is also four.
· we now know how to read this, what we must ask is what is the interaction here, it is musically or collage organisation. What can be said about the tension between the two. how far must we read hermeneutically, how far in a materialist sense, and how far in accord with the poet’s own wishes. it is all about the questions is raised then, yet it is at this point, 1958, the inheritor of nearly one hundred years of avant-garde experimentation in poetic language, and in the middle of a neo-avant-garde, thus, even at this point it is beyond questioning and into a development of discourse, hence the advancements on the subject/predicate of surrealism, the radical gaps of modernism, the connotative word power of symbolism, the use of language as grid/machine picking up futurism’s techné of language, as well as assimilating the detective/Roussel elements of the nouveau roman, and current advancements in painting and in music.
· once must now be able to summarise the totality of the poetic technique he is using here:
1. collage:
· random
· other texts, voices etc.
· other discourses, poetic or otherwise
· intertextual (self)
· involution (unit)
· association from collage (movement from collage to music)
· repetition (movement from collage to music)
· poetry as machine (movement from collage to music)
2. music:
· involution
· repetition
· repetition discarded
· repetition picked up midway, phasing out other motifs
· limited involuted repetition
· phonic effects
· syntactic effects
· intertextual associations
· poetry as machine (music to collage)
· collage of motifs (music to collage)
· associations to collage (music to collage)
3. poetry
· juxtaposition
· development
· repetition
· erasure
· encryption
· themes (as in music)
· title, structure generally i.e. use of ideograms, failure to sum up etc.
· imagery
· semantics
· traditional poetics
4. language
· symbolic
· associations vs. juxtapositions (metaphor vs. metonymy)
· as a structural machine
· demotic, discourse variations
· automatic
· the element of motivation to meaning or communication and its abuse
· lexicon
· beginning of a syntax
· phonic vs. semantic use
· in a sense then he is using 1. and 2. as dual aspects of 3. and 4. forming a quatrain or parings themselves made up of individual units which operate in the tertiary realm of the motility between each mode that the paragrammatic technique opens up in its articulation. 3(1:2):4(1:2)=0-2, where (:) can equal both 1+1+1... and 1+1=2 or an interaction between the two.

“To the Same Degree”, 86-87

· early prototype for the double columns of “Litany”.
· the articulation here is quite apparent, refer back to sect. 107 “Europe”.
· the contiguous imperative of syntax here, already under strain from the paragrammatic poetic process in general, is further taxed by our being force to try to read across, simultaneously, back all at the same time. Raises directly the issue of the process of reading.
· column 1: longer lines, more of a sustained narrative, at the point two thirds down when the line length contracts, the length of column 2 lengthens suggesting some rhythmic interaction. Begins with clear homotextual motif of ejaculation, rusks encrypting risks but also suggesting childhood. The work distribution (dissemination) being significant also for this manner of columned writing. Move on through the now familiar discourse of disgust into a mountain village setting. A central taxonomic line is followed by a symbol of limits. From here we move through a discourse of water through mechanistic and illness motifs. The wretch is kin to the pervert. A narrative of flocking seems to promise some thematic stability, before collapsing into quite severe disjunctions.
· column 2: again, pretence of cohesive narrative, internally, as indicated also certain motifs cross over, especially the homotextual euphemisms. The conclusion refers to morsels, groupings, numbers etc. both internally significant to distribution but also to TCO generally.
· obviously the poem is more about emphasising the process of reading/writing than about the semi-cohesive narratives. The title indicates a semi-equivalence suggesting the columns are similar to a degree. Obvious example of textual dehiscence attempted here.

“The Passive Preacher”, 88-89

· poem of involuted sonics.
· peculiar the needle/infection pre-supposes the imagery of AIDS!, the excrement referring to anal sex, hence the miscreant.

“The Shower”, 90

· again, use of water to drip into other narratives.

“Idaho”, 91-94

· Shoptaw sees this as one of the Steinian narratives including “Europe” and “They Dream”. It is composed out of A. Hamilton Gibbs’ Soundings (1925), a tale of woman’s explorations of Paris, obviously related to Ash. own expatriate experience.
· see insert of Shoptaw demonstrating how he does this (p.53-4).
· notes the various abuses of punctuation to emphasise the poem’s constructive quality (was written on a typewriter), its unfinished status, that it is a found object etc.
· relates directly to the LANGUAGE poets also.
· suggests that this prose collage will be the predominant form from here on in, yet in fact is what is to be abandoned.
· Ends on a departure however, a train journey akin to “Atocha”, a sense of departure into what?


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