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Showing posts from April, 2013

John Ashbery, "Popular Songs", Some Trees (1965)

“Popular Songs”, 10-11

“The involuted consonance (“car with the cur,” “gone to a longing”) of “Popular Songs” anticipates the wilful music of “Two Scenes”, whilst jarringly disjunctive lines point towards the novel-collages of The Tennis Court Oath.” (Shoptaw 30).

I will hand over to the authority of Shoptaw in fact for most of the analysis here.So, Shoptaw notes the songs of the 1930’s that embedded throughout the piece: “Blue Blue Ridge Mountain”, “The Garden of the Moon” and so on.He quotes Ashbery as saying: “it was written in an attempt to conjure up the kind of impression you would get from riding in the car, changing the radio stations and at the same time aware of the passing landscape. In other words, a kind of confused, but insistent, impression of the culture going on around us.” (Shoptaw 31, citing Ashbery).This is actually a good general summation of Ashbery’s own sense of composition as a combination of an actual circumstance in ‘reality’ and the imposition of discourse,…

John Ashbery, "Two Scenes" from Some Trees (1956)

This is a poem about duality so in this sense the title actually refers to what the poem is ‘about’. John Shoptaw notes, for example, the phonic mirroring of the poem which he sees as an element later phased out as is the “linear introversion” to be found here. Thus we have the following phonic recurrences: “we see us as we”; “Destiny...destiny”; “News...noise”; “”; “-y” and rhymes of section 2; and “...old man/...paint cans”.

This simple but subtle semiotic device is then developed structurally as well, as the title hints. So ‘scene’ 2 reflects back internally onto ‘scene’ 1. “Machinery” recalls the train as does the canal; general honesty recalls “truly behave”; “history” relates to “destiny”; “fumes” to the “air” in the “mountains” (cf. “Answering a Question in the Mountains”); “dry” speaks to the “water-pilot”. Finally there is an example of what we should call image logic or associative deduction which is perhaps, in the end, Ashbery’s greatest talent. The “warm and p…