Reading: Paradoxes and Oxymorons by John Ashbery

John Ashbery (1927-2017) was, to many, one of the greatest modern American poets. Famous New York School poet. Pulitzer Prize. Look him up!
I read a gentle poem called Paradoxes and Oxymorons:

This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t have it.
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot.
What’s a plain level? It is that and other things,
Bringing a system of them into play. Play?
Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be

A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,
As in the division of grace these long August days
Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know
It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters.

It has been played once more. I think you exist only
To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then you aren’t there
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.

A risky and common theme: the impossibility of language to touch us, to be possessed by us (rather than the other way around). John’s solution, “The poem is you”, strikes me as a bit quick and not entirely serious. Still, this is a fascinating poem to read if you like poetry about poetry (Ashbery himself warned against too much of it).

I like ‘a deeper outside thing’, and ‘the poem has set (sat?) me softly down beside you’ is just so sweet.

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