Set 12, 2015

Notes on John Ashbery’s “The Chateau Hardware”

It was always November there. The farms
Were a kind of precinct; a certain control
Had been exercised. The little birds
Used to collect along the fence.
It was the great “as though,” the how the day went,
The excursions of the police
As I pursued my bodily functions, wanting
Neither fire nor water,
Vibrating to the distant pinch
And turning out the way I am, turning out to greet you.


[ The Paris Review ]
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If line by line, can we do the title too? Lovely and surprising, "as though" glass was all around us and it's just a matter of time (or vibration!) before something breaks

I learned that chateau's also a word for estates devoted to the production of wine. Hardware might be the usual tools or it might refer to arms. There's "precinct" and "police" which tends that way.

As if the multiplicity of the title wasn't enough, the place (places?) morphs anew: into a farm that is a precinct (a police precinct maybe). As a result, the other terms receive different iterations: "birds" are birds but also jailbirds. Could they also be girls? Could they be other things like informers (a bird told me...)? "Fence" could be the usual picket, or the enclosure around the precinct, or inside, where they keep recently caught offenders. It could be the rhetorical fence of fence-sitters, particularly when it comes to controversial issues.

"Collect" could mean gather or assemble, but perhaps it's transitive (the way it's cut) and there's something unsaid exchanging hands: food, money, drugs, bribes, meanings.

Hi. Happy maybe, but why stop there when we could go full naughty? I say someone is drunk, pissing on a fence, unable (perhaps like other "birds") to exercise certain "control". When caught red-handed, he turns "the way" he is, his nakedness itself the greeting.

Joy, also.

Liking the fourth on your list. As well as the sixth.

Should think "hardware" along with all the farm implements? Or could there be another sense to these "farms" that I'm missing? Drugs, maybe, or slaves? Farms seem to me very open as landscapes go, but then it's all cut up and subdivided, very neatly too, else you'd risk disputes (remembering Frost's wall, and perhaps there's meta here too). Putting it as a precinct pushes the view a certain way, the borders making a stronger impression than whatever space or expanse you find (or imagine) here.

Oh, Alan Turing.

It was the great “as though,” the how the day went, 
The excursions of the police 

Sounds like an interrogation's happening here. "As though" is intriguing, was for me the greatest surprise in a poem full of twists and turns. It's a meta point, I think, "as though" might cut off the reader who's trying to make meanings from the poem because somehow the poem echoes the process, perhaps mocking (as though they were birds? as though they were police?) as it echoes.

More literally, "as though" could be a suspect making excuses. Or a suspect telling the truth, this truth rejected in favor of a more plausible or convenient scenario in the interrogator's mind (police? reader? or, gasp: police = reader?).

It's a point of stasis. Or if it's movement, it's eternal recurrence. If November means the place in the calendar, then maybe something's always on the verge of ending.

Then, just when it's about to, it doesn't.

I'm not familiar with this. Say more?

Oh wow. That makes "turning out to greet you" as sinister as a kiss from Judas. This chateau-hardware store-farm-precinct might just turn out to be Gethsemane.

I'm used to "as though" as an entry point to doubling. You state something then restate it "as though" something else. The great "as though" here ends in a comma, more of a general case than a specific one. The "how the day went" could be what that "as though" refers to, either the initial case (ex: love) or the metaphorical one (ex: rose), or because of the comma, we could be moving along the list, leaving the great "as though" as a thing in itself, something big enough to sustain itself and all the fragments and clauses to follow.

Poetry itself could be this great "as though," the place where (as in Borges's aleph) all places become each other: farm, precinct, chateau, hardware depot.

My vote is the reader-writer relationship is that third thing, but I'm not closing doors to other possibilities (that would be very un-JA, I think)

Very happy to see you up and about.

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