Set 9, 2015

Notes on John Ashbery’s “A Sweet Disorder”

Pardon my sarong. I’ll have a Shirley Temple.
Certainly, sir. Do you want a cherry with that?
I guess so. It’s part of it, isn’t it?
Strictly speaking, yes. Some of them likes it,
others not so much. Well, I’ll have a cherry.
I can be forgiven for not knowing it’s de rigueur.
In my commuter mug, please. Certainly.

He doesn’t even remember me.
It was a nice, beautiful day.
One of your favorite foxtrots was on,
neckties they used to wear.
You could rely on that.

My gosh, it’s already 7:30.
Are these our containers?
Pardon my past, because, you know,
it was like all one piece.
It can’t have escaped your escaped your attention
that I would argue.
How was it supposed to look?
Do I wake or sleep?

*

[ New Yorker ]
[ SoundCloud ] 

*





I know nothing of Shirley Temples other than what I'm reading here and in previous discussions of Hejinian's My Life. Her lines there were: "But nothing could interrupt those given days. I was sipping Shirley Temples wearing my Mary Janes." Back then, I thought it was a gendered drink. Now having second thoughts. Following this exchange, I'm taking that it marks sophistication? Coming of age?





Thank you so much. Sipping it now the way you both say it. Makes me appreciate why this poem was chosen to close a book.





breezeway
/ˈbriːzˌweɪ/

noun 
1. a roofed passageway connecting two buildings, sometimes with the sides enclosed

I wondered about the title because you wondered, and ended up with this. When I hit image search on my browser, the immediate thought was to compare this structure with Dickinson's House of Possibility. Then I thought of a breezeway's horizontal openness (as opposed to ED's which seems—at least in that poem—vertical) and got to thinking of Whitman's grass. 

Lots of (breezy) thinking to be had. How this works as a metaphor for poetry (and for an Ashbery poem in particular, all the connections encouraged by it, as we his readers know firsthand) . And contemplating "breezeway" as a life endows us with both linear, chronological purposefulness (point A to point B to point D) but also openness (memory, digression, possibly escape).




I like that—even as refuge—the breezeway is temporary. In a way it seems more sincere than a house, even if a house is the greater necessity.

It can’t have escaped your escaped your attention 

In the sound file, I heard: "It can’t have escaped your escaped attention"—if it's all the same to you, I'd reference the way it's spoken. Your morbid comment (which seems to me supported by the final lines) has caused me to look up the possible containers in the poem.

The clothes are first up: "Pardon my sarong" and later on "neckties they used to wear." There's culture and time, perhaps gender too as a sarong seems to become something of a skirt when it crosses the pacific.

Are these our containers?
Pardon my past, because, you know,

And time, as the neckties and the dance were chosen to indicate. But when the first line of the first stanza is echoed in the last, time becomes more explicit (culture too, I think, and the much-touted primitive color of the Orient, cf. Edward Said) and becomes "all one piece" (unity of West and East?) or, more accurately, a seeming or illusory seamlessness ("like all one piece").

The drinks have been covered quite fluently by you guys. This speaker's hyper-aware, perhaps insecure about how he seems, how it all looks, maybe about being "authentic" in terms of time and place when suddenly, out comes that commuter mug. So contemporary, on-the-go. Very much (and importantly) out-of-place.

It can’t have escaped your escaped attention 

So all this "appearing" had to go somewhere, and that is toward "escaped attention," itself a mobile container. I wonder what's the tone here? I'm quite used to teachers bewailing the "short attention span". Poets, requiring as they often do some lingering on the page, would probably echo this lament. But there seems to be some acknowledgement of this here, an embrace of the fact. Not sure if I'd go so far as call it celebratory.







I found that it's also "It can’t have escaped your escaped your attention" in this article by Epstein. If you covered "Pardon my sarong", Epstein looks into the title as well as the last line and trace these back to Herrick, Keats, and ("you guessed it!")... O'Hara! Read on—

“An interesting footnote: in Frank O’Hara’s 1953 play Try! Try!, O’Hara had one of the main characters, who is named John and who was played by John Ashbery when the play was first performed, say — you guessed it! — the phrase 'Do I wake or sleep?'”



Pardon my past, because, you know,
it was like all one piece.

"Also the unity of one's own life, perhaps." Yes. His singular word "past"—like your singular word "life"—makes it one piece. The frame keeps all these fragments together, somehow both a denial of the fragmentation and a distinct method of putting these tensions together in one place. What's to be said about a (white?) man in a sarong, wearing an old movie? About an old man drinking a child's drink?

And if we'd like to go meta now, this unity might be a truth based on (or forced by) effect or belief. The poem puts everything together, "You could rely on that." But does it diffuse the tensions by leveling them with each other, or does the poem cause greater unrest my putting these contraries so close to each other?



I've been looking at this picture (without checking on its provenance), and was brought to reading the poem a certain (perhaps foolish) way.

He doesn’t even remember me.
It was a nice, beautiful day.

If we assume a single "I" moving through the stanzas ("all one piece"), could we likewise assume a single other? I didn't do so on my first read. The waiter-server didn't translate to the "He" of the second stanza, though that "He" and the "You" of the second and third stanza seem related (but a case could be made that the you could be the reader or some other you, making for 4 initial distinct people: I, waiter, he, you).

This could be an exercise in futility ("because, you know," multitudes), but I tried bringing the waiter into the second stanza as either the I or the He. It's like, after the dialogue (taking the order, first stanza), one of the two shifted to interior monologue. They had a "past"!

There's this subtle game we play with strangers we meet more than once, always testing if we're remembered or not by the guard at the school gate or the boy at the cashier, or yes, the waiter... also, by our customer or client-in-passing.

So there, I've been trying to collapse the poem into a narrative of two people. It's fun because by the third stanza... they argue!

Why not collapse it to just one character? Would that be too much of—too sweet—a disorder?




Not sure if you've linked this interview elsewhere, but I think it's a good thing to introduce this here because it begins by asking questions about the cover of Breezeway and the titles of some of the poems it contains. And because of other things. For example, you get to find shiny trinkets like these:

ASHBERY: I don't read my poems very much after I've written them besides at a reading. I put them away and then it's on to something else. I mean, I'd love to say yes, and that would be wonderful for this interview, but I'm just not good interview material. And yet, people always want to interview me. And, of course, the interview is a tragic fact of our time. 

So, I think it's a keeper... and I'm not even halfway through.




Same goes for the wabi-sabi tea bowl where "asperity" and "asymmetry" are among expected aspects. Yum yum to this grenadine mythology (thanks so much for bringing it up), and I'm all for a gender (gendered or gendering) reading.

I've been looking at "disorder" along these lines, as perhaps an internal imbalance (presupposing asymmetry). Maybe the interior is too rich, open, playful for the constraints of the exterior (age, gender, culture). Certain lines, I think, mark a possible (strong? tentative?) stance regarding this:

Strictly speaking, yes. Some of them likes it,
others not so much. Well, I’ll have a cherry.
I can be forgiven for not knowing it’s de rigueur.

Are these our containers?

that I would argue.
How was it supposed to look?

There's a concern about how things ought to be, these tacit, largely arbitrary but definitely compelling strictures. But questions are being asked. Arguments are about to be raised. Possibly, even the fact of having a stand is expected in language (and languages: "strictly speaking," "de rigeuer"), making this a special concern for poetry.



2 komento:

Susan Scheid ayon kay ...

"The frame keeps all these fragments together, somehow both a denial of the fragmentation and a distinct method of putting these tensions together in one place." I thought this a particularly rich observation--and I enjoy thinking of it in the context of your choice of frame for discussion of the poem, giving, as at least I think is intended, just one side of a conversation. By now you surely have discovered the "Shirley Temple," but in case not, here is the recipe:

The Shirley Temple recipe

Ingredients:

3 ounces lemon-lime soda

3 ounces ginger ale

Dash grenadine

Maraschino cherry for garnish

Pour lemon-lime soda and ginger ale into a glass with ice cubes. Then, add a dash of grenadine. Finally, stir your refreshing drink and top it off with a cherry.

As a kid, my favorite part was always the maraschino cherry. I don't remember whether I wore Mary Janes, but I certainly did have patent leather shoes, and at one point, my grandmother and mother curled up my hair Shirley Temple style. Those were the days . . .

Dennis Aguinaldo ayon kay ...

Thank you for the recipe! And yes, that was the intention. Looking forward to our Ashbery rounds again on January.