John Ashbery

(28 July 1927 / Rochester, New York)

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Daffy Duck In Hollywood


Something strange is creeping across me.
La Celestina has only to warble the first few bars
Of "I Thought about You" or something mellow from
Amadigi di Gaula for everything--a mint-condition can
Of Rumford's Baking Powder, a celluloid earring, Speedy
Gonzales, the latest from Helen Topping Miller's fertile
Escritoire, a sheaf of suggestive pix on greige, deckle-edged
Stock--to come clattering through the rainbow trellis
Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland
Fling Terrace. He promised he'd get me out of this one,
That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he's
Done to me now! I scarce dare approach me mug's attenuated
Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so déconfit
Are its lineaments--fun, no doubt, for some quack phrenologist's
Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you'd call
Companionable. But everything is getting choked to the point of
Silence. Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky
Over the Fudds' garage, reducing it--drastically--
To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin on
A Gadsden Purchase commemorative cover. Suddenly all is
Loathing. I don't want to go back inside any more. You meet
Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island--no,
Not people, comings and goings, more: mutterings, splatterings,
The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of
happy-go-nutty
Vegetal jacqueries, plumed, pointed at the little
White cardboard castle over the mill run. "Up
The lazy river, how happy we could be?"
How will it end? That geranium glow
Over Anaheim's had the riot act read to it by the
Etna-size firecracker that exploded last minute into
A carte du Tendre in whose lower right-hand corner
(Hard by the jock-itch sand-trap that skirts
The asparagus patch of algolagnic nuits blanches) Amadis
Is cozening the Princesse de Cleves into a midnight
micturition spree
On the Tamigi with the Wallets (Walt, Blossom, and little
Sleezix) on a lamé barge "borrowed" from Ollie
Of the Movies' dread mistress of the robes. Wait!
I have an announcement! This wide, tepidly meandering,
Civilized Lethe (one can barely make out the maypoles
And châlets de nécessitê on its sedgy shore)
leads to Tophet, that
Landfill-haunted, not-so-residential resort from which
Some travellers return! This whole moment is the groin
Of a borborygmic giant who even now
Is rolling over on us in his sleep. Farewell bocages,
Tanneries, water-meadows. The allegory comes unsnarled
Too soon; a shower of pecky acajou harpoons is
About all there is to be noted between tornadoes. I have
Only my intermittent life in your thoughts to live
Which is like thinking in another language. Everything
Depends on whether somebody reminds you of me.
That this is a fabulation, and that those "other times"
Are in fact the silences of the soul, picked out in
Diamonds on stygian velvet, matters less than it should.
Prodigies of timing may be arranged to convince them
We live in one dimension, they in ours. While I
Abroad through all the coasts of dark destruction seek
Deliverance for us all, think in that language: its
Grammar, though tortured, offers pavillions
At each new parting of the ways. Pastel
Ambulances scoop up the quick and hie them to hospitals.
"It's all bits and pieces, spangles, patches, really; nothing
Stands alone. What happened to creative evolution?"
Sighed Aglavaine. Then to her Sélysette: "If his
Achievement is only to end up less boring than the others,
What's keeping us here? Why not leave at once?
I have to stay here while they sit in there,
Laugh, drink, have fine time. In my day
One lay under the tough green leaves,
Pretending not to notice how they bled into
The sky's aqua, the wafted-away no-color of regions supposed
Not to concern us. And so we too
Came where the others came: nights of physical endurance,
Or if, by day, our behavior was anarchically
Correct, at least by New Brutalism standards, all then
Grew taciturn by previous agreement. We were spirited
Away en bateau, under cover of fudge dark.
It's not the incomplete importunes, but the spookiness
Of the finished product. True, to ask less were folly, yet
If he is the result of himself, how much the better
For him we ought to be! And how little, finally,
We take this into account! Is the puckered garance satin
Of a case that once held a brace of dueling pistols our
Only acknowledging of that color? I like not this,
Methinks, yet this disappointing sequel to ourselves
Has been applauded in London and St. Petersburg. Somewhere
Ravens pray for us." The storm finished brewing. And thus
She questioned all who came in at the great gate, but none
She found who ever heard of Amadis,
Nor of stern Aureng-Zebe, his first love. Some
They were to whom this mattered not a jot: since all
By definition is completeness (so
In utter darkness they reasoned), why not
Accept it as it pleases to reveal itself? As when
Low skyscrapers from lower-hanging clouds reveal
A turret there, an art-deco escarpment here, and last perhaps
The pattern that may carry the sense, but
Stays hidden in the mysteries of pagination.
Not what we see but how we see it matters; all's
Alike, the same, and we greet him who announces
The change as we would greet the change itself.
All life is but a figment; conversely, the tiny
Tome that slips from your hand is not perhaps the
Missing link in this invisible picnic whose leverage
Shrouds our sense of it. Therefore bivouac we
On this great, blond highway, unimpeded by
Veiled scruples, worn conundrums. Morning is
Impermanent. Grab sex things, swing up
Over the horizon like a boy
On a fishing expedition. No one really knows
Or cares whether this is the whole of which parts
Were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's
The tradition more than the safekeeping of it. This mulch for
Play keeps them interested and busy while the big,
Vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what
Model cities, how much waste space. Life, our
Life anyway, is between. We don't mind
Or notice any more that the sky is green, a parrot
One, but have our earnest where it chances on us,
Disingenuous, intrigued, inviting more,
Always invoking the echo, a summer's day.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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Comments about this poem (Daffy Duck In Hollywood by John Ashbery )

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  • Rookie - 931 Points Michael Morgan (10/19/2014 9:08:00 PM)

    Lacks the experience-altering verbal transparency of the best Ashberry, but a larky, ambitious piece, nevertheless. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 919 Points Kevin Patrick (10/19/2014 5:44:00 PM)

    Its a well crafted worked, although it looses out on being obsessed with its own use of clever language to actually make a point about what its trying to be. I can interpret this as an existentialist drama in which poor old Daffy is forced to live to the designs of the artists brush strokes, and his control is impotent to an unfeeling universe. In many ways it feels like an animated feast with imagery but its overdone on the verbosity. This is quality stuff, but sometimes the quantity detracts from the value of the message. Still good though (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,595 Points Christopher Roberts (10/19/2009 10:01:00 PM)

    I just want to mention that there is a typo in the read that reads '...on the Tamigi with the Wallets (Walt, Blossom, and little Skeezix) . On this site, your version reads Sleezix, which gives the poem an interesting, but unintentional, slant. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 1,595 Points Richard Dates (5/12/2009 6:06:00 PM)

    I imagine I might actually like John Asbery if I met him. He was educated at an elite prep school and the at Harvard. He is from the upper crust of the upper crust. He hung around with the major poets and I doubt if he lacked in the more expensive pleasures. But I don't speak the same language as him. His humor falls flat for me because I don't understand it. This may be a masterpiece among academics...but I understand poems in German more than this. And my German is very limited. (Report) Reply

    Veteran Poet - 4,179 Points Frank Avon (10/19/2014 1:59:00 AM)

    Nice way to put it. It's such a shame that post-Cranean modernists of Ashbery's ilk have no interest in speaking to us 'common readers.' Their first pleasure seems to be derived - in the language of a Helen Vendler review of one of his books - from 'toying with language.' Their second pleasure, I am convinced, is in the response of colleagues, a kind of self-defined elitist league of poets who populate the academies these days and have succeeded in creating their own readership among themselves but alienating ordinary readers who might respond enthusiastically, even joyously, to poems written in language more generally accessible.

    What is Ashbery attempting in this one? Vendler in her comment on other of his works gets it just right, I think: 'Ashbery’s surreal imagination, with its arresting leaps and resistant incoherence.'

    Actually, it's rather easy to learn to read these post-Cranean modernists. There are just two easy steps: (Step 1) Don't read the poem as a whole; just float along until you find a few phrases or images or lines that for some unexplained reason appeal to you. E.g., 'me mug's attenuated / Reflection in yon hubcap, ' or 'some quack phrenologist's / Fern-clogged waiting room, ' or the 'pattern that may carry the sense, but / Stays hidden in the mysteries of pagination.' All kinda clever phrases in and of themselves, probably relatable to Daffy Duck's Hollywood. The third one I mentioned seems to me a perfectly clever characterization of Asbery's own verse. (Step 2) Now write a few lines like this yourself: whatever images or phrases that pop into your head; just don't let them have any logical coherence. Here's an example I just composed, the beginning of a verse that might be titled 'Julia Child Swingin' in My Kitchen':

    Avatars of marigolds sandwiched between
    elevators and the Pleiades; wallpaper of peanut butter
    careening down the street in mock heroic anapests;
    flawlessly zipped lips and flies in the seat of your pants,
    seducing serendipity and charboiled banana queens:
    widows won't wander in fields of sun(flower) -bonnets.

    Don't ask me what this all means. They're just words that popped into my head as I sat in our breakfast room eating a chicken-salad sandwich from Pantera's. I'm being silly of course. I would label this kind of verse as nonsense. Of course, I'm nowhere near as erudite and complicated and allusive and projective as Ashbery. But one has to work very, very hard to find in Ashbery's verse something more than my nonsense. (That would be a BIG Step 3.) And for most of us, we don't like the reading of poetry to be hard work like that. Unless it's a Wordsworth or Keats or Blake, or even T.S. Eliot one is reading. For each of these, the poetry may be oblique and require painstaking interpretation, but it's ultimately meaningful. For post-Cranean modernists, the meaning is abstruse - necessarily beyond us, logically incoherent. That's the way, they would insist, that poetry matches the human mind: natural thinking is metaphorical, associative, and logically incoherent. So be it!

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