Wednesday, July 01, 2015

In a recurring wave of arrival.

That's a line from the first part of "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror." As I was working on my poem the other day, I made a note to myself:

notes to myself.

So today, since I had an entire day at home, I went to my newly reordered shelves, and in a test of the efficacy of the reordering, I went to

  • the poetry section, 
  • to the As,
  • to Ashbery,
  • to the eponymous Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
It's a skinny little paperback, with the young Ashbery looking serious, knowing, and sexy on the cover. 
I thought you might like to see Bruiser.

I got this book in the fall of 1989. 

I love when I've made this note in the books of
yore--the date I read/bought the book.

I was TAing for a professor--helping to teach a course in contemporary American poetry--and we read this book, along with stuff from Ashbery's selected poems. It was my first experience with Ashbery, I think.

In looking at this poem today, I was startled yet again by how much of the poem I had forgotten, but in a curious way also remembered, just not consciously. Yet again, I find a poem has become a part of my cells. Its locutions and turns inhabit my own. If you don't know the poem, it's about a painting by Parmigianino titled 'Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror'; in the painting, because of the convexity of the mirror in which the painter sees himself, the face and head appear to be receding, but a forward-held arm appears large and imposing.

It's a long poem, but moments of it lift out of it and surprise me, moments like
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
or like
You feel then like one of those
Hoffmann characters who have been deprived
Of a reflection, except that the whole of me
Is seen to be supplanted by the strict
Otherness of the painter in his
Other room. We have surprised him
At work, but no   he has surprised us
As he works.
A breeze like the turning of a page
Brings back your face:
Today has no margins, the event arrives
Flush with its edges, is of the same substance,
or this (this most of all):
...the 'it was all a dream'
Syndrome, though the 'all' tells tersely
Enough how it wasn't.
At the moment, I'm feeling lonely, and out of sorts. I had the day to myself and I worked away on this poem of which, if I'm truthful, the direction is fairly uncertain. I was glad to be able to work on it for such a long stretch, the only interruptions my distractible brain. I love this Ashbery poem, it's brilliant and challenging and it was a useful intuition, that the poem would speak to my new poem's predicaments. I plan to consult its transitions very carefully tomorrow as I think about the moves my draft is taking. It's a poem with a chilly, cerebral side, though. As is, evidently, the poem I'm writing. Maybe. I really can't say. Ashbery's swerves and feints, his give-and-take-away argument, are probably good mentors for me right now.

big long daunting poem.

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