Monday, May 01, 2006

John Ashbery & Frank O'Hara

Check out the brief bios for John Ashbery (left pic) and Frank O'Hara (right pic).

Given the short timeframe, we will be presenting an overview of John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara in relation to the New York School of poets and doing a close reading of a couple of their works. Be sure to read O'Hara's "Why I am not a Painter" (in your texts) and Asbhery's "The Painter" pasted here:

Listen to Ashbery read stuff.

The Painter

Sitting between the sea and the buildings
He enjoyed painting the sea's portrait.
But just as children imagine a prayer
Is merely silence, he expected his subject
To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush,
Plaster its own portrait on the canvas.

So there was never any paint on his canvas
Until the people who lived in the buildings
Put him to work: "Try using the brush
As a means to an end. Select, for a portrait,
Something less angry and large, and more subject
To a painter's moods, or, perhaps, to a prayer."

How could he explain to them his prayer
That nature, not art, might usurp the canvas?
He chose his wife for a new subject,
Making her vast, like ruined buildings,
As it forgetting itself, the portrait
Had expressed itself without a brush.

Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush
In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer:
"My soul, when I paint this next portrait
Let it be you who wrecks the canvas."
The news spread like wildfire through the building'
He had gone back to the sea for his subject.

Imagine a painter crucified by his subject!
Too exhausted even to lift his brush,
He provoked some artists leaning from the buildings
To malicious mirth: "We haven't a prayer
Now, of putting ourselves on canvas,
Or getting the sea to sit for a portrait!"

Others declared it a self-portrait.
Finally all indications of a subject
Began to fade, leaving the canvas
Perfectly white. He put down the brush.
At once a howl, that was also a prayer,
Arose from the overcrowded buildings.

They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings;
And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush
As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.

- John Ashbery from Some Trees (1956)

Emily & Anna

1 comment:

rodney k said...

ah, the dreaded moustache years! Why don't we make the two poems Emily and Anna mention above the only two required, "must-read" poems for Sunday? I mean, sure, go ahead and read all the others, and then some. We'll just focus our discussion on these two. We've got the whole rest of our lives to read the rest of their work--why rush through it here at the end of the semester? Sound good?

I'll be especially intersted to hear how you think these poems reflect on, extend or critique the particular version of modern American poetry we've been focused on this quarter. How do they take the story in a new direction?