A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
A talent for self-realization
will get you only as far as the vacant lot
next to the lumber yard, where they have rollcall.
My name begins with an A,
so is one of the first to be read off.
I am wondering where to stand – could that group of three
or four others be the beginning of the line?
Before I have the chance to find out, a rodent-like
man pushes at my shoulders. “It’s that way,” he hisses. “Didn’t they teach you anything at school? That a photograph
of anything can be real, or maybe not? The corner of the stove,
a cloud of midges at dusk-time.”
I know I’ll have a chance to learn more
later on. Waiting is what’s called for, meanwhile.
It’s true that life can be anything, but certain things
definitely aren’t it. This gloved hand,
for instance, that glides
so securely into mine, as though it intends to stay.
John Ashbery (July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017) was an American poet. He published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English Department at Yale University, wrote in 2008, “No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery” and “No American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound.” Stephen Burt, a poet and Harvard professor of English, has compared Ashbery to T. S. Eliot, calling Ashbery “the last figure whom half the English-language poets alive thought a great model, and the other half thought incomprehensible”.