Friday, February 7, 2014

Analysis of "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" by John Ashbery

Original poem reprinted online here: "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" by John Ashbery
Originally read: July 27, 2013 (I printed the poem out again 11/4)
More information about the Poet: John Ashbery

This is a poem that the Poetry Foundation has an extensive guide and analysis on to not only understand the poem, but to teach the poem to any age level.  For me, I read the poem and I thought it was a very good poem talking about learning about poetry.  Not necessarily an Ars Poetica, but this is a poem, I feel, a lot of students, young or old, can relate to.

The first stanza is very straight forward, "The poem is concerned with language on a very plain level. / Look at it talking to you.  You look out a window."  The speaker sets up a relationship between the reader and the poem -- something amiss, "Or pretend to fidget. / You have it but you don't have it.  / You miss it, it misses you.  You miss each other."  Confidence.  Perhaps.  It's the ability to try to understand something, that the reader doesn't want to.  Poems aren't mandatory, they're a luxury.  And so, when a reader, forced to read and, unfortunately enough, interpret the poem has an idea, it's maybe not the right idea.

The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot."  A very telling line based on anthropomorphism.  Here, the language is very plain, and puts the responsibility of ownership back to the reader.  But also note that the "poem" been given personality, wants.  But does the reader want?  "What's a plain level?  It is that and other things, / Bringing a system of them into play. Play?"  Ah, play, the rhetorical questions seem simple, but the question asks the core reasons on how and why to read a poem.  Why can't a poem be read in plain language?  Why is it unfun to read a poem?  And here, the speaker cannot define play for the poem, but intrudes in the poem to describe what play means to the speaker:

     Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be
     A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,
     As in the division of grace these long August days
     Without proof.  Open-ended.

And this is where the poem turns from a lecture, to the personal, and back to the lecture again.  Note the difference of language used for the definition.  More based on personal thought that comes off ambiguous "a deeper outside thing," or "A dreamed role pattern," or "As in the division of grace these long August days without proof"  -- here the speaker takes control, responsibility, this is play.  Not focusing on what others want the reader to think about the poem, but what the reader thinks about the poem, "Open-ended"  and through this open-endedness, "And before you know / It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters."

"It" is a the key word in this poem -- the unwritable which the writer has to, unfortunately, write about and the reader, unfortunately, has to interpret.  It's the need to chronicle such thoughts and the question is why?

"It has been played once more.  I think you exist only /To tease me into doing it, on your level and then you aren't there" The paradox.  Writer's write for the readers who are afraid respond, to be wrong, to look into.  Poem's aren't the only things that are sad because they aren't looked at.

"Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem / Has set me softly down beside you.  The poem is you."  How sensual are these are these last lines, and regardless on how the writer feels about his/her own work -- the closet a writer and reader get to each other is through their work.  And, the "different" attitude is -- well that's enough.  Even ignored, the mere presence of someone at least attempting to read the poem "the right way" is enough.  Is it?

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