Ed. Note: John Ashbery is one of the readers tonight at the gala
reading for Best American Poetry 2008
at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium (66 West 12 Street in New York) at 7 PM. And
it’s free. David Lehman, series editor of The Best American Poetry and poetry coordinator of the New School
Paradoxes and Oxymorons
This poem is concerned with language on a very plain level.
Look at it talking to you. You look out a window
Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don't have it.
You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.
This poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and cannot.
What's a plain level? It is that and other things,
Bringing a system of them into play. Play?
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 before you know
It gets lost in the steam and chatter of typewriters.
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.
Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem
Has set me softly down beside you. The poem is you.
– John Ashbery