Saturday, July 28, 2012

Popeye Chuckled and Scratched His Balls

John Ashbery is eighty-five today. Some poems I once loved have aged better than the majority that haven't, but however I read today first reading John Ashbery thirty-five years ago remains a transformational moment. Today's a High Holy Day in Egoslavia.

I got to know two poets at Hilltop, Tony Hecht, who I talk about all the time and who loathed Ashbery's influence but begrudgingly acknowledged the quality of the poetry, and Roland Flint, who hated every other poet but Ashbery particularly, his bad Lazarus to Flint's good.

Was funny. Hecht would wind Flint up then say something complimentary about Ashbery (or O'Hara or Sexton or Lowell) and Flint would flint, especially when ryed. I do understand and appreciate Hecht's resentment of Ashbery's influence: while Ashbery could successfully write Ashbery poetry, the poetry of a gigazillion Ashbery imitators, precious few of whom (Hecht said, raising that right eyebrow of owl feathers and skewering me) rise above derivative suck, sucks. So this is how I work in a shitty Star Trek allusion, proof Hecht's eyebrow knew of what it scowled.


John Ashbery

The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country."
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How pleasant
To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she scratched
Her cleft chin's solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish." He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. "But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country."

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach
When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in. "How pleasant!"
But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. "Thunder
And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched."

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched
Her long thigh. "I have news!" she gasped. "Popeye, forced as you
     know to flee the country
One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, duplicate
     father, jealous of the apartment
And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched
Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder."
She grabbed Swee'pea. "I'm taking the brat to the country."
"But you can't do that--he hasn't even finished his spinach,"
Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush. "Actually it's quite pleasant
Here," thought the Sea Hag. "If this is all we need fear from spinach
Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over"
     --she scratched
One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country
Bumpkin, always burping like that." Minute at first, the thunder

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,
The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.


  1. I find your Penn State question incomprehensible. So what if?

  2. Heh, I found it so to and removed it as you were commenting. What I meant was imagine the sturm und drang in sports/political commentariat if Penn State, after everything, was the best college football team in the land. Strictly hypothetical.