Thursday, October 31, 2013

W. G. Sebald (Stray Notes)

W. G. Sebald, 1944-2001

W. G. Sebald, out of the “Foreword” to A Place in the Country (2013):
There seems to be no remedy to the vice of literature; those afflicted persist in the habit despite the fact that there is no longer any pleasure to be derived from it, even at that critical age when . . . one every day runs the risk of becoming simpleminded, and longs for nothing more than to put a halt to the wheels ceaselessly turning in one’s head . . .
Sebald’s root uneasiness with writing, its tendency towards an unthwartable graphomania. Recall the squib out of Sebald’s Unrecounted (2004): “This writing paper // smells / like wood shavings / inside the coffin.”

Or the lines out of The Rings of Saturn (1998):
Everything is on the point of decline, and only the weeds flourish: bindweed strangles the shrubs, the yellow roots of nettles creep onward in the soil, burdock stands a whole head taller than oneself, brown rot and greenfly are everywhere, and even the sheets of paper on which one endeavours to put together a few words and a sentence seem covered in mildew. For days and weeks on end one racks one’s brains to no avail, and, if asked, one could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair or outrage, any more than one could say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane.

A line, found in a notebook, regarding a story of how wrestlers “must maintain vigilance against swollen cartilage in their bruised ears, and drain such with a needle unless they cauliflower.” Writing’s way of siphoning off the hurly-burly, the excess.

Of the unstoppable Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who, out walking, made notes on playing cards for the Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire (1782), Sebald writes in the essay “J’aurais voulu que ce lac eût été l’Océan . . .: On the occasion of a visit to the Île Saint-Pierre”:
      Although Rousseau was by no means idle as an author in the few weeks he spent on the Île Saint-Pierre, in retrospect he nonetheless came to see this time as an attempt to free himself from the exigencies of literary production. He talks of how he longs now for something other than literary renown, the scent of which, as he says, revolted him from the very moment he first got a whiff of it. The dégoût Rousseau now felt with regard to literature was not merely an intermittent emotional reaction but something that for him always went hand in hand with the act of writing. In accordance with his doctrine of the formerly unspoiled state of nature, he saw the man who reflects as a depraved animal perverted from its natural state, and reflection as a degraded form of mental energy.

A mordant phrase out of Sebald’s essay “Why I grieve I do not know: A memento of Mörike”: “a different kind of mountebank career from that of writing—that rather vicarious vice whose clutches those who have once embarked upon it rarely succeed in escaping.”

Seemingly fatal burgeonings partout. Out of Sebald’s “As Day and Night . . .: On the paintings of Jan Peter Tripp”:
The photographic image makes a tautology of reality. When Cartier-Bresson goes to China, writes Susan Sontag, he shows that there are people in China and that these people are Chinese. What may be true of photography, though, is not necessarily applicable to art. The latter depends on ambiguity, polyvalence, resonance, obfuscation and illumination, in short, the transcending of that which, according to an ineluctable law, has necessarily to be the case. Roland Barthes saw in the—now omnipresent—man with a camera an agent of death, and in photographs something like the relics of life continually giving way to death. Where art differs from such a morbid affair is in the fact that the proximity of life to death is its subject, not its obsession. Art deploys the deconstruction of outward appearances as a means of countering the obliteration, in endless series of reproductions, of the visible world.
To stop writing: “a means of countering the obliteration, in endless series of reproductions, of the visible world.”

Eight of Hearts, with jottings by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
(One of the twenty-seven playing cards found with the unfinished manuscript of
Les Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire at the death of Rousseau in 1778.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

John Ashbery in Semi-Colon

John Ashbery, c. 1953

Out of an undated number (Vol. I, No. 3, circa 1953) of the John Bernard Myers-edited sheet Semi-Colon, an uncollected John Ashbery collage—a piece Ted Berrigan reprinted (lacking the sub-title) in C: A Journal of Poetry (Vol. I, No. 10, 1965) a decade or so later:

        (A collage made from Roget’s Thesaurus)

Excitation, excitation of feeling,
Excitement, mental excitement,
Heart interest [slang], sensationalism,
Yellow journalism, melodrama, irritation,
Etc. (resentment) 900; passion, thrill, etc.
(State of excitability) 825.2-5.

Work or operate on or upon.
Stir, set astir, stir up, stir the blood.
Fillip, give a fillip.
Illuminate; fire, set on fire; inflame.
Apply the torch, fire, or warm the blood.
Fan, fan into a flame, fan the fire or flame.
Blow the coals, stir the embers, feed the fire, add fuel to the fire.

Change color, turn color,
Mantle; whiten, pale, turn pale; darken, turn black in the face, look black or blue;
Turn red, blush, flush, crimson, glow, warm.

Voice of the charmer, flattering tongue, unctuousness, mealymouthedness, etc.,
Humor, soothe, pet, coquet, slaver, beslaver, beslubber, beplaster, pat on the back, puff.
Fool to the top of one’s bent.
Do one proud, pull one’s leg, sawder, soft-sawder, soft-
Soap, butter, honey, jolly, blarney, lay
It on, lay it on thick [all coll.]; lay it
On with a trowel, string, string along,
Honeyfogle [U.S.], oil, soap [all slang];
Make things pleasant, gild the pill.

What is the use of running when you are
On the wrong road—J. Ray. Mentis gratissimus error—A most pleasant
One goes to the right, the other to the left; both err, but in different ways.—Horace.
        Who errs and mends, to God him-
Self commends.—Cervantes. To err is human, to forgive
Divine.—Pope. Errors is worse than ignorance.—P. J. Bailey.


Off the track; on a false scent,
On the wrong scent or
Trail, up the wrong tree; at cross pur-

Intense darkness, pitch-darkness, Cimmerian darkness,
Stygian darkness, Egyptian darkness, monte, reversi,
Squeezers, old maid, beggar-my-neighbor, goat, hearts, patience.

Dull, dullsome, dull as dish water.
“The face
That launched a thousand ships.”
Wind-swept, bleak, raw, exposed,
The storm is up and all is on the hazard,
Rainy, showery, pluvious.

Avant-courier, avant-coureur or avant courrier,
Vice-sultan, vice-caliph, vice-queen,
Bitter as gall.
Liqueur, cordial, sweet wine, punch,
“Leave not a rack behind.”
All moonshine, all stuff and nonsense, all tommyrot,
“Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallambrosa.”
Bags, barrels, tons, flock,
In one’s stead.
Prolocutrice or prolocutrix,
Accept the stewardship of the Chiltern hundreds.
View with disfavor, view with dark or jaundiced eyes,
Loblolly pine.
Ineptitude, inaptitude,
“As like as eggs,”
Swim or go with the stream.
Myrtle, turtledove, Cupid’s bow,
Cupid’s dart; love token etc. 902-5,
Bewitch, enrapture, inflame with love, carry away, turn the head.
Once in a blue moon [coll.],
Once in a coon’s age [coll.],
Continually, incessantly, without ceasing, at all times, ever and anon;
Every day, every hour, every moment,
Daily, hourly, etc.
Daily and hourly, night and day, day and night, morning, noon and night,
Hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year,
Day in day out, month in month out, year in year out;
Perpetually, always etc. 112.5; invariably etc. 16.7.
Wander etc. from the truth,
Be in the wrong, be in the wrong box,
Bark up the wrong tree, back the wrong horse,
Aim at a pigeon and kill a crow,
Take or get the wrong sow by the ear,
The wrong pig by the tail, or the wrong bull by the horns,
Put the saddle on the wrong horse, count one’s chickens before they are hatched,
Reckon without one’s host, misbelieve, sin,
By special favor, yes, by all means.

I refuse! By no manner of means! I will not! Far be it from me!
Not if I can help it! I won’t! Like fun I will!
Count me out! You have another guess coming! Catch me!

Volunteer, come forward, be a candidate,
Barkis is willin’.

Don’t! Don’t do that! Enough!
No more of that! That will never do! Leave off! Hands off!
Keep off! Keep off the grass! Hold! Stop! etc.
Refusal, refusing, declining, etc.

Leave alone, leave it to me,
Leave the door open, open the door to.
Open the floodgates, give the reins to etc. (allow freedom).

Above par.
Best, very best, choice, select.
Picked, elect, prime, capital, of the first water.
First-rate. First-class. First-chop.
Top-hole. Bang-up. Tiptop.
Top-notch. A 1, A one or number 1.
Crack, gilt-edge or gilt-edged.

Good, superb, super, superfine, exquisite,
High-wrought, precious, worth-its-weight-in-gold.

Worth a king’s ransom,
Precious as the apple of the eye.

Good as gold,
Priceless, beyond price.

Invaluable, inestimable, rare.
Exceptional, extraordinary.

Beau idéal

Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche


Beyond all praise, sans peur et sans reproche

Clean, clean as a whistle, completely (etc.)


Corker, trump [both slang]

Black tulip

Cygne noir, black swan

Admirable Crichton, Bayard, Roland, Sidney


Choice, best etc.

Standard, pattern, mirror etc. (prototype) 22
A wry assemblage—replete with notational Thesaurus-oid mannerisms (“Cupid’s dart; love token etc. 902-5”), rhythmically humorous swells (“First-rate. First-class. First-chop. / Top-hole. Bang-up. Tiptop. / Top-notch . . .”), bemusedly emphatic discernments (“The wrong pig by the tail, or the wrong bull by the horns”), the fussy demotic (“yes, by all means”) in cohort with the literary refractory (“Barkis is willin’”) and the chronic human will to connect, melancholic or giddy (“all stuff and nonsense, all tommyrot, / ‘Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallambrosa’”)—of lingual detritus high and low.* I see in “Hoboken” a direct predecessor of some of the lists found in Ashbery’s book-length poem with Joe Brainard, The Vermont Notebook (1975). See something like:
Beggar-my-neighbor, pounce, fish, old maid, progressive euchre, bezique, backgammon, mah jongg, dominoes, hearts, contract bridge, Michigan poker, rummy, solitaire, Monopoly, Sorry, Parcheesi, Scrabble, Authors, checkers, Chinese checkers, chess, go, fan tan, honeymoon bridge.
Suede, tweed, cotton, silk, jersey, whipcord, cavalry twill, melton, moire, nylon, net, challis, cordovan, maxi, midi, scarf, shoes, zipper, cuff, button.
Or the slightly recherché (possibly Thesaurus-generated?):
Grey, ocher, mauve, gentian, tabac, beige, greige, buff, taupe, mastic, fawn, havane, verdigris, smoke, amber, russet, outremer.
Something plausibly conceptualist avant la lettre in the way “Hoboken” flaunts the anti-expressionist marks of its making—Ashbery’s is a flaunt performed with a shrug (against the ostentatious squeals of self-import of “our” contemporary purveyors).
* Something in the grand range of lingual elements Ashbery’s selected recalls these lines out of “The Recital”—in Three Poems (1972):
      The point was the synthesis of very simple elements in a new and strong, as opposed to old and weak, relation to one another. Why hadn’t this been possible in the earlier days of experimentation, of bleak, barren living that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere and it couldn’t have mattered less? Probably because not enough of what made it up had taken on that look of worn familiarity, like pebbles polished over and over again by the sea, that made it possible for the old to blend inconspicuously with the new in a union too subtle to cause any comment that would have shattered its purpose forever. But already it was hard to distinguish the new elements from the old, so calculated and easygoing was the fusion, the partnership that was the only element now, and which was even now fading rapidly from memory, so perfect was its assimilation by the bystanders and décor that in other times would have filled up the view, and that now were becoming as transparent as the substance that was giving them back to life.
Regarding that “assimilation by . . . bystanders and décor”: how quickly the piece’s—“Hoboken”’s—constructedness begins to seem “natural.” How the explicatory sub-title “(A collage made from Roget’s Thesaurus)” is already, circa 1965, scratched by Berrigan in the reprinting, presumably a sort of redundancy. The room subsumed by its viewing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Uncollected Donald Barthelme

Donald Barthelme, c. 1964

Found by accident whilst looking for something in Peter Schjeldahl’s magazine Mother: A Journal of New Literature, an uncollected piece by Donald Barthelme:

      ASTONISHMENT, surprise and disappointment were so great for a few seconds after the discovery that the best part of the party—the ice cream—was gone, that no one knew what to say. Then Flossie burst out with:
      Then the feast began, and such a feast as it was! Mrs. Bobbsey, knowing how easily the delicate stomachs of children can be upset, had wisely selected the food and sweets, and she saw to it that no one ate too much, though she was gently suggestive about it instead of ordering.
      Then a chair would be taken away, so as always to have one less than the number of players, and the game went on. It was great fun, scrambling to see who would get a seat, and not be left without one, and finally there was but one chair left, while Grace Lavine and John Blake marched about.
      Then Freddie, anxious as to what would become of Snap if he fought a snake, looked back. He saw a strange sight.
      “Then don’t you come any nearer if you don’t want to get wet,” said Bert. “This hose might sprinkle you by accident, the same as it did when Freddie had it,” he added.
      Then came all sorts of games, from tag and jumping rope, to blind-man’s bluff and hide-and-seek. Snap was made to do a number of tricks, much to the amusement of the teachers and children. Danny Rugg, and some of the older boys, got up a small baseball game, and then Danny, with one or two chums, went off in a deeper part of the woods. Bert heard one of the boys ask another if he had any matches.
      Then she thought she saw something long and black wiggling toward her, and, with a little exclamation of fright, she, too, turned to follow the others. But, as she did so, she saw their dog Snap come running up the hill, barking and wagging his tail. He seemed to have lost the children for a moment and to be telling them how glad he was that he had found them again.
      “Then I’m surely going to be one, too,” declared Flossie. “I like good things to eat. I hope our minister isn’t very hungry, ’cause then there’ll be some left for us when we come home from this picnic.”
      “Then how do you account for this?” asked the chief, as he held out a box partly filled with cigarettes. “I picked these up in the living room,” he went on, for the boathouse had one room carpeted, and fitted with chairs and tables, and electric lights where the family often spent evenings during the Summer.
      Then he felt embarrassed at asking it and before Macomber could answer he went on, “We all take a beating every day, you know, one way or another.”
      “Then let’s eat ours now,” suggested Flossie. “I’m awful hungry.”
      Then Mr. Bobbsey sat down to read the evening paper.
      Then came closing days at Ocean Cliff, the home of Uncle William and Aunt Emily Minturn at Sunset Beach. School was soon to open, and Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey were anxious to get back to their town home.
      “Then take that!” exclaimed Danny, and he gave Bert a push that nearly knocked him down. Bert put out a hand to save himself and struck Danny, not really meaning to.
      Just then there came along two large boys, Frank Cobb, and his particular chum, Irving Knight.
      Then the lumber merchant gave certain orders to his grocer and butcher, and if a number of poor people were not well supplied with food that gladsome season, it was not the fault of Mr. Bobbsey.
      From then on Mr. Rugg did some hard thinking. He began “putting two and two together” as the old saying has it. He remembered the Bobbsey boathouse fire. On that occasion Danny had come in late, and there had been the smell of smoke on his clothes.
      Then how the children laughed and clapped their hands! And Snap barked so loudly—for he liked applause—that there was noise enough for even jolly Aunt Sarah. After that there was no trouble.
      Then, when they had on dry garments, and could go out, there was no one with whom to play.
      “Then come with me, and I’ll let you help hold the hose,” said the fireman. “I’ll look after him,” he went on, to Mrs. Bobbsey, and she nodded to show that Freddie could go.
      “Then we’ll have to give him up I suppose,” and Mrs. Bobbsey sighed, for she had grown very much attached to the fine animal.
      But the strange dog did not need lifting. He sprang into the tonneau of the auto as soon as the door was opened. Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey lifted in Flossie and Freddie, and Nan and Bert followed. Then in got Papa and Mamma Bobbsey and Mr. Blake started off.
Found in Mother No. 3 (1964) between three pieces by Tony Towle (“Innocent-looking floorboards give way and I can’t stop my fall . . .”) and a collaboratory cartoon by Kenneth Koch and Joe Brainard called “Size 40” (thinking bubbles of a T-shirt: “To lie across her breasts all day—aye, ’tis a pretty thought . . .”) and signed, “Donald Barthelme and Laura Lee Hope.” The latter being the pseudonymous author of the Bobbsey Twins series—The Bobbsey Twins, or Merry Days Indoors and Out (1904), The Bobbsey Twins in the Country (1907), The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore (1907), &c. Barthelme’s “Then” is constructed, then, by simply lifting and rearranging a number of paragraphs out of the Edward Stratemeyer syndicate-produced fourth book in the The Bobbsey Twins series The Bobbsey Twins at School (1913). Reworking with ironic intent what Barthelme once called* “cultural artifacts of ambivalent status,” putting ready-made American detritus into new contexts. And hiding, amidst the Bobbsey slurry, a nugget of Hemingway. (The source chapters, in sequence, with all repetitions detailed and the “unmannerly intruder” compris, go: Chapter XIV “A Coat Button,” Chapter XIII “An Unpleasant Surprise,” Chapter XIII “An Unpleasant Surprise,” Chapter XI “Danny’s Trick,” Chapter VII “At School,” Chapter X “A Scare,” Chapter XI “Danny’s Trick,” Chapter X “A Scare,” Chapter XIX “Who Was Smoking?,” Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Chapter X “A Scare,” Chapter XV “Thanksgiving,” Chapter II “Snoop Is Gone” (with Barthelme truncating the final sentence, removing the clauses “for Flossie and Freddie were to start regular lessons now, even though it was but in the kindergarten class” after “home”), Chapter VIII “Bert Sees Something,” Chapter XVIII “A Night Alarm,” Chapter XV “Thanksgiving,” Chapter XX “A Confession,” Chapter XIII “An Unpleasant Surprise,” Chapter VII “At School,” Chapter VI “Danny Rugg Is Mean,” Chapter XXII “Snap and Snoop,” and Chapter IV “Home in an Auto.”) In a 1981 “Art of Fiction” interview in The Paris Review Barthelme points to one source of such brash formal license in jazz:
You’d hear some of these guys take a tired old tune like “Who’s Sorry Now?” and do the most incredible things with it, make it beautiful, literally make it new. The interest and the drama were in the formal manipulation of the rather slight material.
Pertinent, too, is a remark Barthelme made to George Plimpton in a 1984 TV interview (reported in Tracy Daugherty’s 2009 Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme): “I originally began writing in rather traditional, ersatz Hemingway fashion, and it was really terrible, it was truly terrible. It was in reaction to my own inability to satisfy myself with traditional forms that I sort of began throwing things on the floor and looking to see what sorts of patterns they made.”
* In Barthelme’s c. 1985 essay “Not Knowing,” wherein he relates how he once bought “a set of brass knuckles . . . in a pawnshop, not to smash up someone’s face but to exhibit on a pedestal in a museum show devoted to cultural artifacts of ambivalent status. The world enters the work as it enters our ordinary lives, not as worldview or system but in sharp particularity: a tax notice from Madelaine, a snowball containing a résumé from Gaston.” He’s referring to an exhibit called “New American Artifacts: The Ugly Show” he assembled in 1960 for Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum. Barthelme’s list of some of the exhibit’s wonders:
A baby blue Styrofoam chrysanthemum. An auto hubcap, brand unrecognizable. A hideous jukebox. Paint-by-number pictures of lambs, sans paint. An unbelievably ugly plastic chair. A giant-size Vaseline jar. An imitation shrunken head. A plaster “flamenco.” Reader’s Digest. Official Detective. Ricky Nelson Magazine. A TV antenna. A whiskey decanter disguised as a Greek vase. Bunny rabbit decals. Big Bonus stamps. A gilded baby shoe coin bank. Klutch denture adhesive. Plastic-bright artificial fruit. Tiki Joe’s Luau Kit. A plastic red rose in pseudo crystal vase. Three (bad) reproductions of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. An “obscene” ashtray. A large Coke bottle. A box of All. Half-ceramic, half-wooden totem poles. A toy machine gun. A plastic soldier’s helmet. “A roseate and gaudily commercialized” badly-printed stuffed head of Christ. A copy of the American flag printed out of register on flimsy plastic.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch in Semi-Colon

Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966

A piece by Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch out of the John Bernard Myers-edited Semi-Colon (Vol. II, No. 1), the rather ephemeral folded sheet (four pages) printed for the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, circa 1954:
The Mirror Naturally Stripped

They are debating over the daffodil seeds
in history. Quaff these jeweled belches
for isn’t there whichness in the thinking apparatus
that glides towards cruelty as commonly as a bench?
Yes I am inverting my bricks.
Santa Claus, please bring me a barefoot match
that never finds itself
like a needle in the nose. Bad and nasty
are the crisscrosses whose films naughty daisy unheeds
as if there were tulips singing “Rattan, grow down”
and the empire of phosporous cheesecake also.

Oh let me. Yet I think of myself as being impossibly happy
like a licensee who has been appointed to health-juices
it’s so moving to be moving, O Everest your nose grows down
the steep side of California-happy gypsy dominoes. Pets!
You do intend to love us like a helicopter landing
on the frozen faces of these hen-indented planets, O basement
always yiping until one feels like a nagged bore
whose films are growing like a daisy method in you, basement,
basement, always twitching like a Bostonian, get out,
O marinated herring of these twelve blue eyes!

Are you gasping with astonishment at the hideboundness?
Aren’t there packs of your best Chinese star?
I’m not going to persuade you to cuckold the Ringling Brothers-Barnum
        and Bailey world
of chin-faced sadness, O Labrador of teasing neck-sacks,
and all of it of such an ofness
beyond the caress of displaced piano
tra-la. Let’s tra-la it. Aren’t you William Tell?
Will you em tell? Oh it wool int. baby ex fair ill nnnn tell
and it is true or my name isn’t ick. Well, ick then. Ick.
Nice coolness oh erp, axe, fair, fare, pink, trees! pangs! oh its jamas

dun carp orange trees escaping the cylinder, isn’t
every car a field of ringing hash, O motors of velvet?
Carolina moon, keep it up as long as you can, and you can
be a bee, or if you like, a giant pea, a big kimono factory
shuffling its enormous hams up and down the street.
A boat must quietly sing, “My cheers of tall roses
which are as Russian as an English novel” in C,
and the baseball said, “My head was filled; the Redsox
are reading Hudibras on the tenement roof this July.”
And I looked—O poor crybaby, it is the Mediterranean—our hugs sent back!
(Resisting the urge to make “phosporous” “phosphorous” and “yiping” “yipping” or to reckon that emphatic and unindented singularity “like!” simply a carryover belonging the previous line.) All the dross and excess and forcedness (“the merely zany”) of the usual collaboratory stint, I suppose, along with the occasional marvels that redeem its longueurs, made, perhaps, possible by them. I particularly like the rather Steinian “isn’t there whichness in the thinking apparatus / that glides towards cruelty as commonly as a bench?” along with “and all of it of such an ofness”: who’s been reading “Stanzas in Meditation”? And, too, the palpably right nonsense of: “these hen-indented planets” and “a big kimono factory / shuffling its enormous hams up and down the street.” Is the title vaguely Duchampian? Somewhere in Tracking the Marvelous, John Bernard Myers’s 1983 memoir, he quotes René Magritte: “The titles of the pictures were chosen in such a way as to inspire a justifiable mistrust of any tendency the spectator might have to over-ready self-assurance.”* The sort of line one thinks of John Ashbery cottoning to, bemusedly unrued. O’Hara and Koch’s other piece in the issue:

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!

woof woof!
A piece that’d seem to align somewhat with Joseph Ceravolo’s later lines (out of “Drunken Winter”): “Oak oak! like like / it then / cold some wild paddle / so sky then . . .” Roughly forty years later, Kenneth Koch, in “A Time Zone” (Apollinaire’s “Zone” provides the epigraph, and the clumsy itinerant rhyme-scheme: “On y loue des chambres en latine Cubicula locanda / Je m’en souviens j’y ai passé trois jours et autant à Gouda”—“There they let their rooms in Latin cubicula locanda / I remember I spent three days there and as many in Gouda” is how Beckett rendered it) writes:
. . .
I am pulled in one direction by Sweden in another by Spain
The idea of staying in Europe jolts me gives a convincing jerk
It’s New York though where most of my friends are and the “new work”
Today with Frank O’Hara a lunch connection
The Museum of Modern Art is showing its Arp collection
Frank comes out of the doorway in his necktie and his coat
It is a day on which it would be good to vote
Autumn a crisp Republicanism is in the air tie and coat
Soon to be trounced by the Democrats personified as a slung-over-the-shoulder coat
Fascism in the form of a bank
Gives way to a shining restaurant that opens its doors with a clank
However before being taken into this odoriferous coffer
A little hard-as-a-hat poem to the day we offer
“Sky / woof woof! / harp”
This is repeated ten times
Each word is one line so the whole poem is thirty lines
It’s a poem composed in a moment
On the sidewalk about fifteen blocks from the Alice in Wonderland Monument
Sky woof woof! harp is published in Semicolon
Later than this in this John Myers publication
O’Hara meanwhile is bending above his shirt
His mind being and putting mine on being on International Alert
There’s no self-praise in his gossip
Which in fact isn’t gossip but like an artistic air-trip
To all the greatest monuments of America and Europe
Relayed in a mild excited wide open-eyed smiling conversational style
. . .
Making “Sky / woof woof! / harp” a piece composed on the street, O’Hara-style. (Though one wonders how the onerous / humorous repeatedness of the three lines occurred, Koch’s wrongly recalled “ten”. . .) Included, too, in the issue of Semi-colon** is a sort of reduced-means virtuosic piece by Koch, a one-word sestina, defiantly bravura material, and seemingly uncollected:
In the Gas Station

“Ha ha! Let’s come to the point!”
Said Pa. “We’re coming to the point!”
Said Ma. Baby and Fred saw the Point
Up ahead. When they neared the Point
They stopped at a gas station called “The Mud Point”
Signalized by a balsam dog in point.

Pretty Anne, the manageress of “The Mud Point,”
Ran out in her calico apron, inviting them to point
To the gas variety they wished, thereby making a point.
She smiled up at the balsam dog in point.
“I like things to come to a point,”
She reflected, dreamily. “There’s a certain point

After which, well gosh, gee, there’s just no point!”
Pa dashed from the car and began to point
To the Ethyl tank. Baby watched the point
Of the gas-meter—Oh how it quavered! “You point,”
Ma reproached Pa, “but it ain’t polite to point.”
Anne filled up their tank to the final point.

“That’s what I call coming to the point!”
Fairfield screeched, racing out of the “The Mud Point”
Gas station office. “Anne, you’ve proved your point!
It is easier to take care of customers when they point.”
Anne said, “Ma mie, the balsam dog’s in point.”
The family, Pa and so on, didn’t get the point.

Pa jested, “Well, let’s get to the unpleasant point!
How much is the gas?” Fairfield and Anne looked at the meter’s point.
Baby and Freddy together cried, “Oh look at it point!”
Anne handed Pa a bill, said, “You must pay up to this point.”
Pa said, “It’s not fun when you get to this point.”
Then he paid them. He said, “How far are we from the Point?”

Fairfield said, “Do you see up ahead there that point?
Well, that is what we generally know as the Point.”
Pa thanked him. He moved the car so it’d point
Straight for the place he had been instructed was the Point.
Ma said, “It will be good, after so long, to get to the Point!”
Baby sat on Fred’s lap, still staring fascinatedly at the point.

The car drove off to the Point. Fairfield said, “It’s a fine point,
Anne, I’ve learned from you, but it’s a point.” “No need to point,
Dear,” Anne said, “when there’s an obvious point.” In the wind waved the balsam
        dog in point.
* The line is out of Magritte’s piece called “Lifeline,” printed in the 1946 “Surrealism in Belgium” number of the Parker Tyler and Charles Henri Ford-edited Surrealist magazine View.

** I am leaving out Koch’s “Collected Poems,” printed side by side with “Collected Proses,” O’Hara’s “answer.” If Koch, in the series of miniatures, is “interested in the relationship between poems and their titles” (see note in Koch’s 1994 On the Great Atlantic Rainway: Selected Poems 1950-1988), O’Hara insists on that relationship’s being one of unfettered wit and repartee. Koch:
. . .

New little tray.

The bantam hen frayed its passage through the soft clouds.

Town soda.

. . .
. . .


At present writing The Prodigal starring Lana Turner has run for 30 seconds.

He went to sleep quickly in the garage, puffing away on his exhaustion.

. . .
Koch’s “Collected Poems” is reprinted in Thank You and Other Poems (1962), O’Hara’s “Collected Proses” in Poems Retrieved (1977).

Kenneth Koch with Fairfield Porter’s Kenneth Koch Reading, c. 1967
(Photograph by Jill Krementz)