Monday, August 10, 2009

70s classics poetry Ashbery

from Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1975
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
And still return safely to its nest? The surface
Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases
Significantly; that is, enough to make the point
That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept
In suspension, unable to advance much farther
Than your look as it intercepts the picture.
Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied"
By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission
That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,
Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane,
The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
Posing in this place. It must move
As little as possible. This is what the portrait says.
But there is in that gaze a combination
Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful
In its restraint that one cannot look for long.
Eric Foley and Ralph Kolewe both recommend Ashbery's Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror via Twitter, and originally published in Poetry Magazine, as Don Share points out. A whole other level of ekphrastic poetry... so much of which becomes a matter of surface description with no bite, not depth of inquiry or emotion (even though this form seems the province of lyric and/or formal poets). Edward Byrne on the poem.
You can hear Ashbery reading in 1976.

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