recapitulating duchamp

“All right. The problem is that there is no new problem. It must awaken from the sleep of being part of some other, old problem, and by that time its new problematical existence will have already begun, carrying it forward into situations with which it cannot cope, since no one recognizes it and it does not even recognize itself yet, or know what it is. It is like the beginning of a beautiful day, with all the birds singing in the trees, reading their joy and excitement into its record as it progresses, and yet the progress of any day, good or bad, brings with it all kinds of difficulties that should have been foreseen but never are, so that it finally seems as though they are what stifles it, in the majesty of a sunset or merely in gradual dullness that gets dimmer and dimmer until it finally sinks into flat, sour darkness. Why is this? Because not one-tenth or even one-hundredth of the ravishing possibilities the birds sing about at dawn could ever be realized in the course of a single day, no matter how crammed with fortunate events it might turn out to be. And this brings on inevitable reproaches, unmerited of course, for we are all like children sulking because they cannot have the moon; and very soon the unreasonableness of these demands is forgotten and overwhelmed in a wave of melancholy of which it is the sole cause. Finally we know only that we are unhappy but we cannot tell why. We forget that it is our own childishness that is to blame.”

(John Ashbery, “The Recital,” pp. 107–108 in Three Poems.)

this “other tradition”

“It is this ‘other tradition’ which we propose to explore. The facts of history have been too well rehearsed (I’m speaking needless to say not of written history but the oral kind that goes on in you without your having to do anything about it) to require further elucidation here. But the other, unrelated happenings that form a kind of sequence of fantastic reflections as they succeed each other at a pace and according to an inner necessity of their own – these, I say, have hardly ever been looked at from a vantage point other than the historian’s and an arcane historian’s at that. The living aspect of these obscure phenomena has never to my knowledge been examined from a point of view like the painter’s: in the round, bathed in a sufficient flow of overhead light, with ‘all its imperfections on its head’ and yet without prejudice of the exaggerations either of the anathematist or the eulogist: quietly, in short, and I hope succinctly. judged from this angle the whole affair will, I think, partake of and benefit from the enthusiasm not of the religious fanatic but of the average, open-minded, intelligent person who has never interested himself before in these matters either from not having had the leisure to do so or from ignorance of their existence.”

(John Ashbery, “The System,” p. 56 in Three Poems.)

only the one way

“There is probably more than one way of proceeding but of course you want only the one way that is denied you, the leaves over that barrier will never turn the sorrowful agate hue of the rest but only burnish perpetually in a colorless, livid explosion that is a chant of praise for your having remained behind to think rather than act. Meditation rains down on you to be sucked up in turn by the sun like steam, making it all the more difficult to know where the branching out should occur. It is like approaching a river at night, uncertain of the direction of the current. But the pulsating of it leads to further certainties because, bouncing off the vortexes to be joined, the cyclical force succeeds in defining its negative outline. For the moment uncertainty is banished at the same time that growing is introduced almost surreptitiously, under the guise of an invitation to learn all about these multiple phenomena which are our being here, since a knowledge of them is after all vital to our survival in this place of provocative but baffling commonplace events.”

(John Ashbery, “The New Spirit,” pp. 31–32 in Three Poems.)

for we judge not, lest we be judged

“It’s just beginning. Now it’s started to work again. The visitation, was it more or less over. No, it had not yet begun, except as a preparatory dream which seemed to have the rough texture of life, but which dwindled into starshine like all the unwanted memories. There was no holding on to it. But for that we ought to be glad, no one really needed it, yet it was not utterly worthless, it taught us the forms of this our present waking life, the manners of the unreachable. And its judgments, though harmless and playful, were yet the form of utterance by which judgment shall come to be known. For we judge not, lest we be judged, yet we are judged all the same, without noticing, until one day we wake up a different color, the color of the filter of the opinions and ideas everyone has ever entertained about us. And in this form we must prepare, now, to try to live.”

(John Ashbery, “The New Spirit,” pp. 7–8 in Three Poems.)

master of the hovering life

“[Frederick G.] Peters cites the following from Musil:

A man who is after the truth sets out to be a man of learning; a man who wants to give free play to his subjectivity sets out, perhaps, to be a writer. But what is the man to do who is after something that lies between?

His own answer was to become what he saw as a ‘master of the hovering life,’ to navigate freely between the two, ideally embracing both.”

(Sven Birkerts, “Robert Musil,” p. 29 in An Artificial Wilderness: Essays on Twentieth-Century Literature.)

bit of a sight

Gone as past as if
this Rome remains
unstrapped, cattle pausing, wears
the stars from their aislings
the hair from the easy sawn limb

I tried to see it, see
to it, encase it that
the morns be loaned to latterday points
trained as sylphs, or bargained
back into the whole of an afternoon
prism and to come

Nothing but
things in a world of stone passage
stacks and their haunts, flags
in eerie halt beside sides
flagons stalling and the strand

The world is a mug
turned back, plantways before
a wall and my finger
a window around it now
whole city for its raise back
          stops in its thinking

(Clark Coolidge, p. 105 in Odes of Roba.)

antonello’s jerome

Inside the baking kiln, after
the saint’s slid in, resides the bluesky
at the back you see twin vials of it
birds and bats included, and below
a window land, four square, for witness

Before, on ledge of neat cares, there is
the peacock pointed away, pride avoiding
copper of use

In case, Jerome reads, profiles the document
in fact is set up to be seen reading, learning
the lay of his robes, shades of his utensil
crannies, to atone, as shown

Below, spread marium of pavement too vast
for his use, he must be cupboarded, staged away
in view lit, from an angle sinistra
and beside step one of four his slipper

In all, this is miniature,
of oddments cased to be taken with you
a pocket display of a life used whole
for the reading, for the closing

(Clark Coolidge, p. 13 in Odes of Roba.)

january 19-january 24


  • bpNichol, The Alphabet Game: a bpNichol reader, ed. Darren Wershler-Henry & Lori Emerson
  • Chrisopher Middleton, Torse 3: poems 1949–1961
  • Clark Coolidge, Odes of Roba


  • Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, Metropolitan Museum
  • Raphael to Renoir: Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna, Metropolitan Museum