Breezeway Homage No. 7, Forget Where I Heard It

Forget Where I Heard It, Susan Scheid (2015)

Forget Where I Heard It, Susan Scheid (2015)

The collage pays homage to John Ashbery’s poem “Forget Where I Heard It” in the volume Breezeway. Ashbery had me at the title of this poem, yet there is so much more. I searched for peas and beans to shape a coma, as might be suggested by the poem’s middle stanza, but I couldn’t find them, which is probably just as well. (What is in his head that arrives at such lines?) Then, in the final stanza, he makes utter sense, reminding me, in ways that may seem oblique to anyone else, of Alice Goodman’s text for Chou En-Lai’s plaintive aria at the close of John Adams’s Nixon in China: “How much of what we did was good/Everything seems to move beyond our remedy.” [citation]

Listening List

Claude Debussy, Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest (What the West Wind Saw) from Préludes (Book 1) (1909-10) (the first page of the score forms the backdrop for the collage)

On Spotify (Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli)

On YouTube (Michelangeli)

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Credits: The text in the collage is the title of the Ashbery poem to which the collage relates. The image and underlying collage, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.

9 thoughts on “Breezeway Homage No. 7, Forget Where I Heard It

  1. Mark Kerstetter

    I like how the airplanes and the skydivers–the shapes of them–mimic the shapes of musical notes, the sense of randomness deprived of any feeling of loss by the exuberance of the pianist, the dancers and finally the statuesque man in a formal pigeon pose.

    Have you noticed how many Ashbery poems reference sleeping/the unconscious? It’s probably the most common reference and it runs throughout his entire oeuvre. Here in the form of “coma” existing in its own sovereignty promising to come into play in the waking world “later”.

    Most interesting to me in this poem is the final stanza. In a way Ashbery exists in his own coma poetry world in the sense that his sympathies have always seemed to lie with really out of the way, experimental, eccentric writers, writers who aren’t likely to ever be as famous and celebrated as he is–and how strange that he is, by the way. I think he feels at home with those sorts of writers. it’s not possible that he be referred to the way the composer is in this poem, and yet this is what he identifies with. it’s not a heroic view of art/the artist. Yet asking if the “mere survival of the notes is justified” and indeed if we all don’t survive this way is like asking if a wildflower’s existence is justified. They come and go, like pigeons from a courtyard. Who knows what riot act those notes may be read into in the future, and what good may come of it?

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Mark: Every word of what you’ve written here is pure gold. Thank you so much. I hadn’t identified sleeping/unconscious as so prominent in his writing, but now that you note it, I’m seeing it everywhere. Your observation about the peas/beans/coma lines that so puzzled me I find fascinating, even as I still find the lines themselves a stepping stone too far to grasp on my own. Your comments on the last stanza are wonderful. I’m reminded of the poets Ashbery chose to discuss in his Norton lectures: John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Raymond Roussel, John Wheelwright, Laura Riding, and David Schubert, every one a case-in-point about your observation.

  2. shoreacres

    “What is in his head?” seems a perfectly appropriate question. I’ve always struggled with Ashbery, but this one turned out to be the proverbial brick wall. After about three and a half readings, I concluded he wasn’t so much writing poetry as having a jolly good time at our expense: perhaps drawing words at random from a hat, and letting fly. That’s probably unfair, but there you are.

    I do think your collage is amusing and clever, particularly the piano player. I know that woman. Sometimes, I think I am that woman.

    I did find some interesting byways to explore. On involved the line, “ It would be sad if it wasn’t so funny…” I grew up hearing just the opposite: that this or that “would be funny, if it weren’t so sad.” I went over to the Ngram viewer and found some interesting results. Funny/sad is ascendent, sad/funny is on the decline, and the gap between the two is getting larger. I doubt if there’s any deep meaning there, but it would be interesting to know why Ashbery chose the version he did.

    And I did warm a bit to these last lines:

    “After three decades of futility, you have to ask:
    Who was this composer?
    Was he known for anything else?
    Is the mere survival of the notes justified,
    or do we all survive this way, more or less?”

    The lines reminded me of Section V of “East Coker” — that marvelous passage that begins:

    “So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years-
    Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres-
    Trying to use words, and every attempt
    Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
    Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
    For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
    One is no longer disposed to say it…”

    I’d bet you a lobster roll Ashbery at least thought about those lines while he was pulling words out of his hat.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: The lines from East Coker are apt indeed, and I wouldn’t want to bet that lobster roll against your thought! One of the things I love about Ashbery’s poems is his associational mode (if that makes any sense), which I find freeing. It’s a good bit of why I’ve enjoyed creating collages in homage to/inspired by his poems (there will be 10 in all, then I promise I’ll stop): his writing gives me license to follow where my own associations lead me–in other words, to play. At the same time, as someone wrote in a comment at Mark’s site, I think it was, Ashbery’s poems are like stepping stones across the water, but sometimes, for some of us, anyway, the stepping stones are simply too far apart. I love Mark’s reading of those mysterious lines; for myself, I’m happy for Ashbery to play and know I won’t always be able to follow where his mind goes.

      Speaking of where minds go, I really enjoyed the way you picked up on sad/funny, funny/sad, and followed the trail of it to the diagram, no less. And perhaps my favorite line of all from your comment is about the piano player: “I know that woman. Sometimes, I think I am that woman.” Your comments are always so rich, funny, and wise. I hope one day to be able to share a lobster roll with you!

      1. shoreacres

        I just found this, Mark, and am laughing myself silly. There’s so much to enjoy, including the comment which says only, “came for the hip hop stayed for the extended metaphor.” What an absolute delight. Now, off to read what Susan linked.

  3. David N

    It’s good to be able to read the poem which inspired your fabulous collage in this instance – though I have to say I’m none the wiser…but there’s certainly a word-music there.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Yes, I’m glad some of the poems from the new volume are “linkable” now, so if you happen to wade in, you’re at least able to see what I was working from. I did have particular fun putting together this collage. The musical backdrop, with all those wildly swinging notes, set the tone (so to speak) as much as anything.

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