Homage to the pseudo avant garde: 4 POEMS/ KENT JOHNSON

Four Poems From Homage to the Pseudo Avant-Garde

Edited by / Giorgia Pavlidou

Kent Johnson

Let’s Go Out and Tear Up the Town

John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and James Schuyler liked hoaxes and spoofs, parodies and strange juxtapositions, pseudo-translations and collages [….] O’Hara, in 1966, wrote a recently discovered poem (it is dated one month to the day before he died at Fire Island) that jokingly predicts Ashbery will long outlive them all and be awarded, when an old man, a huge gold medal at the White House, by a handsome young President. O’Hara was right.

David Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde


Frank and Kenneth and Jimmy were driving back
From a long trip to all the rivers of the world.
A person had said to them, by the Nile, How old
Are you? And they had said, As old as you. And she
Had said, Oh, that’s a great age, I remember it now,
As she moved past and away on a long, thin boat. But
Now the Sun was shimmering through the smog.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed. They sighed
When the car went through them with a sigh. The city
Sure seems different said Frank, We’ve been gone
For so long. Yes, said Kenneth, It looks like trash,
Should we just turn around and head to the beach?
I don’t know about you guys, said Jimmy, But I need
A drink, everything is just so completely trashed.
Let’s go see John said Frank, Maybe he’s back
From Paris, he’s been gone for so long. Yes! Let’s
See him said Kenneth. Yes, said Jimmy, But
Let’s not tell him we’re coming, or call him, I
Mean, on the payphone, let’s make it a surprise,
Like we surprised him that day at the Automat.
And so they knocked on his door from way back
Then, again and again, but it would not open, no
One was home. For he was not back from Paris
Yet, even though he’d been gone for so long.
I wonder when he’s coming back said Frank. Yes,
I wonder said Kenneth, Time’s really moving on.
And so they left a note, and it said, Call us! Call us
When you get in! Don’t make it too long. And they
Folded it and left it in the space between the door
And its jamb, though it fell through the crack
And dropped beyond the door. Let’s go have
A drink, said Jimmy, Where the four of us used to
Go, at the Cedar, or maybe the San Remo, if
Jackson’s at the Cedar, I can’t stand the ugly
Bastard. Well, said Kenneth, You know that
Harold might be at the San Remo, and you can’t
Stand him either, or Hans. O said Jimmy, Harold
And Hans are fine, not that I can stand them, but
Compared to Jackson they’re like tweedle-dee-dum-
Dum. And so they went to the Cedar, and Jackson
Wasn’t there. It seemed different now, they’d been
Gone for so long, visiting all the rivers of the world,
And they talked about the difference and became
Confused and sad, even as they were also happy,
For they were back where happiness had been.
O! said Frank, There’s dear Franz! But it wasn’t
Franz, it was someone who looked like him, turned
Around. And so they drank up, in silence, and
They left, and drove back to John’s, hoping
He’d be back this time. They drove through the
City and the strange, haggard Nouns as if they
Were air, or light, and the Prepositions smashed
Against the glass of the car, as if they were bugs,
But they did not die, they flew off full of wings
And life. And the Conjunctions that they ground
Under-wheel snapped and cracked like cicadas
Releasing all their guts, but then the Conjunctions
Flew up into the night and were the stars. The Verbs,
They drove through them and the Verbs rushed
Through them like a wind, making all their hairs
Stand on end, as if the wind had come from a
Distance beyond what you will ever imagine right
Now, where you are. Did you feel that? said Frank.
Yes, I did, said Kenneth and Jimmy as one, sitting
Like lovers in the back, though they weren’t. Frank,
I thought you didn’t drive, said Kenneth, and so
Frank said, I don’t, but now I am. And when they
Got to John’s door, they knocked and knocked for long,
It was as long as all of the rivers of the world, but
No one would come to the door. I guess he’s not back
From Paris yet said Jimmy. No said Frank, I guess
He’s not. No said Kenneth, I guess he’s not home
Yet, after so long. But so what said Jimmy, We’re here,
Somehow, in one full piece, it’s been one long Trip.

Let’s go out and tear up the town.

******************

**

The Jellyfish

[Written upon reading in the NYRB that exploding, uncontrollable jellyfish blooms will likely render humanity extinct]

The jellyfish know what to do,
they do it blindly, so do you,
but they are vast, and we are doomed,
in strata’ed slime we’ll be entombed.

Can you imagine Hegel’s scream,
if he had seen the jellied cream
would be the Truth of History,
and not his Homo Spiritry?

He would have poured the kerosene
upon his bourgeois Bio form,
and done a handstand, quite freaked out;
the rhyme is broke, let’s strike the match.

The Commie poets shout at King’s,
inside their voices Justice sings;
great Jellyfish of Maoist face
the Eros of their drive encase.

And thus the jelly wraps them slow,
in Tragedy avant poems glow!
Is this the secret of the Art,
the Nothingness of what thou art?

In Art of which I place myself
in smaller thou than which thou art.
The Ocean’s ill with puffed-up fish:
The Jelly’s weird within the heart.

**

The Latest in Poetry

[from The Ashbery Mystery, a collection in progress]

What Happens after We Die?
That’s the category everyone
was avoiding yesterday on Jeopardy.
Finally, though, the Daily Double.
No, sorry, that’s incorrect… The
answer is Indigo Buntings. Indigo
is, officially, the deepest blue of
the spectrum of blue known today…
OK, What Happens after We Die
for 100. The sun slanted through
the shades like in that Italian movie
about fascism, whatever it was called,
there was the fancy name of a noble
family in it. Friends came over and
we had a shindig, in the plywood
battlements of the set, then we got
serious and went outside, where it was
warm now. It’s 1965, and the present.
Frank is still around, and Kenneth, too,
James, in his out-of-season cardigan
and sky-blue shirt, and Ted, there,
staring mysteriously from behind an
elm. Where did all the elms go, someone
was asking today, which brought it back,
in a voice that was both pleasant and grating,
like the latest in poetry. She said she
knew it was a Dutch Disease, But sorry,
that is not an answer, in any case, they
said, It’s something much stranger than
that. People disbanded and sort of avoided
her like the plague after that, even
though she was a really great person.
The play was great. People wore weird
masks and spoke in overlapping rhythms,
with lots of repeating words, which built
to a crescendo of squawks, toward the
ending, a real humdinger that,
though we couldn’t understand the
language they were speaking. The costumes
were fabulous, also. Extravagant
inflatables, like giant medicine balls, which
are otherwise out of fashion, sadly, now,
if you ask me, painted with clouds against
an azure sky, through which abstract birds
flew and fly when actors are commanded
to roll, rapidly, across a caged stage.

******************************

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