For years, I thought the poet Wallace Stevens was one of my favorite all around great guys. But then somewhere down the line, I found I had been confusing his verse with John Ashbery’s.
Well, never mind. Stevens is still one of my heroes, because he served both the muse of poesy and insurance. By day, he was a lawyer for Hartford Accident and Indemnity.
That might not seem such a big deal to you, especially if you can tee off both the left and right side of your brain. But that’s not the way I swing. In my little mind, shifting from linear to creative is like turning the Titanic, except right turns are relatively easy. On a turn to the left I have to dive into the drink and rescue stuff that, when the sun is shining, I evidently jettison with mad abandon.
Normally, I have freelance writing jobs; but right now, I’m working in Steven’s day. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining; almost anything pays better than writing. And I’m working with good people, and blah blah blah. But for the first couple of days I felt faint and dizzy; on the third, when I got home, you could find me spatchcocked to the couch, drooling.
On the fourth day, I grabbed my dormant left brain by the stem and slapped it around. When it finally woke up, it staggered about, flabby, inarticulate, and disoriented. By the fifth day, we found a suit and remembered some of the old language.
Of course, I’ve lost the right side for now – it’s somewhere, singing mournful Elizabethan tunes and sulking. I promised it a great dinner, champagne, and a new roof if it holds out for a month or two. Life goes on, I tell it; with this, and sometimes because of this, life goes on.
BY JOHN ASHBERY
Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.
Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.
Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.