Thanksgiving Is Ruined
December 28, 2005
river of prepositions
In the New Yorker's profile of John Ashbery last month (11/7/05), the author Larissa MacFarquhar describes the poet's writing process as "lowering a bucket down into what feels like a kind of underground stream flowing through his mind. . . . Whatever his bucket brings up will be the poem."
Later in the same piece, the author describes Ashbery's writing his 1972 "The New Spirit":
He types like mad, composing as fast as he can type, which is fast. He barely thinks about what he is doing. . . . the page is a solid mass of type. . . . He works for four or five months, and then it's as if a timer had gone off in his head and he realizes that the poem is finished.
"The New Spirit" is approximately 51 pages long.
I decided that one way among several to make the poem more readable to myself was to pay attention to how Ashbery's line of thought constantly reverses itself, in a rhythmic via negativa of continual self-cancellations, zigzags, unsayings and contradictions.
I decided that the prepositions carry most of the weight of these switchbacks, particularly what I guess you could call the Prepositions of Reversal: "but," "yet," despite" and so on.
Below, then, is my transcription of the entire text of "The New Spirit," cutting out all the unimportant words.