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  • Dr.Pragya Suman

John Ashbery : lyric permeating through the postmodern opacity

They dream only of America

They dream only of America

To be lost among the thirteen million pillars of grass:

"This honey is delicious

Though it burns the throat."

And hiding from darkness in barns

They can be grownups now

And the murderer's ashtray is more easily --

The lake a lilac cube.

He holds a key in his right hand.

"Please," he asked willingly.

He is thirty years old.

That was before

We could drive hundreds of miles

At night through dandelions.

When his headache grew worse we

Stopped at a wire filling station.

Now he cared only about signs.

Was the cigar a sign?

And what about the key?

He went slowly into the bedroom.

"I would not have broken my leg if I had not fallen

Against the living room table. What is it to be back

Beside the bed? There is nothing to do

For our liberation, except wait in the horror of it.

And I am lost without you."

"They dream only of America" is an occluded love poem. John Asberry wrote it in Paris while he was thirty years old. To escape the sexual restrictions of America, he fled away to France. He was homosexual, and here we see many phallic objects like the honey, the key, and fleeting moments of sexual encounters like the dark barn, dandelions and the lilac cube.

Ashberry belonged to The New York poets school, a stony mill for poetry. Out of it, the dislocated, disjointed and experimental verses rilled out. In an interview, Ashbery's contemporary, Ron Padgett, denied being a member of the school. He says, "I think on the whole, I dislike the name because it seems to be trying to pin me down to something."

What happens is that when you align yourself to a particular label, its implications get hazardous. It saps out the poetic liquidity, and in the end, the big question lingers "why one should be specific or pinned to a particular genre or technique."

"They dream only of America" is written in a lyrical tone. Like a conventional poem, the author is present here, far from the notions of extremists of postmodernism that let the author vanish and drag the reader to the text.

Beats movement, the New York school poetry, poetry without line breaks, and many other movements have been representative of eras, but a real poet couldn't be bound to a particular school. In his book, Big cabin Ron Padgett had written both haikus and poetry in simple words, precise and some monastic poems erected in a vertical column on the sea saw of enjambments. Here Ashberry has descended as a lyricist, and his egoless presence pervades every secretive nook. Allen Ginsberg led the beat movement. After it, many experiments fires have sprouted, but does mutation effaces the ancestor's gene? Eugenics was formulated upon the negative interpretation of Mendelian theory. Mendel supported the idea of the abstract flow of human qualities in the genes. Eugenics is an inaccurate theory, and it favoured that the worst genes should be marginalised or destroyed. It favoured xenophobia. Hitler favoured racial supremacy and was an ardent follower of the theory of eugenics. Eugenics has been a kind of scientific racism. When we talk about the importance of text and language, according to extremists of language poetry, the author should be in the backdrop or marginalised. Doesn't it manifest like literary racism? Poetry comes out of the soul, one of the most artistic imaginations of the human mind; mysterious enough, could it survive only caging in the text?

Language and text are meant to manifest the poetic mind, not to efface them; the reader could be a collaborator but can't replace the author.

"They Dream only America" is an example that a poet couldn't be caged in a particular category. Ashberry himself admitted the mystery about which the conservative Eliot talked.

Ashbery has remarked: "I'm not very good at 'explaining' my work. . . I'm unable to do so because I feel that my poetry is the explanation. The explanation of what? Of my thought, whatever that is. As I see it, my thought is both poetry and the attempt to explain that poetry; the two cannot be disentangled."

Dr Pragya Suman

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