When I hear Trump speak or read his blather, McCarthy comes to mind. Not Joe but Mary McCarthy and her famous response to Lillian Hellman’s memoir, Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the. When Donald leads the chant, Lock Her Up, he wasn’t talking about Hillary, he was really speaking to himself and when he proclaims himself the smartest and greatest that is Trump talking to Donald saying,You are the dumbest and least. We have an inside-out man of total projection. If he weren’t so ignorant and malignant the inmate in the White House might be a passable contemporary poet.
John Ashbery is regarded by most in the poetry universe as one of our finest living poets. I don’t disagree. His voice is elusive always darting around corners. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t. His ideas appear to be kinetic, on their way to another place. He manages somehow to resist interpretation almost successfully, as Wallace Stevens put it.
There is something alive in-between his words which reminds me of Trump. The President gives non-sequitur interviews and tweets like compressed manifestoes offering conflicting accounts of the same event. And that’s just fine in his scrambled brain because Truth has no capital T. It is just another version of reality in the rotating kaleidoscope.
Ashbery presents a glimpse of a childhood memory in his poem:
Tulip garden / old dutch / home all our own until / recall once more / fashion in shoes / dog cast in / days before / were almost learning to forget / happy / fear came from a trough / kin.
In other poems I get lost in a forest of pronouns. But his story is not to be read literally. Forget about verisimilitude; the most to expect are snatches or distant associations. The words are merely an exercise to cultivate our imaginative muscle. If they aren’t his truth they could be somebody else’s truth, with a small, t.
Both president and poet had authoritarian fathers. Ashbery's was a poor farmer in upstate New York. Trump's Dad was the reigning patriarch who collected rent on properties. Donald became fluent in gibberish to close a deal after his counterpart finished a three-martini power lunch. Ashbery began writing in coded messages when he discovered his parents were reading his diary. He mastered obliquity in a sui generis voice confounding the interloper as it now confounds us. Trumpian logic is Mandarin-style chop suey, cooked in a wok of misdirection. A recent interview with Trump:
because you have millions of people that can’t get a job, OK. . I mean we have many, , because I’m president, and you’re not. You know. Say hello to everybody, OK?
Here’s a secret I would never reveal to anyone…My peculiar criteria of a poet’s worth, particularly during a poetry-reading, is to what extent he / she puts me in some sort of trance. If I stay fully awake the poet has failed. I’m there to set myself in transit, out of my critical faculty. John Ashbery is a soporific with creative leaps and that’s why I believe he ranks at the top. I attend in the hope of being transported, semi-comatose, into my own writing mode.
I’m going to try to apply this to Donald; to step back a few steps and listen to his rambles, to enjoy his incoherence as if his yelps are from a chirping bird. Maybe he is fluent in the lost language of finch though, when rattled, he sounds more like the squawk of crows. If he is fettered to a teleprompter he reads like someone delivering the minutes of the last PTA meeting. But let him loose unscripted with a mike and he becomes a carnival barker, fabulist and screw-loose demagogue capable of spell-binding his deplorable gullibles.
The poet, with all his cryptic lines, has aesthetic intention and that delineates the opposing worlds. He doesn’t set out to obfuscate but to evoke. He demands his audience work a little in order to find a portal into his universe. I’m sure his meaning is perfectly clear to himself even if it doesn’t reach for resolution. He is too busy finding connective tissue among fragments of disparate images or the voltage between high and low language. Ashbery’s poetry is like an atonal symphony or Thelonius Monk on piano. You come away with shapes, colors or opposing sounds and it’s all just beyond articulation.