Sense and Nonsense, on Bosch and Ashbery

A recent Atlantic magazine had an article about Hieronymus Bosch and poems by John Ashbery. Why am I willing to be bemused, amused, and intrigued by Bosch’s puzzling presentations, but feel impatient at Ashbery’s? Is it, again, the insistence of my mind in meaning-making when encountering the coin of my realm: words? I can let images be, but words I insist make sense. So when I encounter the, to me, ironically titled “Whatever the Old Man Does Is Always Right” and its folderol such as: “All cabbages and cukes are on sale./That’s because there was a rumor of shortages/in the flanks of winter, before we were on the scene/or were of a responsible age…” and “Alarm is a form of handwriting this time. Wash your basement./This is him doing a moose soup….” I must wonder if this isn’t some vast conspiracy of a joke. Ashbery has been cited as one of the best poets of our time. I balk. Yet I gaze with gladness at Bosch’s beleaguered bat-like creature half under the bed raising an envelope with what seems like an agonized cry toward a skeleton at the door, or the pale human legs protruding from the mouth of a giant fish head. This I can tolerate? And also confounding is that I am interested in asemic work. How is it I can stare at nonsensical writing that deliberately says nothing and can feel something? I want a message. Listen for it. Search. I have sought Waldo. I can see easily the dalmation in the dapple. I have paid to hear the future. “Alarm is a form of handwriting…” Indeed. There is something on the wall. Perhaps it is a splash of moose soup.

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