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Dara Wier on Typing Ashbery’s ‘The Instruction Manual’
For some reason, I’d never seen a Cry Room before or known that they are fairly commonly found in churches across the country. My friend and I had been talking about how various people handle or have sudden bouts of crying, and we were about to head into a wedding where one expects a little bit of a certain kind of crying to go on, when I saw the door marked CRY ROOM. I pointed toward it in such a way as to say without saying it, look, there’s where crying gets done, it has its own room.
Recently I typed into a document John Ashbery’s early poem, “The Instruction Manual.” This gave me no need of any kind of CRY ROOM of any kind. This rewarded me with considerable layers of pleasures. I was typing it so that it could be shown via computer to an honor’s poetry seminar I’m meeting at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I typed from The Library of America’s gorgeously produced, well-edited (by Mark Ford) 2008 volume Ashbery/Collected Poems 1956-1987.
Word by word the poem is such an amazing tribute to poetry, to imagination’s desire, imagination’s ability to save us or save something of us, or for us or in us. The poem treats invention’s and sight’s methodical rendering as a creative force equal in significance to that of the Big Bang’s. The poem enacts how invention advances by careful degrees and attention, how taking time to build something (make up something) gives us such a time of potential beauty. Formally we get to experience an imagination within an imagination, a view of Guadalajara within the poem, Guadalajara’s people in their town, in Guadalajara’s square, in and around its bandstand, the neighborhoods around the square, a patio within a house, and love appears in most all of its phases and stages, ah, the poem does it all perfectly……and color, how the poem says: you’re seeing by means of words what isn’t exactly here, believe this with me now, here it is, such a generous gesture, here is this and this leads to that and that leads to there and over here we have, ah the precisely imagined and managed colors and then finally how the poem glides away from itself so perfectly…I love this poem (of course I love many other Ashbery poems as well)……and so cool that Shahrazad (the one in the book) is in Scheherazade (the music mentioned in the poem) and is one of our ultimately successful model tellers of all time (……these are the tales that saved the life of Shahrazad….) (The Modern Library Classic of THE ARABIAN NIGHTS has commentary or blurbs from: Robert Louis Stevenson, John Addington Symonds, Agernon Charles Swinburne, and Lady Isabel Bishop, it’s translated by Sir Richard F. Burton. What a crew!