1. Try writing a poem that plays with pronouns in the way Ashbery’s does. Take any line or sentence of the poem and use it as a first line—how does your understanding of what “it” stands for, or who “you” is, change as you write?
2. In a way, Ashbery’s poem addresses language itself. Try writing another poem that addresses poetry or language. Like Ashbery, begin your poem with “This poem is concerned with…”
1. Paradoxes are statements that, though contradictory, are true; oxymorons also combine contradictory terms. What are some of the paradoxes in the poem? Some of the oxymorons? How do the title and the first line set up or undermine your expectations for the poem?
2. How does the poem bring into question pronouns like “you,” “I” and “it”? Do you think “you” remains the same throughout the poem? When does it change (from being a specific “you” to a general “you,” for example), and why?
3. In what way is the poem a love poem? How does it sound similar to or different from other love poems you’ve read?
4. How would you describe the “characters” in the poem—“I,” “you,” and “the poem”? What role does each play? How do the three interact?
1. Have students look up the definition of paradox and oxymoron and share examples of these terms. Working in small groups, they might create a poster on which they could display the definition and examples collected from a variety of sources. Alternatively, you might share the definitions and have the class generate as many examples as they can in five minutes. A third alternative, depending upon your students’ level of proficiency, might be to find an example for discussion in a newspaper article or in another discipline, such as mathematics, in which Zeno’s paradox is introduced to students.
2. Once students have a working definition of these terms, have them take each term one by one and read through the poem looking for an example of the poet playing with these terms. Take, for example, the first line and ask, can the language of a poem ever be read on a “plain level?” Move line by line and see where more and less obvious examples of these devices are at work. Ask, what commentary does the poet seem to be making about language, poetry, meaning, etc.
3. Have students view the video animation and discuss the animator’s choices, evaluating the selection of images and their connection to the text. Ask, how does the animator use the tools of this medium to represent the ideas of the poem in this video?