My poem, “Becoming,” for John Ashbery’s 90th Birthday

July 28, 2017

Whatever you think of John Ashbery’s poetry — and there are opinions for and against, none of which I’m going to get into here — you cannot argue with the fact that he has been a presence in the word of Art and Letters since first emerging on the scene in 1956.

I have a soft spot for Mr. Ashbery, not necessarily because of his poetry or the fact that he hails from Rochester, New York, outside of which I spent my middle and high school years.

 

Rather, my fondness stems from his selecting one of my poems, “Becoming,” which is part of my Dwelling sequence and appears in my book Fallow Field, to represent the Millay Colony for the Arts, in its 30th Anniversary Exhibit at the Albany (NY) International Airport Gallery, in a juried show, from January-August 2004.

The poem, along with others in the sequence, was written during my residency at the colony in November 2002.

A heady feeling having my poem displayed in this context, adhesive red vinyl letters applied to the thick glass walls overlooking the security area. As I recall, my poem was positioned next to one by Colette Inez, another former resident at the colony, as a dear friend. In a way, it was a bit like being in an Ashbery poem.

(The photos here, blurry and boozily out-of-focus, seem to exemplify that feeling. And I had no idea my scarf was going to mimic the colors of the letters!)

Here is my poem, “Becoming,” with thanks to Mr. Ashbery — on this, his 90th birthday –for recognizing it in the way he did.

 

Becoming

 

Say that childhood memory

has more relevance than yesterday–

 

a moose calf curled up against the side of a house

 

merely saying it may make it so.

 

The way a sunflower towers over a child,

each year growing shorter–

 

            a hermit crab crawling out of a coconut

 

–no, the child growing taller.

 

            a sharp-shinned hawk swooping over a stubble field

 

imagining the earth, “the earth is all before me,”

blossoming as it stretches to the sun–

 

            a brilliant red eft – baby salamander — held aloft in a small, pink hand

 

Is home the mother’s embrace?

 

            a white cabbage butterfly flitting atop purple flox

 

The child sees his world or hers

 

            stroking the furry back of a bumblebee

 

head full of seed, until it droops,

spent, ready to sow the seeds.

 

Say that our presence in the world

 

a millipede curling up at the child’s slightest touch

 

is making the book of our becoming.

 

–Scott Edward Anderson

 

 

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2 Responses to “My poem, “Becoming,” for John Ashbery’s 90th Birthday”

  1. richard kilgore Says:

    Thanks, Scott.

    Rick

    Richard B Kilgore, PhD

    On Jul 28, 2017 12:42 PM, “Scott Edward Anderson’s Poetry Blog” wrote:

    > Scott Edward Anderson posted: “Whatever you think of John Ashbery’s poetry > — and there are opinions for and against, none of which I’m going to get > into here — you cannot argue with the fact that he has been a presence in > the word of Art and Letters since first emerging on the scene ” >


  2. There are Ashbery books that I’ve wanted to throw against the wall, but there are poems of his that I’ve also found achingly beautiful. So I understand. This poem of yours is a good Monday starter for me today. “Is home the mother’s embrace”? If so I’ve been homeless for 30 years now. Thank you for that. I won’t try to explain it any more. Oh, and I do have a deep love for those hawk sighting moments. Beautiful work, Scott.


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