Toby Fitch: Themparks

  Toby Fitch


  JPR 07


Michael Farrell >
                                  Transposing >
                                                            John Ashbery >
                                                                                     Translating >
                                                                                                                Rimbaud >

Fig. 1: Random Noise Theme Park, Google “deep dream” image [See Endnote 1]

Paragraph One follows 1:

In her review of John Ashbery’s translation of Illuminations in The New York Times, Lydia Davis reminds us that: “When Rimbaud’s mother asked of A Season in Hell, ‘What does it mean?’ — a question still asked of Rimbaud’s poetry, and of Ashbery’s, too — Rimbaud would say only, ‘It means what it says, literally and in every sense’.” [See Endnote 2]


Rimbaud’s playfully detached yet serious riposte speaks to the sometimes crippling awareness that many modern (postmodern and conceptual) poets develop — that language is material, contingent, limited in its ability to express, translate or transpose one’s initial impulse of what a poem can do.


In The Hatred of Poetry, Ben Lerner describes this delusion: “You’re moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of some transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms.” [See Endnote 3] In other words, attempts at the Poem (with a capital “P”) fail because of a schism between truth and language. Poetry, whether conceived of in the Romantic tradition or not, has always offered this notion of a “virtual poem”, Lerner writes, paraphrasing poet and critic Allen Grossman, an “abstract potential of the medium as felt by the poet when called upon to sing.” [Note 4] Or, as Marianne Moore’s miffed poem “Poetry” opines (also cited by Lerner):


I, too, dislike it.
          Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
          it, after all, a place for the genuine. [Note 5]


This is the full and final version of Moore’s poem, whittled down from many earlier thirty-odd-line versions. In her Complete Poems, the “Original Version” hangs out sullenly among the more prosaic notes at the back of the book much like “the bat / holding on upside-down” [Note 6] of the poem’s second stanza.


These two versions “annotate, challenge and criticize one another”, creating a prank that champions “complexity and clarity”, rejecting “the notion that they are opposites”. [Note 7] The many incarnations of Moore’s poem published during her life speak to the virtual poem’s inevitable failure, but also to the material and literal pleasures that language presents. The final lines of the endnoted “Original Version” read:


however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
                                                                      result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
        “literalists of
        the imagination” — above
                            insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,”
                            shall we have
        it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
        the raw material of poetry in
              all its rawness and
              that which is on the other hand
                                genuine, you are interested in poetry. [Note 8]

Fig. 2: Thebaid, by Gherardo de Jacopo Starnina


In his own imaginary garden, “idler than a toad”, [Note 9] and despite his disavowal of poetry altogether at the age of twenty, Rimbaud conjured a number of memos or memes, spurs or spores, that have continued to insist on the life (or death, depending on your point of view) of poetry: “I is an other” (JE est un autre), “One must be absolutely modern”, and his aesthetic mandate, “the systematised disorganisation of all the senses” (his italics), lines that can be found in his Voyant Letters [Note 10], and which introduced to the world one extreme of modernist aesthetics — a hallucinatory poetics of otherness and multiplicity.


He wrote many meme-able lines in his poetry, too, such as these two from Une Saison en Enfer: “I believe I’m in Hell, therefore I am” [Note 11], and, “As we know, love needs re-inventing”[Note 12], lines I’ll return to in the conclusion to this essay.


These provocations were Rimbaud’s poetic solutions to the crisis of self that was emerging not just in himself, but for the post-Romantic modern subject, a crisis that has probably always affected artists intensely aware of the interaction between self, language and world, but which gained traction with modernism and the fragmenting of post-Enlightenment society and culture.


From Rimbaud on, through avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century, through postmodernism, Language Writing, and into twenty-first century Conceptual Poetry, the subject-object crisis that confronts the poet — who desires transgression, is skeptical of the manipulative, of the enlightened ego, who is aware of poetry’s materiality, its everyday (ir)relevance — continues.


But Rimbaud’s struggle with poetry was also a struggle with his upbringing. Influenced by the prevalence of Christian colonialism during and prior to the nineteenth century (his poems are replete with glimpses of fantastical tales and images of a multicultural, exotic and burgeoning world), and rebelling against his devout Catholic mother, Rimbaud travelled far and wide to avoid being stifled by traditions, and to see the new cities, their “colossal conceptions of modern barbarity” [Note 13], hear the different languages and see otherness in the world: “Departure amid new noise and affection!” [Note 14]


Rimbaud sums up his paradoxical life in one line: “idler than a toad, I have lived everywhere”. Colonialism’s “underlying dream of a return to global linguistic concord”[Note 15] echoes the dream of the Tower of Babel, but where colonialism is conceptually horizontal, spreading out across territories and subsuming them, Babel is vertical — like the authorial, capital “I” that Rimbaud was so keen to subvert.


Rimbaud didn’t see the world through a set of binaries. He wanted a world “with creatures of every kind of character and of every aspect”.[Note 16]


On each inevitable return trip to Mother, Rimbaud’s writing and its concerns would multiply. He perfected imitations of the great French poets at school, and after meeting the in-vogue Parnassians in Paris, he turned his back on them and parodied their apolitical, rigidly formalist lyric poems with witty and scatalogical abandon in the smut-filled Album Zutique, a forty-eight page album of parodies written by Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine and others.

Fig. 3:Le Coin de Table, by Henri Fantin-Latour [Note 17] [Note 18]


During his teens he translated the Gospels into his own pagan idiom to “exorcise the ghost of Christianity”[Note 19]. In his more fully developed “visionary” poetry of Une Saison en Enfer and Illuminations, an oeuvre that is arguably his revolutionary contribution to the Paris Commune of 1871, Rimbaud perhaps saw himself as that God, messiah, or genie who, it could be said, descends on the Tower of Babel to “systemically disorganise” the one language of the people into other languages — even babble, if necessary.


His instinct was that poetry was the Way. But in the end he came to revile his poetry, saw it as a failure, and converted, so to speak, to capitalism while in the colonies of Africa, an act in keeping with his life of violent swerves.


But whether or not Rimbaud believed his poetic convictions is beside the point; his slogans, which speak beyond his poetry about the nature of art and subjectivity, have set off a series of “historical relays” that have opened up the social and psychic space to “make it new”.[Note 20]


Even Rimbaud’s libidinous presence has become a slogan (the French journal Révoltes logiques, formed in the wake of May ’68, took its overtly political title from a Rimbaud poem; and the romantic photographic portrait of Rimbaud as a knowing teen staring sullenly through the camera has become iconic, even stencilled on street walls) because, as Kristin Ross concludes: “the force of an idea lies primarily in its ability to be displaced”. [Note 21]


Displacement in poetry can happen on many levels. In this essay I will concentrate on the concepts of transposition and translation in two of Rimbaud’s descendants — American poet John Ashbery and Australian poet Michael Farrell — via a re-reading of Rimbaud’s self-made myth, or rather his anti-self-made myth (“I is an other”), the formulation that cracked open a secular belief in the potential for poetry to transpose the self (in its subject-object bind) into other and multiple selves.[Note 22]


Transposition as a way of writing is now central to experimental and avant-garde poetry movements and traditions, and to poetry’s potential for difference, otherness and multiplicity, partly because Rimbaud’s vision — his dreams — allowed it.


He was a precursor to the Surrealists, a group whose writings Walter Benjamin described as “not literature but something else — demonstrations, watchwords, documents, bluffs, forgeries”[Note 23]. Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery, in their huge and wide-ranging anthology of experimental writing, Imagining Language, give a general definition of transposition:


Language bears a reliable profile of the repeated and the constant but offers too a contrary pull toward variety, novelty, and transgression. The very ability to actively transpose seems to presuppose an agile system of combinatory units. While transposition appears to be a given in any combinatory system (not only language), the transpositives need not be limited to a singular domain. Transposition can involve a complication within interiorities, superimpositions, or laminations that transform discrete semiosis into a dual, multiple, and even parasitic relation. [Note 24]


Transpositions in poetry come in a variety of forms and modes, from translation, mistranslation, imitations, versions, anti-versions or inversions, appropriations and other altered text modes of play, to the appropriation of bureaucratic language and everyday speech, to the transmutation of self and voice into other selves and voices.


Transposition always involves a play between self and world, language and form; it’s the displacement of an idea — a conceptualism.


Nearly one-hundred and fifty years after Rimbaud gave up on poetry, America’s most recognised poet of interjection and parataxis, John Ashbery, and Australia’s most recognised poet of interjection and parapraxis, Michael Farrell, have almost simultaneously written separate transpositions that trace a direct but freely-associative line back to Rimbaud: Farrell transmutes his forebear, Ashbery, while Ashbery translates his forebear, Rimbaud. Two separate but overlapping theme parks. Two kinds of transposition or transliteration, replete with illicit and parasitic connotations.


In thempark, Farrell infiltrates a theme park made of Ashbery poems and turns that place into place of othering, in which the theme is them, whoever they are…


Meanwhile, in his translations of Rimbaud’s “magic lantern slides”[Note 25], Illuminations, Ashbery unveils the dreams that have haunted his own poetry. The two together present a kind of “inceptionism”, or dream-stealing.


Coaxed by the connotations of language — social, sexual, mundane, political, psychological, nonsensical, unconscious, poetic — both Ashbery and Farrell are “literalists of the imagination” who swerve at every possible juncture, displacing ideas and detonating (not denotating) the ability to understand — to perceive — yet both are still capable of providing new ways to stand under a sieve and purr.


This essay won’t transcend, but will attempt to transmogrify a plethora of ideas to do with otherness in the poetry of a couple of Rimbaud’s successors to sthat, as Moore’s poem “Poetry” puts it, “all these phenomena are important”; similarly, it will also convey William Carlos Williams’ message that “A poem can be made of anything”[Note 26], even itself, and perhaps sometimes even someone else’s dreams.


As in an Ashbery poem, and in keeping with Farrell’s thempark full of ride upon ride, each of the various notions mooted in this essay will fall away into the next — “This is the dissemination of the signifier — one thing leads to another” [Note 27] — because, as Badiou wrote of Rimbaud’s failure: “To love poetry is to love not being able to choose”[Note 28].

Fig. 4: Le Coin de Table, “deep dream”


In his first full-length collection of poetry, ode ode, a title that immediately suggests reproducibility, Michael Farrell established a disjointed but consistent voice within “rectangular strictures” — agrammatical bricolage poems with “(relatively) stable syntax”[Note 29]. Non-capitalised, non-apostrophed, non-punctuated (though words are not run together), Farrell’s signature early style evinced a poetics of subversion, especially in regards to the hegemony of the capital letter.


Michael Brennan writes of ode ode: “Given visually to the imagistic jump-cut, poetically to guerilla-like parataxis, Farrell’s work samples and dubs the music of our times… presents a linguistically ready-made contemporary culture, feeding on the vestiges of a consciousness it has ransacked and enjoyed”[Note 30]. Farrell’s poem “john ashbery impersonator” shows a poetic imagination already aware of its desires and forebears, deadpanning on a certain “j a”:


he looked around the festival crowd
relieved to be alone he didnt see me apricot
& or lilacshirted crouched behind a stand
i noted everything he said to use later in
a poem in which the silent changes might
occur how right he was the spoken word
seemed to lift off the page live alone…

as i grew bigger sweat patches & my desire
to smoke affected my lungs i thought his
lips formed in french what he was saying
in english with a fluency monolingual
ventriloquists could only applaud by stamping
their feet & screwing their papers up
page by page & throwing them onto in
amourous & arrogant tribute to those
whose unfortunate gestures couldnt be represented
here today the festival stage i paraphrase
j a the spectacle not the spectator was hung
i hold up my prod & ask please im willing
who did & were you like when young [Note 31]


In a raiders guide, Farrell experiments further with his collage raids and play at the level of word and letter via “concept-poems”, as per its abstract, with much freer lineation, some in short bursts with “____”s marking possible erasures or choose-your-own-adventure by filling-in-the-blanks, other poems sprawling across the page with line lengths and word counts often determined by a roll of the dice[Note 32]. These poems, as in ode ode, are in lower case and unpunctuated (if one discounts enjambment as punctuation; Farrell is adept at enjambment that creates multiple meanings).


Bookending a raiders guide (putting aside the coda poem, a numbered, indexical poem) are two long-ish prose poems, both responses to volumes of poetry by well known Australian poets Alison Croggon and John Kinsella, respectively, which introduce capital letters and punctuation to Farrell’s oeuvre.


Each section of the book is preceded by a page of numbers that seem randomly laid out. On closer inspection, the numbers and their typography denote the numbers of the poems that follow in sequence (there are no page numbers in the book), and hint at the typography and use of the page employed in the subsequent poems.


Rigorous methods of pastiche, chance, and cutup can sometimes alienate some readers from the poetry (not that other methods of poetry, such as a strict adherence to traditional formalism, can’t also run that risk); however, Farrell’s multiple “personalities” spook the poems with child-like honesty, and this is endearing.


Ugly feelings, to hijack a Sianne Ngai term — such as paranoia, envy, shock, irritation, boredom, sincerity and “stuplimity” (a combination of the stupid and the sublime), all of which she deems aesthetic categories[Note 33] — percolate through his poems, equal parts novel and knowing: “why get / out of bed when so / much takes place there be / cause of the air etc”; and, “Pretend to externalize desire. I got caught / up in the transfer”[Note 34].


In the penultimate poem, “sumumn”, Farrell writes: “Mirrors happen. Kaleidoscope-drunk”[Note 35], which could serve as the thesis statement for the book. As Chad Sweeney observes: “the kaleidoscopic mirror of the text both problematizes and reconfirms the sense of self, as collage, as process, as a continuous auto-involved creation and appropriation.”[Note 36]


Many poems in a raiders guide adapt, mess with, sample, remix or transpose the poetry of others — Laurie Duggan, Dorothy Porter, Jack Spicer, and Marianne Moore, for example, as well as the aforementioned Croggon and Kinsella. Little is written in the notes at the back of the book of how the poems are composed, or of the sources collaged and appropriated (not that it’s necessary — more on the intersection between appropriation and plagiarism later), yet some of the sources are included, and there’s one very detailed note on how Farrell reworks certain other poems: “the poems ‘vda’ and ‘fhue dahnn 1’ are translations using a method that assumes that the source poems (‘pmt’ and ‘blue hills 1’) are written in monalphabetic code, and that by using statistics, a more correct english version could be produced”[Note 37]. Including this very singular note of procedure (among just a few sources) offers an insight into the chance and counting methods employed throughout, but it also ironises the very idea of providing notes. Farrell knows that clues are often more revealing within the poems themselves, “each veiled instruction never veiled enough”[Note 38]


In Farrell’s third collection of poems, thempark, he takes this concept — the appropriation of others’ poetry — and goes deeper, more singular, in the sense that he uses one poet’s work; but he also makes it reflexive, three-dimensional, in that he invites the reader to read the poetry that directly generated his own poems. Farrell’s note at the back of thempark reads:“Written using John Ashbery’s Where Shall I Wander and Hotel Lautréamont as templates”[Note 39].


Farrell still leaves the reader to do the detective work, however. As a reference, after much of my own cross-reading research, here are the titles of Farrell’s poems alongside their Ashbery counterparts (in order of their appearance in thempark):


thempark poems derived from Where Shall I Wander:


new from the erstwhile Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse
a parody of you & me Affordable Variety
former detainees take gold Days of Reckoning
cold turkey Involuntary Description
when time permits A Visit to the House of Fools (minus 2 lines)
whats the matter Retro (minus 7 lines)
thankyou parade Broken Tulips
the new flat When I Saw the Invidious Flare (minus 1 line)
beige adieu Heavy Home (minus first paragraph)
birthday party ever The Situation Upstairs
storm in a teacup Wolf Ridge
jury on the balcony The Red Easel
then ben Lost Footage (minus 1 line)
youve shaved The Bled Weasel (minus 1 line)
say… Tension in the Rocks (minus 2 lines)

thempark poems derived from Hotel Lautréamont:

the deer inside itself Musica Reservata
llama enclosure Kamarinskaya (minus 1 line)


In selecting poems of John Ashbery’s from Where Shall I Wander and Hotel Lautréamont as templates, dropping the capital letters but retaining the original word counts, lineation and punctuation (unusually for Farrell, all the poems of thempark are punctuated, but in unexpected ways: “eventually, sucking it up”[Note 40] ), Farrell superimposes his own poetry on Ashbery’s. In this way, he has found a theme park in which to explore his knack for deconstruction and pastiche, while at the same time creating what could be seen as a homage to (and deposition of) one of his great forebears, the Ashbery bear.


Homage as a description is probably too cosy; the poems and their use of Ashbery are not so much performative of homage, or even parody; they’re more inhuman.


As poet Fiona Hile suggests: “What at first seems like genuflectory homage turns out to be insistent deposition, bearing all the hallmarks of Mallarméan indifference. In this, I think, Farrell has more in common with Lautréamont than he does Ashbery”[Note 41]. I’d like to suggest that there is still a playful innocence, and perhaps a cuteness (“cute” is another Ngai aesthetic category), to Farrell’s conceits, and to the tone of his poems; reading them alongside Ashbery’s feels as if a Goldilocks has gotten in and slept a while between the sheets:


let boredom besiege me as it may.
the short afternoons extend indefinitely & the books lie
on the bed where i threw them sore eyed. [Note 42]


It’s a cute kind of theft one can forgive — reading others’ books, infiltrating them and having them infiltrate you so much that boredom kicks in. And Hile is spot-on regarding indifference (or insousiance). In the poem quoted above, “news from the erstwhile”, the opening poem of thempark, Farrell writes, aloofly, if slightly cynically: “there is no homosexual milieu i know of. / so i’m a parasite”.


Rasula and McCaffery’s definition of transposition, quoted earlier, is worth expanding here for its description of the parasitic relationship of an altered text to its original:


Transposition can involve a complication within interiorities, superimpositions, or laminations that transform discrete semiosis into a dual, multiple, and even parasitic relation.


The word parasite in French has three meanings: a social parasite, a biological one, and audible static or noise. We will add to this list a language parasite, a linguistic microbe or infection that occupies the transit of signification. Think of the signifer nonlinguistically as a host, the unpaid landlord of that insinuative tenant, the signified. In this state the signified might be described not by the Saussurean algorithm of referential dependency but as a parasitical surplus.[Note 43]


Breaking down the word parasite, we also get “para-site” — a site around a site, a beside-site, even a beyond-site. While not relying on Lacan, it is clear that Rasula and McCaffery owe a debt to his writings on the parasitic in language. They eventually refer to his “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’”:


The serendipitous duplication of phonemes within a language, and from one language to another, affords a deviant parasitic ingenuity. It is in the character of the letter — in its subordinate role as a kind of geological sediment within the word — to be overlooked, a condition allegorized by Jacques Lacan in his “Seminar on the Purloined Letter’” (epistolary in Poe’s tale).[Note 44]


Rasula and McCaffery further define transposition — using examples of alternative translation, alphabetic substitution, rewritings, erasure / redaction, among others — as “not a simple transit but a dichotomous zone of complex interaction”, because “The sign’s inherent drive to polysemy, parapraxis, slippage, and infection, guarantees a more or less parasitic potential for language”.[Note 45]


Which has me thinking that the transit and interaction between Farrell’s and Ashbery’s texts is an erogenous zone, “trailing a stubby finger / down the stripes of berts front like its scissors / hunting for a nipple”.[Note 46]


Zone is the place where mythical lyric poet Orpheus, after returning from the Underworld and his failed attempt at resurrecting his lover Eurydice, is torn apart by Maenads, his severed body parts and still-singing head thrown into the Hebron river. His head specifically washes up on the island of Lesbos, or “the Lesbian shore”, as John Milton puts it in “Lycidas”:


Where were ye, Nymphs, when the remorseless deep
Clos’d o’er the head of your lov’d Lycidas?
For neither were ye playing on the steep
Where your old bards, the famous Druids, lie,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard stream.
Ay me! I fondly dream
Had ye bin there’ — for what could that have done?
What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The Muse herself, for her enchanting son,
Whom universal nature did lament,
When by the rout that made the hideous roar
His gory visage down the stream was sent,
Down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?[Note 47]


“Zone” is also Apollinaire’s aptly-titled, landmark, peripatetic, Futurist, pre-Surrealist poem about loss. Organised around a walk through Paris from one sunrise to another, it stretches across time zones (day-night) and follows Apollinaire as he energetically and playfully mourns his loss of faith (in a Christian God) and the loss of a lover (à la Orpheus), discarding emotions the way the poem does punctuation.


By interchangeably referring to himself as “you” (using both French forms tu and vous) and “I” (je), Apollinaire performs the disjointed nature of modern consciousness. Toward the end, the narrator / speaker becomes as dislocated as the syntax in the poem, as seen here in Samuel Beckett’s translation: “The love I endure is like a syphilis”; “You dare not look at your hands tears haunt my eyes / For you for her I love and all the old miseries”.


The poem ends with the speaker walking home to sleep among fetishes and idols, “Christs of another creed another guise / The lowly Christs of dim expectancies”, and with the sun coming up, not as a sign of hope but as a severed head: “Sun corseless head”[Note 48].


Apollinaire’s appropriation of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is also a re-reading of it to suit the modern subject, whose long-held beliefs — of religion, sexuality, gender — are being broken down, fragmented in the modern context of World War I, advancing technology and changing social and cultural constructs.


Apollinaire, it can be argued, is a touchstone for both Farrell and Ashbery; he was one of the first to experiment with “collage” in poetry[Note 49]; affiliated with the Cubist painters, and an art critic in his own right, did Apollinaire adapt the Cubist collage aesthetics, a particular kind of appropriation, to poetry, or did he gift them the idea? [Note 50]


With its shifting pronouns and fractured subjectivity, “Zone” is a key early modern chronicle of the self as collage. Incidentally, the word collage comes from coller, a French word meaning “to glue, stick, paste”, though it is also idiomatic for an “illicit” sexual union, “two unrelated ‘items’, being pasted or stuck together”[Note 51].


So, metaphorically speaking, with parasitic language, and with fragmented and collaged selves generating illicit unions between texts, we’re furthering Rimbaud’s “I is an other”, in which subject and object are inescapably the same.


Apollinaire’s interchangeable pronouns — perhaps, “I is another I” — is a stepping stone on the path to Ashbery and Farrell, whose poetry continues the modern and postmodern undermining of the ideology of creativity that informed Romantic views of authorship. Symbols are reduced to signs and signs are seen for their doubles.


Ashbery’s and Farrell’s poems — of unsettled subjectivities, shifting perspectives, textual juxtapositions, dreamscapes and slippages of the tongue — unearth the unconscious and hidden meanings in words and open up language to a perhaps more conscious reading, enacting and foregrounding multiplicity and difference and otherness. What they also specifically share in their poetry is an eschewing of private shame for a semipublic (lyric) performance of gay subjectivity and deviousness in order to dismantle and reconstitute the male body and the ideal, or more traditional/hetero-, parameters of masculinity.


In this sense, their poetry has a context for its use of collage and appropriation, or theft, as some might call it. Or, as Farrell writes in “tit for tat”: “two can play but context is all — / would you like to come upstairs?”[Note 52] To sleep? Perchance to dream?


But if, on the flip side, as Lacan’s account of the unconscious goes, “Our desires are not ours, they are the Others’”,[Note 53] and further, of the unconscious, “we are at the mercy of a thread woven with allusions, quotations, puns and equivocations”[Note 54], then simply having a dream could be (mis)construed as plagiarism; even everyday speech could be charged with plagiarism.


What do we do then with poets like Farrell and Ashbery who exhibit an equal willingness to draw on, quote and misquote the unexpected turns of demotic speech (not to mention demonic), with which most readers are no doubt more familiar than they are with the tropes of poetry? In poem after poem Farrell and Ashbery demonstrate that the quotidian contains as much grist for poetry as poetry itself does.


In adapting the language they find around them, whether the language of poets or of personal, cultural and social life, Farrell and Ashbery apply the technique that one finds described exactly, if somewhat outrageously, by Isidore Ducasse, the nineteenth-century French writer who called himself the Comte de Lautréamont. “Plagiarism is necessary”, Ducasse wrote: “Progress implies it. It presses after an author’s phrase, uses his expressions, eliminates a false idea, replaces it with the correct one”[Note 55].


Few writers have been as assiduous, or as unembarrassed, in their pursuit of the bon mot as Farrell and Ashbery, who would have had to look no further than Auden and Stevens and Eliot to find exemplary plagiarists.[Note 56]


Indeed, the title of Ashbery’s 1992 collection, Hotel Lautréamont — in deliberate contrast with Rimbaud’s “Splendide Hotel”, “erected”, as Rimbaud has it, in the splendid isolation “of ice floes and the polar night”[Note 57] — presents a trope of a man as a hotel where other people stay for a short while and then move on. This permeability of borders, and boarders, is central to Ashbery and his sense of “himself”.[Note 58]


In a crucial statement, dating from 1976, he observed that “what moves me is the irregular form — the flawed words and stubborn sounds, as Stevens said, that affect us whenever we try to say something that is important to us”. It is this sense of a necessary incompleteness in poetry that he insists on, for such “irregular form” is what enables the poetry to survive the circumstances of its own composition — and so make room both for the reader and for the later poet, who is always first a reader.[Note 59]


Ashbery’s Where Shall I Wander “traces an exile — an ambulatory self-exile in both senses of the term: of the voluntarily chosen, deeply wanted, and escorted, and of the self that walks out on the self until it runs out of land.”[Note 60] As Hile observes (of Farrell): “This is the dissemination of the signifier — one thing leads to another”,[Note 61] syntactically, metonymically, metaleptically. This is Ashbery, the vagabond — “always virtual, anticipatory”, as Kristin Ross writes of Rimbaud the vagabond, the wanderer. In The Emergence of Social Space, Ross elaborates on how the law views vagabondage:


What is particularly disquieting about vagabondage is its ambiguous status: technically, vagabonds have not committed any crimes. But their “way of life” places them in a state that supposes the eventual violation of laws: vagabonds are always virtual, anticipatory… Vagabonds are victims of dangerous heredity and carriers of the fatal germ of dégénérescence, “contagious”, in both the medical and social sense of the term, they are the incarnation of a social illness that strikes not so much an individual as a family, a generation, a lineage. Their problem, like Rimbaud’s, is “bad blood”.[Note 62]


Rimbaud in fact champions his bad blood (see “Bad Blood” in Une Saison en Enfer), and so does Ashbery but in a literary sense — through a contagious appropriation (or adoption) of poets past, through quotation and misquotation, and as well through his recent translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations.


Applying this idea of dangerous heredity to Ashbery risks sounding negative, but if we misread the word dégénérescence the way a poet like Ashbery might, we could generate dérèglement, as in Rimbaud’s: Il s’agit d’arriver à l’inconnu par le dérèglement de tous les sens“The point is, to arrive at the unknown by the disorganisation [or derangement, or deregulation, or even degeneration] of all the senses”[Note 63].


Ashbery is the continuation of a literary lineage that, despite some law-abiding classicists who might deplore it, insists on taking risks, is always potentially breaking laws (such as those of literary convention and decorum) in seeking the obscure, the unknown and the unknowable.


Following in this adoptive / appropriative lineage is Farrell’s thempark — a deliberate regeneration/degeneration of the more internal trips of Where Shall I Wander and Hotel Lautréamont — which presents the trope of a man opening himself up as a theme park in which Ashbery has designed the rides, and in which the others, the “them” of thempark, can come and go as they please.


And what is a theme park if it doesn’t create a play space where one can take risks on a variety of “virtual” and “irregular forms” such as rollercoasters and slippery dips? Farrell’s Ashbery-themed park has ghost trains and carousels too, yet the most frequented ride is the dodgem cars in which both he and Ashbery “embrace the dead ex with / two mercs, heavenly menage a trois”[Note 64]


The fact that both poets perform gay subjectivity is important to Farrell’s transpositional conceits. It’s not so much a “homosexual milieu” that Farrell is looking for within Ashbery’s poems, and rather something more impersonally playful, maybe like trying someone out via online dating. Swipe right to see / play the next poem.


In Playing and Reality, D. W. Winnicott writes that only when our nonsense — our “creative reaching-out” — is accepted can we begin to be found, or to be. Play, “reflected back” by a friend, is the formation, and validation, of a triadic — that is, a meaningful — relationship with the world.


Through playful discovery, bumping poem-vehicles together, Farrell creates a triadic relationship between Ashbery’s text, his own text and the world (which includes a readership). Nonsense plus nonsense makes sense: “From this position everything is creative”[Note 65]. And yet, when Farrell complicates things in “cold turkey” — “i only got into the water / to avoid getting into you” — how could we imagine this was ever going to be a meaningful relationship?


By diving into Ashbery’s poetic structures, is Farrell hiding inside someone else’s dreams, maintaining for himself the crippling detachment of being an artist that Winnicott, the psychologist, knew all too well: “It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found”? Or is Farrell in the middle of a game of chase with his readers, covering up his scent by crossing an Ashbery river? One thinks of Emily Dickinson:


Good to hide, and hear ’em hunt!
Better, to be found,
If one care to, that is,
The Fox fits the Hound  —

Good to know, and not tell,
Best, to know and tell,
Can one find the rare Ear
Not too dull  —[Note 66]


When readers become hunters, either easily led or savage, it’s not particularly conducive to meaningful play. Farrell seems to be seeking a “rare Ear” in Ashbery, or in readers of Ashbery.


We have to remember that Farrell isn’t necessarily covering his tracks; rather, he got into the water — shattering any calm reflections — so as to avoid getting too into Ashbery, and too into his self.


Speaking back from below the surface to a disturbed reflection, to the poem distorted in the rippling waters, he becomes a kind of anti-Narcissus, or Echo. We can read the surfaces of Farrell’s poems from any of these angles.


The eschewing of self, rather than hiding — and a trust in play with others — is what thempark fosters, a play space of and for them. While a triadic relationship exists between Farrell, Ashbery and the world, there is a more multiple relationship with all those other selves and subjectivities in Farrell’s poetry, and this is reflected linguistically.


In a typical Farrell poem, the hypogram (in Riffaterrean terms; or, the paragram in Saussurean terms)[Note 67], as in the semantic nucleus, can usually be found in the title, decapitated from the rest of the poem. From there down, varying layers of semantic abstraction bob up through the poem like Orphic body parts adrift on separate rivers. Again, one thing leads to another; you just don’t always know how (underground rivers, perhaps?). These layers of semantic abstraction — the conversion and expansion of the semantic nucleus that build the poem — inevitably bring to mind psychoanalytic concepts of condensation and displacement, as they relate to the resurfacing of repressed memories and to dream-work, which Freud describes similarly:


the whole mass of these dream-thoughts is brought under the pressure of the dream-work, and the elements are turned about, broken into fragments andjammed together — almost like pack-ice [or ‘drifting ice-floes’ in another translation][Note 68].


Think of the poem as a drifting ice-flow in which layered arrangements of signifiers, broken into fragments and jammed together, can allow all kinds of signifieds to slip through into consciousness, “& its true without you knowing it”[Note 69]. Perhaps this is what Rimbaud was referring to whenever he wrote of “the tangled heap of ice floes”[Note 70].


In thempark, the hypograms of each poem can still be found in the titles, but the semantic nucleus is simultaneously (and paradoxically) more dense and dispersed than in Farrell’s previous works because it includes the templates — word count and line count — and word associations of the related Ashbery poems.


This is how we trace the semantic unfolding of each poem in thempark: the poem is happening in a minimum of two places — two imaginary landscapes, “racking up timeshares”[Note 71] — at once, which increases Farrell’s options in displacing the authorial “I”, allowing other I’s (lovers, friends, the deceased, talking heads, ads, computers, animals, other non-humans) to speak throughout the poems. So, despite the usage, occupation and appropriation of another’s dream structures and dream content, Farrell’s intentions are somewhat the reverse, or inverse, of plagiarism.


Farrell’s thempark is open to all comers, whether they realise it or not, as he offers readers (Farrell, the later poet, is always first a reader) multiple shifts in idiolect and register — the poems being made up of the disembodied voices of all of them, all or any of us, past, present and future, overlapping in hubbub and murmurs, interjecting with screams on our separate though indistinct ride on the poem rollercoaster.


The dreamwork — “surprisingly friendly to strangers”[Note 72] — becomes anyone’s and everyone’s, much as in Ashbery’s own theme park of a poem, “Europe”, for instance.[Note 73]


But in all seriousness, with regard to plagiarism, Farrell isn’t condemning or condoning it (Farrell never lifts an Ashbery line verbatim, and the avowal at the back of thempark, the turning out of his pockets to say, Hey, these are Ashbery-shaped topologies, these are Ashbery templates, entirely undoes the idea that the poems have been stolen); rather, by appropriating the “irregular forms” of Ashbery, who in turn appropriates from others — for instance, by adopting the perspective of self-exile of Lautréamont — Farrell is perpetuating a poetics of selflessness, but also of risk, proximity, and flirtation, “appealing a dream of sublimation. / in a room talking to a generalised you.”[Note 74]


Casually flirting with the idea that no use of a single word could ever be the same, implying that appropriation and plagiarism do not exist, Gertrude Stein writes (and says) in Lectures in America: “Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition. And really how can there be”[Note 75]. And yet, there is a lot of repetition, mathematically speaking, in thempark — the perpetuation of word counts and line counts, superimpositions of words on words, language on language, lineage on lineage, adoptions of adoptions, the doubling and trebling of form. Is this repetition or insistence? What is the difference?


How many times can Farrell swim / sleep / ride with Ashbery and others before “they’re aware of their sex”?[Note 76] Gertrude Stein continues: “One may really indeed say that that is the essence of genius, of being most intensely alive, that is being one who is at the same time talking and listening”[Note 77] . By allowing his poetry to talk to and listen to Ashbery’s (a poetry itself that is always open to conversation), Farrell is insisting on a poetry of foreplay, on a poetry that lives in those heightened moments of expectation, in which the senses are most keen, those moments that feel as if they could last forever and in which both talking and listening, metaphorically and literally speaking, are tantamount to the genial (in both senses of the word), and of paramount importance in allowing seduction — an appropriation of and into an other — to take place.


Theodor Adorno observes that “The genial is a dialectical knot: It is what has not been copied or repeated, it is free, yet at the same time bears the feeling of necessity”[Note 78]. Both Farrell’s and Ashbery’s poetry tackles this dialectical knot by complicating the idea of authorial originality. They both deliberately misappropriate literary history and combine it with misheard fragments of everyday speech, not so much copying or repeating but insisting on a poetry of lapsus, parataxis and parapraxis, on a poetry that doesn’t have to choose a single, authorial voice for speaking truth, because only a great many voices could come close to speaking of truths. Farrell acknowledges as much: “what knots was i tying myself into? tricky… ”[Note 79], but necessary, to become so entangled.


Farrell’s tangled (inter)play with structural reproduction might otherwise be re-thought through a brief pondering of Walter Benjamin’s concept of “tactile appropriation” found in his essay, “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. Writing about the relationship of the “greatly increased” masses to art, and in defence of film, Benjamin deconstructs the dichotomy of how people consume art: concentration versus distraction. Artforms in history that have been considered to require greater concentration and absorption to be appreciated by the masses, such as Greek tragedy and the epic poem, have often perished, while architecture, its history more ancient than that of any other art, “has never been idle”. Clearly, “human need for shelter is lasting”[Note 80], but Benjamin attributes the constantly shifting development and longevity of architecture as artform to tactile appropriation:


On the tactile side there is no counterpart to contemplation on the optical side. Tactile appropriation is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit. As regards architecture, habit determines to a large extent even optical reception. The latter, too, occurs much less through rapt attention than by noticing the object in incidental fashion. This mode of appropriation, developed with reference to architecture, in certain circumstances acquires canonical value. For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation.


The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. Distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception.[Note 81]


Farrell’s insistence on appropriating established poetic structures that have in turn appropriated other previous poetic structures — sits in line with Benjamin’s notion of tactile appropriation, “mastered gradually by [the] habit” of shifting poetic perception. Farrell’s insistence also shifts the focus for those viewing his poems.


It’s no longer necessary to regard him as an authorial figure and to sit in awe and concentrate in front of his thempark poems. Because of their architecture, one can look and perceive them through the refractions of light of Ashbery’s poems too. By “noticing the object (each Ashbery poem) in incidental fashion”, Farrell creates a tactile poetics of incident and distraction which can be mastered not so much by concentrating on the meaning of signifiers (“i watched closely. // poetry books are like black / & white movies”[Note 82]) as by other habits of reading, such as through accretion — through an apperception of the signified, gradually: “i thought the train / would loop around, eventually of course it did”.[Note 83]


Incidentally, Ashbery is a noted fan of the flat, surreal landscapes of empty buildings and squares and passing trains found in Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings, as well as in his “poem-novel”, Hebdomeros.


Ashbery’s description of the “hypnotic quality” of Hebdomeros doubles as a neat description of the architecture of his own poems:


His long run-on sentences, stitched together with semicolons, allow a cinematic freedom of narration; the setting and the cast of characters frequently change in mid-clause. In this fluid medium, trivial images or details can suddenly congeal and take on a greater specific gravity, much as a banal object in a de Chirico painting — a rubber glove or an artichoke — can rivet our attention merely through being present. His language, like his painting, is invisible: a transparent but dense medium containing objects that are more dense than reality.[Note 84]

Fig. 5: The Anxious Journey, by Giorgio de Chirico


Or: “noticing the object in incidental fashion”. In his essay “Poetical space”, Ashbery homes in on a description from Hebdomeros, “The sea of stars stretched into the distance, as if the sky no longer seemed to be a dome but a ceiling instead”, and then writes:


How satisfying to feel that one lives in these flattened spaces, as flat as the cafe terraces of Analytical Cubism. But why? One would have thought it more inspiring to feel one was living in a dome, where depth would equal freedom, rather than under a claustrophobic ceiling of stars. I can offer no explanation … except that seeing things turn out differently from what we had been expecting is often a liberating experience, even when the resulting situation isn’t what we had hoped for.[Note 85]


Ashbery is getting at a liberation for the imagination when engaged in a play of surfaces and shadows, when constrained to live “in these flattened spaces”. In other words, constraints in art offer more freedom, and the chances of stumbling into surprise are that much greater because it isn’t what we had hoped for or expected. The flat surface, the constraint, of Ashbery’s language becomes a fluid medium for Farrell, offering a poetical space to play within and without.


The play between the two poetical spaces/surfaces is utterly reflexive — not simply one room of mirrors but rooms — and generates so much poetry about poetry. And if, as Marshall McLuhan proposed, the “‘content’ of any medium is always another medium”[Note 86], then perhaps Farrell, like Ashbery before him, becomes a medium — a medium to convey the content of the Ashbery medium — a medium to divine new messages from the Ashbery ouija board, see new patterns in the sand. Farrell’s thempark, then, is always in medias res.


Now, let’s get in the middle of these surfaces, shadows and reflections, take a closer look. In “cold turkey”, Farrell spirals in on a certain sentimentality to do with self-consciousness, then comes up for air with a promise for more ironic submersion/subversion, as quoted (in part) previously:


sometimes i spend all day in the sandpit.
i left home, teddy bear in hand, wolves crying
toowhit toowhoo, dont come in. i only got into the water
to avoid getting into you. this isnt the way it ends …[Note 87]


When com


pared to the corresponding passage in Ashbery’s “Involuntary Description” (below), it becomes clear how Farrell’s adhesion to Ashbery’s word count, as opposed to a more strict syllable count, gives him freedom to go in a variety of directions:


Sometimes I think it’s all one big affectation.
The forty jars, each holding its thief, draw closer
to me, trying to eavesdrop. But the only sound is water
dripping in the last millenium. I try and say it too …[Note 88]


As an example of how Farrell eradicates the syllable count, and of his free association through sound, compare Ashbery’s two single-syllable words, “to me”, to Farrell’s “toowhit toowhoo”. The movement here, the transposition, is the atomic law of the clinamen, which refers to the “swerve of an atom in laminar flow”[Note 89]. The first uses of atomic law in literature can be traced to Epicurus and Lucretius, and it’s a favourite Oulipo technique.


As Rasula and McCaffery write: “The unpredictable swerve of the letter from the syntactic and grammatical flow not only invalidates the notion of a fixed, ‘inert’ meaning but also fulfills, in the domain of language, that philosophic desire of Novalis for a ‘systemlessness within all systems’”[Note 90]. Or, “Like a slip of the tongue, the clineman is less a performance than a happening”:[Note 91] toowhit toowhoo! From Whit to who? From me to you? In these instances of parapraxis — in which letters “change sides like pingpong”[Note 92] — Farrell’s poetics of the letter, of atoms, of counting, bounces to the surface.


From atoms bouncing around, to billions of grains of sand: compare then, as metaphors for the writing of poems, Farrell’s, “sometimes i spend all day in the sandpit”, to Ashbery’s, “Sometimes I think it’s all one big affectation”. And by extension, Ashbery’s, “But the only sound is water / dripping in the last millennium”, to Farrell’s, “i only got into the water / to avoid getting into you”, and we see the many possible interpretations (not just those already about poetry itself and authorial intention) that can be made — the mixing of sand and water. A systemless system.


So, while a reading of thempark on its own is interesting and energising in itself — with its constant shifts of tone and idiolect, its verbal interruptions, and its Aussie cultural references, which plumb the kitsch and capital of the country’s postcolonial history (“& i hope the easter / bunny notices the trouble with darlinghurst.”) — the work really comes to life — in the Steinian sense of “talking and listening” simultaneously — in a non-linear, or three-dimensional (three-dimensional, in that these poems read like palimpsests, layered across generations) reading, side-by-side with the Ashbery templates.


Take “the deer inside itself”, which uses “Musica Reservata” (from Hotel Lautréamont), as its template. According to Ashbery’s piece, “Poems are such old little jiggers. / This one scratches himself, gets up, then goes off for a pee”,[Note 93] to which Farrell responds with: “still being put together by science. / thats you looking in, seeing yourself, then trying to brush yourself”.[Note 94]


Are the “old little jiggers” of Ashbery’s poem now scientists in Farrell’s? Are poems constructions that the poet as scientist experiments with? And is the scientist experimenting on himself (“goes off for a pee” to then test and examine the poetic results)? Or is that the reader’s role: “looking in, seeing yourself”?


Ashbery goes on, “Yet it’s wonderful, this / being; to point to a tree and say don’t I know you from somewhere?”,[Note 95] while Farrell replies, “we became lightning, cold / lightning; i saw smoke move from branch to branch had i seen a ghost?”[Note 96] And it is wonderful to point to a tree in recognition, and to see it morph into smoke, then a ghost.


Here, Farrell’s words have transformed Ashbery’s the way lightning might strike a tree. It’s also worth noting how Farrell hasn’t used Ashbery’s italics over the corresponding word for being — “lightning” — whereas he uses the corresponding italics at almost every other opportunity in thempark (most notably in “llama enclosure”). Is this an oversight, or deliberate? Having already used the word lightning, maybe having “lightning” strike twice was emphasis enough.


Other architectural / architextual disparities between Farrell’s poems and Ashbery’s are the line counts and stanza spacing, but only in a few of the poems (for disparities, see my aforementioned reference list of Farrell’s titles and corresponding Ashbery titles). Choosing to leave out three lines in one case, a seven-line stanza in another, or one or two lines here and there, seems deliberate (who could possibly miss whole lines in translation simply by accident?), and this might be best explained through an analogy with the visual artist — say, like a painter leaving negative space, white or black, to lessen an overbearing colour; not quite red herrings, rather as anomalies to keep the viewer / reader guessing.


In other words, Farrell may well have left out, or not bothered transforming, certain lines because his options wouldn’t have added to the poem’s internal creative logic, or might have become predictable. But back to “the deer inside itself” in which Farrell writes, “dad says come on be seasonable / what do any of us get by staying still?”[Note 97] It’s a typical example of Farrell’s Aussie humour, his punning, but also a neat analogy for his raison d’étre (or saison d’étre), couched in a pithy phrase of encouragement from some imaginary, Twain-like father figure: to stand still is to fall behind. “That, at least, is my hope”, is how Ashbery finishes his poem, while Farrell concludes his with, “they, at nest, work it out.”


Farrell’s words often seem like direct answers or follow-ons from Ashbery’s, sometimes giving insight, sometimes augmenting. This is especially the case when Farrell’s words are close in sound or shape, as if Farrell is stressing the linkages between his poem and Ashbery’s. The combination of the above two lines are a prime example. If it weren’t for Farrell’s augmentation — “they, at nest, work it out” of “That, at least, is my hope” — I wouldn’t have been reminded of something Ashbery said in an interview with the Paris Review in which he remarked that, while he hoped his readers would understand where he’s coming from and was pleased his poems “seem to have found readers”, he was disappointed that his poetry “has become a kind of shibboleth, that people feel they need to join one side or the other… I often feel that people… are much more familiar with the myth that has grown up about my work than they are with the work itself”.[Note 98]


“Musica Reservata” is one of those poems of Ashbery’s that can be read as a comment on the nature of writing, particularly as it applies to the writing of poetry. Here are the last few lines to add to the ones already quoted:


This is not what you should hear,
but we are awake, and days
with donkey ears and packs negotiate
the narrow canyon trail that is
as white and silent as a dream,
that is, something you dreamed.
And resources slip away, or are pinned
under a ladder too heavy to lift.
Which is why you are here, but the mnemonics
of the ride are stirring.”

That, at least, is my hope.[Note 99]


Where Ashbery might “hate” that readers become intimidated by the myth surrounding his “difficult”[Note 100] poetry, hoping rather that the “mnemonics of the ride” would be altogether more “stirring”, or “something you (the reader) dreamed”, Farrell could be seen in the last few lines of “the deer inside itself” as being a little more carefree about his reception. The scales are different — Ashbery has huge global recognition — but it’s worth comparing the two. After all, Farrell’s poems have polarised opinion within Australia much as Ashbery’s have internationally.


For instance, on the So Long Bulletin, a conservative poetry blog based in Melbourne, Elizabeth Campbell proved that shibboleths also exist in small markets by likening Farrell to a painting elephant; she alluded facetiously to the story from Thailand in which elephants are taught to paint canvasses, which originally went viral on YouTube.[Note 101]


Not that the notion of elephants painting can’t be spun in a positive manner. Perhaps a less offensive comparison might be that Farrell’s playful projections onto Ashbery’s poems are similar, in a sense, to the way a child savant might project their dreams or imaginings on to the fantastical landscape of a theme park. And that might partly explain why critical readings of Farrell’s poetry are sometimes polarised — you can either ride with the spooky mnemonics or recoil from them in fear.


Here is the end of Farrell’s poem, whose theme park in this instance could be Marianne Moore’s “imaginary gardens”, but with “real rocks” and birds instead of toads:


so do what you want but know
that youre doing it, my home
my garden i know its fantasy
i try to kick a little
real rock into it when i can
sometimes though, its all mind.
its spooky waking up, finding its as
you left it like a protected exhibit.
we never see our own tape, or our blackout
the acclimatised birds are stirring.

they, at nest, work it out.[Note 102]

But that’s just my reading, which could be a “storm in a teacup” — another poem in thempark worth reading in this (lime)light.


Ashbery’s line, “That, at least, is my hope”, may not be referring to his feelings about his reception, and may be referring to his hope of remaining modern. Furthermore, Farrell might not have intended to augment these ideas, though I doubt he’d mind me misreading him in this vein. Nor would Ashbery, I’d hope. As Farrell says, with tongue in cheek during “storm in a teacup”: “pull over im getting disconnected from the landscape”.[Note 103]


There is, in thempark, no definitive landscape in which you’d expect an Australian poet’s poetry to reside — the bush, the coast, the city or the suburbs — it’s more of a dreamscape in which these tropes are jammed together with the pop culture, politics and Australian ephemera instigated by the flotsam of Ashbery’s language. The lapses, incidents of lapsus, and leaps of faith in this kind of language transposition help bring to the fore the concerns that lurk in Farrell’s poetic consciousness.


Across a number of poems, Australiana in particular — Australian animals, kitsch and assorted ephemera — are repurposed to dissect and refract social, cultural and national politics (especially the latter in “former detainees take gold”), and myths of Australian history, such as in “youve shaved”:


zoom a word some
envy those too fatigued to work the beach.
crack a tinny ahh. a beer foam
mo like the holidaymakers. embrace the dead ex with
two mercs, heavenly menage a trois. border collies patrol the border border
magpies defect to us. maggies are
great in autumn, leaves dangle frangipanis war, cockies
merge like anzacs on a hill. i sketched a biscuit
grater trawling through country, jam collected flies in wwi and blew up tanks,
poets wrote on plants, a gallipoli greeting, shotup bits of tin became art
the turks made bead snakes.
we walked a tangible k of death, like gumnuts, or royalty anointing
the cold erotic dead. pyramids rose through the postcard shop the tomb                                                                                                                           a serious pleasure
kangaroo icons, zood and stewed, its roundup time we reassess the stock the
troops the work carefully cheerfully unnerving each rock.[Note 104]


Australian poetry has a storied history of personal narratives that are strongly connected to the landscape in which those narratives originate, and often from colonial or postcolonial perspectives. However, while Farrell is clearly aware of this Australian preoccupation, you could say that his writing is rather “trawling through country”.


The territory is a double, or doubled, in the case of thempark: Ashbery is one country (with its American droll and culture jamming), while Australia is the other (with all the aspects I’ve mentioned so far and more). The two are superimposed with Farrell “carefully cheerfully unnerving each rock”.


As mentioned previously, there’s plenty of sex, theoretically speaking, in thempark, but there’s also sex in the content of the poems. In his interview with journal foam:e, Farrell says at one point, “there’s an attention to gender and sexualities at play throughout my poems, but it’s play mostly rather than message — or the message is, why not this way?”[Note 105] Farrell’s play — his fluidity — in sexual politics can be read in “news from the erstwhile”, in which the abstract notion of a “homosexual milieu” is critiqued;[Note 106] gender is fluid in “nephews”, whose “bodies have known alcohol”, and who, dressed up in nazi uniform, “suddenly laugh like on a talkshow / with ellen degeneres” — “they’re like painted women”.[Note 107]


Meanwhile, an episode of fetishistic, possibly sado-masochistic, sex between muppets Bert and Ernie occurs in “tit for tat”, as quoted earlier: “happy, apparently, trailing a stubby finger / down the stripes of berts front like its scissors / hunting for a nipple”.[Note 108]


In fact, many of the poems play out the dramas / dreams of alternative sexual relations between two, such as in “a parody of you & me”:


they seemed linked together by the very style of their accoutrements.
though one in his humour favoured the ironic tiepin the others bowtie spun,
dizzyingly into white & back to stripes.


one leant the other into a cypress:
hoarsely drunk, peeling the orange,
off a shed wall.


they fed wild birds instead of wild kids,
though the kids stole the birds peanut brittle
out of their stuck beaks. on suits they
generally agreed, & where to honeymoon.
in alice springs not during the wet season.[Note 109]


Which again hits on, so to speak, that poetic relationship — strange and estranged, illicit and illusive, and gay in both senses of the word — between Farrell and Ashbery, “by the very style of their accoutrements”. There’s no risk of “the cold erotic dead”, however; Ashbery is very much alive in Farrell’s transpositions. Farrell understands the inheritance taking place, as he allows the genial Ashberyesque to insist itself upon his poems.


In lines like “whatre you looking delightedly at? / eventually, sucking it up. if only there were more like you”,[Note 110] Ashbery becomes Lacan’s concept of the “little other” (or little a, from the French autre), who is not in fact other, but a reflection or projection of Farrell’s ego.[Note 111] The little other is also simultaneously the counterpart and the specular image (see previous reference to Narcissus and Farrell’s “i only got into the water”). Furthermore, from “thankyou parade”:


you turned a tap on in my head, wont
you put it out im writing
poems night & day. cows nay
cats are purring, theyre pulsing, arterylike[112]
Fig. 6: Popular cat meme


Perhaps forebears are also like cats, capricious and fluid, difficult to command, immune to instruction.


So, while some of the poems mentioned above circulate around particular charged ideas or themes, Farrell’s poetics are somewhat more aligned with the rhizomic, or the meme, in that the charged ideas and themes converge in a title, or in a single line or phrase, and then spring up again but in different machinations, across the poem.


This process recalls the way a meme goes viral on the Internet with a simultaneous and concatenating convergence and divergence of recurrent tropes, of free associations. It’s the process of condensation in a dream — only it’s the Internet’s dream (that collection of so many projected subjectivities).


Yet Farrell’s (and Ashbery’s) poems aren’t describing exactly what happens in dreams, rather the way in which dreams happen, or could happen, in the conscious imagination, which then allows a reader of the poem to be affected as if in a dream.


In The Poetics of Indeterminacy, Marjorie Perloff writes of Ashbery’s “calculated oddities” (an Auden description):


Not what one dreams but how — this is Ashbery’s subject. His stories “tell only themselves,” presenting the reader with the challenge of what he calls “an open field of narrative possibilities”. For, like Rimbaud’s, his are not dreams “about” such and such characters or events; the dream structure is itself the event that haunts the poet’s imagination.[Note 113]


Ashbery wrote of this poetic perspective and potentiality shortly after publishing his first book of poems, Some Trees[Note 114], in his essay on Gertrude Stein, “The Impossible”:


Stanzas in Meditation gives one the feeling of time passing, of things happening, of a “plot”, though it would be difficult to say precisely what is going on. Sometimes the story has the logic of a dream… while at other times it becomes startlingly clear for a moment, as though a change in the wind had suddenly enabled us to hear a conversation that was taking place some distance away… But it is usually not events which interest Miss Stein, rather it is their “way of happening”, and the story of Stanzas in Meditation is a general, all-purpose model which each reader can adapt to fit his own set of particulars. The poem is a hymn to possibility…[Note 115]


“Fragment”, the somewhat ironically-titled long poem written in 1965 and later published as the closing poem of The Double Dream of Spring, with its complex negotiation between form and formlessness (50 ten-line, free verse stanzas) is an excellent example of Ashbery’s “‘all-purpose’ [the adjective is Ashbery’s] poetic representativeness”, according to John Shoptaw, who also writes of Ashbery that, “By making his poetry the stream of everybody’s or anybody’s consciousness, he creates an all-purpose subjectivity which is neither egotistical nor solipsistic.”[Note 116]


In other words, Ashbery was “streaming” long before the Internet or Google or social media. The stanza below, from the middle of “Fragment”, demonstrates the metapoetic, autobiographic erasures (the poem is a homage to his father who died in 1964) and the allusive and allegorical resonances at work in his poetry (Steinian “buttons”, perhaps?):


But why should the present seem so particularly urgent?
A time of spotted lakes and the whippoorwill
Sounding over everything? To release the importance
Of what will always remain invisible?
In spite of near and distant events, gladly
Built? To speak the plaits of argument,
Loosened? Vast shadows are pushed down toward
The hour. It is ideation, incrimination
Proceeding from necessity to find it at
A time of day, beside the creek, uncounted stars and buttons.[Note 117]


According to Perloff, Ashbery’s poems are “highly formalized… imitations of consciousness” that create a world in which “‘A’ can always be ‘B’”[Note 118].


The poems in Farrell’s thempark complicate the dream logic of Ashbery’s poems because Farrell is imitating an imitation of consciousness; he is applying a calculated “change in the wind” to a calculated literature that already exists, so that even more conversations can be heard in the poetry. The trees are being blown from multiple directions.


“A” can always be “B” which can always be “C”. Not simply metonymy, but metalepsis. Harold Bloom writes in A Map of Misreadings: “In a metalepsis, a word is substituted metonymically for a word in a previous trope, so that a metalepsis can be called, maddeningly but accurately, a metonymy of a metonymy.”[Note 119] Metalepsis in thempark occurs not just at the level of word, but at the level of structure.[Note 120]


Lacan also argues that speech and language[Note 121] come from another place, outside of consciousness — “the unconscious is the discourse of the Other.”[Note 122] When conceiving the Other as a place, Lacan refers to Freud’s concept of psychical locality, in which the unconscious is described as “the other scene”.[Note 123]


In appropriating Ashbery’s poetry — its language of idiomatic speech, its dream structures, its symbolic Otherness — Farrell’s unconscious is at the whim of this other scene. Speech and language are beyond his control and beyond his knowledge, tout court: “words fall into your head like green fruit, like gull feathers”.[Note 124] The signified shapes itself to the signifier, not the converse.


Linked to Lacan’s idea that “Our unconscious is the discourse of the Other” is his famous maxim “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other (désir de l‘Autre)”[Note 125]. His elaboration on this maxim could double as a description for transposition in poetry, which I described above as a metalepsis, a metonymy of a metonymy, and which creates an argument for multiplicity:


The object of man’s desire… is essentially an object desired by someone else. One object can become equivalent to another, owing to the effect produced by this intermediary, in making it possible for objects to be exchanged and compared. This process tends to diminish the special significance of any one particular object, but at the same time it brings into view the existence of objects without number.[Note 126]


Ashbery’s poems could be seen as Farrell’s objects of desire, as he writes through, under, over and around them, coldly and defiantly displacing their structures and replacing their words: “the others someone you dont know”[Note 127]. But we might also see them as transitional objects, à la D. W. Winnicott, that Farrell appropriates successfully en route to his own desire for poetry.


By adopting / adapting the dream structures of Ashbery, by substituting object for object, desire for desire, as a metonymy of a metonymy, thempark becomes a shadow-play of a shadow-play. As Perloff writes, describing Ashbery’s poetics: “The event is ‘over’, and the poet can only look at the cave wall trying to find some pattern in the perpetually shifting shapes before him”[Note 128]. Now that the shadows in Plato’s cave — shadows that represent the idea of representation — are prolific in the twenty-first century, at least Farrell is having some fun with them, suggesting we may become them: “kids escaped into shadows”[Note 129]; and, “we came of age when / we saw the flames”[Note 130].


Revelling in detachment, thempark comes to read as strangely inhuman. Recent Google research into neural networks through Artificial Intelligence presents an illuminating example of the inhuman. Google’s image recognition software detects, analyses and auto-captions images, simulating the human brain by using artificial neural networks. Software is trained by feeding it millions of images. When it’s fed an image, it is asked to emphasise the object in the image that it recognises. In the final output layer, the network makes a “decision” as to what’s in the image:


“Each layer of the network deals with features at a different level of abstraction, so the complexity of features we generate depends on which layer we choose to enhance.”[Note 131] The Google engineers call this process “inceptionism”, alluding to the film Inception, by Christopher Nolan[Note 132]. Further experiments were conducted to see what these artificial networks “dream” of — “what, if anything, do they see in a nondescript image of clouds, for instance?”[Note 133]

Fig. 7: Google “deep dream” cloud transformation


They fed their software arbitrary “random-noise” images and then “appl[ied] the algorithm iteratively”[Note 134] to generate an image of recognition, and then another image of that generated image, and then another, and so on. The resultant “deep dream” images are twisted landscapes, bright and fantastical, with dog-fish, camel-bird and pig-snail clouds and pagoda-tower mountains so multiple — it’s like we’re being given a hallucinogenic glimpse into our own neural networks. They seem to hijack and warp our own dreamscapes, or take over our psyches.

Fig. 8: Dog Nebula


Ashbery writes:


The year subsides into clouds
more beautiful than any I have seen —
drifting equestrian statues, washing lifted by the wind.[Note 135]


Remembering that words and letters are signs — and images, too — we can think of Farrell’s processing of Ashbery’s poems as a kind of “inceptionism” in which Ashbery’s neural language networks have been recognised and regenerated by Farrell’s neural language networks. Each of Farrell’s choices — in transmuting the sentences, phrases, words, and letters of an Ashbery dreamscape, consciously and unconsciously — work at different levels of abstraction, like “adjust[ing] a cloud”[Note 136], and the resultant poems become warped or distorted versions of Ashbery’s.


But it’s not the same distortion as in Freud’s interpretation of dreams, in which an adult’s dreams become more distorted when disguising a negative or unpleasurable wish-fulfilment, which I’d argue is a creeping in of consciousness so as to censor one’s ego-self, a process that Freud calls “secondary revision”[Note 137]; rather, Farrell’s playful distortions encourage the unconscious to become more innocent again, as in the dream-structures of childhood that, according to Freud, are more unfettered and “literal”[Note 138]. Farrell warps the three Ashbery lines above into this visionary Australian Google version:


blue clouds in a white
sky tell me what else do you see —
what wonderful worm, perhaps my cattle running free.[Note 139]


The materiality and slippage of language — and how a poetics of play can be used to unsettle and interrogate unconscious aspects of Australian culture and history — is Farrell’s major concern, and he continues to shift / sift about on this front, here “where poets idle by baggage”[Note 140]. Rather than waiting for the carousel of poetic tradition to deliver him his bag, Farrell leaves us at the end of thempark in yet another doubled dreamscape, “by the fire, ‘language, that great mystery’”[Note 141] — accentuating his objective at the same time as demonstrating it, literally and in every sense; by the fire (the poem) where conversations crackle and shadows are cast — and recast — across cave walls.


Fig. 9: Random Noise Pagodas, Google “deep dream” image [Note 142]


From one theme park to another: John Ashbery’s translation of Illuminations, by Arthur Rimbaud. Illuminations consists of forty-two poems (forty-three if including the “Fragments from Folio 12” as another poem, which Ashbery has translated here) written either side of A Season in Hell, his only other book of poetry. Two of the poems are in free verse, among the first examples of vers libre, while the rest are prose poems, as Rimbaud called them at the time, or, as John Ashbery describes them in his introduction, “a crystalline jumble… like a disordered collection of magic lantern slides, each an ‘intense rapid dream’… still emitting pulses”.[Note 143]


Illuminations was a development of, and a leap from, the Symboliste tradition, as well as being an antecedent to Surrealism. Rimbaud wrote both books by the age of twenty, then famously quit poetry (or outgrew it, arguably) and spent the next decade and a half oscillating between Paris and far-flung destinations, including Java and Africa (the latter where he traded guns, among other things), before returning ill to the south of France, where he died in his mid-thirties. A Season in Hell was published before he denounced poetry, while Illuminations was published in his early thirties, when people thought he was dead, having become a myth in “the dark continent” (which it was called at the time, when more racialised, colonial ideas prevailed).


The myth of Rimbaud’s life has been perpetuated to the point where he has become a messianic figure in literary history. However, in and for his time, Rimbaud produced some of the most radical poetry for any person in any period. One of his main aims for poetic language was, as he put it in his now famous Voyant letters: “a systematised disorganisation of all the senses”.[Note 144]

Fig. 10: Bagan, ancient city of Burma
Fig. 11: Dakota’s Badlands

Ashbery’s new translation has met with praise for its sensitivity to the original and for its inventiveness at the same time. I’d like to focus more on the inventive aspects, and to touch on moments of “the Ashberyesque” which, on the flip side, might reflect on how Rimbaud and his poetry has influenced Ashbery, or at least remind us of the influence (and thus his importance to the modern practice of poetry), but also on how Ashbery has built upon, to then diverge from, a significant forebear.


The opening line of “After the Flood” (Après le Déluge) immediately establishes Ashbery’s intentions — to make it new but not at the cost of the original: Translating Rimbaud’s “Aussitôt que l’idée du Déluge se fut rassise”, Ashbery writes: “No sooner had the notion of the Flood regained its composure”.[Note 145]


The alliteration of “No” and “notion” comes closer than other translations to echoing Rimbaud’s music (“notion” could also be read as a pun on ocean). And at the risk of using a negative, “No sooner”, where there isn’t one in the French, Ashbery has found a way to ride the rhythm of the original. The phrase “regained its composure” links back to the “notion” of the flood, and a fresh take on the French “rassis” — stale, staid, balanced.


At first glance, “regained its composure” might seem an odd translation, but when you think of the Flood as a figment of the imagination, an “idée”, then that kind of Flood doesn’t necessarily go stale, subside or recede in the mind (as in other translations); it snaps out of its funk, regains its verve (like anything, perhaps, that “makes it new”). Moreover, it paves the way for the disappointment of the narrator’s voice at the end of the poem when he yearns for the Flood of the imagination to return — so he can be in that kind of unfettered dream again.


Ashbery makes the line strangely his own: the casualness of this lilting, opening phrase and its abstract qualities could easily begin one of his own poems.


Ashbery’s translation preserves many loanwords from French and other languages, such as “boulevard”, “adagio”, “façades”, “ritornellos”, “connoisseurs”, “steppes”, “bourgeois”, and “bacchanals”. In some cases, where there’s an opportunity, Ashbery translates by using a different French word more often used in English.


For instance, he uses “naïveté” to stress the ingenuous / artless meaning of “l’ingénuité”, and then “banquettes” — a raised part behind a parapet, or a footbridge — instead of “bypasses”, the more straightforward translation of “contournés”.


These loanwords act like slippages, or inversions: French for English where Rimbaud might have used English in his native French. Ashbery also includes a range of old-fashioned or antiquated words, in essence to give them new life; words like “gallantry”, “becalmed”, “postilion”, “baldequin”, “credenzas” and even “nincompoop” (to translate “niais”, i.e. “simpletons”) which is surprisingly not contemporary, as in twentieth century like I’d assumed, and rather seventeenth century in origin.


In reviving old words, Ashbery echoes Rimbaud’s bringing words, often medieval, back from the dead. The title itself, Illuminations, while referring to printed, hand-colored engravings, which were common in Rimbaud’s time, can also refer to the hand-painted pictures and decorations found in medieval manuscripts. The French term for these is enluminures, yet, according to Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud’s title was English (like other poem titles in Illuminations, such as “Being Beauteous”, “Fairy”, and “Bottom”). Alfred Corn reveals this amazing coincidence about the title:


Considering Rimbaud’s ironic and challenging temperament, it’s possible he wanted to make both senses of the English term available, as a way to suggest that his mysterious and even quasi-religious texts could also be compared to cheap popular prints. The strategy of the young and not yet established poet is often to ‘have it both ways,’ defending his most exalted thoughts with an electric fence of high-voltage irony. Since we’re on the topic of electrical equipment, consider this interesting coincidence: the first incandescent light-bulb was made in 1874 [Rimbaud wrote Illuminations from 1873-75], and commercial distribution of the new invention began in 1886, the year when La Vogue first brought Illuminations to the French reading public.[Note 146]


By employing loanwords and reviving old words in his translations, Ashbery evokes how Rimbaud discovered new and foreign words, especially English words, on his travels to London, where he wrote much of Illuminations. We mustn’t forget how Ashbery also travelled abroad — exiled himself, as suggested earlier — to live in another city — Paris, of course — in his formative poetry years. He wrote and/or drafted his second (The Tennis Court Oath), third (Rivers and Mountains) and fourth (The Double Dream of Spring) books of poetry in Paris.


More examples of Ashbery’s resourceful vocabulary in translation, but also of the “disorganisation of all the senses”, are evident in these Ashberyesque phrasings:


Boulevards of mountebanks’ stages          Des boulevards de tréteaux
bellicose dawn in June          aube de juin batailleuse
bony plumes          panaches d’ébène
enliven our ridiculous paupers’ memories
          relever nos souvenirs d’indigents absurdes
It began in all loutishness          Cela commnçait par toute la rustrerie
the horsehair escutcheons          l’écusson de crin
underground conflagrations          embrasements souterrains


And then in “Lives” (Vies): “I don’t miss my old role in divine merrymaking: the sober air of this sour countryside is ample nourishment for my hideous skepticism”. (Je ne regrette pas ma vieille part de gaÎté divine: l’air sobre de cette aigre campagne alimente fort activement mon atroce sceptisisme.)[Note 147]


And then the use of “beggars” as a verb to begin “Cities I” (Villes I): “The official acropolis beggars the most colossal conceptions of modern barbarity.” (L’acropole officielle outre les conceptions de la barbarie moderne les plus colossales.)[Note 148]


There are even a few colloquialisms, typical of Ashbery’s speechiness, thrown in to the translations: “chitchat”, for example, and, “Nothing posh. — The city”, as a translation of “Rien de riche. — La ville!


The translations of Rimbaud’s city poems — Ville, Villes I, Villes II, and Métropolitain — remind me of Ashbery’s own “These Lacustrine Cities”, and other poems from Rivers and Mountains, where big impersonal forces are dealt with in tangible, albeit surreal terms: at once hallucinogenic and descriptive of the so-called real world, abstracted further than mere impressionism. Take the first and last stanzas:


These lacustrine cities grew out of loathing
Into something forgetful, although angry with history.
They are the product of an idea: that man is horrible, for instance,
Though this is only one example.…


You have built a mountain of something
Thoughtfully pouring all your energy into this single monument,
Whose wind is desire starching a petal,
Whose disappointment broke into a rainbow of tears.[Note 149]


Meanwhile, a line at the centre of “These Lacustrine Cities” echoes Rimbaud’s life: “We had thought, for instance, of sending you to the middle of the desert”.


Now that Ashbery’s translations have finally been published, it becomes clear that much of Illuminations — and Rimbaud’s poetics — have been taken for a ride in Ashbery’s own theme parks, Rivers and Mountains and The Double Dream of Spring, key books in his poetic development. One wonders whether Ashbery started drafting these translations in the 1950s when in “exile” in Paris. He is said to have read Rimbaud when he was sixteen, and clearly subsumed the young poet’s declaration that “one must be absolutely modern” into his own poetry — “absolute modernity” being, as Ashbery states in his preface of Illuminations, “the acknowledging of the simultaneity of all of life, the condition that nourishes poetry at every second.”[Note 150]


After selecting Some Trees, Ashbery’s first book, for the Yale Younger Poets Series, W.H. Auden made this poignant link between Ashbery and Rimbaud:


From Rimbaud down to Ashbery, an important school of poets has been concerned with the discovery that, in childhood largely, in dreams and daydreams entirely, the imaginative life of the human individual stubbornly continues to live by the old magical notions. Its world is one of sacred images and ritual acts… a numinous landscape inhabited by demons and strange beasts.[Note 151]


In Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath, there is so much varied, and some might say unparsable, collage-based experimentation that readers cannot but read each word literally and in every sense. Not that this is a beastly problem.


Ashbery’s own words on the early collage-like poems of Marianne Moore — in a review of her Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics — offer us a glimpse of his own poetic development: “Some of us will regret the kaleidoscopic collage effects of the early poems, and with reason for they were a necessary lesson in how to live in our world of ‘media’, how to deal with the unwanted information that constantly accumulates around us”.[Note 152]

Fig. 12: The Double Dream of Spring, by Giorgio de Chirico


In other words, the issue is not nonsense, but too much sense. Collage is one way a poet can process the self in the world: the accumulation, dumping and reconfiguring of sources that took place in The Tennis Court Oath, Ashbery’s second book, was a necessary step on his path to becoming a medium who could translate thought by repurposing language into “imitations of consciousness”.


These aspects of Ashbery’s literal experimentation with collage paved the way for the rimbaldien[Note 153] poems of Rivers and Mountains and, to a lesser extent, The Double Dream of Spring, the book named after a de Chirico painting and in which Ashbery reached that synthesis of voice and style for which he has come to be best known, whether in his elegiac poems, in his shorter, almost comical lyric poems full of linguistic slippages, in his re-jigged formal experiments (pantoums and sestinas, for instance), or in his long poems.


So now, even when we come to Ashbery’s translation of “Barbarian”, a post-apocalyptic Illumination that might seem too aggressive for Ashbery, we come to taste both the extremes of Rimbaud’s vision (“Long after the seasons, and the beings and the countries… ”) and the Ashberesque at the level of word and description


The live coals and the foam. Music, wheeling of abysses and shock of ice floes against the stars.
          O Sweetness, O world, O music! And there, shapes, sweat, tresses and eyes, floating. And the white, boiling tears, — O sweetness! — and the voice of woman reaching to the depths of the arctic volcanoes and caverns.
          The pennant…


Les brasiers et les écumes. La musique, virement des gouffres et choc des glaçons aux astres.
          Ô Douceurs, ô monde, ô musique! Et la, les formes, les sueurs, les chevelures et les yeux, flottant. Et les larmes blanches, bouillantes, — ô douceurs! — et la voix féminine arrivée au fond des volcans et des grottes arctiques.
          Le pavillon… [Note 154]


The use of the word “tresses” — the hairs and eyes floating — immediately evokes the title poem from The Double Dream of Spring and its hallucinatory imagery. Here is the last stanza:


And now amid the churring of locomotives
Moving on the land the grass lies over passive
Beetling its “end of the journey” mentality into your forehead
Like so much blond hair awash
Sick starlight on the night
That is readying its defenses again
As day comes up[Note 155]


Though the poem is not as apocalyptic as “Barbarian”, it gestures obliquely toward the visions of Rimbaud, and toward a kind of personal turmoil, or trauma, a not uncommon trait of many poets / artists. Even in the first poem of The Double Dream of Spring, called “The Task”, a poem that could be read as an ars poetica for the poems that follow, there is a connection to Rimbaud. In the opening lines, Ashbery introduces the word “pennant”, echoing a motif seen in de Chirico’s paintings. But the word also becomes a premonition of its use in the translation of “Barbarian”:


They are preparing to begin again:
Problems, new pennant up the flagpole
In a predicated romance.[Note 156]


No other translation I’ve read has used the same word for the French “pavillon” (usually “flag” or “banner”). “Pennant” is also a good match, sound-wise, like a pendant. In “Barbarian”, where the word is part of the poem’s refrain, which somewhat romanticises the apocalyptic, its deployment by Ashbery would also seem to be a deliberate echo of his own early work: the Ashberyesque, reverberating.


Again, the connection to his early poems suggests that Ashbery began translating these Illuminations in the Fifties or Sixties. By connecting these two poems, linguistically, we also begin to connect their themes. And so, the obscure “pennant of bloody meat” in “Barbarian” might not simply signify the enduring though dying flesh of humanity in the endtimes, nor the impossibility of living to uncover the mystery of the feminine, simultaneously barbaric and sweet in nature as it seems to in Robert Greer Cohn’s studious analysis of Rimbaud’s French, but it could also signify poetry itself.[Note 157]


To the Symbolistes, poetry was considered feminine — unknown, other; and in “Barbarian”, Rimbaud’s swirling musical derangements peak, set “against the silk of arctic seas and flowers (they don’t exist.)”, then fizzles out with “the voice of woman reaching to the depths of the arctic volcanoes and caverns”. In other words, poetry is out of reach; poetry exists in realms that don’t exist (or at least that’s how the Symbolistes saw it). What Rimbaud is gesturing toward here is the impossible. (It is arguable that Rimbaud outgrew poetry when he realised its futility.)


Meanwhile, in “The Task”, Ashbery points us to a more quotidian, more nonchalant (much like Farrell, earlier, in the face of his forebear’s influence), yet still enduring, still anxious, sense of poetry:


For these are moments only, moments of insight,
And there are reaches to be attained,
A last level of anxiety that melts
In becoming, like miles under the pilgrim’s feet.[Note 158]


It’s not hard to imagine Rimbaud the walker, Rimbaud the traveller, Rimbaud the exile, as the pilgrim here. These lines have a reluctant redemption to them, an overcoming of the impossible, which brings me back to Ashbery’s use of tone in this illuminated rimbaldien theme park.


How he is capable, within the strictures of a faithful translation, to impart the Ashberyesque can’t simply be attributed to a resourceful and characteristic vocabulary, utilising key words from his own poetry; nor his typically casual, flowing and rhythmic phrasing that overflows into parataxis. And while there are plenty of resonances (shared images, language, memories and emotions) coalescing as we delve deeper into comparison — impossible to avoid with a famous poet of a massive oeuvre, translating another famous poet — it is Ashbery’s intrinsically hopeful tone that, in the end, provides the main point of departure from Rimbaud but also, paradoxically, the cement to make the translation stick.


Take the famous line in the poem “Tale”: “La musique savante manque à notre désir”, which Ashbery translates into: “Wise music is missing from our desire.”[Note 159]


Oliver Bernard, in his excellent and, semantically, slightly freer translation, translates this pivotal line as: “Great music falls short of our desire”[Note 160], which initially felt stronger and more insightful in its attempt to say something about the impossibility — for poetry, and even for music — of meeting our desire to understand the nature of existence.


When I first read Ashbery’s version, it seemed to lack Bernard’s abstractedness and its grand gesturing. However, the more I mull over Ashbery’s, and the more I compare it to the French, the more his translation grows; the more nuanced it becomes with its subtle soundings, its willingness to stick to Rimbaud’s syntax and rhythm, but also its calm, hopeful tone.


Rather than a quick hyperbolic bright fire, this line, like many others in Ashbery’s translations (and in his own poems, for that matter), burns slower and longer. The calm that Ashbery brings to the translation paradoxically makes Rimbaud’s radical ruptures of traditional poetic language and form even more startling and genuine. It reinvigorates and solidifies the music of Illuminations — to quell our desire.

Fig. 13: Étienne Carjat’s famous portrait of Rimbaud transformed by Dreamscope
… for the most innocent intention is disconcerted at being unable to conceal the fact that one’s unsuccessful acts are the most successful and that one’s failure fulfills one’s most secret wish. — Jacques Lacan [Note 161]


Rimbaud didn’t love poetry. He realised early that poetry’s “song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms”, and so he sought ways to open poetry up, and to re-invent it the way he wanted to re-invent love — through an embracing of difference, otherness, innovation, risk and adventure.


While he didn’t have the stamina for a life dedicated to poetic failure — choosing other kinds of risk and adventure — his “unsuccessful acts” set an example of “necessary incompleteness”. As written earlier in this essay (with regard to Ashbery): necessary incompleteness — irregular form — is what enables poetry to survive the circumstances of its own composition, and so make room both for the reader and for the later poet — i.e. others.


And, as also laid out previously, with regard to Lacan, speech originates not in the ego nor in the subject but rather in the Other. Beyond the subject’s conscious control, speech and language come from another place, outside of consciousness — “the other scene”.


I versus the Other. Successful versus unsuccessful. Consciousness versus the unconscious. Male versus female. Dichotomies that crop up as necessary, because the limits of logic within language dictate as much; dichotomies that the poetry of Ashbery and Farrell attempts to blur and transcend. The use of dichotomy is our way of attempting to express the complexities, subjectivities, and heterogeneity inherent in truths. But dichotomies can only go so far.


Lacan, in “The Freudian thing”, his return-to-Freud essay, an amplification of one of his lectures, writes about the relation between truth and the signifier, at one point punning on the “wood for the trees” dichotomy (the forest of Bondy in northern France, and the trees as “bandits”), saying further: “What is this truth without which there is no way of discerning the face from the mask, and outside of which there appears to be no other monster than the labyrinth itself?”[Note 162]


Through a very complex, riddling and freely associative, one-thing-leads-to-another but everything-speaks-for-one essay (echoing his forebear, Freud, “riddle, it is through you that I communicate”), Lacan essentially argues that the ego gets in the way of truth, and manifests in speech trying to overcome the fear of fragmentation; speech, which is in turn a construction of language within a society of an “immixture of subjects” (not a collection of individuals) mutually transformed by the symbolic order; language, whose significations are “realized only on the basis of a grasp of things in their totality”:


The truth has said: ‘I speak’. To recognize this ‘I’ by what he speaks, perhaps we should not have turned to the ‘I’, but paused at the angle of intersection of the speech… language is an order constituted by laws… language is different from natural expression and… is not a code either… it is not to be confused with information… it is so irreducible to a superstructure that materialism itself is seen to be alarmed by this heresy… [Note 163]


The “angle of intersection of the speech” is the key phrase here, an apt description for the polyphony of the other voices that speak, literally and in every sense, through Ashbery’s and Farrell’s poetry. Lacan demonstrates that the ego is nothing but an illusion, going so far as to speak for the desk that sits on stage next to him, and to imply that the desk — as in, the ego — is a bureaucratic obstruction to the real you, to truth.


The desk, like the ego, “is dependent on the signifier”, for the word “desk” is responsible for the fact that it — along with its chain of signifiers (papers, wills, and other documents) — is not just a piece of wood. Lending a human voice to the desk enables Lacan to speak of its individual existence, its history which is, like anyone’s, prone to fatality. Any one of us, he says, may dream that he / she is this desk, which then becomes a signifier of desire. It is we who “perceive the desk and give it its meaning”. And yet, Lacan pre-empts, using conscious reflection, we cannot comprehend our own meaning — our conscious reflection is always already a failure, a mirage, rendering the desk no different from the observer when placed with one of us between two parallel mirrors, because both ego and desk are scrutinised by an other, from which they receive back endlessly their distorted images.[Note 164]


Here, we get ping-ed back like a reflection to Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre” (“I is an other”), which set these distorted reflections, as in the modernist poem and poetry thereafter, concatenating. Rimbaud’s genius was, in the end, his innocent intention and his demonstration of failure: “Genius is the recovery of childhood at will”, he famously said. A child, after all, has no other choice but to appropriate language so as to form his / her own relationship to it and the human, and ever increasingly inhuman, world.


Adorno outlines the dichotomy inherent in genius: “The genial remains paradoxical and precarious because the freely discovered and the necessary cannot actually be completely fused. Without the ever present possibility of failure there is nothing genial in artworks”.[Note 165]


But is an artwork / poem a thing? Well, yes… as much as an illusion is a thing. And it depends on how it’s deployed. The poem as thing can be the desk, the ego, but it can also be the woods.


It’s a choice that the poet makes (the French word for “thing”, innocently enough, is “chose”) — to make things singular, or to disintegrate and become the woods. The irresolvable bind between subject and object that poetry encounters (another inseparable dichotomy) is “a precarious balance” of “the I that speaks latently through the work”, as Adorno maintained.[166] Poetry can seem like code or riddle because it’s attempting to express complex truths. It’s never quite doing dreamwork but is always tapping into it.


Poetry is always attempting to do away with the desk, to disintegrate the ego, because there is no other monster to poetry than language itself.


So now, in this faux spirit of dichotomy, in this other scene of things (choses), there are, as I see it, two attitudes a genial poet can take to ensure that the necessary threat of failure remains ever present: 1) “I, too, dislike it” and, 2) “To love poetry is to love not being able to choose.”


While Marianne Moore, Arthur Rimbaud, John Ashbery and Michael Farrell are in no way writers of what I’d call “desk poetry”, they might lean in different directions with respect to this dichotomous choice. The poetry of Moore and Rimbaud could sit in the former camp, as outlined, struggling with the finitude of its terms, though painfully opening up poetry to indeterminacy, otherness and the multiple.


The poetries of Ashbery and Farrell, on the other foot, each seem to love not being able to choose — the readymade indeterminacy (via Rimbaud) that Perloff posits, but, more actively, indecision, as in Lacan’s “innocent intention”. “A poem can be made of anything”, is what Ashbery’s and Farrell’s poems say — even itself, and perhaps even someone else’s dreams. Inceptionism, eat your heart out, or at least within homosocial lineages such as the one I’ve studied in this historical stream.


Inheriting a bandit’s sense of transposition (“in the virtual forest”)[167], Michael Farrell gambols in an othered theme park of rides that allow for almost infinite abstraction and mutation — a simultaneously naive and knowing appropriation of the aforementioned bear, happy to be caught, fingers in the honey pot — while John Ashbery gambles, albeit within stricter parameters, on projecting his own voice through the hallowed theme park (“the eternal west of forests”)[Note 168] of a much-translated forebear of modern poetry. Ashbery’s distinctive translation using Rimbaud’s framework has many parallels to how Farrell’s poetry superimposes on Ashbery’s — transforming, building anew, three-dimensionalising, literally regenerating.


While both Farrell and Ashbery, according to Walter Benjamin, would owe the existence of both thempark and Illuminations to their respective blueprints[169], both create new rides, new desires, new dreams. At one with fragmentation, preferring and unveiling speech and language of the Other, literally occupying “the other scene”, both bandits fulfill a secret wish for poetry of an “immixture of subjects”, of polyphony, of accretion and proliferation, of so many fragments of wood. One thing leads to another when one loves not being able to choose, from Rimbaud down and on to the many others: I is a them park.



[Endnote 1] Which looks like a futuristic version of Starnina’s Thebaid.

[Endnote 2] Lydia Davis, “Rimbaud’s Wise Music”, review of John Ashbery’s translation of Illuminations, New York Times Book Review, June 9, 2011,

[Endnote 3] Ben Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2016), 8.

[4] Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry, 8.

[5] Marianne Moore, The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (London: Faber, 1967), 36.

[6] Moore, The Complete Poems, 266.

[7] Robert Pinsky, “Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’: Why did she keep revising it?” Slate, June 30, 2009,

[8] Moore, The Complete Poems, 266-267.

[9] Arthur Rimbaud, The Poems, trans. Oliver Bernard, 1962 (London: Anvil, 2012), 371.

[10] Rimbaud, Complete Works, trans. Paul Schmidt (New York: Harper and Row, 1975), 121-124.

[11] Rimbaud, Rimbaud Complete, trans. Wyatt Mason (New York: Modern Library, 2003), 202-205.

[12] Rimbaud, epigraph to In Praise of Love, 2009, by Alain Badiou with Nicolas Truong, trans. Peter Bush (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2012).

[13] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 1886, trans. John Ashbery (New York: W. W. Norton, 2011), 87.

[14] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 51.

[15] Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery, eds., “Transpositions”, in Imagining Language: An Anthology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998), 199.

[16] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 95.

[17] Verlaine (far left) and Rimbaud (second to left), along with a few Parnassians.

[18] Graham Robb, Rimbaud: A Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000), 197-198.

[19] Ezra Pound’s slogan has come to encapsulate the twentieth century’s emphasis on innovation and is itself a deliberate mistranslation of an ancient Chinese inscription. See David Goldstein, “Originality”, in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition, ed. Roland Greene et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 981-982.

[20] Kristin Ross, in her study of Rimbaud’s importance to revolution, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (London: Verso, 2008), 152.

[21] Of course, there are many permutations of the “I is an other” doctrine, and I hope these will come to the fore as this essay winds on, but my central interpretation is about the modulation of self and form in poetry.

[22] Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism”, in One-Way Street, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London: Verso, 2006), 227.

[23] Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 199.

[24] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 16.

[25] William Carlos Williams, “Kora in Hell: Improvisations”, Imaginations, ed. Webster Scott (New York: New Directions, 1970), 70.

[26] Fiona Hile, “And Counting: Fiona Hile reviews Michael Farrell”, Southerly 71.1 (2011): 2,

[27] Alain Badiou, “Rimbaud’s Method”, in Conditions, 1992, trans. Steven Corcoran (London: Continuum, 2008), 88.

Stuart Cooke, “Stuart Cooke reviews Michael Farrell”, review of a raiders guide, Cordite, September 22, 2008,

[29] Michael Brennan, “Michael Farrell”, Poetry International Web (November 1, 2004):

Michael Farrell, ode ode (Cambridge: Salt, 2002), 38.

[31] Farrell, “Interview with Michael Farrell”, ed. Angela Gardner, foam:e (April 2013):

[32] Sianne Ngai, “Stuplimity: Shock and Boredom in Twentieth-Century Aesthetics”, Postmodern Culture 12.2 (2000):

[33] Farrell, “formal x”, in a raiders guide (Sydney: Giramondo, 2008), poem 27.

[34] Farrell, “sumumn”, a raiders guide, poem 54.

[35] Farrell, “sumumn”.

[36] Chad Sweeney, “thatkindofbeau tybejealous”, review of a raiders guide, Jacket 40, 2012,

[37] Farrell, “a raider’s guide”, in a raiders guide, not paginated (second last page of book).

[38] Farrell, “summumn”.

[39] Farrell, thempark (Melbourne: Book Thug, 2010), 31.

[40] Farrell, thempark, 11.

[41] Hile, “And Counting”, 1.

[42] Farrell, thempark, 5.

[43] Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 199.

[44] Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 535.

[45] Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 203.

[46] Farrell, thempark, 10.

[47] John Milton, 1637, “Lycidas”, Poetry Foundation,

[48] Samuel Beckett, trans., “Zone” of Guillaume Apollinaire, in Collected Poems in English and French (New York: Grove, 1977), 126-121.

[49] While the technique of collage dates back to the ancient (3rd or 4th century A.D.) writing practice of the cento, which is a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors, disposed in a new form or order, the term collage wasn’t used until the twentieth century, and was coined by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. The Latin term cento derives from Greek, meaning “‘to plant slips’ (of trees)”. A later word in Greek means “patchwork garment”. See Decimus Magnus Ausonius, “Book XVII: A Nuptial Cento”, in Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White, Ausonius: Books I-XVII (Loeb Classical Library, London: W. Heinemann, 1919), 371-397.

[50] Another poem of Apollinaire’s, the famous ‘Les Fenêtres’ (“The Windows”) written after Robert Delaunay’s Les Fenêtres series of paintings, is described as a verbal collage of speech fragments, improvised by juxtaposing snippets of dialogue overheard in a café, although both artists Robert and Sonia Delaunay claim that he wrote the poem in their studio through a kind of exquisite corpse process. See Guillaume Apollinaire, Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War (1913-1916), trans. Ann Hyde Greet (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980), 349.

[51] Marjorie Perloff, “Collage and Poetry”, in Marjorie Perloff, 1998,

[52] Farrell, thempark, 10.

[53] Owen Hewitson, “What Does Lacan Say About… Desire”, Lacan Online (May 9, 2012):

[54] Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 1966, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977), 169-170.

[55] Comte de Lautréamont, “Poésies”, in Les Chants de Maldoror, 1868, trans. Guy Wernham (New York: New Directions, 1965), 327. Guy Debord of the Situationists, a group of writers in Paris between the World Wars, plagiarised from Ducasse this very statement on plagiarism, re-situating it as part of their manifesto. Among the works Ducasse plagiarised in his Poésies I and II were Blaise Pascal’s Pensées and La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes, as well as the work of Jean de La Bruyère, Luc de Clapiers, Dante, Kant and La Fontaine. Poésies even included an improvement of his own Les Chants de Maldoror (in Christine Chimisso, Gaston Bachelard: Critic of Science and the Imagination [London: Routledge, 2001], 232). Of course, plagiarism has a long and complicated history (the term plagiarism comes from the Latin plagiarius, which literally means “kidnapper”, and dates back to the first century AD, in the Oxford English Dictionary), but I don’t intend to rewrite it here. In the end, this study of transposition and translation is conducted in the spirit of epistemological anarchism: not seeking to find the solution to issues such as plagiarism, but rather playfully re-reading and “translating” those issues so to uncover various absurdities that might generate new excursions of aesthetics.[A good introduction to Australian plagiarism can be found here, by Justin Clemens:]

[56] For a description of Auden’s “use of pastiche and parody, his sleeping-around with poetic forms and his plagiarising of other poets’ voices, [which] constitute a deliberate assault on the idea of the autonomous authentic self”, see Stan Smith, ed., The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 9. For a study of Wallace Stevens’s deeply allusive echoing of past literature, see Eleanor Cook, Poetry, Word-Play, and Word-War in Wallace Stevens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). For T.S. Eliot’s overt collage and lack of annotation, see, of course, his poem “The Waste Land”, a now notorious yet accepted example of so-called plagiarism. Does a poem of quotation have to enter the canon before it can transcend the charge of plagiarism, before it can no longer be considered vampiric? W.B Yeats, after all, chose to open the canonical Oxford Book of Modern Verse with a poem called “Mona Lisa” (“Like the Vampire, / She has been dead many times”), a poem that was simply the critic Walter Pater’s prose description of Leonardo’s painting broken up into vers libre and recontextualised as a poem authored by Pater, though it was “written”, or assembled, by Yeats himself. Perhaps the work of a contemporary exemplary plagiarist, American “conceptual” poet Kenneth Goldsmith, can offer us another answer to this question. He’s devoted whole books to found texts: traffic reports, weather reports, transcripts of sporting broadcasts. He once retyped an entire issue of The New York Times, and titled the result Day. He teaches a course called “Uncreative Writing,” after his book of essays of the same name (Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing, New York: Columbia University Press, 2011) in which “students are penalised for showing any shred of originality and creativity.” Yet, even he knows that his books aren’t for reading, that they’re essentially click-bait, publicity stunts: “My books are better thought about than read. They’re insanely dull and unreadable; I mean, do you really want to sit down and read a year’s worth of weather reports… I don’t. But they’re wonderful to talk about and think about, to dip in and out of, to hold, to have on your shelf. In fact, I say that I don’t have a readership, I have a thinkership”. His “thinkership” was sorely put to the test (as were many people outside his thinkership, too, who perhaps would rather not have had to think through Kenneth Goldsmith) when he pulled a stunt for his poetry reading at Brown University in 2015 by reading the autopsy report of Michael Brown, a teenage African-American who was recently gunned down by a white policeman. Besides the obvious appropriation of a deceased black man’s body by a living white male (Goldsmith chose to end the poetry reading of “The Body of Michael Brown” on an image of Brown’s genitalia), perhaps the literary appropriation performed by Goldsmith showed little literary value besides a kind of shock value. See Jason Guriel, “A Poet Turned Michael Brown’s Autopsy Report Into Click-Bait as Performance Art”, New Republic, March 25, 2015, All this is to say that there are, in certain circumstances, limits to the appropriation of others’ texts, ethically speaking, and that Ashbery’s and Farrell’s appropriations, despite being transgressive of a number of literary traditions, exist within a safe homosocial literary lineage in which such practice is understood as allusive and coded and deeply embedded in their respective subjectivities.

[57] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 21.

[58] In Hotel Lautréamont, for example, Ashbery accomodates T. S. Eliot in poems such as “Quartet”, from Eliot’s “Four Quartets”, and “Just Wednesday”, modestly housing “Ash Wednesday” by dropping the signifier of his own name “Ash”, while John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is transformed into “A Mourning Forbidding Valediction”, among others.

[59] The templates of the previous two paragraphs about plagiarisim are plagiarised from Steven Meyer’s critical review of Hotel Lautréamont, “Ashbery: Poet for All Seasons”, Raritan, 15.2 (Fall 1995): 144-161. I simply shifted some pronouns around so that the text applied to Farrell as well as Ashbery.

[60] Cole Swenson, “Besides, of Bedouins: Hotel Lautréamont (1992)”, review of John Ashbery’s book, Conjunctions 49, Fall 2007,

[61] Hile, “And Counting”, 2.

[62] Ross, The Emergence of Social Space, 57.

[63] Rimbaud, The Poems, 48.

[64] Farrell, thempark, 29.

[65] D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London: Routledge, 1971), 76.

[66] Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1960), 406.

[67] Johanne Prud’homme and Nelson Guilbert, “Text Derivation: Michael Riffaterre”, Signo, dir. Louis Hébert (2006):

[68] Sigmund Freud, “The Dream-Work”, in The Interpretation of Dreams, Vol. 4 of the Penguin Freud Library, trans. James Strachey, 1953 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), 422. For “drifting ice-floes” see J. A. Underwood trans., The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud (Harmondsworth: Penguin Modern Classics, 2006).

[69] Farrell, thempark, 13.

[70] Rimbaud’s French being dans le chaos de glaces, in Rimbaud, Illuminations, 20-21. In Rimbaud’s poetry, there are many references to the movement of ice.

[71] Farrell, thempark, 10.

[72] Farrell, thempark, 6.

[73] “Europe”, from Ashbery’s determinedly experimental second book (The Tennis Court Oath [Middleton: Wesleyan University Press, 1962], 64-85) is a collage poem divided into 111 sections that plays with open-ended, material juxtapositions of language. Collaged together from a book for teenage girls, Beryl of the Biplanes, found by Ashbery in a bookstall along the River Seine, “Europe” contains “a lot of the things that can be found in Europe”, as Ashbery deadpans in an interview with John Tranter, but “of course they can also be found anywhere else”. The poem could be a kind of European theme park. See “John Ashbery in Conversation with John Tranter”, Jacket number 2 (May 1988):

[74] Farrell, thempark, 11.

[75] Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetitions”, in Lectures in America, 1935 (New York: Vintage Books, 1975), 166.

[76] Farrell, thempark, 9.

[77] Stein, “Portraits and Repetitions”, 170.

[78] Theodor W. Adorno, “Subject-Object”, in Aesthetic Theory, 1970, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 234.

[79] Farrell, thempark, 18.

[80] Benjamin, “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, in Illuminations, 1955, trans. Harry Zohn, 1968 (London: Fontana, 1992), 233.

[81] Benjamin, “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, 233.

[82] Farrell, thempark, 27.

[83] Farrell, thempark, 25.

[84] John Ashbery, Selected Prose, ed. Eugene Richie (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 90.

[85] Ashbery, Selected Prose, 214-215.

[86] Marshall McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message”, in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964 (London: Routledge, 2001), 1.

[87] Farrell, thempark, 11.

[88] Ashbery, Where Shall I Wander (Manchester: Carcanet, 2005), 16.

[89] Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 532.

[90] Novalis argued for a true philosophical insight that would introduce systemlessness (Systemlösigkeit) into a system. Only such a system, whose literary expression is irony and whose generic manifestation is the fragment, “can avoid the mistakes of the system and be related neither to injustice nor to anarchy” (in Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 538 n2).

[91] Rasula and McCaffery, Imagining Language, 532-536.

[92] Farrell, thempark, 11.

[93] Ashbery, Hotel Lautréamont (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 24.

[94] Farrell, thempark, 12.

[95] Ashbery, Hotel Lautréamont, 25.

[96] Farrell, thempark, 13.

[97] Farrell, thempark, 13.

[98] Ashbery, “The Art of Poetry No.33: Interview with John Ashbery”, ed. Peter Stitt, Paris Review 90 (Winter 1983):

[99] Ashbery, Hotel Lautréamont, 25.

[100] Ashbery, Hotel Lautréamont, 201.

[101] Elizabeth Campbell, “Beyond the Reading”, So Long Bulletin (June 6, 2011): The story of elephants painting in Thailand can be found at

[102] Farrell, thempark, 13.

[103] Farrell, thempark, 25.

[104] Farrell, thempark, 29.

[105] Farrell, “Interview with Michael Farrell”, ed. Michael Brennan, Poetry International Web (July 1, 2011):

[106] Farrell, thempark, 5.

[107] Farrell, thempark, 9.

[108] Farrell, thempark, 12.

[109] Farrell, thempark, 6.

[110] Farrell, thempark, 11.

[111] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 139-140.

[112] Farrell, thempark, 19.

[113] Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1999), 249-252.

[114] Some Trees is a title that blossoms with possibility; think of poems as neural network trees, branching out, and with networks of roots below.

[115] Ashbery, Selected Prose, 12.

[116] John Shoptaw, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery’s Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), 3.

[117] Ashbery, The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry (New York: Ecco, 1997), 299.

[118] Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy, 261-262.

[119] Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 122.

[120] Lacan identifies metaphor with the Freudian process of condensation and, more importantly, displacement with metonymy (in Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 157). Metonymy is rife in Ashbery’s poetry — it‘s arguably his raison d’étre — so when Farrell displaces (transposes) Ashbery’s poetic dream structures into thempark, we get a metonymy of a metonymy, or metalepsis.

[121] Of course, Lacan distinguishes radically between speech and language, explaining that language is one symbolic Other, but that speech has three spheres: “the symbolic, represented by the signifier, the imaginary, represented by meaning, and the real, which is discourse that has actually taken place in a diachronic dimension”. See Lacan, The Psychoses: The Seminar, Book III 1955-56, 1981, trans. Russell Grigg (London: Routledge, 1993), 63.

[122] Lacan, “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’”, Yale French Studies 0.48 (1972): 45,

[123] Hewitson, “What Does Lacan Say About… Desire”.

[124] Farrell, thempark, 13.

[125] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 312.

[126] From Lacan, “Some Reflections on the Ego”, cited by Hewitson in “What Does Lacan Say About… Desire”.

[127] Farrell, thempark, 5.

[128] Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy, 261.

[129] Farrell, thempark, 30.

[130] Farrell, thempark, 17.

[131] Alexander Mordvintsev, Christopher Olah and Mike Tyka, “Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks”, Google Research Blog, June 17, 2015,

[132] Inception (Burbank, Warner Bros., 2012), directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The synopsis from the film’s promotional material: “Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief with the rare ability to enter people’s dreams and steal their secrets from their subconscious. His skill has made him a hot commodity in the world of corporate espionage but has also cost him everything he loves. Cobb gets a chance at redemption when he is offered a seemingly impossible task: Plant an idea in someone’s mind. If he succeeds, it will be the perfect crime, but a dangerous enemy anticipates Cobb’s every move.”

[133] Adam Epstein, “Machines on Acid: The ‘dreams’ of Google’s AI are equal parts amazing and disturbing”, Quartz, June 19, 2015,

[134] Mordvintsev et al., “Inceptionism”.

[135] Ashbery, Where Shall I Wander, 14.

[136] Farrell, thempark, 30.

[137] Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 628.

[138] Freud, “Distortion in Dreams”, in The Interpretation of Dreams, 244.

[139] Farrell, thempark, 14.

[140] Farrell, thempark, 25.

[141] Farrell, thempark, 30.

[142] Which looks like Bagan, Burma’s ancient pagoda city, superimposed on Dakota’s Badlands.

[143] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 16.

[144] Rimbaud, Complete Works, 102.

[145] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 18-19.

[146] Alfred Corn, “Rimbaud’s Last Revelation”, The The, July 26, 2011,

[147] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 46-47.

[148] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 46-47.

[149] Ashbery, The Mooring of Starting Out, 163.

[150] Davis, “Rimbaud’s Wise Music”.

[151] Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy, 250.

[152] Ashbery, “Jerboas, pelicans, Peewee Reese”, review of Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite Steel, and Other Topics, by Marianne Moore, Bookweek 4.8, October 1966, 8.

[153] Standard French adjectival form of Rimbaud.

[154] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 118-121.

[155] Ashbery, The Mooring of Starting Out, 254.

[156] Ashbery, The Mooring of Starting Out, 227.

[157] Robert Greer Cohn, The Poetry of Rimbaud (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), 350-354.

[158] Ashbery, The Mooring of Starting Out, 227.

[159] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 34-35.

[160] Rimbaud, Selected Verse, 241. Although this Selected is the new Anvil edition, it has until recently now been the standard Penguin translation in England and Australia since 1962 (while the United States have had numerous translators of Rimbaud, most popularly Louise Varèse, a reliable and well regarded translator).

[161] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 122.

[162] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 118.

[163] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 124-128.

[164] Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, 133-134.

[165] Adorno, “Subject-Object”, 234.

[166] Adorno, “Subject-Object”, 227.

[167] Farrell, thempark, 12.

[168] Rimbaud, Illuminations, 91.

[169] Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”, in Illuminations, 72.


Leave a Reply