So now we're turning to a poem by John Ashbery. It's not typical of Ashbery, although it's very famous. His poems tend to be more clearly non-narrative. This is an anti-narrative poem. This is a poem that sets itself up as an alternative to narrative. It creates a frame, so the instruction manual. Let's start off by trying to understand the title phrase means. Allie what does the phrase mean to you? >> Well, he refers to it as the thing that he's writing, so I just kind of imagine it, he says the instruction manual on the uses of new metal. So, it's probably one of the most boring types of writing that you can engage in. >> Okay, so it's the instruction manual refers to a little frame tale which is that he's working, the speaker, the narrator, is working in an office. Where? In the country? In Mexico? >> In the city. >> In the city, presumably New York. And he looks down into the street and he sees people. What does he see? >> Walking around with an inner peace. Just walking around free of the responsibility he has, [CROSSTALK] to write the instruction manual. >> Yeah, they don't have to do this thing. And they're far away from him. He's got this thing he's got right. Let's talk about what in his corruption has anybody ever, you guys, your generation doesn't read instruction manuals, when you get a new DVD player or in the old days when you got a, what are those machines called the voicemail machine at home? My goodness. It's been so long. [CROSSTALK] The answering machine. >> [LAUGH] >> Right now our voice mail is integrated into our form service. But this was a machine, and an instruction manual would come with it. And what was the writing like in that? >> Insert X into Y. >> And how to generalize? Max, what kind of language. >> Dry, kind of didactic. >> Didactic. >> Clear as possible. >> Right, it's not metaphorical. Can we think of some words? >> It's ordered, technical. >> Can we think of some grammar, some words that indicate that we understand grammar and syntax and things. What kind of language is used? >> Comparative. >> Directive. >> Imperative, directive, indexical, pointing words, right. Now you do this, this is what you do. Now this writer, this technical writer, it's a job, it's a profession, this ash burying speaker has to do this job. Do you think he loves his job? Dave? >> Under the press of having to write [INAUDIBLE] about metal, which I think is kind of funny. >> A new metal, I loved that, right? He doesn't really want to do this assignment. Is anybody here ever had a writing assignment that you didn't want to do? >> I had to write a brand manual once. >> A brand manual? >> I had to write a brand manual for an internship I had. >> That sounds really great. So what is your attitude toward the writing that you must do? [INAUDIBLE] >> Unenthusiastic. Kind of doesn't provoke the imagination. >> And you sit in the library or at your desk at home, and you look out and you dream of another world, so it is what Ashbery is doing. He's daydreaming but recording that daydream with a very beautiful, poetic way. >> So he records, I don't know how, well, we'll get to the beauty in the poetry of it, but he's created an entirely alternative what, Dave? >> Alternative reality. >> An alternative reality. Max, an alternative? >> He's created an alternative writing assignment for himself. >> Yes, it's not only an alternative reality, description of Guata La Hara, but it's an alternative writing. Where does this alternative writing come from in the world of genre? In the world of writing? It's not instruction manual kind of writing, but what? >> Maybe travel writing. >> Travel writing, and travel writing of a certain variety because I've heard of travel writing that's just really, really kind of precise, and well this is precise, but what kind of travel writing is this? >> I love reading, the New York Times travel section on Sundays like 36 hours in Munich. Kind of takes you through all the cool things to do in Munich if you only have 36 hours there. >> Okay, and is this like that, Molly? >> It's kind of like a tourist brochure, like a tourism brochure. It's very enthusiastic. >> It's enthusiastic. And is it a rainy day? Did he choose rain? How are the people, are they happy? They seem very busy, they're having a festival, but they have lives. One woman he meets has a son who works at a bank in Mexico City. There's just enough realism. Do they wear grey clothing onwards? >> No, on the contrary, there's a great number of colors that he lists. Green, yellow, rose, pink, white. >> He's just sprinkling color all over the place. There's boys and girls who are kind of eyeing each other. He's really created a happy, touristy scene. Why? Speculation? Why? Why would he do that? >> Why not, in a sense? He's doing something incredibly tedious, and he's a writer. He is a person with the imaginative capacity to create this alternative space for himself. >> Okay, and what kind of grammar does he use? What's the tense? >> He uses a lot of instruction manual grammar and phrases. >> Yeah, give some examples. >> Look, he exclaims on the second page. >> Yep, give us a little bit more context there. >> And there end up is the public library painted several shades of pale green and beige. Look. >> So look is an it's not something you'll see in an instructional manual, maybe. >> [LAUGH] >> What's funny about that? I find that hilarious, for instance, I have lost sight of the young fellow with the toothpick. Wait there he is. What's funny, I just think this is hilarious. Who's with me? >> He's playing a game with himself so he's invented this environment but he's also playing hide and seek in a sort of why with his imagination. >> So, what's the narrative point of view, if this were a novel what would we say. What's the narrative point of view? >> Well there's an I, but it's also kind of omniscient because even though he doesn't know some of these people, he's assigning them certain qualities and personalities and motives for doing things. Like the mustachioed man who's trimmed his mustache for the occasion. >> Yeah. >> The wife is modest, because she has a fan. >> We just know that she's modest. Yeah. >> He doesn't actually know that, but. >> So it's omniscient first-person narration. >> But he also incorporates some random, some randomness. Like you said before, wait, look over there, which makes it more realistic. >> Well, more pseudo-realistic. >> More pseudo-realistic. Well, what we daydream, the thing that makes it distinguished from our physical world is that we have control over it. So when he makes it out of our control. >> So when an omniscient narrator says he's lost sight of something, I laugh, why do I laugh? >> because he can see anything he wants. >> Yeah, because he's supposed to always be in the know. >> Exactly, he doesn't lose sight of anybody, it's foul omniscient at a certain point, there's irony, there's fabulous ironies at the level of routine grammar. Intense. >> And every line builds up that artifice more and more and more. >> It's an elaborate artifice, but because we are given the frame, right. I am writing a manual on a new meadow. I look out the window, rather than doing that I tell you this story because of the frame. And by the way, the frame finishes at the end. So it's a frame tale. Because of that it's even funnier, because we're tipped off to the fact that this is all completely made up. Has he ever been to Guadalajara? >> No. It was the city he most did not see. >> How dare he? >> [LAUGH] >> It makes you kind of wonder Molly, if all the travel writing that we read. >> [LAUGH] >> If the magazine doesn't give you enough money to go to Guadalajara and write a nice piece about Guadalajara with lots of color and festivals. You throw in a few Spanish words. You invent the woman whose son works at Mexico City in the bank just to add a little circumstantial realism to it and you collect your paycheck and you never left New York. >> [LAUGH] >> Does that have anything to do with this? In a way, yeah. So what is he saying about firsthand experience? Uh-oh, big question. >> Well, it becomes an instruction manual of a different sort, right? It's freeing that he's never been to Guadalajara himself because it becomes an instruction manual to go wherever your imagination takes you. >> Uh-oh, it's a. The instruction manual refers to the frame tale, the manual you're supposed to write about the new metal. But this is an instruction manual for would be New York school poets. Where in fact, any poet who wants to be antic and free. Say more. >> [LAUGH] To maybe employ that same technique of going against the grain of the conventional narrative. >> You can do this too. You don't have to go to Guadalajara. We have what that allows us to do this? >> Imagination. >> Imagination. We were talking about Dickinson and Whitman. With Dickinson, his is more Dickinsonian in its theory of the imagination, right? >> There is no like the book. >> Yeah, exactly. Dickinson is powerful, by virtue of her own somewhat self-imposed limitation. She becomes so powerful that she can do anything, describe anything, go anywhere. >> What's the poem, I never saw more, is that the one? >> Yeah, it's a minor poem, but yeah, I never saw more, so it's about the things you can't see, so this has been called by Harold Blum. A rueful ado to experience. I like that phrase. A rueful ado. You like it so much you're writing it down. A rueful ado to experience. What could I mean by that? >> Saying that you don't actually need first hand experience. >> In order to? I don't know about an order to experience, in order to? >> Feel it or see it. >> Or talk about it. >> Or write it. >> How is it rueful? It seems so. >> Yeah, I'm not sure what Blum meant by rueful because this doesn't seem rueful at all. >> [INAUDIBLE] >> But what the rueful part is look where I am. This is the Dickinson looks out the window and actually wishes she were out there. >> I kind of see it as Whitman trapped behind Dickinson's in the window. [LAUGH] >> He push that I think far enough. [LAUGH] >> So we get to near the end of the poem. We get to the point where we climb a bell tower of a church I think. To get a better view which is hilarious. I just think this is so funny. He already has a better view, he's day dreaming at his job looking out the window and instead of seeing the streets and the hum colored cabs as a higher or critic of New York. He decided to take us to Guadalajara. And he sees anything he wants to see, and suddenly he thinks we need to get a better view. What does he see from that view? >> All the things he already saw but from a different perspective. >> From a different perspective. So it's more, it's like double faux, right? The whole network of the city extends before us and then he adds a series of lines that begin with the words there is. How does there, the word there, work there? Anna Marie. >> It points like a compass is the feeling that I get. >> It's an indexal of a word that typically points to things. There, there is the mug. There is the mug. Here, what's he pointing to? >> The rich quarter, the poorer quarter. >> The market, the library. >> Yeah. >> He's pointing to generalize. He's pointing to? Particulars that we should see. He's directing our attention to things that we should see in a town he's completely made up. What's the purpose of that? There is, there is? What syntax is being mocked and ironized here? I'm sort of giving it away with my question. Look there is, there is, there is, there is. >> Kind of referential. >> Yeah, he's mocking referential language or descriptive language. >> Or the language of the tour guide being like, there's the New York Public Library. There's the Statue of Liberty. There's Empire State Building. >> He'd like to stay, where? Yes, Guadalajara but more generally, where? >> In the poem. >> He'd like to stay in the poem. He'd like to stay, continue to do the thing that he likes to do. But he can't. Because. >> He's gotta write the freaking instruction manual. >> Because he's got a job. He's got a job as a writer to write this dull referential, there is, there is, you do this, then you do this. Then you supposed to do this thing. There's a message here about writing and I want to take a minute to think about what the New York school poet is telling us about art and about writing. What do you think about the message is? We don't lock novel at homes and, of course, have a message. This is called the instruction manual, so it's kind of teaching us something. So I think it's polemical and didactic, or meta-poetic, or programmatic enough for me to ask fairly this question. And I'm using lots of words because I'm looking at you, and you obviously don't know what you're going to say. So I'm just going to point randomly to somebody. There is somebody who has an answer. [LAUGH] What's the moral of the story here? What's being? >> I think we started to touch on it earlier when we went back to the old Dickinson-Whitman dynamic. Not to necessarily rehash that, but there is, he's sort of showing us that experience is imagination in some ways. That he can create this experience for himself and for us without ever leaving his office. >> Or the city. >> Or the city. Yeah, exactly. >> That's really important. >> And he does it more vividly than the real life. His imagination is so much more detailed than his real life existence. >> Mm-hm. >> I think he's saying you can, you should use your imagination more when you're creating. >> Anybody else? Ally? >> But also, and I'm not saying this negatively, but that there's some virtue in bullshit. To a certain extent. >> Well, fancy, bullshit, fancy, there's some virtue in making it up. >> Right. >> Yeah? Go ahead, what were you going to say? >> Well, I'll let Emily. >> There's also bullshit in the sense of total banality, which still ends up being this foothold into profound and sort of revelatory experience. But also bullshit in the sense of having us on. When he performed this early, the recording that's on PennSound. I think it's the one recording on the Ashbery's page on PennSound, he gets a huge ovation at the end. What are they responding to? What part of the bullshit are they responding to? >> I mean, to me this is a poem about a guy who has this imagination. Who has this poetic capacity, being forced to write an instruction manual about something dry. To me what he's saying in this poem is, if you have that ability. If you have this capacity to write like this. You're never going to be able to write a dry instruction manual. The instruction manual you will write is this. >> So there's something, when you get to the second generation New York school poets, someone like Ted Berrigan, he's going to fly his freak flag. I mean in a way that Ashbery was fairly kind of a modest personality wouldn't. Berrigan's going to say, I don't have a job, I don't want a job. My job is not to write this. My job is to be free, that's what I'm supposed to do. So, in a way, the instruction manual is one manual on the new mettle that's in the poem. The kind of story manual. Then the instruction manual is a kind of guide to how to love your life as a writer, right? And how do you do that? This is an instruction manual in how you should write exactly and completely what you're not supposed to write. So that you turn to the thing you're supposed to write. And you write it, and you crumple it up and throw it away. And then you keep the thing that you wrote instead of writing the thing that you're supposed to write. Let a splinter swerve, and it would be easier for you to put of flood back, then to stop yourself from being this free. This is an instruction manual that teaches you how to write in a way that you're not supposed to. That is what the people are applauding, that he pulled it off, and that he's created this kind of frame tell for extracting this message, just write what you want just when they tell you to do something different. So this is anti narrative in a sense that it proposes an alternative way of writing a story, and it also doubts the ideology of first hand experience, and in this way somewhat is a new American poetry, a little like the beats, in that they're parallel movements in terms of time, roughly. So, it's definitely a new American poetry movement that gets sort of put together next to it, along with the Black Mountain poets and others. But this one is different from the beats in the sense that these are city poets who don't need to leave the city in a way, who are saying the first hand experience isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Think Jack Kerouac would be sad about that conclusion because you think he feels in a [INAUDIBLE] way that the blab of the [INAUDIBLE] is something you actually hear. And I think that what Ashbery is doing is hearing the voices of people that he's made up in a far off place using a faux vocabulary of description.