John Ashbery is often thought of as from the New York School and as a language poet. In his short poem “Thoughts of a Young Girl,” from his book The Tennis Court Oath he divides the poem into the thoughts of a young girl and the narrator’s thoughts of a young girl. The reader isn’t given much prompting of the two kinds of thought. However, we can see by the quotation marks in the poem that these are someone else’s words. The reference to “the tower,” and the submission of “to show you I’m not mad,” (even with its double entendre) and “You were too good to cry much over me” help us hear a woman’s voice while “Signed, The Dwarf” cinches the idea of ‘the other.’ (14)
In the second section of the poem there are no quotations, so the reader hears the poem’s persona narrate the role of women over the “centuries:” “She always knows / How to be utterly delightful.” By calling to the girl (his persona?) “Oh my daughter, / My sweetheart, daughter of my late employer, princess,” hurrying her arrival, Ashbery’s persona constructs its identity via multiple perspectives and then suggests desire for matriarchy. The poem’s lines seem to fold back upon, and almost nullify, themselves, each invoking the unpresentable. The multiple perspectives within each section of the poem, the two perspectives of the sections themselves, the suggestion in the title, and the construction of the poem that reveals the process of consciousness are evidence of the differend in his poem.
Ashbery is not the only differend. His book The Tennis Court Oath, did more to promote language poetry than he will acknowledge. If fact, he has mentioned that the book should never have been published. Never the less, it’s fair to say that the book is an interesting document for language poets who take Olsen’s manifesto, with his idea of composing by “field,” seriously in their effort to represent the self as a construct and to reveal the process of consciousness as a venue to remind us that the only conventions we have are the ones we make.