Study Guide

Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape What's Up With the Title?

By John Ashbery

What's Up With the Title?

Indeed, what is up with this title? The poem has nothing to do with farm implements, rutabagas, or any landscape apart from a shoebox apartment. Let's start with the basics. "Farm implements" refers to any of the wide variety tools that might be used for farming, like a shovel, hoe, or tractor. A rutabaga is a root vegetable also known as a Swedish or yellow turnip. It is, to be sure, an obscure, dare we say cartoonish, vegetable. You probably don't eat them often, if at all. Ashbery knows all this.

A few more things. First, the six words that are repeated most throughout the poem seem to suggest the difference between rural and city life: "thunder," "apartment," "country," "pleasant," "scratched," and "spinach." The poem is set in the city, but the title refers to the country. Second, the characters in the Popeye cartoon have close relations with various foods: Popeye loves spinach, Wimpy loves hamburgers, Swee'pea and Olive Oyl are named after agricultural products. Third, "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape" is a parody of a title that a painter would give to a landscape painting. Ashbery loved painting and was once employed as an art critic. Many of the best landscape European landscape painters came from Northern Europe – places like Belgium and the Netherlands – where people might actually farm and eat rutabagas. Thus, the poem is a kind of painting in words.

Finally, and most importantly, "Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape" sounds both silly and interesting. Don't discount the silliness factor – it's very important to Ashbery. His motto could be: if it sounds good, write it.

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