Aha, another poem about law school! This one is about issue-spotting.
I kid, but I do think the fragmented and stirred-up plotpieces will ring a bell for anyone who has ever sat for a law school exam. I am enamored of John Ashbery and recently saw him read in Manhattan, where he was introduced as “the most important living poet in America”; I am inclined to agree. I pieced together the below to post here, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t like breaking up the integrity of a poem to exploit it in that way. I am sure some say the same of the anthology itself, decrying the removal of a single poem from its context because a single-author collection is a work of art arranged in a precisely deliberate way. Of course, any editor of an anthology also makes her own choices about order, font, supplemental materials, and all the other elements that the poet first made when he created the collection in which he first published the piece. I suppose that’s why a second layer of copyright protects the anthologist and the value of her compilation and presentation. It’s also why the first-order copyright requires the poet’s permission. He must consent (I assume) not merely to his poem’s reproduction and distribution, but to the anthology’s specific treatment of the poem: where it fits, how it looks, what criticism or artwork accompanies it. The same poet who grants permission to use his poem in a book called “Political Poems” would likely change his tune upon learning his poem begins the chapter on “Misogynistic and Homophobic Poems.”
I digress. An Ashbery teaser:
A, an intruder in a strange house, is discovered; he flees through the nearest door into a windowless closet and is trapped by a spring lock.
A, giving ten years of his life to a miserly uncle, U, in exchange for a college education, loses his ambition and enterprise.
A and A-2 meet with a tragic adventure, and A-2 is killed.
Elvira, seeking to unravel the mystery of a strange house in the hills, is caught in an electrical storm. During the storm the house vanishes and the site on which it stood becomes a lake.
Alphonse has a wound, a terrible psychic wound, an invisible psychic wound, which causes pain in flesh and tissue which, otherwise, are perfectly healthy and normal.
A has a dream which he conceives to be an actual experience.
Jenny, homeward bound, drives and drives, and is still driving, no nearer to her home than she was when she first started.
Petronius B. Furlong’s friend, Morgan Windhover, receives a wound from which he dies.
Thirteen guests, unknown to one another, gather in a spooky house to hear Toe reading Buster’s will.
Buster has left everything to Lydia, a beautiful Siamese girl poet of whom no one has heard.
Lassie and Rex tussle together politely; Lassie, wounded, is forced to limp home.
B, second wife of A, discovers that B-3, A’s first wife, was unfaithful.
B, wife of A, dons the mask and costume of B-3, A’s paramour, and meets A as B-3; his memory returns and he forgets B-3, and goes back to B.
Excerpted from “…by an Earthquake,” by John Ashbery, from Can You Hear, Bird (1995)
Read the poem in its entirety here