You really should read John Ashbery. He’s the only poet you can say “I don’t get it” and you’d be 100% correct. Not getting it is the point. At least I think it is, even though to make such a statement would be to make a point. He’s eclectic like that. Like wind wearing a birthday suit. He’s there and not there. He’s images stacked in lexographical photo albums. You can’t make heads or tails of it – even he says he can’t either – so you just read on and feel good about yourself for being smart enough to read an important poet that pisses people off. Drop that at the next dinner party. “I read John Ashbery and he didn’t piss me off!” People will think you’re brilliant. They’ll invite their friends from other tables to meet you or they’ll Facebook an entire status about you: “Just met the person I want to be when I finally stop caring!” Everyone loves the idea of poetry more than poetry anyway, so why waste your time with meanings. Did you know Ashbery won the Pulitzer for Poetry? Only one person a year does that. It’s like hosting the Oscars, but people won’t debate your clothes. There was a time when I liked poetry that said something, that aimed to billow the edges of flags and block bullets and suckle baby pigs and eat plums from the ice box. But talking about Ashbery makes me sound smart without needing to say anything so I’ll never look back. When you’re talking Ashbery, you can’t get it wrong. You could say he’s a woman and he’d say, “Maybe”. You could accuse him of being Chinese and he’d say “Probably”.
I just drank water from a coffee-mug featuring a typewriter. I ate a dozen saltines slathered in diagonal pattern of yellow mustard. I checked my Twitter three times. All while writing this. I’m multi-tasking, looking for the next image to stack, the next emotion to bend, the next flag to un-billow. I probably should sleep but I cannot. When is the end? After everything? But when is that? Three times this week I thought I might die. Can you believe that? 36 years old with dogs and a wife who doesn’t mind my flabbiness and I’m thinking it’s all over. My chest felt funny. My breathing got off kilter. What is that? A panic attack? Do people really have those? Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t but I’m still alive and I’m sizing up everyway to get more done without actually doing any of it. So I’ve given up John Steinbeck and I’ve taken up John Ashbery. In Steinbeck, they kept moving west – “Westering”, he called it – until they hit the ocean and then they had to stop. God, I thought I hit the ocean three times this week. Thought my wagon had jumped it’s wooden wheels. I wouldn’t blame an Indian for deciding not to take my scalp. The hairline’s not sufficient. Then again, they might take it as the punchline to an old scalping joke about Customer Service situations. I can’t begin to imagine how all that worked back then. Hell, I barely know what to do when I buy a shirt I realize later I hate. But back to Steinbeck, who has time for all that Westering? All that ocean bumping? Not me. So I’ve chosen the quicker mental path: “One must bear in mind one thing. It isn’t necessary to know what that thing is.” Two lines there from Ashbery. See? You can’t screw that up. It’s already tits. Already banging hard enough to wake the neighbors straight off the page. I can’t get enough. Just can’t swallow enough in one handful. Words like blueberries and my constitution’s getting stronger. I like that about being alive. I’ll miss it, you know. I’ll miss that part the most. That finding of the little things. That finding of something you wish you could climb completely inside like Luke curling up in the Tan Tan – life can be so much snow, so much Hoth. I won’t miss that. But I could if I figured out a way to capture it down on paper so I could look at it again and feel something true about it. I guess that’s the kind of poem I would write if I wrote poems. The kind that helps other people remember the thing you were most afraid you’d forget. I guess that’s the least we could ask of any poet, right? I can’t remember what they told us about that. They told us something. Maybe back East. Who can remember anyway? Dear God.