The world expert on John Ashbery

‘What else are you not telling me?’ says the book.

‘Nothing,’ I say.

The book rolls its eyes, gives a brief shrug, and takes off its coat. I notice it has stolen one of my shirts. It is wearing odd socks.

‘I’m waiting,’ it says. ‘I’ve got all day.’

There is a long silence. It is not tense, more the kind of silence that attends one thing ending and another beginning. Outside it is not raining. There is no wind.

‘I’ve read nine novels this year,’ I say finally.

‘Amazing,’ the book says. I can’t tell whether or not it is being sarcastic. I decide it probably is. Just like the old days, I think to myself.

‘That’s a record for you, isn’t it? Normally what you manage in a whole year.’

‘I know, impressive, eh?’

‘Well, it would be.’ The book gives a slight yawn.

‘What do you mean, ‘would be’?’

‘How much poetry?’

‘What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?’

‘How much?’

‘Not that much,’ I say.

”Not that much’,’ the book says. ‘Fancy a game of poker?’

There is another silence.

‘I hate it when you lie to me,’ the book says.

‘None,’ I say. ‘Nothing at all. I’ve tried a few times, but nothing seems to be working for me. To think last year I was the world expert on John Ashbery.’

The book sprays a great torrent tea all over the sofa. ‘I’d hardly go that far. So it’s not working for you then?’

‘No. Poetry isn’t working for me. Not this year. I feel like it’s left me. I’ve tried, but -‘

‘Chin up,’ the book says. ‘Maybe it has.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘All those novels you still haven’t read. You could be happy. Novels are the best.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since forever,’ the book says. ‘No one reads poetry anyway, not even you.’

‘I see what you’re doing. You’re making my future without poetry sound unattractive so that I’ll run straight back into its arms. Very clever. Well, it’s not going to work.’

‘Your words, not mine,’ the book says, a slow smile in the corner of its mouth.




  1. It’s a dialogue that does something which is either disingenuous or not quite honest. Like Socratic ones, it cooks the books. Just a bit. Here’s the thing. You cough to reading novels. Novels. Not prose. Your handy Mephistopheles presses you. No, you’ve read no ‘poetry’. Not ‘no poems’. No poetry. It’s a false opposition, isn’t it, novel/poetry. The last thing I want to do is read poetry. Clive James has poetry bang to rights. I’d not read any poems, not really, for a bit. Yesterday I was trying to find a particular kind of ballad form I could use, and found I was reading Charles Causley. Poem after poem as if I’d never seen them before. Hungrily. Like I like to read novels. Just saying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John
      It is great to hear from you.
      I’m fascinated by how you read my posts and am so grateful to you for taking the time to comment on them.
      I thought I was being completely up front about things, not disingenuous.
      I really haven’t read much poetry this year at all.
      And I had such plans.
      And I kind of feel guilty about that.
      Of course you are right, novels/poetry (either/or) is a false dichotomy. But I honestly do feel a kind of guilt, an actual pressure, burden if you will, that I am not absolutely up to the minute about every last book of poetry that is out now.
      And you would be right to say I need to deal with that etc. But I am trying to say that this is the way I am, not something else, ie not pretending that I have got this in any way sorted.
      My plan is to write out of vulnerability, not to cover anything up, least of all those lines of thinking that are not the most rational, as exposed by your commentary.
      As ever with best wishes and thanks



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