And There in the Transit Lounge is John Ashbery

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girls-on-the-runUnfinished projects from the past and dim outlines of (long-deferred) poem sequences have been crowding in and demanding attention. My turn! Do me! No me! No, my turn! The poems that have been waiting patiently, in the rain, in the trenches near Ypres. Story-fragments dug up in gold from horse pastures in Norway and frozen tombs in Siberia. Pantoums riddled with the circular and disconnecting rhetoric found on jihadist web sites. The Narrow Road to the Outer Banks.

But I have been resisting. I want to go somewhere new. The same feeling I have, en route to some predictable location, when the cities go flipping by on the Heathrow departures board: Addis Ababa, Bishkek, Kiev, Osaka, Stockholm, Ulaan Baator, Pretoria, Mombasa, Dubai, Doha, Ashbery, Chennai.

So there has been Ashbery’s book-length poem Girls on the Run (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1999). The mechanisms at work here interest me. Look at what slides around here: narrative, speakers and addressees, direct vs. indirect speech, deictics, spatial and temporal layers.

For instance, watch what goes down here, in section XV:

It was still laughing like a lunatic several hours later when reinforcements arrived at the stockade just as General Forester’s nerves were giving out, and a thin gruel was being served to the men in the guise of supper. “I’ll not swallow this!” But you must, otherwise the story would have no turning, and blind sockets gaze at the streaks the plow left in sunburnt earth, for only some are permitted to be happy, surmised Emily, and that means none of us at the present time. Sure enough. Trevor leaped on the horizon, causing cheerfulness to jump-start the stubborn little band of marauders. When they awoke, as from a dream, only a mauve magician was occupying the premises, and he too pretended not to notice anything was amiss. This was too much for Laure. She pushed impatiently past the guards, on the pretext of bringing Trevor his bowl and saucer, secretly counting up the number of clothespins that still lay scattered around the tent threshold.
This marks the moment when everything can be summed up or there will no longer be a way past the mercenaries. [39]

This could take you anywhere, Liz. It’s a syntactical departures board. Run, girl!

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