Tom Clark reviews "100 Multiple-Choice Questions" by John Ashbery

from Jacket #15 (December 2001)

100 Multiple-Choice Questions is

1. a vast electrical disturbance
2. a cut-up of student examination papers
3. tremendously funny
4. spanking new/old stuff just out & need-to-get
5. a work that travels at the velocity of glacial drift
6. more complex hygronomy from the author of A Kind of Waffle

When, in the obscure depths and glib surfaces of John Ashbery’s poetry, philosophy paints its gloomy picture of the present world, we see that a form of life has grown old. It cannot be rejuvenated, but only understood. Only when dusk starts to fall does the owl of Minerva spread its wings and fly... these words came to me in

1. the street
2. the form of gray tiles arranged as a rebus in a dream
3. a seizure of earnest talk with a young girl
4. a book
5. the spur of a moment of surprising apprehension
6. a fit of impatience after reading 100 Multiple-Choice Questions

If a man came up to you on the street and began quoting random lines from John Ashbery’s poetry, would you

1. run
2. beat him up
3. try to hide
4. produce a bottle of whiskey and offer him a slug
5. try to understand
6. pointedly ignore him

Writing in The New Yorker, Helen Vendler has described John Ashbery’s poetry as

7. an entire range of language swallowed and then regurgitated, as by a mother bird
8. an acceptable form of alchemy, practiced without knowing it
9. a tap that stops leaking when one doesn’t listen to it
10. a way to climb the dark back stairs of the soul in one’s stockinged feet
11. a mechanical chess game which creates beautiful problems to cover over the machinations of capitalism
12. a volume of air displaced by a shirt

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