Susan McCabe

Boring in a different way (PoemTalk 127)

John Ashbery, 'The Short Answer'

Left to right: Susan McCabe, Marjorie Perloff, and Robert von Hallberg at Marjorie Perloff's home in Los Angeles.


Al Filreis and Zach Carduner traveled to Los Angeles to the home of Marjorie Perloff, where they made a sound recording and film of a convesation about a poem by John Ashbery with Susan McCabe, Robert von Hallberg, and Marjorie herself. The poem is “The Short Answer” from a late book, Quick Question (2013). There are, abounding, the usual marooned pronouns, and the typically high “daftness quotient.” Marjorie and Al chose this poem with the goal of exploring of what it means to read closely and talk in detail about a seemingly “minor” poem from a “major” poet — a poem that might strike readers as an effect of Ashbery’s incessant and seemingly easeful poetic fermentation.

First reading of Hannah Sanghee Park's 'And a Lie' (1)

Susan McCabe

Hannah Sanghee Park (left) and Susan McCabe

A first reading, is it possible? I realize as I approach the poem how excited I am to open the package, find its surprise. This is what I expect when I read a poem. Poems are puzzles, and as I look upon this choicely narrow-looking “visual” stance, I want to jump in, but I stop myself: I do this a lot in my first close readings. Especially if the “look” of the poem immediately grabs me, as this one does: the title “And A Lie” suggests we are already in the middle of things, or at the end of a catalogue of “things.” And now a lie.

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