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This article is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

Into the Dusk-Charged Air
Describability, Architecture and Furniture
Matthew Welton
SOMETHING that has become important to the way I think about writing is the extent to which any particular poem might be thought of in terms of its describability. What I mean by that is, were somebody to provide you with a description of a poem and then to send you off to rummage around in the big poetry bran tub, the degree to which you would be sure of recognising the poem when you had found it. The surer you were, the greater the poem’s describability might be understood to be. This is a bit of a fanciful game, of course, and for it to be interesting you’d have to assume the description wouldn’t include the title or the writer’s name or any of that index-page kind of stuff. And, the way I like to go about this, it’s also best if you do without the poem’s subject matter or any quotation. From these ground rules, it would follow that a truly describable poem would be sufficiently unique that it would only require a very simple description.

‘Into the Dusk-Charged Air’ by John Ashbery is a poem in which the name of a river is included in every line. Put in those terms, it is a poem that fits my criterion of describability pretty snugly.

There is, of course, more that could be said about the poem and, against the possibility that it should turn out that there are dozens of poems in which the name of a river is included in every line, here is a little more detail: ...


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