Four Monostiches by John Ashbery

Note from Christy: A monostich, according to Wikipedia, is “a poem which consists of a single line. (It) has been described as ‘a startling fragment that has its own integrity’ [2] and ‘if a monostich has an argument, it is necessarily more subtle.’ [3]”


slated for demolition.



But I was mistaken.



And, in the adjacent waters, calm.



When the squall hit.


All four poems are from Ashbery’s As We Know  (1979)

John Ashbery, July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017.

Further Reading:

“John Ashbery, a Singular Poet Whose Influence Was Broad, Dies at 90” via The New York Times

“Read John Ashbery’s Poetry” via The New York Times

John Ashbery Changed the Rules of American Poetry” via The New Yorker

Poet John Ashbery dies age 90” via The Guardian

From Christy: I confess, I’ve never really “got” or “understood” Ashbery’s poetry; his monolithes and haiku are more up my alley than his longer pieces. But I like what Megan O’Rourke said, as quoted by The Guardian’s article above: Writing for Slate, the critic and poet Meghan O’Rourke advised readers “not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement, the way you listen to music”. Perhaps I’ll take her advice and try again some time. And if I’m still confused–which I’m sure to be–I’ll take solace in the following: Interviewed by the Associated Press in 2008, Ashbery joked that if he could turn his name into a verb, “to Ashbery”, it would mean “to confuse the hell out of people”.


5 thoughts on “Four Monostiches by John Ashbery

    1. Ha! It’s okay Brian. I struggled to find something of Ashbery’s to share that wasn’t novel-length and that I halfway understood. It was difficult!
      I’m open to suggestions if anyone has any?

      I liked these because I can almost see a short story developing from each of the scenarios. Like one sentence / first line writing prompts. I had several ideas pop into my head for the “I had thought things were going along well but I was mistaken.” And the gin and tonics + squall had a Great Gatsby echo to me.

      Similar to Hemingway’s 6 word story, maybe?


  1. Ha! That last line and his quote about confusing people made me laugh out loud!
    Personally – I am a fan of one-liners…appeals to both my tendency for a wandering mind and a warped sense of humor.
    That said…I think it would be difficult to write.

    “Just another Tuesday at the desk”
    until the dog pooped on the new rug

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Will Grimes

    In his somewhat long poem ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ that deals ostensibly with the Renaissance artist Parmigianino’s self-portrait, John Ashbery writes at one point:

    “The balloon pops, the attention
    Turns dully away. Clouds
    In the puddle stir up into sawtoothed fragments.
    I think of the friends
    Who came to see me, of what yesterday
    Was like. A peculiar slant
    Of memory that intrudes on the dreaming model
    In the silence of the studio . . . .”

    I can’t say that these words from this poem sum up John Ashbery or this poem, but this poem appears in a lot of anthologies, perhaps because the reader can begin to approach ‘the great man’ or, perhaps, because it is a great poem. In any event, it seems possible to have a positive response, a recognition, if you will, to some of Ashbery’s puddles in his sawtoothed fragments.

    Then again, . . . . Certainly Frank O’Hara (only a year older than Ashbery) wrote more accessible poems until his untimely death in 1966. “The Day Lady Died” is a wonderful example of O’Hara’s talent.

    I can’t say that I looked forward to jumping into Ashbery’s Self-Portrait poem, but I found myself captured by it after a while. It turned out to be worth the effort, at least for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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