Mountains, not Rivers: Kent Johnson’s “Into the Heat-Forged Air”

A quick follow up on my recent post about David Gorin’s Boston Review piece on Dana Ward’s poem “This Can’t Be Life,” which he argued was a contemporary riff on John Ashbery’s poem “Into the Dusk-Charged Air”  (from the 1966 volume Rivers and Mountains).

Here’s another interesting example of the afterlife of that particular poem that might be of interest: Kent Johnson‘s poem “Into the Heat-Forged Air,” which appeared in Chicago Review in 2008 and also in Johnson’s book Homage to the Last Avant-Garde.

Johnson’s poem — balanced somewhere along the fine line between parody and homage, I suppose — is much more closely tied to Ashbery’s original poem than Ward’s: it follows the same pattern and form, and appears to be the same length as Ashbery’s.  However, instead of naming rivers, Johnson lists mountains.  Lots and lots of mountains.  Here are the opening lines:

Far from the Pirin, the pointy Appenines plummet toward the sea.
The grey and mauve Virungas undulate pleasantly, much like
The Darlings in their slumber. Chuckling nomads make lean-tos
Within the Schwatka. Troop carriers rust their wheels
On the Taurus, and jackals roam
The Toba Kakar. The Sentinel Range is white with
Dust, as are the peaks of the Ahaggar, covered in
Dust. The Tibetsi are grey and dry as bone.

You can read the rest here.

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