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On Anne Carson’s “Ghost Q & A”

April 1, 2014 by Jillian Weise

May we talk about poetry and magic? Or is it passé? I have a feeling it is passé. But still I hear poets say, “I don’t choose the form. The poem chooses the form,” or “The poem speaks to me.” They say these things flatly as if there is nothing strange about a poem opening its mouth to whisper in the poet’s ear. One imagines the poem saying, “Hello! I am an aubade,” or “I need to use the bathroom.” Before I poke too much fun at the poets, or at myself for citing magic, I remember that poems have always come from above, from the gods and, more recently, from the irrational element (Stevens), the over-mind (H.D.), energy (Olson), neo-hoodoo (Reed), and aliens (Spicer). It is as if poets agree: “We can’t explain poetry. And we don’t want to. In the best poems, there is always something inexplicable.”

I love Anne Carson’s “Ghost Q & A” for some inexplicable quality. As I was saying to my friend Henry, executor of my ghosts, “What to do? I love this poem so much and I can’t explain it.” On the surface, it joins the imaginary interviews of Plato and ee cummings. It is an interrogation between a ghost and a person. The sudden appearance of a man in the poem—“he does the zeroes”—makes me think the person could be a ghost inductee. The poem engages ontology (“how do you know you’re a ghost”), astrophysics (“space and time are wrong”), and animism (“most of the objects here are ghosts”). The poem is far out yet feels intimate. I feel for the ghost. She has a condition, “the sliding,” which affects her nerves. I feel for the person/almost-ghost who wants to understand, but never quite can. These two talk to each other, change the subject, talk over each other, try to find common ground with Paris and Pynchon, and finally remain unknown to each other.

Anne Carson's poem "Ghost Q & A" appeared in APS 13.

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