John Ashbery

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John Ashbery
Ashbery-2010-09-12.jpg
Accepting the 2010 Best of Brooklyn Award
Born John Lawrence Ashbery
(1927-07-28)July 28, 1927
Rochester, New York, U.S.
Died September 3, 2017(2017-09-03) (aged 90)
Hudson, New York, U.S.
Occupation Poet, professor
Nationality American
Period 1949–2017
Literary movement Surrealism, The New York School, Postmodernism
Notable works Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror
Notable awards MacArthur Fellowship, Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Guggenheim Fellowship
Partner David Kermani

John Lawrence Ashbery[1] (July 28, 1927 – September 3, 2017) was an American poet.[2] He published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Renowned for its postmodern complexity and opacity, Ashbery's work still proves controversial. Ashbery stated that he wished his work to be accessible to as many people as possible, and not to be a private dialogue with himself.[2][3] At the same time, he once joked that some critics still view him as "a harebrained, homegrown surrealist whose poetry defies even the rules and logic of Surrealism."[4]

Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English Department at Yale University, wrote in 2008, "No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery" and "No American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound."[5] Stephen Burt, a poet and Harvard professor of English, has compared Ashbery to T. S. Eliot, calling Ashbery "the last figure whom half the English-language poets alive thought a great model, and the other half thought incomprehensible".[6]

Life[edit]

Ashbery was born in Rochester,[7] New York, the son of Helen (née Lawrence), a biology teacher, and Chester Frederick Ashbery, a farmer.[8] He was raised on a farm near Lake Ontario; his brother died when they were children.[9] Ashbery was educated at Deerfield Academy, an all-boys school, where he read such poets as W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas and began writing poetry. Two of his poems were published in Poetry magazine by a classmate who had submitted them under his own name, without Ashbery's knowledge or permission.[10] Ashbery also published a piece of short fiction and a handful of poems—including a sonnet about his frustrated love for a fellow student—in the school newspaper, the Deerfield Scroll. His first ambition was to be a painter: from the age of 11 until he was 15, Ashbery took weekly classes at the art museum in Rochester.

Ashbery at a 2007 tribute to W.H. Auden at Cooper Union in New York City.

Ashbery graduated in 1949 with an A.B., cum laude, from Harvard College, where he was a member of the Harvard Advocate, the university's literary magazine, and the Signet Society. He wrote his senior thesis on the poetry of W. H. Auden. At Harvard he befriended fellow writers Kenneth Koch, Barbara Epstein, V. R. Lang, Frank O'Hara and Edward Gorey, and was a classmate of Robert Creeley, Robert Bly and Peter Davison. Ashbery went on to study briefly at New York University before receiving an M.A. from Columbia University in 1951.

After working as a copywriter in New York from 1951 to 1955,[11] from the mid-1950s, when he received a Fulbright Fellowship, through 1965, Ashbery lived in France. He was an editor of the 12 issues of Art and Literature (1964–67) and the New Poetry issue of Harry Mathews' Locus Solus (# 3/4; 1962). To make ends meet he translated French murder mysteries, served as the art editor for the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune and was an art critic for Art International (1960–65) and a Paris correspondent for ARTnews (1963–66), when Thomas Hess took over as editor. During this period he lived with the French poet Pierre Martory, whose books Every Question but One (1990), The Landscape is behind the Door (1994) and The Landscapist he translated (2008), as he did Arthur Rimbaud (Illuminations), Max Jacob (The Dice Cup), Pierre Reverdy (Haunted House), and many titles by Raymond Roussel. After returning to the United States, he continued his career as an art critic for New York and Newsweek magazines while also serving on the editorial board of ARTnews until 1972. Several years later, he began a stint as an editor at Partisan Review, serving from 1976 to 1980.

During the fall of 1963, Ashbery became acquainted with Andy Warhol at a scheduled poetry reading at the Literary Theatre in New York. He had previously written favorable reviews of Warhol's art. That same year he reviewed Warhol's Flowers exhibition at Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris, describing Warhol's visit to Paris as "the biggest transatlantic fuss since Oscar Wilde brought culture to Buffalo in the nineties". Ashbery returned to New York near the end of 1965 and was welcomed with a large party at the Factory. He became close friends with poet Gerard Malanga, Warhol's assistant, on whom he had an important influence as a poet. In 1967 his poem Europe was used as the central text in Eric Salzman's Foxes and Hedgehogs as part of the New Image of Sound series at Hunter College, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. When the poet sent Salzman Three Madrigals in 1968, the composer featured them in the seminal Nude Paper Sermon, released by Nonesuch Records in 1989.[12]

In the early 1970s, Ashbery began teaching at Brooklyn College, where his students included poet John Yau. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983.[1] In the 1980s, he moved to Bard College, where he was the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Languages and Literature, until 2008, when he retired but continued to win awards, present readings, and work with graduate and undergraduates at many other institutions. He was the poet laureate of New York State from 2001 to 2003,[13] and also served for many years as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He served on the contributing editorial board of the literary journal Conjunctions. In 2008 Ashbery was named the first poet laureate of MtvU, a division of MTV broadcast to U.S. college campuses, with excerpts from his poems featured in 18 promotional spots and the works in their entirety on the broadcaster's website. [14]

Ashbery was a Millet Writing Fellow at Wesleyan University in 2010, and participated in Wesleyan's Distinguished Writers Series.[15] He was a founding member of The Raymond Roussel Society, with Miquel Barceló, Joan Bofill-Amargós, Michel Butor, Thor Halvorssen and Hermes Salceda.

Ashbery lived in New York City and Hudson, New York, with his husband, David Kermani.[16] He died of natural causes on September 3, 2017, at his home in Hudson, at the age of 90.[17][18]

Work[edit]

Ashbery's long list of awards began with the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1956. The selection, by W. H. Auden, of Ashbery's first collection, Some Trees, later caused some controversy.[19][20][21] His early work shows the influence of Auden, along with Wallace Stevens, Boris Pasternak, and many of the French surrealists (his translations from French literature are numerous). In the late 1950s, John Bernard Myers, co-owner of the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, categorized the common traits of Ashbery's avant-garde poetry, as well as that of Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, Kenward Elmslie and others, as constituting a "New York School". Ashbery published some work in the avant-garde little magazine Nomad at the beginning of the 1960s. He then wrote two collections while in France, the highly controversial The Tennis Court Oath (1962) and Rivers and Mountains (1966), before returning to New York to write The Double Dream of Spring, published in 1970.

Paul Auster and Ashbery discussing their work at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival.

Increasing critical recognition in the 1970s transformed Ashbery from an obscure avant-garde experimentalist into one of America's most important poets (though still one of its most controversial). After the publication of Three Poems (1973) came Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, for which he was awarded the three major American poetry awards: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award[22] and the National Book Critics Circle Award). The collection's title poem is considered to be one of the masterpieces of late 20th century American poetic literature.

His subsequent collection, the more difficult Houseboat Days (1977), reinforced Ashbery's reputation, as did 1979's As We Know, which contains the long, double-columned poem "Litany". By the 1980s and 1990s, Ashbery had become a central figure in American and more broadly English-language poetry, as his number of imitators attested.

Ashbery's works are characterized by a free-flowing, often disjunctive syntax; extensive linguistic play, often infused with considerable humor; and a prosaic, sometimes disarmingly flat or parodic tone. The play of the human mind is the subject of a great many of his poems. Ashbery once said that his goal was "to produce a poem that the critic cannot even talk about".[23] Formally, the earliest poems show the influence of conventional poetic practice, yet by The Tennis Court Oath a much more revolutionary engagement with form appears. Ashbery returned to something approaching a reconciliation between tradition and innovation with many of the poems in The Double Dream of Spring,[24] though his Three Poems are written in long blocks of prose. Although he has never again approached the radical experimentation of The Tennis Court Oath poems or "The Skaters" and "Into the Dusk-Charged Air" from his collection Rivers and Mountains, syntactic and semantic experimentation, linguistic expressiveness, deft, often abrupt shifts of register, and insistent wit remain consistent elements of his work.

Ashbery's art criticism has been collected in the 1989 volume Reported Sightings, Art Chronicles 1957-1987, edited by the poet David Bergman. He wrote one novel, A Nest of Ninnies, with fellow poet James Schuyler, and in his 20s and 30s penned several plays, three of which have been collected in Three Plays (1978). Ashbery's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University were published as Other Traditions in 2000. A larger collection of his prose writings, Selected Prose, appeared in 2005.[3] In 2008, his Collected Poems 1956–1987 was published as part of the Library of America series.

Awards and honors[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Poetry[edit]

Collections[edit]

Poems[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected in
East February 2014 Ashbery, John (March 24, 2014). "East February". The New Yorker. 90 (5): 78. Retrieved 2015-02-26. 

Prose, plays and translations[edit]

  • A Nest of Ninnies (1969), with James Schuyler. (Carcanet Press 1987, Paladin Books 1990)
  • Three Plays (1978). Carcanet Press (1988).
  • Mayoux, Jean-Jacques (1960). Melville. Trans. by John Ashbery. 
  • The Ice Storm (1987), (32-page pamphlet)
  • Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles, 1957-1987 (1989) (Alfred A. Knopf), ed. David Bergman, Art Criticism and Commentary
  • Other Traditions(2001)[1]
  • 100 Multiple-Choice Questions (2000) (reprint of 1970 experimental pamphlet)
  • Selected Prose 1953-2003 (2005)
  • Martory, Pierre The Landscapist Ashbery (Tr.) Carcanet Press (2008)
  • Rimbaud, Arthur Illuminations Ashbery (Tr.) W. W. Norton & Company (2011)
  • Collected French Translations: Poetry, edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie (2014)
  • Collected French Translations: Prose, Edited by Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie (2014)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Ryzik, Melena (August 27, 2007). "80-Year-Old Poet for the MTV Generation". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. It is John Ashbery, the prolific 80-year-old poet and frequent award winner known for his dense, postmodern style and playful language. One of the most celebrated living poets, Mr. Ashbery has won MacArthur Foundation and Guggenheim fellowships and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror." 
  3. ^ a b c NPR interview with Ashbery about his collection Where Shall I Wander - including poem audio. March 19, 2005
  4. ^ Ashbery, John. "On Elizabeth Bishop." Selected Prose. 2005.
  5. ^ Hammer, Langdon, "‘But I Digress’", review of Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, by John Ashbery, New York Times Book Review, April 20, 2008, accessed same day.
  6. ^ Burt, Stephen (2008-03-26). "John Ashbery a poet for our times". The Times. London. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  7. ^ "John Ashbery". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  8. ^ Curry, Jennifer; Ramm, David; Rich, Mari, eds. (2007). World Authors, 2000-2005. H.W. Wilson. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-8242-1077-9. 
  9. ^ "Video: The Other Twenty-Three Hours". Academy of American Poets. 2008. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  10. ^ "Remembering John Ashbery". Poetry Foundation. 2017-09-11. Retrieved 2017-09-12. 
  11. ^ "John Ashbery". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2014-08-26. 
  12. ^ "Ashbery Research Center archive". Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  13. ^ "New York". US State Poet Laureates. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  14. ^ https://mobile.nytimes.com/2007/08/27/books/27laur.html
  15. ^ John Ashbery Visits, Presents His Poetry, Wesleyanargus. By Marjorie Rivera, Contributing Writer. 19 February 19, 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  16. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/03/arts/john-ashbery-dead-prize-winning-poet.html
  17. ^ News, ABC. "John Ashbery, regarded as one of the world's greatest poets, dies at age 90, his husband confirms". Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  18. ^ "John Ashbery, celebrated and challenging poet, dies at 90". Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  19. ^ "Jascha Kessler - ArtsBeat Blog - The New York Times". papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  20. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". entertainment.timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  21. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". entertainment.timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  22. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1976". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
    (With acceptance speech by Ashbery and essay by Evie Shockley from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  23. ^ O'Rourke, Meghan (9 March 2005). "The Instruction Manual". Retrieved 3 September 2017 – via Slate. 
  24. ^ Longenbach, James (3 September 1997). "Ashbery and the Individual Talent". American Literary History. 9 (1): 103–127. doi:10.2307/490097. Retrieved 3 September 2017 – via JSTOR. 
  25. ^ "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
    (With acceptance speech by Ashbery.)
  26. ^ "Robert Creeley Award". robertcreeleyfoundation.org. Retrieved 19 March 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]