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John Lawrence Ashbery
Life John Lawrence Ashbery was born on July 28, 1927 and he is an American poet. He has 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 ÄSelf-Portrait in a Convex Mirror´. But Ashbery's work still proves controversial. Although renowned for the postmodern complexity and opacity of his work, Ashbery has stated that he wishes it to be accessible to as many people as possible, not a private dialogue. Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, and raised on a farm near Lake Ontario; his brother died when they were children. Ashbery was educated at Deerfield Academy. At Deerfield, an all-boys school, Ashbery read such poets as W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas, and began writing poetry. One of his poems was published in Poetry magazine, although under the name of a classmate who had submitted it without Ashbery's knowledge or permission. He also published a handful of poems, including a sonnet about his frustrated love for a fellow student, and a piece of short fiction 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 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, and received an M.A. from Columbia in 1951.
New York. Ashbery began teaching at Brooklyn College. through 1965. David Kermani. He had previously written favorable reviews of Warhol's art. Jr. in 2010. he moved to Bard College. Ashbery became acquainted with Andy Warhol at a scheduled poetry reading at the Literary Theatre in New York. That same year he reviewed Warhol's Flowers exhibition at Galerie Illeana Sonnabend in Paris. He was the poet laureate of New York state from 2001 to 2003." Ashbery returned to New York near the end of 1965 and was welcomed with a large party at the Factory. when he retired. 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 Art News (1963±66). from the mid-1950s. when he received a Fulbright Fellowship. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983. Professor of Languages and Literature. he has continued to win awards. describing Warhol's visit to Paris as "the biggest transatlantic fuss since Oscar Wilde brought culture to Buffalo in the nineties. He serves on the contributing editorial board of the literary journal Conjunctions. serving from 1976 to 1980. and participated in Wesleyan's Distinguished Writers Series. where his students included poet John Yau. 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. where he was the Charles P. Ashbery lives in New York City and Hudson. he began a stint as an editor at Partisan Review. Max Jacob (The Dice Cup). Warhol's assistant. Stevenson. In the 1980s. whose books Every Question but One (1990). During the fall of 1963. Several years later. when Thomas Hess took over as editor. To make ends meet he translated French murder mysteries. until 2008. 1962). as he has Jean Perrault (Camouflage). He was a Millet Writing Fellow at Wesleyan University. 2 . He became close friends with poet Gerard Malanga. since that time. After returning to the United States.. During this period he lived with the French poet Pierre Martory. In the early 1970s. on whom he had an important influence as a poet. with his partner. Ashbery lived in France.After working as a copywriter in New York from 1951 to 1955. The Landscape Is behind the door (1994) and The Landscapist he has translated (2008). and work with graduate and undergraduates at many other institutions. He was an editor of the 12 issues of Art and Literature (1964±67) and the New Poetry issue of Harry Mathews's Locus Solus (# 3/4. and also served for many years as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Pierre Reverdy and Raymond Roussel. present readings.
the more difficult Houseboat Days (1977). the critic John Bernard Myers categorized the common traits of Ashbery's avant-garde poetry. as constituting a "New York School". Ashbery once said that his goal was "to produce a poem that the critic cannot even talk about. the highly controversial The Tennis Court Oath (1962). H. Barbara Guest. which contains the long. James Schuyler. Increasing critical recognition in the 1970s transformed Ashbery from an obscure avant-garde experimentalist into one of America's most important (though still one of its most controversial) poets. Ashbery returned to something approaching a reconciliation between tradition and innovation 3 . and the National Book Critics Circle Award) for his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. His early work shows the influence of W.Literary Works Ashbery's long list of awards began with the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1956. but books like A Wave (1985) and the later And the Stars Were Shining (1994). and Rivers and Mountains (1966). often disjunctive syntax. Boris Pasternak. His own poetry was accused of a staleness in this period. The selection. reinforced Ashbery's reputation. and many of the French surrealists (his translations from French literature are numerous). Frank O'Hara. After the publication of Three Poems (1973). Wallace Stevens. Ashbery's works are characterized by a free-flowing. Some Trees. as his number of imitators evidenced. later caused some controversy. of Ashbery's first collection. which was published in 1970. by W. In the late 1950s. Auden. sometimes disarmingly flat or parodic tone." By the 1980s and 1990s. as did 1979's As We Know. as well as that of Kenneth Koch. Ashbery had become a central figure in American and more broadly English-language poetry. double-columned poem "Litany. before returning to New York to write The Double Dream of Spring. Auden. yet by The Tennis Court Oath a much more revolutionary engagement with form appears. H. Ashbery in 1975 won all three major American poetry prizes (the Pulitzer Prize. and a prosaic. the National Book Award. His subsequent collection. particularly in their long poems. The collection's title poem is considered to be one of the masterpieces of late-20th-century American poetic literature. the earliest poems show the influence of conventional poetic practice. The play of the human mind is the subject of a great many of his poems. Paul Auster and Ashbery discussing their work at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival. often infused with considerable humor. extensive linguistic play." Formally. show the unmistakable originality of a great poet in practice. Kenward Elmslie and others. Ashbery then wrote two collections while in France.
syntactic and semantic experimentation." No wonder Ashbery is widely thought of as dauntingly "difficult"²or. and insistent wit remain consistent elements of his work. if this prevented curious readers from picking up his books. edited by the poet David Bergman. often abrupt shifts of register. Early on. A Nest of Ninnies. in some camps. His aim." It worked. after all. linguistic expressiveness. and didn't make sense. Art Chronicles 1957-1987. to write poems that mostly didn't rhyme. 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. is not the same thing as being incomprehensible. though. And the truth is that Ashbery's poetry is still very much invested in the reader's pleasure²more so than many supposedly "approachable" poets." Even today a critic like Helen Vendler confesses that she's often "mistaken" about what Ashbery is up to. It rhymed and made sense ("The tall haystacks are great sugar mounds/ These are the fairies' camping grounds") and the young writer²who had that touch of laziness that sometimes goes along with precocity²came to a realization: "I couldn't go on from this pinnacle. deft. as he later put it. his latest book. In 2008. Ashbery's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University were published as Other Traditions in 2000. Poetry John Ashbery wrote his first poem when he was 8." He went on. Where Shall I Wander. Popeye chuckled and scratched/ His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country. is an often delightful and arresting mishmash of battily comic poems about facing death²the poet is now 77²and 4 . instead.with many of the poems in The Double Dream of Spring. was "to produce a poem that the critic cannot even talk about. though his Three Poems are written in long blocks of prose. and in his 20s and 30s penned several plays. Selected Prose and his poetry volume ÄWhere shall I wander?´ appeared in 2005. Being difficult. his Collected Poems 1956±1987 was published as part of the Library of America series. either. He has written one novel. as something of a literary hoaxster. a frustrated detractor called him "the Doris Day of Modernism. It would be a shame./ The color of spinach. A larger collection of his prose writings. three of which have been collected in Three Plays (1978). Ashbery's art criticism has been collected in the 1989 volume Reported Sightings. with fellow poet James Schuyler. You can see why: It simply may not be possible to render a sophisticated explication de texte of a poem that concludes "It was domestic thunder.
from the earnest to the skeptical. then. he (often) sees himself a s fundamentally more like his fellow-man than unlike. but "The way music passes. from slapstick to the didactic. 5 . an epiphanic realization²what Wordsworth called "spots of time.coded reflections on his early years as part of what became known as "the New York School." On the one hand. At the center of an Ashbery poem isn't usually a subject (à la Philip Larkin) but a feeling (à la Jackson Pollock). amid all the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life is the enduring hope that. but where Ashbery differs from Baudelaire or Eliot is that." Ashbery's second radical move was to change the way the poet saw himself in relation to contemporary society. to make a poem that is not a verbal artifact but a kind of living system. fleeting. a common enough artistic sentiment. it is challenging in a strangely inviting way. It too is flowing. On the other hand. inspired by the radical innovations of Dada and French Surrealism." he says in Where Shall I Wander. aesthetic consciousness²what he calls "the experience of experience. is not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement. As he writes in "Clepsydra. that the meaning begins to leak through. Perhaps it's this hybrid impulse²his reluctance to identify too strongly with any single tradition²that motivates his bringing together all different kinds of dictions and styles in a single poem. treasure/ That stalled moment." The best thing to do. It's only then. He is the first poet to achieve something utterly new by completely doubting the possibility²and the value²of capturing what the lyric poem has traditionally tried to capture: a crystallization of a moment in time. like Whitman and Emerson." Like much of Ashbery's poetry. as one speaker puts it. he marries two previously unmarried literary traditions²continental avant-gardism and Romanticism. It is hard to talk concretely about Ashbery's poetry. What's important is not art. while privileging none. per se. "at last I shall see my complete face. In this. because his subject is. That feeling is conjured up by the interplay between aesthetic conviction and amiably bland bewilderment. for most readers. the poems have the dashed-off look and feel of pop culture-inflected postmodernism. one cannot guard. . Though particular poems don't have specific subjects. the way you listen to music.. Ashbery may be poetry's first skeptical revolutionary. so often. "You spoke from the margin. likewise none is true. finding it fundamentally inauthentic (though he'd never put it in such somber terms). at their heart is a kind of high Romantic yearning for wholeness: In a sense the poems are simply about being unable to give up that longing.. emblematic/ Of life and how you cannot isolate a note of it/ And say it is good or bad/ ." Ashbery has updated the lyric poem by rejecting this project." "Each moment/ of utterance is the true one." The poet must somehow capture this paradox. he may write more about America²and with a more persuasive ambivalence²than any of his peers.
But make sure to stay receptive to the farcical comedy in the poems.This can make for strange reading. or skim. trust yourself. nonsensical language. in the best of Ashbery. But the action is the cold. perhaps some tips are in order²if not for easy listening. 6 . First. whispers out of time. syrupy flow Of a pageant. the ever-shifting array of pronouns. the excess verbiage helps make the moments of lyric focus all the more propulsive and startling. for the many readers daunted by all the static. Third. which often arrives out of nowhere²like a deadpan subway announcer in a good mood. then at least for better attuned ears. Still. genres. a kind of "organized chaos. the abrupt shifts in diction²are not totally without a center. Second. All things happen On its balcony and are resumed within. are a forte of Ashbery's. except Here and there." Endings. it is the gibbous Mirrored eye of an insect. in cold pockets Of remembrance. memory. in particular. like Jasper Johns' paintings. self-interrupting voices²the different voices we use to talk to ourselves in our own minds (incantatory. like coming across a lost tune as you spin the dial²the sort of thing that briefly brings promise of "a movement out of the dream into its codification. The hand holds no chalk And each part of the whole falls off And cannot know it knew. Ashbery becomes a kind of radio transistor through which many different voices. nostalgia²so don't get frustrated by what may seem vague. and curious archaeological remains of language filter. One feels too confined. bear in mind that Ashbery's subjects are big ones²time. skip the poem. exhortatory. He considers his poems to be. Sifting the April sunlight for clues." Imagine the poems as a series of different self-revising. so that the poems are like the sound you would hear if you spun through the FM/AM dial without stopping to tune into any one program for long. Take the beautiful passage that concludes his famous long poem "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror": We have seen the city. In the mere stillness of the ease of its Parameter. Ashbery's most famous rhetorical ambiguities²the odd. If you're bored.
" Ashbery. can address himself to. delighted. who cut his teeth on the surrealists and the Dadaist poets²Tristan Tzara. Words. A typical Ashbery move is to retreat from this pluralistic "you" or "we" of identifying with others to an intensely singular "you"² the you of the self suddenly and ruefully alienated from his surroundings. but these poets are also obsessed with the pleasures of making a sonnet. rather than "the bee's hum. helping you figure out whether the person being addressed is a lover. there is something peculiar about giving up your right. the different pronouns in a lyric poem are important because they fill in the latent narrative. It enlivens the words on the page. as Helen Vendler once said. in moments of feeling exiled. encouraging the reader. it's easier to relinquish visual logic than verbal logic. too. or discovering an unpredictable rhyme. are our effort to create a logic for ourselves. as a reader. etc. it represents the cautious identification of the individual with his society. "at least subconsciously. It's one thing to do it while looking at a Cy Twombly painting²somehow. And don't be confused by all the pronouns encountered in a single poem²the procession of shifting "you. Notice.scolding. The "we" is an expression of the poet's flickering sense of solidarity with his fellow citizens." But Ashbery's free-wheeling strategy makes the reader fiercely attentive to the present²to the textures of the world. nonsensical) that belong to the different characters we carry around in our own heads. to note. a stand-in for what he takes to be marginalized participants in American capitalism: those who love its products (the movies. Ashbery seems bored by these things. organizing the waves of information the eye receives into an understandable picture. genial. is trying to renovate a language that to him seems exhausted and cliché-riddled. the self. to articulate what Wallace Stevens once concisely called "the hum of thoughts evaded in the mind. But in Ashbery the pronouns are generic rather than specific. not the containers the poet has built for them. disgusted." Many poets aim to do this. The "you" is often a kind of companion self." "we. the whole orchestral potential of the English language. Guillaume Apollinaire² as well as Elizabeth Bishop and Wallace Stevens. the one we address in private. Traditionally. perhaps because vision is already a logic." and "I" that is a hallmark Ashbery tactic. to understand the sentences in front of you. a daughter. on the other hand. 7 . that Ashbery frequently substitutes an unexpected word for a familiar one²"the bee's hymn. Tshirts) but are suspicious of its processes." say. Admittedly. a figure the speaker.
" "The Instruction Manual. he sets out to capture the range of language that bombards us²from the boardrooms." "Tapestry. and streets ("Attention. start off with a middle-period book likeHouseboat Days or The Double Dream of Spring." "Soonest Mended." "SelfPortrait in a Convex Mirror." "Wet Casements. or an assortment of individual poems: "Syringa. "Say." and "Affordable Variety. "Wolf Ridge" and "Heavy Home" (both are in some sense about the dissolution of the New York School of poets) and the luminous "You Spoke as a Child. shoppers." one poem begins. try the funny "Novelty Love Trot"." These are the poems that instruct us how to listen to Ashbery's peculiar music." another starts)²and at his best succeeds better than any other writer at conveying how the barrage affects a mind haunted by its own processes and by the unstable patterns that shape-shift around us." "A Blessing In Disguise. To tune in.Instead." "And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name." "The New Higher." From the new book. doc. movie theaters. 8 .
Criminal Ingenuity: Moore.Bibliography 1. University of Georgia Press. 2002 3. John Emil Vincent . Oxford University Press. 2007 2. and Ashbery´.wikipedia. Princeton University Press. 2011 5. www. Cornell. John Emil Vincent ± ÄJohn Ashbery and You: His Later Books´. Ellen Levy . http://en. Ashbery. Helen Vendler ± ÄInvisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert. Whitman. and the Struggle Between the Arts (Modernist Literature & Culture).ÄQueer Lyrics: Difficulty and Closure in American Poetry´. Palgrave Macmillan.org/wiki/John_Ashbery . 2007 4.