Ashbery, John

Ashbery, John, 1927–2017, American poet, b. Rochester, N.Y., grad. Harvard (B.A., 1949), Columbia (M.A., 1951). Among the most acclaimed and influential American poets of his era, he was (1960s–70s) one of the so-called New York school of poets, which also included Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler. Influenced early in his career by the method and music of John Cage, Ashbery called his writing technique “managed chance.” He was averse to the personal revelations of the contemporary, so-called confessional poets. His poems are experimental and idiosyncratic in style and syntax, strongly visual, and narrative, but typically complex, elusive, ambiguous, and somewhat obscure. They have often been compared to verbal collages. His more than 20 collections include Some Trees (1956), The Tennis Court Oath (1962), Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, his most celebrated work (1975; Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle prize), Shadow Train (1981), A Wave (1984), April Galleons (1987), And the Stars Were Shining (1994), Chinese Whispers (2002), Where Shall I Wander (2005), Planisphere (2009), and Breezeway (2015). He also wrote two book-length poems, Flow Chart (1991) and Girls on the Run (1999); and three plays, The Compromise (1960), The Heroes (1960), and The Philosopher (1964); and coauthored a novel, A Nest of Ninnies (1969). He also translated works by such French writers as Pierre Reverdy, Raymond Roussel, Max Jacob, and Arthur Rimbaud.

On a Fulbright scholarship to Paris in the 1950s, Ashbery began to write art criticism and continued to do so after his return to New York, writing for various journals and editing the quarterly Art and Literature. Many of his art reviews and essays were collected in Reported Sightings (1989). He also created collages, mingling postcards, comic strips, advertising, and the like often with fantastic landscapes, and some of these are paired with his poems in They Knew What They Wanted (2018). Ashbery taught at Brooklyn College, Harvard, and Bard College.

See M. Ford, ed., John Ashbery: Collected Poems, 1956–1987 (2008) and John Ashbery: Collected Poems 1991–2000 (2017); E. Richie, ed., Selected Prose (2004); K. Roffman, The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life (2017); studies by D. Shapiro (1979), D. Lehman, ed. (1980) and as author (1999), H. Bloom, ed. (1985 and 2004), J. Shoptaw (1994), S. M. Schultz, ed. (1995), D. Herd (2000), G. Ward (2d ed. 2001), K. Bartczak (2006), A. DuBois (2006), and J. E. Vincent (2007).

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