© Image by Sedar Pakay

John Ashbery

(b. 1927)

"For me, poetry is very much the time that it takes to unroll, the way music does...it's not a static, contemplatable thing like a painting or a piece of sculpture." - John Ashbery

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Recordings

These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Turandot and Other Poems, New York, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 1953
  • Some Trees, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1956
  • The Tennis Court Oath, Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1962
  • Camouflage, Jean Perrault (translator), New York, Lines Books, 1966
  • Rivers and Mountains, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966
  • The Double Dream of Spring, New York, E. P. Dutton & Co, 1970
  • Three Poems, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1972
  • The Vermont Notebook, Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1975
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  • Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Manchester, Carcanet, 1977 and New York, Viking, 1975
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  • Houseboat Days, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977 (new ed. 1999)
  • As We Know, Carcanet, 1981 and Viking, 1979 - out of print
  • Shadow Train, Carcanet, 1982 and Viking, 1981 - out of print (Carcanet)
  • A Wave, Carcanet, 1984 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984 (new ed. 1998)
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  • Selected Poems, Carcanet, 1986 and USA, Penguin, 1986
  • April Galleons, Carcanet, 1988 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1987 (new ed. 1999)
  • Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles 1957-1987, Carcanet, 1989
  • Flow Chart, Carcanet, 1991 and Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1991
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  • Pierre Reverdy, Selected Poems (translator), Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1991
  • Hotel Lautréamont, Carcanet, 1992 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1992 - out of print (Carcanet)
  • Pierre Martory, The Landscape is Behind the Door (translator), Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1994
  • And the Stars Were Shining, Carcanet, 1994 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995 - out of print (Carcanet)
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  • Raymond Roussel, How I Wrote Certain of My Books and Other Writings (translator), Boston, Massachusetts, Exact Change, 1995
  • Can You Hear, Bird, Carcanet, 1996 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995
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  • The Mooring of Starting Out: the first five books of poetry, Carcanet, 1997
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  • Wakefulness, Carcanet, 1998 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998
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  • Selected Poems, Carcanet, 1998
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  • Girls on the Run, Carcanet, 1999 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000
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  • The Mirrored Clubs of Hell, Little Brown & Co, 1991
  • Other Traditions (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard), Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, Harvard University Press, 2000
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  • Your Name Here, Carcanet, 2000 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000
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  • As Umbrellas Follow Rain, Jamestown, Qua Books, 2001
  • Chinese Whispers, Carcanet, 2002 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002
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  • John Ashbery in conversation with Mark Ford, London, Between the Lines, 2003
  • The New York Poets: an anthology, Carcanet, 2004
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  • Selected Prose, The University of Michigan Press, 2004
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  • Where Shall I Wander, Carcanet, 2005
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  • John Ashbery Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
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  • Walt Whitman Hom(m)age 2005/1855, Turtle Point Press 2006
  • A Worldly Country, Carcanet Press 2007
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  • Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, Carcanet Press 2007
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  • Planisphere, Carcanet 2009
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  • Collected Poems 1956-1987, Carcanet 2010
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A native of Rochester, New York, John Ashbery (b. 1927) is the prolific author of twenty three volumes of poetry, plus fiction, plays and criticism. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including The Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, all of which were garnered by his 1976 collection Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. This was the first and remains the only time that one book has been awarded all three of the major American literary prizes and demonstrates Ashbery's centrality to American poetics in the post-war period.

This leading role is all the more remarkable given the uncompromising experimentalism of Ashbery's work. A key concept is "indeterminacy"; a refusal of finality and closure and a rejection of traditional forms of linear narrative. The subject of an Ashbery poem is more likely to be the process of thought itself rather than the object of the mind's attention. An early poem, 'The Instruction Manual', is a good introduction as it traces the narrator's wandering consciousness from the text of the title through his kaleidoscopic vision of the Mexican city of Guadalajara, back to the reality of the manual which nevertheless has "made me dream". This circular movement is characteristic; it's the journey not the destination that's important, as in his tellingly entitled poem 'Just Walking Around': "the longest way is the most efficient way,/The one that looped among islands, and/You always seemed to be traveling in a circle." Not surprisingly, Ashbery favours the long poem and his restlessness is also evident in his use of language which mixes high and low culture to produce a poetry of disjunction and non-sequitur. Playful and rigorous, Ashbery's poems embrace plurality enacting the hope expressed in 'For John Clare': "There ought to be room for more things,for a spreading out, like."

As befits a poet alert to the instability of meaning and identity, Ashbery eschews explanations of his Archive-recorded poems. The text exists in its own right: Ashbery's precise, largely unmodulated tones are just the medium through which it is conveyed.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 18 October 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Prizes

1955 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, winner (judged by W. H. Auden and resulting in publication of Some Trees, 1956)
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1955-56; 1956-57 Fulbright scholarships to France
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1966 National Book Award nomination, Rivers and Mountains
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1967; 1973 Guggenheim Foundation fellowships
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1969 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award In Literature
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1969; 1970 National Endowment for the Arts publication awards
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1976 Pulitzer Prize, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
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1976 National Book Award, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
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1976 National Book Critics Circle Award, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
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1980 Elected to membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
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1982 National Book Award nomination, Shadow Train
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1982 Elected Fellow of the Academy of American Poets
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1983 Jerome J Shestack Poetry Award, American Poetry Review

1983 Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
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1984 National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, A Wave
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1985 Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Yale University Library, A Wave
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1985 Wallace Stevens Fellowship, Yale University
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1986 Los Angeles Times Book Award nomination, Selected Poems
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1986 Commonwealth Award in Literature, Modern Language Association

1988-1999 Chancellor, Academy of American Poets
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1992 Antonio Felbrinelli International Prize for Poetry, Academia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome
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1993 Chevalier de L'Ordres des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Education and Culture, Paris

1995 Robert Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America
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1996 Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poésie, Brussels (first English language winner)
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1997 Gold Medal for Poetry, American Academy of Arts and Letters
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2001 Lenore Marshall Prize finalist, Academy of American Poets, Your Name Here
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2001 Wallace Stevens Award, Academy of American Poets
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2002 Officier, Légion d'Honneur of the Republic of France
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