About John Ashbery

A native of Rochester, New York, John Ashbery (1927 – 2017) was the prolific author of twenty three volumes of poetry, plus fiction, plays and criticism. He was 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.

 

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

Poems by John Ashbery

For John Clare - John Ashbery
Just Walking Around - John Ashbery
Local Legend - John Ashbery
What Is Poetry - John Ashbery
John Ashbery in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by John Ashbery

Awards

2017

The Raymond Roussel Society Medal

Prize website
2011

National Humanities Medal

Prize website
2011

Inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame

Prize website
2011

National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Prize website
2008

America Award for a lifetime contribution to international writing

2008

Robert Creeley Award

Prize website
2005

finalist for National Book Award for Where Shall I Wander

2002

Bestowed the rank of Officier de la Légion d'honneur by the Republic of France

Prize website
1995

Robert Frost Medal

Prize website
1985

MacArthur Fellows Program Fellowship

Prize website
1984

Bollingen Prize in Poetry for A Wave

Prize website
1984

Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for A Wave

Prize website
1976

Pulitzer Prize for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website
1976

National Book Award for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

1976

National Book Critics Circle Award for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website
1972 and 1962

Ingram Merrill Foundation Fellowship

Prize website
1956

Yale Younger Poets Prize, for Some Trees

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