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.

His 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.

Awards

1955 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, winner (judged by W. H. Auden and resulting in publication of Some Trees, 1956)

Prize website

1966 National Book Award nomination, Rivers and Mountains

Prize website

1969 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award In Literature

Prize website

1976 Pulitzer Prize, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website

1976 National Book Award, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website

1976 National Book Critics Circle Award, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website

1980 Elected to membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

Prize website

1982 National Book Award nomination, Shadow Train

Prize website

1982 Elected Fellow of the Academy of American Poets

Prize website

1983 Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Prize website

1984 National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, A Wave

Prize website

1985 Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Yale University Library, A Wave

Prize website

1985 Wallace Stevens Fellowship, Yale University

Prize website

1986 Los Angeles Times Book Award nomination, Selected Poems

Prize website

1988-1999 Chancellor, Academy of American Poets

Prize website

1992 Antonio Felbrinelli International Prize for Poetry, Academia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Prize website

1995 Robert Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America

Prize website

1996 Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Po?sie, Brussels (first English language winner)

Prize website

1997 Gold Medal for Poetry, American Academy of Arts and Letters

Prize website

2001 Lenore Marshall Prize finalist, Academy of American Poets, Your Name Here

Prize website

2001 Wallace Stevens Award, Academy of American Poets

Prize website

2002 Officier, L?gion d'Honneur of the Republic of France

Prize website
Close