John Ashbery About
John Lawrence Ashbery (born July 28 1927) is a contemporary American poet. Langdon Hammer, Chair of English at Yale University and author of James Merrill: Life and Art, said in “But I Digress,” a review of Ashbery’s Notes From the Air: Selected Later Poems, that “no figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery” and that “no American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound.” He goes on to point out that Ashbery seems to be ahead of his audience, the contemporary populace, and ends his article with the hope that “someday we may catch up with him.”
Stephen Burt, poet and professor at Harvard University, compared Ashbery to T.S. Eliot, pointing out Ashbery is “the last figure whom half the English-language poets alive thought a great model, and the other half thought incomprehensible.”
As such, Ashbery has won nearly every award possible for American poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), whose title poem is one of the most celebrated in contemporary literature. Nevertheless, Ashbery is also one of the most difficult and controversial poets in recent history. He has stated he wants to write in every diction of English, yet much of his work baffles even the most prominent critics. Willard Spiegelman has quipped: “I am never sure, when reading Ashbery’s poems, if I’m missing something because of a fault of my own, or if it’s the emperor’s new clothes.”
Check out “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” “From Litany,” “Paradoxes and Oxymorons,” and “At North Farm” for a selection of his famously eclectic poems, and ponder them with the rest of us at Genius.