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May 16, 1976Sanders TheatreCambridge, MA

About this poet

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, on July 28, 1927. He is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Quick Question (Ecco, 2012); Planisphere (HarperCollins, 2009); A Worldly Country (Ecco, 2007); Where Shall I Wander (HarperCollins, 2005); Chinese Whispers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002); Your Name Here (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); Girls on the Run: A Poem (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999); Wakefulness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998); Can You Hear, Bird (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995); And the Stars Were Shining (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994); Hotel Lautrémont (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); Flow Chart (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991); and April Galleons (Penguin, 1987).

Ashbery has won nearly every major American award for poetry. His collection A Wave (Viking, 1984) won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking, 1975) received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award; and Some Trees (Yale University Press, 1956) was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series.

He has also published Collected French Translations: Poetry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Collected French Translations: Prose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Other Traditions: the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (Harvard University Press, 2000); Reported Sightings (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), a book of art criticism; a collection of plays; a novel, A Nest of Ninnies (Dutton, 1969), with James Schuyler; and edited The Best American Poetry 1988.

Ashbery served as the poet laureate of New York State from 2001 to 2003. He was also the first English-language poet to win the Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poésie (Brussels), and has also received the Bollingen Prize, the English Speaking Union Prize, the Feltrinelli Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, two Ingram Merrill Foundation grants, the MLA Common Wealth Award in Literature, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the Frank O'Hara Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Fulbright Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Ashbery is currently the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. He divides his time between New York City and Hudson, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Quick Question (Ecco, 2012)
Planisphere (HarperCollins, 2009)
A Worldly Country (Ecco, 2007)
Where Shall I Wander (HarperCollins, 2005)
Chinese Whispers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)
Your Name Here (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Girls on the Run: A Poem (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)
Wakefulness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)
Can You Hear, Bird (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995)
And the Stars Were Shining (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994)
Hotel Lautrémont (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)
Flow Chart (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991)
April Galleons (Penguin, 1987)
Wave (Viking, 1984)
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking, 1975)
Some Trees (Yale University Press, 1956) 

Fiction

A Nest of Ninnies (Dutton, 1969)

Nonfiction

Other Traditions: the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (Harvard University Press, 2000)
Reported Sightings (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)

Translation

Collected French Translations: Poetry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)
Collected French Translations: Prose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)


Multimedia

From the Image ArchiveFrom The Poet's View: Intimate Profiles of Five Major American Poets, available in the Poetry Store.   

 

Daffy Duck In Hollywood

John Ashbery, 1927
Something strange is creeping across me.
La Celestina has only to warble the first few bars
Of "I Thought about You" or something mellow from
Amadigi di Gaula for everything--a mint-condition can
Of Rumford's Baking Powder, a celluloid earring, Speedy
Gonzales, the latest from Helen Topping Miller's fertile
Escritoire, a sheaf of suggestive pix on greige, deckle-edged
Stock--to come clattering through the rainbow trellis
Where Pistachio Avenue rams the 2300 block of Highland
Fling Terrace. He promised he'd get me out of this one,
That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he's 
Done to me now! I scarce dare approach me mug's attenuated
Reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so déconfit
Are its lineaments--fun, no doubt, for some quack phrenologist's
Fern-clogged waiting room, but hardly what you'd call
Companionable. But everything is getting choked to the point of
Silence. Just now a magnetic storm hung in the swatch of sky
Over the Fudds' garage, reducing it--drastically--
To the aura of a plumbago-blue log cabin on
A Gadsden Purchase commemorative cover. Suddenly all is
Loathing. I don't want to go back inside any more. You meet
Enough vague people on this emerald traffic-island--no,
Not people, comings and goings, more: mutterings, splatterings,
The bizarrely but effectively equipped infantries of 
   happy-go-nutty
Vegetal jacqueries, plumed, pointed at the little
White cardboard castle over the mill run. "Up
The lazy river, how happy we could be?"
How will it end? That geranium glow
Over Anaheim's had the riot act read to it by the
Etna-size firecracker that exploded last minute into
A carte du Tendre in whose lower right-hand corner
(Hard by the jock-itch sand-trap that skirts
The asparagus patch of algolagnic nuits blanches) Amadis
Is cozening the Princesse de Cleves into a midnight 
   micturition spree
On the Tamigi with the Wallets (Walt, Blossom, and little
Sleezix) on a lamé barge "borrowed" from Ollie
Of the Movies' dread mistress of the robes. Wait!
I have an announcement! This wide, tepidly meandering, 
Civilized Lethe (one can barely make out the maypoles
And châlets de nécessitê on its sedgy shore) 
   leads to Tophet, that
Landfill-haunted, not-so-residential resort from which
Some travellers return! This whole moment is the groin
Of a borborygmic giant who even now
Is rolling over on us in his sleep. Farewell bocages,
Tanneries, water-meadows. The allegory comes unsnarled
Too soon; a shower of pecky acajou harpoons is 
About all there is to be noted between tornadoes. I have
Only my intermittent life in your thoughts to live
Which is like thinking in another language. Everything
Depends on whether somebody reminds you of me.
That this is a fabulation, and that those "other times"
Are in fact the silences of the soul, picked out in 
Diamonds on stygian velvet, matters less than it should.
Prodigies of timing may be arranged to convince them
We live in one dimension, they in ours. While I
Abroad through all the coasts of dark destruction seek
Deliverance for us all, think in that language: its 
Grammar, though tortured, offers pavillions
At each new parting of the ways. Pastel
Ambulances scoop up the quick and hie them to hospitals.
"It's all bits and pieces, spangles, patches, really; nothing
Stands alone. What happened to creative evolution?"
Sighed Aglavaine. Then to her Sélysette: "If his
Achievement is only to end up less boring than the others, 
What's keeping us here? Why not leave at once?
I have to stay here while they sit in there,
Laugh, drink, have fine time. In my day
One lay under the tough green leaves,
Pretending not to notice how they bled into
The sky's aqua, the wafted-away no-color of regions supposed
Not to concern us. And so we too
Came where the others came: nights of physical endurance,
Or if, by day, our behavior was anarchically
Correct, at least by New Brutalism standards, all then
Grew taciturn by previous agreement. We were spirited 
Away en bateau, under cover of fudge dark.
It's not the incomplete importunes, but the spookiness
Of the finished product. True, to ask less were folly, yet
If he is the result of himself, how much the better 
For him we ought to be! And how little, finally, 
We take this into account! Is the puckered garance satin
Of a case that once held a brace of dueling pistols our 
Only acknowledging of that color? I like not this,
Methinks, yet this disappointing sequel to ourselves
Has been applauded in London and St. Petersburg. Somewhere
Ravens pray for us." The storm finished brewing. And thus
She questioned all who came in at the great gate, but none
She found who ever heard of Amadis,
Nor of stern Aureng-Zebe, his first love. Some
They were to whom this mattered not a jot: since all
By definition is completeness (so
In utter darkness they reasoned), why not
Accept it as it pleases to reveal itself? As when
Low skyscrapers from lower-hanging clouds reveal
A turret there, an art-deco escarpment here, and last perhaps
The pattern that may carry the sense, but
Stays hidden in the mysteries of pagination. 
Not what we see but how we see it matters; all's
Alike, the same, and we greet him who announces
The change as we would greet the change itself. 
All life is but a figment; conversely, the tiny
Tome that slips from your hand is not perhaps the 
Missing link in this invisible picnic whose leverage
Shrouds our sense of it. Therefore bivouac we 
On this great, blond highway, unimpeded by
Veiled scruples, worn conundrums. Morning is
Impermanent. Grab sex things, swing up
Over the horizon like a boy
On a fishing expedition. No one really knows
Or cares whether this is the whole of which parts
Were vouchsafed--once--but to be ambling on's
The tradition more than the safekeeping of it. This mulch for
Play keeps them interested and busy while the big,
Vaguer stuff can decide what it wants--what maps, what
Model cities, how much waste space. Life, our
Life anyway, is between. We don't mind 
Or notice any more that the sky is green, a parrot
One, but have our earnest where it chances on us, 
Disingenuous, intrigued, inviting more,
Always invoking the echo, a summer's day.

From Houseboat Days by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1975, 1976, 1977 by John Ashbery. Used with permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., Literary Agency. Recording courtesy of the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University. All rights reserved.

From Houseboat Days by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1975, 1976, 1977 by John Ashbery. Used with permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., Literary Agency. Recording courtesy of the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University. All rights reserved.

John Ashbery

John Ashbery

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, on July 28, 1927.

by this poet

poem
Something was about to go laughably wrong,
whether directly at home or here,
on this random shoal pleading with its eyes
till it too breaks loose, caught in a hail of references.
I’ll add one more scoop
to the pile of retail.

Hey, you’re doing it, like I didn’t tell you
to, my sinking laundry boat, point of
poem

You meant more than life to me. I lived through
you not knowing, not knowing I was living.
I learned that you called for me. I came to where
you were living, up a stair. There was no one there.
No one to appreciate me. The legality of it
upset a chair. Many times to celebrate
we were

poem
Is it possible that spring could be
once more approaching? We forget each time
what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides, "mugwump
of the final hour," lest an agenda—horrors!—be imputed to it,
and the whole point of its being spring collapse
like a hole dug