John Ashbery

February 11–12, 2013


Born in Rochester, New York, in 1927, John Ashbery is the author of over twenty-five books of poetry, a celebrated translator of French poetry, and collaborator on projects with the likes of Joe Brainard and James Schuyler. Many critics deem Ashbery the greatest living American poet.

Ashbery's most recent poetry collections were published in 2007, A Worldly Country, and 2009, Planisphere. His early work in particular is associated with the "New York School" of poets of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1984, his book A Wave won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. For Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), he received three of the most prestigious awards for poetry: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. Some Trees (1956) was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series. He has received a long list of other awards, including the Wallace Stevens Award, the Bollingen Prize, the English Speaking Union Prize, the Feltrinelli Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Lenore Marshall 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. He is also a former Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.

In her 2005 New Yorker profile, "Present Waking Life," Larissa Macfarquhar describes the apparent difficulty of Ashbery's poetry: "...he's trying to cultivate a different sort of attention: not focused, straight-ahead scrutiny but something more like a glance out of the corner of your eye that catches something bright and twitching that you then can't identify when you turn to look. ... A person reading or hearing his language automatically tries to make sense of it: sense, not sound, is our default setting. Resisting the impulse to make sense, allowing sentences to accumulate into an abstract collage of meaning rather than a story or an argument, requires effort. But that collage – a poem that cannot be paraphrased or explained or 'unpacked' – is what Ashbery is after."

Reading at the Kelly Writers House, February 11, 2013

  1. Introduction by Al Filreis (4:41): MP3
  2. Introduction by Henry Sternberg (5:32): MP3
  3. Lily Applebaum presenting John Ashbery with a gift (1:27): MP3
  4. Street Musicians (2:38): MP3
  5. Unctuous Platitudes (1:14): MP3
  6. The Couple in the Next Room (0:51): MP3
  7. And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name (2:18): MP3
  8. What Is Poetry (0:46): MP3
  9. Hard Times (1:24): MP3
  10. Just Walking Around (1:15): MP3
  11. More Pleasant Adventures (1:26): MP3
  12. Faust (2:33): MP3
  13. Alcove (1:28): MP3
  14. Default Mode (2:00): MP3
  15. Episode (1:37): MP3
  16. He Who Loves and Runs Away (1:35): MP3
  17. They Knew What They Wanted (2:21): MP3
  18. Pernilla (2:29): MP3
  19. Words to that Effect (1:38): MP3
  20. Quick Question (1:19): MP3
  21. Voice from the Fireplace (3:24): MP3
  22. Homeless Heart (0:56): MP3
  23. Not Beyond All Conjecture (1:14): MP3
  24. Iphigenia in Sodus (1:46): MP3
  25. Auburn-Tinted Fences (2:03): MP3
  26. Breeze Way (2:00): MP3
  27. Domani, Dopodomani (1:03): MP3
  28. Listening Tour (0:46): MP3

Interview hosted by Al Filreis, February 12, 2013

  1. on humor in Ashbery's poems (3:53): MP3
  2. on Ashbery's relationship to nature and the country (4:00): MP3
  3. on "Auburn-Tinted Fences," "Soonest Mended," and living outside the margin (7:13): MP3
  4. on "Not Beyond All Conjecture" (9:01): MP3
  5. on aging, forgetfulness, and looking back at early work (5:06): MP3
  6. on "Homeless Heart" and not thinking in a straight line (3:44): MP3
  7. on Ashbery's long prose poems and his need to constantly do something new in his writing (9:22): MP3
  8. on translating Rimbaud (3:26): MP3
  9. on his writing process (2:34): MP3
  10. on writing that deals with institutions and bureaucracies (1:29): MP3
  11. reading and commenting on "Like America" (6:10): MP3
  12. on experiencing difficulty when writing poetry (2:43): MP3
  13. on "A Poem of Unrest" and trying to understand Ashbery's work (1:29): MP3
  14. on Wallace Stevens and Harvard (4:04): MP3
  15. reading and discussing "Just Walking Around" (8:57): MP3