John Ashbery, widely regarded as one of the greats of English language poetry over the last half century, died on Sunday 3 September aged 90.
Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927 and grew up on an apple farm in the nearby village of Sodus. He wrote his first poem at age 8. His first book, Some Trees, was published in 1956, with a by W.H. Auden and was praised by Frank O’Hara, who likened Ashbery to Wallace Stevens. His 1962 collection, The Tennis Court Oath, was so abstract that many critics had trouble coming to terms with the collection, but his 1966 collection, Rivers and Mountains, was a National Book Award finalist and confirmed his position as a major US poet. This was confirmed when his 1975 collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize.
From an Australian perspective Ashbery was one of the major American poets, along with Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan and others, who provided a major influence to a generation of Australian poets from the mid 1960s. John Forbes was referring to this when he wrote in ‘To the Bobbydazzlers’:
on the beach I
look towards you
but the curve
of the Pacific
gets in the way
& I see stars
out by your poems
- A detail biography of John Ashbery, along with a selection of poetry, can be found at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/john-ashbery
- Peter A Stitt’s interview with Ashbery can be found at https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3014/john-ashbery-the-art-of-poetry-no-33-john-ashbery
- David Dick ‘‘a serpentine | Gesture’: The Synthetic Reconstruction of Ashbery’s Poetic Voice’ was published in Cordite Scholarly http://cordite.org.au/scholarly/a-serpentine-gesture/