John Ashbery is a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow and has been a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. He is Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College.John Ashbery was born in 1927 in Rochester, New York. He grew up in Rochester and spent most of his time living with his grandparents. Ashbery had to leave the city and move to the country at the age of seven when his grandfather retired from his post as professor at the university. He went to Deerfield Academy at 16 and felt out of place in this '...sort of jock, upper-class WASP school.' (John Ashbery, 'How far to go too far,' The Guardian, G2, 24 July, 1997, 12.) He continued his education at Harvard where he met Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara and, along with James Schuyler and Barbara Guest, they became known as the 'New York School of Poets.' This was not an official 'school,' but a group of like minded poets seeking to undermine the serious and academic poetry written after the war in America. In 1955 Ashbery was awarded the Fulbright scholarship enabling him to go to Paris and he also had his first book of poetry accepted by W H Auden who, at the time, was the editor of the Yale Younger Poets Series. The collection of poems produced during Ashbery's time in Paris, The Tennis Court Oath, were extremely experimental and were not well received by critics. When his scholarship money ran out, Ashbery became an art critic and translator. Ashbery finally returned to New York after the death of his father in the mid-sixties and has remained in the city since then.He has produced twenty-one volumes of poetry and received the Pulitzer Prize forSelf-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
'Praised as a magical genius, cursed as an obscure joker, John Ashbery writes poetry like no one else.' 'The language of [John Ashbery's] books is informed by his roving enthusiasms for particular composers. His tastes are both eclectic and out-of-the-way.' (Michael Glover, 'A blue rinse for the language,' The Independent, 13 November, 1999) 'The careering, centrifugal side of Girls on the Run is one of its most effective tools in creating its special ainbience of good-humoured menace ... Ashbery has made the slush of signification, the realm where words slip, slide, perish and decay, uniquely his own.' (David Wheatley, Review of Girls On The Run, John Ashbery, Times Literary Supplement, 30 June, 2000) 'In his seventies John Ashbery offers a sprightly and energetic alternative. Instead of being sluggish he demands that the self must be even more alert, more vigilant, more attentive to the world around it, not indifferent to and weary of it. Alert, vigilant, attentive ... Wakefulness, the brilliantly evocative title of Ashbery's collection.' (Stephen Matterson, 'The Capacious Art of Poetry,' Poetry Ireland Review 62, 114) 'Harold Bloom regards [John Ashbery] as something akin to a genius...' (Michael Glover, 'The poet as frustrated composer,' Book and Poetry Review section, The Independent, 14 August, 1998, 5) '...Ashbery is still exuberantly dedicated to the truthful rendering of experience as a flow of sensations that defy interpretation. Consciousness is not so much a stream as a series of jump-cuts from one haunting or zany impression to the next. His best poems have a weirdly, intriguingly satisfying quality.'(Alan BrownJohn, 'Creating a sensation,' Book and Poetry Review section, The Sunday Times, 10 January, 1999,) 'Stemming in part from Mallarme and in part from Whitman, Ashbery's work creates a tension in which the fine networks of linguistic reverie are balanced by the strong sense of American tradition.'(Peter Ackroyd, 'Books of the Year,' The Times Literary Supplement, 4 December, 1992) ,...an Ashbery [poem] does not stand on its own but floats off into the reader's limitless consciousness like a balloon. Balloons can be very beautiful, inspire longing and also make you smile.'(Grey Gowrie, 'Where the commonplace is wonderful,' Book and Poetry Review section, The Daily Telegraph, 5 October, 1996,) 'John Ashbery's distinctiveness as a poet paradoxically resides in his ability to evade all single identities; like Whitman, he feels most fully himself when he contains multitudes ... [Ashbery] deploys a staggering variety of dictions, ranging from fragments of novelettish narratives to lyrical dream-visions, from the cliches of public speech to scraps of surrealist collage...'(Mark Ford, 'Free-wheeling towards the abyss,' Times Literary Supplement, 27 December, 1991) 'Notoriously hard to characterise, Ashbery's poetry has been likened to many things - a spiritual experience or an animated cartoon ... No poet's lines are more accommodating to other voices and idioms ... Like restless guests, his subjects arrive and mingle, don unlikely disguises and abruptly announce they are "off on some expedition"...Such poise lends authority to his "positive melancholy," makes even his excesses ... masterly, and ensures that The Ashbery remains the destination of choice, the place "where everything gets unravelled just right."'(Julian Loose, Book and Poetry Review section, The Guardian, 3 November, 1992) 'The Mooring of Starting Out is filled with illustrations glimpsed through luminous, funny, formidably intelligent and often heartbreaking poems.'(Andrew Zawacki, 'A wave of music,' Times Literary Supplement, 12 June, 1998, 25) 'John Ashbery is probably the most highly regarded living poet in America ... The "story" element in Ashbery comes over in fragmented and non-consequential ways, but the fragments have a strong power of visual evocation, and a startling precision of outline ... His focus is on a bravura artifice, a depersonalised surface crackling with "possibility," a brilliant randomness in which analogy with Action Painting asserts itself with special force...'(Claude Rawson, 'A poet in the postmodern playground,' Times Literary Supplement, 4 July, 1986)