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Monday, August 17, 2015

Looking at yourself, through the words

I write with experiences in mind, but I don't write about them, I write out of them. – John Ashbery

In 2008 Langdon Hammer, chair of the English Department at Yale, said "No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery" and "No American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound.”  Since then Ashbery has done nothing to diminish that assessment, continuing to produce his work well into his 6th decade of writing.  His most recent work, Breezeway, was just on the market in time for his 88th birthday earlier this month.

Ashbery has now published 29 volumes of poetry, earning every major award for the genre’, including a Pulitzer Prize for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.   In 2012 he was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame.

One key to his success is his effort to write for everyone and make the work as accessible as possible.  “I don’t want my poems to be a private dialogue with myself.  I don’t look on poetry as closed works,” he said.  “I feel they’re going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length to share.”

John Ashbery

As poet and critic Melanie Rehak wrote in reviewing one of his books, “…reading an Ashbery poem is also a little bit like being let loose inside a house of mirrors —things don’t always make sense on the surface, but on some gut level, you know you’re still looking at yourself, which is about as much as you can hope for.”

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