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Friday, March 22, 2019

Looming Large in Writing Circles

“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.” 

Born in 1928 Ashbery published 29 volumes of poetry over 6 decades, 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.  His final book, Breezeway, was published shortly before his death in 2017.

One key to his success was 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.”

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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