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Monday, August 17, 2020

Writing Out Of One's Experiences

 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.”  Ashbery, a native of Rochester, NY, and graduate of Harvard, produced works throughout nearly 7 decades of writing, publishing his last book Commotion of the Birds just before his 89th birthday in 2016.  He died in September 2017 at age 90.


Ashbery published 31 volumes of poetry, earning every major award for the genre’, including a Pulitzer Prize for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.  He also was named for a MacArthur Genius Grant and inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame.


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 in 2015.  “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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