March 08, 1994New School UniversityFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, on July 28, 1927. He is the author of more than twenty books of poetry, including Quick Question (Ecco, 2012); Planisphere (HarperCollins, 2009); A Worldly Country (Ecco, 2007); Where Shall I Wander (HarperCollins, 2005); Chinese Whispers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002); Your Name Here (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); Girls on the Run: A Poem (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999); Wakefulness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998); Can You Hear, Bird (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995); And the Stars Were Shining (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994); Hotel Lautrémont (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); Flow Chart (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991); and April Galleons (Penguin, 1987).

Ashbery has won nearly every major American award for poetry. His collection A Wave (Viking, 1984) won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking, 1975) received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award; and Some Trees (Yale University Press, 1956) was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series.

He has also published Collected French Translations: Poetry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Collected French Translations: Prose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); Other Traditions: the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (Harvard University Press, 2000); Reported Sightings (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), a book of art criticism; a collection of plays; a novel, A Nest of Ninnies (Dutton, 1969), with James Schuyler; and edited The Best American Poetry 1988.

Ashbery served as the poet laureate of New York State from 2001 to 2003. He was also the first English-language poet to win the Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poésie (Brussels), and has also received the Bollingen Prize, the English Speaking Union Prize, the Feltrinelli Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, two Ingram Merrill Foundation grants, the MLA Common Wealth Award in Literature, the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, the Frank O'Hara Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Fulbright Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.

A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Ashbery is currently the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. He divides his time between New York City and Hudson, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Quick Question (Ecco, 2012)
Planisphere (HarperCollins, 2009)
A Worldly Country (Ecco, 2007)
Where Shall I Wander (HarperCollins, 2005)
Chinese Whispers (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)
Your Name Here (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Girls on the Run: A Poem (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)
Wakefulness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998)
Can You Hear, Bird (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995)
And the Stars Were Shining (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994)
Hotel Lautrémont (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)
Flow Chart (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991)
April Galleons (Penguin, 1987)
Wave (Viking, 1984)
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Viking, 1975)
Some Trees (Yale University Press, 1956) 

Fiction

A Nest of Ninnies (Dutton, 1969)

Nonfiction

Other Traditions: the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (Harvard University Press, 2000)
Reported Sightings (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)

Translation

Collected French Translations: Poetry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)
Collected French Translations: Prose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)


Multimedia

From the Image ArchiveFrom The Poet's View: Intimate Profiles of Five Major American Poets, available in the Poetry Store.   

 

My Philosophy of Life

John Ashbery, 1927
Just when I thought there wasn't room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea--
call it a philosophy of life, if you will.  Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude.  I wouldn't be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I'd sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate
I thought I'd stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him--not saffron, not lavender,
but something in between.  He thinks of cushions, like the one
his uncle's Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush 
is on.  Not a single idea emerges from it.  It's enough
to disgust you with thought.  But then you remember something
   William James
wrote in some book of his you never read--it was fine, it had the
   fineness,
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet
   still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and
   his alone.

It's fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler.  Nearby
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well,
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they'd do after using the toilet
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out
into the open again.  Had they been coaxed in by principles,
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort?
I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought--
something's blocking it.  Something I'm 
not big enough to see over.  Or maybe I'm frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise--I'll let
things be what they are, sort of.  In the autumn I'll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won't be embarrassed by my friends' dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that's the hardest part,
as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn't even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he's 
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him--
this thing works both ways, you know. You can't always
be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
at the same time.  That would be abusive, and about as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don't know.
Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That's what they're made for!  Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don't come along every day. Look out!  There's a big one...
John Ashbery

John Ashbery

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, on July 28, 1927.

by this poet

poem
Kind of empty in the way it sees everything, the earth gets to its feet and 
        salutes the sky. More of a success at it this time than most
        others it is. The feeling that the sky might be in the back of someone's
        mind. Then there is no telling how many there are. They grace
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