Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Born in Rochester, New York, in 1927, John Ashbery had a distinguished and lively career. The author of over twenty books of poetry, Ashbery received many prestigious awards and fellowships, beginning in 1956 when W. H. Auden selected his first book, Some Trees, for the Yale Younger Poets Series.
A New York School poet alongside Frank O'Hara, Ashbery’s verse is as indescribable as it is various. He has said that he reads "anything which comes to my hand: National Enquirer, Dear Abby, a magazine at the dentist, a Victorian novel." He has experimented with a variety of traditional forms, including sestinas and pantoums, but in most of his work, he seems intent on innovating new structures.
Published in 1975 and named for the Parmagianino painting in which the artist paints a distorted version of himself, Ashbery's collection Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award. "I tried each thing, only some were immortal and free," begins the inimitable volume. The poems from Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror that have been critically praised and widely discussed include "Hop o my Thumb," "As One Put Drunk into the Packet-Boat," as well as the title poem.
Like his favorite poet Wallace Stevens, Ashbery has an undeserved reputation for being "difficult" or a "poet’s poet" despite the varieties of living language, humor and high- and low-culture references in his work. "I am a very gregarious person," he once said in an interview. "This often surprises people, because my poetry does have a reputation for being aloof and antihuman."