John Ashbery Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, to Chester Frederick and Helen (Lawrence) Ashbery. He spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ farm in northern New York, close to the shores of Lake Ontario. He attended Deerfield Academy and went on to Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1949; his undergraduate thesis examined the poetry of the British writer W. H. Auden. During Ashbery’s early years he had wanted to be a painter, but he studied English literature at college, and in 1951 he was granted an M.A. by Columbia University for his study of English novelist Henry Green. He did further graduate work at New York University, and later in France, on the experimental writer Raymond Roussel.

Between 1951 and 1954, Ashbery worked as a copywriter for the Oxford University Press in New York City and at McGraw-Hill in 1954 and 1955. During the 1950’s he associated with a small group of young writers, including James Schuyler and Frank O’Hara, who attempted to bring the theories of abstract Impressionistic painting into literature and who came to be known as the New York school of poetry. Ashbery, however, has always rejected the suggestion that they were ever so cohesively organized as to be a “school.”

In 1953, Ashbery published his first volume of verse, Turandot, and Other Poems. From the beginning critics were skeptical about the lack of clarity in his poems, although his enormous sophistication, his use of allusion, and his wittiness were quickly appreciated. In 1955, still pursuing his academic interests, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study in France at the university...

(The entire section is 671 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

If art is to be, in part, a reflection of the time and place in which it is created, Ashbery’s deliberate refusal to make meaning within a pleasingly complicated network of aesthetic and philosophic maunderings has a rightness about it. His digressions ask large questions but decline to answer them. The latter half of the twentieth century lost that certainty, that assurance in social, political, religious, and familial structures, which was previously the source and basis of art. At the same time, Ashbery has managed to link the verbal arts with music and with the plastic arts in producing works which cannot be paraphrased and which stand for themselves as pure aesthetic gesture.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Born in Rochester, New York, in 1927, John Lawrence Ashbery grew up in rural Sodus, New York. He attended Deerfield Academy and Harvard University, where he became friends with poet Kenneth Koch. Ashbery received his B.A. from Harvard in 1949 and his M.A. from Columbia University in 1951. After leaving university life, Ashbery worked for various publishers in New York City until he moved to Paris in 1955. He remained in Paris until 1965, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, Art International, and Art News. From 1965 until 1972, Ashbery worked as executive editor for Art News in New York, before becoming a distinguished professor of writing at the Brooklyn College campus of the City University of New York. He has also taught at Harvard University. Ashbery became the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College in 1990.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Lawrence Ashbery has been called one of the most significant American postwar poets. His breakthrough syntax and artistic vision make his poetry exceptional among that produced in the twentieth century. He has received some of the most prestigious national and international honors, including the Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America; the Feltrinelli Prize from Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei; fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill, Fulbright, and MacArthur Foundations; the Bollingen Prize; the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize; the Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poesie from Brussels; and the Frank O’Hara Prize. He served as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and was named New York State Poet in 2001.

Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, and raised on his father’s fruit farm in Sodus (upstate New York), near Lake Ontario. His only brother died as a child, and Ashbery led a solitary life as a youth, attending Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, hours from his home. Abstract impressionist painting as an adolescent hobby proved useful years later, furnishing techniques for forming poetry.

He earned his bachelor of arts in English at Harvard University, where he served on the editorial board of The Harvard Advocate. Ashbery moved to Columbia University to complete a master of arts in English literature in 1951. He copyedited for Oxford University Press and McGraw-Hill before receiving a Fulbright scholarship in 1955, when he moved to Paris to study French literature.

His first widely read book, Some Trees, captured an extended daydream Ashbery had of evading his dull office life. The collection attracted national attention for its multidirectional language and use of form to create meaning and also in part to the pathos created...

(The entire section is 745 words.)