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How is John Ashbery’s interest in art reflected in his poetry?

Ashbery says his poetry is about a world lacking in coherence. Explain how one or more poems explore this theme.

Ashbery is strongly influenced by W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. Compare one of his poems...

(The entire section contains 1106 words.)

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How is John Ashbery’s interest in art reflected in his poetry?

Ashbery says his poetry is about a world lacking in coherence. Explain how one or more poems explore this theme.

Ashbery is strongly influenced by W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. Compare one of his poems to a work by one of these poets.

Explain how Ashbery introduces an important question about life without answering it. Within the context of his poetry, is such an answer necessary?

Explain how Ashbery ignores logic in the structure of his poetry.

How does “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” address the nature of reality?

How does Ashbery use geographical locations to suggest something other than themselves?

Other literary forms

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Although known mainly as a poet, John Ashbery has produced a number of works in various genres. A Nest of Ninnies (1969) is a humorous novel about middle-class American life written by Ashbery in collaboration with James Schuyler. His plays include The Compromise: Or, Queen of the Carabou (pr. 1956) and Three Plays (1978). He also produced a volume of art criticism, Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles, 1957-1987 (1989). His Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (given at Harvard University) were collected as Other Traditions (2000), an engaging volume of literary criticism about six eccentric poets.

Achievements

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John Ashbery won three major literary awards for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror: the National Book Award in Poetry, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Ashbery is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (since 1980) and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets (1988-1999). He has been honored with two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Fulbright Fellowships, and two National Endowment for the Arts grants. He won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award (1955) for Some Trees, Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize (1966), an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1969), the Shelley Memorial Award (1973), the Levinson Prize (1977), the Jersome J. Shestack Poetry Award (1983), and the Bollingen Prize from Yale University (1985). In 1982, Ashbery was awarded the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets. In 1985, he was named a winner of both a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and a Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. He received the Commonwealth Award in Literature (1986), the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1992), the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America (1995), the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997), the prestigious Antonio Feltrinelli Prize from the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in Rome (1992), the Bingham Poetry Prize (1998), the Wallace Stevens Award (2001), and the Griffin Poetry Prize (2008). In 2002, he was made an officer of the French Legion of Honor by presidential decree.

Bibliography

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Bloom, Harold, ed. John Ashbery: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Overview of Ashbery’s published work, discussing his form, complex linguistics, and vision.

Carroll, Paul. The Poem in Its Skin. Chicago: Follett, 1968. One of the first books of poetry criticism to include a chapter on the poetry of Ashbery, Carroll’s study contains a brilliant chapter entitled “If Only He Had Left the Finland Station,” which explores one of the poet’s early surrealist poems, “Leaving the Atocha Station.” Carroll guides the reader through many possible responses to Ashbery.

Herd, David. John Ashbery and American Poetry. New York: Palgrave, 2000. Herd chronicles Ashbery’s poetic career, analyzing his continuities, differences, and improvements over time.

Jackson, Richard. Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1983. Interviews with contemporary poets including Ashbery, who discusses his revelation processes and self-referential voice.

Keller, Lynn. Re-making It New: Contemporary Poetry and the Modernist Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. “’We Must, We Must Be Moving On’: Ashbery’s Divergence from Stevens and Modernism” is the title of the very clearly written and cogently argued chapter in which Keller shows both Ashbery’s debt to and divergence from Stevens, as well as his use of surrealism.

Lehman, David. Beyond Amazement: New Essays on John Ashbery. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980. Ten essays investigating Ashbery’s work for its painting framework, music, and function of irony, among other things.

Lehman, David. The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets. New York: Doubleday, 1998. Chronicle of New York school of poets, closely tracing Ashbery’s life and analyzing elements contributing to the backdrop of his poetry.

Malinowska, Barbara. Dynamics of Being, Space, and Time in the Poetry of Czesaw Miosz and John Ashbery. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Malinowska provides a challenging discussion of poetic visions of reality in the works of Miosz and Ashbery. She works with Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of phenomenology and applies key Heideggerian terms—Dasein, space, time, and culture—to explore the reality created by or alluded to in their writings. Jargon-heavy but useful.

Schultz, Susan M., ed. The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995. Competent and inventive contributors examine the Ashbery legacy in fourteen essays on Ashbery and the generation of postmodern poets indebted to his achievement. Topics include Ashbery’s landscapes, his love poetry, his later poetry, and his influence on such writers as Ann Lauterbach, Charles Bernstein, and William Bronk.

Shapiro, David. John Ashbery: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979. If students could read only one book on the poetry of Ashbery, then Shapiro’s study, though now dated, would be an excellent choice: It is clearly written, intelligently organized, and generously documented. The book covers most of the early books and dwells considerably on Some Trees, Three Poems, and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. This book has an excellent index and a short biography and bibliography.

Shoptaw, John. On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery’s Poetry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994. Abundant and detailed information about Ashbery’s life, publication history, and manuscripts make the book valuable. It offers an intriguing but perhaps overworked and insufficiently proven argument that Ashbery’s elusiveness derives from his homosexuality.

Stitt, Peter. Uncertainty and Plenitude: Five Contemporary Poets. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. In “John Ashbery: The Poetics of Uncertainty,” Stitt insists that Ashbery’s poetry is about process and form, and that it does not release meaning in the traditional sense. The gnostic nature of truth is questioned, and indeterminacy is revealed. Stitt’s effort is challenging and engaging.

Vendler, Helen H. The Music of What Happens: Poems, Poets, and Critics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988. Vendler writes persuasively about Ashbery’s subject matter, which she sees as similar to that of the great poet Keats. In her chapter on Ashbery and Louise Glück, she provides an especially detailed analysis of Shadow Train and A Wave.

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