Image by Miriam Berkley

John Ashbery

b. 1927

For me, poetry is very much the time that it takes to unroll, the way music's not a static, contemplatable thing like a painting or a piece of sculpture. - John Ashbery

Just Walking Around

John Ashbery


What Is Poetry

John Ashbery


For John Clare

John Ashbery

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About John Ashbery

A native of Rochester, New York, John Ashbery (b. 1927) is the prolific author of twenty three volumes of poetry, plus fiction, plays and criticism. He is the recipient of numerous literary awards, including The Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, all of which were garnered by his 1976 collection Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. This was the first and remains the only time that one book has been awarded all three of the major American literary prizes and demonstrates Ashbery's centrality to American poetics in the post-war period.

This leading role is all the more remarkable given the uncompromising experimentalism of Ashbery's work. A key concept is "indeterminacy"; a refusal of finality and closure and a rejection of traditional forms of linear narrative. The subject of an Ashbery poem is more likely to be the process of thought itself rather than the object of the mind's attention. An early poem, 'The Instruction Manual', is a good introduction as it traces the narrator's wandering consciousness from the text of the title through his kaleidoscopic vision of the Mexican city of Guadalajara, back to the reality of the manual which nevertheless has "made me dream". This circular movement is characteristic; it's the journey not the destination that's important, as in his tellingly entitled poem 'Just Walking Around': "the longest way is the most efficient way,/The one that looped among islands, and/You always seemed to be traveling in a circle." Not surprisingly, Ashbery favours the long poem and his restlessness is also evident in his use of language which mixes high and low culture to produce a poetry of disjunction and non-sequitur. Playful and rigorous, Ashbery's poems embrace plurality enacting the hope expressed in 'For John Clare': "There ought to be room for more things,for a spreading out, like."

As befits a poet alert to the instability of meaning and identity, Ashbery eschews explanations of his Archive-recorded poems. The text exists in its own right: Ashbery's precise, largely unmodulated tones are just the medium through which it is conveyed.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 18 October 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links

"Plenty of Sublimated Rin Tin Tin"

Guy Maddin Talks about John Ashbery

Billy Collins and David Shapiro read Ashbery

Live readings of two John Ashbery poems by Billy Collins and David Shapiro, from a celebration of Ashbery's poetry put on by The New School in New York City.

The Beginnings Concept: A Discussion of John Ashbery's "Crossroads in the Past"

Hosted by Al Filreis and featuring poets Thomas Devaney, Gregory Djanikian & Jessica Lowenthal.

What If It Doesn't Make Sense?

Matthew Zapruder parses a John Ashbery poem

You're Always Moving Toward Silence

The editors discuss a new John Ashbery poem from the March issue. Plus, Seth Abramson, Katy Didden, and Fanny Howe on her memoir The Winter Sun.

Selected bibliography

Planisphere, Carcanet 2009

Collected Poems 1956-1987, Carcanet 2010

Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems, Carcanet Press...


Selected Prose, The University of Michigan Press, 2004


Walt Whitman Hom(m)age 2005/1855, Turtle Point Press...


A Worldly Country, Carcanet Press 2007


The Mirrored Clubs of Hell, Little Brown & Co, 1991


Selected Poems, Carcanet, 1998


Where Shall I Wander, Carcanet, 2005



1955 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, winner (judged by W. H. Auden and resulting in publication of Some Trees, 1956)

Prize website

1955-56; 1956-57 Fulbright scholarships to France

Prize website

1966 National Book Award nomination, Rivers and Mountains

Prize website

1967; 1973 Guggenheim Foundation fellowships

Prize website

1969 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award In Literature

Prize website

1969; 1970 National Endowment for the Arts publication awards

Prize website

1976 Pulitzer Prize, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website

1976 National Book Award, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website

1976 National Book Critics Circle Award, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

Prize website

1980 Elected to membership in the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

Prize website

1982 National Book Award nomination, Shadow Train

Prize website

1982 Elected Fellow of the Academy of American Poets

Prize website

1983 Jerome J Shestack Poetry Award, American Poetry Review

1983 Elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Prize website

1984 National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, A Wave

Prize website

1985 Bollingen Prize in Poetry, Yale University Library, A Wave

Prize website

1985 Wallace Stevens Fellowship, Yale University

Prize website

1986 Los Angeles Times Book Award nomination, Selected Poems

Prize website

1986 Commonwealth Award in Literature, Modern Language Association

1988-1999 Chancellor, Academy of American Poets 1988-1999 Chancellor, Academy of American Poets

Prize website

1992 Antonio Felbrinelli International Prize for Poetry, Academia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome

Prize website

1993 Chevalier de L'Ordres des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Education and Culture, Paris

1995 Robert Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America

Prize website

1996 Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poésie, Brussels (first English language winner)

Prize website

1997 Gold Medal for Poetry, American Academy of Arts and Letters

Prize website

2001 Lenore Marshall Prize finalist, Academy of American Poets, Your Name Here

Prize website

2001 Wallace Stevens Award, Academy of American Poets

Prize website

2002 Officier, Légion d'Honneur of the Republic of France

Prize website


John Ashbery Reading from his poems

1The Instruction Manual

2Some Trees

3For John Clare

4Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape

5What Is Poetry

6At North Farm

7The Songs We Know Best

8Landscape (After Baudelaire)

9Just Walking Around

10More Pleasant Adventures

11Hotel Lautreamont

12This Room

13If You Said You Would Come With Me

14A Linnet

15The Bobinski Brothers

16The History of My Life

17A Nice Presentation

18Disagreeable Glimpses

19Theme Park Days

20View of Delft

21The Lightning Conductor

22I Asked Mr. Dithers Whether It Was time Yet He Said No to Wait

23Chinese Whispers

24Local Legend

25Sir Gammer Vans

A tour of the Archive with Helen Gray

As a secondary schoolteacher in London for the past thirty years, it has been my privilege to have had a job which...

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Books by John Ashbery