JOHN ASHBERY, American poet, born (d: 2018); “No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past fifty years as John Ashbery”, Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English Department at Yale University, wrote in 2008. “No American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound”.
Stephen Burt, a poet and Harvard professor of English compared Ashbery to T.S. Eliot, the “last figure whom half the English-language poets alive thought a great model, and the other half thought incomprehensible”. Ashbery’s long list of awards began with the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1956, selected by W.H. Auden, for his first collection, Some Trees.
His early work shows the influence of Auden, Wallace Stevens, Boris Pasternak and many of the French surrealists (his translations from French literature are numerous). In the late 1950s, the critic John Bernard Myers categorized the common traits of Ashbery’s avant-garde poetry, as well as that of Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, Kenward Elmslie and others, as constituting a :New York School”.
Ashbery then wrote two collections while in France, the highly controversial The Tennis Court Oath (1962), and Rivers and Mountains (1966), before returning to New York to write The Double Dream of Spring, which was published in 1970.
In the early 1970s, Ashbery began teaching at Brooklyn College, where his students included poet John Yau. In the 1980s, he moved to Bard College, where he is the Charles P. Stevenson, Jr., Professor of Languages and Literature. He was the poet laureate of New York state from 2001 to 2003, and also served for many years as a chancellor of the Academy of Poets. Ashbery lived in New York City and Hudson, New York, with his partner, David Kermani. He died of natural causes on September 3, 2017 at his home in Hudson, at the age of 90.