remembering John Ashbery

Ashbery1-600x315David Lehman at The American Scholar:

John Ashbery, who died in the early morning hours on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, was doubtlessly the best known and most influential poet of his generation, a mentor to me, and a good friend. I went to readings he gave in my sophomore year at Columbia and was, like many of my classmates, blown away by his long poem “The Skaters,” which many of my buddies on the Columbia Review, committed as we were to the aesthetic of the New York School, thought was the single finest long poem in English since “The Waste Land.” He very quickly became my favorite poet.

Some of his friends called him Ashes. I favored JA in part because of his brilliant early poem “The Picture of Little JA in a Prospect of Flowers,” the title of which was itself a lift from a poem by Andrew Marvell. We—those of us privileged enough to get close to the man—would entertain one another with anecdotes about him, clever things he said, or just news of a great new poem, such as “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” which knocked our socks off when it appeared in Poetry magazine in 1974. A year later it was the title poem of a poetry collection that captured the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, an unprecedented triple crown.

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