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Ashbery, John

Country/Region:
USA
Born:
July 28, 1927
Dead:
September 3, 2017
Genres:
Poetry, Miscellaneous prose
Foto: Ulla Montan
The poet, art critic, translator and essayist John Lawrence Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up on a farm near Lake Ontario. His brother died as a child. This event came to have a major impact on Ashbery's childhood since he was plagued by guilt on account of having been very mean to his brother. He attended Deerfield Academy, a boys' school where he began to write poetry and to read W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas. His greatest desire during these years, however, was to become an artist, so from the age of eleven and until the age of fifteen, he was given lessons at the Rochester Museum of Art. Music has been another important source of inspiration. In an early interview he revealed that he painted until he was eighteen, but that he felt that he would be able to express himself better through music because of its persuasive power and ability to carry an argument based on unknown entities, and he wanted to achieve the same through poetry. He went to Harvard where he befriended Kenneth Koch, Barbara Epstein, Frank O'Hara, Robert Creeley and Robert Bly, all of whom have become major poets. After Ashbury graduated in 1949, he studied briefly at New York University and went on to work as a copywriter in New York until 1955. He spent ten years in France writing art and literature criticism, and he began to translate French authors: Max Jakob, Pierre Reverdy, Jean Perrault and Raymond Roussel, among others. Two poetry collections were published during this period, The Tennis Court Oath (1962) and Rivers and Mountains (1966). After he returned to the United States he continued as an art critic for, among others, Newsweek and New York Magazine. In the early seventies he began to teach at Brooklyn College; some of his students later became major names on the American literary scene. During the 1980s, after Ashbery had become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he left Brooklyn College for Bard where he was Professor of Languages and Literature until he retired in 2008. He continued his public readings, he published books, he has won many awards and he has coached doctoral students and young authors. He was poet laureate of the State of New York 2001–2003, and he worked many years for the Academy of American Poets. At his death he lived in New York City and Hudson, N.Y. with his partner, David Kermani.

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