John Ashbery

poet from the United States of America

John Lawrence Ashbery (July 28, 1927- September 3, 2017) was an award-winning American poet and a prominent art critic. Educated at Harvard and Columbia, he published 26 volumes of poetry spanning 60 years and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer in 1976 and the Bollingen and Lenore Marshall prizes in 1984 for the collections Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and A Wave, respectively. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983, taught at Bard as the Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature from 1990 until his retirement in 2008, and remains the only writer to win the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the same year (1976). Selected as the poet laureate of New York State from 2001-03, he was further honored by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2011 with the National Humanities Medal.

John Ashbery in 2007

His art criticism has been collected in the 1989 volume Reported Sightings, Art Chronicles 1957-1987, edited by the poet David Bergman.


  • "Did I say that? One says so many things, and the problem is they all get written down."
    • (In response to the question "Why do you call yourself anti-art?," Bard College, 2005)

The Paris Review (Issue 90, Winter 1983)

John Ashbery, The Art of Poetry No. 33. Interviewed by Peter A. Stitt.
  • It didn’t pay very much, but it enabled me to get other jobs doing art criticism, which I didn’t want to do very much, but as so often when you exhibit reluctance to do something, people think you must be very good at it. If I had set out to be an art critic, I might never have succeeded.
  • When I originally started writing, I expected that probably very few people would read my poetry because in those days people didn’t read poetry much anyway.
  • Well, there are certain stock words that I have found myself using a great deal. When I become aware of them, it is an alarm signal meaning I am falling back on something that has served in the past—it is a sign of not thinking at the present moment, not that there is anything intrinsically bad about certain words or phrases.

A Wave (1984)


April Galleons (1987)

  • In the beginning there are those who don't quite fit in
    But are somehow okay. And then some morning
    There are places that suddenly seem wonderful:
    Weather and water seem wonderful,
    And the peaceful night sky that arrives
    In time to protect us, like a sword
    Cutting the blue cloak of a prince.
    • "A Snowball in Hell"
  • These two guys in the front yard--
    Are they here to help?
    • "Gorboduc"

Quotes about John Ashbery

  • John Ashbrey, incontrovertibly a great poet, remains both difficult and underread, even by his readers.