John Ashbery, widely considered one of the greatest American poets of
the last century, died in his home in Hudson, New York, on Sunday, just
weeks after his ninetieth birthday. Born in Rochester in 1927, Ashbery
published more than twenty collections of poetry as well as a variety of
prose works and translations. His book “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,”
from 1975, received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the
National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2011, he received a National
Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.

Ashbery’s poems appeared in The New Yorker throughout the second half
of his life. In its November 18, 1972, issue, the magazine published
Voyage in the
Blue
,”
the first of some eighty poems that Ashbery would eventually contribute
to The New Yorker. A complete archive of Ashbery’s work in The New
Yorker
—including,
in addition to his own poems, a translation of
Rimbaud
and an
essay on Delmore
Schwartz
—hints
at the range of registers and approaches that he explored over the
course of his career, showcasing his wry humor and cosmopolitan
sensibility, and displaying the unexpected twists and leaps of logic and
imagery that characterize his poetry.

In 2005, the magazine published a Profile of
Ashbery
,
by Larissa MacFarquhar, alongside three of his poems. As a reader,
MacFarquhar writes, Ashbery was interested in the sound of a poem—but
not literal sound; rather, he was concerned with “something like the
sound produced by meaning, which lets you know that there’s meaning
there even though you don’t know what it is yet.” Ten years later, in a
review of Ashbery’s collection “Breezeway,” Dan Chiasson wrote, “More
than ever, his style is a net for the weirdest linguistic
flotsam
.”
He added, “Ashbery’s style prizes such mistakes and misapprehensions, as
though looking for the word on the tip of the tongue.”

The last poem that John Ashbery published in The New Yorker during his
lifetime was “Just So You’ll
Know
,”
in the February 13 20, 2017, issue. On the New Yorker Poetry
Podcast, in
2014
,
Ashbery discussed, with Paul Muldoon, his poem “Gravy for the
Prisoners
,”
which had appeared in the magazine the previous year. In 2015, episodes
of the podcast featured Michael
Robbins
discussing Ashbery’s poem
Myrtle,” from 1993, and
Meghan
O’Rourke
on
Tapestry.”
The latter poem was published in the magazine in 1979. It ends:

But in some other life, which the blanket depicts anyway,

The citizens hold sweet commerce with one another

And pinch the fruit unpestered, as they will,

As words go crying after themselves, leaving the dream

Upended in a puddle somewhere

As though “dead” were just another adjective.

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