John Ashbery, an enigmatic giant of modern poetry whose energy, daring and boundless command of language raised American verse to brilliant and baffling heights, died early on Sunday at age 90.
Ashbery, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and often mentioned as a Nobel candidate, died at his home in Hudson, New York. His husband, David Kermani, said his death was from natural causes.
Few poets were so exalted in their lifetimes. Ashbery was the first living poet to have a volume published by the Library of America dedicated exclusively to his work. His 1975 collection, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” was the rare winner of the book world’s unofficial triple crown: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize. In 2011, he was given a National Humanities Medal and credited with changing “how we read poetry.”
Among a generation of poets that included Richard Wilbur, W.S. Merwin and Adrienne Rich, Ashbery stood out for his audacity and for his wordplay, for his modernist shifts between high oratory and everyday chatter, for his humour and wisdom and dazzling runs of allusions and sense impressions.
“No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery,” Langdon Hammer wrote in The New York Times in 2008. “Ashbery’s phrases always feel newly minted; his poems emphasise verbal surprise and delight, not the ways that linguistic patterns restrict us. “