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John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York in 1927. Best known as a poet, he is the author of over 20 books of poetry including Some Trees, which was selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award. He has served as executive editor of ARTnews magazine and as the art critic for New York and Newsweek magazines. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Ashbery served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1988 to 1999. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships and was a MacArthur Fellow from 1985 to 1990. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages. John Ashbery lives in New York.

Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems

HarperCollins/Ecco
2008 Winner
United States

Judges’ Citation

The pleasure of reading John Ashbery’s poetry defies explanation.

The pleasure of reading John Ashbery’s poetry defies explanation. The YOU the author makes reference to is ME, the transcription being rendered, paradoxically, by a poet who eschews autobiography; thus the I as well as the YOU names the reader. Ashbery’s is one of the best and most intense poetry productions of the twentieth century. Its famous difficulty does not repel: it invites. It offers a ‘site of survival,’ a real mirror for human beings today, providing a place of honour and dignity for the very personal and secret hidden in everyone. His poems reach the private part of each individual. No wonder he has declared in interviews that he’s ‘like everybody else’ – the body breathing inside the poem is as much himself as ourselves. But the person who knows how to observe and therefore how to be unique is John Ashbery, ungraspable, inexplicable and as mysterious as the Delphic oracle. In Notes from the Air, Ashbery has taken the opportunity provided a long-living poet not to collect but to select what in his opinion constitutes the best part of his later production. These ‘notes’ proceeding from the air or written by it honour the defining economy of poetry, unique lexical territory where one cannot go against the plurality of meaning embodied in words. He grants unity to this volume by sequencing poems deftly linked, forged with the delicateness of time, its overwhelming theme. The vigilant eye cast on this selection is omnipresent, and does not let a single detail go loose. With this personal organization of the most meaningful part of his work, Ashbery offers a new way of reading it, testing language by virtue of the American tongue, making it a true ‘remnant of energy’ for which only the poet can take responsibility.