John Ashbery, "a poet whose teasing, delicate, soulful lines made him one of the most influential figures of late-20th and early-21st-century American literature," died Sunday, September 3, the New York Times reported. He was 90. Ashbery's arrival as a major literary figure "was signaled in 1976, when he became the only writer to win the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the same year, for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror."
Ashbery won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 1955 for his first collection, Some Trees. His other books include Commotion of the Birds: New Poems; The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry; Quick Question: New Poems; Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems; Houseboat Days; and the Library of America edition John Ashbery: Collected Poems, 1956-1987. He received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in 2012.
Describing Ashbery as the "greatest American poet of the last fifty years" in a New Yorker tribute, Dan Chiasson wrote: "The idea of greatness clung about him as it does to only a handful of writers alive at any time. His early work was serene and beautiful; he then became rather frantic and trippy. He had a period of majesty unrivalled in recent poetry, stretching from the seventies through the nineties. His last phase was a kind of inventory of his mind, among the most interesting anyone has ever known. His method was to 'snip off a length' of his consciousness, he said. It was, in part, a strike against the solemnities of achieved reputation, which confronted him everywhere in the forms of syllabi and colloquia."
In the Guardian, Mark Ford recalled: "In 2014 I gave a reading with him in New York, at the 92nd St. Y, and was touched almost to tears by the lines of people queuing to pay their respects to him afterwards. 'John, your work has meant so much to me,' was the gist of what they had to say, though one or two went still further: 'John, your poetry has changed my life.' "
From "How to Continue":
they none of them would leave without the other
for they said we are all one here
and if one of us goes the other will not go
and the wind whispered it to the stars
the people all got up to go
and looked back on love