John Ashbery, Celebrated And Experimental Poet Of your 20th Century, Dies At ninety

Up to date at eight:20 p.m. ET John Ashbery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for his surrealist, confounding functions, has died at age 90. The poet died of purely natural will cause in his Hudson, N.Y., residence early Sunday, confirms Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the publicist for a new Ashbery biography. His 1975 collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, what many consider his masterpiece, won a rare trifecta on the literary world: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize. The title poem was a meditation on Parmigianino’s 16th century Italian painting on the same name. In 2012, Former President Barack Obama recognized Ashbery with the National Humanities Medal. Enlarge this imagePoet John Ashbery, seen here in his New York apartment in 2008, is widely regarded as one from the twentieth century’s greatest poets. He died at the age of ninety on Sunday, at his house in Hudson, N.Y.Bebeto Matthews/APhide captiontoggle captionBebeto Matthews/APPoet John Ashbery, seen here in his New York apartment in 2008, is widely regarded as one on the 20th century’s greatest poets. He died at the age of 90 on Sunday, at his house in Hudson, N.Y.Bebeto Matthews/APFrom an early age, his tendency to reject poetic conventions evolved under the influences of music, like John Cage, and visual art, particularly that of abstract expre sionist painters. As The New York Times identified the relationship, “If the verse is challenging, that was in part Mr. Ashbery’s aim to compel readers to rethink their presumptions about poetry, just as the Abstract Expre sionists asked viewers to discard their preconceptions about painting.” “My ambition was to be a painter,” Ashbery told Peter Stitt from the Paris Review. He took painting cla ses in his preteen years, but “found that poetry was easier than painting.” Meanwhile, he began consuming modern poetry. He cut his teeth on a Louis Untermeyer anthology, he tells Stitt. In the way many critics found Ashbery’s poetry indecipherable, “I didn’t understand much of it at first … I gue s it was just a desire to emulate that started me writing poetry.” While his enigmatic poems confounded literary critics and peers, his experimental style reinvented literature for a generation of writers. Ashbery’s first book puzzled admired poet W.H. Auden. (Ashbery considered Auden “one with the writers who most formed my language as a poet.”) As the Times notes, when Auden selected Ashbery as the Yale Younger Poets Prize Peyton Manning Jersey winner for Some Trees (1956), he later “confe sed that he had not understood a word of it.”In fact, Ashbery joked to The A sociated Pre s in 2008 that, were he to verbify his last name, it would mean “to confuse the hell out of people.” His unorthodox work, Ashbery once told the London Times, is fluctuant because life itself is: “I don’t find any direct statements in life. My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awarene s come to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I don’t think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation. My poetry is disjunct, but then so is life.” He described poetry as a “marginal occupation” within society, in a 2005 interview with Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. Critics have told him they’ve found his work inacce sible to a mainstream audience, he said, but his themes regarding the human experience, such as doubt and uncertainty, addre s many. “I wish that they were as acce sible to as many people as po sible,” he told Simon. “They are not, I wouldn’t say, private. What they are is about the privacy of all of us and the difficulty of our own thinking and coming to conclusions. And in that way they are, I think, acce sible if anybody cares to acce s them.”Correction Sept. 5, 2017 A previous version of this story mixed up the attribution on a quote. It was John Ashbery, not W.H. Auden, talking about the writers who had formed his language as a poet.

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