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Selected Poems


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John Ashbery (1927 - 2017) was the author of more than twenty-five collections of poetry, including Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; Selected Poems (1985); and Selected Later Poems (2007), which was awarded the 2008 International Griffin Poetry Prize. Ashbery's honors included a MacArthur Fellowship and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Foundation in 2011.


While Ashbery is usually thought of as a complex, insular poet, he often reveals a sense of childlike wonder at the world: ``The spring, though mild, is incredibly wet./ I have spent the afternoon blowing soap bubbles.'' And if he is a writer who tackles eternal verities, the poet's selection of his verse for this collection shows that his immediate topics range from Popeye the Sailor to the Aquarian Age, Warren G. Harding and the weather. Ashbery recognizes that the creative artist today is ``barely tolerated, living on the margin/ in our technological society.'' Lyrics, long prose-poem meditations, haiku, conversational ramblings, and musings reminiscent of Wallace Stevens attest to the full range of his experimentalism. His themes are the growth of the self through pain, the possibilities for personal happiness, the distance between seeing and knowing. December

Lyrical and discursive, ribald and reflective, these 138 poems chosen by the poet are among the most original, inventive, and challenging in American writing today. Ashbery's verse often runs counter to one's expectations, thereby redefining what a poem can be. Not surprisingly, change is a predominant theme: ``to utterly destroy/ That too-familiar image/ Lurking in the glass.'' He works in dualities (``the tree of contradictions, joyous and living'') using words to layer moods and impressions, the ``obscure workings of grace as chance.'' His long hypnotic meditations (``The Skaters''; ``The System''; ``Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror''; ``A Wave'') map the trajectory of the self through time. Contrary to so much of contemporary poetry, his method is inclusive, containing snatches of dialogue, objects, cartoon characters, dreams, ``the unimaginable in a word . . . For we are rescued by what we cannot imagine.'' Highly recommended. Robert Hudzik, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty.

"Contains Ashbery's greatest work and confirms his position as one of America's finest poets since Wallace Stevens." --Edward Guerschi, Newsday

"Mr. Ashbery remains one of his generation's most gifted and eloquent poets . . . He writes persuasively--and movingly--of the poetic process, of the attempts of the artist to wring order out of chaos." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"No other poet is as daring . . . None inhabits such a Versailles of the imagination. This formidable new volume offers the finest of his oeuvre." --Carolyn Forche, Vanity Fair

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