John Ashbery

John Ashbery’s latest collection of poems, Breezeway, is out from Carcanet

Poem: ‘Understandably’

John Ashbery, 5 May 2016

It’s beautiful, and all that: the corner student with the carpet tunnel or you just don’t know where to get one which is all that matters. I didn’t know but what during our recent homecoming specialvery good plastic muffins were featured, (the cement trees yesterday),

and that probably wouldn’t be a surprise. Turn the window off. The stars, what happens next?...

Poem: ‘Die Meistersinger’

John Ashbery, 17 March 2016

Only​ those who actively dislike poetry didn’t like him. The others could care less. There were too many other things to worry about, like is my licence expired yet? Fortunately there were a few in-between, those who school themselves to take an interest in everything, which is not to say they’re not truly, deeply interested in the things that matter most. To them he was a...

Poem: ‘Passive/Aggressive’

John Ashbery, 21 January 2016

We were driving along at twenty-five miles an hour. ‘Desperate’ wants to know how the angle tree has went. Or we now can live over a wombat factory, said the woman coming in to see him about something.

And I was like, a beautiful little tree, or lake. Just the sandwiches now, we’ll look at the rest later when you’re out of time … Oh yeah? Oh, yeah....

Poem: ‘Heading Out’

John Ashbery, 4 December 2014

A single drop fills the rainbow glass. The fountain overflows. How come the purr and passing of this every night arrives at stealth? Just – be prepared. If it happens every day around this time it happens more than twice. I’d wager this one has nothing in it. So’s your old man. We get called out often on all kinds of suspicious business, he decried. Like when the kittens...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 25 September 2014

The Goofiad

Um, it wasn’t my project to prise them apart. Pale Jessica had come full circle. Case in point: she spelled one application under presidential law. How it became one of the names one can’t recall.

But on the other hand good old people watch the convention. It’s guaranteed, and not be president. People had yet to live

and believe your own cameras which it...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 6 March 2014

A Breakfast Radish

Whatever we’re dealing with catches us in mid-reconsideration. It’s beautiful, my lord, just not made to be repeated, that’s all.

Counterterrorists have already invaded parts of England and Spain. Your action dollar at work. Deception figures in quite a few precious things, although, as I say, it’s a small remnant of what others have achieved to...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 6 February 2014

The Welkin

We’re patching up an agreement today. The insides won’t let us. I sent you copies by return mail any time soon. We came to a long Q and A period, to which dreams are the smutty alternative. Of these by far the most startling (not to be tedious) combat greasiness from Calexico to Texarkana, a splash on everything they do. They can’t fit it in.

I long to talk...

Poem: ‘Northeast Building’

John Ashbery, 6 December 2012

I tell myself I’m a minimalist. Not that it matters to the big guns who train their sights on us, who also know about tomorrow and their brothers, and had a pretty good run. It would be that time in the future, that was predicted. The wearing of boater hats had become fairly commonplace, like going to the park. Children ran errands while adults went to the movies. There were more sights...

Poem: ‘A Voice from the Fireplace’

John Ashbery, 2 August 2012

Like a wind-up denture in a joke store fate approaches, leans quietly. Let’s see … There was moreover meaning in the last clause, meaning we couldn’t equate from what was happening to us down the block. We approached with some hesitancy: Let ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would.’ Wasn’t it April? Weren’t things more likely to last in this or...

Poem: ‘Etudes Second Series’

John Ashbery, 8 March 2012

A cloud blew up and like that: OK fun’s fun but we’ve got issues, to wait until tomorrow. At least that’s what I heard, a kind of rushing as of water over steep slabs. More ants to fry. I was placed on administrative leave, you had to be there, nevertheless it sucked, went back years. No one could find the original copy, there were bats in the belfry. Finally one comes down...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 7 October 2010

‘Beyond Albany and Syracuse …’

As handwriting sprawls a page, revealing much about the writer’s psyche, so too these lemons, dividends of peace, in our time, my friend.

Don’t stagger the bejesus out of the old harness, play with the dog, who yaps afresh at any pretext of the blond air, or stifle the air’s partisans, the moments.

Hard to pin down when the...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 8 July 2010

Days like Today

Sometimes, on Sundays, they walk a little ways into the oval spell others are soft on. She, a maid, unknown to terror, rising out of the ridge, its spreading cedars bemused and endearing. The ancestors have never been influenced by any kind of logic, not even a shrike’s, and now I can’t even say what a hornet’s-eye view of this catastrophe might englobe, if...

Poem: ‘The Winemakers’

John Ashbery, 5 November 2009

It wasn’t meant to stand for what it stood for. Only a puptent could do that. Besides, we were in a state called New York, where only bees made sense.

Those who were with us were not with us and deserved a spanking. Others, looking out over the bay’s mild waters could barely distinguish a message made of logs: ‘Return to the frontier or all is lost, though in time some may...

Three Poems

John Ashbery, 27 August 2009

Idea of Steve

Too bad I have this idea of him based on someone else, named Matt (another uncluttered name), whom I disliked for no reason other than having once thought he misprised me, which I didn’t really believe. (Whew!) This is getting complicated, like always.

Let’s leave Steve at the wellhead of a dream, where he belongs, and belongs also to others who will make fun of him...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 20 November 2008

They Knew What They Wanted

They all kissed the bride. They all laughed. They came from beyond space. They came by night.

They came to a city. They came to blow up America. They came to rob Las Vegas. They dare not love.

They died with their boots on. They shoot horses, don’t they? They go boom. They got me covered.

They flew alone. They gave him a gun. They just had to get married. They...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 31 July 2008


Mysterious barricades, a headrest (of sorts), boarded the train at Shinjuku junction to the palpable consternation of certain other rubberneckers already installed in the observation car of their dreams. ‘It’s so peaceful on my pallet. I could just live here.’ In a second the deadbeat returned with lunch tokens. It had been meant to be sublime, but hell was what...

Five Poems

John Ashbery, 17 August 2006


My mind occupied by something, I notice shoals of dry leaves rattled by the wind, upsurging like a dog that’s starting to lie down, and a voice like that of my mother says, ‘Then you’ll just have to learn to do without it. The leaves are shells.’

Another time the voice brings me back from not too far away. I was imagining sisters, how a door holds sway over...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 4 November 2004

More Feedback

The passionate are immobilised. The case-hardened undulate over walls of the library, in more or less expressive poses. The equinox again, not knowing whether to put the car in reverse or slam on the brakes at the entrance to the little alley. Seasons belong to others than us. Our work keeps us up late nights; there is no more joy or sorrow than in what work gives. A little boy...

Three Poems

John Ashbery, 19 February 2004


We used to call it the boob tube, but I guess they don’t use tubes anymore. Whatever, it serves a small purpose after waking and before falling asleep. Today’s news – but is there such a thing as news, or even history? Yes, when you want to go back after a while and appraise the accumulation of leaves, say, in the sandbox. The rest is rented depression, available...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 20 November 2003

The Love Interest

We could see it coming from forever, then it was simply here, parallel to that day’s walking. By then it was we who had disappeared, into the tunnel of a book.

Rising late at night, we join the current of tomorrow’s news. Why not? Unlike some others, we haven’t anything to ask for or borrow. We’re just pieces of solid geometry:

cylinders or rhomboids....

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 22 August 2002

I Asked Mr Dithers Whether It Was Time Yet He Said No to Wait

Time, you old miscreant! Slain any brontosauruses lately? You – Sixty wondering days I watched him navigate the alkali lick, always a little power ebbing, streaming from high windowsills. Down here the tetched are lonely. There’s nothing they can do except spit.

We felt better about answering the business letter once...

Poem: ‘Sir Gammer Vans’

John Ashbery, 11 July 2002

Last Sunday morning at six o’clock in the evening as I was sailing over the tops of the mountains in my little boat a crewcut stranger saluted me, so I asked him, could he tell me whether the little old woman was dead yet who

was hanged last Saturday week for drowning herself in a shower of feathers? ‘Ask Monk Lewis what he thinks “been there done that” means in the...

Poem: ‘Disagreeable Glimpses’

John Ashbery, 22 March 2001

After my fall from the 16th floor my bones were lovingly assembled. They were transparent. I was carried into the gorgeous dollhouse and placed on a fainting couch upholstered with brilliant poppies. My ship had come in, so to speak.

There were others, lovers, sitting and speaking nearby. ‘Are you the Countess of C?’ I demanded. She smiled and returned her gaze to the other....

Poem: ‘The Evening of Greuze’

John Ashbery, 8 March 2001

As a group we were somewhat vulnerable and are so today. My brother-in-law has fixed me a tower in the mill, from whose oriel I can see the bluebottles who nag heaven with their unimportance. But what are they expected to do? Raise families? Become deacons? If so my calculations collapse into bric-a-brac, my equations are undone.

Across the road they are building a cement house. It will...

Two Prose Poems

John Ashbery, 20 July 2000

A Linnet

It crossed the road so as to avoid having to greet me. ‘Poor thing but mine own,’ I said, ‘without a song the day would never end.’ Warily the thing approached. I pitied its stupidity so much that huge tears began to well up in my eyes, falling to the hard ground with a plop. ‘I don’t need a welcome like that,’ it said. ‘I was ready for...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 18 May 2000

Not You Again

Thought I’d write you this poem. Yes, I know you don’t need it. No, you don’t have to thank me for it. Just want to kind of get it off my chest and drop it in the peanut dust.

You came at me and that was something. I was more than a match for you, you were a match for me, we undid the clasps in our shirtings, it was a semblance of all right.

Then the untimely...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 20 January 2000

Pale Siblings

Cheerio. Nothing on the shore today. Far out to sea, some eczema mimicking sunlight and shadow, with but temporary success.

Was it for wandering that I have been punished? Or was it another plot of the siblings, Always anxious to torment, to twist my hair into witches’ brooms, with no inherent power?

Remember they love you like powder in the air, and it wouldn’t take...

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 25 November 1999

The Gods of Fairness

The failure to see God is not a problem God has a problem with. Sure, he could see us if he had a hankering to do so, but that’s not the point. The point is his concern for us and for biscuits. For the loaf of bread that turns in the night sky over Stockholm.

Not there, over there. And I yelled them what I had told them before. The affair is no one’s business....

Two Poems

John Ashbery, 30 September 1999

Hierarchy of the Unexpected

There is still something I’d like to explain, yet can’t be sure I’m ready yet. Beside, we’ve done pretty well with the non-sequiturs, and they by us, don’t you think? Next time I recognise one I’ll call you, but will you hear me? Will I suddenly find myself alone in some glade or dell (it scarcely matters which) from which...

Poem: ‘The Village of Sleep’

John Ashbery, 5 February 1998

Why, we must dye it then –

Would I like to stay here indefinitely? We have trees to prune, cryptograms to decode, it was all a blind running into the light – She couldn’t say the word for ‘fish’. Nor are his genes undone by what oafish submarines remain. Aye, sir, Captain Nemo, sir, we’ve spotted the junk in the roads up ahead. What! That spasm I created...

Poem: ‘Homecoming’

John Ashbery, 30 October 1997

Weather drips quietly through the skeins in my diary. What surly elision is this?

Who faxed the folks news of my homecoming, even unto the platform number? The majestic parlor car slides neatly into its berth, the doors fly open, and it’s Jean and Marcy and all the kids, waving pink plastic pinwheels, chomping on popcorn. Ngarrrh. You know I adore ceremony, even while refusing to stand...

Five Poems

John Ashbery, 7 September 1995

Chronic Symbiosis

These things can be arranged, he said. Besides, glitter has become reasonable again. Hadn’t you heard? For one irrational second I thought today’s subject was plagiarism, as symbolised by that desk. But no, it’s joy in never knowing, in having once known, and in its still not being too late to know. Yes, but I know now that I knew long ago when children...


Still Available

7 June 2001

In his review of my book Other Traditions (LRB, 7 June), John Palattella states that John Wheelwright ‘published four volumes during his lifetime but he now has only one book in print in the US’. In fact that book is his Collected Poems, published by New Directions in 1972 and still available. It incorporates those four volumes and includes another he had readied for publication before...

Remember the Yak: John Ashbery

Michael Robbins, 9 September 2010

It’s been two years since the last one, so it must be time for a new book of poems by John Ashbery. Like the old James Bond films, Ashbery’s late instalments arrive punctually, and...

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Heavy Lifting: John Ashbery

John Palattella, 7 June 2001

A little over thirty years ago, John Ashbery delivered a lecture at the Yale Art School called ‘The Invisible Avant-Garde’, in which he asked whether the distinction between the...

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Accidents of Priority

John Redmond, 22 August 1996

Famous poems, like faces, are a particularly memorable kind of introduction to the person they conceal. Like other kinds of introduction, they are often what we remember a person for, or what we...

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O Harashbery!

C.K. Stead, 23 April 1992

I remember the pleasure of my first reading of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems when it came out in 1964 in a City Lights edition uniform (except that it was blue and red, not black and...

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At the Café Central

Andrew Forge, 22 March 1990

For as long as he has been exhibiting Kitaj has been publishing commentary on his pictures. With him the two activities interlock, coming closer to the idea of the calligram that Foucault played...

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Mark Ford, 19 January 1989

This is Ciaran Carson’s second collection of poems. His first, The New Estate (1976), revealed an intricate, lyrical poet intensely aware of traditional Irish cultures, and concerned to...

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Like Tristram Shandy, Delmore Schwartz so hated his name that he sometimes used to attribute all of his misfortunes to it. It was an obsession he enjoyed feeding: he would invent ridiculous...

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John Kerrigan, 2 April 1987

Professor Vendler’s soul is in peril. Reviewing Black American broadsides in 1974, she found it ‘sinful that anthologies and Collected Works should betray the poems they print by...

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Making sense

Denis Donoghue, 4 October 1984

In ‘A Wave’, the title-poem of his new collection, John Ashbery says, among many other things: One idea is enough to organise a life and project it Into unusual but viable forms, but...

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The Poetry of John Ashbery

John Bayley, 2 September 1982

The poet’s mind used to make up stories: now it investigates the reasons why it is no longer able to do so. Consciousness picks its way in words through a meagre indeterminate area which it...

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