John Ashbery's new collection includes sixty-five poems. In each, a verbal nucleus, the original incitement to commit poetry, undergoes twists and modulations and arrives at a final, altered, form. The changes come about because the train of ideas proliferate, departing from the platform of a word or phrase. Each poem is a veritable Gard du Nord.
John Ashbery was born in 1927 in Rochester, New York. He grew up in Rochester and spent most of his time living with his grandparents. Ashbery had to leave the city and move to the country at the age of seven when his grandfather retired from his post as professor at the university. He went to Deerfield Academy at 16 and felt out of place in this '...sort of jock, upper-class WASP school.' (John Ashbery, 'How far to go too far,' The Guardian, G2, 24 July, 1997, 12.) He continued his education at Harvard where he met Kenneth Koch and Frank O'Hara and, along with James Schuyler and Barbara Guest, they became known as the 'New York School of Poets.' This was not an official 'school,' but a group of like minded poets seeking to undermine the serious and academic poetry written after the war in America. In 1955 Ashbery was awarded the Fulbright scholarship enabling him to go to Paris and he also had his first book of poetry accepted by W H Auden who, at the time, was the editor of the Yale Younger Poets Series. The collection of poems produced during Ashbery's time in Paris, The Tennis Court Oath, were extremely experimental and were not well received by critics. When his scholarship money ran out, Ashbery became an art critic and translator. Ashbery finally returned to New York after the death of his father in the mid-sixties and has remained in the city since then.