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Unterberg Poetry Center

John Ashbery

1952 Introductions Contest

John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Some Trees (1956), for which he won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize; The Tennis Court Oath (1962); Three Poems (1972), for which he won the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America; Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award; Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems (2007), for which he won the International Griffin Poetry Prize; and Commotion of the Birds (2016), his final collection. His honors include a Fulbright; two Guggenheim fellowships; a MacArthur fellowship; election as fellow and later as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets; the Robert Frost Medal; and designation as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and an Officier de la Légion d’honneur from the French Ministry of Education and Culture. In addition to the 1952 Discovery (then Introductions) prize, Ashbery won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, the Grand Prix de Biennales Internationales de Poésia, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei’s Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize for Poetry and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. He also received a National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and in 2012 he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama. Ashbery last appeared at the Poetry Center in April 2014 with Mark Ford. He died in 2017 at the age of ninety.

In a 1975 letter to John Malcolm Brinnin, the then-Director of the Poetry Center, Ashbery shared how the winning the Introductions prize twenty-three years earlier had affected his career, writing: I’ve always felt a debt of gratitude to you for picking me as one of the winners of the YMHA Poetry Center Introductions winners in 1952, which gave me the courage I needed then to continue writing.
The poem and manuscript below were included in the printed program of his April 2014 reading at the Unterberg Poetry Center. “A Breakfast Radish” was first published by the London Review of Books.

  • 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 avoid being singed.

    We have a special on revenge tragedy.
    March is going to be a heavier day.
    The girls talked about getting ready.
    When they do, in this or that glen,
    looks can be deceiving, he stressed.

  • Manuscript

    John Ashbery manuscript

From the Winners’ Reading: “Mythological Poet,” by John Ashbery