April 11, 2003

Poet Ashbery Reads Works

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Legendary poet John Ashbery came to campus yesterday, reading selections from his more recent work at Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall. The event was the second time Ashbery has been featured in the Robert Chasen Poetry Series.

Prof. Roger Gilbert, English, introduced him by saying, “John Ashbery’s poems have permanently defined what poetry can do.”

Ashbery read for just under an hour to a rapt audience in the packed auditorium. Many had to sit in the aisles or stand at the back of the room.

The poet delivered his work quickly with little commentary in between. The majority of the poems came from his newer collections, such as Chinese Whispers and Your Name Here.

The only pause in the reading was when Ashbery’s throat microphone cut out near the end of a poem. The reading resumed once a new microphone was brought out.

Ashbery’s new poems from Chinese Whispers were well-received by many audience members.

“I loved the last poem he read, ‘Sir Gammer Vans.’ I’m definitely going to buy his new book,” said Elizabeth Pandich ’05.

Many attendees expressed high opinions of Ashbery.

“He’s my all-time favorite poet,” said James Widyn ’05. Widyn compared Ashbery to another artist who stopped by Cornell recently: Nasir Jones. “[The poetry reading] was way better than the Nas concert; he was on for longer and it didn’t cost me 20 bucks to get in.”

Ashbery, the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Language and Literature at Bard College, was born in Rochester, N.Y., and studied at both Harvard and Columbia. He has won a MacArthur Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Ruth Lily Prize and the Legion d’Honneur. His Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror is one of the most universally acclaimed books of poetry ever, winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Award. Ashbery is the author of twenty poetry collections, a work of fiction and three plays.

Archived article by Jack VanArsdale