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Ashbery Discusses Lifetime of Poetic Achievement

Prolific poet and writer John Ashbery has long been honored as one of the country's most important writers. Ashbery shares some of his poetry and talks to the NewsHour about his life and artistic endeavors.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Finally tonight, another conversation in our occasional series on poets and poetry, and to Jeffrey Brown.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    For much of his life, John Ashbery has been a walker in the city.

  • JOHN ASHBERY, American Poet:

    I used to have a little recording device I took around with me, so I could record those and other things that occurred to me while I was walking.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The words, phrases and sounds he collected often ended up in his poetry, a body of work that has led him to be considered one of the nation's most important writers of the last half-century.

    Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. As a young man, he and friends like Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch formed what came to be called the New York school of poetry.

    His first book of poems, "Some Trees," was published in 1956. In 1975, "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" cemented his reputation and earned Ashbery a triple crown, the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

    Now, at age 80, he's just garnered a rather different and unusual honor, being named as MTV's first poet laureate.

    In all, he's published more than 30 volumes of poetry, criticism and essays, including, in recent months, a new book of verse, "A Worldly Country," and a collection of selected later poems called "Notes from the Air," which includes the poem "This Room."

  • JOHN ASHBERY:

    The room I entered was a dream of this room. Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine. The oval portrait of a dog was me at an early age. Something shimmers; something is hushed up. We had macaroni for lunch every day, except Sunday, when a small quail was induced to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things? You are not even here.

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