Gelatin Silver Print, 1975
This photograph by Peter Hujar of John Ashbery shows the poet in 1975, the year in which he swept all the major literary awards with his book Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. The book’s title poem is a long mediation on the act of taking a likeness, and the fragile relationship between the individual and the work of art. He writes: “What is beautiful seems so only in relation to a specific / Life, experienced or not, channeled into some form / Steeped in the nostalgia of a collective past.” This is Ashbery’s own artistic credo, as he has sought throughout his career to vocalize experience through his own ecstatic, long lines of verse. Ashbery, one of America’s most important poets and an heir to Walt Whitman, celebrated his eightieth birthday in 2007 by publishing his twenty-sixth book of poems.
One feels too confined, Sifting the April sunlight for clues, In the mere stillness of the ease of its Parameter. The hand holds no chalk And each part of the whole falls off And cannot know it knew, except Here and there, in cold pockets Of remembrance, whispers out of time.John Ashbery From “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” 1975