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Distributed for Reaktion Books

John Ashbery

A critical biography of America’s most influential postmodern poet.
Mysterious, esoteric, and baffling, John Ashbery is notorious for the seeming difficulty of his work. But Ashbery is also entertaining, humorous, even charming, and ever responsive to his shifting social and political contexts. This biography charts Ashbery’s rise from a minor avant-garde figure to the most important poet of his generation. Jess Cotton provides a legible and accessible roadmap to Ashbery’s work that draws connections between his poetry, New York artists, and mid-century politics. Cotton paints an image of a more approachable and socially engaged Ashbery that will appeal to anyone interested in American poetry, queer lives, and twentieth-century American history.

224 pages | 40 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters


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"John Ashbery is one of the most original and inventive poets of the post-war era. Cotton deftly interweaves the evolution of his utterly distinctive poetic idiom into a wide-ranging and illuminating account of his life and times. Beautifully illustrated with numerous photographs never previously published, this volume offers a concise and eloquent introduction to a poet whose commitment to experimentation and ear for everyday speech gloriously expanded the possibilities of American poetry."

Mark Ford, editor of 'John Ashbery: Collected Poems'

"Cotton's biography offers a lucid, perceptive, compulsively readable account of John Ashbery's life and poetry. It attends to how Ashbery's writing refracted the huge artistic, political and social upheavals of the decades he lived through, and explores sensitively the complexities of his own personality. It's an essential introduction to one of the major figures of postwar poetry."

Oli Hazzard, author of 'John Ashbery and Anglo-American Exchange'

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