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Ashbery in Founders Great Hall
Ashbery in Founders Great Hall

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet John Ashbery Visits Haverford

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery, renowned for his rich, textured verse, recited a selection of his poetry to a diverse group of faculty, staff and students in Haverford’s Founders Hall.  He read from his collection, titled Notes from the Air, and from A Worldly Country, his most recent collection.

Despite having won numerous awards and honors, including the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for his famous Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Ashbery was dignified but humble.  Sporting a brown blazer and a pair of glasses resting comfortably on his nose, he stood behind the podium and read one poem after the other, at most sharing not more than a few words about its title or structure.  His poems were often separated simply by meditative pauses.  His voice was soft and calm, never monotonous, but with little variation in tone.

The program began with a short introduction by President Stephen Emerson. Ashbery took a few sips of water and proceeded to read “Finnish Rhapsody” followed by “Hotel Lautreamont,” a poem whose pantoum form requires the second and fourth lines of one stanza to become the first and third lines of the next.  He also read a series of prose poems, including “The Bobinski Brothers,” “Disagreeable Glimpses” and “A Linnet” which he light-heartedly described as “a small bird more common in poetry than in nature.”

He ended with “A Worldly Country” the title poem from his most recently published collection.  After finishing this poem he closed his book and said a simple “thank you” as warm applause from the audience filled the room.  A reception in Founders’ Common Room followed. Many bought Ashbery’s published works and had them signed by the poet.  Violet Brown, Senior Executive Administrator, said, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I wouldn’t miss it.”

This was Ashbery’s first visit to Haverford. He is currently the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College.

-Ariella Foss '09

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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