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The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2017
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The first biography of an American master
The Songs We Know Best, the first comprehensive biography of the early life of John Ashbery—the winner of nearly every major American literary award—reveals the unusual ways he drew on the details of his youth to populate the poems that made him one of the most original and unpredictable forces of the last century in arts and letters.
Drawing on unpublished correspondence, juvenilia, and childhood diaries as well as more than one hundred hours of conversation with the poet, Karin Roffman offers an insightful portrayal of Ashbery during the twenty-eight years that led up to his stunning debut, Some Trees, chosen by W. H. Auden for the 1955 Yale Younger Poets Prize. Roffman shows how Ashbery's poetry arose from his early lessons both on the family farm and in 1950s New York City—a bohemian existence that teemed with artistic fervor and radical innovations inspired by Dada and surrealism as well as lifelong friendships with painters and writers such as Frank O'Hara, Jane Freilicher, Nell Blaine, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Willem de Kooning.
Ashbery has a reputation for being enigmatic and playfully elusive, but Roffman's biography reveals his deft mining of his early life for the flint and tinder from which his provocative later poems grew, producing a body of work that he calls "the experience of experience," an intertwining of life and art in extraordinarily intimate ways.

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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
06/13/2017
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781429949804
ASIN:
B01N2JQ83E
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APA Citation (style guide)

Karin Roffman. (2017). The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Karin Roffman. 2017. The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Karin Roffman, The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Karin Roffman. The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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shortDescription

The first biography of an American master
The Songs We Know Best, the first comprehensive biography of the early life of John Ashbery—the winner of nearly every major American literary award—reveals the unusual ways he drew on the details of his youth to populate the poems that made him one of the most original and unpredictable forces of the last century in arts and letters.
Drawing on unpublished correspondence, juvenilia, and childhood diaries as well as more than one hundred hours of conversation with the poet, Karin Roffman offers an insightful portrayal of Ashbery during the twenty-eight years that led up to his stunning debut, Some Trees, chosen by W. H. Auden for the 1955 Yale Younger Poets Prize. Roffman shows how Ashbery's poetry arose from his early lessons both on the family farm and in 1950s New York City—a bohemian existence that teemed with artistic fervor and radical innovations inspired by Dada and surrealism as well...

isOwnedByCollections
True
title
The Songs We Know Best
fullDescription

The first biography of an American master
The Songs We Know Best, the first comprehensive biography of the early life of John Ashbery—the winner of nearly every major American literary award—reveals the unusual ways he drew on the details of his youth to populate the poems that made him one of the most original and unpredictable forces of the last century in arts and letters.
Drawing on unpublished correspondence, juvenilia, and childhood diaries as well as more than one hundred hours of conversation with the poet, Karin Roffman offers an insightful portrayal of Ashbery during the twenty-eight years that led up to his stunning debut, Some Trees, chosen by W. H. Auden for the 1955 Yale Younger Poets Prize. Roffman shows how Ashbery's poetry arose from his early lessons both on the family farm and in 1950s New York City—a bohemian existence that teemed with artistic fervor and radical innovations inspired by Dada and surrealism as well as lifelong friendships with painters and writers such as Frank O'Hara, Jane Freilicher, Nell Blaine, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Willem de Kooning.
Ashbery has a reputation for being enigmatic and playfully elusive, but Roffman's biography reveals his deft mining of his early life for the flint and tinder from which his provocative later poems grew, producing a body of work that he calls "the experience of experience," an intertwining of life and art in extraordinarily intimate ways.

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reviews
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        April 3, 2017
        With immaculate detail and eloquence, Roffman (From the Modernist Annex) has written the first in-depth biography of one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Her narrative follows Ashbery, who was born in 1927, up to 1955, when W.H. Auden awarded Ashbery's debut collection, Some Trees, the Yale Younger Poets prize. Roffman expertly analyzes his poems, revealing the nuanced imprint of his personal life on his work. She explores Ashbery's friendships (with painter Jane Freilicher and poets Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch, among others), his influences (including W.H. Auden and Marianne Moore), and his ventures into acting, prose writing, and painting. In addition to describing his triumphs, she reveals the darker parts of Ashbery's life: the childhood death of his brother, the specter cast by his era's homophobia, and his ongoing battle with depression. Roffman excels in her recreation of Ashbery's early years because she does not waver from firsthand sources and never attempts to interpret his life or poetry through pure speculation. Although at times this work is slow going and lacking in drama, it is an educational, comforting, inspiring book that will satisfy Ashbery's curious fans. 82 b&w illus.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from April 15, 2017
        The first "comprehensive" biography of the American poet's early years.Roffman (Humanities/Yale Univ.; From the Modernist Annex: American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries, 2010) met Pulitzer Prize-winning poet John Ashbery (b. 1929) in 2005 at Bard College, and they immediately hit it off. The "vehemently private" poet provided her with an early diary and handwritten and typed manuscripts of poetry, plays, and stories, as well as numerous photographs (included here along with many poems). All of this material, writes Roffman, provides "astonishing record of his earliest creative life." When the author asked if she could write a biography of these early years, he assumed she "already was." Roffman delivers a revealing, unprecedented portrait of this artist up to the publication of Some Trees in 1956, which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, selected by W.H. Auden, narrowly beating out Ashbery's close friend Frank O'Hara. Born in Rochester, New York, he spent time on the family's farm and in his beloved grandparents' home overlooking Lake Ontario. His youth was "ordinary," and he loved to paint, write, and read. He wrote his first poem at age 8 and read an article about surrealism and Dada in Life that "thrilled him." As early as kindergarten, Ashbery felt attracted to boys but kept his feelings secret. In 1941, he appeared on the national Quiz Kids show in Chicago. After attending Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, he went to Harvard. At the time, he said, "I suppose I'll come out of it intact." Midway through his college career, Ashbery had ambitious plans to "rip modern poetry wide open!" At Harvard, he met poets O'Hara and Kenneth Koch and immersed himself in the poetry of Wallace Stevens and Marianne Moore. Next came Columbia University and a new, lifelong friend in fellow gay poet/collaborator James Schuyler. This incisive, groundbreaking portrait of the enigmatic and influential poet will be indispensable to all future biographical work.

        COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        May 15, 2017

        In Roffman's (From the Modernist Annex) comprehensive biography of John Ashbery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (for the collection Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror), readers get a view of the author through childhood to early adulthood for the first time. The 89-year-old Ashbery has been writing all of his life, and many of his poems and diary entries are included in this volume. There is some literary analysis done by the Roffman, but most of the work concentrates on the meanings behind the poems. Ashbery drew inspiration from his experiences, specifically the untimely death of his brother and the loss of relationships. Despite these tragic instances, he is known for his wit, focus, and self-awareness. Ashbery's career almost ended before it began though, when a supposed friend plagiarized his work and published it under a different name. Luckily for his readers, Ashbery persisted and became a literary legend. VERDICT Readers of Ashbery's work will enjoy Roffman's deep insight into the poet. Pictures throughout offer visuals of the people and places that shaped Ashbery's writing.--Natalie Browning, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond, VA

        Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        June 1, 2017
        This rigorously intimate look at poet John Ashbery's young life follows him from his birth in upstate New York in 1927 to his debut collection, Some Trees (1955), which was selected by W. H. Auden for the coveted Yale Younger Poets Prize. With unparalleled access to family records and photo albums and interviews with boyhood friends and the author himself, Roffman deftly weaves together genealogy and an appreciation for the poet's art and turns an exacting lens on even minor details, as in her explication of an eight-year-old Ashbery's letter home from sleepaway camp. Other instances of the precocious poet's early years prove telling, such as when Ashbery, as a disconsolate kindergartener, first articulates the unique medley of emotion and creative license that would later shape his work when he remarks, I regret the stairs. Roffman keeps a close eye on Ashbery into his teenage and early adult years, as his writing and sexual identity evolve. This tender, youth-focused biography will be most enjoyed by Ashbery's fans and readers interested in a remarkable gay artist's midcentury coming-of-age story.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

subtitle
John Ashbery's Early Life
popularity
43
publisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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