John Ashbery was a prolific contributor to The Paris Review. Over the years, we published forty of his poems, plus two long prose pieces, a series of collages, and an Art of Poetry interview.
From an early age, he started cropping up in other people’s interviews, too. Already in 1966, Allen Ginsberg was comparing Ashbery to Alexander Pope (“I was listening to him read The Skaters, and it sounded as inventive and exquisite, in all its parts, as The Rape of the Lock”). By the 1980s, Philip Larkin could use Ashbery as a stand-in for all that was hip and threatening in American poetry: “I’ve never been to America … And of course I’m so deaf now that I shouldn’t dare. Someone would say, What about Ashbery, and I’d say, I’d prefer strawberry, that kind of thing.” Whether we were interviewing Seamus Heaney, Jorie Graham, Edmund White, Helen Vendler—it turned out to be impossible to discuss their work without at least mentioning his. And it is worth pointing out that this was post-edits. Often, at least in recent years, Ashbery’s influence or example seemed too obvious to discuss, so his name ended up on the cutting-room floor.
Here, in no particular order, are some Ashbery sightings from the Writers at Work interviews: