Writer’s Quote Wednesday // John Ashbery

Hello dear readers and welcome to the middle of the week. If you are feeling a little run down, if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. My contribution for the week is from the American poet John Ashbery.


John Lawrence Ashbery was born on July 28, 1927, in Rochester, NY. He has published more than twenty volumes of poetry and won nearly every major American award for poetry, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his collection Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.

Renowned for its postmodern complexity and opacity, Ashbery’s work still proves controversial. Ashbery has stated that he wishes his work to be accessible to as many people as possible, and not to be a private dialogue with himself. At the same time, he once joked that some critics still view him as “a harebrained, homegrown surrealist whose poetry defies even the rules and logic of Surrealism.”

Langdon Hammer, chairman of the English Department at Yale University, wrote in 2008, “No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery” and “No American poet has had a larger, more diverse vocabulary, not Whitman, not Pound.” Stephen Burt, a poet and Harvard professor of English, has compared Ashbery to T. S. Eliot, calling Ashbery “the last figure whom half the English-language poets alive thought a great model, and the other half thought incomprehensible”.

His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He lives in New York, with his partner, David Kermani, and since 1990, he has been the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard.

“It’s important to try to write when you are in the wrong mood or the weather is wrong.”

// John Ashbery, The Art of Poetry No. 33

This isn’t new advice. Every writer knows they should be writing every day, they should be working those writing muscles and sitting at the ready in case inspiration should come looking for you. What they don’t tell you is that as much as you love to write, and as much as you long to share your stories with the world, writing hurts. Writing is hard work and gives you all sorts of unpleasant feelings about yourself, mainly the feeling that you are a terrible writer.

Because writing is so hard you must work up the energy and the courage to do it and most days you will not have the strength to cope with such blows to your ego. Maybe it isn’t so dramatic as all that, not all the time anyway, but it is hard work and not always fun while you are doing it.

Most days it feels like a chore. Some days you are in the mood to clean your house, some days you are only doing it because you have to. There are things you’d rather be doing but you know if you don’t you will be mad it didn’t get done. You do it anyway because if you don’t things will only be worse the next time.

And just like your chores, when it is part of a daily routine, when you have developed an efficient way of moving through the work, then it starts to feel good to get it done a little more often than it used to. For the days when your mood is all twisted up and the clouds turn dark and gloomy, write anyway because it is what writer’s do and one day all the bad feelings and bad weather will mean something.

P.S. It was nice to read in the interview that Ashberry admits to procrastinating just like everyone else, maybe even more. I beat myself up for not writing nearly as much as I should but this guy has won all the awards and still does anything else but write when he should be. That gives me hope.


11 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // John Ashbery”

    1. Right! Hell when I’m in the wrong mood trying to write seems to only compound it! But I’ll be worse off of I don’t do it anyway, sigh. Thanks for stopping by :)


  1. What a perfect quote. I am tired this week. It has been so busy. I have two whole days set aside to write about my fairies. I really want to get this book done. Your quote gives me HOPE! LOL! Well done, Lisa. Have a great week! <3


    1. Thank you so much Colleen! I’m so glad to give you a bit of hope. Writing about fairies sounds fun :)

      I hope you don’t mind if I keep doing these posts the way I always have. I saw that you had changed things up a bit. Maybe I’ll give the new way a chance too but for now I kinda like it this way :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ashberry’s poem, Into the Dusk Charged Air (1) comes to mind. That is his poem that is quite simply a list of rivers, each described by one characteristic. It’s an admirably long list of rivers but the characteristics don’t necessarily tie together in unity or contrast. Ashberry presumes that the reader will perhaps imagine each river going “into the dusk”, there’s no other reference to time of day except for the title. I do like his descriptors but am dismayed at the lack of structure. If the rivers are indeed at dusk, why doesn’t the poem follow the sunset? It jumps back and forth and from continent to continent unlike any dusk ever. Dusk is local, not global. These trite criticisms are all to say that writing to write is a potent tool in our set of skills but to publish just because one wrote is quite another scenario. :)
    PS thanks for the great post. It’s made me thoughtful.
    1. http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/into-the-dusk-charged-air/


    1. Interesting! Yes writing whatever pops into your head is a good habit but I can see that not all of it is good enough, or even needs to be shared. Quality over quantity I suppose…I will be thinking on that one a little more, thank you :)

      P.S. And I am going to have to read that poem!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Very timely post. I just picked up my novel in progress after leaving it untouched for months. I’ve been writing poetry like a mad man, but the process of writing my story just takes so much out of me sometimes, you start to question if this is something if you like intrinsically, or if there’s some weird unhealthy motivation behind it. Sometimes it takes a lot to get 800 words. Last night I spit out 4000 and didn’t want to stop. The factors that influence how much you want to write can be so unpredictable that sometimes it feels easier to take a break, until a break turns to a quit. It’s always refreshing to see fellow procrastinators and tired writers. Confirms that you’re not crazy. Or at the very least, you are, and you have a family of crazies out there fighting the same good ol fight.


    1. Very timely indeed! It is very strange to have this drive to do something and yet, while doing it it can make you feel so crappy. After writing I always feel good. I get at least a few moments of feeling proud before the self doubt kicks in again lol

      Good luck to you on your novel!

      Liked by 1 person

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