I. John Ashbery (1927 – 2017)
John Ashbery is one of the most decorated poets in American history. He has won “nearly every major American award for poetry” including a Pulitzer and a National Humanities Medal which he received personally from President Barack Obama. He has been compared to Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot and labeled one of the most influential American Poets of his time.
Over the course of his career, he has published nearly 30 books of poetry and was able to achieve so much with one of the most relaxed writing routines I’ve ever heard of.
II. His Relaxed Writing Routine
In a 2015 Interview with the Huffington Post, here is how Ashbery described his process:
“My writing process consists of sitting around my apartment in the afternoon, wondering if it’s gotten too late to do any writing. Around 4 or 5 I make myself a cup of tea, which I sip while reading poetry. After a while, I either start to write or call it quits for the day. Usually, I listen to some contemporary classical music while this is going on. I usually do it several times a month (say 10?) if other things don’t intervene.”
In another interview, he said that these sessions are usually only an hour or two long. That brings his total writing time for the month to somewhere between 10 and 20 hours. 20 hours of total writing for the month!
III. Don’t take it all too seriously
In our modern culture, we seem to celebrate long working hours and intense schedules. The writers and artists that maintain these schedules speak of the tortuous process with pride. To them and many others sacrificing most of the hours of their day to their work proves that they are worthy of their status, but we could argue that this is just another form of pretension.
John Ashbery’s process demonstrates a non-pretentious approach to poetry that puts more emphasis on living a full life than writing about one.
In an interview with NPR Ashbery said that he wants his work to be accessible to as many people as possible. Link
If he were to chain himself to his desk his work would become nothing but a private dialogue with himself. By spending more time living and less time writing, he is able to relate to more people in the world. His approach is human.