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The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Roffman opens a welcoming doorway into this poet’s life and work with her engaging, in-depth biography of Ashbery’s early life...She is able to provide a remarkable quantity of detail―not merely the external facts, but also the internal thoughts and struggles of the artist as a young man...With its sharp, informed and unsentimental insight into both the man and his work, The Songs We Know Best is an invaluable biography of a masterful artist." ―Robert Weibezahl, BookPage
"The Songs We Know Best offers clues that help to 'stretch poetry rather than level it', to borrow again from Ashbery. It is fascinating for the stories it uncovers and the material it presents." ―Times Literary Supplement
"Rigorously intimate...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." ―Booklist
"This incisive, groundbreaking portrait of the enigmatic and influential poet will be indispensable to all future biographical work." ―Kirkus, starred review
"Concise and excellent...Roffman, a sensitive reader of Ashbery’s poetry, explores the roots of Some Trees and much of his subsequent work...The Songs We Know Best hits a high note when Ashbery moves to New York City in 1949 and finally finds his seat at the moveable feast of art, poetry, love, and friendship...Stick with Roffman as she puts the finishing touches on her portrait of the poet." ―4Columns
"By far the most thorough and reliable account of a formative period in the biography of one of our greatest and most mysterious writers...The Songs We Know Best lets us see, clearer than ever before, how the poet’s mind works, and how it developed." ―The New Republic
"Readers of Ashbery's work will enjoy Roffman's deep insight into the poet." ―Library Journal
"With immaculate detail and eloquence...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...An educational, comforting, inspiring book that will satisfy Ashbery’s curious fans." ―Publisher's Weekly
About the Author
Karin Roffman has taught literature at Yale, West Point, and Bard, and is the author of From the Modernist Annex. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
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The poems he wrote when he was 14 are not less sophisticated than those mature pieces of Bob Dylan,latest Nobel Prize winner for literature.Consider this:
Now, in the windy sunset-glow
The leafless maple trees join hands
To dance demented sarabands
And weave strange patterns on the snow.
Surprising facts about his loyalty, his attention to culture as expressed in his grandfather's household, and his commitment to writing
from the earliest years emerge here without vanity or argument. Roffman manages a measured tone most everywhere. I found
the book very absorbing--as an old friend of Ashbery's and former colleague.