John Ashbery, Pulitzer-Winning American Poet, Dies at 90

He collaborated with avant-garde filmmaker Guy Maddin on 2015’s “The Forbidden Room”

john ashbery

John Ashbery, the acclaimed Pulitzer-winning American poet who challenged readers with musical verses that often defied easy understanding, died Sunday at age 90. His husband, David Kermani, confirmed the news to the Associated Press.

A native of Rochester, New York, Ashbery became the first living poet honored with a solo book by the Library of America.

His 1975 collection, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” scored a hat-trick in literary circles, winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

But in poems like “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” — a 400-plus-line meditation on a painting by the Renaissance artist Parmigianino — he often reveled in his word arrangements in a way that could confound attempts to pin down his intentions.

In a 2008 interview with the Associated Press, Ashbery joked that if his name were to become a verb the definition would be “to confuse the hell out of people.”

In many ways, he approached poetry in the way that his artistic contemporaries approached painting — with a kind of versifying enthusiasm for abstract expressionism and pop art.

But he was drawn to write about subjects ranging from movies (“They Knew What They Wanted”) to cartoons (“Daffy Duck in Hollywood”) to President Warren G. Harding (“Qualm”).

The cinema remained a lifelong passion, and he collaborated with the Canadian avant-garde director Guy Maddin on several projects, including the 2015 film “The Forbidden Room.”