Something Close to Music: Late Art Writings, Poems, and Playlists

By John Ashbery. Introduction by Mónica de la Torre. Selections and playlists by Jeffrey Lependorf

An intimate and unique collection of the work of John Ashbery—a prolific poet and art critic—pairing poetry and art writings with playlists of music from his personal library.

 This book places poetry by Ashbery, gathered from his later collections, in conversation with a selection of contemporaneous art writing. In addition, as Ashbery loved music and listened to it while writing, the “playlists” here present samplings of music from these same years, culled from his own library of recordings. 

Ashbery’s poetry is frequently described as ekphrastic, though, rather than writing a poem “based on” or “inspired” by the content of an artwork or piece of music, he engages with how the experience of seeing it and the artistic strategies employed offer ways of thinking about it and through it. Many observations from Ashbery’s art writing also provide keys to how we might read his poetry. Many recordings he listened to feature contemporary classical works that emphasize complex textures, disparate sounds, and disjunct phrases—qualities which are mimicked in his poetry.

In exploring this ekphrastic book project, the reader is invited to discover how, for Ashbery, these three forms might illuminate and inform one another. In Mónica de la Torre’s introduction, she explores the connection between the three muses of music, art, and poetry, and the ekphrastic experience of reading Ashbery.

Click here for a recording of a virtual discussion with 192 Books. 



Publisher: David Zwirner Books

Artists: ekphrasis

Contributors: John Ashbery, Mónica de la Torre, Jeffrey Lependorf

Designer: Mike Dyer, Remake

Printer: VeronaLibri, Verona

Publication Date: 2022

Binding: Softcover

Dimensions: 4.25 × 7 in | 10.8 × 17.8 cm

Pages: 184

ISBN: 9781644230701

Retail: $15 | $20 CAN | £10.95

Status: Available


Dedicated to publishing rare, out-of-print, and newly commissioned texts as accessible paperback volumes the ekphrasis series is part of David Zwirner Books’s ongoing effort to publish new and surprising pieces of writing on visual culture.

read more

John Ashbery

John Ashbery (1927–2017) was born in Rochester, New York. He was the author of more than twenty-five books of poetry, including Commotion of the Birds, Breezeway, Quick Question, Planisphere, Notes from the Air, which was awarded the 2008 International Griffin Poetry Prize, A Worldly Country, Where Shall I Wander, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the National Book Award, and Some Trees, which was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1955. The winner of many other prizes and awards both nationally and internationally, he received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation in 2011 and a National Humanities Medal, presented by President Barack Obama at the White House, in 2012. 

Mónica de la Torre

Mónica de la Torre is a poet and essayist. Her books include Repetition Nineteen (2020) and The Happy End/All Welcome (2017), a riff on Martin Kippenberger’s 1994 art installation The Happy End of Franz Kafka’s “Amerika, itself a riff on Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika. Born and raised in Mexico City, she is also the author of several collections in Spanish, including the image text volume Taller de Taquimecanografía (2011), an exquisite corpse composed with the eponymous women’s art collective she helped form. Recent writing appears in Photostats: Felix Gonzalez-Torres (2020) and Lucy Raven’s Dia Chelsea publication (2021). She coedited the anthology Women in Concrete Poetry: 1959–1979 (2020) and teaches at Brooklyn College. 

Jeffrey Lependorf

Jeffrey Lependorf is a musician, performer, and visual artist. He has performed and his music has been performed around the globe—a recording of his “Night Pond” for solo shakuhachi was launched into space on the Atlantis shuttle and remained for a year aboard the Mir space station. His Masterpiece of Music course is available through He has received numerous grants and awards and his creative work has appeared in A Public Space, jubilat, Pen America, and elsewhere. A nationally recognized nonprofit arts leader, he serves currently as the executive director of The Flow Chart Foundation, which opens new possibilities by exploring poetry and the interrelationships of various art forms as guided by the legacy of John Ashbery.