Pierre Martory was born in Bayonne, France (1920). He grew up in Morocco and joined North Africa’s Free French Army during World War II. He published the novel Phébus ou le beau mariage with Denoël (1953) and worked as drama and music critic for Paris-Match for over twenty years. In March 1956, Martory met John Ashbery, then on a Fulbright in Paris, where they lived together nine years. In 1962, Ashbery dedicated The Tennis Court Oath to Martory. In the seventies, Martory collaborated with the artist Francis Wishart on a volume of text and etchings entitled Le Père-Lachaise. In 1990, Ashbery translated Martory’s first poetry collection, Every Question but One (Intuflo Editions–Groundwater), and in 1994 Sheep Meadow Press published Martory’s first full-length volume of poetry, The Landscape Is behind the Door. A collection of poems in French, Veilleur de jours (Sheep Meadow Press–Alyscamps Press), appeared in 1997. Martory died in Paris on October 5, 1998. Most recently, Artery Editions in England published Oh, lac / Oh, Lake, a bilingual edition of twenty Martory poems, translated by Ashbery, with artwork by Wishart.
After I began translating Pierre Martory, that is, after I began to realize that his marvelous poetry would likely remain unknown unless I translated it and brought it to the attention of American readers, I have begun to find echoes of his work in mine. His dreams, his pessimistic résumés of childhood that are suddenly lanced by a joke, his surreal loves, his strangely lit landscapes with their inquisitive birds and disquieting flora, have been fertile influences for me, though I hope I haven’t stolen anything—well, better to steal than borrow, as Eliot more or less said. All of which may be a way of saying that there is no very easy way to describe Martory’s poetry. It is sui generis and it deserves to be read. And reread.
John Ashbery has published more than twenty collections of poetry, beginning in 1953 with Turandot and Other Poems. In 1956, Some Trees was selected by W. H. Auden for the Yale Younger Poets Series. In 1976, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the Pulitzer, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest book of poems is A Worldly Country (Ecco–HarperCollins, 2007). His art writings are collected in Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles 1957–1987 (Knopf, 1989; Harvard University Press, 1991). His literary essays appear in the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, Other Traditions (Harvard University Press, 2000), and in Selected Prose (University of Michigan Press 2004; Carcanet Press, 2004). Widely honored, he is the recipient of the Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, all given for lifetime achievement. His work has been translated into more than twenty languages. He is Charles P. Stevenson, Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College.
Photo of Pierre Martory and John Ashbery © 1994, 2008 by John Ashbery