Cover image for Girls on the run : a poem
Girls on the run : a poem
Ashbery, John, 1927-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
55 pages ; 24 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3501.S475 G57 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3501.S475 G57 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Girls on the Run is a poem loosely based on the works of the "outsider" artist Henry Darger (1892-1972), a recluse who toiled for decades at an enormous illustrated novel about the adventures of a plucky band of little girls. The Vivians are threatened by human tormentors, supernatural demons, and cataclysmic storms; their calmer moments are passed in Edenic landscapes. Darger traced the figures from comic strips, coloring books, and other ephemeral sources, filling in the backgrounds with luscious watercolor. John Ashbery's Girls on the Run creates a similar childlike world of dreamy landscapes, lurking terror, and veiled eroticism. Its fractured narrative mode almost (but never quite) coalesces into a surrealist adventure story for juvenile adults.

Author Notes

John Ashbery was born on July 28, 1927 in Rochester, New York. He received a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and a master's degree in English from Columbia University. After graduating, he wrote advertising copy for Oxford University Press and McGraw-Hill.

In 1955, he won the Yale Younger Poets prize for his first collection, Some Trees. While on a Fulbright scholarship to Paris, he began writing art criticism and editing small journals. After about a decade in France, he returned to New York, where he became executive editor of ARTnews and continued to work as an arts journalist. After ARTnews was sold in 1972, he taught and wrote art criticism.

He wrote several collections of poetry including Houseboat Days, Flow Chart, And the Stars Were Shining, and Turandot and Other Poems. He received a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976 for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. He also received the Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize for Poetry in 1992, the Ambassador Book Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2011. In 1993, the French government made him a Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He also translated the poems of Pierre Martory. He died on September 3, 2017 at the age of 90.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For many years Ashbery was an art critic as well as a poet, and he has always sought to wed the visual with the verbal, a quest that led to this book-length poem inspired by the strange creations of "outsider" artist Henry Darger (1872-1972). A recluse with a history of mental illness and an obsession with little girls, Darger filled his Chicago apartment with his life work, a 19,000-page illustrated epic titled "The Story of the Vivian Girls in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal." Ashbery has captured the peculiar energy of Darger's disturbing creation, conjuring an imagined world in which the cloying vies with the menacing, the prosaic with the mythic. This is a virtuoso interpretative performance, but it also stands as a wistful dramatization of how life goes on during war and mayhem, that within any given moment things shift from dark to light, feral to civilized, good to evil as we dash about at the mercy of powers we can only attempt to fathom. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0374162700Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

This beautiful long poem presents Ashbery at his most contradictory: it is both his most Homeric and "narrative" long poem, yet at the same time his most joissant, collage-based work in years. It borrows from the imagery of Henry Darger (1892-1972), an American "outsider" artist who devoted decades to a mammoth, illustrated novel about the plight of the fictional "Vivian" girls. Ashbery's adaptation follows the adventures of dozens of characters with names like Pliable, Bunny, Mr. McPlaster, Uncle Margaret, and FredÄrecalling "Farm Implements and Rutabegas in Landscape," Ashbery's talismanic Popeye riff from the '70s. The sentences are often short, somewhat "off" ("Trevor his dog came, half jumping."), and they set up deeply bizarre narrative situations: "Hold it, I have an idea, Fred groaned. Now some of you, five at least, must go over in that little shack./ I'll follow with the tidal waves, and see what happens next." Classic Surrealism erupts frequently in well-timed bursts: "The tame suburban landscape excited him./ He had met his match./ Dimples replaced the mollusk with shoe-therapy." Elsewhere, Ashbery jibes obliquely at the epic tradition, laconically laying down the blandest of similes with pseudo-stentorian bluster, while at other moments the meditative, universal Ashberian persona breaks through, with apt sophistication and terrible humanist relevance: "The oblique flute sounded its note of resin./ In time, he said, we all go under the fluted covers/ of this great world, with its spiral dissonances,/ and then we can see, on the other side,/ what the rascals are up to." More memory than dreamÄthe never-was memory of constant companionship, of "fun," of names that resonate with mystery (even "Fred")Äthe poem recalls a land that was never boring and whose physical environment, while somewhat foreboding, was as safe as the womb and as colorful as Oz. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Inspired by the work of Henry Dargeran obscure illustrator who spent decades writing a juvenile adventure novel in which young heroines, the Vivians, face a multitude of pulp dangersAshberys 20th work of poetry is a playful romp. A large cast of childrens book charactersTidbit, Rags the Dog, Mr. McPlastertalk around, meditate through, and abruptly disappear from what is essentially a sustained sequence of colorful non sequiturs artfully connected by Ashberys affable syntax, as in this busy passage: Under frozen mounds of yak butter the graffiti have their day, and are elaborate/ some say. Nobody wants to go there. Yes, she said, we will swim/ there if necessary. The arroz con pollo can take us/ and do with us what we will. And so on in the fractured spirit of Lewis Carroll, recalling just how surreal our childhood worldsthe ones we invented with the help of fictionreally were. But while Ashbery can make us forget how serious we are while planting unexpected land mines of metaphysical pizzazz within the daffiness, his hectic wordplay eventually invites tedium.Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.