A note on the text


According to Mark Ford,1 Ashbery began work on “The Skaters” sometime in 1963. Although it was published only in 1966, it seems that, as early as the summer of 1964, the poem was close to its final state (cf. infra: About the sound recording)


First published in Ashbery's fifth collection, Rivers and Mountains (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966 (pp. 34-63)) it was reprinted in the 1967 Selected Poems (London: Jonathan Cape (pp. 32-62)), in The Mooring of Starting Out, a collection of Ashbery's first five books (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco, 1997 (pp. 194-223)) and in the 2008 Collected Poems 1956-1987 (New York: Library of America (pp. 147-178)).

Excerpts of the poem appeared in the 1985 and 1987 Selected Poems (respectively, New York: Viking (pp. 71-79) and London: Paladin (pp. 75-83))

Our text

Our edition is based on the 1966 text. It diverges from it by one correction only: the break between stanzas 59 and 60 occurs between lines 327 and 328 (“The question sinks into // That mazy business / About writing [. . .]”) and not between lines 328 and 329 (“The question sinks into / That mazy business // About writing [. . .]”). This emendation is in keeping with both typescripts (cf. TS1, here and TS2, here) and was also adopted by Mark Ford for the LOA Collected Poems.


A complete Swedish translation was made by Göran Printz-Påhlson (“Skridskoåkarna,” in: Självporträtt i en konvex spegel, Stockholm: Bonniers, 1983 (pp. 31-66)).

Partial translations exist in Polish (“Łyżwiarze (fragment),” translated by Piotr Sommer, in: Literatura na świecie, Warsaw, 1986), in Spanish (“[De] ‘Los patinadores,’” translated by David Huerta and Marcelo Uribe, in: Una antología de la poesía norteamericana desde 1950, Mexico, 1992) and “[De] ‘Los patinadores,’” translated by Martín Rodríguez-Gaona, in: Pirografía, Madrid, 2003), in French (“Extrait des ‘Patineurs’”, translated by Antoine Cazé, in: Walt Whitman hom(m)age 2005 / 1855, New York / Nantes: Turtle Point Press / Éditions Joca Seria, 2005) and in Russian (“The Skaters,” Part IV, translated by Arkady Dragomoshchenko et al., in: Inostrannaya Literatura, 2006).

A few critical studies

Kermani, David: John Ashbery: a comprehensive bibliography, including his art criticism, and with selected notes from unpublished materials, New York: Garland Publishing, 1976.

Shapiro, David: John Ashbery, an introduction to the poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Milesi, Laurent: “Figuring out Ashbery: ‘The Skaters’.” Revue française d'études américaines, 67: La poésie américaine: constructions lyriques, 1996.

McHale, Brian: “How (Not) to Read Postmodernist Long Poems: The Case of Ashbery's ‘The Skaters’.” Poetics Today, 21-3, 2000.

Ashbery, John: John Ashbery in conversation with Mark Ford. London : Between the Lines, 2003.

Bernstein, Charles: “The Meandering Yangtze. Rivers and Mountains (1966)”. Conjunctions, 49, Fall 2007.

About the sound recording

John Ashbery's only available reading of the poem was recorded, according to the Pennsound Ashbery page, on August 23rd, 1964, in Washington Square Art Gallery, New York City. It appears to be based on an intermediary corrected state of TS2 (cf.: “the changing air / Bring each to its close” (l. 99-100, here); “my modest schmerzen” (l. 151, here); etc.), rather than the published text.

A note on the note

We are highly indebted to the Ashbery Resource Center as well as David Kermani's work for these bibliographical data.

1 "Chronology," in John Ashbery: Collected Poems 1956-1987, p. 998.