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Mitch Sisskind
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They called him the old grumpus wumpus But why? Why? Can you please explain that To me? Would you be so kind? Did I miss Something? I must have missed something Because for the life of me I can’t understand Why they called him the old grumpus wumpus. What got into them? What purpose could it Possibly serve? Is there some ulterior motive? Could you please take a moment out of your Busy schedule to enlighten me about this? Doesn’t it seem awfully mysterious to you? Everything was fine and then a minute later They called him the old gumpus wumpus. Oh, for Christ’s sake! Jesus Christ almighty! https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/12/opinion/vs-naipaul-my-wonderful-cruel-friend.html Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Liszt You’re buying a can of tuna fish As you’ve done so many times Over the years but this is today, This is the exact can of tuna fish You’re buying now, it’s different From all other cans on the shelf, This is the Chicken of the Sea Light Chunk tuna fish in water You’re buying at this moment And you’re thinking of Liszt and Lina Schmalhusen as you buy it, The name of Lina Schmalhusen Echoing in your mind, ricocheting Around in your brain as you buy this tuna fish -- Lina Schmalhusen, Lina Schmalhusen -- and her rivalry With Dori Petersen, both of them Students in Liszt’s master classes For piano performance and the Rivalry getting worse and worse Until Liszt himself had to compose A stern letter to Dori Petersen and This is the precise can of tuna fish You buy on this day and you take it Home in your car in a paper bag. You’re making a tuna melt as you have Often done in your life but never this one That you’re making at this exact moment In this kitchen with this can of tuna fish That you put in the sink and on the counter Beside the sink you place a bowl, a spoon, A spatula, a knife, a can opener, a lemon, A bottle of mayonnaise, a white onion, A pack of pre-sliced cheddar cheese, And two pieces of rye bread. Meanwhile Liszt is still on your mind -- Liszt, Liszt – And Lina Schmalhusen’s rivalry with Dori Petersen in 1883 when Liszt was Drinking absinthe and Achille Colonello, His manservant was powerless to stop him. You slice off a section of the onion and You dice it on a plastic cutting board, And you use the knife to sweep it off The board into the bowl as you return Your attention to the can of tuna fish In the sink and then you open the can With the can opener and then, without Removing the lid, you press down On the lid with your thumbs to drain Water from the opened can of tuna fish. Has almost all of the water been drained From the can of tuna fish in the sink? You lift the top of the can for a moment And if too much water seems to remain You replace the top and -- with the can Still in the sink -- you press down again Even harder than before, after which You remove the top, discard it, and With the knife as your tool you transfer The tuna to the bowl where the onion is. Liszt suspended Dori Petersen from His master classes with that letter Stating that ‘this whole intrigue was ‘Initiated by you in a mean-spirited way.’ But then Lina Schmalhusen was caught Shoplifting so that Liszt, after assuring Himself of her innocence, felt obligated While the matter proceeded to trial To engage the judge and convince him To drop the charges. Now you place A... Continue reading
Posted Aug 9, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
When David Shapiro blamed my ping-pong Victory on the distractions of what in a fit Of pique he called my flapping ostrich Gesticulations I ventured to remonstrate That in many of my life’s activities or even In most of them I was like a flapping ostrich, “And David,” I continued, “don’t expect me “To bury my head in the sand.” Oh reader, Do you recognize my irresistible reflex for The comical riposte where the more droll Cosmopolitan rejoinder of which John was Such a past master might be something I should strive to develop? On the island Of Hydra Leonard Cohen once said to me, “Sing your poems instead of reading them, “You will have a new career.” I tried but Suppressing my laughter proved impossible Causing Leonard in a fit of pique to exclaim, “Take it seriously, Kenneth!” and I replied, “How can I take it seriously when I can’t sing?” https://newyorkschoolpoets.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/leonard-cohen-1934-2016-kenneth-koch-and-the-island-of-hydra/ Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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At first he was Little J.A. in a Prospect of Flowers But he kept on doing it and by the end he was in The Library of America – two volumes, mind you. “Here a scarf flies, there an excited call is heard,” That’s his best line I believe, but “Attention, shoppers” Is also wonderful and there are so many good ones. Some might say that “mild effects are the result” Sums up his oeuvre but I certainly don’t agree And if I ever said that it was just to get his goat As the shadows lengthened and we were wondering If man is horrible, for instance, as he wrote in “These Lacustrine Cities.” Once I recalled to him His recommendation of years past that I read The poetry of Muriel Rukeyser and he replied, “Are you sure it was me?” with that sly grin and The hint of insinuation like old wine that has Almost turned to water except there’s something Still going on there, but what? Or is it just you? Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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There was a day I mused to the class How making love with Queen Elizabeth Would be interesting – surely at Columbia I was the only professor who thusly mused And I often mused, as when I mused how Poets would be interested in the word ashtray But prose writers would be interested in all The different people who used the ashtray Or when I mused on Friday, February 7, 1964, As the Beatles first arrived on these shores That it would be interesting to be famous like The Beatles and meet beautiful Brit women And one of the students said, “Elizabeth again?” So I laughed and mused, “God save the queen.” Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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What did you think was going happen, anyway? Don’t say you were never warned! Old Herrick’s “Live here blitheful while ye may” gets the message Across, or how about this one: “The worms crawl in, "The worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on "Your snout.” It’s not like having tenure at Columbia, Where it’s almost impossible to get rid of you. In fact, You’ll get rid of yourself, the only question is when. That grumpus-wumpus Philip Larkin put it this way: “Most things never happen, this one will.” Well, okay, You get it. Uncle! Call off the dogs! “Though he slay me, "Yet I will honor him,” spake Job in the Book of Job So let’s go to the Cedar Bar. Except that’s closed. What about Max’s Kansas City? The West End? Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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"It's very difficult to criticize my French, since I speak perfectly." -- Kenneth Koch, in conversation It’s very difficult for me to write this poem After I’ve been dead for eighteen years Or maybe even longer depending on when You’re reading it but it’s very difficult For me to know exactly when that might be Since keeping track of time is very difficult For the dead with one day much like another but Not writing this poem would also be very difficult Because I started writing poems at a young age And it’s one of the things I got used to without Ever getting completely used to it like making love Is something else I never exactly got used to Since it’s very difficult to make love perfectly Like I could speak French perfectly. It’s very difficult to write about my future at this point Since I don’t have one but I can draw inspiration From John’s lines in Civilization and Its Discontents, “I could only gaze into the distance at my life like “A saint’s with each day distinct” and in fact each day Is so distinct that even long-forgotten remarks Flit into one’s consciousness like the randomness Of a hummingbird’s flight across a table set for A charming breakfast in the backyard of the parents Of a beautiful and brilliant girl you want to marry Despite a rather obvious age differential and suddenly you Hear yourself saying, “Rubens married Helene Fourment “When she was just sixteen and they even had five children.” Wait a minute, where was I? You see, it’s very difficult to manage a train of thought when The tracking mechanisms of time and space are Removed but I was about to say that slapdash reminiscences Now crop up like bumblebees not entirely unwelcome But somewhat alarming all the same and in particular I had In mind the first year I taught writing at Columbia when Apropos of who knows what I observed to the startled class, “When you’re twenty you think you will never die but when “You’re forty you know you will.” Funilly enough (funnily enough!) I was only thirty-nine so I was kind of looking into the future Except not like when you meet a beautiful girl and you know you Will make love with her without knowing exactly when But more like you’re speaking French with her and she speaks Perfectly and then she uses a word you’ve still got to learn. Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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If I could push a button and write A new Kenneth Koch poem I would push a button and write That I could push a button so We are hitchhiking again near Vallauris and the sky is cloudy But who cares since we’re young And plain silly and when rain falls We keep on skylarking as they say In the army until we knock it off As they also say in the army and We make love and write poems And if we get old I push the button Again a hundred thousand times. Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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At Area and at Limelight, two silly Dance clubs of the bygone era, She threw up, and at Café des Artistes, The fine restaurant on 67th Street, Sometimes she threw up there as well. Once on the subway, a midnight train I now recall, she threw up but we Had the whole car to ourselves, Fortunately. It was quite late and She had mostly the dry heaves. How different was that time on the Ferry when she so copiously threw up That onlookers’ stunned silence Gave way to spontaneous applause Which, as she took a bow, intensified. Nothing affirmed her beauty like Her vomiting – the sunlight yellows And the deep forest greens of it, Calling to mind at once the colors Of Lombardi’s Green Bay teams And Rimbaud’s astonishing line, 'Mon triste cœur bave à la poupe.' Continue reading
Posted Jan 25, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Trapped on a long drive with an atheist I closed my eyes and sought refuge in My earliest erotic fantasies of capture By an Apache warrior maiden, cruel At first but then merely unpredictable. As the atheist droned on the scent of Formaldehyde characteristic of his Persuasion suffused the vehicle and Obligated me to explain this aroma To the warrior maiden who fiercely Demanded ‘What’s that awful smell?’ ‘Formaldehyde,’ I answered and With a shrill war-whoop she bared Her breasts and pounced on me. Continue reading
Posted Nov 15, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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My friend died and a few days later In a dream called me on my cell; ‘Hey how are you doing?’ he said. ‘I can’t complain,’ was my reply, ‘And you? How is it being dead?’ A brief silence and he declared, ‘Nobody has to do it, just use ‘Gorilla Glue, man.’ I took this in And asked. ‘But use Gorilla Glue For what, old friend? The sundry ‘Household tasks?’ His reply had Some heat: ‘Use Gorilla Glue, bro, ‘If you know what’s good for you! ‘Gorilla Glue!’ And he was gone. Continue reading
Posted Nov 13, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Black hour of your constellation In February, war still on, night Of terrifying Outer Drive toward University of Chicago environs. It could not have been easy. I condemn you to death by drowning! Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Hello, I am immune to misfortune. Virtue is sufficient for my happiness. Passion is not my purview nor is Crying over spilled milk or laughing Like a horse my habitude. I guess You’d call me a stoic and I admit That the Enchiridion by Epictetus Is one of my all-time favorite books. So picture me in your mind’s eye. Do you see an old man struggling Up a hill or a beautiful young girl Brushing her hair? Well, whatever You see is a function your own Hangups, not mine or anyone else’s. Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
The seeming impossibility of the Great Pyramid Engendered in him such contempt for people That he chose isolation lest he start screaming How petty and foolish were their vainglorious Accomplishments compared to even a single Miraculous fact about the Great Pyramid. Every inch of his shitty room was choked with Handwritten manuscripts, drawings, website Images downloaded over the years, and books On aspects of Egyptology. To make ends meet He worked as a gofer in a real estate law firm Filing eviction papers in the city hall’s stale air While distancing himself from that wage slavery With thoughts of the Great Pyramid’s mysteries. Then one day a young paralegal came to work At the firm. Observing her at the copying machine He was so flabbergasted by her perfect proportions And symmetries that a vast new area of research Opened for him that night in which he learned how Many of the ancient world’s first investigations of Ratio and design were attempts to identify the Ideal proportions of feminine beauty. Consequently The bust of Queen Nefertiti created by the sculptor Thutmose in approximately 1350 BC became his New infatuation whereby he conceived of Nefertiti As an anthropomorphic culmination of principles Materialized centuries earlier in the Great Pyramid. There came a day, again at the copying machine, When he sought to explain his recondite investigations To the young paralegal: how the secrets of insight and Achievement by the ancients lay first in empirically Deriving laws of womanly allure, then expressing Those discoveries in the Great Pyramid and finally Rendering them in flesh and blood so to speak as the Bust of Nefertiti. ‘The proof of the pudding,’ he said Excitedly, desperately, with everything riding on this, “The proof of the pudding,” he gasped as he shot her A raised-eyebrow glance connoting some vision of An impossible intimacy, “The proof of the pudding is In what the name Nefertiti literally means -- which is -- Which is – um – um -- the beautiful one has arrived!” Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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One class of problems – Math people will attest to this – can be clearly Articulated whereupon It only remains for an Answer to be found Or never to be found But finding the answer Is of small significance And even of sad banality Relative to the problem’s Articulated clarity which Inherently demotes it to A purgatory of minor interest. Another class of problem Ghostly and insinuating Can’t be rendered in words Or symbols but you definitely Know it’s there, you feel it As something very wrong With you but what? What? You try to find words for it Or to create a mental image For this problem in intimate Conversations or before sleep And if it occurs to you that You might not awaken -- Or is that the problem at last? Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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As feminine beauty such as that Of Annabella Sciorra, for instance, In the 1990s irrefutably testifies to Celestial virtue, does contrarywise Harvey Weinstein’s graying flesh Express nature’s malevolent side, So that Harvey abusively ejaculating On Annabella’s leg allegorizes the Paradoxical dualism of light and dark, Love and hate, or for that matter Life and death which, mysterious As they are, seem to be how it is? I haven’t the answer but I do suspect His masturbation has some meaning.. Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I hope this will be a book of 500 pages
I've got one: When I was five or six I had a subscription to "Jack and Jill" magazine. I especially loved the monthly stories about Baba Yaga the Russian witch. I begged my parents to take me to Russia. Finally they agreed. This was in Chicago. One Saturday we went to the station and boarded a train. I remember being in the dining car, excited to be on the way to Russia. Finally we arrived. I jumped off the train and started running down the platform. Then I saw a sign. It said "Milwaukee." I went to my father and told him, "The sign says Milwaukee." He nodded. "That's right. Milwaukee, Russia." I was again overjoyed.
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This is the female form. --Whitman. Poking around the secessionist corpses After a sharp engagement one of the boys Whistled and said, ‘What have we here?’ A fine-looking dead rebel lass it was whose Dishevelment teased out such crudity In the boys that our captain, a puffed-up College man, said, ‘This coarse ridicule ‘Of the female form and, what’s more, ‘Indifference to the tragedy of the girl’s ‘Death I hope is consequence of the war ‘And not some deep-seated inherent flaw ‘In your natures like half-wittedness or ‘Whatever shamefully cruel propensity. ‘Inter her with full ceremonial rites!’ Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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After a very bad summer, Hollywood is looking to IT for a bailout. IT might work, we'll see. IT is a horror movie version of Steven Spielberg-style romanticism: we meet children -- pre-pubescent children -- who are naturally good and even wise. These dear beings are confronted by various "monsters," including real monsters, older bully adolescents, or adults, all of whom have been transformed by something (time + sex) into malevolent grotesques. IT can be understood as a commercialized and creatively compromised depiction of tweens painfully starting to engage what Michel Leiris in his powerful book "Manhood" describes as the brutal hell of adult sexuality. This is by no means a new story line. It's an extremely well-trod path. What's less well-trod -- and what IT called to mind for me -- is what new IT must be faced when we come out the other end of Leiris's sexual inferno. Entering that "hell" was hard and scary. Leaving it might be all too easy and for that reason even scarier. Well, as Hemingway wrote in one of his own coming-of-age stories, "better not think about it." Or IT. Oy. Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I believe the original quote or close to it from Fats Waller is, "I can play some piano but God is in the Panther Room tonight." Another good one is, "Go ask Alice what the dormouse said." And from Kenneth Koch, "It's very difficult to criticize my French since I speak perfectly."
This is a wonderful find and it's delightful to hear JA and Bruce in their youth "of bricks. Who built it?" In parsing "These Lacustrine Cities," the first poem in his great book "Rivers and Mountains," JA goes immediately into his "who, me?" crouch which I find disappointing and hardly illuminating about a poem that evinces and perhaps coyly parodies a kind of Cold War spy novel sinister paranoia in lines like "we have all-inclusive plans for you" and "you will be happy here" that recall "1984" and O'Brien's insidious patter while torturing Winston Smith. But no problema, or poco problema. This tape is an inspiring artifact. Oh, do not ask,'What is it?' Let us go and make our visit.
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Smig, drinking at the Timber Lanes bar, Makes a feeble dumbshow of his face Toward whomever – myself and others, For Smig is well loved there – he makes A feeble dumbshow if anybody inquires What his problem is or why does he look So very sad just now as if his best friend Died or he got laid off that day from his Union plumbing job until at last Anika, The female bartender, also well-loved, Asks with a wary compassionate mien, ‘Has the cat got your tongue tonight Or something?' and Smigelski answers 'I bowled like shit! Goddamn it! Fuck!' Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2017 at The Best American Poetry