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Eleanor Goodman
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Homages to Seamus Heaney have been pouring out from his friends and admirers across the world, inclu... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
As everyone has heard by now, this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Chinese novel... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
My first summer in Shanghai, I horrified my female Shanghainese coworkers by daring to walk around outside. It wasn’t that they were worried that I would suffer from heatstroke in the humid 95-degree weather, or get run over by a bus or motorized rickshaw on the chaotic streets, or even that I would get lost in the labyrinthine back alleys where I liked to wander. No, they were worried about my face. “Your skin was so pretty, but now you’re getting so dark!” they would cry, in a tone usually reserved for national disasters. Coming from the States, where those... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
My hometown, Buffalo, NY, isn’t famous for much. We’ve got Buffalo chicken wings and the ill-fated Buffalo Bills. There’s SUNY Buffalo and Lake Erie and the faded glory of the Erie Canal. But mostly, if you ask people whether they’ve been to Buffalo, they invariably say, “Sure. I drove through it once on the way to Niagara Falls.” But in facebook land, where I spend a lot of time (for a writer, it’s a deliciously fertile jungle of gossip and human peculiarity), Buffalo suddenly started showing up in the form of links to a bizarre news story. Apparently, a man... Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Two years ago next month, the writer, philosopher, and literary genius David Foster Wallace hanged himself in his backyard. I didn’t know DFW, and initially I disliked his work. True, I took some pride in the fact that we attended the same alma mater and shared professors (many years apart). But I’d badmouthed DFW’s novels to friends as “mannered and faddish,” a criticism along the lines of James Wood’s coinage of the category “hysterical realism.” I resented his footnotes and piling up of details and jump-and-splice style of narration. I thought his tone was arrogant. Then two months before DFW... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
There is a discrete point in life when you suddenly realize your parents look frail, you have wrinkles starting to spider out from the corners of your eyes, and practically everyone you know is married. Now replace “discrete” with “traumatic.” Replace “traumatic” with “revelatory.” Replace the whole sentence with “What the hell is going on here, and how did it all happen so fast?” This spring, I attended a bachelorette party for a close friend from high school. The celebrations involved electric pink spandex pants, several surreal MTA rides, marathon dancing in stilettos, and a tremendous amount of alcohol. A... Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Am I unusual in feeling that there’s something increasingly schizophrenic about our public life? According to the New York Times, BP’s apocalyptic oil spill continues to kill giant sea turtles by the boatload and destroy the unique biodiversity of Louisiana along with threatening the rest of our east coast ecosystem, all without any real censure or punishment from the US government—but you’ll be relieved to know that six-pack abs and shag rugs are back in vogue! Then there’s the fact that the Pakistanis are drowning (if the cholera doesn’t get them first), Greece may topple even faster than the euro,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Jared Smith is a poet I have admired for many years. I met him once by chance, on a day in July so humid that even the trees looked resentful, and we had a long conversation about art, the place of poetry in contemporary society, and what it means, or should mean, to be a writer. I found him to be a unique mix of the visionary, talking about poetry in unabashedly mystical terms, and the modern scientist (he started working in the high tech industry before it was an industry). His poetry embodies the same seeming contradiction, and that... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
“The perpetual ideal is astonishment,” Derek Walcott writes in the title poem of his painfully beautiful new book White Egrets. I take this to be true and essential in life as well as in art. Perhaps that’s one reason I tend to move so much (“compulsively,” according to one relative I’ll leave unnamed). After all, isn’t away much more interesting than home? And what better way to always be away than to avoid ever establishing a home? But I’ve somehow managed to land for the moment in a city of constant change, and I find myself wanting to put down... Continue reading
Posted Aug 15, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for the kind remarks, David and Stacey. I love Stevens' "Sunday Morning", but the poem on this topic that speaks to me most is Rilke's first Duino Elegy: "For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure / and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us." That sense of awe, for me, is the impulse behind art. I felt that same mix of intense aesthetic pleasure and fear in Pere Lachaise. I think Stevens is pointing to the fact that despite our desire for it, there is no "imperishable bliss", only a fleeting sense of joy, and such is a given life. Death, by providing the door through which beauty comes and goes, is both a looming horror and a solace.