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John Foy
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I was in 10th grade when I read “A Refusal to Mourn,” by Dylan Thomas. Perhaps like many boys my age, I was stymied by the opening sentence. It wasn’t until years later that I came to understand. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to be a guest-blogger for Ideasmyth, a creative consultancy where Victoria Rowan presides as the fabulous Creatrix-in-Chief. It was in one of my entries for the Ideasmyth blog that I put down some preliminary thoughts on how this Dylan Thomas poem, and that sentence, worked. I then developed those ideas into a short paper I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Earlier this year I was put to thinking about lines of poetry that meant a lot to me. This began when the poet Gerry Cambridge, who edits a fine, international literary journal in Scotland called The Dark Horse, asked me and several other poets to write brief essays on particular lines that had shaped us. So I wrote a short piece, published now in the current issue of The Dark Horse, about this line from Thomas Wyatt: Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind The line had an effect upon me during my adolescence when I was... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Well-constructed plain lines have always held a fascination for me. From George Herbert to Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, it’s always thrilling to see depth and beauty in what, on the surface, looks plain and simple, be it in a poem or in lines spoken in a play. To write lines like that requires care and attention to the smallest detail, so that every syllable, every letter, is functioning as part of the whole. Two lines that have always epitomized this for me come from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. They occur in Act V, Scene I (lines 117-118). This is where... Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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It cost 95 cents at the Gotham Book Mart in New York City in the summer of 1980. It was a second-hand copy of The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, edited by Waldo Frank and published by Doubleday Anchor Books in 1958. On the cover was a rough drawing of black suspension cables and one tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (in lurid magenta and black), with a flock of soot-black birds flying above the cables. On the right side was the dusty orange brick wall of a tenement. The cover art was by Antonio Frasconi, the typography by Edward Gorey.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Many thanks to David Lehman and Stacey Harwood for inviting me back as a guest-blogger this week. I recall reading somewhere – maybe someone can help me with this – that ancient druidic rites, or perhaps they were Welsh bardic initiation rituals, included the following. You had to lie in a trough of water on a cold night, wholly submerged and breathing only through a straw, and compose in your head a long poem in a complicated meter. The next morning, you had to emerge from the water and recite your poem. How many could graduate from that school? I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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As some of you may already know, a massive project has been undertaken called The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project. The goal is to create, accretively over time, the largest database of women poets in the world. We know it took thousands of workers almost 200 years to build the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The Mezzo Cammin timeline is the same idea. Think Sappho to Sapphire. It will be an intellectual edifice built by many hundreds of contributors. A panel was convened again at the West Chester Poetry Conference this June to discuss the progress of the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Dear David, Thanks for your message, and thanks for this wonderful opportunity to blog for Best American Poetry. I've had a blast this week, and I've been getting a lot of readers and a lot of good feedback. I love "the graves of academe"! If you liked my entry on Poets & Jobs, I'm very honored. It's a subject close to my heart, given that I've pursued poetry assiduously but worked most of my life outside the walls of the college world, while so many of my poet friends have worked inside. Sometimes, you start to develop a complex! So models like Stevens have always been very helpful to me, very reassuring. There are so many other poets with so-called "real jobs" I could have included. Maybe I need to expand this into a bigger essay. I understand why you cherish Creeley's inscription, "To David Lehman, who works for a living"! You've done so many things in your professional writing life, and succeeded in so many ways outside of academia, that I believe you must share my views on this. In my post today, about small animals mistakenly killed by power mowers (see Larkin and Wilbur), I wanted to include my own poem written specifically to address this macabre theme. It's called "Killing Things." But it's due to come out later this year in American Arts Quarterly, so I had to avoid "pre-publishing" it. Perhaps I can send you a copy! Here is a link to my website: www.johnffoy.net. With many thanks to you and Stacey, John 917-282-2862 johnffoy@aol.com
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We all make mistakes. This can include killing baby rabbits. For those attuned to this sad sort of thing, there is a macabre sub-genre of contemporary poetry about mistakenly killing small creatures with power mowers. Philip Larkin famously killed a hedgehog while cutting the grass (“The Mower”), and Richard Wilbur clipped off the leg of an unlucky toad (“The Death of a Toad”). In Robert Frost’s poem “The Exposed Nest,” a father and daughter contemplate a cluster of baby birds who narrowly escaped—who knows how—the cutting blade of a mower that was pulled over their hidden nest in a field.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
The shenanigans of Eros aren’t unrelated to the comings and goings of the Muse. We know in a thousand different ways the upending power of desire, but the link between desire and inspiration is not always self-evident. The poet Robert Graves wrote a long treatise on the Muse, called The White Goddess. It’s among the strangest books ever written. In one of his more straightforward passages, Graves writes that, “poetry is rooted in love, and love in desire, and desire in the hope of continued existence.” This is a kind of poet-friendly, procreative Platonism. Graves equates poetry with our wish... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Yesterday, I wrote about the question of poetry and employment. Today’s posting is closely related. If you’re a poet, what do you do with yourself? Consider poor Francis Thompson, an English poet from the late 1800s who was not wealthy but who nevertheless, to his own grave disadvantage, sought no means of work at all. Wikipedia refers to him charitably as an ascetic. The voice below is neither Thompson’s, nor mine, but Philip Larkin's. The quoted text is from Larkin’s essay on Thompson, called “Hounded” (from Required Writing, with a foreword by David Lehman!). Because my sense of humor is... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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All jobs seem real to the people who have them, but poets like to make distinctions. They refer typically to “real” jobs when talking about employment outside of academia (illogical though that may be). I’m a poet, and I’ve been told that I have a real job. I work as a senior financial editor at a Brazilian investment bank. Despite an urge early on to enter the teaching profession, for which I had some talent, I went down another road. I had to support my family in Manhattan. By the year 2000, my black beret and cape were gone, but... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Jul 6, 2013