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The Best American Poetry
Welcome to The Best American Poetry blog. We launched this blog in January, 2008, to create a place where we and friends can exchange, discuss, and argue about poems and poetry. We soon discovered that it would be even more fun to post about anything that fuels our passions, be it movies or sex or baseball or ballet or cocktails or finance or music, because these are, after all, the same subjects that generate poems. Then we flung the doors open and invited others to join in. And we decided that contributors to the blog need not be poets as long as they share a love of good writing and poetry. The only things we ask our regular and guest bloggers to avoid are personal attacks. You'll find enough of that stuff elsewhere. We celebrate freedom of expression. The opinionS of our contributors are their own and not necessarily those of the blog's editorial team or of other contributors. We welcome comments as long as they keep within the bounds of civil discourse. Our roster of correspondents is always changing. We are large! We contain multitudes! Please visit often.Our roster of correspondents is always changing. We are large! We contain multitudes! Please visit often.
Interests: music, food, finance, cocktails, movies, baseball, sex, poetry, mad men.
Recent Activity
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Monday, March 6, 2017 KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street (near the NW corner of 4th Street and 2nd Avenue). 7:30 PM. Doors open at 7 PM . Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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"Let the bad remain bad, otherwise it will grow worse." Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Phone rage: for those times when someone who is texting bumps into you and you trip so you grab their phone and drop it in the sewer. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Sandra Simonds as our guest author. Sandra is the author of six books of poetry: Orlando, (Wave Books, forthcoming in 2018), Further Problems with Pleasure, winner of the 2015 Akron Poetry Prize and forthcoming from the University of Akron Press, Steal It Back (Saturnalia Books, 2015), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2012), and Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009). Her poems have been included in the Best American Poetry 2015 and 2014 and have appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry, the American Poetry Review, the Chicago Review, Granta, Boston Review, Ploughshares, Fence, Court Green, and Lana Turner. In 2013, she won a Readers’ Choice Award for her sonnet “Red Wand,” which was published on Poets.org, the Academy of American Poets website. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida and is an assistant professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia. Welcome back, Sandra. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, Michael. Well-done. DL
"Ruffian" -- the very name brings it all back! -- DL
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Tom Raworth was an English ["Anglo-Irish" says Terence Winch] poet whose work fit into no categories. He was as unique and original a person as he was a poet. We first met in the late 1960s (if I remember correctly, no later than '71 anyway), and my first impression was my last: what a decent person he was. Just one small recent example. One of his last emails to me was after poet Ray DiPalma died. Ray had burned a lot of bridges including with poets, once friends, whose earliest work Ray championed and published in his little magazine DOONES. Tom emailed me to commiserate over Ray's passing but also to say he had posted on his web site NOTES (see the list on the lower right of sites I recommend on my blog Lally's Alley) his appreciation for Ray as a poet and artist, but first of all as someone who had supported Tom as a poet early on by publishing Tom's poems in DOONES. Tom suffered from a heart condition that folks in our poetry world (back then the outside-the-academy-approved scene) whispered about with the supposition that he would die young. Maybe it was that ever present possibility that gave him the calm I remember him most for (being the exact opposite myself, I envied him and wished I could be like him in that regard). Where I was always defending my right to even be a part of that world (having grown up in a very different one) which led to me overstating my importance in it, Tom seemed oblivious, or at least unconcerned, about status and recognition and other ego-related aspects of being a poet in the world. And he had the knack, or good fortune, to have the most innovative publishers making his books almost universally precious works of art in themselves (see LION LION or ACT among his early books). I wish I had seen him more on his visits to the states (I met him when I lived in DC and he came to read and stay at my place) or had traveled to England more myself, but even in his presence he seemed amused though accepting of my frantic energy and volubility in ways that left little room for me to fully appreciate his presence anyway. Fortunately I've settled down over the years in ways that have left me even more appreciative of the gift Tom had for living life at its fullest while appearing, from my perspective at least, to be not taking it too seriously if seriously at all. He had a good full life for someone so many of us expected not to be around even this long (he was 78, I believe) and summed it up best himself in his last entry on his site NOTES when he knew he had only days to live: "Bits of it all have been fun and it's been a decent run." My heart goes out to all his family, especially Val,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
OK, I said, and wrote her this calling it "Lune de Miel" and shared it today with the infinite internet as "the poet of the month" for The Inqusitive Eater: <<< The best thing about Paris is being here with you (a Sauterne with one course, a Cote de Beaune with the next) and the best thing about being here with you is Paris (three letters short of paradise but I wouldn’t have it any other way) on this November day of clean blue skies (a Chablis with one course, a Pomerol with the next) after yesterday’s umbrellas three stories below our window where three streets meet in the cold gray rain of a new day in the past which we’re keeping alive >>> that's what I wrote folks but if you click here you'll see it in all its glory loud and clear with links to other poems gastronomical such as "The Four Seasons" and "The Way to Daddy's Heart" Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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From ON UNIVERSAL BALANCE ...And, having returned home, Nikolay Ivanovich said this to his wife: “Do not be afraid, Ekaterina Petrovna, and do not worry. Only there isn’t any equilibrium in this life. And the mistake is only off by some kilogram and half for the entire universe, but still, it’s amazing, Ekaterina Petrovna, it is simply remarkable!” THE END. [September 18, 1934] From Russian Absurd: Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings (Northwestern University Press, World Classics series; officially published on February 17, 2017) ∞ First of all, my apologies for the delay in posting this: I must again excuse myself by repeating that, like so many of us, I've only just returned from DC and the AWP. And so, dear reader, please accept this, my belated Happy St. Valentines's Day wishes to us all: may each of us seek to daily find within ourselves those inner resources that enable us to feel and express our love. Yesterday, I was helped on this occasion, during a particularly difficult personal time and in this unsettling historical moment, by going to see a film with two people I care about very much. While Lion is far from a perfect picture, what else is there in this world that can better evoke in us those cathartic and complex feelings of pity and empathy more than the innocence of a child? I also wish to say that I had all the relevant selections from the book ready to go before I got on the road, but, to quote E. M. Foster: "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" What I want to tell you about today is an experience of censorship I had with the Russian Absurd, Daniil Kharms Facebook page I had started, intended to promote the book with a series of selections, including the poem that follows here. The response I received to it was: "Your ad wasn't approved because it doesn't follow our Advertising Policies for adult products or services. We don’t allow images or videos that show nudity or cleavage, even if it’s portrayed for artistic or educational reasons." While I appealed the decision repeatedly, including finally to a live person, explaining that the post contained neither nudity, nor cleavage, nor certainly any videos, it got me exactly nowhere. The situation became only more absurd, when Facebook's response to a prose piece in tomorrow's follow up post, "Daniil Kharms on Spirit," that I thought not only innocuous but genuinely elevated and uplifting was: "Your ad wasn't approved because it calls out to specific user attributes (ex: race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender, disability or medical condition, financial status, membership in a trade union, criminal record, ethnicity, name). Such ads may offend users and lead to high negative sentiment." To make this already far too long introduction shorter: to put it mildly, Kharms, like so many of us today, had a "complicated relationship" with all of mankind, and even with God "himself". I hope you will read... Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Alex Cigale as our guest author. Alex’s own poems in English appear in Colorado Review, The Common Online, and The Literary Review, and his translations of Silver Age and contemporary Russian poetry in Kenyon Review Online, PEN America, TriQuarterly and World Literature in Translation. In 2015, he was awarded an NEA in Literary Translation Fellowship for his work on the St. Petersburg philological school, poet Mikhail Eremin, and guest edited the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of the Atlanta Review, blogging about it in Best American Poetry for the week of July 13-17, 2015. His first full book,RussianAbsurd: Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press World Classics series in February 2017 and is now available for pre-sale. Welcome, Alex. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
An important and fascinating post. Many thanks. -- DL
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photo (c) Eric Gray This week we welcome Susan Elliott Brown as our guest author. Susan is the author of the chapbook The Singing Is My Favorite Part. Her poetry appears in The Best American Poetry blog, Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry, and Reunion: The Dallas Review, among others. She received her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Mississippi, and she lives in Birmingham, Ala. and works in advertising. Welcome, Susan. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Go to an art museum—or to the website of New York’s Metropolitan Museum—and write a sonnet about the painting you name in your title. Remember to pivot after line eight, whether you rhyme or not. Deadline: Sunday night, February 5, midnight any time zone Winner will be disclosed Tuesday the 7th along with the challenge for next week. Click here for details. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
The Times published an obituary for Harry Mathews on Thursday. Written by Sam Roberts, the piece is headlined “Harry Mathews, Idiosyncratic Writer, Dies at 86.” I had learned of his death from the painter Trevor Winkfield, so I could respond to the headline rather than the news and I immediately thought about how true it was as a journalistic summary– you could see why the copy-editor signed off on it – and yet how wide of the mark. True, the writings of Harry Mathews are unusual, singular, eccentric. Some might even write him off as a well-educated dilettante who cultivated literature as a hobby. But there are those of us who believe him to have been a true original -- brilliant and inventive and uncompromising in his allegiance to an avant-garde esthetic. Mathews stars in the category we might call “An American in Paris.” Living in Paris for so many years, Harry was a persuasive advocate for a brand of poetics that would have taken a much longer time to reach our shores had he not been the one to spread the news as the first and for a long time the only American member of the Oulipo, the French organization devoted to the creation and practice of constrictive literary forms. The Conversions, his first novel, is a masterpiece of its kind. It has elements of comedy and absurdity but they are there not to make a satirical point or mount a critique. The book revolves around an eccentric millionaire’s will, which poses riddles that the would-be heirs must solve. It is the riddles and the complications they generate that Mathews values. He is an aesthete first and foremost. The only moral in a Mathews story, such as the one in the form of a recipe (“Country Cooking,” if memory serves), is joy. Meanings and messages are the last thing on his mind. I see that I am speaking in the present tense and will continue to do so as if language could outwit fate. “Histoire,” a sestina in which Seth and Tina cap off a romantic dinner by making love, makes devastating use of an unlikely set of end-words: Maoism, Marxism-Leninism, sexism, fascism, racism, and militarism. By poem’s end none of those words means what you thought it did. Each could do service as a stand-in for something gastronomic or amorous. The instability of language is most entertainingly demonstrated, but the pleasure of the poem goes beyond its linguistic adventurousness. In January 1979 Harry came, at my invitation, to teach a one-month course at Hamilton College, where I was then on the faculty. It was Harry’s first teaching gig in the United States – Bennington would follow – and he made the most of it. He introduced the students to OuLiPo procedures such as the “n + 1” construction (and variants thereof), the equivoque, and the technique of generating a plot by starting with a phrase that has or can have a double meaning. (Consider “orange crush,” “twin peaks,”... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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These are poems of wit and humor but also deep emotion and clear intelligence, informed by Lehman’s genuine and knowledgeable love of poetry and literature. From Catullus and Lady Murasaki to Wordsworth, Neruda, Virginia Woolf, W.H. Auden, and Charles Bukowski, Poems in the Manner Of shows how much life there is in poets of the past. Stay Thirsty Magazine has featured five Poems in the Manner Of. You can read them here. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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A cookbook is a historical and political document. Think about it. Pick up any cookbook and you will learn as much about the economic forces of its time as you would from any history book. What do the recipes tell you about the demographics of its preferred audience? What is their class? Their social standing? How accessible are the ingredients and challenging the preparation? I’ve often wondered why definitive histories of a period tend to leave out the goings on in the kitchen. If we don’t know what people were eating and how their food was prepared during this war or that upheaval, we’re missing a big piece of the pie, so to speak. Browse the cookbook shelves of a bookstore and you learn about current economic and social trends; visit the shelves of your local library and you’ll be amazed by once popular diet trends that are now obsolete. A sub-genre of cookbooks that can teach us about the time in which they were written is the “charity” cookbook compiled by women and sold in order to raise money for a cause. The first such cookbook was A Poetical Cookbook, written over 150 years ago for the 1864 Sanitary Fair, to support those wounded, widowed or orphaned by the Civil War. The practice of selling cookbooks to raise money has thrived ever since. Jan Longone, curator of American culinary history at the University of Michigan Hatcher Library points out that no matter what the specific cause for which charity cookbook raised funds, the underlying purposes began as “women helping themselves, helping other women to help themselves, helping still other women help themselves and finally blossomed into women taking on the role of helping to solve all societies ills. All the time learning how to organize, to write, to publish, sell ads to sell cookbooks to run a business and to network.” In other words, the making of a lowly cookbook helped women develop life-saving skills. Continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
And speaking of Jim Jarmusch's films, I watched "Dead Man" several times when doing research for an essay on poetry in film. After a while, it struck me that, while there many overt references to William Blake, the entire film was informed by Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun." I wonder if anyone else observes the connection. -- Stacey Lehman Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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We're thrilled to announce that Terence Winch's most recent album, This Day Too: Music From Irish America is now available for download from the Free Dirt site, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon. You will find in these songs the same talent and insights that we so admire in Terence's poems. I love this video of the tender "Childhood Ground" with its haunting evocation of a lost time and place, made all the more moving by the spare arrangement and Eileen Este's pure, clear soprano. You can purchase This Day Too here. Hint: Valentine's Day is fast approaching. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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In January of 1974, a five-pound bag of sugar cost 85 cents; by year-end, just in time for the office cookie exchange, the price of the same five-pound bag increased to $2.35. The trend was driven by a complicated combination of geopolitical events, including bad weather that wiped out crops, changes in domestic subsidies, import quotas and tariffs, along with a growing national sweet tooth. I was aware of the price-hike and the reasons behind it not because I was a preternaturally astute observer of market forces but because I worked after school and on weekends as a cashier for Shop-Rite supermarket in our largely working-class neighborhood. Where there had once been rows of yellow and white Domino sugar bags, shelves were empty. Cereal, candy, bottled juice, cakes and cookies, baking mixes, even TV dinners with their gelatinous desserts, were now out of reach for many customers. With soaring prices, the market behaved as if there were a shortage. Management cut back on inventory and over the course of the year customers who would typically buy one bag of sugar every couple of weeks hoarded it whenever word circulated that another price increase was on the horizon. For a short time, my store rationed sugar at one 5-pound bag per customer. Some families gamed the system by having each spouse and child march through the checkout line alone with a single bag. For some of us, myself included, it was the best thing that could have happened. At the time, I took my coffee with three teaspoons of sugar and drank a lot of soda. During weekend lunch breaks, a friend and I would share a smoke and to satisfy the inevitable hunger attack that followed would devour a bag of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. There was no combination of sugar and fat that I would turn down. My consumption of all things sugary had to stop. Over time I weaned myself of sugary drinks and sweetened coffee. It helped that nutritionists were finding an audience for their claims that sugar was detrimental to one’s health. They encouraged consumers to find alternatives, like fresh fruit for dessert and fruit juices or plain water instead of soda. Newspapers and magazines published recipes for sugar-free desserts. The sugar crisis of the ‘70s marked the beginning of my interest in healthy eating. Alas, in the forty-plus intervening years, sugar and its evil sibling high-fructose corn syrup, continue to be a mainstay of the American diet. You find it in the obvious places but also hidden in processed foods like bottled salad dressings, canned soups, hot dogs, bread, and even in nut butters. While sugar alone has been cited as the cause of obesity and the associated illnesses (heart-disease, diabetes, and certain cancers), Gary Taubes, (The Case Against Sugar Knopf, December 2016) writes in the Wall Street Journal that “the evidence for the hypothesized chain of cause and unfortunate effects—eat sugar, become insulin-resistant, fatter and diabetic and then die prematurely—is ambiguous. It will probably... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
In the TV show "To Tell the Truth," there were always three individuals pretending to be the prominent or accomplished figure, an adventurer or a football hero, and the panel had to choose who was the genuine article. But Cary Grant stumped the panel. Each of the three individuals named Cary Grant was extraordinarily handsome, suave, charming, and irresistible even though one was a glib ad man named Roger Thornhill, skillful at stealing a taxi cab or fobbing off girlfriends with gifts of chocolate and insincere praise. The second Cary Grant was a fast-talking newspaper editor ("Duffy! Get me rewrite!"), who can outwit Ralph Bellamy or whoever the designated rival is and recover the affections of alienated partners such as Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell. The third showed up at the top of the Empire State Building to meet Deborah Kerr but she, though equally eager, gets hit by a car in the street below, and they do not consummate their affair to remember. Born Archie Leach on January 18, 1904 in Bristol (England), Cary Grant spoke in an accent that sounds somehow British and yet is not out of place in any set of circumstances in the States. His versatility extended from the globetrotting realm of Hitchcock's thrillers (the England of "Suspicion," the South America of "Notorious," the French riviera of "To Catch a Thief") to comedies with leading ladies on the order of Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint. Possibly the handsomest leading man in the movies, though not the sexiest, he starred with both Hepburns, Katharine in a whole bunch of films and Audrey in Charade. He ties Jimmy Stewart as the most frequent Hitchcock hero. He became a US citizen in 1942 and never won a regular academy award, although he did collect an honorary Oscar in 1970. Origin of name: Boring Hollywood legend has it that "Cary" came from his stage role as a guy named Cary in a musical with Fay Wray, and "Grant" was assigned to him by the studio. You and I can do better. "Grant me an hour, and I will carry you over the altar," he said sheepishly. Marital status: five times, with wife #3 (Betsy Drake) the marriage that lasted longest. He had a genius for screwball romantic comedies and was a natural straight man -- in Frank Capra's "Arsenic and Old Lace," example. His last romantic hurrah: Charade with Audrey Hepburn in 1963. The Stanley Donen-directed film also exploits the talents of Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, the Marche aux Timbres and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Gene Kelly doing a carefree dance on the banks of the Seine (though filmed on a studio) is lovingly recalled by Miss Hepburn (Mrs Charles Lampert) as the hero and heroine hold hands under a bridge and a bateau mouche glides by. Cary Grant shrewdly insists that the romance begins on the lady's side -- he is acutely conscious of the age... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Do male poets have crushes on female poems? Maybe, but the reverse is also true, and the old canard that male poetry editors like it when the women talk dirty implies bad faith on the part of the males and bad morals on the part of the females and is as reductive as concluding from a man's appreciation of, say, Marianne Moore's poems that the guy likes scholarly and quaint. There's more to Moore than that, and a poem with the tits to start "Fuck me" is daring not so much because of the grab-you opening but because that's a high standard of intensity for the rest of the poem to live up to. Do (some) male poets have a weakness (or a yen) for lustful poems by women such as Olena Kalytiak Davis, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Kim Addonizio, Jennifer L. Knox, Nin Andrews, Deborah Landau, Moira Egan, Cynthia Hungtington, Sharon Olds? Sure, but the length of that list and the fact that it could be twice as long lead to a different explanation, and I would argue that female sexuality is an area of experience that had not until recently been explored quite as candidly and with language as frank and sometimes even deliberately crude as you find in the best American erotic poetry. After the 1960s you could tell there was a void in the literature and you knew you could do something about it. Taking advantage of the opportunity, talented women have given us some wonderful erotic poems. Now the idea of "gendering" neutral objects fascinates me. In Grench and Ferman, I mean French and German, the nouns are grammatically either masculine or feminine. I believe this is for arcane reasons having more to do with signs than with meanings, and there are oddities aplenty -- in French the word for the female breast (sein) is masculine and the word for the male chest (poitrine) is feminine. There was always a semantic difference between gender and sex, and though it has been obscured tremendously in recent usage, it's a pity if the distinction is lost, and "the difference between gender and sex" has real possibilities as a title. That said, don't you love the idea of assigning a sex to the parts of speech -- or to individual poems? Please then, dear reader, guess the sexual identity of the following works: "Ode on a Grecian Urn." "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." "The Waste Land." "In Memoriam." "The Sick Rose." Though all were written by men, I'd say two of these is female. Read The Iliad and you are in a universe that is male and tragic. Read The Odyssey and you are in a universe that is female and comic. Mark Van Doren said that. The Odyssey has the greatest cast of female characters: Calypso, Nausikaa, Circe, Athena, and Penelope. But that is just one reason The Odyssey is feminine. A more challenging case is that of "To His Coy Mistress" (Andrew Marvell) versus "To His... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
You can’t swallow the lump in your throat so stop trying. Start breathing, you’ll see, eventually it’ll soften. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. You start with a hiccup, a sip of tea to calm the crispy sighing. You begin to unravel, tears drip from the corners of your eyes at night. You hurt often. You can’t swallow the lump in your throat, so stop trying. It’s the story of the wolf and the hood you’re not buying, Her ignorance, his carnivorousness. You place both of them in a small coffin. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. Be quiet, you bird! But it’s you who’s shouting, and all of them you’re eyeing Like planets you wish you could go to, because you’re lonely, or alone? boxed in. You can’t swallow the lump in your throat, so stop trying. It wasn’t me, but the wolf that was lying, Telling you and the birds of young berries gone rotten. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. It is no other way, and it never was, says the night air, prying. Pacing in your room, waiting to pounce, wondering about the blood in the walk-in… You can’t swallow the lump in your throat so stop trying. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. 12/6/16 Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Boy Scout Salute, Mike Cockrill, 2009 This just in: Our friend Elisha Wagman writes to tell us about an exciting group show on view at Undercurrent Projects in the East Village. Here's what Forbes Magazine has to say about the show: On January 11th, 2017, just 9 days before Inauguration Day, Spirit will unveil the third chapter of her ongoing curatorial series, HOTTER THAN JULY: Hands Off My Cuntry, at Undercurrent Projects in New York City’s East Village. “The first one was really just an experiment,” says Spirit over the phone from her home in Brooklyn. “I called it a ‘sexploration.’ I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know what was going to happen.” The latest show features work by Mike Cockrill, Lapis Danado, Annique Delphine, Courtney Frances Fallon, Adam Handler, Jones the Savage, Morgan Jesse Lappin, Joanne Leah, Nikki Peck, John Phelan, Alexandra Rubinstein, and Spirit herself, whose cheeky, not so safe for work, femme fatale self portraits frequently find the artist in hot water on various social media platforms. In fact, less than thirty-six hours before the show’s opening, Spirit saw her Instagram account deleted without warning. Continue reading here. Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
He's right.