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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.
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Tomatoes, before and after (photos (c) Barbara Hamby) Four months before my mother died, I was visiting her in Honolulu. She had quit cooking, and I worried about her getting enough vegetables in her diet. I usually spent the first few days of a visit making vats of soup and pouring the soups in individual containers for the deep freezer she had in her condo. I have a wonderful vegetarian minestrone recipe I'd started making as an undergraduate and developed over the years. I had also started making my own tomato sauce every August, and I'd brought jars to add to my mother's soup. She picked up a jar and asked what I was doing. I explained that I had made the sauce myself over two days the previous August. I ordered a box of forty tomatoes from my local organic market, and spent the first day peeling and preparing the pulp. The next day I made the sauce with basil, garlic, onions, and olive oil and canned it using a water bath. My mother shuddered. She had grown up on a farm, and she hated everything about farm life. She couldn't wait to go away to college and then live in a city. She had worked for seven years in Washington, D.C. before she met my father and then followed him on his career in the Air Force, first to New Orleans (where I was born) and then to Washington, France, and finally to Honolulu, a city she loved above all the others she had visited. She had left the farm far behind, but she was horrified to see her daughter embrace an activity that had marred her summers as a girl. I didn't really think much about it. So much I had done had horrified her that I was pretty used to this reaction. She was a life-long Republican and Baptist, so we didn't talk about politics or religion. She knew I was a Democrat, which was bad enough, but if she had known how far I had strayed from her Billy Graham take on the world, she would have been truly horrified. If I could have described my beliefs, I think I would have called myself an Epicurean, because I love thinking that we are made of the same matter that makes the stars. Also, I loved Epicurus saying that there was a soul but that it died with the body. On the way to all this, I had passed through a Buddhist phase, and it was these years of meditation that helped me forge a beautiful relationship with my mother during the last 25 years of her life. She loved to fight, and I refused to do it. My brother would fight with her about politics, and I would ask him how successful he thought he would be in changing a 60-year-old woman's mind, and then a 70-year-old woman's mind, and finally an 85-year-old woman's mind. But they continued to argue, and they both seemed to... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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No self-respecting Dodger fan will want to overlook Michael Leahy's The Last Innocents:The Collision of the Turbulent Sixties and the Los Angeles Dodgers (HarperCollins).Independent of the Dodger fan base, students of baseball history will find much to enlighten them here about such subjects as the glory days of Sandy Koufax, the ailments (physical and mental) that plague big-time ballplayers, and the relations of management versus labor when Walter O'Malley owned the Dodgers. There are terrific anecdotes based on interviews the author conducted with Sandy Koufax ("simply the best," as the Yankees advance scout noted in 1963), Maury Wills (who stole 104 bases in 1962), Wes Parker (maybe the slickest fielding first-baseman ever), Lou Johnson (hitting hero of the 1965 World Series), second-baseman Dick Tracewski, catcher Jeff Torberg, the underrated Ron Fairly,and others.The only thing I am not crazy about is the book's title, and the author may not have liked it either. The book is at its weakest when trying to correlate the fortunes of the Dodgers as a team and as a group of individuals with the "turbulent" decade of war, riots, assassinations, uprisings and political movements. The most compelling pages are on Koufax, a ferocious competitor who was the key to the Dodgers' two World Championships and three National League pennants in the four-year stretch from 1963 through 1966. A hero to the Jewish community for his principled refusal to pitch the opening game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, Koufax is enigmatic to the extent that his modesty, shyness, and reticence seem to indicate hidden depths of complexity. Like the "no trespassing" sign that begins and ends Citizen Kane, Koufax's avoidance of publicity is an invitation to let speculation and multiple points of view determine our sense of the man. The other Dodgers interviewed for the book speak of Sandy with respect bordering on reverence. I didn't know that there was an anti-Semitic strain in some newspaper articles in the mid-60s. "Some skeptics suggested [that] perhaps Koufax was less a ballplayer than a budding businessman and bon vivant." Moreover, "some stories cast him as a closet intellectual, always grounds for suspicion in professional stories." The stories may have been planted by management hoping to improve their bargaining position or their public image. Koufax was underpaid not only in comparison to today's players but by any criterion of the time. And as Leahy says, "there can be no reasonable doubt" that anti-Semitism lay behind the stereotypes provoked by "newspaper references to Koufax's supposed business shrewdness and inferences that Koufax might be less committed to the Dodgers than to getting more money." By staging a joint holdout in 1966, Koufax and Don Drysdale got the raises they deserved -- and helped pave the way for the free-agency revolution that Marvin Miller was about to engineer. It was never a secret that Koufax pitched despite intense pain from arthritis; that he had to prepare elaborately for each game, and that he quit baseball at the... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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From the "Next Line, Please" corner of The American Scholar. A weekly challenge in verse. <<<< The prompt for this week—to rewrite two to six lines of Milton’s “Lycidas”—turned out to be one of the most stimulating we’ve had in a long time. What wonderful submissions we’ve received. “Put it in the books,” as Mets’ radio announcer Howie Rose says after a New York victory. This is one for the books. John Milton, author of "Lycidas," the greatest elegy in the language, is pictured at the left. He was a handsome young man as a student of Christ's College, Cambridge. I am happy to reveal that from now until the onset of winter, each week’s winner will receive a complimentary copy of The Best American Poetry 2016, edited by Edward Hirsch. First place this week is divided between two different entries: Millicent Caliban’s So what’s the point in striving every week To pen some verses fit for “Next Line, Please” While straining every sinew of the mind? Why not seek pastimes of more common kind, Abandon art, with YouTube take some ease, Watch shady porn or kittens tangling skeins? Which is, as she says, “(De)based on” Alas! what boots it with uncessant care To tend the homely, slighted shepherd’s trade, And strictly meditate the thankless Muse? Were it not better done, as others use, To sport with Amaryllis in the shade, Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair? This happens to be my own favorite quotation from “Lycidas,” and the very passage that I undertook to translate into a modern idiom (see below). I admire Millicent’s balance of contemporary reference (YouTube, “shady porn”) with the noble accents of the master (“While straining every sinew of the mind”). Nicely done. Co-winner is Berwyn Moore’s So spirals the seeds of the sunflower, its buttery lattice a mathematical marvel. Though Helianthos fades at summer’s end, in time our friend will bow his studded head again. After lines 168-171 of Milton’s poem: So sinks the day-star in the ocean bed, And yet anon repairs his drooping head, And tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore Flames in the forehead of the morning sky: Berwyn says her entry was “inspired by the Fibonacci sequence.” I like and use the Fiboinacci formula but don’t quite see how it applies here. This looks more like an “n + 7” exercise formulated by OuLiPo, the French association of writers and mathematicians devoted to creating new strict literary forms. (I hope Berwyn will elaborate on her method here.) In any case, there is something lovely in the alliteration of Berwyn’s first line, and the poignancy of “Though Helianthos fades at summer’s end” reminds me of my favorite line in Shakespeare’s sonnet # 18, “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” First runner up is Paul Michelsen’s eloquent Another Perfect Day The sweetest friends make the most bitter ends Not the first or last perfect day death ruined Not too young, but too young for our liking Our... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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The birthday girl made this feast for us on a night begun with two glasses of Chateau Frank 2009 methode champenoise. Rinse mussels Slice onion into large strips Add two cloves of garlic, minced Saute in olive oil Add cup of Bellwether Liberty Spy cider Pinch of red pepper flakes Shake the pan (a deep pot, optimally) Put in two pounds of mussels Cover. Medium heat. Check after five minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve on boiled potatoes. Drink remainder of the bottle of cider. Happy birthday, Stacey! Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Happy Anniversary to us [by William Butler Yeats] He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. – William Butler Yeats Note to SDH: Will you marry me? -- DL Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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My mother received this cookbook as a wedding gift and passed it on to me many years ago. It remains one of my favorites, not because of the recipes though there are some good ones, but because this book is responsible for kindling my love of cooking and poetry, especially poetry that rhymes. The recipes are punctuated with light verse to serve as mnemonics for proper technique. For example, the captions to a series of photos illustrating loaves of bread read: This is the well-made bread about which we’ve all read; It’s so easy to make, so come, on, let’s bake. See what results if the oven’s too hot; decreased volume and over-brown top. If the oven’s too slow, the crust will be pale, the texture’ll be porous; it’s sure to fail. In homemade bread, especially rye, you know there’s more than meets the eye. and on and on through yeasted breads and rolls, specialty loaves, quick breads and muffins. My mother was a competent cook though not an enthusiastic one. She fully embraced the post-WWII convenience foods such as frozen TV dinners, boxed macaroni and cheese, and canned soup. It seemed that for years everything was made with a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, with its sponge-like brown bits suspended in a gelatinous goo. I loved those meals. They were children of immigrants, my parents, who left the Bronx in the 1950s, first to New Jersey, then to Rockland County, New York, where my mother found work as a school teacher while my dad worked a salesman ("plastics"). From the outside, our's was a typical suburban development home. Not so inside. My mother was a long-time subscriber to both Women’s Day and Family Circle magazines, with their projects for the thrifty homemaker (“Feed a Family of Four on Fifty Dollars a Week!” “Transform Your Home with Color in One Weekend!” and “Bring the Outdoors In with Rustic Cedar Shingles!” The latter project transformed a wall in my parents’ bedroom with hours of furious hammering.). My father was a scavenger who often arrived home with odds and ends he’d picked up while making his sales calls in and around New York City. The combination of mom's and dad's talents was on full display in our kitchen where one wall was covered with silver metallic wallpaper illustrated with scenes from the Folies Bergere, done up in pink and black; the floor was covered with carpet tiles in every color; and the cabinet pulls were ringed with the colored plastic inserts to 45 RPM records. My mother made new curtains for every season, some quite beautiful. The crowning glory of the kitchen was the table--a wood slab that my dad refinished with pockmarks to make it appear aged--suspended from the ceiling with picture wire. One day I arrived home from school and Noah, our large white German shepherd, was reclining on the table as it swung gently to and fro. Meals at that table were an adventure as one had... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Hamlet does not utter the words North by Northwest (a compass direction that does not exist.). He does say "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." “Shadow of a Doubt” was Hitchcock’s favorite of his movies: in it the young teenage girl is named Charlie, after her handsome uncle, played by Joseph Cotten, who (yes) is also named "Charlie”. See these poems in my book Starlight: “Boy in Mirror”, about Hitchcock’s Vertigo and its companion piece, the double acrostic poem “Girl in Water”, can be found in the “At the Movies” section of Urban Myths The film (“Vertigo”) is based upon the novel D’Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead) which was written specifically for Alfred Hitchcock by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. A version is now available as Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Vertigo [Entre Deux Morts] (Between Two Deaths), London: Bloomsbury, 1997. — J.T Here is the Santa Rosa house used by Hitchcock for the movie Shadow of a Doubt: From Urban Myths by John Tranter Shadow of a Doubt Handsome Uncle Charlie, burdened by crime. He laughs and scatters gifts, but he looks unwell – no, he’s fine – the man playing cards looks sick – he has a full hand of spades, but then, he gets to tell the story about how the ace of spades leads the pack. Suspicion follows you like a snake in the grass, so the story is torn up. But destroying the evidence points to the evidence. Sleeping dogs lie. Now, should a girl tell on the bad man? It would kill Mother. But Uncle Charlie has been killing plenty of those, it seems, the fat, lazy, greedy widows eating cake and wasting money – they deserve to die. Now those two men are here to see you, again – something about a survey, counting all the happy American families and listening closely to their apple-pie opinions as they look down from a high window through shade-dappled branches at a pair of neighbours pausing for a gossip in the sun. On the busy street the old traffic cop can’t help the girl, he’s avuncular and normal, and he has a job to do. Now everything falls to pieces and a killer pleads for his life. Traffic everywhere, an engine running and leaking gas, then back on the train again, the train that takes you out into the horrible world. The man with all the cards is here, somewhere, behind the viewfinder, watching everything, a resident alien with a point of view. Uncle Charlie has to die, we all knew that, it just took a while to fall into place in front of a speeding black locomotive somewhere out of town, and far away. North by Northwest A hero breasts Manhattan traffic, always ready to stop off at a tourist destination. A blunder with a telegram and Mother – a demon never seen, only hinted at in her distant, comfortable castle –... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Best American Poetry 2016 Reading Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm The Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011 For the fifteenth consecutive year, the New School Writing Program sponsors the launch reading for the latest edition in the celebrated Best American Poetry series. David Lehman, poetry coordinator for the Creative Writing Program and series editor, will moderate the event. He will be joined by contributors to the anthology as well as Edward Hirsch, guest editor of the 2016 volume. With poets Christopher Bakken, Catherine Barnett, Jill Bialosky, Paula Bohince, Michelle Boisseau, Marianne Boruch, Lynn Emanuel, Martín Espada, Charles Fort, Emily Fragos, Juliana Gray, Linda Gregerson, Mark Halliday, Jeffrey Harrison, Cynthia Hogue, Garrett Hongo, Ruchard Howard, T. R. Hummer, Major Jackson, Lawrence Joseph, Julie Kane. John Koethe, Loretta Klobah, Keetje Kuypers, Deborah Landau, Robin Coste Lewis, Paul Mariani, Debra Marquart, Hai-Dan Phan, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Stanley Plumly, James Richardson, Patrick Rosal, Anya Silver, Taije Silverman,Tom Sleigh, A. E. Stallings,Susan Stewart, Nomi Stone, Adrienne Su, Lee Upton, Eleanor Wilner, . . . It will be historic Sponsored by the Creative Writing Program. Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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The multiple-choice form seems to suit a moviemaker as complex as Hitchcock, whose birthday is coming up next week.: (1) Which of the following did not play the male lead in a Hitchcock movie? a) Sean Connery in Marnie b) Cary Grant in Notorious c) Orson Welles in A Touch of Evil d) Laurence Olivier in Rebecca e) Robert Cummings in Saboteur Answer: c), Orson Welles, who directed and who dominates the screen in A Touch of Evil. Note the difference between Welles and the other four on the list. Each of the others is a non-method or pre-method actor; three are from Britain. Unlike Welles in his portrayal of evil as ugliness, at least three of the Hitchcock heroes named may be said to have an everyman quality in spite of the fact that three are very handsome, while the fourth has boyish good looks, and the same three may be said to be suave. Hitchcock can project versions of himself as Cary Grant, James Stewart, Rod Taylor, the young Gregory Peck, even Olivier as a toff. But it doesn't work with Monty Clift in I, Confess.and it wouldn't work with Welles or Brando. (2) The title North by Northwest is a reference to a) The Tempest and magic b) Hamlet and madness c) A popular route flown by Pan American Airlines in 1959 with change of planes at O'Hare and Mt Rushmore the final destination d) Emily Dickinson's poem "After great pain a formal feeling comes" e) Cary Grant's use of a road map as a disguise in the dining car Answer: b) Hamlet and madness. Hamlet says he is mad only "north by northwest," reinforcing the doubt that he is truly mad rather than calculatingly capable of an "antic disposition." The plot of Hitchcock's movie is mad, fantastic in the old-fashioned sense. Yet there is method in the apparent madness -- and there is as much comedy in this thriller as that category can hold. The title also encapsulates the movie's locations and its motion. This is a movie of movement: in taxicab, motor cars, train, plane, bus. Cary Grant's journey begins in New York City -- Madison Avenue, the Plaza Hotel, and the United Nations. Then the film takes a trip to the Midwest with its unending fields of corn and finally culminates on the top of Mouth Rushmore, which is north by northwest from New York City. Finally, there is a sense of playacting in the movie and the sort of temporary insanity that accompanies excursions into the absurd. From the moment Cary Grant, advertising executive, is kidnapped at the Plaza Hotel, each scene is more implausible than the scene preceding it. A prodigious amount of liquor is consumed by our hero, who reveals himself to be quite a resourceful, witty, charming, romantic, fast-on-his-feet character as the movie goes along -- whereas, at the start, he is merely adept at stealing a cab, playing the field, and reporting to mother. (3) Identify Ambrose Chapel. a)... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Episode of Hands The unexpected interest made him flush. Suddenly he seemed to forget the pain,-- Consented, -- and held out One finger from the others. The gash was bleeding, and a shaft of sun That glittered in and out among the wheels, Fell lightly, warmly, down into the wound. And as the fingers of the factory owner's son, That knew a grip for books and tennis As well as one for iron and leather,-- As his taut, spare fingers wound the gauze Around the thick bed of the wound, His own hands seemed to him Like wings of butterflies Flickering in sunlight over summer fields. The knots and notches,-- many in the wide Deep hand that lay in his,-- seemed beautiful. They were like the marks of wild ponies' play, -- Bunches of new green breaking a hard turf. And factory sounds and factory thoughts Were banished from him by that larger, quiet hand That lay in his with the sun upon it. And as the bandage knot was tightened The two men smiled into each other's eyes. -- from The Best American Erotib Poems Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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My husband’s recent diagnosis of celiac disease came as a complete shock to both of us. He had been experiencing many months of debilitating symptoms that had been attributed variously to chemotherapy, post-surgery recovery, and an intractable infection. Doctors told us that his symptoms would wax and wane and that he might just have to live with them. Finally, and almost as an afterthought, his oncologist Dr. Dean Bajorin ordered the simple blood test for celiac (“highly unlikely, but we may as well be sure.”). Within a week we had a preliminary diagnosis, within two, it was confirmed by a biopsy. Continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Lisa Vihos as our guest blogger. Lisa's poems have appeared in numerous journals both print and online. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her third chapbook, This Particular Heaven, will appear in 2017 from Aldrich Press. She is the Poetry and Arts Editor of Stoneboat Literary Journal and the Sheboygan, Wisconsin organizer for 100 Thousand Poets for Change. She recently was the recipient of a Time-Out Grant from her undergraduate alma mater, Vassar College. In the coming year, she will be planning and building a children's reading garden to support literacy in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Welcome back, Lisa. sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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David Lehman’s The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014 collects the introductions he’s written to introduce the individual volumes of The Best American Poetry series over the last twenty-five years. Taken together, these brief essays—for they are much more broadly conceived than the word “introduction” would indicate—trace the controversies and other points of attention within the American poetry world over the last quarter century. Often as I read, I thought, oh, I’m glad we’re through that phase—the theory wars that not only pitted scholars against each other but also unnecessarily pitted scholars against creative writers (as if many of us don’t fill both roles), the flurry of trash-talking reviews by William Logan, the perennial complaint that there’s too much bad poetry because of MFA programs or slam poetry events or the ease of online publishing (a discussion we’re, alas, not yet through having). More often, though, I found myself glad to be a poet in our time when there’s so much vibrant poetry being written by so many different writers, and when there’s such energetic conversation occurring in libraries and cafes and bars and, yes, universities, about our art. Too often, introductions to anthologies are written as if they are formal necessities or polite niceties that no one actually reads. Continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
For several years I've been announcing the first corn sighting of the season. This year, the corn has been late to market because of the drought we're experiencing in the Finger Lakes. I was thrilled to find sweet corn from Romulus, NY at the Triphammer Mall farmers market last Friday. The first corn always reminds me of one of my favorite poems, "Lesbian Corn," by Elaine Equi. We're presenting here in a dramatic reading by Nicole Santalucia. Lesbian Corn In summer I strip away your pale kimono. Your tousled hair too, comes off in my hands leaving you completely naked. All ears and tiny yellow teeth. by Elaine Equi from Surface Tension (Coffee House Press, Sept 1989) Elaine Equi is the author of many collections of poetry including, Voice-Over, which won the San Francisco State Poetry Award; Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award and on the short list for The Griffin Poetry Prize; Click and Clone; and most recently, Sentences and Rain. Widely published and anthologized, her work has appeared in The Nation, Poetry, The New Yorker, and several editions of The Best American Poetry. In addition to The New School, she teaches at New York University. Nicole Santalucia is the author of Because I Did Not Die (Bordighera Press, 2015). She is a recipient of the Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook Prize from Arcadia Magazine for Driving Yourself to Jail in July and the 2015 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize from The Tishman Review. She received her M.F.A. from The New School University and her Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University. Santalucia teaches poetry at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and brings poetry workshops into the Cumberland County Prison. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Look for Remus in the index of a book And you are bound to get “See Romulus” Which is perfectly logical but makes me wonder About indexes, or indices, and why I prefer the former As the plural except in a financial context, and how An index to a book that may not exist may imply A whole biography, as my friend Paul Violi Showed in his poem “Index.” My late friend Paul Violi, whom I still see in the street Sometimes, walking along at an unhurried pace So if I walk fast I will catch up to him at the corner Before the light turns green. IM Paul Viioli, 20 July 1944 -- April 2, 2011) Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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(Ed note: I read this post by Cate Marvin on facebook and thought it too much fun not to share. Cate generously agreed to let me post it here. Cate is the author of three books of poems, the most recent of which is Oracle (Norton, 2015). She recently relocated from Maplewood, New Jersey, to Portland, Maine, and will serve as a visiting professor at Colby College during the academic year of 2016-2017.) Cate Marvin. photo (c) Joe Dupont July 17, 2016 -- When I first started dating Joe Dupont and told my friends he ran a kayaking business (he takes people on sea kayak excursions on Casco Bay, from Peaks, an island off of Portland, Maine) I did not regard it as a virtue. It sounded cool, but the thought that I might one day be expected to go kayaking haunted me. I could only imagine the humiliation. My perfect girlfriend status would be instantly shot to hell. All my life, I've been nonathletic. Make that anti-athletic. Throughout elementary, junior and high school, I was always the last picked for teams. I had poor coordination, no stamina, and I also did not give a shit. Over the years, I came to regard myself as weak and physically inept. I used to joke that I got most of my exercise from lifting a glass of wine. (STILL TRUE.) So when I first told close friends like Erin Belieu about Joe's profession and they would say, "That's so cool! You can go kayaking!" I concluded that, sadly, they had failed to understand my most quintessential self: Not only do I not do outdoor sports, I do not do sports. Period. (And if you don't like it, you are welcome to go do your sports stuff and leave me the F alone with my books, thank you very much.) To his credit, Joe never pressured me. But I knew the day would come. For you see, Joe had agreeably attended not just a few, but several poetry readings with me. He had already made noticeable efforts toward understanding my world and my profession. He read my poems. He even sat in on one of my classes. Early on, the extent of my reciprocity amounted to admiring how colorful his kayaks looked in his snow-filled backyard over winter break. I came up to Peaks Island a little over a week ago, and my seven year old daughter Lucia and I aren’t just staying for the summer this time around. We have moved to Portland because Joe and I are getting married this coming October. The shit is real. Mention has been made not only of kayaking, but of camping, and – god help me – the possibility of a WHITE WATER RAFTING trip. It’s a wonder I can sleep at night. Last summer, Joe took Lucia and me out in a double-kayak (all three of us in one boat). He was apparently surprised to discover I was nowhere as weak as I'd professed.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Yes, "The Shadow of Your Smile" was in "The Sandpiper." My error. -- DL
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Simeon’s Osby’s name, on the other hand, brought up a wealth of intriguing information from the genealogical site. He was born on May 15 1909. In the 1920 census, he is listed as the oldest of four children, living at 1501 S. 17th Street; in the census ten years later, he is still living at home with both parents and three more siblings. Apart from a hiatus in 1926 when Simeon seems to have left school and worked as a porter, he continues to be listed in the City Directory as a student living at home through 1928 when he graduated from Springfield High with my father. In 1929 he is shown living at home, but working in some unspecified capacity for a local company. In 1931, he is still listed in the Directory as living with his parents, but is also a student at the University of Illinois Champaign. According to the City Directory, Simeon remains a student at Champaign through 1934, the height of the depression. He does not appear to have graduated when he returns to live in Springfield, working as a case aid worker in the Surviving Bureau of Transients from then until he is enlisted into the Army as a Private at the end of December 1943. There are no details in the genealogical site about where and how he served during the War: he is discharged in October 1946, around the same time that my father was discharged from the Navy. In the 1940 census, Simeon Osby is still living in Springfield, and married to Annabel, a teacher whose birthplace is Tennessee. No maiden name is given for her. No children are listed, and no address is provided in the City Directory. But in the 1950 census his 58 year-old mother Virgie is living with them. In 1948, Simeon is editor of the Capitol City News, and his wife is a stenographer at the University of Illinois Division of Services for Crippled Children. By 1951 when Simeon is again in the army at the outbreak of the Korean War, Annabel has been promoted to secretary and by 1955 she is the chief clerk in the same Division, and Simeon is working at the Chicago Defender. His mother Virgie is still living with them, and works as a maid. I could find no census information for 1960 or 1970, but Simeon Buckner Osby is still working at the Defender in 1976, when he is among fifty journalist, the only one mentioned by the Edwardsville Intelligencer paper specifically as black, and present at a meeting to discuss some proposed cuts to benefit. He stands to speak against the proposal. Simeon died on July 14, 1993, eight years after my father. He is buried in Camp Butler, Springfield’s military cemetery. His wife had died five years earlier, and she too is buried at Camp Butler. His father is also buried at Camp Butler. But Simeon’s mother Virgie, who had lived with her son and daughter-in-law for so... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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When it occurred to me that I could look up the names of Donald Hogan, Simeon Osby and Thelma Donnigan on the genealogical site I subscribe to, I hesitated for some time: although I had no qualms at all at the thought of spending weeks in a library looking up census information, newspapers, city Directories to find them, what information could emerge by merely typing in their names into a genealogical search engine seemed like an invasion. Was it the speed at which information might be brought up? Was it the sense that there surely was family, their families, who were pursuing the same genealogical research, and I would be in some ways trampling on their privacy? Before I had bought my own subscription, a friend had done some research on my family for me, and it had left me uneasy even while I encouraged her to find out all she could. What was it that made me uneasy? A sense that we are all now living in a fish bowl, a sense of the need for modesty, the thought that veils and curtains should be drawn somewhere. But I hate curtains except those that protect me from the strongest sun. I want light. I wanted light on these three young African Americans who daily shared the High School ground my father walked on for three years. Who walked the city he walked in for the seventeen preceding years. I wanted the light cast by finding out about them to extend to illuminate our day. Already, even before I typed one of the three names and the year of birth, already what I had found by paying close attention to the pages of The Capitoline, rippled into a greater consciousness of structured discrimination, and into a deeper understanding of today’s anger. Already there seemed to be a direct line, from the exclusion of the three faculty advisers for the Unity Reserves, from the segregation into the one club, from the small numbers graduating, to The Black Lives Matter movement. Isn’t ninety years too long a time for racism and discrimination to persist and mutate? 1928 was long before Rosa Parks, Brown versus the Board of Education, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Fifty years have passed since those landmark institutional changes. And still the angry young, the frustrated old, rise up in protest. In 1928, was the institution of Springfield High proud for accepting blacks, unaware that the de-facto segregation showed it was merely paying lip service to integration? Was my father conscious of the hypocrisy, or oblivious to it? What did my own double-edged reaction 90 years later – that on the one hand I should be so angry that there were there were only three graduating African American students, and on the other hand that I should find myself considering, how many Springfield schools had even three black students -- what did that say? Could I dare to think that the three young people who managed... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Those three photographs nagged at me. The single girl, Thelma. The two boys, Donald and Simeon. Those young faces. Simeon smiles, looking sideways from the camera. But Donald and Thelma look straight at the photographer with an indecipherable look in which shyness seems to predominate, even though I was tempted to see an undertone of defiance. I was probably reading too much into it. I wondered what happened to them, where they went after graduation. I wondered whether they were the first in their families to graduate from high school. I began to romanticize them. I began to impute my father with insights, with deliberations that I would not ever be able to confirm. There is no way to know whether the decision to put those two photographs as end stops to the list of graduating seniors was an accident, or a statement; or indeed a tribute to the two young people. I just wanted it to be so. I could not let them go: even if the photographs were accidentally placed where they were – who knows, perhaps my father and his editorial team realized they had failed to include them in the alphabetical order after the laborious typesetting had already been done, and quickly added them --; perhaps Thelma and Simeon’s family had had to scrape together the money to pay the photographer and had only managed to do so at the last moment --; even so, I could not let them go. I wanted, now, to bring them out of the shadowy past they shared with my father. I looked at the fragments of scholastic biography below each of the three names in the Yearbook, at the snippet of comment inserted as it was for every graduating student and every member of the faculty: Donald Hogan: Orchestra ’27, ’28; Freshman Cantata; Sophomore Cantata. “A droll little man” He is the one included in the alphabetical order. The descriptive caption coincides with something in the photograph that shows a clear skinned round faced boy with piercing dark eyes, who seems barely a teenager: the shirt and bunched-up tie look as though they have been put on for the photographic session. There was no information in the Yearbook about Cantata, although there were at least four school organizations dedicated to music making, from Band to the Big Twelve Soloists to the music appreciation club. Simeon Osby: Chemistry Club ’27; Astronomy Club ’27; Ramblers ’27; Orchestra ’23, ’24, ’25. “A true friend of the high school” Simeon wears a dapper bow tie and is in three-quarter profile. He is long faced and handsome, looking away from the camera with a faint smile. He’d participated in a number of activities, I noticed. I noticed that he had been in High School since 1923: he had been two years slower than my father to reach graduation. I wondered what the caption meant, in what way this boy had been a ‘true friend’ of the school. I leafed through The Capitoline pages more... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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It was a while before I returned to The Capitoline. By then, I had been on number of short forays to the Beinecke Library in New Haven where my father’s papers are archived. On the last visit, I had spent the time transcribing handwritten letters to and from my father to his father, and to his aunt Agnes, and even letters from his father to Agnes. Some of the letters were dated from the High School years, and two of them referred directly to The Capitoline: in one, handwritten and dated Sunday December 1927 he writes to Agnes: “…I am now ‘free’ to devote my days and nights to the pleasant labor of publishing an ambitiously planned Capitoline… By skillful manipulation of a trade rivalry we have succeeded in shaving off $200 off the printing contract, and by splitting the photography between two firms save another $200. However, in spite of these coups our innovations are going to be so expensive as to leave plenty of financial worries. I am well satisfied with the photographic arrangement in particular, and I do believe it will prove to be one of the best things we have done.” In another undated letter, his father writes to Agnes: “The youngster had every single line that went into this year’s Capitoline to write and then to typewrite – proof to read – the entire make up of the book to arrange and it was a huge task when school work had to be prepared…” I had not realized that my father had been involved in the editing of the Yearbook, but when I picked up The Capitoline again I saw immediately the proud display on the inside cover. Now ‘The guy who’s responsible for this’ caption-quote under his name, that I had seen when I first skim through, made sense: he was the Editor-in-Chief of the 1928 Yearbook. Maybe that explained also the number of photographs. I leafed through, looking for what else I might have missed. I reached the last page that listed and displayed photographs of the June Seniors, and was startled by the portraits of two students on the bottom of the last page: a young African American man and an African American young woman. Simeon Osby and Thelma Donnigan. I didn’t think the school had any African American students. I was immediately embarrassed by the thought: it was a public school, why would it not have African American students? Why was I surprised at their presence? I went back, suddenly focused on the young faces I had barely glanced at, and saw the portrait of one more African American young man among the June Seniors, Donald Hogan. I saw Margaret Clem, Araminta Edwards, Harold Grady, Francene Johnson and Bessie Murrel, listed in alphabetical order, among the students who had graduated in January 1928. In 1928, among the 245 other seniors, only eight were African American. Only three graduated in June with my father. I had not noticed them before because there... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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More than a year after a momentous visit to Springfield, Illinois where my father lived his childhood and high school years, Jim Huston, the city librarian with whom I had become friends, sent me a copy of The Capitoline for 1928. It’s the Yearbook for the year my father graduated High School: a thick, green bound book. I barely glanced at the sepia colored photographs of the campus, and only briefly paused on the pages that showed photographs of faculty and the administration: who were his teachers again? On my visit, Jim and I had gone to the school, and I had seen the letter about my father, written by the poet Vachel Lindsay and addressed to one of those teachers, framed and hanging in the English classroom. But I could not remember her name, although when I reached the faculty pages in the Yearbook, the name Susan Wilcox rang a bell. The caption under her name said that she was Head of the English Department, and the adviser for the Bulletin, and the small cameo photograph showed an elderly delicate looking woman faintly smiling, with a curly untidy hair parted in the middle, and rimless glasses. There was a quote below the information: “Those who know her, know all words are faint.” It seemed very appropriate for an English teacher. I noticed that the information on every faculty member was followed by some kind of quote. As I skimmed through, I noticed the arrangement of photographs for the senior class: some at the top of the page, and some at the bottom of the pages. In between, the names that corresponded to the photographs were listed alphabetically, with a line or two detailing scholastic achievements, and brief quotes, just like the brief quotes for the faculty. My father was not among the Seniors who graduated in January, and the first photograph of him I saw was on the page for the members of the Scholarship Society. He is looking straight into the camera with a questioning expression: his ears stick out a little, his hair is parted on the left, brushed down firmly and smoothed down by brilliantine or water. He looks young. He is young: he turned seventeen in October of his Senior Year. The Scholarship Society, “was organized with the purpose of giving recognition to those who attain a high scholastic average…with a general average of 85% for the four years of his High School course…90% for three years in at least one major subject”. Of course, he would be one of the high achievers, I thought. There must have been perhaps two dozen more scholarship students. I did not pause to count, moved on to look through the June graduates. There he was: a different photograph. This time in three quarter profile, looking towards the left with the same serious questioning expression. The hair shows a small wave, and both the strong nose and the thin lips are more defined. Below the long list of academic... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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That's George Gershwin, on the left, with his older brother, Ira Gershwin, who wrote the words not only for George's songs but -- especially after George's untimely death on July 11,1937 -- for songs by Jerome Kern ("Long Ago and Far Away"), Vernon Duke ("I Can't Get Started"), and Harold Arlen (The Man That Got Away"). As John Tranter, in his review of Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist by Philip Furia (Oxford University Press), puts it, the Gershwins and their confreres "took America’s dreams and set them to music." Here is the rest of Tranter's review. << Shelley claimed that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but then Shelley was mad. Poets have missed out on the law courts, but they have carved a comfortable niche for themselves in the business of advice to the lovelorn. In the modern world, rhymers have set the rules for popular emotions, especially when young folks’ fancies turn to thoughts of love. Poetry of course is everywhere, and has been since the invention of radio: vibrating through the walls of our homes and over the oceans, amplitude or frequency modulating waves in the radio spectrum to the tunes of popular songs and ads for hair cream, and squealing from a thousand Walkmans. Most of these song lyrics are drivel. The Romantic poet Keats set a bad example by rhyming ‘moon’ and ‘June’ in his poem ‘Endymion’, and it’s been downhill ever since. ‘Sun’ and ‘fun’ are generally the best it gets these days, as the Beach Boys remind us. But it’s not all rubbish. Much of this writing was cleverly done, especially in the twenties and thirties, and the best of it had a special sparkle. New York between the wars was America’s equivalent of the Elizabethan Age: exciting, dangerous, filled with the discovery of exotic art, music and literature. Dorothy Parker and the wits of the Algonquin ‘round table’ were popular among the clever set, but much more widely popular among every set were musicians like the gifted George Gershwin and songwriters like his inventive older brother Ira. They took America’s dreams and set them to music — George produced the tune, Ira crafted the words. They collaborated on hundreds of songs — by the time Ira died in 1983 he had written more than 700, including But Not For Me, Fascinating Rhythm, I Can’t Get Started, I Got Rhythm, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Love Walked In, Shall We Dance, Someone to Watch over Me, and They Can’t Take That Away From Me. There were plenty of turkeys, too — songs like Uh-Uh, Blah Blah Blah, Please Send My Daddy Back to My Mother, The Gazooka, and I’m a Poached Egg. Ira was born Israel Gershvin in 1896. The family, Russian immigrants originally named Gershovitz, changed their name to Gershvin when they arrived in America (and to Gershwin later, when George had his first hit under that name.) They lived at various addresses in Manhattan as the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back M.J.Fitzgerald as our guest author. M.J. is the author of novels, short stories and essays, and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota. Yearbook is part of an ongoing project, Drifts of Chance, a daughter's discoveries, a book of essays about the poet Robert Fitzgerald, best known for his translations of The Odyssey, The Iliad and The Aeneid. An earlier essay, Plots and Sisters, was posted on The Best American Poetry Blog in October 2014. Welcome back, M.J. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2016 at The Best American Poetry