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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
Mainly, I focus on spreading my Luck out and harnessing good juju. Call it a degenerate’s strategy but I have myself a real nice time with the games. Always bet on 3 and split zero/double zero. Remember, small parlay money can go a long way. And beginner’s luck is fucking real, so piggyback on those kids and indulge in the free champagne as much as possible. I am a very big champion of the free champagne. But mostly, never bet on the under because what kind of life is that? don’t you want everyone to score! Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
How many of my kisses would it take to satisfy you, you ask as your mouth grazes the back of my knee. As many as the grains of Mojave sand that lie between the basin and range, national parks, and a tiny cabin in Searchlight, in the sun scorched canyon near the hot springs, and in the fire-kissed valley of the petroglyphs at dusk, or in the discarded clothes in a two-person tent with instant soup and a game of dirty Yahtzee. As many as these grains of sand dance among the Joshua trees or as many as the stars, night unmoving, gazing down on this secret desire: as many of your kisses, kissed are enough, and more, for love-drunk me, as can’t be counted by exes nor a careless word between us. -- Angela Brommel Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Karin Roffman, author of The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery's Early Life, a book I warmly recommend, was asked to name the "ten best Ashbery poems," and she has made such a list, making it clear that she crafted it for its pedagogic value mainly: these are the ten poems that she believes would best suit a newcomer to his work. Publishers Weekly published Roffman's list and provided links to the specific poems. The task Karin undertook fascinates me. It is not only impossible but also very difficult, as I have reason to know from the experience of editing The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006) in which I represented Ashbery with fourteen poems, arranged chronologically. Here is how Roffman handled that scary "best" request. Three of Roffman's annotated picks follow below. For her comments on the remaining seven -- "But What is the Reader to Make of This? (1984), ""Syringa" (1977), "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (1975), "The New Spirit" (1970), "Breezeway" (2015), and "Some Trees" (1955) -- click here. Two poems on Karin's list are in The Oxford Book ("Soonest Mended," "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror") and three others ("Wakefulness," "They Knew What They Wanted," and "Breezeway") appeared in the 1998, 2009, and 2014 editions of The Best American Poetry -- DL <<< John Ashbery, who turns 90 next month, published Commotion of the Birds, his 28th volume of poetry, last October. Choosing the 10 “best” volumes from this vast and remarkable oeuvre would be a challenge. Choosing the 10 “best” poems seems well-nigh impossible. Recently, however, a student asked me: “Which John Ashbery poem would you read first?” Her question offered an approach to this assignment that I particularly liked. So I have decided to pick 10 Ashbery poems that I suggest reading early and often. I have not ordered the poems chronologically; instead, I’ve arranged them loosely following the arc of a day. In writing the biography of Ashbery’s early life, I constantly returned to these poems for they remind me of how the poet is drawn to familiar moments when we sleep, dream, eat, think, feel bored, see movies, fear death, and fall in love. Taken together, these 10 poems create the experience of a life—from the mundane to the profound—a reading path that I hope will send you back to his poems for more. 1. “Wakefulness” (Wakefulness, 1998) This poem begins at the end of a dream, in that moment when one is awake but still partially in the dream. As a young poet, Ashbery found this sensation conducive to writing and kept paper and a pen by his bed. (He wrote “The Painter” in this state.) As the speaker awakens, “[L]ittle by little the idea of the true way returned to me.” The statement sounds like a restoration of consciousness, but, in fact, the speaker is tunneling deeper into his dream-like mood because its sense of unreality sharpens his perception. In this altered state, he has a vision: “A gavotte of dust-motes... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
I don't want to name drop but I saw a famous comedian on the street today It was Louis CK, on my way home from work. It’s strange, isn’t it, how we react to celebrity, dumb and giddy like a puppy on mute welcoming a new friend. We feel like celebrities owe us something, acknowledgment for knowing their first album or birthday. We contribute, after all, to their fame. It’s democratic, really, the way I wanted to shake his hand, but he was with his daughter and I didn’t want to be a bother. It’s strange, isn’t it, that impulse to shrink out of the way, the uncanny desire to fit flush in a cupboard. In a lonely drawer in the corner I keep all the scraps of paper containing all the nice things anyone has ever written about me, and I never read them. I sit down alone to dinner beside a stack of books and I pray over my macaroni, when there’s nothing left to say will everyone just shut up? I want to apologize to everyone I’ve ever spoken to for the things I said, the way I behaved. Except Louis CK—I just walked right by and didn’t say anything, even though I’ve seen him talk to his fake daughter a thousand times just like that, on television. I didn’t owe Louis CK shit until I wrote this stupid poem. Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
POSTED IN PANK ON JUNE 12, 2017 INTERVIEW BY LAUREN HILGER Poems in the Manner of… David Lehman’s most recent book speaks to the future by speaking to the poets who have come before. Featuring poems inspired by Kafka, Lady Murasaki, Catullus, alongside translations and astrological profiles, it’s a book that opens up with enthusiasm, deep love for poets’ technique and for their individual personalities, and provides possibilities for teaching. When I met David, he placed his hat on his hat stand and sang me the lyrics of my favorite Gershwin song. I talked to him about Poems in the Manner of… (Scribner), collaboration, and the American songbook. Lauren Hilger: Most of the titles in this book begin “Poem in the manner of” and all start with a preface. I especially admire the poems that twist this constraint, like the twice-baked idea of a poem in the manner of Wallace Stevens as Rewritten by Gertrude Stein. I am curious, though, about how many layers it would take for it to no longer be a poem “in the manner of” and for it to just be your own. If this is a poem in the manner of Stevens rewritten through Stein, for instance, how many other voices would need to appear before it was yours again? for Lehman's rejoinder, and more Q & A, click here Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Terrific. -- DL
Red Wheelbarrow I Have Eaten the Plums Poppies in October Pink Christmas Red Weather A Rose Is a Rose Jaffa Juice Watermelon Sugar Frost at Midnight Elaine Equi Continue reading
Posted Jun 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
He picks me up at eight in his mother’s BMW. He rolls up the sleeves of his maroon wool sweater and orders an Old Fashioned. He's been drilling oil in Saudi Arabia and he gets lonely there. He reads for pleasure and misses the way company makes him feel. He was a Civil Engineer at Vanderbilt and he says I remind him of a Southern girl. I am waiting patiently for him to kiss me. I am into another guy who is a little bit colorblind. He wants to wear more green because he has gray-green eyes, but he can’t find the shirts in the store. He holds my hand in the black light of dirty college bars. He fucks me then assures me he's not looking for a girlfriend. He pushes my hair back and tells me I look hotter au naturale. Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
And I should add that Barry Kane, payed by Robert Cummings, is the "wrong man" in Hitchcock's underrated movie "Saboteur" with its State of Liberty climax.
Posted Jun 6, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
On D-Day, I think of the success of that unprecedented cross-channel invasion -- and my gratitude to the people that fought and won the war. This year I find myself returning to the subjects of war and peace, revolution and resistance, and other such antitheses worth analyzing. I think, too, of the rampant ignorance of history, a phrase worth dwelling on because it goes both ways. We ignore history -- to do so seems part and parcel of the American impulse, the self-created ideal. But history is pretty good at ignoring us, too. One reason Auden's poetry gives me pleasure is that he uses poetry as a vehicle for thought. Sometimes that thought was on an abstract plane, words with capital letters duking it out. At other times in his late career, after he had established himself as an institution in New York literary circles, he can resemble the Walter Cronkite of poetry, a bohemian eccentric version of the most trusted voice in America. In the least of his efforts his astuteness of intellect is matched by his mastery of rhetoric and form. Beyond category is "The Shield of Achilles," one of the strongest poems of Auden's later period. And here I pick up on my essay on "Peace and War in American Poetry," a fragment of which we posted on Memorial Day. -- DL <<< "The Shield of Achilles" (1952) invokes the Homeric precedent -- the great shield that the god designs for Achilles -- to throw into relief the bleakness he sees around him. World War II may have ended in 1945, but Auden’s shield reflects a world dominated by implacable hostility between erstwhile allies. We were at peace, but the supreme metaphor of the era joined winter freeze with military might: the Cold War. On the shield of Achilles, as Auden pictures it in 1952, are “an unintelligible multitude,” a disembodied voice proving “by statistics that some cause was just,” a martyrdom enclosed in barbed wire, a thug wielding a weapon: A ragged urchin, aimless and alone, Loitered about that vacancy; a bird Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone: That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third, Were axioms to him, who’d never heard Of any world where promises were kept Or one could weep because another wept. It is a deeply pessimistic view of human nature. In his elegy for William Butler Yeats (1939), Auden declared that “poetry makes nothing happen.” The assertion is debatable; exceptions come to mind. Poems have saved old battleships, changed attitudes, tested the judiciary, rallied people. But the larger point seems incontestable. Poetry has little effect on politics, while politics has damaged an awful lot of poetry. Art and even love are powerless against the ruthless use of superior force. Indifference “is the least / We have to fear from man or beast.” A spirited rendition of Beethoven’s fourth Piano Concerto will not stop the wars, make the old young again, or lower the price of bread.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
After VINCENZO BELLINI’s I Puritani Maybe it was Elvira, the juxtaposition of her grief, descending into madness, as I discovered my ex had found someone new. I thought, how quickly men seem to change their hearts. I wouldn’t stay for Act III. Exiting the concourse, a man approached me, asked for my ticket, my voucher, so he could see the final act. It was so simple, his gratitude, his suit for the occasion, his smile. At dinner, my tears fell into a bowl of seafood risotto. Maybe it was the opera, the reason that I found myself overwhelmed with the desire to sing. Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Issue 3 of Decals of Desire has just launched. In addition to the usual fine lineup of art and poetry, this issue includes tributes to poet Tom Raworth, who passed away earlier this year. Contributors include John Ashbery, Fanny Howe, Michael Lally, Doug Lang, David Lehman, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, and Martin Stannard, who includes his 2003 review of Tom Raworth's Collected Poems. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
click here for a discussion of Marilyn's virtues as a singer Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Walt Whitman: “I salute you on a modest career now done. Allons!” Marianne Moore: “Your hat is splendid. Put it on top of all your words.” Allen Ginsberg: “Mountains of Treyf! Happy Pork to fuel Jeremiah! Blessed Blasphemy! Holy Unholy!” Langston Hughes: “He knows rivers – Hudson, Klamath, Jordan, Pearl. He can speak their language. Even how they curse.” Edna St Vincent Millay: “We shared the same ferry, although he arrived at a very different port. At least he stays drunk.” Emily Dickinson: “To hear Bird song – Long gone – Now flung – Alone – So You and I can return – Outside Time” Herman Melville: “He battled with Clarel and won. That pleases me and is praise enough.” Maimonides: "This gentleman is clearly perplexed. He should stay perplexed." Emma Lazarus: “Reader, breathe free – it’s your turn to hold the lantern.” Woody Guthrie: “You went to a Passover meal, but you still kept running, singing and running, and I sure know what that’s like.” Leonie Adams: “I was your teacher, and I accept your apology.” Francesca Rosa: “Your poem was read to me on my deathbed. I ascended into words. Thank you.” Kenneth Koch: “These poems are so good that I want to pour them into a bathtub and rub them all over my body.” William Carlos Williams: “Whose birth have you delivered if not America’s?” Bertolt Brecht: “You must have courage to be sly in such times. Be careful.” Ezra Pound: “Take that damned hat off.” Amiri Baraka: “Dialectical Magic does its job like a dog lifting his leg. Up against the wall, Motherfucker! I’m just kidding. This time.” Bill Berkson: “You still get high with joy and dread. Like that time we ate mushrooms on the Mesa in Bolinas and then went to talk with Bob Creeley about Vietnam.” Walter Lowenfels: “I encouraged you many years ago. Now I’m sharing a jail cell with Nazim Hikmet, but we can always make a bit more room for you.” Chidiock Tichborne: “Honor Passover and watch the story run. And now you write, and now the poem is done.” Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Ed note: This post is in honor of Marvin Broder, who died on May 24. From my dear friend and his daughter Betsy: A fervent fan of Cole Porter, family gatherings and salty jokes, my father graduated Yale when it still used a quota for Jewish students, entered the Navy before Pearl Harbor, worked with the Israeli navy at its inception and skied Tuckerman's Ravine and Mt Mansfield before they installed lifts. . . [He] often talked about his service in the Navy and his regard for the skipper of his ship. Not a skilled seamen, but a man of the arts, the captain would gather the officers in the evening and they would read poetry together. Thank you for your service Lt. Commander Broder. May your memory be a blessing. sdl Lt Commander Marvin Broder 1917-2017 We mark this Memorial Day with an excerpt from David Lehman's essay "Peace and War in American Poetry." 1. War and Peace: the title of Tolstoy’s massive novel of Napoleonic Europe trips off the tongue. Not so “peace and war”: the inversion of the customary word order represents a victory of hope over experience — or of the poetry of aspiration over the prose of sad actuality. As a subject for poetry, war has an immediate advantage over peace, because war entails action, whereas the experience of peace is an absence, not noticed until not there, like the absence of pain. War was the first subject to quicken the pen of an epic poet. But the author of The Iliad knew that the scenes of the Trojan hero Hector in battle with Patroclus and later with Achilles would not be so remarkable if there were not also a tender scene of Hector bidding farewell to Andromache, his wife, and their baby boy, who is scared of daddy’s helmet. Epic poets have followed Homer’s lead, widening the scope of war inevitably to include peace – whether peace be construed as the absence of hostilities or as something positive in its own right. In book XVIII of The Iliad, Homer describes the shield of Achilles that the lame god Hephaistos has fashioned for him. The shield depicts two cities – one embattled, besieged; the other functional, with a wedding and a court of civil law where disputants can settle their differences without violence. In layers of concentric circles the shield also shows some of the things conspicuously lacking in fields of battle: a vineyard, a herd of cattle, a circle of young men and women dancing, the bounty of the harvest – the fruits of peace. Read the full essay here. Continue reading
Posted May 29, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Larry Fagin died this morning. I asked Charles North to pick one of Larry's poems that we could post in his honor today. -- DL Faded Spirit He buttonholed you and told you. Stay awake. Don't take the gaspipe. Thanks for the tip, but it's not 'all in the mind.' Imagine getting it in the neck every step of the way. You can't. Unlike some people I want to live, never report or explain the experience. Not shuffle underlying elements. Reside quietly in a pink rhombus. -- Larry Fagin Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I don’t believe in fate, but I don’t tempt it by lending umbrellas. It could rain, or worse, you could fall in love with me for all the wrong reasons. Don’t expect me to keep you dry. When I fall in love it will be with someone who has her own umbrella & unending generosity, & come to think of it, maybe she’ll lend you hers. She’s better than me that way & I’m worse because I’ll only share with her. Speaking of which, what happened to your umbrella? Can I offer to share mine? It was, after all, so generous of you to give yours away. Take mine, I insist. & if it rains, at least you’ll have an umbrella. & if I’m wet & alone it will be a beautiful catastrophe. Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Diane Cameron I read Diane Cameron's story about her stepfather last summer and have been thinking about it ever since. Donald Watkins, a former Marine, returned in 1939 from military service in China and in 1953 murdered his first wife and his mother-in-law. He was sentenced to Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he remained for twenty-two years. From the foreword by William P. Nash, MD, Director of Psychological Health, United States Marine Corps: Whether engaged in warfare, peacekeeping, or humanitarian assistance, the greatest challenges warriors face are moral rather than physical. For deployed warriors, physical dangers come and go, but moral dangers are everywhere, all the time. In the high-stakes world of the warrior, there is usually one, or perhaps just a few, right things to do in each situation. And both the cost and consequences of those right actions can be enormous. For a Marine on guard duty, the right thing is to find every threat to those being guarded and to let none pass. For a Navy corpsman tending the wounds of Marines on a battlefield, the right thing is to save every life and limb. For a China Marine in Shanghai in 1937, the right thing was to do nothing--to merely watch as thousands were raped and killed. That's not a tough job; it's an impossible job. We now know that one of the consequences of failing to live up to one's own moral expectation can be moral injury, a deep and lasting wound to one's personal identity. At a deeper level, perhaps the warrior's challenge is more than just choosing right actions over wrong. Perhaps the most fundamental role warriors play in our society is to venture into the unclaimed territory between good and evil, to construct goodness right there on evil's doorstep, and then to defend it with their lives. To serve selflessly while others exploit, to show compassion while others are cruel, to forgive the unforgiveable--these are all ways to create goodness in the face of evil. So also is making sense of a brutal double murder that happened to decades ago in order to find and celebrate the humanity of a veteran China Marine. Diane Cameron took a deep dive into her stepfather's life. She spent many months--years, really--digging for any bit of material that she could use to understand the particulars of his experience and to grasp how the trauma of war shaped his life. She put the pieces together with the attention and skill of an archaeologist assembling the bones of a dinosaur. Her book is a page-turner, as gripping as a suspenseful mystery novel. She moves back and forth through time as she charts her own development alongside Watkins'. As the child of someone fought with the US Army during WWII and who died before I had a chance to ask him about his service, Diane's book brings me closer to my father. One of the more memorable passages is the following, in which Diane writes about... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Beautiful review. Eloquent last paragraph. -- DL
I always need someone to tell I want to be left alone Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
In case you missed the recent reading at the NYU Bookstore, you can watch below as David reads from Poems in the Manner Of Thank you Yael Yisraeli of the NYU Bookstore for hosting such a spectacular evening. Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
illustrations by Derek Heldenbergh There’s a delicious scene in the third season of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle in which Nico Muhly ’03, Juilliard’04, playing himself, introduces an aria he has composed expressly for La Fiamma, a Maria Callas-style prima donna portrayed by Italian actress Monica Bellucci. He demonstrates her singing part on a grand piano in her Venetian parlor, explaining that the piece will also feature pre-recorded sounds and fragments of text that she will sing into a microphone and then repeat using a foot pedal. Before the proud La Fiamma will agree to this departure from her standard repertoire, however, she needs some convincing. “What is the story about?” she asks. “The character is a young American woman named Amy Fisher,” Muhly tells her. “She’s having an affair with an older man, and she goes over to his house and shoots his wife in the head. His name is Joey Buttafuoco.” He pronounces it the American way, the way newscasters did when the “Long Island Lolita” made sensational headlines in the early ’90s: Buttah-fewco. La Fiamma corrects him. “Boota-fwocko,” she says. If this were an old-school sitcom, the laugh track would kick in right about here. But while Mozart in the Jungle is fun, it takes music seriously enough not to waste a cameo by the world-renowned Muhly, who in his 20s became the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. So we’re treated to a glimpse of the real Nico: artistically adventurous, charming and sensitive to the hopes and agonies of Fisher or anyone else whose private passions lead to public tragedy. “Fisher’s world is really intense,” Muhly reflects in his West 37th Street music studio in Manhattan. “Like Romeo and Juliet, she’s in this highly charged erotic and emotional situation — only it isn’t in a glamorous place. It isn’t Verona; it’s Massapequa. But I don’t like this idea of high versus low [culture], because it’s really just people.” Continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry