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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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My tapered-wall "Seismic Wave" mugs arrived this week from Dorangrichia Ceramics and I'm here to tell you that my search for the perfect hot beverage drinking vessel is over. This mug is perfect and here's why: I have an aversion to drinking dark liquids from a dark mug, perhaps because I'm somewhat color-blind. If you have no such concern, you can have this mug in "Amost Shale" a rich olive; for me, white is the way to go. The handle provides a good secure grip, with room for my index, pointer, middle, ring, and pinky fingers to fit comfortably. I don't understand why anyone would want a mug without a handle or with a handle that only fits one or two fingers. My theory is that the slightly tapered walls keep the liquid hotter longer. I like my coffee hot, not warm, and I won't drink reheated coffee (though this mug is microwave safe for those who do reheat. My friend J makes a week's worth of her morning coffee in a Chemex and reheats a cup every morning. Not for me.). The mug holds roughly 10 oz of liquid. I hate huge mugs because (a) I couldn't drink that much coffee before it cooled down too much (see above) and (b) I make strong coffee with an Aeropress and add steamed milk; 10 oz is the perfect amount. Speaking of heat, I don't know how she does it but while the walls of these mugs (I got two) aren't thick, they don't get too hot to handle but they do conduct enough heat to warm my hands. The white part of the mug is smooth white matte, the green band has a bit of pleasing texture that feels good, as does the rough textured base. Finally, while I didn't anticipate this and it wouldn't have mattered anyway, the mug fits perfectly in my Ikea cork coasters. It's as if they were made for each other! I drink coffee every morning and herbal tea in the afternoon and evening. I want something that I hold in my hand every day to give me a lot of pleasure. This is it! You can get yours here. -- sdl ps: this is not a sponsored post! I ordered and paid for these mugs. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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Rachel E. Diken, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and now film director, has established a "go fund me" page to raise money to make a documentary about Michael Lally and his life as a poet on the occasion of the publication of his 30th book, ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY, a big collection of poetry from 1960 to 2017 due out from Seven Stories Press in late April 2018. Here's what Diken has to say about Michael: The widely impactful career of poet, actor, screenwriter, playwright, and activist Michael Lally celebrates a milestone in 2018 with the publication of his 30th book, ANOTHER WAY TO PLAY, by Seven Stories Press. After a lifetime of building unlikely communities across the United States, Lally’s book tour reunites him with New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New Jersey, and the Berkshires. Lally’s mission to facilitate change through accessible language reveals its footprints in pivotal moments of the civil rights, LGBTQ, punk, feminist, and progressive movements—a motivational template for any believer in equality. Featuring original interviews with poets, activists, artists, movie stars, and more, I WANT TO CALL IT POEMS captures the trajectory of a curious, pugnacious spirit that dares to lift its gaze beyond current limitations. Michael Lally has been a regular contributor to these pages and we are fans of him and his poetry. This is campaign worth supporting. You can find more information about this project here. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Michelle Dunton of Writing Fun interviewed David Lehman upon publication of Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Of course poetry books top your gift list but you can also support poets by ordering gifts from those who express their creativity by making things that you can wear, eat, and hold. Here are a few suggestions.Click on the image for more information. If I've left someone out please add a description and link in a comment: Clockwise from top left: Jennifer L. Knox makes herb and spice-infused artisanal seasoning blends with "no preservatives, MSG, dairy or other creepy shizznit." Deanna Dorangrichia makes stunning utilitarian ceramics that honor the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi. NEA fellow Molly Brodak is the genius behind the delicious and whimsical Kookie House. Find embroidered ornaments and other decorative flourishes in Matthew Mahaney's etsy boutique Ice Cream Cats. Sade LaNay's Silk Creations etsy shop sells hand-painted silk scarves and cards. Silk Creations. is a is a social enterprise program of St. Margaret's House, a day center for women and children challenged by poverty. Kristy Bowen's dulcet dancing girl press and studio makes chapbooks, stationary, and beautiful custom jewelry hair clips (I want one!). In addition to publishing A-list poets (Jennifer L. Knox, Peter Davis, two name two favorites), this year Shanna Compton's bloof books is offering a limited number of hand made notebooks in various sizes. Generous discounts are available through the end of the year via Square (code BYE2017). Paige Taggert created MACTAGGART Jewelry in 2003 and her beautiful wearable designs have gained a wide following. She too is offering a 20% discount till the end of the year. If you happen to do your shopping in New York's Hudson Valley, stop in at Mansion and Reed, a shop and guesthouse operated by Justine Post and her twin sister Lia. Books make fine gifts too! Here are three I recommend: "Poems in the Manner Of . . . " continues to draw rave reviews as does The Best American Poetry 2017. Mitch Sisskind's New School poetry reading was "the best ever" according to more than one in the audience. Find a sampling of the Milania series from "Trump Poems" here. For your copy of the book, contact Mitch directly. Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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A recent issue of the New Yorker (the same issue that published David's poem "It Could Happen to You") included an article about the poetry of A. R. Ammons. The article mentions Ammons' Paris Review interview, which David conducted in 1996. You can read the interview here. Even better, you can listen to the complete interview tapes. These are a treat; as one would expect, Ammons' discussion of how he works is fascinating and filled with terrific advice for all poets, regardless of where they are in their career. David Lehman interview A. R. Ammons Parts I - III (I almost stopped reading the New Yorker piece early on, when the author describes Ammons as "puttering." Clearly he never met this great genius--which I did, in Ithaca, on many occasions--or "puttering' would never have come to mind. sdl) Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Let's hope that Sibbie O'Sullivan sees your comment! -- DL
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A tape of excerpts from four introductions to poetry readings given by John Ashbery was posted on January 8, 2014, by PennSound Podcast: <<< PennSound podcast serves up a treat — a new compilation of introductions given to John Ashbery over the years. The podcast, announced on Jacket2 last week, features enlightening introductions to Ashbery’s work by Kenneth Koch in 1963, Richard Howard in 1967, Susan Schultz in 1996, and David Lehman in 2008 >>> https://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/podcasts/PennSound-Podcast_35_ashbery_intros.mp3 Continue reading
Posted Dec 7, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Wonderful. Your memory is such a fount. I particularly love 237 because the IBM selectric was my dream machine, too. To one who banged things out as I did on a Smith-Corona portable, the IBM Selectric in my friend Jamie's office was luxury itself -- I wrote an essay on it in what felt like half the usual time. -- DL
Tennessee Williams chose these lines as the epigraph for A Streetcar Named Desire: And so it was I entered the broken world To trace the visionary company of love, its voice An instant in the wind (I know not whither hurled) But not for long to hold each desperate choice. -- Hart Crane, “The Broken Tower Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, Jenny.
Jennifer L. Knox: The Best Thanksgiving Ever After the meal, Sandy decided we should spice up charades by slapping the loser’s butt with a ping-pong paddle. Whenever Ed got slapped, he farted because he was so nervous. The ladies won, slapped all the men’s butts, but then what to do? “Take off your clothes!” I told Sean, who didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d do such a thing—but he was, and he did. Then Jim took off his clothes. Then John. And then the other Jim who brought all the lovely bottles of wine. And finally Ed. Deb came out of the bathroom and saw five big men naked in the kitchen. They screamed, “Take off your clothes!” We all figured she would, and she did. Then Sandy the Slapmaster, then me, then Tomoko who kept her glasses on. We walked around the house naked, talking about how it was to be naked with other naked people, how none of the guys had boners, and how cold it was out in the garage. Somebody found a big bottle of vodka. We made a no-hugging rule. John kept trying to open the curtains and show the neighbors what they were missing. Deb thought an orgy was imminent, but since we’d all spent a lot of time in Iowa, I didn’t think it would fly. Jim passed out. Ed put a robe on. I passed out. We woke up the next morning in t-shirts, ate bagels from Bagel Land, and said, “We all got naked last night.” That afternoon, on our way to the Walt Whitman Mall, the ladies gave each other nicknames ending with the word “Bitch.” Deb was Stupid Bitch, Sandy was Gentle Bitch, Tomoko was Fucking Bitch and I was Precious Bitch. All the bitches agreed that slapping people’s butts with a paddle was something we needed to do every weekend, that this was the best Thanksgiving ever, and that Ed had the biggest dick we’d ever seen. from Painted Bride Quarterly -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Nov 22, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
It was a pleasure to participate in this stimulating conversation, and I am hoping that people will want to extend it here. The film was March's greatest performance -- the two vastly different drunk scenes, for example: the merry one with Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, and Teresa Wright on the the guys' first night back, and the night the erstwhile sergeant has had one too many but manages nevertheless to hit just the right tone when giving a speech before his banker boss (the great Ray Collins, who shone, too, as Kane's gubernatorial opponent in Welles's film ans as Lieutenant Tragg on TV). I have seen the movie many times since 1996 when by accident I turned on the TV and there it was without commercial interruption. I realized that evening that I have always identified myself on some level with the Dana Andrews character, "one of the fallen angels of the air force," and "The Best Years of Our Lives" triggered my poem of the day, "March 30," in "The Daily Mirror." -- DL
Ed note: For the past two weeks we've featured posts by Kristina Marie Darling, associate editor-in-chief of Tupelo Press. She's been sharing profiles of poets who are included in the forthcoming Native Voices a new anthology exploring and celebrating contemporary Indigenous poetry. The Press has launched a kickstarter campaign to help bring the anthology to print. Here's more information about how you can support this important book. sdl: Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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(Editors' note: When Michael Lally wrote about this film on facebook, he touched off a lively discussion among other fans. It's worth reproducing here. If you've never seen this movie, you have a wonderful experience to look forward to; if you haven't seen in it a long time, watch it again. It's terrific for all the reasons that Michael expresses so well. What do you think?) THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES came out when I was four. I saw it at our local movie theater with my older sisters, who were forced to drag me along with them on Sunday afternoons after we had "the big dinner" and my father took his weekly nap and us three youngest were sent to the flickers. I have seen it many many times since, and though I don't make many lists since the brain operation ended that lifelong compulsion, this movie was always one of my top ten and in recent years' viewings I've decided it's my favorite movie of all. Watching it each year, on its annual screening on TCM around Veterans Day, despite some dated bits in some scenes, this story of three World War Two veterans returning home after the war has only grown more relevant and prescient and fulfilling. The female leads especially impress. Myrna Loy's performance should be the template for anyone ever wanting to act in a movie. She can play poignancy, romance, wisdom, comedy, and more with only the turn of a shoulder, or pause in a step, or slight upturn of an eye. For me Loy is the quintessence of screen acting skill. And Teresa Wright, from my home town but graduated and gone before I was born, is always a delight to watch on screen, her emotional range vast as well. Virginia Mayo, playing the bad girl, as she often did, gives maybe her best performance, too. And the male leads keep up with them and anchor the story with their postwar inner demons. I could go on, but suffice it to say THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is a classic Hollywood masterpiece that still lives up to its original worthiness. Comments from facebook: Ira Joel Haber great american film. One of the few times the oscars got it right. amazing that loy wasn't nominated for an oscar or andrews both who to me gave the best supporting performances of the year. Yes Harold Russell was fine, his special oscar was enough. The score is great also as is toland's amazing cinematography. Many memorable scenes March's home coming and that hallway, the three of them in the plane, andrews sad homecoming, his shock in the abandoned plane. Michael Lally well put ira...totally agree...the score is fantastic as well as the cinematography...the movie almost seems to me to be the gateway, or hinge, to so much of what followed as opposed to what preceded it... Joel Lewis I, too, love this movie —from what I read of it, had an enormous impact on... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series about the Todos Santos Writers Workshop, a new under-the-radar program that flourishes in Todos Santos, Mexico. Find posts one through five here. sdl I stayed at the exquisite Hotelito, which is ten-minute walk down a sandy road to the workshop’s HQ at Casa Dracula. Zipping my sweater against the cool morning air prepares me for the walk that allows me to gather my thoughts on current work. It’s also the final procrastination for my ADD-addled brain - look! Flora! Fauna! - before I get down to the business at hand. The sloppy trek over the uneven terrain mirrors my inner landscape, wild and rolling, until, suddenly, both are smooth and solid, ready. Morning Walk Inviting thoughts lurking beneath the din, freed now, competing to be acknowledged, maybe captured, we’ll see: Learn Spanish like a native Sombrero, casita, amigo And next time, don’t wear black shoes Jacinto, playa, pescadero Because the white dust from the road Blanco, calle, Tortuga Coats them like sugar on buñuelos. Jabon, derecho, mañana Decoding an inner exquisite puzzle Fabuloso, arropas, muertos Confounding and familiar huevos, curioso, puerta When a truck whose passengers, a baby and a dog, bambino, Huichol, pero Regard me, and would wave if they could. baja, baile, Pueblo Magico The sand then settles Tranquilo, la picero, libreta Giving way to asphalt Esplendido, inspiración Orange flowers trumpeting my poised readiness. Hola, Casa Grande, llegué Sue Scarlett Montgomery has lived in NYC for 36 years and works as a writer, filmmaker or musician, depending on the day. Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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It’s Johnny Mercer’s birthday from Natchez to Mobile in the cool cool cool of the evening very cool with Barbara Lea singing Marian McPartland playing the greatest revenge songs of all time hooray and hallelujah you had it comin’ to ya while I clap from a front row seat with a bottle of Rodenbach Alexander red ale from Belgium with cherries and “Tangerine” in the background in Double Indemnity when Stanwyck and MacMurray are finished he had a feel for the lingo, “Jeepers Creepers” as Bing Crosby sang it on my eighth birthday in 1956 I just played it three straight times and an all-American sense of humor what does Jonah say in the belly of the whale he says man we better accentuate the positive that’s it happy birthday and thanks for the cheer I hope you didn’t mind my bending your ear -- David Lehman (2000; from The Evening Sun, 2003) Harold Arlen wrote the music, and Johnny Mercer the words, for that great 1945 hit, "Accentuate the Positive." Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I approached reviewing this book with a stratagem—blinding the names—and then I read the poems randomly. It was liberating to concern myself only with the lines and not to focus on the authors and their accolades. I couldn’t see who wrote what and I did not read the introduction. I still recall the 2015 anthology, which included a poem that fooled editor Sherman Alexie because a white poet had used an Asian-sounding name. All I knew going in was that the editor of this particular book in the series is Natasha Trethewey. On the whole the poems in this installment of the Best American Poetry series work beautifully—readers are reminded of these dire times in some truly memorable lines. In “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz” (p. 100) the sparest lines recount what we’ve all been reading in the news. If lasting poetry is news that stays news, this poem doesn’t expend energy on embellishment and hits the mark like a stray bullet to the heart. I was wounded anew as a witness reading Can we agree Kevlar backpacks shouldn’t be needed for children walking to school? Those same children also shouldn’t require a suit of armor when standing on their front lawns, or snipers to watch their backs as they eat at McDonald’s. They shouldn’t have to stop to consider the speed of a bullet or how it might reshape their bodies. But one winter, back in Detroit, I had one student who opened a door and died. The ending provides nearly the only poetic device, a metaphor: “The deadbolt of discourse/sliding into place.” Like many of the poems in this book this is a necessary poem of witness. It illustrates our terrible situation as a nation dealing with the two-headed monster of racism and gun violence, recounting a litany of school shootings and the lack of resolution in dealing with the problem as gun violence rages again and again. The late Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, a poet I admire, haunts this anthology. He wrote “What is poetry [that] does not save nations or people?” Many of the poems in this book aim to do both through the ancient arc of song and narrative storytelling. The poem “Emanations” (p. 117) seems like a lone outcropping among the other poems because it doesn’t deal with the weighty themes in much of the rest of the book. Its long laborious lines are riddled with ampersands and general observations. Whitmanic in its intent, this poem is journalistic, and although it aspires to some rhythmic driving force, it has little, so this excerpt of what may have been a longer poem seems prosaic. As a meditation on a journey to Big Sur—the land of Robinson Jeffers—it holds our interest nevertheless. "Infinitives” (p. 163), one of the best poems in the anthology, “is a list of the aforementioned grammatical constructions." ...To walk around all day buttoned wrong. Light is coming from rocks, the little froggie jumps even though he hasn’t been wound... Continue reading
Posted Nov 15, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for your comment. Walter Carey, who watches the show religiously, tells us that she supposedly died in a helicopter crash when she was accompanying a wounded patient to a hospital.
It would be nice if, as St John of the Cross teaches, My soul would leave my body each night and wash Itself clean of worldly desires, as if sin could be divested Like calories from beer, and I could wake up with The same kind of hangover just guilt-free— But I don’t expect my soul to strive for heaven While I sleep—I’d settle for the kitchen, if it could Wipe down the benches and take out the trash, maybe Do the dishes, so I no longer have to wake to the smell Of stale whiskey and cigarette ash. If it needs to leave The house then it can go out and settle some of my debts, Or visit upon my rivals, put their hands in bowls of warm Water while they sleep so that they piss the bed next To their lovers; or it can head to the crossroads, in New York That would be Broadway & 42nd St, lean back against The wall with one foot raised and sell itself. It’s not a high-rent fame I’m looking for, not a Robert Johnson kind of influence or Dylanesque endurance— At this age I’d take a one-hit-wonder, a reality TV show, an Electoral college. Best of all it could go door-to-door, not to sell, But to coax or buy, if necessary, its mate, the other half of me— The soda I always forget to add to the whiskey, the lighter I never bring, Or perhaps it has been doing that each night for the the past thirty- Three years and doesn’t have the heart to tell me -- Thomas Moody Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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(Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series about the Todos Santos Writers Workshop, a new under-the-radar program that flourishes in Todos Santos, Mexico. Find previous posts, by co-founder Rex Weiner, here, by Bianca Juarez, here, by Joy Wright Abbot here, and by Nicholas Triolo here. sdl) Just when you think you’ve arrived, you have a little further to go. The customs line at the Cabo airport is crawling, and the drive to Todos Santos will add another hour or two to an already long coast-to- coast day. The landscape grows stranger: scrubby, prickly desert rises to soft, rounded brown-green ridges. Above the range, majestic clouds morph and roil but never wander far; the mists and mountains seem symbiotic. You’ve been driving for over an hour, but there always seems to be another dirt road, another sharp turn, another dip down. In another context you’d at least consider turning tail and heading back to the security of the Manhattan grid. But here you go forward—willingly, almost—deeper into the wilds of Baja. In Jeanne McCulloch’s memoir workshop, each prompt sent me down a path I thought I recognized. Then the story would confound me, veering off, twisting, and bouncing around before miraculously settling into strange but true terrain. I was able to write about real agonies and ecstasies, to let the chaos of my memory find peace on the page. One afternoon, after an early class under the palapa, I set out to find the beach closest to my hotel. Walking west, the impatient New Yorker in me expected to find the glorious Pacific any minute. But the dusty road went on and on, past farmland, horses, children—life being lived. Finally, the path rose to an endless expanse of soft sand, a glittery but unforgiving ocean pounding its edge. A blowfish, so shiny and perfect it should have been alive, lay alone on the shore. There was not another human being in sight. I could keep going-- running into the furious waves or seeking out the sea turtle hatchlings. Instead I stood still, closed my eyes, listened. I was there; even if I had further to go. Deirdre Dempsey-Rush has been writing since she can remember, now crafting stories from life with an eye toward a memoir. She is a madwoman by day, supervising copywriters at a large Manhattan agency. Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Auden in New York. Why does he seem so inviting? Angela Patrinos reports. <<< Even with all the rain, last night’s event at the New School was standing room-only. Yet again. David Lehman presented a lecture on W. H. Auden, giving us in one hour’s time the vital details and contradictions of the poet’s life and work, and addressing such questions as “Can a flawed poem be a great poem?” By the age of twenty-two, Wystan Hugh Auden was the most prominent poet in England, with a sound more modern than any of the day. For example: “It’s no use raising a shout./No, Honey, you can cut that right out.” And yet, in January of 1939, he left England and moved to New York City. His reason for coming to NYC—not definitively clear: “He’d become accustomed to peregrinating,” David said. Perhaps NYC was the next place on his list. But perhaps, too, Auden desired to be a less-known entity. Or perhaps it was because he fell in love with a young man from Brooklyn named Chester Kallman. He seems to have been happy in New York —it certainly was his choice to be here—and yet he wrote “Refugee Blues” and “The Unknown Citizen,” and he spoke of loneliness. Perhaps this was a loneliness that followed him here. David read a poem that Auden wrote just before his arrival in NY, a poem inspired by a painting he’d seen in a museum in Brussels. “Pay attention to the adjectives and adverbs,” David said. In order of appearance, they are “human, dully, reverently, passionately, miraculous, dreadful, untidy, doggy, innocent, leisurely, forsaken, important, white, expensive, delicate, amazing, calmly.’ The poem is titled “Musee des Beaux Arts” and the painting is Brueghel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” Without a title placard for this uncanny painting, it’s unlikely that a viewer would know to search for, and find, the very subject of the painting. No clues can be gotten from the gaze of the personages in the foreground, who leisurely turn away from what’s taking place in the horizon—the disaster, the forsaken cry, the unimportant failure of the fallen Icarus. The poem begins: “About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along” (David points out that to reverse the inversion in the first two lines to “The Old Masters were never wrong about suffering” would be to lose the eloquence.) The poem is an example of Auden’s later style—which held more gravitas than his earlier work. It was a style of poetry that was wordy, discursive (too wordy, too discursive, said his critics). You can contrast the style of “Musee des Beaux Arts” with that of the conversational, idiomatic style of William Carlos Williams’s poem, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” written twenty years later and inspired by the same painting. In Williams’s poem, there is only one word... Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2017 at The Best American Poetry