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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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Though I don't know the word in even five languages I will guess it's la vie et la morte life and death lebend und tod: pouvez-me dire si j'ai raison? -- Sidney Luckman
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Of all the pinball machines in all the zinc-bar cafes in Paris, and there were many, the one that I recall playing most often with my chums was Dipsy Doodle. The name didn't mean much to me then, but it was a good machine -- the kind of machine that you could play competitively. Years later I heard the 1940s song called "The Dipsy Doodle." The Tommy Dorsey band was the first to play it; the Andrews Sisters made it a hit; Ella Fitzgerald recorded it with the Chick Webb orchestra. It's a dance song of the period with a rhythm suggestive of "In the Mood." Some ink has been spilled over the puzzlement that the lyrics for "The Dipsy Doodle" may arouse. What does "the dipsy doodle" mean? Many feel it is a meaningless phrase on the order of sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, an expedient occasion for an uptempo dance. In 1982 Ronald Reagan characterized a political argument he opposed as "the real dipsy doodle," prompting William Safire to speculate that "dipsy" was shorthand for "dipsomania" (now more commonly known as alcoholism) and that "doodle" added both a nice alliterative touch and an allusion to the contortions of a body in motion, as when one is dancing or trying to elude a tackler in football. In discussing Reagan's use of the term, Safire reminded readers that "dipsy doodle" was slang for a curve ball in baseball and was used by Raymond Chandler in The High Window as a down-home way of saying trickery or chicanery. My own feeling is that, in the song, "dipsy doodle" is code for the state of mind of one who is at risk of falling in love -- and that in its young and playful way the lyric illustrates the idea that the first time you fall in love is the first time anyone has ever fallen in love. In defense of my admittedly speculative theory, I will point out that "digga-do" served in the 1920s as slang for lovemaking. Here are the lyrics (followed by Ella's recording). The song was written in 1937 by Larry Clinton. He wrote it for Tommy Dorsey who backed Larry when he embarked on his own career as a top bandleader. -- DL The Dipsy Doodle's the thing to beware The Dipsy Doodle will get in your hair And if it gets you, it couldn't be worse The things you say will come out in reverse Like "You love I and me love you" That's the way the Dipsy Doodle works The Dipsy Doodle's easy to find You know it's always in the back of your mind You never know it until it's too late And then you're in such a terrible state Like "The moon jumped over the cow, hey diddle" That's the way the Dipsy Doodle works Whenever you think you're crazy You're just a victim of the Dipsy Doodle Ah, but it's not your mind that's hazy It's your tongue that's at fault, not your noodle You better... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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Everyone knows that stocks these days, especially US stocks, are overvalued. But picking a market top is no easy matter. David Aronson, former professor at Baruch College,now president of a research firm that develops methods to enhance stock market trading systems, says, "the process of topping out can take a really long period of time, evolving over a year or more." Aronson demonstrated his credentials as a two-armed economist when he told Mark Hulbert of the Wall Street Journal.that only time will tell whether the coming top will precede a major bear market or something less dire, something of merely "intermediate-term significance." (See The Myth of Stock-Market Tops," September 5, 2017, p. . R1). Admirers of Sergio Leone's masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America know that the character named David Aaronson, played by Robert de Niro (top left), bears the nickname "Noodles" from the time he and his buddy Maxie were the most notable personalities of a gang of Jewish teenagers in New York's Lower East Side in the early decades of the twentieth century. Noodles remains "overweight" on emerging-market equities. as well as overweight in the old-fashioned sense, as befits a man of his mature years who has done his share of losing, done what he had to do and now finds it all so amusing to think he did all that . "All that" includes knifing a vicious rival, for which act he serves time. He has fallen hopelessly in love with Deborah (played by Jennifer Connelly as a youth [top center] and by Elizabeth McGovern as a grown up [top right]). She is his one true love, yet, alas,he date rapes her in the back of a rented limousine. He has also smoked his share of opium with the song "Amapola" in his brain, cried in his sleep, carried on with Tuesday Weld, a decoy during a jewel heist, and teamed up with "Uncle" Maxie (James Woods) and buddies to smuggle booze during prohibition and run a fabulous speakeasy, Thirty years have gone by in some remote upstate burg after his gang buddies are shot in one fatal last caper. During this time, and prior to mysterious letters that lead him to return to New York City and learn that he had been deceived and betrayed, David Aaronson has had the opportunity to make an independent study of stock market trends. In the book that made his academic reputation, Aaronson writes that "bottoms are easier to identify, in real time, than tops." When asked whether he had in mind either Jennifer Connelly or Elizabeth McGovern, Noodles just winked, whistling a few bars of Cole Porter's classic "You're the Top." The take-away: Major bull market tops are a process, not an event. The long-term topping process may have begun without anyone taking note. Many people have shunned the market since the 2008-09 collapse. Only when they start buying stocks will we know for sure that the long-awaited end has come. Will there be a correction -- or... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
He wrote it at the age of nine. He didn't lose his touch in "later" years. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
Skylarking!
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On Monday the 16th of July, the New York Times ran an obituary for Les Lieber, who died last week at the age of 106. Here are four facts about Les Lieber: (1) In 1965 he started Jazz at Noon, which lasted forty-five years as a great New York notion achieved with artistry and renewed with vigor and vibe on a weekly basis. Every Friday you could go to whichever club or tavern was hosting and you'd hear Les on his saxophone joining other gents who, like Les, held demanding jobs in medicine, finance, or other professions, but relished this one hour when they could honor their love of jazz. News of Jazz at Noon spread from mouth to mouth and a dedicated following followed. Dizzy Gillespie dropped in with his trumpet, and Buddy Rich visited to play drums. (2) Les's main job was as a journalist, a sports journalist, whose profile of the great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra ran under the title "There's No Place Like Home Plate." (3) Les, fluent in French, spent many a summer in St. Paul de Vence with his charming wife, Edie, a beauty in the Ava Gardner manner, where they befriended the painters and poets who made this hillside town in the Alpes Maritimes a destination worth a journey. (4) A veteran of the air force in World War II, Les had a sharp wit and was adept at delivering a humorous comment or aside with a straight face in the Bogart manner. Jazz aficionado Jamie Katz, Les's stepson, has spoken movingly about his "talented, lovable stepdad, who spoke six languages, pitched a no-hitter in college, landed in Normandy, recorded with Django Reinhardt in Paris in 1945, and wrote hundreds of imaginative, beautifully turned, whimsical magazine articles." When I met Les, he was twenty five years younger than I am now, which sounds like a math problem but is just a way of saying that he was a longtime friend who was exemplary in demonstrating that possibly the best way to appreciate great music -- better even than the joy of listening -- is to play it. This is a lesson that applies as much to poetry as to jazz. -- DL <<< Les Lieber, who for more than 45 years ran Jazz at Noon, a fabled New York institution where talented amateur players got together every week to stretch their skills and to perform alongside top-flight professionals, died on July 10 on Fire Island, N.Y. He was 106. His stepson Jamie Katz confirmed the death. Mr. Lieber had already had a substantial career as a publicist and journalist when, in September 1965, he organized the first Jazz at Noon, partly to give himself a chance to play his alto saxophone and penny whistle for an audience. It was on a Monday at lunch hour at Chuck’s Composite, a restaurant on East 53rd Street. “I was dying on the vine as a musician,” he told The New York Times in 1975, recalling the... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Sonia is a poet who lives in Los Angeles. The fire struck her because she had frequented many artistic scenes similar to "Ghost Ship". Or in the words of her poem, she "had been that young." Feeling a great affinity for the victims of the Ghost Ship fire, she was moved to write "Ghost Ship" for Rattle magazine's Poets Resound issue. "Ghost Ship" was recently selected for the The Best American Poetry 2018 anthology. Mike Gioia is a filmmaker. His Youtube channel is Blank Verse Films, which will regularly publish videos of poets reciting their poetry. Subscribe to his channel to see more poetry videos. Click here for the video Mike Gioia made for Brendan Constantine's poem that will appear in BAP 2018. Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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The semi-final match between Kevin Anderson and John Isner wasn't supposed to be today's marquee event at Wimbledon. The other semi-final pitted two great champions, Novak Djokovich and Rafael Nadal, both of whom are up there with Roger Federer and Andy Murray as the best in the business on the men's side. ESPN, covering the tournament, assigned its top flight announcing team of John McEnroe and Chris Fowler to Raffa versus the Djoker. Both have won Wilmbledon in the past. They have a long rivalry, moreover, and the winner is sure to be the favorite in the final. But today belonged to John Isner and Kevin Anderson. They played superlatively in a match so even that the fifth set itself took nearly three hours. Anderson emerged triumphant if exhausted in the fiftieth game of that set. Isner, the lone American left standing as we entered the day, stands tall: a graduate of the University of Georgia, who played for the Bulldogs in college, he is six feet ten. Anderson, a South African who played for the University of Illinois, is only two inches shorter. They have known each other since their college days more than ten years ago, and they are great friends. They are also veterans of fifth-set drama. Two days ago Kevin Anderson (pictured left) pulled off a major upset that no one had foreseen. Down two sets to none to the peerless Federer, Anderson rallied and won the next three sets, the last one in overtime. If the players are tied at six games apiece, most sets culminate in a tiebreaker, which is won by the first player to gain seven points and a margin of two more than the opponent. But not in the fifth set -- not at Wimbledon. The fifth set keeps going until one player achieves a two game advantage. The final score of the final set of Anderson versus Federer was 13-11 in favor of the blonde South African. For his part Isner played in the longest match in all of Wimbledon history. Back in 2010, he and Nicolas Mahut of France had split four close sets when they reached a six games to six deadlock in the decisive fifth set. The outcome: after 138 games, Isner won, 70 to 68. By whatever metric you use (time of play, number of games), it was the longest tennis match on record and it took three days to complete, because the failing evening light in London caused the match to be suspended twice. Both men hit over 100 aces in what people called the "endless match." More was on the line today. In 2010 Isner played Mahut in a preliminary round. Today's winner would play in the finals where he would have, depending on how you look at it, either a 50-50 chance at emerging as champion (if you are a strict observer of chaos theory) or a three in ten shot (if you're in Las Vegas and you anticipate that Raffa or the... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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John Cafferty is not John Fogerty and an ass is not a vagina. The lawyer said so. O! the slight, subtle distinctions between perfume and a urinal cake. Just because something works doesn’t mean everything worked out. Hit and run’s not hit and run and back up, forward, back up, forward and run over some more. “Friends” don’t do that to “friends,” friend (please be friendly and reply if you agree). We don’t have to get up, we get to get up, every day and decide how easy the listening will be: jock rock (“Tough All Over”) versus vet rock (“Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”), Xanax versus Ativan, etc. [[from Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox, Bloof Books, 2007. Bloof is edited by the peerless Shanna Compton]. Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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For DCLehman just feeling happy James’s words you love Today was unbear- ably beautiful like a bear walking thru school! Today was amaz- ingly cool and calm like fish rushing to the knife! today the sun hit the bricks as if a painter added more yellow! today supremely lucid and blue like bluejays imitating sky! today was better than many days but don't say that just love today! today today like a kitsch garden on TV or sudden color at five forty in the afternoon no one was dead bullfighting Today exactly at 5:42 the myth I live by shattered! today close to 5 43 the pop of depth and Rabbi Nachman I heard the grass sing Walt was not disappointing the bear ate the kid the palm leaf had moved what is more a monument smiled like pigeons Scholem said Whitman was his religion--did that disappoint you now? the rose in Scholem's yard we plucked it was so big it wagged its stem soul I can't use that word beautiful and not normal making green ones red Throw a diamond on the rusty steel table just three randomly That was my today yell yellow yellow yellow stain of a blue day! sing yellow yellow yellow shall be my garden Desdemona day Kawabata saw the beautiful in glasses on Hawaiian glass He loved the repeats Oh dim moon oh dim dim dim no he said Bright Moon! Beautiful poem As ugly as beautiful as pornography All is horrible said my friend all wonderful circumcized cirque size Like an artifice like an artificial lake oh bright bright bright day! seeing through difference he called it but I might say loving difference! oh penumbra oh and Van Gogh thinking he had painted stars too large! well maybe he had when I take my glasses off tear-shaped breasts appear Futurists, beware my eyes are stained with stars you might find archaic! as a sculptor said nice to practise archaic crafts! not that he did! beautiful spacious the end of sullen empire(s) one day beats them all! beautiful summer on a bed all afternoon don’t say beautiful summer in autumn beautiful as bugs to friends sunlight on your hands -- David Shapiro [Note: David wrote this poem in response to my endorsement of Henry James's view that "summer afternoon" is the happiest phrase in the language. -- DL] Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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W. H. Auden’s “The Platonic Blow” is a camp classic, an over-the-top ballad portraying the ideal blowjob. Auden wrote it in New York in 1948 and relished its composition, but he later disavowed it and never claimed copyright. With its flourishes of rhyme and rhetoric, the poem survived for a long time on its underground circulation. But the impulse to censor or self-censor is much less strong today than when Auden began his poem with the smell of the locker room on a spring day, making it “a day for a lay” or “a day to blow or get blown.” I didn’t think twice about including “The Platonic Blow,” which is so well crafted that it blurs any line you can draw between erotica and pornography. The case against Robert Frost’s “The Subverted Flower” is that the scenario described therein will not quicken your libido or warm your heart. But I contend that sexual failure, as common as it is unfortunate, has its place in the literature of Eros. And this dark and uncanny poem begs to be read, interpreted, and discussed in the context of the erotic. Readers of pornography on the judicial bench claim that they can’t define it but know it when they see it. That is as good an approach as any and has the virtue of implying that all the verbiage on the subject has left us little wiser. You can safely say that pornography “appeals to the prurient interest” whereas erotica has “literary or artistic value.” The key word in that formulation is “value,” and certainly in the making of this book I wanted poems that have added value to our lives and our culture. As I always do when working on an anthology, I welcomed suggestions from friends, colleagues, and students, and what amazed me was how little agreement there was. The disputes were less about the literary quality of the work in review than about whether it was sufficiently erotic. One person recommended Robert Lowell’s “Man and Wife,” in which the married couple has taken tranquilizers, the woman is asleep with her back to the man, and there is a heavy sadness in the air that I took as the very antithesis of the erotic. I know that readers will approach the contents of this book with its title in mind and that therefore poems of a certain subtlety or covert sexual agenda will fit nicely. But I also know that no definition will come in handy to justify my decision to include Frost’s “Subverted Flower” and not Lowell’s “Man and Wife.” It is finally a matter of judgment, instinct, and nerve, and the editor has no choice but to trust his own responses to the serious contenders. Every poem in The Best American Erotic Poems has given me pleasure, most of them have taught me something, and the general assembly delights me with its variety and energy. Following William Gass in On Being Blue (1976), I believe there are multiple ways... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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TTry this variant of the Pimm's Cup while watching Wimbledon: One ounce Pimm's One ounce gin (Boodles or Broker's) Three ounces lemonade or Limonata (San Pellegrino) One ounce club soda One lemon wheel Ice Cubes Top with club soda Optional: teaspoon of Cointreau; thin cucumber wheel; thin orange wheel; pitted cherry. Adding gin is always an option. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Kristina Marie Darling as our guest author. Kristina Marie Darling is the author of thirty books, including Look to Your Left: The Poetics of Spectacle (University of Akron Press, 2020); Je Suis L’Autre: Essays & Interrogations (C&R Press, 2017), which was named one of the “Best Books of 2017” by The Brooklyn Rail; and DARK HORSE: Poems (CR Press, 2018), which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Her work has been recognized with three residencies at Yaddo, where she has held both the Martha Walsh Pulver Residency for a Poet and the Howard Moss Residency in Poetry; a Fundación Valparaíso fellowship; a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship, funded by the Heinz Foundation; an artist-in-residence position at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris; three residencies at the American Academy in Rome; two grants from the Whiting Foundation; a Morris Fellowship in the Arts; and the Dan Liberthson Prize from the Academy of American Poets, among many other awards and honors. Her poems appear in The Harvard Review, Poetry International, New American Writing, Nimrod, Passages North, The Mid-American Review, and on the Academy of American Poets’ website, Poets.org. She has published essays in The Kenyon Review, Agni, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, and numerous other magazines. Kristina serves as editor-in-chief of Tupelo Press and Tupelo Quarterly, is an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Review of Books, and a contributing writer at Publishers Weekly. Welcome back, Kristina. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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"First comes the sweat. Then comes the beauty — if you’re very lucky and you’ve said your prayers." -- George Balanchine Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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On Silver Street, Cambridge, England. . . Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Max Fuchs (L) helped lead a historic service for Jewish-American soldiers in Aachen, Germany, in 1944. (Screenshot: YouTube via JTA) Max Fuchs, a rifleman in the First Infantry Division of the US Army, died on June 6, almost 74 years to the day from when he landed on Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day invasion in 1944.And on Oct. 29 of that year, Private Fuchs — who had attended a yeshiva and sang cantorial music in a choir while growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — sang the traditional Sabbath hymns at a hugely emotional open-air service on the Aachen battlefield before some 50 fellow Jewish soldiers. You can listen to the full service here: http://www.ajcarchives.org/main.php?DocumentId=13712 If you listen closely, you'll hear the words of Rabbi Lefkowitz, who lead the service: “How sweet upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger of good tidings.” "Profound with me is this service which we celebrate today. It is not the first which we hold in Germany but it is the first we broadcast to the world. With the prophet we say, "How sweet upon the mountain are the feet of the messenger of good tidings.'" i ....The light of religious freedom has pierced through the darkness • of Nazi persecution that freedom of conscience again exists in the land which had been denying men that. That eternal truth has lived through and will outlive the fanatical power which fought to destroy it. Again there is demonstrated these eternal truths that man cannot forever in the face of heaven, put himself in the place of God .... divinely given spirit in slavery and bondage." You can read his obituary in the New York Times here. Fuch's tour of service was similar to that of my father, who landed on Utah beach and went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. I'd like to think that my dad was among those who participated in the service. After his war service, Fuchs worked as a diamond cutter in Manhattan, as did my father. Perhaps they knew each other! Here's a feature about Max Fuchs and the service in Aichen, Germany. Avoid the comments: May his memory be a blessing. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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On Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 6:45 AM, Donald Hall <authordonaldhall@gmail.com> wrote: Dear David, Amazing, "America's Best Top Poet." At least they don't say "Bard." Guest appearances on Fox News? Did Bill and Hillary Clinton really do guest editors of The Best American Poetry? I don't remember. I'm watching the space! Don On Fri, Apr 6, 2018 at 2:56 PM, David Lehman wrote: Dear Don, Stacey and I had a lot of fun composing that announcement. It was an April Fool's Day joke, but apparently so well-conceived that it took in a lot of people. Say, maybe someone in the industry will notice and make us an offer we can't refuse. Luckily I don't own a race-horse. I am hoping that Elizabeth Bishop will be the guest editor of BAP one year. Love, David On Tue, Apr 10, 2018 at 6:56 AM, Donald Hall <authordonaldhall@gmail.com> wrote: Dear David, Good for you and Stacey! I'm too dumb to notice the dates on propositions! I think it was 2002 when on April 1 I had a letter headed The Immortality Project or something, which told me that I had been chosen for their enterprise, and I would have to vacate my house and spend three months at the Holiday Inn in New London while they tore down my house and barn and copied them exactly, with apparent white clapboards and green shutters, and the barn of unpainted wood, in permanent concrete. When I returned, I would discover a small box office erected at the side of my driveway, where visitors could buy tickets for the house tour… It took me a while before I noticed that it was dated April 1. It was Linda. Bishop will be a good choice to be editor. I hope you will get around to Robert Lowell, not to mention Richard Wilbur. Best to you both, Don On Sun, Apr 1, 2018 at 2:15 PM, David Lehman wrote: We recently learned that the moguls of Hollywood have cooked up "America's Next Top Poet." Unbelievable. Read more here. <<< Fox network announced today that it will headline its fall programming with "America's Next Top Bard." In the pilot, contestants are asked to memorize and recite a soliloquy from Hamlet, to write a bad sonnet on a quotation to be disclosed from Susan Sontag's literary essays, and to take part in the "Instant Haiku" round. Veteran impresario Bob Holman and chanteuse Stacey Kent join Franco and Lehman as hosts and judges. Forthcoming episodes will focus on competitors representing elite colleges, corporations, and television networks. The celebrity competitors in the pilot are Kate Mara, Josh Charles, and Elisabeth Moss, pictured at left, a Los Angeles native, who will turn thirty-two on July 24. Lehman explained that the thematic unity of the pilot derives from T. S. Eliot's characterization of April as "the cruelest month." "That's as much as I can say right now," said Lehman. Subsequent episodes will follow the format similar to other "America's Top" reality programs: a large... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
George Balanchine loved America. This Russian émigré choreographer, who founded the New York City Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein, delighted in everything from the songs of George Gershwin to the city's ''Don't Walk'' signs. When asked why he why he would choreograph to the marches of John Phillip Sousa, as he did for "Stars and Stripes," Balanchine replied, "because he makes me happy." On January 25, 1981, just five days after the American hostages were released from Iran, Balanchine added "Stars and Stripes" to program, as a special encore. It remains one of my favorite ballets. It is in this country that Balanchine was able to make his great contributions to dance. It pains me to think that there might be another Balanchine waiting to get here so his or her gifts can find their full expression on our shores. Here are highlights from Stars & Stripes. Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Tennessee Williams chose these lines from Hart Crane's poem "The Broken Tower" 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 Jun 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Jacqueline.
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In the English canon, I have a special affection for the seduction poems of John Donne and Andrew Marvell. Donne issued robust commands and adorned them in the most outlandish of poetic conceits. The female body becomes the map of the world: “License my roving hands, and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below. / O my America! my new-found-land.” Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is a monument to Latin logic (we’re young, time’s flying, act now) and features the sort of naughty pun that has delighted generations of English majors. Having praised his lady hyperbolically in the poem’s first stanza, Marvell heartlessly threatens her in the next with an image of untimely death: “then worms shall try / That long-preserved virginity, / And your quaint honor turn to dust, / And into ashes all my lust.” The pun on “quaint” – from the medieval queinte, the word from which “cunt” derives – enhances a poem that epitomizes seventeenth-century metaphysical wit. You’re meant to hear an echo of “The Miller’s Tale,” the bawdiest of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which a cunning clerk catches a lithesome lass “by the queinte.” Chaucer is writing a ribald and bawdy narrative, Marvell a seduction poem with a carpe diem argument. The two works couldn’t differ more dramatically. Yet I would not hesitate to characterize each as erotic, as is, for that matter, the Song of Songs in the Old Testament: “Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one bead of thy necklace. How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! And the smell of thine ointments than all spices!” In the realm of the erotic, the sacred and the profane converge, and so do the sublime and the ridiculous. The overlapping of sexual and religious impulses in art and literature is too marked to go unnoticed. Take, for example, Donne’s “holy sonnet” beginning “Batter my heart, three-personed God.” The poet presents his relation to God as that of a submissive lover begging to be overmastered. He concludes with rapid-fire paradoxes and pleas: “Take me to You, imprison me, for I, / Except You enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.” In some of Emily Dickinson’s poems as in the Donne sonnet, the sexual imagery serves a religious intent, yet the reader suspects that if you flip the terms “sexual” and “religious” in that clause, it would work equally well. The erotically obsessed Graham Greene, a sincere Catholic and unreformed adulterer, has a remarkable novel, The End of the Affair, in which the hero loses his lover not to her husband but to a much more formidable adversary -- the divinity whom she worships devoutly in church. It’s as if to say that Augustine (as he implies in his Confessions) could as easily have been a sinner as a saint, and with equal passion.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Donald Hall died two days ago. Back in 1988 I reviewed The One Day for the Washington Post. It may be Don’s finest book of poems and it pleased me enormously when we awarded it the NBCC prize in poetry. He deserved greater recognition than he got for his many contributions to the literary culture. In addition to all his other accomplishments, and there are many, Don (shown here with Jane Kenyon, his wife, in 1993) served as the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1989, the second volume in this series. He was a friend and mentor, and his ideas and methods, based on years of experience as an anthologist, proved invaluable to me in subsequent years. In Dana Gioia’s words, “Few people did as much for American poetry as Don did. He lived the idea of championing the ‘best American poetry’ long before the anthology emerged.” Defying medical prognostication he lived to be 89 and never ceased to produce fine work -- his octogenarian essays are terrific. Last year on Don’s birthday, the Oxford University Press’s blog reposted a piece I’d written when Don was named Poet Laureate of the United States. This is what I wrote: <<< Donald Hall is a wonderful choice for US Poet Laureate. I’ve worked closely with him on such projects as “The Best American Poetry 1989,” and in 1994 he asked me to succeed him as general editor of the University of Michigan Press’s “Poets on Poetry” series. So I feel a special kinship with him. But there are many poets and other writers out there who feel a similar bond with Don Hall, for he has always been a generous mentor and an exemplary figure, proving (for example) that an outstanding poet can also do admirable work as an editor, an anthologist, a writer of children’s verse, a sports writer, a writer of short stories and of textbooks. In his versatility and with his energy, Donald Hall has always demonstrated the value of hard work in one’s poetic practice. The title of one of his prose books, Life Work, sums up the almost moral imperative that work represents for Hall. Reviewing his book “The One Day” in The Washington Post in 1988, I called it “loud, sweeping, multitudinous, an act of the imperial imagination,” and cited a climactic line suggestive of Hall’s fundamental take on life: “Work, love, build a house and die. But build a house.” The contributor’s note indicated that as “the editor of the Oxford Book of American Poetry, which was published this spring [ie. 2006],” I included “The Impossible Marriage” and four other poems by Donald Hall. >>> I like “noble” as the adjective to associate with Donald Hall's life work. – DL, June 25, 2018 See http://www.impurities.xyz/david-lehman-on-donald-hall-oupblog/ Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for the graceful comment, Grace. -- DL
I love Watt -- the bitter laugh, the hollow laugh, the mirthless laugh.