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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
Donna, Good question. I'll find out and let you know. Stacey
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Current Poet Laureate of the city of San Antonio and recently appointed Poet Laureate of the state of Texas for 2016, Laurie Ann Guerrero is the author of three poetry collections, Babies under the Skin, A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, and A Crown for Gumecindo. Guerrero's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry, Indiana Review, Huizache, Texas Monthly, Bellevue Review, Women's Studies Quarterly, Feminist Studies, and others. She is the Writer-in-Residence & Literary Arts Director at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio and Director of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros. She holds a BA in English from Smith College and an MFA in poetry from Drew University. Follow Laurie Ann on twitter @laurannguerrero and facebook. Visit her website here. Welcome, Laurie Ann. In other news . . . David Lehman and Sherman Alexie to host The Best American Poetry 2015 Launch Reading at The New School Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm The Auditorium at 66 West 12th Street, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011 -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm The Auditorium at 66 West 12th Street, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011 For the 14th straight year, the New School Writing Program hosts the launch reading of The Best American Poetry.These poets represented in the 2015 book will take part in an event moderated by series editor David Lehman, poetry coordinator, New School Writing Program, and Sherman Alexie, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2015. Sarah Arvio, Melissa Barrett, Mark Bibbins, Emma Bolden, Catherine Bowman, Jericho Brown, Julie Carr, Chen Chen', Danielle DeTiberus, Natalie Diaz, Meredith Hasemann, Saeed Jones, Joan Naviyuk Kane, Laura Kasischke, David Kirby, Dana Levin, Dora Malech, Donna Masini, Airea Dee Matthews, Laura McCullough, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Dennis Nurkse, Alan Michael Parker, Donald Platt, Raphael Rubinstein, Bethany Schultz-Hurst, Evie Shockley,Sandra Simonds, Susan Terris, Michael Tyrell, Sidney Wade, Cody Walker, Afaa Michael Weaver, Terence Winch, Jane Wong, and Monica Youn. Books will be for sale. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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View from the Ile de la Cité: In the shadow of the Hôtel de Ville, stronghold of Mayor Hidalgo, and suspected cowboy in the Paris Plage buy-out deal. Beware, said sources close to me, of things in August that seem perfectly nice photo (c) Tracy Danison Since I turned sixty, I’ve discovered that everything I know is out of date. That’s why I was cheerfully hoofing it on down to Shakespeare & Co.: I was under the out-of-date impression I could there have SECOND-HAND books at LOWER PRICES. In out-of-date block letters, too. Well, not at all. So, I had to go back home with new, expensive books under my arm. Of itself, vexation is worth a draft beer. But also all this is a pretty fair aller-retour on a frighteningly hot & sunny day for a man sixty years of age plying the limestone jungle that is Paris. Alors, as well, I reminded myself, when the going gets tough, the tough find a shady café. Cheered by these reflections, I shamble off in a zigzag mode calculated to avoid tourist crushes and, eventually, to bring me to where I might order a démi - “half” of what, exactly? Did you know that nearly 21 million tourists have passed through Paris just since the first of this year 2015? It seems most of them cluster around Notre Dame, pushing & shoving each other to get a better look at the racy fires-of-hell scene sculpted into the tympan. Tip: Satan has a particularly astonishing member. The café at the bottom of rue des Quenoüils is the shaded eyepiece of a kaleidoscope pointed over les Halles. photo 2015 (c) Tracy Danison Headed east nor’east, the crush wind pushed the bobbing little ship of myself north nor’west. I beached up on what was formerly called rue des Quenoüils, an old spelling for “Quenouille”. Quenouille means “distaff” - a tube or stick used for spinning flax or wool, can serve as a qualifier denoting things about or concerning women. The café at the bottom of rue des Quenoüils is the shaded eyepiece of a kaleidoscope pointed over les Halles. After the second drink, the rosette of Saint Eustache is those nervous little shards of colored glass that shift around in the sunshine. And therein was shocking news. Ahh, how mean and sinister these charming streets came to seem in the course of a few beers! You may know that when it is summer and often hot and sunny, the Paris City Mothers provide a beach to the concitoyens who can’t afford, or have no, vacation. The Tea-Party types are right, you know: once you’ve tasted fruit from the socialistical tree, you never want to stop. photo 2015 (c) Tracy Danison This improbable socialistical beach, Paris Plage, is on the north bank of the Seine, parked summer-long on the cross-town expressway, dominated from above by the new-washed Hôtel de Ville, where la plage has a volleyball court where once evil-doers were hanged. La plus que... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Great (Grate) piece.
Is it Wordsworth (pictured?) who cast no shadow? Who remained a virgin all his life? (Carlyle?)
Us!
Toggle Commented Aug 21, 2015 on We're On Vacation!! at The Best American Poetry
Caviar to the general -- I remember when I thought that phrase was an allusion to a famous military leader, a Napoleon or Alexander, who turned up his nose at the little fish eggs. I love the title you have chosen for this poem. It strikes me as superior to "The Old Leech-Gatherer" for the Wordsworth poem you reference. Thank you.
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 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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We're taking a much needed break until September. We hope you are enjoying your summer. Stacey & David Continue reading
Posted Aug 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Back in 2012, we posted two articles by poet J. Chester Johnson about his work with W.H. Auden on the revisions to the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. You can read Johnson's posts here and here. We've just learned that the current issue of Illuminations features an interview with J. Chester Johnson in which he continues to deepen our understanding of his groundbreaking work with Auden--how he came to replace Auden, correspond with the great poet, and then set about helping the Episcopal Church refine the Psalms in the light of new scholarship. Poet and translator Ann Cefola interviews Johnson about the influence this experience with Auden and the retranslation of the Psalms had upon Johnson's literary career; she also discusses with Johnson the principles and practices that guided the retranslation process that lasted for nearly a decade. The interview encapsulates a critical period in Episcopal Church history and valuable insight into translating sacred texts. You can find the interview in its entirety here. Find out more about J. Chester Johnson's work here. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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a tote bag by poet Nicole Santalucia from TicTacTote: filled with a set of Saltlickers from poet Jennifer L. Knox And a volume of the Best American Poetry 2015, by lots of poets?: Answer: Invited back! -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Click through to read the poem and see the illustrations. Click on the individual image to see it in high resolution (they're spectacular! sdh) The Ugly Stepsister You don't know what it was like. My mother marries this bum who takes off on us, after only a few months, leaving his little Cinderella behind. Oh yes, Cindy will try to tell you that her father died. She's like that, she's a martyr. But between you and me, he took up with a dame close to Cindy's age. My mother never got a cent out of him for child support. So that explains why sometimes the old lady was gruff. My sisters and I didn't mind Cindy at first, but her relentless cheeriness soon took its toll. She dragged the dirty clothes to one of Chelsea's many laundromats. She was fond of talking to mice and rats on the way. She loved doing dishes and scrubbing walls, taking phone messages, and cleaning toilet bowls. You know, the kind of woman that makes the rest of us look bad. My sisters and I weren't paranoid, but we couldn't help but see this manic love for housework as part of Cindy's sinister plan. Our dates would come to pick us up and Cindy'd pop out of the kitchen offering warm chocolate chip cookies. Critics often point to the fact that my sisters and I were dark and she was blonde, implying jealousy on our part. But let me set the record straight. We have the empty bottles of Clairol's Nice'n Easy to prove Cindy was a fake. She was what her shrink called a master manipulator. She loved people to feel bad for her-her favorite phrase was a faint, "I don't mind. That's OK." We should have known she'd marry Jeff Charming, the guy from our high school who went on to trade bonds. Cindy finagled her way into a private Christmas party on Wall Street, charging a little black dress at Barney's, which she would have returned the next day if Jeff hadn't fallen head over heels. She claimed he took her on a horse-and-buggy ride through Central Park, that it was the most romantic evening of her life, even though she was home before midnight-a bit early, if you ask me, for Manhattan. It turned out that Jeff was seeing someone else and had to cover his tracks. But Cindy didn't let little things like another woman's happiness get in her way. She filled her glass slipper with champagne she had lifted from the Wall Street extravaganza. She toasted to Mr. Charming's coming around, which he did soon enough. At the wedding, some of Cindy's friends looked at my sisters and me with pity. The bride insisted that our bridesmaids' dresses should be pumpkin, which is a hard enough color for anyone to carry off. But let me assure you, we're all very happy now that Cindy's moved uptown. We've started a mail order business-cosmetics and perfumes. Just between you and... Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you kindly, Kindness. I made the change. SDH
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Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm The Auditorium at 66 West 12th Street, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011 For the 14th straight year, the New School Writing Program hosts the launch reading of The Best American Poetry.These poets represented in the 2015 book will take part in an event moderated by series editor David Lehman, poetry coordinator, New School Writing Program, and Sherman Alexie, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2015. Sarah Arvio, Melissa Barrett, Mark Bibbins, Emma Bolden, Catherine Bowman, Jericho Brown, Julie Carr, Chen Chen', Danielle DeTiberus, Natalie Diaz, Meredith Hasemann, Saeed Jones, Joan Naviyuk Kane, Laura Kasischke, David Kirby, Dana Levin, Dora Malech, Donna Masini, Airea Dee Matthews, Laura McCullough, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Dennis Nurkse, Alan Michael Parker, Donald Platt, Raphael Rubinstein, Bethany Schultz-Hurst, Evie Shockley,Sandra Simonds, Susan Terris, Michael Tyrell, Sidney Wade, Cody Walker, Afaa Michael Weaver, Terence Winch, Jane Wong, and Monica Youn. Books will be for sale. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Aug 2, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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I had to laugh out loud when I was reading State of the Art by David Lehman, and I came across this quote from Nicholoson Baker's The Anthologist. Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Don Freas as our guest author. Don is a poet and sculptor, and was a furniture designer-craftsman for forty years. Raised in Pennsylvania, he migrated in 1972 to the Pacific Northwest where he lives and works along the shores of Puget Sound in Olympia, Washington. He holds a 1996 MFA from Bennington College. His most recent book of poems is SWALLOWING THE WORLD: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (Lost Arts Design, 2015). You can find more information about his poetry at donfreaspoetry.com, sculpture and furniture at donfreas.com. Follow Don on twitter @donfreas. Welcome, Don. sdh & DL Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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PHOTO: YAO XIAO If our age is apocalyptic in mood—and rife with doomsday scenarios, nuclear nightmares, religious fanatics and suicidal terrorists—there may be no more chilling statement of our condition than William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming.” Written in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of the epoch-ending disaster that was World War I, “The Second Coming” extrapolates a fearful vision from the moral anarchy of the present. The poem also, almost incidentally, serves as an introduction to the great Irish poet’s complex conception of history, which is cyclical, not linear. Things happen twice, the first time as sublime, the second time as horrifying, so that, instead of the “second coming” of the savior, Jesus Christ, Yeats envisages a monstrosity, a “rough beast” threatening violence commensurate with the human capacity for bloodletting. continue reading at the Wall Street Journal (If you're not a subscriber, a Google "News" search using "WSJ David Lehman" as your terms will take you to the full piece. sdh) Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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The day was momentous, but parties were mixed blessings. You got presents, all right—pick-up sticks, or crayons, or flat boxes of modeling clay in many colored strips—but they were the lesser presents of party admissions. And we all had to sit at the table with ridiculous pointed paper hats, and paper plates and noisemakers and popping balloons and pretend to a joyful delirium. In fact, a birthday party was a satire on children directed by their mothers, who hovered about, distributing Dixie Cups and glasses of milk while cooing in appreciation for the aesthetics of the event, the way each child was dressed for it and so on; and who set us upon one another in games of the most acute competition, so that we either cried in humiliation or punched each other to inflict pain. And it was all done up in the impermanent materials of crepe paper, thin rubber and tin, everything painted in the gaudy color of lies. And the climax of the chaos, blowing out candles on the cake, presented likely possibility of public failure and a loss of luck in the event the thing was not done well. In fact, I had a secret dread of not being able to blow out the candles before they burned down to the icing. That meant death. Candles burning down to the end, as in my grandmother’s tumblers of candles, which could not be tampered with once lit, memorialized someone’s death. And the Friday-night Sabbath candles that she lit with her hands covering her eyes, the shawl over her head, suggested to me her irremediable grief, a pantomime of the loss of sight that comes to the dead under the earth. So I blew for my life, to have some tallow left for the following year. My small chest heaved and I was glad for my mother’s head beside mind, adding to the gust, even though it would mean I had not done the job the way one was supposed to, with aplomb. from World's Fair (Random House, 1985) Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Great to have you on board, Anna. -- DL
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I became a convert to James Tate’s poetry when he published Constant Defender and Reckoner in 1983 and ’86 respectively. I was asked to review his work for the Washington Post Book World, and this in part is what I wrote: “Tate brings to his work an extravagantly surrealistic imagination and a willingness to let his words take him where they will. Nonchalant in the midst of radical uncertainty, he handles bizarre details as though they were commonplace facts. [Tate’s poetry draws upon] so rich a fund of comic energy that it may well prove an antidote to the anxiety some readers feel with poems that refuse to lend themselves to instant analysis.” What I did not suspect was the break-out success that occurred a few years later with Distance from Loved Ones. Tate had always had a unique comic sensibility – he was hilarious but with an edge, almost a menacing edge. He continued to write poems that enlarged the boundaries of the comic imagination. But suddenly there was an overflow of wonderful prose poems – the title poem of Distance from Loved Ones, for example -- and for the next twenty-five years, Jim managed to reinvent the prose poem as a form while turning them out at an astonishingly prolific rate. Some could be read as parables, some as shaggy dog stories; there were those that depended on a single idea carried to an extreme and others in which the dialogue took over. He was a master of the uncanny. It is quite possible that no poet of our time has done more to integrate narrative and poetry than has James Tate. Poets are greater than the sum of their influences, but to get an idea of where Tate comes from you would need to consider the tales of the "grotesque and arabesque" of Edgar Allan Poe, the French surrealists with their exaltation of chance and accident, the casual diction of New York School poets and the value they place on variety and possibility, and the wild fabulism of certain South American writers – an assemblage that suggests a diversity of impulse while conveying only the vaguest idea of what Tate was up to when he undertook to satirize a concept in such prose poems as “National Security” or “Bounden Duty." For the writer interested in the prose poem there is no one’s work that will prove as rewarding as that of James Tate. In Dome of the Hidden Pavilion, Jim’s latest book, scheduled to appear from the Ecco Press in August, there is a poem entitled “Invisible,” which I find charming although it doesn’t have the metaphoric richness of, say, “The Key to the Universe” in the same book. The story in “Invisible” is deliberately banal, concerning the chance meetings of two men. One of them knows the other, or acts as if he does; but the speaker tells us he “didn’t know the man,” so the encounters are always just this side of ghostly. When the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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In his wonderful book, State of the Art, David Lehman writes: After observing that "every revolution in poetry" is at base "a return to common speech," T.S. Eliot in "The Music of Poetry" (1942) goes on to give the rationale for this sort of "talk poetry": "No poetry, of course, is ever exactly the same speech that the poet talks and hears" but it has to be in such a relation to the speech of his time that the listener or reader can say 'that is how I should talk if I could talk poetry.'' Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Anna Cypra Oliver as our guest author. Anna is the author of the acclaimed memoir Assembling My Father (Houghton Mifflin, 2004; Mariner Books, 2006). Her essays have appeared in The Inquisitive Eater (published along with her painting, “Consider the Lobster,”), Tupelo Quarterly, Fourth Genre, and dislocate. She received a 2001 fellowship in nonfiction literature from the New York Foundation for the Arts and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota. These days, she spends most of her time painting instead of writing. Welcome, Anna. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Alex and Paul Violi Earlier this year I created my first class with Paul Violi, which was an attempt to know more about the poet’s inventive writing style and strategies for navigating life’s great joys and uncertainties. I scoured the Internet for clues on Violi’s literary habits, international forays, and teaching work. The search returned extensive praise for his poetry and overwhelming anecdotes on who he was as a friend and colleague. Continuing my hunt, a website listing the poet’s surname surfaced. I was curious, as the site had nothing to do with creative writing. It was instead for a personal trainer named Alex Violi. The photos on the site revealed an extremely fit individual, someone who pushed himself to the limits of physical prowess. Might this be the grown-up version of the Alexander mentioned in Violi’s “Little Testament”? I wondered. Responding to my inquiry, Alex confirmed that he was indeed the poet’s son, and in true Violi fashion, he amiably agreed to speak with me. We met one evening last February at Saint Alp’s Teahouse in the East Village. Alex wore all black and his head was shaved except for a mohawk leading into a braided ponytail. He spoke with a quiet confidence, and it wasn’t long before I saw the “golden attitude” that his father had used to describe him. Alex’s own sly humor flashed in between reflections of his father’s life and insights into the ways their lives converged. The following is an excerpt of our conversation. How do you feel that you and your dad are alike? He told me that we were alike in the way that we knew right away who we would like and who we wouldn’t like – who we could be around and who we knew we couldn’t be around. I guess he had a good read on people, and he said that I did as well. I think that just comes from being in New York. You learn how to read people throughout the years. Eventually you just get good at it. But we would debate as well. Are there ways that you see yourself as being different from your dad? Yeah. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. He was a heavy, heavy smoker. I couldn’t stand it. I don’t eat meat. He was a huge meat eater. He hated gyms. I hate gyms, but it’s also like a love-hate thing. He drove in. I take the subway. I also lost my license for speeding, so I guess in that way we’re really similar, too. He lost his. He used to get really mad at me for my habit of getting speeding tickets. And then I found out he was getting his license suspended around the same time. So that argument stopped. I guess it was genetic. I don’t know. This is interesting because there’s his poem “Extenuating Circumstances,” which is directed to a police officer who’s just pulled him over: I don’t know how fast I was going but,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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The Chicago-based Poetry Foundation has named an interim president and a new board chairman. Henry Bienen, acting president, served as president of Northwestern University for fifteen years from 1995 to 2009. "I started out in undergraduate school at Cornell University thinking poetry might be a vocation of sorts for me," Bienen says. "The great poet W.D. Snodgrass disabused me of that idea." Before coming to Northwestern, Bienen taught at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. The new board chairman is Richard Kiphart, whose successful career at William Blair & Company in Chicago prefigured an active role as a philanthropist. A Milwaukee native, Kiphart attended Dartmouth -- "My favorite poet, given I am a Dartmouth guy, is Robert Frost," he says -- and went on to take his MBA at Harvard. Asked to explain the Poetry Foundation's mandate -- to serve "poetry rather than poets" -- Kiphart says, "By building the largest possible audience for poetry, we believe that we are serving all poets." The first item on his agenda moving forward is "a national search for a new president." A Vietnam veteran, who served as an officer aboard a US Navy minesweeper, Kiphart responded warmly to the suggestion that the Poetry Foundation should support an effort to distribute books of poetry to US servicemen, as was done during WWII: "What an interesting idea! Happily, through our digital programs, we offer more than 13,000 poems for free, as well as every issue of the magazine, podcasts and lots of other content. This is another point of pride for the Foundation’s great work in building an amazing poetry archive." Since a monumental bequest by pharmaceutical heiress and poetry lover Ruth Lilly twelve years ago, the Poetry Foundation has been the nation's wealthiest organization devoted solely to poetry. It is worth noting that Kiphart lives in Chicago and that Northwestern, which Bienen headed, is in Evanston, part of the greater Chicago community. One implication is that the foundation recognizes that a part of its mission is Chicago-specific. A second implication is that there was a culture clash between the organization and its former president, Robert Polito, who served for a surprisingly abbreviated term of two years. Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2015 at The Best American Poetry