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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
This fun piece by Gabriela Gershenson reminded me of the following: "Coffee makes a sad man, cheerful; a languorous man, active; a cold man, warm; a warm man, glowing; a debilitated man, strong. It intoxicates, without inviting the police; it excites a flow of spirits, and awakens mental powers thought to be dead . . . Coffee clears the mind of vapors; the brain of cobwebs; the heart of pain; the soul of care. It invigorates the faculties, and makes an old man young. It is the terror of advancing age. Creditors fly from it; debtors cry for it. When coffee is bad, it is the wickedest thing in town; when good, the most glorious. When it has lost its aromatic flavor, and appeals no more to the eye, smell or taste, it is fierce; but when left in a sick room, with the lid off, it fills the room with a fragrance only jacque-minots can rival. The very smell of coffee in a sick room terrorizes death." -- from Over the Black Coffee by Arthur Gray (1902) -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 2 hours ago at The Best American Poetry
Next week, as we all know, Elizabeth Alexander (left) will read a poem composed for the occasion at the inauguration of Barack Obama. The welcome mat is being extended by communities beyond the sphere of constant poetry-readers. George W. Bush disdained the presence of a poet at his two inaugurations, and in fact there now seems to be a party split as to the desirability of having a poet share the limelight with the pastor and the new president. Republicans say no, in thunder, and Democrats gladly schedule a few minutes of verse as part of the ceremony. Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and Miller Williams have spent time at the podium, thanks to the sponsorship of center-left presidents-elect. This situation seems rather odd, since conservatives historically have respected the literary, and more generally the cultural, tradition. Who is more conservative than a poet—he or she who seeks to conserve or preserve the riches of the English language and the wisdom of the ages? Modern poets were more politically conservative than not, as with Pound, Eliot, Frost, Tate, and Stevens, though the term is clearly insufficient for the complexity of their poetic temperaments, to say nothing of figures like D. H. Lawrence (an honorary American), William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. Alexander is an excellent choice because she carries forward what I think of as the great tradition of public poetry by African American authors exemplified most ambitiously by Robert Hayden(right). That is, she has worked hard to construct a pantheon of black citizens and artists, and victims, in order to write the African American person into the complex narrative of American history. Hayden worked programmatically to place the lives of figures like Phillis Wheately, Nat Turner, Cinquez (Alexander has also written a long poem featuring the Amistad), Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Paul Robeson, Tiger Flowers, Bessie Smith, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and others, into the literary record. (He was completing a poem about Josephine Baker when he died.) His agenda evokes the statues of presidents and generals and suchlike that populated most communities in the nation until recently. Nobody seems to miss these statues, except Tom Wolfe who has argued for them in several essays, but we would certainly miss the presence of neglected public figures in poems if writers like Alexander, and Gwendolyn Brooks, Michael S. Harper, Rita Dove, Sam Cornish, A. Van Jordan, and many others, stopped writing them. Once it was a culture war, or perhaps a race war, as to which people were to be celebrated. Don L. Lee addressed white readers in the 1960s in what he called a nationhood poem, “u take artur rubenstein over thelonious monk . . .u take robert bly over imamu baraka . . . u take picasso over charles white . . .” Hayden made no such binary oppositions in his poems and criticism, which earned him the enmity of poets like Lee (now Haki R. Madhubuti), nor does Alexander, though in her signature poem... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
C.M. Looking back, how do you recall your 50-plus years as a writer? P.R. Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through. The day-by-day repertoire of oscillating dualities that any talent withstands — and tremendous solitude, too. And the silence: 50 years in a room silent as the bottom of a pool, eking out, when all went well, my minimum daily allowance of usable prose. -- New York Times, January 16, 2018 Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
I have so much to say about this! Years ago I sat next to a young dancer from the Miami City Ballet. (I had turned in an extra tkt a he got it.) Although I've been a ballet fan for decades, I'm not a trained dancer so I asked him during an intermission to tell me what he observed about the dancers. He pointed out the way certain dancers held back from the beat. "That's classic Edward Villela," he said. You hang back and that creates tension. Certain dancers seem to stay airborne or on point for a nano-second longer than expected and the observers can feel this in their own bodies. I agree it is similar to what might happen in a poem (Emily Dickinson comes to mind) when a word or a line is a complete surprise and yet precisely correct. The tension is resolved. Once upon a time in summer both Nureyev and Baryshnikov were dancing at Lincoln Center though with different companies, Nureyev and the Metropolitan Opera House and Baryshnikov at the NYS Theater (now the Koch theater). I went up there for single seat and opted for Baryshnikov (most likely b/c it was the less expensive of the tkts.). While I don't regret my choice (how could I?) I do wish I had seen Rudy. I had visited both theaters before making my choice and the tkt seller at the Met almost talked me into seeing Rudy in Romeo and Juliet. "He kisses her," she said. "It's gorgeous." Thank you for this terrific post Charise. Two of my favorite subjects, ballet and poetry.
Thank you for this excellent and informative post. It is good to remind ourselves that America contrasted sharply with the Soviet Union in our nation's (relative) openness, our traditional lack of borders, lack of walls, presence instead of bridges and harbor statuary. I love the bridge metaphor for literary translation. The US really is favored by fortune and destiny -- the two oceans on either side long made it possible to reject the image or idea of "fortress America." It would be a pity if that legacy of liberty were adulterated because of the threats of bomb-throwers and drug cartels or because of the extreme reaction they provoke. Also good to remind ourselves of how lucky we are, we who escaped from Soviet tyranny as you did, or as my parents did when they took refuge in the States from Nazi Europe. It was difficult to get into the country in the late 1930s. Some on the right (America Firsters) were not kindly disposed to the Jews. On the contrary. There was plenty of hate. There were also quotas and requirements that limited entry. -- DL
I like all these comments and agree just about with all of them. -- DL
Very glad to be hosting you. -- DL
Great song expertly rendered by Mr Nat King Cole. A musicologist tells me that the song seems to derive from a Judaic melody. Thank you for the dance.-- DL
This week we welcome Charise M. Hoge, MA, MSW, as our guest author. Charise is a dance/movement therapist, performing artist, and writer. Her work in arts and healing has brought wellness programs into hospitals, prisons, counseling centers, museums, and businesses. Her dance performance career spans four decades across several U.S. cities. She’s a third culture kid (TCK), military spouse, and co-author of the book A Portable Identity: A Woman’s Guide to Maintaining a Sense of Self While Moving Overseas. Her first poetry chapbook, Striking Light from Ashes, is available from Finishing Line Press (July 2017). Her poems are featured in various journals and platforms, as well as her own blog Find out more about Charise here. Welcome, Charise. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
<< if it's true, as George Clay once helpfully put it, that "Tolstoy is what happens the most and Dostoevsky the most that can happen," then maybe Babel’s Dostoevskian “five minutes” are taken from Tolstoy’s “twenty-four hours.” In other words, where Dostoevsky, according to Babel and others, offers us a revealing (but often unkind) intensification of the human condition, and where Tolstoy is the apotheosis of a transparent (and often overbearing) objective descriptiveness, Babel arrives at a poetic and narrative distillation of the world as it is––"the essence of things," in his words. >> Beautifully said. -- DL
Welcome aboard. Glad to have you with us. -- DL
This week we welcome Val Vinokur as our guest author. Val has been published in such venues as Common Knowledge, The Boston Review, McSweeney's, LitHub, The Russian Review, Zeek, The Massachusetts Review, Journal of Religion and Society, The Literary Review, and New American Writing. His book, The Trace of Judaism: Dostoevsky, Babel, Mandelstam, Levinas, was published by Northwestern University Press and was a finalist for the 2009 AATSEEL Award for Best Book in Literary/Cultural Studies. He has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in support of his and Rose-Myriam Réjouis' translation of Marie Vieux-Chauvet's trilogy Amour, Colere et Folie -- a lost classic of Haitian literature -- for Random House Modern Library (2009). Rejouis and Vinokur have also translated two novels by Patrick Chamoiseau, Solibo Magnificent and Texaco (Pantheon Books, 1997). His translation of Isaac Babel’s stories (Northwestern, 2017) is now available. Welcome, Val. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
I called her Gina Lollobrigida, I saw her on the street, I said, ‘Hey, Gina Lollobrigida.” She said, ‘Who is Gina Lollobrigida?’ I said, ‘She is Gina Lollobrigida.’ She said, ‘Okay, I will Google her. -- Mitch Sisskind (11 / 22/ 17) Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The best of the popular American Scholar weekly contest gathered in one book: Hey, #mla18 attendees: A free advance reading copy of NEXT LINE, PLEASE: PROMPTS TO INSPIRE POETS AND WRITERS edited by David Lehman (@BestAmPo) to the first person who comes to @CornellPress booth 213 and can tell me what a sestina is. — Mahinder S. Kingra (@MSK_CornellUP) January 6, 2018 --sdl Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
(Ed note: Last summer, Ron Padgett allerted us to his wonderful essay about his great friend the poet and artist Joe Brainard. I'm posting an excerpt below with a link to the full piece. Thank you Ron. sdh) Untitled (Pat), June or July 1961, oil on pressboard, 15 ¾ X 15 inches (c) Joe Brainard Joe Brainard in 1961-63 by Ron Padgett Because documentation has been lacking, relatively little has been written about two crucial years in Joe Brainard’s life, 1961 and 1962— just after he moved at age 18 to York City (December of 1960) and just before he moved to Boston (January of 1963). Joe did not keep a diary, nor did he write letters to his closest friends, who had come to New York about the same time as he. His letters—the few that survive—to his parents and aunt back in Tulsa consisted of perfunctory reassurances that he was all right. Recently, however, a group of his letters has surfaced, providing new and important details on this period. The letters and postcards were addressed to Sue Schempf (1918–2009), a woman he met in Tulsa when he was still a high school student or a very recent graduate. Schempf, a decent Sunday painter, had signed on as a patron; that is, in the early 1960s she was sending him five dollars per month. The financial arrangement appears to have been vague: at several points Joe mentions owing her money and at others he gives the impression that she is due work in exchange or that he is going to repay her. Regardless, the monthly arrival of five dollars was important to Joe. The first piece of correspondence (postmarked December 15, 1960), addressed to Schempf and her husband, is a postcard announcement of Joe’s modest solo exhibition at a place called The Gallery, in a small shopping center in Tulsa, to take place on December 17 and 18. The announcement is addressed in the hand of someone other than Joe, who was either in Dayton or New York City at the time. Over the course of the next year, Sue Schempf herself would open a frame shop, which would also be available for small shows. At some point she bought one of his collages, a 1960 work that not only reflected the structure of the cover design he did for The White Dove Review a year or so before but also proved to be a harbinger of his collages to come 15 years later. Fig 01 Mixed media collage, 1960, coll. E. G. Schempf 25 × 22 inches Find Ron Padgett's essay along with a beautiful gallery of Brainard's work here. Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
photo (c) Evelyn Horowitz. From left to right: Michael Malinowitz, Chard deNiord (now, poet Laureate of Vermont) and of course John. The background is a carpet bought from David Kermani. From Michael Malinowitz: So many of my memories of John are of John and David and Evelyn and me and all of the friends and acquaintances that entail and entwine the enduing friendship of the 40 plus years I knew John. So, I thought Evelyn's photo and words would be a fitting tribute. Yet, I was a student in John's first class at the MFA program at Brooklyn College (where I met his adjunct, David Lehman), and for me it's where my JA voyage started. Aside from tutorials where I became acquainted with Dame Edna Everage; Pachelbel's Canon in D; Marias' Sonnerie de Sainte Genevieve; the Perfect Bombay Gin and Vermouth with cucumber Martini, and any poet worth mentioning which to John it seemed to me was almost everyone, it was also where John teased me about the "write a poem in a poetic form" assignment I handed in to him. I wrote an acrostic starting with J and titled it, The Casey Stengel of Poetry. He said he thought of suing, but I'd probably win the case on "coincidence." The last line of the poem--- "You traveled a sweeping pathway."--=well, I'm glad for that line. As always and with gratitude to you both and giving us a chance to say Thank You John, Michael From Evelyn Horowitz: I first met John at a dinner given by the writer Jill Hoffman. She had been a colleague of John's at Brooklyn College and a teacher of the poet Michael Malinowitz, whom I had just started dating. My second meeting was in the summer of '78 at Bennington College. John read and after the reading I offered him some Grand Marnier. John later told Jill he liked me as I had nice liquor. We both returned to Bennington the next summer, I as the "go for" girl for the writer's program and assistant to the poet Stephen Sandy (who died late last year). While killing time before he read, John, a student (Synn Stern), and I sat around a living room and played twenty questions. I don't remember whom Synn or I chose but I do remember John's. Care to guess? Broderick Crawford I took the picture that same summer. From left to right: Michael Malinowitz, Chard deNiord (now poet Laureate of Vermont) and of course John. The background is a carpet bought from David Kermani. Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
"Brief Encounter" by David Lehman [Note: In early 2013 Jennifer L. Knox asked a bunch of people to name and say a few words about our favorite chick flick.' This is what I wrote. for other entries, see Jennifer's blog "Delirious Helm"] My favorite chick flick is "Brief Encounter," David Lean's black-and-white 1945 tearjerker starring Celia Johnson as a respectable middle-class housewife and Trevor Howard as the married doctor whom she meets in a train station. The first meeting is accidental, the second is deliberate, the start of a love affair, intense though not quite consummated, that is told from Celia Johnson's point of view and in her voice, to the lush romantic strains of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto. (And btw, according to the London Telegraph of 25 April 2011, Rocky's Second remains the United Kingdom's favorite piece of classical music, besting anything by Beethoven or Mozart, undoubtedly because of this film.) Railway stations, and the tea rooms in them, which were still ubiquitous in my own time as a grad student in England, are a perfect setting for the lovers' furtive meetings. They are dreary, ordinary, impersonal places, although back then, in even the meanest of them you could get an excellent cup of brewed tea rather than the teabag variety. The love affair is, in effect, an interruption, a delay, and a slight detour in the journey of two lives that will never again intersect. The restraint and dignity of the characters (and the actors who portray them) give the film its terrific resonance. No clothes get taken off, yet there's heat. The adulterers communicate that something significant is at stake: the movie pushes the idea that in the matter of sexual relationships between consenting adults, there is no free lunch (and if there is, it isn't love). A psychoanalyst would argue the picture illustrates Freud's assertion that the repression of instinctual desire, no matter what the cost to the psyche, is what allows civilization (and two marriages) to exist. My wife singles out the last meeting of the lovers, which gets interrupted by an insipid, yammering woman who has spent the day shopping. We also like what happens when Celia Johnson returns to her amazingly compassionate husband, who intuits what has happened, though she has said nothing. An incidental pleasure is hearing, in the background of one scene, Schubert's "Marche Militaire," which I have never been able to resist. Posted January 4, 2013 Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Here are two poems by Bob Holman. You are asked to choose between them. Much depends on your choice. For it has been said that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who favor Brumal (“(Do Not Leave Out) The Invisible Line”) and those who prefer "The Tyranny of the Poem." In which category do you fall? Are you an Alice or a Mabel? As for me, I take refuge in Kierkegaard. I know the right answer but am honor bound to keep it a secret. -- DL (1) Brumal (“(Do Not Leave Out) The Invisible Line”) Solstice Day incites play in my poetic driveway I get the picture -- take down the light fixture The posse be sleepin by the chimney with care A flashlight app blows up their green blacklight hair So what if it's short? Fine poetic consort And cold? Dusky dank? Take that to the bank Let us sing to the balance of moon and sun To the invisible line that connects everyone (2) The tyranny of the poem It will never end You will never be alone again Beware Everybody’s hand on the big pencil Pushing out the first letter Of the first word of the poem Then go on from there Go ahead Go on into the theater Never to return to this poem Yet the poem waits for you Right here where you left it It is the tyranny of the poem You can leave the poem But the poem will never leave you You will never be alone again -- Bob Holman Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Great to watch while listening to Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor. -- DL
<<< "so foul a sky clears not without a storm." -- Shakespeare >>> Joseph Conrad's epigraph for Nostromo Bonus epigraph: << "Those that hold that all things are governed by Fortune had not erred, had they not persisted there." -- Sir Thomas Browne >> Quiz: This quotation appears on the title page of which Conrad novel? Chances are you'll guess right if Marlow's your man. - DL Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Posted Dec 31, 2017 at The Best American Poetry