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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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Over at the American Scholar, the "Next Line, Please" contest continues. This time readers are invited to write two-line poems. When I edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry, I discovered a whole genre of two-line poems—poems that make their point quickly and efficiently, with maximum clarity and economy and usually more than a soupçon of wit. Let’s write two-line poems for next week. The trick is, you need to write approximately 10 of them to get one or two that are really terrific. So I encourage everyone to submit as many as five, optimally one on each of five successive days. The most famous anthology piece is doubtlessly Ezra Pound’s succinct plea for Imagism, “In a Station of the Metro”: “The apparition of these faces in a crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.” Each word is essential. The title situates us in the specific place; the first line gives us a close-up; the second line accomplishes the metaphorical transformation. Note that for Pound the urban modernist, the value remains on nature. Continue reading and post your entry here. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Over at the American Scholar, a group of committed poets have been writing a sestina, week by week, stanza by stanza. Last Tuesday, David Lehman picked a title, thus completing the poem. Here's what he writes about the title and the months-long collaboration: The title that strikes me as the most elegant, succinct, and pertinent is “Compline,” as proposed by Paul Michelsen. Compline is the Latin name for the night prayer, the final canonical prayer in the Catholic day, following Vespers. Our sestina is a prayer of sorts; it is endowed with religion and the spirit of divine immortality leavened by the occasional jest; and if readers don’t recognize the title, all the better if they hunt it down in the dictionary or are moved to visit W. H. Auden’s vastly underrated sequence of poems “Horae Canonicae.” And if there are traces of “complete” and “complaint” in our title, so be it. It was not an easy choice—I also liked “Her Hourglass a Prism” (Charise Hoge), “Mary, Singing” (Christine Rhein), “Uncertainty” (Patricia Smith), andLaWanda Walter’s whimsical “How to Dress for Anything.” To all my thanks, not only for the spirited effort resulting in a truly collaborative endeavor that can, I believe, stand on its own as an anthology piece of the future, but for the contagious enjoyment of the process. I am immensely gratified, too, by the compliments in my direction. If we are a team and I am the coach, well, that metaphor goes right to my head like a perfectly chilled, light-yellow drink consisting of top-shelf bourbon, lemon juice, and honey in equal measures, shaken and served in a rocks glass. I shall do my best to contrive another contest that will spur the team to heights. But that may take me some time. Meanwhile, I have thought of prompts for the next couple of weeks, and I hope they will prove inspiring. Here, then, is our complete sestina, written and titled over the past two months. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Song for a Swift be owl my oldest night be wren my selfish grief be gull my restlessness be lark my disbelief be hawk my hidden path be dove my weary fist be swift my only soul my only soul be swift Printed by permission of the poet. John Glenday collects his poems together at long intervals, so a new book – this poem is in a collection due to be published in 2015 – is a treat for his admirers, of whom there are many. His third collection, Grain, was shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2010, and the judges remarked: ‘His highly crafted lyrics are like wrought iron, strong but delicate, with a care for assonance and cadence.’ Glenday lives in the Highlands, on the west shore of Loch Ness (there are city poets in Scotland! They’ll make an appearance). His poems are unhurried but have their own urgent notes, and sometimes their humorous ones; mainly, though, there is the sense that the lines have been held up to the light and tested. The ‘small ballast of the soul shifting’ is something he attends to, and that shift may be caused by the sound of wind, water or bird; by human love, or a voice issuing from who knows where. Find out more about John Glenday here. and hear him read and talk on the SPL podcast: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/connect/podcast/john-glenday-and-kim-edgar Friends, we need your help. We need to raise £100,000 for the building renovation which will hugely extend our reach. Your gift helps us to give: to lend books; to send books, poetry postcards and poets around Scotland; to record and send poets’ voices around the world; to bring people and poems together in care homes, schools, hospitals… Go to www.justgiving.com/byleaveswegive or www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/about/support-our-work to donate online. Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Amy, it's been an excellent week of posts, for which many thanks -- and all the more so for the meticulous attention you have given to BAPs past. Your words brought back many happy memories of working with the guest editors you name (Ammons, Howard, Tate, Hass, Young, et al) and the pleasure of discovering poems in magazines that make me want to perpetuate them. I happen to owe a great debt to librarians, who educated me through grade school and high school. It's important work. Thanks, too, for that. -- DL
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"I wrote this book almost without knowing it . . ." The acclaimed annual, The Best American Poetry, is the most prestigious showcase of new poetry in the United States and Canada. Each year since the series began in 1988, David Lehman has contributed a foreword, and this has evolved into a sort of state-of-the-art address that surveys new developments and explores various matters facing poets and their readers today. This book collects all twenty-nine forewords (including the two written for the retrospective “Best of the Best” volumes for the tenth and twenty-fifth anniversaries.) Beginning with a new introduction by Lehman and a foreword by poet Denise Duhamel (guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2013), the collection conveys a sense of American poetry in the making, year by year, over the course of a quarter of a century. Read a selection here. Order your copy here. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Man in Santa suit kills eight and then, with a single efficient shot, himself. At a party of his in-laws near Los Angeles on Christmas Eve the man in the Santa suit drew his gun and started shooting as soon as they let him in which they did because he said he was Santa Claus and they thought he had come to entertain the children. Then he sprayed the room with pressurized gas and set the house on fire. The owners of the house, an elderly couple retired from the spray-painting business, and their daughter, Sylvia, the estranged wife of the gunman, were among the dead or missing. 12 / 25-26 / 08 Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
On the theory that the best answer is another question, consider this: Who is the "Odd Man Out"? 1) Shell 2) Lukey 3) Kathleen 4) Johnny McQueen 5) Father Tom
I remember when it came out -- to great fanfare -- in England, where I was studying at Cambridge. DL
I especially like the "Dental Pedagogy" sections. And I agree that firing a guilt-inducing dentist is wise and 9to use a word I hate) empowering. Lucky for me, I have a dentist whose office manager puts on the Sinatra Pandora station when she sees me walk in. Then, with gas mask on, and a nice view of the park, I lean back and listen to Sinatra, Nat Cole, Bobby Darren (ne Roberto Cassario, who went to Bronx Science), Ella, Michael Buble, Jo Stafford, et al, feeling no pain. DL
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( 1) Who is the real hero of "Citizen Kane"? a) Barry Kane b) Marshall Will Kane c) Charles Foster Kane d) Xanadu e) Captain Queeg Name the three other relevant movie titles implied by the choices. 2) St. Patrick's Day special: When the hero played by Victor McLaglen (left) shouts "Frankie, your mother forgives me," he is referring to a) Frankie Machine b) Frankie 5 Angels c) Frankie McPhillip d) Fred Derry e) General Frank Savage Name the novel on which the movie is based. 3) Which of these characters does not figure in "Les Enfants du paradis"? a) Garance b) Baptiste c) Pepe Le Moko d) Jericho 3) Frederic Lemaitre Who directed the movie? 4) Who says it? "I'm a businessman. Blood is a big expense." a) Moe Green b) Khartoum c) Johnny Fontaine d) Solozzo e) Barzini Did he also say, "You don't buy me out. I buy you out." 5) Which of these personages survives the bloody finale of "The Wild Bunch"? a) Pike Bishop b) Deke Thornton c) Phyllis Dietrichson d) Robert E. Lee Prewitt e) Joel Cairo True or false: "Pike Bishop" was Sam Peckinpah's sneaky way of predicting the disappearance of Bishop Pike in the summer of 1969. Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Amy Lingafelter as our guest author. Amy's short collection Return of the Fist came out in the Lost Horse Press Series New Poets / Short Books edited by Marvin Bell in 2009. Her poems have appeared in Verse, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Quarterly West, and Crab Orchard Review. She is a school librarian in the Chicago area. Welcome, Amy. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Posted Mar 16, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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By Edward Gorey: Ink and watercolor. From The Broken Spoke, 1976 -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Mar 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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In a rare interview with the gun-shy Ms. Marloff, I got her to open up about the current situation in poetry last Friday. First (she said) let me say a few words about the late Adrienne Rich (pictured left). We would be poorer without her efforts though lug und treig through thin and thick und so weiter. OK in the face of the scandalous book awards and the continual neglect of what is truly cutting edge in poetry, let me just say this: If all metaphor is linguistic, and post-modernism a coded name for neo-romanticism, then what about the meta of metaphsysics, let alone world peace, for those who pass the R Test? And what is this quasi (modo) feeling I keep getting? I therefore nominate the following ten: Mike Ehrmantrout Arlene C. Bass Newt Minnow Sasha Torian Joanne Ashberger Frederick Sydorder Cate Flounder Countee Quennell Reynaldo Artest Barbara Erster They honor the poetics and politics of "Ray-gun" indeterminacy, Clintonian diplomacy ("I didn't swallow," he said straightfaced with a half-empty glass of Dewar's in his fist) and, in a satirical vein, the good-natured if unfortunately inept efforts of John ("You've Got a Friend") Kerry trying to broker the peace, or threaten the tyrants, or whatever. With thanks to Stacey Harwood and David Lehman for giving me this space. -- W. C. Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
cento PRONUNCIATION: (SEN-to) MEANING: noun: A literary work, especially a poem, composed of parts taken from works of other authors. ETYMOLOGY: From Latin cento (patchwork). Earliest documented use: 1605. NOTES: Nobel-prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot’s observation is relevant to centos: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.” Examples of centos: The Oxford Cento by David Lehman The Dong With the Luminous Nose by John Ashbery USAGE: “Louis Zukofsky continued to write ... a play, a novella, a book of criticism, a 500-page cento of philosophy in homage to Shakespeare ...” Bob Perelman; Finding His Voice; Tikkun (Berkeley, California); May/Jun 2007. A THOUGHT FOR TODAY: The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas-covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be. -Douglas Adams, author (11 Mar 1952-2001) Visit Wordsmith.org for more on poetic forms. Continue reading
Posted Mar 14, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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To be an excellent waitress or bartender, it is good to be physically coordinated and a linear thinker. I am neither of these. I am an unfailingly clumsy and largely disorganized person. It’s okay. I’m good at lots of other things. I think I glamorized the notion of me as a surly, self-assured bartender long before I actually found myself in the role. Throughout college, I mostly earned a living caring for other people’s children. I had been a camp counselor before that. Sick of my demanding, underage clientele, perhaps I did fantasize about a job that, by its very nature, prevented me from ever having to wait on a child again. I did not realize then that tending bar can be very like babysitting, with only slightly more money and a lot less cuteness to soften the embarrassment of it all. In the summer of 2010, I had just finished undergrad and was still living in my college town. I was finally working my first post-grad, kid-free job: packing boxes at an embossing plant outside of town. It wasn’t glamorous, but it provided a nice break from the rapidly deteriorating situation with my college boyfriend. It was a seasonal gig with a definite end in sight, and I really liked the people I worked with. That said, it was clear that things were not magically coming together for me despite my shiny new Liberal Arts degree. But I was bearing up, I told myself. I was handling it. Basically, I had to get out. So I moved home. There was a messy break-up. There was my parents arriving at the glorified flop-house where we lived, and covering their noses like those people on Hoarders, as they helped me gather what remained of my halcyon days, and load it into the car in bundles and piles. Back in my hometown, a suburb of a slightly larger town, where no one I knew lived anymore, I set about sorting out my life. I applied to a temp agency. I interviewed at the mall. It was all very weird. Then I signed up for bartending school. I could go on for pages about the various absurdities of my bartending alma mater. Its proprietor was Joanne, a middle-aged mom of two who wore three-inch acrylic fingernails and a waist-length, platinum party mullet. She had run several bars in Atlantic City in the 80s and somehow you just could tell she’d been the life of that particular party. We had textbooks. We took weekly tests. We memorized various acronyms for popular drink recipes, all of them completely ridiculous and incredibly helpful. A Blue Hawaiian is composed of Lite Rum, Blue Curacao, and Pineapple Juice; Hawaii is the Light Blue Pineapple state. Etcetera. The gist was you paid a certain amount of money to drive out to this shady-looking storefront in an unassuming strip mall every day, but once you got inside, the classroom was, for most intents and all purposes, a bar. Liquor bottles... Continue reading
Posted Mar 13, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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10-DAY POETRY WORKSHOP WITH SHARON DOLIN AT JIWAR: BARCELONA INTERNATIONAL RESIDENCE FOR ARTISTS MAY 31-JUNE 9, 2015 Joan Miró, The Caress of a Bird, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona Live at Jiwar, a heritage house in the Gracia district of Barcelona on a pedestrian street with restaurants, food markets, and a metro stop nearby. Visit sites of artistic and cultural interest such as Antonio Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum. Write in indoor and outdoor spaces that include a garden, patio, library, and gallery. Receive feedback at daily intensive workshops plus one private consultation. Participate in a public reading. WORKSHOP LIMITED TO 8 -10 PEOPLE FOR DETAILS AND HOW TO APPLY: HTTP://WWW.SHARONDOL IN.COM/BARCELONA - WORKSHOPS/ Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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*PHOTO COURTESY OF LOÏC LAGARDE. Old she-bear, pent in her rocky den, gnaws a footpad dry as dust, solitary rakes in sticks and scratches the scar that marks a hunter’s mis-aimed lead. Shaking the ice off her frozen fur, she licks the snow and huffs out clouds of steam. continue reading at Zócalo Public Square -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome tree turtle as our guest author. A longtime peace-builder dedicated to spreading mettā (or loving-kindness) in the Buddhist tradition, tree turtle is a Pushcart-prize-winning and Maryland State Arts Council fellowship-winning poet, essayist, fiction writer, teacher, book artist, mediator, nonprofit administrator, and human rights advocate who has published in many American literary journals like Fence Magazine and Ploughshares since 1988. Visit www.treeturtle.com for more information about tree turtle. Welcome, tree. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Mar 8, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Sitting on the restaurant's patio looking at the former staff parking lot, waiting for takeout orders from the restaurant's "back door." Ownership has changed, there is a new chef running the place, and the menu has been updated from the 1950s. I particularly recommend the backdoor fish tacos, heavy on the cumin, with a jicama mango slaw. Take that mid-20th century! There is the language of waiting tables: Deuce, ticket, 86, walk-in, six-top, app, dupe, fire, monkey dish, expedite, station, set-up, on the board, in the weeds, all set? The preciousness with which insignificant items are imbued: I would flat out refuse to let anyone touch my wine key, and on the rare occasions that I took pity, I’d watch my co-worker do so, never letting the generic piece of black plastic and twist of steel out of my sight. The two separate apron pockets were to differentiate the blue Bic pens I’d indiscriminately hand out to customers to sign credit slips from the click pens, carefully guarded, which I would use to write out my own tickets. From books, to clean rags, to trays, it was cutthroat competition with fellow servers. On arrival, the first thing would be to grab a black book. Vinyl with clear plastic pockets. It was the configuration of those pockets that determined which was the best, and once the correct configuration had been procured, ease of folding over, least ragged, and clean and dry were all factored in to get the most desirable. On a full night, the last person in would end up with half a book, the plastic torn, as useful as a scrap of cardboard. A server learned how many clean rags they could get away with carrying on their person at the start of the night, and where to stash a few extras. Those most senior would know where others kept their hoard, and the obscure protocol to follow in a raid. There was no real way to mark a tray as yours except in the moment it was laden with your tables’ food, or hoisted onto your shoulder. I once took a smaller, dirtier tray, and slammed it on the pick-up line in front of an extremely lovely woman I’d worked with for years because I’d felt she’d taken a larger, cleaner tray I felt I had rightfully claimed as mine, in mid-use. We didn’t speak for a week, and I don’t think our friendly camaraderie ever recovered. The menu was unchanging. It had come straight from the 1950s. It was a set menu. To call it prix fixe would be to be putting on airs, but each entrée came with appetizer, beverage, salad, potato and dessert. Here were the appetizer choices: New England clam chowder, baked stuffed quahog, bluefish pate, fruit cup (a little glass dish of sliced melon, orange and grapes), and cranberry cocktail (a small tumbler filled with Ocean Spray, served on a saucer, along with a slice of lime if someone was feeling particularly inspired).... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Poet and editor Bruce Covey shows off his tiger tattoo. Since its inception in 2008, we have cheered on Bill Cohen, one of our favorite bloggers, as he has assembled an array of tattooed poets for Tattoosday's annual tribute to National Poetry Month. We are once again happy to spread the word to inked poets everywhere. Bill would like to post an image of your tattoo on Tattoosday every day during April. Tattoos need not be literary in nature to qualify. If your ink is featured, Bill hopes to give a little history of your tattoo, some background about you and your poetry, and he'll include links to your own website, books, and poems. With your permission, he'll even post a poem. In addition, you'd be joining the ranks of over two hundred poets, many of them BAP contributors, who have participated in years past. You can see who's been cool enough to join the ranks here . For more details and to express your interest,please contact Bill at tattoosday@gmail.com. Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Over at the American Scholar, David Lehman has been mid-wife (?) to a crowd-sourced sestina. The poem is nearly finished. Here's what he has to say about the sestina-to-date: I am usually a decisive person, but the entries this week were so solid that I found myself hemming, hawing, flipping, and flopping until finally and quite impulsively I chose Angela Ball’s candidate for stanza six, composed (she tells us) “to follow Christine Rhein’s lovely stanza.” This solves two problems, at least tentatively, as I can now summarize our efforts in a six-stanza sestina lacking only a three-line envoi and a title. Continue reading and submit your candidate for the envoi over at the American Scholar. Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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photo (c) Vanderbilt University About twenty years ago in Nashville, when Philip Levine was Vanderbilt University’s visiting writer, there was a Burger King on 21st Avenue South, at the edge of the college’s magnolia-fringed campus. It had a large parking lot that butted up next to a place called San Antonio Taco, where Vanderbilt students lined up to buy galvanized buckets of long necked beers on ice to ease down their guacamole tacos and buffalo wings. The parking lot belonged to Burger King, but SATCO customers often parked there. Nowadays, Panera Bread (which has replaced the Burger King) employs a large, male security guard festooned with handcuffs and a police baton to patrol the lot, making sure the spaces reserved for Panera customers go to Panera customers. But back in 1995, Burger King had a sole female employee performing that job. Anyone who’s spent time around college students can tell you it’s dangerous to get between them and their beer. So it was not unusual to see this woman – in her late fifties, early sixties – running out of Burger King in her brown polyester BK uniform, a matching kerchief flapping around her neck, a matching cap bobby-pinned to her dyed blond hair. Like a lot of people who do these kinds of jobs, she was a good employee, and took her work seriously. To discourage the students from parking where they wanted to park, she sometimes shook a rag at them, sometimes she just called out. Overwhelmingly, (of course) they ignored her. When she wasn’t trying to chase off illegal parkers, her duty was picking up trash. You’d have thought anyone could see it was a miserable job, and taken pity. Still, it was a job, right? And in 1995, she must have been making $4.25/hour – minimum wage at that time – $170/week if she worked full time. Some of the students called her the Burger Bitch. I just hope she never knew… As it happened, my colleague and best-friend-of-Vanderbilt Creative Writing, Vereen Bell, sometimes had a cup of coffee and did a little last minute paper grading in the Burger King before crossing the street to class. It was convenient, cheap, quiet. It’s hard to describe Vereen: somewhere in his late 70s now, he’s an iconic figure at Vanderbilt where he’s taught for more than half a century, he’s pretty much transformed the English Department from its midcentury roster of white-men-teaching-white-men into the lively, diversified department it is today. (Read about Vereen here) In the English Department, we were thrilled when Phil won the Pulitzer Prize for The Simple Truth on April 18, 1995. He actually took the call in his office with his door open. Vereen was in his office, across the hall, ready with a bottle of bourbon. I was in an office just a few doors down – brand new to Vanderbilt, taken aback by its surface formality and the constraints of a conservative campus culture. “Please be quiet,” warned a placard hung... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2015 at The Best American Poetry