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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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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 1 hour ago at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Mari L'Esperance as our guest author. Mari was born in Kobe, Japan to a Japanese mother and a French Canadian-New Englander father. Her collection The Darkened Temple (2008, University of Nebraska Press) was awarded a Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. An earlier collection, Begin Here, was awarded a Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press Chapbook Prize. In 2013 Prairie Lights Books published Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine, which L'Esperance coedited with Tomás Q. Morín. L'Esperance is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at New York University and the recipient of awards from the New York Times, New York University, Djerassi, Hedgebrook, and Dorland Mountain Arts Colony. She lives in the Los Angeles area. You can find out more about Mari at her website here. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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NA: What is the first thing you would tell people about Alice James Books if they’d never heard of the press and wanted to know about it? CS: Alice James is one of the oldest poetry presses in the country. We’ve published over one hundred and fifty authors and produce six books of poetry a year. We are located in Farmington, Maine and have been affiliated with the University of Maine at Farmington for over twenty years. The press publishes a broad range of poetic voices and aesthetics, and though we strive to support women writers in particular, we publish, and always have published, men as well. NA: One of Alice James’ initial objectives was to give women more access to publishing. Is this still your mission? What is the ratio of men to women authors you publish? CS: Absolutely, and the “initial objective” of giving access to women is still highly relevant today. One needs only to review VIDA reports, to scan TOCs of poetry journals, or to review the lists of individuals winning major awards to see there is still an imbalance. For every five women we publish, we publish two men. NA: Alice James is a community press, right? How do you involve authors in the publishing process? CS: Alice James was founded as a cooperative press, yes, and initially that meant that authors did everything from typesetting to marketing on theirs and other fellow Alices’ books. Currently, our authors are still very involved in the design and production of their individual collections. They collaborate with us on things like typeface, layout, and cover art. Authors with books coming out also, many times, work with another published AJB author to edit the book. Pairing authors up reinforces their bond as AJB poets and invests them in each others work. This mentorship-like partnership is also incredibly helpful for new poets, and in particular first book poets, as they find their footing at the press and within the world of publishing. NA: How many books of poetry do you publish each year? What distinguishes an Alice James poet? CS: We put forth six books of poetry a year. Some years we publish poetry-in-translation and some we publish special collections like our 40th anniversary anthology or the forthcoming June Jordan Reader (2017). More and more, I think we may take on special projects related to poetry. An AJB poet is one that challenges common constructs, pushes boundaries, takes risks and writes from the gut. We gravitate toward poetry that reveals and stems from someplace deeper than the self. Often our books appeal to audiences beyond the poetry community because of this. Our press is known for its broad range of aesthetics, but within this range the common denominator is our poet’s engaged presence and sense of urgency in storytelling. NA: Do your poetry books come primarily from your competition? CS: They used to until quite recently, yes. As of 2014, however, we’ve improved our acquisitions process, and in doing so,... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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The National Poetry Series has extended the deadline for its 2015 Open Competition! Manuscripts postmarked by Friday, March 6th, and submitted according to guidelines, will be accepted at the NPS office: 57 Mountain Avenue Princeton, NJ 08540 Please visit www.nationalpoetryseries.org for guidelines and general information Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Photo credit: Gary Lanier On February 18th, a cozy crowd of New School faculty, students, friends, and admirers welcomed Denise Duhamel, honored guest of the Writing Program’s Poetry Forum at The New School. Duhamel’s dazzling smile, vivacious voice, and energetic demeanor elicited the audience’s attention as soon as she walked into the room. She graciously took the time to chat with friends and fans before taking command of the podium. Duhamel, who received her MFA degree from Sarah Lawrence College, has published numerous collections of poetry, including her most recent, Blowout (University of Pittsburgh, 2013), which was a finalist for a National Books Critics Circle Award, Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009), Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001), and Kinky (Orchises Pr, 1997). She was the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013. She has collaborated with Maureen Seaton and David Trinidad to publish the anthology, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry (Soft Skull Press, 2007) and served as guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2013 (Scribner, 2013). Her play, How the Sky Fell (Pearl Editions, 1996) ran for four off-off-Broadway performances in 1997. Aside from being accepted into numerous international residencies, she has received many notable awards, such as from the National Endowment for the Arts, Puffin Foundation, Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust for Theater, and was named a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. “I’ve known and admired Denise Duhamel and her poems for nearly twenty years,” said Mark Bibbins, Part-time Assistant Professor and moderator of the forum. “We were ten,” Duhamel chimed in, inciting laughter from the room. “I remember being mesmerized as I still am by her openness, political engagement, fierce humor which as it so often does comes not only from places of anger and absurdity, but great tenderness and sadness sometimes too,” said Bibbins. “Thank you so much for coming and for braving this [frigid New York weather],” Duhamel said when she took the podium. “I was so sure that this [event] was going to be cancelled, that I didn’t ask any of my friends to come.” Duhamel read from her latest, Blowout, a book about a failed marriage, as well as a few new poems. Poet Barbara Hamby has described the collection as a book that “chronicles the journey from heartbreak to new love [and] so much more…It is a meditation on love and the sacrifices we make to create it in tenements, in condos, on boardwalks, and in our own hearts.” Duhamel opened with “Old Love Poems,” which with its perfect honesty and nostalgic tenderness is sure to become an anthem for the broken-hearted. “I can burn the pictures, but not the poems/ since I published them,” read Duhamel. “Once my cousin told me/ not to write anything down because the words would be there forever/ to remind me of the fool I once was/…there wasn’t really a beloved there anymore,/ just a strand of hair each left behind/ on the other’s scarf... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
[A Save This Book feature from the Village Voice Literary Supplement (VLS) Number 16, April 1983. The piece was drafted in 1977 and finished, I’m quite sure, before I saw the January 1983 issue of the Quarterly Review of Literature devoted to Schubert. That, or I wanted to distinguish the real book—also edited by Theodore Weiss but beautifully and with the help of Schubert’s wife, Judith E. Kranes—from the hideous mélange of Works and Days (yes, why not drag Hesiod into it!). Can’t remember which.] Initial A: A Book of Poems Macmillan, 1961 Forays into a city of the mind that looks like a photograph by Berenice Abbott one minute and sounds like a song by Franz Schubert the next, these poems are the lifework of a man with a gift for dramatizing his discoveries of emotions presumed lost—discoveries as likely to take place on street corners as anywhere else—and a penchant for making delicate deals with himself, out loud but so nobody else in the rush-hour crowd can hear. David Schubert wrote this poetry in Manhattan and Brooklyn during the ’30s and early ’40s. Its pleasures are still keen, plentiful, and open to all, though Initial A will be appreciated most readily by students of the New York School’s Poetry Department, whose faculty members are Schubert’s direct descendants. The John Ashbery fan will slip right into Schubert’s dream-induced logic: “Crying, you/Want to get off. But you know, you’ve/Just died. Indeed all the tears are/Counted, one by one, and safely filed away./Respectfully dried that were respectfully cried.” For readers of Kenneth Koch, there is prophetic playfulness: “Farewell, O zinnias, tall as teetotalers,/And thou, proud petunia, pastel windows of joy,/Also to you, noble tree trunks, by name/Elm . . .” And James Schuyler adepts will savor the fancy accuracy: “. . . cold/sky, the color of a quarrel. Premonitions of/disaster; of course, the month’s environment./Why do I keep thinking of you?” But admirers of Frank O’Hara are in for the biggest surprise. Schubert’s elegiac spirit, nervous skill, and quick gusto anticipate eerily the poet of “Chez Jane,” “Music,” and “The Day Lady Died.” Eerily—and marvelously: But then From the corner of a mood like Les Sylphides, Impossible, romantic as certain moons In certain atmospheres, then you called me From the corner of the street. —“The Happy Traveller” . . . now I wait for her to speak The meanings which I must negate before I am admitted to the gayest person. —“Victor Record Catalog” No! On the vehicle, Tomorrow, I will see That man, whose handshake was happiness. —“Midston House” Schubert was 33 when he died in 1946, 15 years before Initial A was published, and the book’s flaws are those of a young writer: a few poems stunted by syntactic hot-wiring (loneliness), an overabundance of literary allusions (insecurity), and the annoying habit of breaking lines in the middle of a word (“originality”). His strengths indicate that he would have outgrown his affectations—in any case, as with O’Hara, what’s right about... Continue reading
Posted Feb 24, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
The headline: "The return of Jew Hatred." The sub-head: "Europe has an obligation to protect its Jews." The lede: "Toulouse, Brussels, Paris, and now Copenhagen. The list of European cities where Jews have lately been murdered for being Jews grows longer." The bullshit transition: "Such worries are understandable, but they need to be put into context." The fearless prediction: "The shooting at the Great Synagogue on Krystalgade does not herald another Kristallnacht." Department of Inadvertent Humor: "Jews are targets, but so are groups of non-Jews: commuters, off-duty soldiers and, above all, cartoonists." The irresistible touch: "and, above all." The incontrovertible kicker: "The jihadists detest few things more than the sight of European Muslims declaring 'Je suis Charlie Hebdo.'" The invisible typo: "Jew" for "few" in the last sentence. From The Economist, February 21, 2015, p. 16. Continue reading
Posted Feb 21, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Charles North reminds me that the poets who were "lost in New Jersey" on that memorable occasion in 1995 were Charles, Paul, Elaine, and I as reported -- along with Catherine Bowman. I stand corrected! -- DL
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(Ed note: This is the fifth in our Ready to Serve series. Find previous posts here. sdh) Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke in the film Barfly (1987) The next thing I knew I was waking up under a tree in Recreation Park next to a homeless man mumbling to himself. I was pissed off he woke me up in the middle of the afternoon. He looked at me dead in the eye. I lifted my head from a pile of leaves and a few stuck to my cheek, stained it orange. I must have looked like a pile of garbage. I told this man that I had no idea what he was saying then took a swig of warm beer from the glass bottle under my shirt. This man told me that there was dirt in my drink and when I looked down I saw cigarette butts at the bottom of the bottle. I must have found an empty bottle in someone’s garbage and grabbed it before making it to the park at dawn. After getting out of my waitressing job at O’s Pub at 11pm I hit the bars in downtown Binghamton then disappeared into the brush. My routine at work involved hiding in the kitchen, and eating a few fries and peanut butter chicken wings then serving the basket of grease to some old man in a golf shirt. Sometimes this old man was my grandfather. He’d order two or three $1.10 drafts of piss colored beer during happy hour and I would try to pull myself together and make small talk. He paid with exact change and I would keep the money. By the end of the night I’d have an apron full of dimes and sweaty dollar bills. We’d reminisce about when I played basketball in high school and I’d try not to spill drinks. Carrying two beers was the most I could handle. I’d have to focus all my energy on the pint glasses, one in each hand, and take baby steps as I made my way from the bar to the table ten feet away. I remember biting the collar of my turquoise shirt and wiping my sweaty palms on my apron, crumpling dollar bills and not tallying the drinks on the check so that I could steal the money. This job didn’t last long. I passed out in the kitchen next to a bucket of sauce. I didn’t show up for work after that shift because I knew they were going to fire me. The last shift I worked as a waitress in 2001 I licked the back of the toilet and had puke in my hair. The usual suspects came in and out of the joint and no one seemed to pay much attention to my reckless serving. Surviving as a waitress when I was twenty-one years old meant trying to act human and blend into society. O’s Pub was a little hole in the wall in Endicott, NY, a couple of... Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Standing room only at the Paul Violi tribute. L to R, front: Robert Hershon. Seated: Tony Towle, Sharon Mesmer, Rozanne Gold, David Lehman, Stacey Harwood, Luis Jaramillo. Photo (c) Gabriel Don. On February 11th, over a hundred colleagues, family, friends, former students, and admirers gathered in Wollman Hall at The New School to celebrate the poetry of the late Paul Violi and to launch a posthumous collection of his poems, Selected Poems 1970-2007 (Ginko Press, 2014), edited by Violi’s lifelong friends, authors Charles North and Tony Towle. Violi, who died in April 2011, had published a dozen collections of poetry, including Overnight (Hanging Loose Press, 2007), Breakers: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2000), In Baltic Circles (Kulchur Press, 1973), and Waterworks (Toothpaste Press, 1972). During his lifetime, he had been internationally anthologized and awarded numerous honors and grants, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award, and The Morton Dauwen Zabel Award. Growing up in New York, Violi was not only a prolific writer but versatile in his endeavors. He graduated with a B.A. in English and a minor in Art History from Boston University, traveled through Africa, Asia, and Europe during his time in the Peace Corps, worked for television, served as managing editor of The Architectural Forum, organized readings at the Museum of Modern Art while he was the chairman of the Associate Council Poetry Committee, co-founded Swollen Magpie Press, and taught at Sing Sing prison and numerous universities, including The New School’s graduate writing program. Even before David Lehman, Poetry Coordinator of the Writing Program and co-host took the podium to welcome the guests, Violi’s influence as a poet as well as a beloved professor was evident in the camaraderie that filled the room. The enthusiastic chatter about Violi’s poetry, the experience of working with him and sitting in his classrooms that pervaded Wollman Hall was so great, someone might have expected Violi himself to walk into the room. Lehman, who had anthologized Violi’s poem “Index” before he met the man of honor, recounts the time a hired driver had gotten him, Violi, Susan Wheeler, Elaine Equi, and Charles North lost in New Jersey, in a “situation perfectly poised between the ridiculous and the reprehensible.” Violi however, “[made] the best of an ignoble situation,” revealing he was just as, if not more entertaining than his poems. Lehman notes that Violi was not only an accomplished poet, cherished professor, and “a boon companion,” but also “a fine writer and editor [whose] tact and judgment…would have made him a most astute and valuable critic if he had wanted such a career.” In a letter Violi sent Lehman, Violi wrote: “poems are supposed to compete with each other—that’s part of the fun, seeing where and how you try to top yourself.” Perhaps it was Violi’s self-competing motivation that made his poems accessible, humorous, witty, and satisfying. “Paul had a genius”—Towle said—“for taking absolutely unpromising prosaic material…and turning it into poetry.” “All of... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Jim, the purpose of the column was plain enough: to be deliberately offensive. The point is that our protests are strictly verbal and unaccompanied by threats. This, too, the writer anticipated. It takes little courage to write as he did when knowing that no fatwa on his scalp would result. It's a cheap shot. -- DL
Posted Feb 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Klein Conference Room, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall 66 West 12th Street, Room A510 New York, NY 10011 Denise Duhamel’s books of poetry include Blowout, Ka-Ching!, Two and Two, Mille et un Sentiments, Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems, and A Star-Spangled Banner, which won the Crab Orchard Award Series for Poetry. She was the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013. A professor of English at Florida International University in Miami, she has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Puffin Foundation, and The Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust for Theater. She has collaborated with numerous poets, composers, and visual artists, and is co-editor (with Maureen Seaton and David Trinidad) of Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry. She has an international following. An off-off-Broadway production of her play How the Sky Fell ran for four performances in 1997. Moderated by Mark Bibbins, faculty, Writing Program. Preorder your book for the event HERE Sponsored by the MFA Creative Writing Program. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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The last piece! It's been so quick! Thank you all for your time, your thoughts, and your feedback. Every week, I look forward to hearing what you have to say. At the outset, I thought I was writing about these two subjects because I was an expert at the way they intersect. But, as with most things, digging deeper into their role in my life only proved how little I knew. For this last installment, I decided to go back to the Source - my grandmother. That's her (and my grandfather), in this picture, with all the legs. Happy Sunday, Happy February, and Happy Reading. Thank you all, again. *** My grandmother has a lot of sayings. If your nose itches, you’re having company. Step on a slug and you’ll be nasty for nine days. Don’t rock an empty rocking chair. That woman is all fur coat and no knickers. (This one is particularly funny considering the fact that, according to my mother, my grandmother spent most of the mid-to-late 1960s wearing precisely this outfit.) While I have lived by many of these aphorisms, just by the sheer force of my helplessness in the face of their repetition, I never quite understood the way they shaped my grandmother’s worldview. She used these phrases, these aphorisms undoubtedly passed to her from her own grandmother, to ward off a world she saw as basically ominous. They were her talismans, the worry dolls she placed under her pillow at night full of wishes. The problem with wishes is that they have to be for something that hasn’t happened yet. They don’t work for undoing what is already done. *** There are many different ways to want something. There’s biological want, the basic gimme-gimme of thirst and hunger and scratching an itch. There’s a languid, yawning sort of want, the kind that usually comes in late afternoon, fingers strumming lazily on the belly, curtains rustling, and so on. There’s ambition. There’s prayer, an official form of wishing. And there’s lust - of course - so much lust. Then there is what I think of as dark wanting, which is (without fail) unsatisfiable. Hate, for one. Vengeance. There’s the lungless, full body seizure of grief, of demanding that something un-happen. Then there’s compulsion, which apes instinct but is its opposite. Instincts are meant to keep us alive. Compulsions lure us into the guise of relief while creating a higher tolerance to that relief. And habits, even habits are a way of wanting. We create routine around our bodies, our relationships, our pursuits in order to give them shape. To stave off the feeling of helplessness. As Nick Laird writes in his poem Feel Free: To deal with all the sensational loss I like to interface with Earth. I like to do this in a number of ways. I like to feel the work I am exerting being changed, the weight of my person refigured, and I like to hang above the ground, thus; hammocks, snorkeling,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Happy birthday, Harold Arlen Born Hyman (Chaim) Arluck Buffalo, NY February 15, 1905 <<< You're gonna love me, like nobody's loved me, Come rain or come shine Happy together, unhappy together and won't it be fine Days may be cloudy or sunny We're in or we're out of the money But I'm with you always I'm with you rain or shine >>> Harold Arlen was the son of a cantor, born one hundred and ten years ago today in Buffalo, New York. He wrote the music for "Get Happy," "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues," "Stormy Weather," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "I've Got the World on a String," "Let's Fall in Love," "Ill Wind," "Paper Moon," "Last Night When We Were young," "Over the Rainbow," "If I Only Had a Brain," "Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead," "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," "Blues in the Night," "Accentuate the Positive," "My Shining Hour," "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "That Old Black Magic," "Hit the Road to Dreamland," "This Time the Dream's On Me," "I Wonder What Became of Me," "The Man That Got Away." "I can't explain / It's the same champagne. . ." -- DL Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Great stuff, Mitch. I met Patsy, who was very charming. O'Hara called her "the Grace Kelly of our set."
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Poets House. Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times Not so many years ago, this avenue of glass-fronted elegant buildings was no avenue at all, but a lonely area at the edge of the city, usually completely deserted at night. But in the here and now, an annual benefit for Poets House was held on River Terrace, with guests gathering at the expansive Poet’s House library then moving on to a dinner a few blocks away at Danny Meyer’s North End Grill. It was to be “an evening of friendship-in-poetry celebrating the sumptuous art of fine dining with poets Frank Bidart, Eleanor Chai, Daniel Halpern, Sharon Olds, former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, and Kevin Young.” Prepping for service for the Poets House annual benefit I remember an artists bar near Poets House, a place where we’d topple out the door at four in the morning whose neon light was the only one for many blocks around. We’d walk with a sense of overdone fun along the cobblestone streets, heading west through endless tired industrial buildings to watch the sun rise over the river. The end of our walks could well have been right at the very spot Poets House stands today. It was good for a while, that bar, but then the bikers arrived and trouble began. The streets held that implied promise of imminent shift from safety to danger, from shooting pool and dancing to the juke box followed in the next second by the leather-clad arm of a huge biker rising up then down to slam a beer bottle against the bar – then moving with an angled shove forward to pull the shattered amber edge across the throat of the nice-guy artist who’d just made the mistake of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the space of a few seconds slicing open the throat of a man who’d used his days with pen, ink and paint describing beauty. "The world is hard to leave behind, or land against." -Kevin Young speaks to guests at the North End Grill during Poets House annual benefit dinner. As I thought of that time and place past in what’s now a completely different space in that same geography, I wondered whether there’s any distinct answer as to precisely how friendship (as opposed to its alter-ego) actually happens. Poets House itself is a welcoming space – open, with high ceilings, glass along one side with windows suspending an airy view over the Hudson, endless shelves of books with bright-colored bindings sliding along the long wall facing the windows. At the door I’d expected to meet one person named Suzanne. Instead, in one of those moments that make life feel like Wind in the Willows, there were three lovely Suzannes, each of them welcoming guests to the party. Upstairs the evening began with champagne or Italian sodas at the bar. The guests mingled – most of them seemed to know each other fairly well. The feeling was warm camaraderie. The... Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
From The New Republic (February 2015) -- first issue since the putsch that cleared out the editorial offices: <<< Judged purely aesthetically, the monuments of Paris looked far better with Nazi flags flying from them than they do with Je Suis Charlie lit up on them. Is that offensive? Not to me it's not. -- Geoff Dyer (page 60) >>> Shame on you, asshole. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Is it possible to know someone you’ve never met, someone who has been completely invisible to you in the flesh but has marked your life in an indelible way? This is my question in regards to the poet Paul Violi, a man I’ve never seen in person but one I’ve come to know through his Selected Poems and the descriptive, warm, and love-inducing stories shared by others who knew him for a long time or perhaps only shared a moment in his presence. By the time I arrived in New York City, Paul had already passed away. I was studying in The New School’s MFA program, and his name was frequently heard throughout the writing classes and at poetry readings. Mysterious to me then, the goal soon became to figure out who he was as a writer and person, about his teaching style, and the way he viewed the world through an “an ever-widening hour, / where fountains in the rain / half frozen, half music, / shine with a dim dream of the sun.” Many have written about Paul’s unusual influence; their stories are posted on this blog, and others are embedded in various writings. Memories of Paul circle around themes of gratitude, warmth, and sheer amazement at the poet’s unique capabilities. Those who sat in Paul’s classes tell of his intense focus during conversations, his generosity as both a sincere listener and a speaker who elicited “clarity drawn from darkness / song from thought.” One young man, who knew Paul only through writing, recounts how he reached out to the poet about a possible collaboration. Paul responded to his inquiry and suggested that the two have dinner. He later sent him several of his books, all in the spirit of goodwill and connection. I’m thinking of these lines from “One for the Monk of Montaudon:” For it’s a pure and simple joy to eat and drink with those I love, to stay late and celebrate a few certainties while confusion and scorn and a few other crazy, weather-beaten guests continue to roll across the cold floors I love this idea of sharing a meal to fight back some of life’s crazy. It seems to be an authentic and real solution, to break bread and enjoy one another’s company amidst all our joys and difficulties. Yet, it also seems to be a rare thing in today’s world. This was Paul’s mode of operation, though. He found happiness in connecting with others. Earlier in “One for the Monk of Montaudon,” the poet explains: And I’m glad of a chance to meet people, like Miss Ohio (“five foot nine, eyes that shine”), if for no other reason than the pleasure of shaking hands or the opportunity of leaning into the distances while a strand of smoke lingers, and rises, and turns like an unheard but legible desire. In these moments we lean into the distances with Paul. We meet others; we meet him. His scenes help us gain a tiny eye... Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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(Ed note: This week we will feature posts by Benebell Wen, whose Holistic Tarot: An Integrative Approach to Using Tarot for Personal Growth has just been published by North Atlantic Books. Find out more about Benebell here. sdh) Beyond its interpretation of success, achievement, and validation of the ego, Key 19, The Sun card in tarot is symbolic of the individual external life. It is the state of consciousness. Meanwhile Key 18, The Moon is symbolic of the dichotomy between that externalized life and the spiritual internal. The Moon reflects the tension of that duality existing within every one of us. It is our subconscious. Regressing backward to Key 17, The Star, the cards begin to talk about the varying states of human consciousness, synthesizing the messages of both the Sun and the Moon. These cards might serve as metaphors for literature as states of consciousness. In prose, there is nonfiction, let’s say creative nonfiction for our discussion purposes, and fiction. Creative nonfiction helps us form a bridge between the physical world and the human consciousness. It is what we are aware of; it is full cognition and action; it is our filtered intellections and emotions. It is often our Sun card. Fiction is the bridge between the consciousness and the soul. It engages our subconscious. It is our astral body moving about and expressing its observations. It is often the unintentional cognition and action, the unchecked, unfiltered intellections and emotions that speak to our truths, but we have put them in fiction form because we are not yet ready to tackle those truths in a nonfiction, conscious form. It is The Moon. Poetry is ritualized language for tapping into the personal unconscious, and it forms the bridge between our personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is the essence of the godhead beneath the surface of nonfiction and fiction. The poet is the angel depicted on The Star card. The Star card is about hope, inspiration, and spiritual abundance. Its Saturn planetary governance infuses the card with an aura of wisdom, but also of hardship and suffering. The Uranus influence conveys the poet’s eccentricity and genius. Incidentally, Uranus is associated with arts and literature. To understand the collective unconscious, one must first speak its language, and that language is poetry. Myths are our metaphors for expressing the collective unconscious. Tarot works as a divination tool because it uses myths, our metaphors, to help us access that unconscious. Tarot works because like the Iliad, it is poetry. To read and write poetry is to reveal the unconscious. Poetry itself is literary divination. Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
From Matt Hart’s review of Paul Violi’s Overnight in ColdFrontMag: << Violi has a penchant for creating works which WOBBLE back and forth between being formal-ish, language-game type poems and snapshots of language forms not ordinarily considered poetry at all. For example, in addition to the three "Acknowledgments" poems in Overnight, there’s also the hilarious "Counterman" which is a sort of Abbot and Costello-ish "who’s on first" routine consisting of sandwich orders given and taken at a deli counter, "Finish These Sentences" which is a list of interrupted sentences that need to be finished (endlessly by the reader), and the marvelously cagey "I.D. Or, Mistaken Identities" -- which is essentially eleven "who am I" style riddles. Here, each riddle/section of the poem is a deliberately ambiguous and wildly uttered monologue of clues about its unnamed speaker – ostensibly some famous figure from history or culture – which ends with the question "Who am I?" Here’s number three: For handing over Philologus To the widow of the man I’d commanded him to murder (She then made him slice off bits Of his own flesh, roast them And eat them)——For this, Plutarch commended me For at least one act Of understanding and decency. Who am I? >>> Ed, note: For more of the review, click here. Answer to the brainteaser will be given after a twenty-four grace period in which guesses ranging from Macbeth to Coriolanus will be entetained. There's a clue in that sentence, but you'd need to be either Zorba the Greek or the Mighty Quinn to puzzle it out. Continue reading
Posted Feb 10, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Tonight at Poets House you can enjoy an evening of friendship-in-poetry celebrating the sumptuous art of fine dining with poets Frank Bidart, Eleanor Chai, Daniel Halpern, Sharon Olds, former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, and Kevin Young. The evening will begin at Poets House with effervescent toasts amidst an intimate exhibition of holiday cards created by poets, followed by a walk to Danny Meyer's lauded North End Grill for a meal designed by Chef Eric Korsh. Wine pairings by celebrated importer Neal Rosenthal add sensory stimulus to this tantalizing literary and culinary evening. - Find out more here. We'll be there! Return for a full report on the evening and follow live tweets by Kristen Batemen @bestampo (You can follow follow Kristen @KristenVBateman ) -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2015 at The Best American Poetry