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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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We're focused on the upcoming BREXIT vote in the UK and are grateful that poet, teacher, all-around smart terrific writer Katy Evans-Bush will be reporting on the run-up and outcome. Katy Evans-Bush is a New York-born poet and blogger who has spent most of her life in London. Author of two collections with Salt Publishing, her latest book is Forgive the Language, a collection of essays published by Penned in the Margins. Find her at baroqueinhackney.com Thank you, Katy. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Amy Allara as our guest author. Amy's poems, essays and book reviews have appeared in the following publications: Denver Quarterly, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, The New Review of Literature, OR: A Literary Tabloid, 26, Sycamore Review, and others. Her chapbook Variation was published by Highway 101 Press. She lives and writes in Pennsylvania. To learn more about her go to her website which can be found here. Welcome back, Amy. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Ted Greenwald and I had been friends for more than 40 years. Around 1973, I saw a poem of his in a poetry magazine & loved it. I don’t remember the poem or the magazine. But I got in touch with him soon thereafter and we became lifelong friends. Ted would come to DC to do readings and hang out. And I would see him in New York on my visits back to my native city. He died earlier today and I will miss him greatly, as will his many other friends. And he was a true friend and steadfast comrade. He was also a brilliant and stunningly productive poet. I believe that recognition of the significance of his achievement as a writer will only increase with the passage of time. We talked---for the last time, as it turned out---last month. He had been sick for a number of years, but was doing better and sounded optimistic. And whatever the conditions of his life, he remained prolific to the end, with several new books out this year alone. Ted was the most straightforward, no-bullshit person I’ve ever known. He told you exactly what he thought in a style that could sometimes be imperative, but which I always took delight in. He insisted, e.g., back in the ‘80s that I figure out quickly how to get a song I had written, which was very Irish and traditional-sounding and which Ted loved, to Frank Sinatra. He was convinced that Frank would jump at the chance to record my song. Ted dismissed my argument that this song didn’t really seem to be up Frank’s alley. He was like that as a friend---fiercely loyal and full of appreciation and affection. Here’s an excerpt from a review I wrote of one of Ted’s books: “Ted Greenwald’s work has always been rooted in speech, street language, word of mouth. ...Greenwald often conjoins street talk and technical innovation. ...Ted Greenwald knows what real American talk sounds like, understands the rhythm and pulse of the language, and knows how to write poems that are built around that knowledge. He is one of America’s most ambitious and provocative poets.” I want to pick up the phone right now and call him back to us. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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“Wartime, here as abroad, made everyone more eager for the civilized and peaceful excitement of ballet. More people could also afford tickets. And in wartime, the fact that no word was spoken on the stage was in itself a relief. Suddenly the theaters all over the country were packed.” -- Edwin Denby (c. 1945) -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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(Ed note: On February 4, 2016, poets and poetry lovers gathered at the New School to celebrate the life and work of James Tate, who died on July 8, 2015. As one would expect, his work continues to be read and appreciated. Just the other day, this message arrived in David Lehman's mailbox. Thank you Mikko Harvey for giving us permission to share it here. We hope it inspires others to read his poetry. -- sdl) Dear Mr. Lehman, I know this email comes out of the blue, and many months late, but it occurred to me just today that I could write to you and tell you how much the James Tate Tribute back in February meant to me. It was one of the most moving nights of my life. As is often the case when reading his poems, I both laughed and cried. Tate has been my favorite writer for years, and it was wonderful--almost religious--to be in a room with so many other fans of his, to see pictures of him projected against the backdrop, to hear his words. Your introduction to the event was especially memorable, and revealed a true understanding of Tate's poetry and personality. For that I thank you. I will always remember the image you shared of him drawing a crude--yet somehow functional--map using the lines on the palm of his hand. I hope all is well, in life and in writing. Sincerely, Mikko Harvey Here's Mikko Harvey writing in The Rumpus about James Tate's Dome of the Hidden Pavilion. Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Today -- Yeats's birthday. <<< 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. Here is the entire poem: Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? As a summary of the present age (“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”), stanza one lays the groundwork for the vision spelled out in stanza two, which is as terrifying in its imagery as in its open-ended conclusion, the rhetorical question that makes it plain that a rough beast is approaching but leaves the monstrous details for us to fill. As an instance of Yeats’s epigrammatic ability, it is difficult to surpass the last two lines in the opening stanza: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” The aphorism retains its authority as an observation and a warning. We may think of the absence of backbone with which certain right-minded individuals met the threats of National Socialism in the 1930s and of Islamist terrorism in the new century. Both dogmas demand of their followers a “passionate intensity” capable of overwhelming all other considerations. Yeats works by magic. He has a system of myths and masks—based loosely on dreams, philosophy, occult studies, Celtic legend, and his wife’s automatic writing—that he uses as the springboard for some of his poems. In a minute I will say something about his special vocabulary:... Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
The Birthday of the World for David Lehman's birthday In Jewish theology, there are reasons why certain holidays are two days and some are one. Why, do you think, David Lehman? You might say because one is more important than the other. This seems on the famous surface to be correct. Or you might say it gives people in strange lands time to celebrate. And that is valid as a Sukkah has holes. But we say: Just as your birthday should be beautiful beauty itself means you should want to prolong it as in Stay, birthday. Stay, little Valentine, stay. Each day is David's birthday. So here is the rub: Prolonging the beautiful means that I am sending you a late card it seems, but only late to those who don't stay up with their martinis and prolong and prolong and when we are so pro-life that we don’t know the difference between David and David, between good and evil, Mordechai and David, then we know we are celebrating something secular sacred and beautiful. How often can I use that wretched word? As many times as will prolong this birthday. My wife asks: Are you MUCH younger than me? Every year we take our breath and hold our breath to prolong our breath the birthday best of all. – David Shapiro June 12, 2009 from Jacket Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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My brilliant beautiful brave husband! photo (c) Gabriel Don -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Judy Garland: The Road Gets Rougher As a boy in Minnesota, Robert Zimmerman listened to a Minnesota girl sing the ballads of Harold Arlen and thought he could travel down the road taken by Dorothy and the Scarecrow. By the time he took up the guitar and changed his name to Bob Dylan, he had wandered so far into Woody Guthrie territory that a reader confronting an article in The Nation entitled “Woody, Dylan, and Doubt” could be forgiven for thinking that it concerned the singer’s relation to Arlo Guthrie’s papa on the one side and the condition of epistemological uncertainty on the other when in fact the piece addresses allegations that Woody Allen had misbehaved with his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Judy Garland had to endure many indignities in her star-crossed career but the heartache of child abuse wasn’t one of them. Born to sing America’s all-time favorite movie song, Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” Judy was as natural a Gemini as you will find – totally binary, loyal to a fault yet fickle, happy and proud yet sometimes suicidally desperate, given to coming late to the set fortified by drinking bottles of “Blue Nun,” “Liebfraumilch,” and similar white stuff, which tasted terrible but did the job. On June 10, 1922, Judy Garland was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, at 6 AM. With her moon in Sagittarius, and her Mercury and Venus in Cancer (her rising sign), the great singer had the heart of a poet, the sensitivity of an eternal diva, and a really good voice. If only there had been more Virgo in her chart, the girl who embodied Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” might have had greater career endurance. The absence of earth signs doomed her to a nervous disposition and the likelihood of an early death. Born Frances Ethel Gumm, Judy craved the approval of father figures, was easily bruised by criticism, sometimes affected nonchalance but really cared very deeply about other people and wanted to be included in group activities. Her Saturn in Libra helps to explain her outstanding musical talent, and her will to succeed in motion pictures may be inferred from her midheaven in Pisces conjunct Uranus. The death of Judy's father at age thirteen stunned the young actress, who eventually broke off relations with her mother. The amphetamines helped in the short run. She had five husbands. An old astrological adage: The stars favor the stars. From the moment the teenage Garland sang to Clark Gable's photograph ("You Made Me Love You"), her astonishing rise to the heights of Hollywood glory was in the cards (Queen of Hearts high) as was, alas, the inevitability of internal conflicts and demons postponed but not resolved by the habitual use of narcotics. She was still in her teens when she and Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr sang as they danced along the yellow brick road leading to the wonderful wizard of Oz. That was in Technicolor. Already in the black-and-white of Kansas... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Excellent poet. "The Gallery of Missing Husbands" is a marvelous title for a novel, especially a mystery novel. -- DL
Here's to Jane Jarvis -- she was great at Shea. I regret not hearing her play at a bar or cabaret in NYC. -- DL
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At a time when universities are cutting funds for the arts it has become extremely difficult to publish serious books on literature and letters. The tortuous attempt to get my latest book into print provides a specific case history on the current state of academic publishing and reveals the problems that scholarly writers now face. As an experienced professional and widely published author I mistakenly thought, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the doom of man might be reversed for me. I tried to publish The Mystery of the Real: Letters of the Canadian Artist Alex Colville and Biographer Jeffrey Meyers. Edited, with Four Essays, by Jeffrey Meyers for more than two years. But my struggle, after many setbacks, eventually succeeded. I can now warn scholars to expect hostile readers and dispiriting negotiations, and suggest how to place a minor but significant book. I naively thought that presses, especially in Canada, would be eager to bring out my correspondence with, and the first published letters of, their country’s greatest painter—the equal of his fellow realists Andrew Wyeth and Lucian Freud. The two major Alex Colville exhibitions in Toronto in 2014 and Ottawa in 2015 had sustained widespread interest in his art, and I had an endorsement from his daughter and executor Ann Kitz. She wrote, “I enjoyed reading this—I actually just sat there with my coffee and read it right through immediately—and am pleased.” She gave me permission, without a fee, to publish his letters and reproduce in color sixteen of his late paintings. I tried to interest publishers in this book by describing its content: “I spent several days with Alex Colville (1920-2013) on each of three visits from California to Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I received seventy letters from him between August 1998 and April 2010, and kept thirty-sex of my letters to him. He sent me photographs and slides of his work and, in his eighties, discussed the progress and meaning of the paintings he completed during the last decade of his life. His handwritten letters, precisely explaining his thoughts and feelings, gave me a rare and enlightening opportunity to compare my insights and interpretations with his own intentions and ideas. He also discussed his family, health, sexuality, politics, reading, travels, literary interests, our mutual friend Iris Murdoch, response to my writing, his work, exhibitions, sales and meaning of his art. Alex’s letters reveal the challenges he faced during aging and illness, and his determination to keep painting as his health declined. He stopped writing to me when he became seriously ill two years before his death. In this context, the late paintings take on a new poignancy.” Alex, normally reserved and even reclusive, delighted me by writing, “I am touched by your friendship, which I think is as important to me as to you.” I wrote to seventy-three firms: twenty-five Canadian (including four that had brought out books about Colville and another that had published two of my books), twenty-seven American and twenty-one English. There were four vanity presses,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
As far as "on this date" goes, today is a big one. Fifty years ago today - June 5, 1966 - I attended my 1st New York Mets game. Just like today, it was a Sunday. Shea Stadium was only in its 3rd season. My father, mother and I left early for the 1pm doubleheader against the Dodgers. On the way down - as we traversed the Taconic, Saw Mill River, Cross County, and Hutchinson Parkways - I learned about the 7th inning stretch. We made it over the Whitestone Bridge and got stuck in traffic on the Whitestone Expressway but eventually made it to Gate C. We weren't certain where the seats were, but the usher said keep going up the escalators, all the way to Upper Reserved - at the time the green seats. My mom picked a bad day to wear heels. Walking through the tunnel from the concourse opened up a sea of color. Watching games on a 19 inch black and white TV didn't prepare you for that vision. Finally planted in our seats directly above home plate, I settled down to learn the basics of scorekeeping from my mom. She was the big baseball fan: more about that in a moment. Sandy Koufax versus Gerry Arrigo. Yes, I got to see Koufax in his final year. Ron Hunt had the 1st Mets inside the park homer. Gerry Arrigo hit a double, but was removed from the game the next inning. I asked why; my mom said it was because he gave up 4 runs in 5 innings. The Mets would go on to lose this game 16-3. But fear not, the Mets would win the nightcap by a score of 3-2. So in one day, I saw the ups and downs of being a Mets fan. 20 years later, I would be there with my father when they won their 2nd (and most recent) World Series and 42 years later with my wife Susan and son Andrew for the Mets final victory at Shea. So why the Mets? In the late 40s and early 50s, my mother worked in the City as a registered nurse. She attended a lot of baseball games, sometimes at the Polo Grounds for weekday matinees but mostly Ebbets Field. After all, she was born in Brooklyn. She knew a man, Bill Gibson, who worked for the Brooklyn Dodgers in their ticket office. Bill would get my mom great seats for games. When the Dodgers moved west, Bill didn't follow. And in 1962, he ended up working for the Mets in their ticket office. Every March, Bill would make sure to mail our family a ticket brochure. And in 1966, at 8 years old, I was old enough to go. And that's the story. I thank for parents for bringing me to that game and thank God that Bill didn't end up working in the Bronx. In honor of this occasion, here is a link to the song played by... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Freedom - Better Now Better far— from all I see— To die fighting to be free What more fitting end could be? Better surely than in some bed Where in broken health I'm led Lingering until I'm dead Better than with prayers and pleas Or in the clutch of some disease Wasting slowly by degrees Better than a heart attack or some dose of drug I lack Let me die by being black Better far that I should go Standing here against the foe Is the sweeter death to know Better than the bloody stain on some highway where I’m lain Torn by flying glass and pane Better calling death to come than to die another dumb, muted victim in the slum Better than of this prison rot if there’s any choice I’ve got Kill me here on the spot Better for my fight to wage Now while my blood boils with rage Less it cool with ancient age Better violent for us to die Than to Uncle Tom and try Making peace just to live a lie Better now that I say my sooth I’m gonna die demanding Truth While I’m still akin to youth Better now than later on Now that fear of death is gone Never mind another dawn. -- Muhammad Ali (Thanks to Laura Orem, Women's Voices Mentorship Program) Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Life is a labyrinth, and so is death, A labyrinth without end, said the Master of Ho. The slave remains in chains. Prometheus is born again to suffer again. One prison opens onto another, Corridor onto corridor. The river feeds its tributaries. The river and its tributaries are a labyrinth, And the man who believes he can shuffle off his coil And live to tell the tale Is the card shark who shuffles the deck And deals. Nothing avails. The centuries also live underground, said the Master of Ho. -- Henri Michaux; trans. David Lehman. Today (May 24) is Henri Michaux's birthday. Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
To the Editor, I am writing in response to today’s front-page article asking when the time is right for an old geezer past his prime to get off the stage. The piece begins with a scathing account of a recent concert by Bob Dylan. You illustrated it with a cartoon of Dylan with a prune juice bottle at his elbow. My first reaction was yeah. I was at that concert. I’ll never pay to hear him anymore. And it was expensive. The cost to pleasure ratio was way out of whack. However, then I considered the unexamined premise behind the piece, which is that age brings infirmity and loss of prowess without a compensatory gift, in this case the beautiful nobility of Mr. Dylan’s professional presence. I’d rather have a croaking Bob Dylan than 90% of what’s out there. And how typically inconsistent for the Wall Street Journal to say in one breath that Dylan at 69 is too old to perform and in the next breath that we should extend the retirement age to 69. As a free-market capitalist I feel that Dylan should retire when the market says he should. (signed) R. Zimmerman Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Have we taught a generation of college graduates to vilify capitalism without doing it the honor of knowing how it works? Spot checks at New York’s Penn Station reveal that a vast majority of college-educated commuters do not have a clue about the relation of the prime rate to the federal funds rate, for example, or the advantage of capital gains over wages, or the difference between a progressive income tax and a sales tax, or the reason bond prices go up when interests rates go down, or the best age at which to start taking Social Security benefits. In league with a team of professors from Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, we devised this quiz to see who knows what and, as always with multiple-choice tests, to entertain with the wrong answers, proving, in this case, that the gloomy science can generate its share of yucks.. – DL 1) The Dow-Jones Industrial Average was created by a) Charles H. Dow, either alone or with Edward Jones, two cofounders of the company that bears their names b) Charles W. Dow in partnership with Samuel J. Jones, the Princeton-educated sheriff of Douglas County in the Kansas Territory portrayed by James Stewart in Anthony Mann's second feature film c) Standard & Poor’s d) Dow's stepdaughters Jane and Martha Bancroft, on instructions from Clarence Barron prior to his acquisition of the company in 1902 e) Meyer Wolfsheim 2) According to the Dow Theory, there are three phases to a primary bull market and three to a primary bear market. The theory was developed by which of the following, for which purpose: a) Charles W. Dow and Alexander Hamilton, to develop a metric to gauge the wealth factor associated with the Louisiana Purchase b) Charles H. Dow -- and refined and sustained after his death in 1903 by his understudy William Hamilton -- for the purpose of predicting stock fluctuations c) Elmer Bernstein, Carolyn Leigh, and Max Shulman, the Tony Award-winning producers of the musical comedy How Now, Dow Jones? (1967), mainly for laughs and the sheer pleasure of it but also to entertain audiences, employ actors and musicians, and make a profit at the box office, all by poking fun at the academic study of risk, economics, and finance d) John Maynard Keynes in a 1938 letter to President Roosevelt arguing that “the present recession is partly due to an ‘error of optimism’ which led to an overestimation of future demand” and that continuation of “public works and other investments aided by Government funds or guarantees” was essential going forward. e) Herbert Henry Dow, a grandson of the founder of Dow Chemical, in 1969, as a way to divert public attention from protests against the use of napalm, which the company manufactured, during the war in Vietnam. 3) Mutual funds are a) An attempt by rogue elements in the legal profession to monetize the value of a married couple’s community property b) The amount on the... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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We welcome the publication of In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton, a posthumous collection by a wonderful poet who died in 1994, entirely too young. The publisher is Nightboat Books, and the work of editing it was shared by Philip Clark and the late Reginald Shepherd. I knew Donald well; he is represented in an anthology I edited, Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, for which he wrote a statement about the occasion and objectives of one of his poems. It may be the only critical statement that he ever published. Three of Donald's poems appeared in a low-circulation magazine I edited, Poetry in Motion, in the late 1970s. There will be a release party for the book at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City on Friday, May 20, at 6 PM. In he picture above, Donald is the fourth poet from the left. To his right is Tim Dlugos, with Dennis Cooper standing on the other side of Tim. Amy Gerstler is second from the right. Also in the picture are Michael Silverblatt, Bob Flanagan, and Ed Smith. The venue is the Ear Inn and I'd have to guess the date as early 1980s. Here is the first paragraph of Douglas Crase's afterword to the new collection. << The appearance in print of the selected poems of Donald Britton is an affront to cynicism and a triumph over fate. When Donald died, in 1994, it was sadly reasonable to assume that the influence of his poetry would be confined to the few who had preserved a copy of his single book, the slender, deceptively titled Italy, published thirteen years earlier. As the few became fewer it seemed all but certain the audience for his poems would disappear. Donald never taught, so there were no students to mature into positions of critical authority. There was no keeper of the flame to incite publication, no posthumous foundation to subsidize it, not even a martyrology in place to demand it out of sentiment. The survival of his work would have to come about, instead, as a pure instance of “go little booke”—an instance that must now warm the heart of anyone who has ever believed in poetry. It was the poems in Italy themselves, free of professional standing or obligation, that inspired the successive affections of two remarkable editors and the confident publisher of the present selection. Donald, who despite his brilliance was a modest and self-effacing person, would be surprised. >> Crase's afterword concludes with this thought about the "longevity" of poetry as opposed to a "career" in the field. <<< Donald’s posthumous success in inspiring the publication of his selected poems, coupled with the undeniable failure in worldly terms of his career, is occasion to wonder if the career is ever the same as poetry itself. From time to time a critic will observe that Hart Crane’s suicide, for example, or Joe Brainard’s decision to stop making art, may be regarded as proof the artist... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
At end, I lied I am abend when we’re off drunk again Or swimming in sincere blue oceans—gists, all of them foreign. When in the door steps Three of my kin, weird-eyed with essence. What’s that? I see a serenade, trying again. Kind heart. This story has been ruined, I run, turn, hole under a bush Scan the ground for a moving you. Frailings, they walk, stay uber quiet and austere at that I, there, much older, heightened in wait Give it a dame smiling handy and Shrug! Do leave, I run all them off. They say it: hang her! Then when it’s darker, while out, I see him such Her shining ways in the from days, her stitched up hand Shot. Can see all Last era says and I am more for a cure by death, see, in contrast to those who tremble ..Or a comedy set. Be it valet or beyond the way, they don’t say no. Sweet laments from the infancy. Death in reposado or cold sambuca Guardians of my grave! Nobody really knows my city like you She gives me one moment of time, electric. But when I take your hand down the aisle Battering piano glee surrounding us The hour is perfect The mass is one of beauty, harmony, peonies land in me And on your white paisley dress, autumn at the core. -- Kirsten Chen Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
The Perfect Guy He picks me up at eight in his mother’s BMW. He rolls up the sleeves of his maroon wool sweater and orders an Old Fashioned. He's been drilling oil in Saudi Arabia and he gets lonely there. He reads for pleasure and misses the way company makes him feel. He was a Civil Engineer at Vanderbilt and he says I remind him of a Southern girl. I am waiting patiently for him to kiss me. I am into another guy who is a little bit colorblind. He wants to wear more green because he has gray-green eyes, but he can’t find the shirts in the store. He holds my hand in the black light of dirty college bars. He fucks me then assures me he's not looking for a girlfriend. He pushes my hair back and tells me I look hotter au naturale. -- Lily Bowen Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Albert Gleizes, Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, 1914, Oil on canvas, 129.5 x 114.3 cm. Muséum of Modern Art Collection "My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit." —Igor Stravinsky, Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons -- sdl Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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KGB Bar: 85 E 4th St, New York, New York 10003 Renowned Russian-American composer, writer, visual artist and concert pianist Lera Auerbach will be reading from Excess of Being, her new book of aphorisms and original artwork, by turns provocative, dark, ironic and humorous. Poet David Lehman is a prominent editor, author and literary critic. He serves as the editor of The Best American Poetry series, which he initiated in 1988, and teaches at The New School. His most recent book is Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World. He will read poems from his forthcoming book Poems in the Manner Of (Scribner, 2017). -- sdh Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus’ (c. 1560s), by Pieter Brueghel the Elder—the focus of Auden’s final stanza. PHOTO: ROYAL MUSEUMS OF FINE ARTS OF BELGIUM Of the many memorable poems about paintings and sculpture—“ekphrastic poems” is the technical but ugly term for them—my favorite is W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Named for the Brussels museum of fine art that Auden visited late in 1938, the poem begins with a stanza about two emblematic if generic paintings, one that depicts the birth of Christ (lines 5-8), the other depicting the crucifixion (lines 10-13)—the two most solemn moments in the Christian year: About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. The poem’s opening statement is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks. To appreciate the artistry, imagine a more conventional way of saying the same thing: “The old masters were never wrong about suffering.” Though virtually identical in language, the sentence loses all its power. There may be no better demonstration of a crucial lesson in the rhetoric of verse: that word order—combined with the strategic pause at the end of the line—is crucial in arousing and sustaining the reader’s attention. Note, too, the staggered rhymes in the stanza, which approaches prose but turns back to verse at each line’s end. Not until line four of this 13-line stanza do we encounter the first rhyme, and the last word of line six does not meet its mate until the stanza’s end. Continue reading here. Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
It’s Friday the 13th and I wonder how the superstition got started. I’d always thought it was because there were thirteen diners at the Last Supper but I recently saw a documentary about the Knights Templar according to which King Philip of France mounted a ruthlessly efficient surprise attack on the Templars and tortured them until they confessed they were heretics, gnostics. That happened on a Friday the 13th in the 14th century, and ever since it’s been an unlucky day to be caught in a storm or shoplifting or in bed with a person other than your mate or just crossing the street before looking both ways in New York, where, from one point of view, it’s always Friday the 13th -- 2 / 13 / 98 [from The Daily Mirror, 2000] Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry