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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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In her brilliant introduction to State of the Art (Pittsburgh, 2015) by David Lehman, Denise Duhamel writes: David takes his cue from Charles Baudelaire who advised, "Always be a poet, even in prose." I love that quote--it sounds so sexy yet true. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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I’m thrilled to announce that I have been named the first poet laureate of the New York City Greenmarkets, the largest and most diverse outdoor urban farmers market network in the country, with over 50 locations throughout the five boroughs. My job is to select poems of high literary merit that showcase foods and beverages that are seasonal and specific to our region. The poems will be printed along with recipes by noted cookbook authors and chefs and distributed free at all markets. One of the first poems I’ve picked is “Nettles” by Katha Pollitt from Antarctic Traveller (Knopf,1982). Katha has graciously allowed GrowNYC reprint it. To read her poem and the accompanying recipe, click on the link below: "Nettles" by Katha Pollitt Do you have a favorite food poem? Please enter the title and poet in the comment field. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Sandra Simonds as our guest author. Sandra is the author of four books of poetry including the forthcoming Steal It Back from Saturnalia Books, The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2012) and Warsaw Bikini (Bloof Books, 2009). Her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry 2015 and 2014, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Poetry, Fence, The Chicago Review, The Awl, and other places. Follow her on twitter @sandmansimonds. Welcome back, Sandra. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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For last week's "Next Line, Please" contest over the Amercan Scholar, David Lehman challenged readers to submit poems with secret messages embedded in them. He announced the winner on Tuesday, June 16. He also announced his summer hiatus, during which Angela Ball will run the show. In addition to being a talented poet and distinguished professor, much loved by her students at the University of Southern Mississippi, Angela is an imaginative editor, who has assembled special issues of Mississippi Review and Valley Voices. Here's what Lehman had to say about this week's winner: “Conscience versus Consequence” To say I am impressed with the ingenuity on display in this week’s entries is to risk understatement. I’ll just say that the decision to pick a winner gets more difficult each week—and that the association of poetry and secrecy remains a fruitful one. I opted for a tie this time between two acrostic poems that could not be less alike: Christine Rhein’s clandestine investigation of secrets and Millicent Caliban’s high-spirited tip of the cap to the nation that was born on the 4th of July. Continue reading over at the American Scholar. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
for Stacey “What kind of poems do you write?” she asked and I said occasional poems each day is an occasion take today The sun shone on my face shielded by a Panama hat made in Ecuador and the fate of a leaf in a hurricane was the day’s best simile for financial markets where the value of green keeps going up. The trees and the grass are vying in the green competition because “good is as visible as green” and the lawns are emerald like the eyes of my beloved when she saw the ring with two hearts and an emerald crescent in the jeweler’s case. The food tasted good and simple: beans and rice, chicken, coconut sorbet, white cherries, lemonade, and Matthew’s concoction with Cynar and jalapeno-infused gin. The ice cubes in the glass sounded like nothing but themselves. The sky was blue The shirt fit I washed the car. The newspaper reported that Cambridge is catching up to Oxford in real-estate prices and my thousand words on “To His Coy Mistress” were nicely illustrated as I sat and sipped in the sun. And then I read the new bio of Duke Ellington and Helen Forrest’s own story and tilted my hat as I walked celebrating the day the occasion for taking a walk enjoying the light and my new Panama hat. -- David Lehman The poem appears in Jujubes http://static1.squarespace.com/static/52508ca0e4b078f5507265fc/t/556d8f00e4b0d78223bf0089/1433243392043/JuJuBes+Magzter.pdf Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
This is lovely. I didn't know you had strokes Rachel.Thank you for sharing this blessing. Stacey
1 reply
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This week we welcome back Lisa Vihos as our guest author. Lisa is a poet, blogger, and grant writer living in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Currently in a period of transition between jobs, she recently took a break from everyday reality to attend the inaugural 100 Thousand Poets for Change World Conference in Salerno, Italy where she was honored to hang out with poet-activists from all over the world, share poems in multiple languages, and envision how poetry can make the world a more just and peaceful place. Along with two chapbooks, A Brief History of Mail (Pebblebrook Press, 2011) and The Accidental Present (Finishing Line Press, 2012), her poems have appeared in Big Muddy, The Camel Saloon, Forge, Main Street Rag, Mom Egg, Red Fez, Seems, Verse Wisconsin and other journals and magazines. She is the poetry and arts editor for Stoneboat Literary Journal and is pleased to be back for her fourth gig at Best American Poetry online. Visit her blog at Frying the Onion. Welcome back, Lisa. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Illness borne with grace shames the chronic complainer. Moon over bare trees. Continue reading
Posted Jun 13, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Two Cigarettes in the Dark for Stacey (July 26, 2014) You talk I listen Then I talk you listen We decide that realism Requires nudity so We test out that theory continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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This comic was inspired by Marylin Monroe's singing of Happy Birthday, Mr. President. You can watch it here: Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Ben Jonson (1572-1637) Of the canonical English poets, was there ever a finer rhymester than "rare" Ben Jonson? His poems sing; they are lyrics that require no musical accompaniment, though the impulse to set his words to music must always be great. Jonson's facility with triple rhymes is unrivaled, as in this gorgeous song from his masque Cynthia's Revels (Act I., Sc. ii.): ECHO'S SONG Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears; Yet slower, yet, O faintly gentle springs: List to the heavy part the music bears, "Woe weeps out her division, when she sings. Droop herbs and flowers; Fall grief in showers; Our beauties are not ours": O, I could still, (Like melting snow upon some craggy hill, ) drop, drop, drop, drop, Since nature's pride is, now, a withered daffodil. Happy birthday to us, big Ben. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Today's comic was once again inspired by a Chapter 2011 in David Lehman's State of the Art (Pittsburgh, 2015) in which David quotes famous poets' definitions of poetry. He includes this wonderful quote from Gertrude Stein: "Poetry is nothing but using losing refusing and pleasing and betraying and caressing nouns." NA Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I love it that Marilyn Monroe and Walt Whitman, two fellow Gems, were born on the same day (almost: Marilyn June 1, Walt May 31): MM an inversion of WW -- the American yin and yang. . . David
Volare o o cantare o o o o, nel blu dipinto di blu felice di stare lassù, e volavo volavo felice più in alto del sole ed ancora più sù, mentre il mondo pian piano spariva laggiù, una musica dolce suonava soltanto per me. . . Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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Talbot Hall and gardens Lady Margaret Hall Oxford It began as quickly and unexpectedly as falling down a rabbit hole, or passing through a mirror—an e-mail arrived, out of the blue, from one of the previous holders of the position, the critic Christopher Ricks. The subject line was “An Inquiry,” and it was characteristically brief: “It came to me that you would be an excellent professor of poetry at Oxford. (Geoffrey Hill has not long to go.) Would this possibility interest you?” An American poet day-dreams of course about certain prizes, recognition, or positions, however implausible, but the Oxford Professor of Poetry simply is not one of them—it seems such the exclusive purview of British and Irish men. In its 300 years, it has never gone to a woman or indeed as far as I am aware, to anyone outside of the British Isles. It had never crossed my mind. But I said yes I’d give it a go, and we were off. All at once, I found myself in a sort of Wonderland, and in a horse race (I would say a caucus-race, but not everyone will be able to demand prizes), as well as a literary-political game of chess. I was standing in a unique election, a mixture of that rarest of things, direct democracy, and one of the most rarefied: only Oxford graduates (and other members of Convocation) may vote. The position was established in 1708 by Henry Birkhead, who founded it on the notion that “the reading of the ancient poets gave keenness and polish to the minds of young men.” It was originally only open to clergymen from Merton. According to The Guardian, “Soyinka’s backers have been keen to stress that they consider the post more like an honour to be bestowed than a job to be applied for.” I want to say the exact opposite—yet that’s too facile. Maybe instead the office could be described as an honor to be applied for, a job to be bestowed. For all its grandeur and prestige, the post is, in essence, the oldest and first Poet in Residence in education. Certainly I have been applying very hard since the middle of March. Numerous rules have been changed since the scandal-ridden election of 2009. To get on the ballot used to require only a dozen nominators with Oxford degrees; now it takes fifty. We hunted after the requisite nominators for a couple of weeks (among them Tobias Wolff, Christopher Ricks of course, Adrian McKinty, Chlo Aridjis), followed up on their filling out and mailing of the nominator form (which could not be scanned or faxed), and collated before sending them to the Election office. In an abundance of caution, we ended up with 73. Perhaps the most significant change to the process, however, is that in the last election on-line voting was introduced. (The use of paper ballots was costly, and one had to vote in person.) Overseas voters were a factor last time, but this time will... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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NA: Tell me about Black Lawrence Press. Where are you located? Who came up with the name? What distinguishes the press from others? How long has it been in existence? DG: Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about Black Lawrence Press! We were founded in 2005 in upstate New York by Colleen Ryor who named the press after the Black River and the St. Lawrence River. That year we published just one book of poetry, but since then we’ve grown quite a bit—our annual lists include between fifteen and twenty new titles. The books themselves are printed in Michigan and distributed by Small Press Distribution in California. All of our editors work from home, which means that our day-to-day operations take place in the cloud and via satellite, not in a traditional office space. NA: How many editors do you have at Black Lawrence Press? DG: There are currently eight of us. Four are in New York State: Gina in Ithaca, Yvonne in Manhattan, and Kit and Angela are in Brooklyn. The other four are farther flung: Linwood is in Ohio, Anneli is in Boston, Daniele is in Switzerland, and I live in Hong Kong. NA: You run quite a few competitions, and you also have open reading periods with no reading fees. Do most of your books come from the competitions? DG: When we first got started I’d say about 75% of the books came in through contests. In the early days, we just didn’t get as many manuscripts through the open reading periods—no one knew us. However, our contests were listed on various databases for writers, so we got more submissions through them. That’s changed. Now that we’re more established, we get lots of submissions through the open reading periods. This year we’ve accepted books by Reneé Ashley, Sequoia Nagamatsu, and Cynthia Manick from our open reading period. They are all new members of the BLP list. We also have many authors who have continued to send us their work. Authors like Marcel Jolley, Daniele Pantano, Mary Biddinger, David Rigsbee, Abayomi Animashaun, TJ Beitelman and Jacob M Appel have three or more books either published or forthcoming from us. Since January we’ve accepted new titles from BLP authors Laura McCullough, Jenny Drai, and Kristy Bowen. NA: What distinguishes a Black Lawrence manuscript? What makes a manuscript a contest winner? DG: When I stop reading a manuscript as an editor and start reading it as an admirer—that’s when I know I want to publish a book. NA: If you had one line of advice to give to poets submitting their work to Black Lawrence Press, what would it be? DG: Take your time—we hope to be here, reading manuscripts and publishing books for many years to come, so there’s no need to rush, no need to send your manuscript if you’re not sure it’s ready. NA: I just read Mary Biddinger’s wonderful new book, A Sunny Place with Adequate Water. I was wondering if you... Continue reading
Posted Jun 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Terrific anecdote. Thanks, Alan.
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Today's comic was inspired by a Chapter 2011 in David Lehman's State of the Art (Pittsburgh, 2015), which opens with the question, What makes poetry great? David then goes on to quote famous poets' definitions of great poetry. I particularly love what Randall Jarrell said of Frost's "Directive": "The poem is hard to understand, but easy to love." I feel that way about many great poems. Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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The American poet Alicia Stallings (A. E. Stallings as she appears on a magazine's Table of Contents) is on the short list of candidates for the Oxford Professor of Poetry. If elected, she will be the first woman to hold the post. We hope she gets the job! And if you are a graduate of Oxford, you can cast your vote for her by registering on line here. You must act quickly; voter registration will close on June 8 in the UK (June 7 in the US). Voting will conclude on Wednesday 17 June 2015. Stallings studied Classics at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia, and later at Oxford. She is much honored for her poetry -- with accolades including the Richard Wilbur award and the Poets’ Prize. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has been a Guggenheim Fellow and holds a MacArthur Fellowship. The MacArthur Foundation’s citation says she mines "the classical world and traditional poetic techniques to craft works that evoke startling insights about contemporary life." Her work has been set to music by eight composers. An accomplished translator, she has rendered Lucretius into rhymed fourteeners.. A translation of Hesiod is forthcoming from Penguin. She has also translated modern Greek verse into English. Her poems have been included in several volumes of The Best American Poetry, including the 2015 volume forthcoming this fall. She has lived in Athens, Greece, since 1999.You can read Stallings’ candidate statement here. The Professor of Poetry at Oxford dates to 1708. Matthew Arnold, twice elected to the position, (in 1857 and 1862), created the professorship in its modern form: Arnold spoke about literary matters of contemporary concern, and was the first to deliver his lectures in English as opposed to Latin. If elected, Stallings will be 45th Professor of Poetry and the first woman to hold the post. The Oxford chair of poetry has long been regarded as one of the most prestigious and prominent posts in the field. Previous incumbents have included Matthew Arnold, A.C. Bradley, C. Day-Lewis, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, Roy Fuller, Peter Levi, Seamus Heaney, James Fenton, Paul Muldoon, and Christopher Ricks. The incumbent is Geoffrey Hill. "Making, Knowing and Judging," Auden's inaugural Oxford lecture, which he delivered on June 11, 1956, is reprinted in his book The Dyer's Hand. Find out more about the Professor of Poetry and voter requirements here. Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Mark Eleveld as our guest author. Mark is the editor of The Spoken Word Revolution series. He programmed the first Poetry Jam at the White House for President and First Lady Barack Obama. He is a copublisher at EM Press, a board member of the Society of Midland Authors, and reviews books for ALA Booklist. He is a teacher at Lewis University and Joliet West High School. Welcome, Mark. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted May 31, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
“I am reading it so slowly because I don't want to finish it.” This is almost a paraphrase of the climactic line in one of the best prose poems in Mark's final book. -- DL
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The late Mark Strand, a frequent visitor to Umbria and guest of the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, gave much of his library to Civitella, an international artists' community of world renown set in a medieval castle and its grounds. Strand's lifelong friend, the painter William Bailey lives close to the Castle, and during summers when Mark was not visiting Civitella, he was visiting Bill. It was at Civitella that Mark wrote most of his last book, Almost Invisible, a brilliant collection of prose poems, several of which were selected for The Best American Poetry (2011 and 2012 editions). He usually wrote sitting in the sun at the picnic table of the Fellows' Garden. Mark moved from Chicago to New York, from New York to Madrid, and back to New York. With each move he pared down his library. “There's only about 400 books that really mean anything to me anymore," he said. "I just want to get down to 400 books.” Civitella was the lucky recipients of his cast-offs. His initial gifts of books to Civitella numbered 1200 volumes, primarily poetry in English, but many books of poetry in Spanish and Italian. There were numerous volumes of literary criticism, philosophy, and the classics. The last time Mark was a Director's Guest at Civitella, in 2011, he was reading the new translation of Don Quixote. “I don't want it to end,” he said, “I am reading it so slowly because I don't want to finish it.” Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Here is this week's challenge on "Next Line, Please," sponsored by The American Scholar. It is, you wiill see, very Auden-centric, though it begins with a quote from Eliot. To enter, click here -- and be prepared to submit your entry in the comment field. <<< “In my end is my beginning,” T. S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets. He meant something specific about circularity and the spiritual journey he was undertaking, but the line has more than one application, and I find it works to designate certain tactics or challenges that poets may employ to jump-start their imaginations. One such is to begin with a last line and then write the poem that leads up to it. Another—and the one I propose we use for this week’s competition—is to retain the end words of an admirable poem, scrap the rest, and fill in the blank space with one’s own poem. Here is “Gare du Midi” by W. H. Auden. Only eight lines long, it implies a whole narrative with a sinister flavor suitable to Western Europe bracing for the gathering storm of World War II. The poem rhymes, but the rhymes are staggered—“contrived” in line three, for example, does not meet its mate until the last line of the poem. This allows the poem not only to evade expectation but almost to approach prose before fulfilling its obligations as verse. A nondescript express in from the South, Crowds round the ticket barrier, a face To welcome which the mayor has not contrived Bugles or braid: something about the mouth Distracts the stray look with alarm and pity. Snow is falling, Clutching a little case, He walks out briskly to infect a city Whose terrible future may have just arrived. Now remove the title, and retain only the end-words: South, face contrived mouth pity. case, city arrived. Option two: For those who would be happier if confronted not with an entire poem but just its end-words, here are the end-words of another poem from the Auden canon: after, understand hand, fleets; laughter streets. It is not necessary to retain Auden’s punctuation. But be sure to give a title to your effort. Incidentally … suggestions for future contests (another haiku perhaps? a poem based on a comparison? a cryptogram?) are always welcome, and you should know that I love it when people comment on the poems of others and on the exercise itself. Deadline: Midnight, Saturday, May 30. >> https://theamericanscholar.org/in-my-end-is-my-beginning/#.VWaqA7Pw9Bw Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for this ode to freedom -- so beautiful a vision until the very last clause.