This is The Best American Poetry's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following The Best American Poetry's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
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
Image
My husband’s recent diagnosis of celiac disease came as a complete shock to both of us. He had been experiencing many months of debilitating symptoms that had been attributed variously to chemotherapy, post-surgery recovery, and an intractable infection. Doctors told us that his symptoms would wax and wane and that he might just have to live with them. Finally, and almost as an afterthought, his oncologist Dr. Dean Bajorin ordered the simple blood test for celiac (“highly unlikely, but we may as well be sure.”). Within a week we had a preliminary diagnosis, within two, it was confirmed by a biopsy. Continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Image
This week we welcome back Lisa Vihos as our guest blogger. Lisa's poems have appeared in numerous journals both print and online. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her third chapbook, This Particular Heaven, will appear in 2017 from Aldrich Press. She is the Poetry and Arts Editor of Stoneboat Literary Journal and the Sheboygan, Wisconsin organizer for 100 Thousand Poets for Change. She recently was the recipient of a Time-Out Grant from her undergraduate alma mater, Vassar College. In the coming year, she will be planning and building a children's reading garden to support literacy in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Welcome back, Lisa. sdl Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Image
David Lehman’s The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014 collects the introductions he’s written to introduce the individual volumes of The Best American Poetry series over the last twenty-five years. Taken together, these brief essays—for they are much more broadly conceived than the word “introduction” would indicate—trace the controversies and other points of attention within the American poetry world over the last quarter century. Often as I read, I thought, oh, I’m glad we’re through that phase—the theory wars that not only pitted scholars against each other but also unnecessarily pitted scholars against creative writers (as if many of us don’t fill both roles), the flurry of trash-talking reviews by William Logan, the perennial complaint that there’s too much bad poetry because of MFA programs or slam poetry events or the ease of online publishing (a discussion we’re, alas, not yet through having). More often, though, I found myself glad to be a poet in our time when there’s so much vibrant poetry being written by so many different writers, and when there’s such energetic conversation occurring in libraries and cafes and bars and, yes, universities, about our art. Too often, introductions to anthologies are written as if they are formal necessities or polite niceties that no one actually reads. Continue reading . . . Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
For several years I've been announcing the first corn sighting of the season. This year, the corn has been late to market because of the drought we're experiencing in the Finger Lakes. I was thrilled to find sweet corn from Romulus, NY at the Triphammer Mall farmers market last Friday. The first corn always reminds me of one of my favorite poems, "Lesbian Corn," by Elaine Equi. We're presenting here in a dramatic reading by Nicole Santalucia. Lesbian Corn In summer I strip away your pale kimono. Your tousled hair too, comes off in my hands leaving you completely naked. All ears and tiny yellow teeth. by Elaine Equi from Surface Tension (Coffee House Press, Sept 1989) Elaine Equi is the author of many collections of poetry including, Voice-Over, which won the San Francisco State Poetry Award; Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award and on the short list for The Griffin Poetry Prize; Click and Clone; and most recently, Sentences and Rain. Widely published and anthologized, her work has appeared in The Nation, Poetry, The New Yorker, and several editions of The Best American Poetry. In addition to The New School, she teaches at New York University. Nicole Santalucia is the author of Because I Did Not Die (Bordighera Press, 2015). She is a recipient of the Ruby Irene Poetry Chapbook Prize from Arcadia Magazine for Driving Yourself to Jail in July and the 2015 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize from The Tishman Review. She received her M.F.A. from The New School University and her Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University. Santalucia teaches poetry at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and brings poetry workshops into the Cumberland County Prison. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Look for Remus in the index of a book And you are bound to get “See Romulus” Which is perfectly logical but makes me wonder About indexes, or indices, and why I prefer the former As the plural except in a financial context, and how An index to a book that may not exist may imply A whole biography, as my friend Paul Violi Showed in his poem “Index.” My late friend Paul Violi, whom I still see in the street Sometimes, walking along at an unhurried pace So if I walk fast I will catch up to him at the corner Before the light turns green. IM Paul Viioli, 20 July 1944 -- April 2, 2011) Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
(Ed note: I read this post by Cate Marvin on facebook and thought it too much fun not to share. Cate generously agreed to let me post it here. Cate is the author of three books of poems, the most recent of which is Oracle (Norton, 2015). She recently relocated from Maplewood, New Jersey, to Portland, Maine, and will serve as a visiting professor at Colby College during the academic year of 2016-2017.) Cate Marvin. photo (c) Joe Dupont July 17, 2016 -- When I first started dating Joe Dupont and told my friends he ran a kayaking business (he takes people on sea kayak excursions on Casco Bay, from Peaks, an island off of Portland, Maine) I did not regard it as a virtue. It sounded cool, but the thought that I might one day be expected to go kayaking haunted me. I could only imagine the humiliation. My perfect girlfriend status would be instantly shot to hell. All my life, I've been nonathletic. Make that anti-athletic. Throughout elementary, junior and high school, I was always the last picked for teams. I had poor coordination, no stamina, and I also did not give a shit. Over the years, I came to regard myself as weak and physically inept. I used to joke that I got most of my exercise from lifting a glass of wine. (STILL TRUE.) So when I first told close friends like Erin Belieu about Joe's profession and they would say, "That's so cool! You can go kayaking!" I concluded that, sadly, they had failed to understand my most quintessential self: Not only do I not do outdoor sports, I do not do sports. Period. (And if you don't like it, you are welcome to go do your sports stuff and leave me the F alone with my books, thank you very much.) To his credit, Joe never pressured me. But I knew the day would come. For you see, Joe had agreeably attended not just a few, but several poetry readings with me. He had already made noticeable efforts toward understanding my world and my profession. He read my poems. He even sat in on one of my classes. Early on, the extent of my reciprocity amounted to admiring how colorful his kayaks looked in his snow-filled backyard over winter break. I came up to Peaks Island a little over a week ago, and my seven year old daughter Lucia and I aren’t just staying for the summer this time around. We have moved to Portland because Joe and I are getting married this coming October. The shit is real. Mention has been made not only of kayaking, but of camping, and – god help me – the possibility of a WHITE WATER RAFTING trip. It’s a wonder I can sleep at night. Last summer, Joe took Lucia and me out in a double-kayak (all three of us in one boat). He was apparently surprised to discover I was nowhere as weak as I'd professed.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Yes, "The Shadow of Your Smile" was in "The Sandpiper." My error. -- DL
Image
Simeon’s Osby’s name, on the other hand, brought up a wealth of intriguing information from the genealogical site. He was born on May 15 1909. In the 1920 census, he is listed as the oldest of four children, living at 1501 S. 17th Street; in the census ten years later, he is still living at home with both parents and three more siblings. Apart from a hiatus in 1926 when Simeon seems to have left school and worked as a porter, he continues to be listed in the City Directory as a student living at home through 1928 when he graduated from Springfield High with my father. In 1929 he is shown living at home, but working in some unspecified capacity for a local company. In 1931, he is still listed in the Directory as living with his parents, but is also a student at the University of Illinois Champaign. According to the City Directory, Simeon remains a student at Champaign through 1934, the height of the depression. He does not appear to have graduated when he returns to live in Springfield, working as a case aid worker in the Surviving Bureau of Transients from then until he is enlisted into the Army as a Private at the end of December 1943. There are no details in the genealogical site about where and how he served during the War: he is discharged in October 1946, around the same time that my father was discharged from the Navy. In the 1940 census, Simeon Osby is still living in Springfield, and married to Annabel, a teacher whose birthplace is Tennessee. No maiden name is given for her. No children are listed, and no address is provided in the City Directory. But in the 1950 census his 58 year-old mother Virgie is living with them. In 1948, Simeon is editor of the Capitol City News, and his wife is a stenographer at the University of Illinois Division of Services for Crippled Children. By 1951 when Simeon is again in the army at the outbreak of the Korean War, Annabel has been promoted to secretary and by 1955 she is the chief clerk in the same Division, and Simeon is working at the Chicago Defender. His mother Virgie is still living with them, and works as a maid. I could find no census information for 1960 or 1970, but Simeon Buckner Osby is still working at the Defender in 1976, when he is among fifty journalist, the only one mentioned by the Edwardsville Intelligencer paper specifically as black, and present at a meeting to discuss some proposed cuts to benefit. He stands to speak against the proposal. Simeon died on July 14, 1993, eight years after my father. He is buried in Camp Butler, Springfield’s military cemetery. His wife had died five years earlier, and she too is buried at Camp Butler. His father is also buried at Camp Butler. But Simeon’s mother Virgie, who had lived with her son and daughter-in-law for so... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
When it occurred to me that I could look up the names of Donald Hogan, Simeon Osby and Thelma Donnigan on the genealogical site I subscribe to, I hesitated for some time: although I had no qualms at all at the thought of spending weeks in a library looking up census information, newspapers, city Directories to find them, what information could emerge by merely typing in their names into a genealogical search engine seemed like an invasion. Was it the speed at which information might be brought up? Was it the sense that there surely was family, their families, who were pursuing the same genealogical research, and I would be in some ways trampling on their privacy? Before I had bought my own subscription, a friend had done some research on my family for me, and it had left me uneasy even while I encouraged her to find out all she could. What was it that made me uneasy? A sense that we are all now living in a fish bowl, a sense of the need for modesty, the thought that veils and curtains should be drawn somewhere. But I hate curtains except those that protect me from the strongest sun. I want light. I wanted light on these three young African Americans who daily shared the High School ground my father walked on for three years. Who walked the city he walked in for the seventeen preceding years. I wanted the light cast by finding out about them to extend to illuminate our day. Already, even before I typed one of the three names and the year of birth, already what I had found by paying close attention to the pages of The Capitoline, rippled into a greater consciousness of structured discrimination, and into a deeper understanding of today’s anger. Already there seemed to be a direct line, from the exclusion of the three faculty advisers for the Unity Reserves, from the segregation into the one club, from the small numbers graduating, to The Black Lives Matter movement. Isn’t ninety years too long a time for racism and discrimination to persist and mutate? 1928 was long before Rosa Parks, Brown versus the Board of Education, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. Fifty years have passed since those landmark institutional changes. And still the angry young, the frustrated old, rise up in protest. In 1928, was the institution of Springfield High proud for accepting blacks, unaware that the de-facto segregation showed it was merely paying lip service to integration? Was my father conscious of the hypocrisy, or oblivious to it? What did my own double-edged reaction 90 years later – that on the one hand I should be so angry that there were there were only three graduating African American students, and on the other hand that I should find myself considering, how many Springfield schools had even three black students -- what did that say? Could I dare to think that the three young people who managed... Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Those three photographs nagged at me. The single girl, Thelma. The two boys, Donald and Simeon. Those young faces. Simeon smiles, looking sideways from the camera. But Donald and Thelma look straight at the photographer with an indecipherable look in which shyness seems to predominate, even though I was tempted to see an undertone of defiance. I was probably reading too much into it. I wondered what happened to them, where they went after graduation. I wondered whether they were the first in their families to graduate from high school. I began to romanticize them. I began to impute my father with insights, with deliberations that I would not ever be able to confirm. There is no way to know whether the decision to put those two photographs as end stops to the list of graduating seniors was an accident, or a statement; or indeed a tribute to the two young people. I just wanted it to be so. I could not let them go: even if the photographs were accidentally placed where they were – who knows, perhaps my father and his editorial team realized they had failed to include them in the alphabetical order after the laborious typesetting had already been done, and quickly added them --; perhaps Thelma and Simeon’s family had had to scrape together the money to pay the photographer and had only managed to do so at the last moment --; even so, I could not let them go. I wanted, now, to bring them out of the shadowy past they shared with my father. I looked at the fragments of scholastic biography below each of the three names in the Yearbook, at the snippet of comment inserted as it was for every graduating student and every member of the faculty: Donald Hogan: Orchestra ’27, ’28; Freshman Cantata; Sophomore Cantata. “A droll little man” He is the one included in the alphabetical order. The descriptive caption coincides with something in the photograph that shows a clear skinned round faced boy with piercing dark eyes, who seems barely a teenager: the shirt and bunched-up tie look as though they have been put on for the photographic session. There was no information in the Yearbook about Cantata, although there were at least four school organizations dedicated to music making, from Band to the Big Twelve Soloists to the music appreciation club. Simeon Osby: Chemistry Club ’27; Astronomy Club ’27; Ramblers ’27; Orchestra ’23, ’24, ’25. “A true friend of the high school” Simeon wears a dapper bow tie and is in three-quarter profile. He is long faced and handsome, looking away from the camera with a faint smile. He’d participated in a number of activities, I noticed. I noticed that he had been in High School since 1923: he had been two years slower than my father to reach graduation. I wondered what the caption meant, in what way this boy had been a ‘true friend’ of the school. I leafed through The Capitoline pages more... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
It was a while before I returned to The Capitoline. By then, I had been on number of short forays to the Beinecke Library in New Haven where my father’s papers are archived. On the last visit, I had spent the time transcribing handwritten letters to and from my father to his father, and to his aunt Agnes, and even letters from his father to Agnes. Some of the letters were dated from the High School years, and two of them referred directly to The Capitoline: in one, handwritten and dated Sunday December 1927 he writes to Agnes: “…I am now ‘free’ to devote my days and nights to the pleasant labor of publishing an ambitiously planned Capitoline… By skillful manipulation of a trade rivalry we have succeeded in shaving off $200 off the printing contract, and by splitting the photography between two firms save another $200. However, in spite of these coups our innovations are going to be so expensive as to leave plenty of financial worries. I am well satisfied with the photographic arrangement in particular, and I do believe it will prove to be one of the best things we have done.” In another undated letter, his father writes to Agnes: “The youngster had every single line that went into this year’s Capitoline to write and then to typewrite – proof to read – the entire make up of the book to arrange and it was a huge task when school work had to be prepared…” I had not realized that my father had been involved in the editing of the Yearbook, but when I picked up The Capitoline again I saw immediately the proud display on the inside cover. Now ‘The guy who’s responsible for this’ caption-quote under his name, that I had seen when I first skim through, made sense: he was the Editor-in-Chief of the 1928 Yearbook. Maybe that explained also the number of photographs. I leafed through, looking for what else I might have missed. I reached the last page that listed and displayed photographs of the June Seniors, and was startled by the portraits of two students on the bottom of the last page: a young African American man and an African American young woman. Simeon Osby and Thelma Donnigan. I didn’t think the school had any African American students. I was immediately embarrassed by the thought: it was a public school, why would it not have African American students? Why was I surprised at their presence? I went back, suddenly focused on the young faces I had barely glanced at, and saw the portrait of one more African American young man among the June Seniors, Donald Hogan. I saw Margaret Clem, Araminta Edwards, Harold Grady, Francene Johnson and Bessie Murrel, listed in alphabetical order, among the students who had graduated in January 1928. In 1928, among the 245 other seniors, only eight were African American. Only three graduated in June with my father. I had not noticed them before because there... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
More than a year after a momentous visit to Springfield, Illinois where my father lived his childhood and high school years, Jim Huston, the city librarian with whom I had become friends, sent me a copy of The Capitoline for 1928. It’s the Yearbook for the year my father graduated High School: a thick, green bound book. I barely glanced at the sepia colored photographs of the campus, and only briefly paused on the pages that showed photographs of faculty and the administration: who were his teachers again? On my visit, Jim and I had gone to the school, and I had seen the letter about my father, written by the poet Vachel Lindsay and addressed to one of those teachers, framed and hanging in the English classroom. But I could not remember her name, although when I reached the faculty pages in the Yearbook, the name Susan Wilcox rang a bell. The caption under her name said that she was Head of the English Department, and the adviser for the Bulletin, and the small cameo photograph showed an elderly delicate looking woman faintly smiling, with a curly untidy hair parted in the middle, and rimless glasses. There was a quote below the information: “Those who know her, know all words are faint.” It seemed very appropriate for an English teacher. I noticed that the information on every faculty member was followed by some kind of quote. As I skimmed through, I noticed the arrangement of photographs for the senior class: some at the top of the page, and some at the bottom of the pages. In between, the names that corresponded to the photographs were listed alphabetically, with a line or two detailing scholastic achievements, and brief quotes, just like the brief quotes for the faculty. My father was not among the Seniors who graduated in January, and the first photograph of him I saw was on the page for the members of the Scholarship Society. He is looking straight into the camera with a questioning expression: his ears stick out a little, his hair is parted on the left, brushed down firmly and smoothed down by brilliantine or water. He looks young. He is young: he turned seventeen in October of his Senior Year. The Scholarship Society, “was organized with the purpose of giving recognition to those who attain a high scholastic average…with a general average of 85% for the four years of his High School course…90% for three years in at least one major subject”. Of course, he would be one of the high achievers, I thought. There must have been perhaps two dozen more scholarship students. I did not pause to count, moved on to look through the June graduates. There he was: a different photograph. This time in three quarter profile, looking towards the left with the same serious questioning expression. The hair shows a small wave, and both the strong nose and the thin lips are more defined. Below the long list of academic... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
That's George Gershwin, on the left, with his older brother, Ira Gershwin, who wrote the words not only for George's songs but -- especially after George's untimely death on July 11,1937 -- for songs by Jerome Kern ("Long Ago and Far Away"), Vernon Duke ("I Can't Get Started"), and Harold Arlen (The Man That Got Away"). As John Tranter, in his review of Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist by Philip Furia (Oxford University Press), puts it, the Gershwins and their confreres "took America’s dreams and set them to music." Here is the rest of Tranter's review. << Shelley claimed that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but then Shelley was mad. Poets have missed out on the law courts, but they have carved a comfortable niche for themselves in the business of advice to the lovelorn. In the modern world, rhymers have set the rules for popular emotions, especially when young folks’ fancies turn to thoughts of love. Poetry of course is everywhere, and has been since the invention of radio: vibrating through the walls of our homes and over the oceans, amplitude or frequency modulating waves in the radio spectrum to the tunes of popular songs and ads for hair cream, and squealing from a thousand Walkmans. Most of these song lyrics are drivel. The Romantic poet Keats set a bad example by rhyming ‘moon’ and ‘June’ in his poem ‘Endymion’, and it’s been downhill ever since. ‘Sun’ and ‘fun’ are generally the best it gets these days, as the Beach Boys remind us. But it’s not all rubbish. Much of this writing was cleverly done, especially in the twenties and thirties, and the best of it had a special sparkle. New York between the wars was America’s equivalent of the Elizabethan Age: exciting, dangerous, filled with the discovery of exotic art, music and literature. Dorothy Parker and the wits of the Algonquin ‘round table’ were popular among the clever set, but much more widely popular among every set were musicians like the gifted George Gershwin and songwriters like his inventive older brother Ira. They took America’s dreams and set them to music — George produced the tune, Ira crafted the words. They collaborated on hundreds of songs — by the time Ira died in 1983 he had written more than 700, including But Not For Me, Fascinating Rhythm, I Can’t Get Started, I Got Rhythm, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off, Love Walked In, Shall We Dance, Someone to Watch over Me, and They Can’t Take That Away From Me. There were plenty of turkeys, too — songs like Uh-Uh, Blah Blah Blah, Please Send My Daddy Back to My Mother, The Gazooka, and I’m a Poached Egg. Ira was born Israel Gershvin in 1896. The family, Russian immigrants originally named Gershovitz, changed their name to Gershvin when they arrived in America (and to Gershwin later, when George had his first hit under that name.) They lived at various addresses in Manhattan as the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
This week we welcome back M.J.Fitzgerald as our guest author. M.J. is the author of novels, short stories and essays, and teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota. Yearbook is part of an ongoing project, Drifts of Chance, a daughter's discoveries, a book of essays about the poet Robert Fitzgerald, best known for his translations of The Odyssey, The Iliad and The Aeneid. An earlier essay, Plots and Sisters, was posted on The Best American Poetry Blog in October 2014. Welcome back, M.J. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Was "Strangers in the Night" Sinatra's best album of the 60s? Marc Myers thinks so. In today's Wall Stret Journal Mr Myers has an excellent, informative,and thoughtful piece on the song, which rose to the top of the charts in 1966. You heard it everywhere that summer, and as Myers reports, this was most unlikely: it had been years since Sinatra reached the apex in sales. Not even Oscar winners "All the Way," "High Hopes," and "Call Me Irresponsible," had reached number one. This was the generation of Elvis and the Beatles, a generation allergic to the idea of a tuxedo and bow tie. As to the album that Myers believes was FS's best of the decade, it is certainly underrated -- perhaps understandably so, for the title song, despite or because of its popularity has never been a critical favorite. The song on the flip side of the 45, "Summer Wind," with its Johnny Mercer lyric, is a better song and has had and a more charmed afterlife. It alone makes the album something special. Other highlights are "You're Driving Me Crazy" (despite a humorous lapse into Brooklynese) and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," the Rodgers and Hart standard that, as Myers notes, Sinatra sings at a "breakneck" tempo. But the album also has "Downtown," the Petula Clark song that FS seems to despise even as he sings it, and other okay songs that are not in the same league as such others highlights of the period as "My Kind of Town," "It Was a Very Good Year," and "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." As an LP "Strangers in the Night" does not compare with "Sinatra's Sinatra" -- a kind of "best of the best" anthology in which, nearing 50, Sinatra sings some of his favorites, from "I've Got Under my Skin" and "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" to "Nancy" and "Put You Dreams Away." Because most of us prefer the originals (recorded under the Columbia or Capitol labels in the 40s and 50s), this album does not rank very high critically. But to newcomers it is an excellent introduction to the Voice in the mid-60s.. Myers has clever reasons for dismissing other contenders for the title of best album. But the argument that the albums with Basie are all swing, that "September of My Years" is darkened by moroseness, that the albums with Jobim are too much of a kind -- doesn't hold water. Using that criterion, you would eliminate "In the Wee Small Hours, "Only the Lonely," "Songs for Swinging Lovers," at al, from consideration for best album of the 50s. To provoke such a discussion is a victory for the writer, and I look forward to reading more of his writings on jazz here: http://www.jazzwax.com/ -- DL Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
<<< At the moment [2007] I am listening to “Frank’s Place” on XM-Satellite Radio. Host Jonathan Schwartz just played a song written by his father, Arthur Schwartz: "I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan" from Sinatra’s A Swinging Affair, which he recorded in 1957, a year after Songs for Swinging Lovers. “Sinatra extended the life of this music by twenty-five years,” Jonathan says. Now he’s playing Rosemary Clooney singing Gershwin’s "Strike up the Band." And here's the Duke Ellington band with the maestro’s "Mood Indigo," very mellow, and here’s Sinatra in saloon mode with the same song. A year has gone by and the show is now called “High Standards.” I wonder why the change. Maybe the Sinatra estate threatened to sue over taking Frank’s name in vain. Anyway, here is Mel Torme, "Dancing in the Dark," and Nelson Riddle, "Out of My Dreams," and Lena Horne, "Out of Nowhere," and Stacey Kent, "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart," and Sarah Vaughan, "My Heart Stood Still." And here is the Sinatra of 1946 with "Sweet Lorraine" as arranged by Sy Oliver with Nat Cole at the piano, Johnny Hodges on alto sax, and Coleman Hawkins on tenor. Jonathan brings a lot of imagination to his playlists. I remember, though it happened seven or eight years ago, the day he advanced the thesis that three Hammerstein lyrics – "Make Believe" (from Show Boat), "People Will Say We’re in Love" (from Oklahoma) and "If I Loved You" (from Carousel) -- were versions of the same idea. Each arose as a solution to the problem of creating a theatrically persuasive love duet between two persons who had not yet met, barely knew each other, or were feuding. Each relied on a conditional premise, a supposition or, in the case of "Make Believe," a frank suspension of disbelief. And though I love the Kern song best of the three, I think Schwartz is right in saying that the three exist in a progression, that "If I Loved You" is – from the theatrical point of view -- the best of the three, and that the “bench scene” in which it figures is the consummate example of the Rodgers & Hammerstein strategy. In his autobiography Schwartz recalls the exact moment he became an ardent Frankophile. It was in the early 1950s and on a jukebox the young man heard Sinatra sing "The Birth of the Blues" (Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson). He says he played it a dozen times. And he's right, it is a fantastic performance, brilliant. Jonathan's fidelity to Sinatra is famous. One Sunday afternoon in December he plays a rare recording of Sinatra singing the Soliloquy from Carousel. It’s an unusually long, musically varied tear-jerker of a song in which the character, a ne’er-do-well carnival barker, imagines that the baby his wife is carrying will be a boy, enjoys the thought, realizes that it may be a girl, and finally vows to make or steal the money needed... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
What follows is a portion of a work in progress examining the way Orson Welles and his films have been appropriated and recast in poetry and fiction. This section focuses on my own experience of writing an unusual kind of elegy. Finally, it was time to compose my farewell poem on Orson Welles. He had died on October 10, 1985, and public tributes had circulated for a brief period, including editorials, columns, and essays in the entertainment press and intellectual journals, cartoons of homage, and TV network spots featuring the opening scene of Citizen Kane in which the dying tycoon utters the word “rosebud” as he expires. Welles as actor excelled in giving up the ghost in his films, those he directed like Citizen Kane, Mr. Arkadin, Touch of Evil, Macbeth, Chimes at Midnight, Othello, King Lear, and those he graced solely as a performer—The Stranger, Tomorrow is Forever, Black Magic, The Third Man, Three Cases of Murder, A Man for All Seasons. Marlene Dietrich, as a fortuneteller reading her magical cards in Touch of Evil, delivers the death’s head, figuratively speaking, when she tells the doomed Sheriff portrayed by Welles, “Your future is all used up.” That epitaph before the fact haunts much of the posthumous discourse about Welles. When the mass media swiftly turned their attention elsewhere, poets were obliged by their reputation as the world’s greatest elegists to continue the obsequies. Few did so, but I pledged myself to testify to Welles’s profound corpus of great works on the screen. I knew the conventions; I had written analyses of numerous memorial poems about people, places, and things. The tradition abounds with POV alternatives for speaking well (and ill) of the illustrious deceased. And yet, the key problem of all such testimonials oppressed me: the sense of apprehension, and timidity, at addressing the glorious, or at least worthy, object of one’s reverence. Who was I to approach the casket and declaim about this shape-shifter, this otherworldly being whose now-bloated body had been screened from me by the screens on which I had watched him move and speak? Why write redundant words of praise about his genius? Why not remain mute and let the reigning bards turn their eloquence in his direction? Who would that be, exactly? Archibald MacLeish, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, Muriel Rukeyser, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Robert Lowell—these had all served their generation as effective elegists, but all had died during the previous decade. Elizabeth Bishop may have been the first significant poet to speak in print, albeit in private, about Welles. In a letter dated September 29, 1936 she offered apologies to Marianne Moore for not including her in a group of friends on a New York outing: “I must tell you that we were going to the theatre that evening; we wanted to ask you to go with us, but it was a play just opening that we knew nothing about and hated to ask you to take the risk. It... Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
I had this e-mail exchange with Bill Berkson, April 21-22, 2016, regarding a "a fact check for [his] portrait of Kenneth [Koch] in a book of memoirs [he was] putting together and that Coffee House promises to publish in 2017." On Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 5:24 PM, Bill Berkson <billberkson@gmail.com> wrote: Dear David I’m trying to track down some hard facts about the poetry-and-jazz events that Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers and other did at the Five Spot. In your LAST AVANT-GARDE you write that Billie Holiday’s appearance (the one at which she called Kenneth’s poetry “weird,” occurred on [a] Monday night. I have understood that those events happened on successive afternoons. Do you recall your source for that event taking place on a Monday night? Thanks for any help you can provide. As ever, Bill On Apr 21, 2016, at 3:49 PM, David Lehman wrote: Dear Bill, Kenneth told me the Billie Holiday (“weird, man") anecdote during one of the lengthy interviews with him I did in 1994. I understood him to be referring to a date in fall 1958. But I am not certain where I got the idea that the readings with Larry Rivers took place on Monday evenings. I knew that Monday was Thelonious Monk's night off. (Monk performed with a quartet that included Johnny Griffin on tenor sax and Roy Haynes on drums.) Now did I just assume that poetry and jazz was a nighttime activity since nighttime was the right time for Monk and his crew -- and presumably for the patrons of the place? Or was there a definite reference to Monday evenings in my interviews with Larry and with Kenneth? To answer I'd need access to those papers, which I do not have at the moment. Are you writing something? I'd be very interested in what you find out. Just last night I was talking to a group of students and FOH's poetry came up -- "The eager note on my door," but also, less expectedly, "Pearl Harbor" and "On Rachmaninoff's Birthday." Thank you for writing. I hope you are in good health. David On Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 7:42 PM, bill berkson <billberkson@gmail.com> wrote: Thanks, David. I’ve wanted for long time to get the Five Spot poetry/jazz story straight, but this is just a fact check for my portrait of Kenneth in a book of memoirs I’m putting together and that Coffee House promises to publish in 2017. I’ll use the "Monday night” version for now. If I find out differently I’ll surely let you know. Funny that you got Kenneth saying that Billie said “Man, your poetry is weird,” which what I heard from him too, but later he said she spoke differently. His revisionist account sounded off pitch to me, and I wondered why he was so inclined to spoil a good story. Yes, good health with few annoyances here. (Just had a successful skin graft operation to replace cancerous scalp.) I hope you’re well, as well. Bill... Continue reading
Posted Jun 26, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
I'm just sittin on the fence you may say I've got no sense tryin to make up my mind really is so horrifyin' so I'm sittin on the fence -- Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
Image
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 Jun 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
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 Jun 19, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
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 Jun 19, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
“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 Jun 18, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Image
(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