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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
The man who invented spitting, Archimandrus of Boeotia, Was otherwise undistinguished, And tends to be underrated and overlooked Because of his contemporary, Thespis, Who invented the drama, and Gogulus, Who invented existentialism. This is how it happened. There was a drought, and everyone Was too weak even to throw A stone into the well to hear how Far below the water was for hoisting, when Archimandrus, crawling to the well wall And lifting himself to the ledge, Spat downward. After two seconds plus change There was a tinkle, and three minutes Later, as if on cue, the rains came, A downpour. All of the Hellenes Were ecstatic, carrying him on Their shoulders to the Macropolis Where they did the first spitting dance. The more they spat, the more it rained. Two weeks later, Gorgiolos of Argos Invented sighing; and most Experts concur that it was within The same decade that Eugokrates Of Komia invented slapping people, Good and hard, in their stupid Faces, when they get too smart-alecky For their own good. – Jim Dolot Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
The key to the great mystery: he made a lot of enemies by saying something, can't remember what, but the mules were braying, and Naipaul had a wry fall. But hey: would A. M. Fogel say?
Nicely done, the charge of anticipatory plagiarism leveled at Mozart. -- DL
Schubert as "the recipient of a direct, intravenous magic-drip from from Mozart." Gorgeous. --DL
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This week we welcome Daniel Brown as our guest author. Daniel’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Raritan, PN Review, Parnassus, and other journals, as well as in a number of anthologies including Poetry 180 and The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets. His most recent collections are Taking the Occasion (winner of the New Criterion Poetry Prize) and What More?. Brown’s criticism has appeared in The Harvard Book Review, The New Criterion, The Hopkins Review and other journals. His audio-visual e-books Why Bach? and Bach, Beethoven, Bartok are available at Amazon.com. Brown holds a Masters in Musicology from Cornell University, and taught music history and theory at Cornell and Dartmouth College. Welcome, Daniel. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
This poem is high on my list. -- DL
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Two days before Jeanne McCulloch was to marry, her father John suffered a massive stroke and lay in a coma from which he would not emerge. Patricia McCulloch, Jeanne's formidable mother, insisted that the celebration proceed at the family's beachfront East Hampton estate as planned. So begins All Happy Families, Jeanne McCulloch's absorbing memoir of growing up in Manhattan's Upper East Side and on Long Island. The timing of its publication couldn't be better. Orchestrated by the wedding planner and complete with bagpipes, a guest list drawn from the Social Register, lilies of the valley, and the ocean as backdrop, Jeanne's nuptials, took place on August 13, 1983. You can take All Happy Families to the beach and thanks to McCulloch's sharp observations and imagine you are among the guests. August 13, 1983. Jeanne McCulloch on her wedding day Here's what Vogue writer has to say about All Happy Families: [McCulloch] is by turns piercingly vivid and and devastatingly amusing nonetheless, evoking the smell of her siblings’ take-out food in a hospital room where her father lies comatose, her husband summarizing their relationship in a gesture of leaves falling from a tree, and tour de force period pieces, such as the below description of her mother and her girlfriends: “Nancy and Mu regularly came with their husbands to visit us at the house by the sea, and the three women would do exercise classes together on the lawn, poking their pedicured pink toes into the air for a few minutes to tone their legs, then breaking for a cigarette.” Talking of cigarettes, the special emphatic language her mother has developed around smoking is skewered to perfection by the author. “This was cigarette smoking in ‘I just had to call and vent’ mode, the indignant inhale, the agitated exhale. . . . There was busy smoking—economic quick puffs in rapid succession, or busy with no hands free—speaking on the phone and writing, say, or sorting through place cards for a party, in which the cigarette was held in a clench between her lips. Then there was brooding smoking, the deep inhales and the long, whooshing exhales.” There is much to enjoy here and much to think about. The most ritualistic and defining of family occasions—a wedding, a death, Christmas—are pulled apart and held up to the light. McCulloch shows all the pieces in turn and the past that led to now. In the midst of all these fragments straining for togetherness, there is, in fact, nuance and grace. You can read the complete review here. Read an excerpt of All Happy Families here. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Many thanks for your comment. "Dark Passage," which I saw in England as a graduate student, introduced me to "Too Marvelous for Words," one of my most favorite songs, and I always wondered to whom the voice belonged. In a recent viewing of the film I believe I saw Jo Stafford credited in a tiny line of print. But maybe not. Going by my internal voice-recognition instincts, I was, for a long time, undecided between Jo and Helen Forrest as the voice. The voice is magnificent and perfect for the song, which is perfect for the movie. Now for the big question: whose voice is it in "Dark Passage"? Here's to "legitimate swing" (Bacall).
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On January 30, the eve of a New Moon, housed in Aquarius, I read tarot for Best American Poetry’s very own David Lehman. The King of Swords was selected for his signifier card. In tarot, a signifier card anchors the deck around a singular energetic frequency, and the selection of the signifier identifies that frequency as the subject that the tarot is to be read for. From the King of Swords, we can extrapolate some of David’s personality traits. In his essence, he is Air, the cardinal element governing the suit of Swords. He is an intellectual. Compare: Men of Water have spirituality, the emotive, and the creative. They ask the question, “Who?” Men of Earth are resourceful and pragmatic. They ask, “What?” Men of Fire have their bodies, their passion, and innovation. They want to know, “How?” Now men of Air, like David, are analytical, rational, and learned. They are the ones who ask, “Why?” From French playing card tradition, the King of Swords is said to correspond with the righteous and fair warrior-king, King David of Judeo-Christian mythos. Hmm. Same name, too. To start, I borrow from Golden Dawn traditions and cut the deck into four piles, right to left. The four piles correspond with the four Hebrew letters that spell out the Telegrammaton, or the name of God, and represent the key to accessing the collective unconscious, the infinite and the supreme unity, which is understood by the framework of its four corners—the spiritual-theoretical elements Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Diagrams from Wen’s forthcoming book Holistic Tarot (North Atlantic Books, 2014). David’s signifier, the King of Swords, appeared in the Y pile, which indicates matters of work, career, or health and wellness. Y is about our labors and our own two hands. It is governed by Fire energy, such as ambition, passion, leadership, and vitality. Fire is also the area related to creativity and innovation. Perhaps David has been mulling over another project that he would like to materialize. If so, the cards here affirm that he should go forward at full vigor. It could also be a caution to watch his health. The H-Love pile would tell us to focus on our family and relationships. The V-Community pile is about our contributions to society. The final H-Economy pile is about our net worth, our property and assets, our financial health. At present, it is David himself that he must focus on. Y-Work is about the self. David has given much to the world around him already and now is the time in his life to care after his own body with the devotion he gave to others before. Now we proceed to the heart of the reading. To limit the length of this posting, I will draw 4 cards only. The Knight of Wands in David’s past indicates a fiery, impetuous character who has thrived on stirring conflict and challenging others (including himself). The Knight of Wands is a visionary, though has trouble finishing what he... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Posted Aug 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Editor's Note: It has been nearly a year since the producers of Blue Bloods, CBS's Friday night hit show, decided to kill Linda Reagan in a helicopter accident off-screen. The series centers on the Reagan family, who live on Staten Island, say grace before meals, and manage to be attractive and socially up to speed while observing traditional family values. Three of the gents work for the New York Police Department (son Jamie is a beat cop, son Danny's a detective, and papa Frank is the department's commissioner); daughter Erin, played by Bridget Moynahan, is an assistant DA, so the whole Law and Order chain of command is included, and at the dinner table we also find Frank's dad, who was commissioner in his time, and his three great grand--kids, two boys and a girl who goes to Columbia. Linda Reagan's departure did not go unnoticed and was hotly debated, as our intrepid reporter, Walter Carey, observed here in his must-read column of October 13, 2017, "The Real Reason Linda (Amy Carlson) Left Blue Bloods After 7 Seasons." We have asked Walter for periodic updates and in January he filed "Linda Reagan Update: Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?"). In March, Walter brief us on the behind-the-scenes chatter on the program and in the CBS executive washroom, and we reprint his findings here augmented by neew insights contributed by veteran TV exec Max Shumacher. -- DL <<< Now that Jamie has decided to make it official with his beat partner Eddie, a nickname that is supposed to be an improvement on Edie as a diminutive for unfashionable Edith, and the nuptials will bring a new blonde female Reagan to the table, one who is short enough to make Jamie look like Alan Ladd on a soapbx, the two questions on everyone's mind are: "Will Erin Date Again?" and "What do you make of the fact that of the remaining adults at the table the three men are widowers and the woman is divorced, which brings up another question: how can Erin be both divorced and a good Catholic, which she is (she wanted Nikki to go to Villanova, remember?" Given the enmity between the Reagan clan and Jack Boyle, Erin's ex, a tall, smug, good-looking criminal defense attorney, it's hard to imagine that they'll bring him back. Erin's dating life has been spotty. There was the gallery dealer who turned out to be an art thief. There was the boss she kissed and regretted it for ethical reasons. There was also the time she nearly got raped. My sources tell me that she may be ready to date again if only because enough time has passed and the producers are desperate to get the Linda Reagan story behind them. The problem: as long as she remains single, Erin is an exemplary role model for single mothers and professional women. On top of everything else, she owns a gun and, in Frank's opinion, is a better shot than either of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 4, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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If every day is the anniversary of something stupid, or evil, or just a big downer, like the day the Surgeon General declared that cigarettes were bad for you fifty years ago, then each day is an opportunity for a documentary about who killed Kennedy, the ascension of Cassius Marcellus Clay to the title, the arrival of the Beatles, the Gulf of Tonquin Resolution, and the notorious "Daisy" ad, shown only once. Fifty years ago the boys and girls at Berkeley said America was a machine that made them so sick at heart that they couldn't take part. Fifty years ago the future of the Republican Party | was an old lady in white tennis shoes. Barbra Streisand sang "People," Carol Channing led the chorus in "Hello, Dolly," and the Dems played "Hello, Lyndon." The Cardinals beat the Yanks in the series. There was no such thing as the Super Bowl. Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime. In your heart you knew he was right. Fifty years ago. -- February 1, 2014 Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Mandy Kahn is a poet who lives in Los Angeles. She studied with poet Robert Hass at Berkeley. In her most recent book, "Glenn Gould's Chair", she writes several poems about famous composers such as Glenn Gould, Charles Ives, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, and many others. You can buy her most recent book here: https://amzn.to/2KACFFe Mike Gioia is a filmmaker. His Youtube channel is Blank Verse Films, which will regularly publish videos of poets reciting their poetry. Subscribe to his channel to see more poetry videos. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Rosamond Lehmann took the title of her novel Dusty Answer (1927) from George Meredith's "Modern Love." This quotation serves as the book's epigraph: << Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul When hot for certainties in this our life! >> Hypothesis: a good epigraph makes you want to read not only the book it prefaces but also the work from which it is taken. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Jamie. I think so, too.
for John Ashbery When he died, a temperature went down Trees in the sky above Flatirons, tremor there Oh didn’t, then did See? We were driving in the canyon moons ago when he had said then “closing in” Fool for this love He was our drumming ritual if you were a a berserker and willed by constellations He was our prize for being born This world through school time, through bliss through saltiness in the question Can gentlemen do without? Never retreat from scrutiny or miss the enemy, burnt leaf smell like resin He was our fear of a sentence half-dreamed if we couldn't seize the whole He was our vessel cave and boot train ride to the province meandering by river Panic to be left out of this Landscape, a picnic Whole tome memorized, many colors He was our vanguard of non-self, scent and doubt Of deep carriage into the unknown What do you know of it if you know him not? When he did laugh he did and muse That was a blue eye special He was putting things next to one another you too somehow included They you it -- things -- didn't have to bond but in poetry happen And now listen to his voice with eyes gone wild for flowers Scratchy reel to reel, 1966 Sacred fury of a primordial world Half mannish garb on the sentence a profile in the hallway across all crystal neuro pathways Mirror, mirror? Up to nature and we had a glimpse He was our respite, Midnight excursions off limits Sometimes a candle at the brain wondering “fallen star” What rhymed with it? “Espoir”, hope? Blood heart, held supine He was our cosmography in a better world you could count on, relief, release -- 2016; reprinted from the Brooklyn Rail Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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"He was from the shore. There was sand and ocean, horizon and sky, daytime and nighttime--the light, the dark, the tide, the stars, the boats, the sun, the mists, the gulls. There were the jetties, the piers, the boardwalk, the booming, silent, limitless sea. Where he grew up they had the Atlantic. You could touch with your toes where America began. They lived in a stucco bungalow two short streets from the edge of America. The house. The porch. The screens. The icebox. The tub. The linoleum. The broom. The pantry. The ants. The sofa. The radio. The garage. The outside shower with the slatted wooden floor Morty had built and the drain that always clogged. In summer, the salty sea breeze and the dazzling light; in September, the hurricanes; in January, the storms. They had January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December. And then January. And then again January, no end to the stockpile of Januaries, of Mays, of Marches. August, December, April--name a month, and they had it in spades. They'd had endlessness. He'd grown up on endlessness and his mother--in the beginning they were the same thing. His mother, his mother, his mother . . . and then there was his mother, his father, Grandma, Morty, and the Atlantic at the end of the street. The ocean, the beach, the first two streets in America, then the house, and in the house a mother who never stopped whistling until December 1944. -- from Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Our research shows the ideal reader for Jennifer L. Knox is a man, dressed like a woman, is over 40 but wider than a mile, 9 feet tall, all that, is a Camaro owner, parakeet aficionado, Michelob drinker, half-Canadian, half-sausage, half-cowboy hat, is bad at math and bad in bed but is very, very horny, is covered with crumbs, is both unwilling and unable to perform the functions on this card, watches at least 22 hours of TV a day, would “fuck your mother under a picture of you,” happily answers all telephone surveys, and reads poetry only if he’s going to be tested on this shit. Other favorite books of this ideal reader include Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, and the one Bugs Bunny cartoon where he helps the little penguin go home. [from Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox, Bloof Books, 2007] I'm drunk and it's noon so I'll say it again: [from Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox, Bloof Books, 2007. Bloof is edited by the redoubtable Shanna Compton]. Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Invocation Come Inspiration, sweet as two beautiful hookers in a dream. Don't go girls -- even if you don't know a thing about poetry, at least help me decide what to wear -- Elaine Equi (whose birthday is today, July 24). Click here for more about this all-star. Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, Professor Koch. I appreciated especially the distinction between prose and poetic ashtrays. The whole concept of the ashtray is much misunderstood. -- Jonas Berry
Was it? I can't remember. The only pinball name that comes to my mind today, besides Dipsy Doodle, is Eight-Ball. Can you remember other names? I remember the manufacturers: Gottlieb, Williams and Bally.
I think you're right. Of course when I was 17 it was difficult to distinguish the libidinous from the romantic. -- DL
We spent most of the afternoon in the shallow end floating around drunk. We grabbed people, lit off fireworks and pointed them at the people we’d grabbed. We riffled through drawers, broke a strand of pearls, put on the most expensive clothes in the closet and they fit great, ate some pills in the medicine cabinet, flushed the rest, and crushed all the potato chips with a phone book. Somebody barfed but nobody cared. We broke the riding mower. We actually broke the record on breaking a riding mower. The people came home and were like, “Excellent job! You’re hired!” so we accidentally beat them to death, looking each other in the eye until we couldn't anymore. Then we sang a song about a heavy load and danced away on down the road. [from Drunk by Noon by Jennifer L. Knox, Bloof Books, 2007. Bloof is edited by the incomparable Shanna Compton]. See also Jennifer's "desert isle" column with her recommendations on what to bring. Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Though I don't know the word in even five languages I will guess it's la vie et la morte life and death lebend und tod: pouvez-me dire si j'ai raison? -- Sidney Luckman