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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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The new, just-published edition of Hyam Plutzik's Letter from a Young Poet (Watkinson / Trinity College / Books and Books Press, 2016) is a welcome event. Plutzik (1911-1962), the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, studied at Trinity College in Connecticut and at Yale, and later established himself as a beloved professor of English at the University of Rochester. A poet ripe for rediscovery, Plutzik wrote the ambitious book-length poem Horatio in which Hamlet's confidante takes to heart the injunction to absent himself from felicity awhile and give a true account of the events that wrecked the royal court of Denmark. Begun while Plutzik served in the U. S. army during World War II, the book narrowly missed winning the Pulitzer back in 1962. Plutzik's acclaimed collection Apples from Shinar appeared from Wesleyan in 1959 and was reissued by the same publisher on his centenary While in residence at a Connecticut farmhouse as a young man, the Brooklyn-born poet found himself bedeviled by an aggressive woodchuck about whom he wrote, "There was a sort of agony in his desire. . .[and] I saw in this brutish creature the kin and symbol of mankind, bestial in form but aspiring to heaven." From this quotation alone one can sense the spiritual connection that the poet felt with the prince of Denmark, who wonders at man, the "paragon" of the animals, who yet amounts to nothing more than a "quintessence of dust." Letter from a Young Poet -- perhaps inspired by Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and by the ideal of literary mentorship -- was written just before the United States entered the second World War. The poet is buried in Queens, New York, with this simple epitaph on his gravestone, the concluding lines from one of his own poems: "Nothing can be done / But something can be said / At least." We are pleased to post, with permission, Daniel Halpern's foreword to the new edition of Letter from a Young Poet. -- DL <<< It's slightly ironic that it took twenty-nine year old Hyam Plutzik seven years to compose this novella of a letter to his college professor at Trinity College, Odell Shepard. An outpouring of heart and soul, to be sure. A young man's Biographia Literaria, a biographical ars poetica, sent to a man who, it's never clear from the letter he wrote in response, was more of a projection of Hyam's youthful self than true mentor or confidante, but whose remembered existence allowed Hyam to pen so openly such an impassioned and insightful epistle of his literary dreams and ambitions. Ironic, because Professor Shepard's return letter, three pages to Hyam’s seventy, was never sent. In Hyam's fervid letter, he addresses the concerns of an artist coming to terms with the world he's inherited. The prose is filled with determination, philosophic wonderings, thoughts on the nature of the artistic endeavor, enveloped throughout with a youthful ambition, a hopefulness, an admixture of self-confidence and self-doubt that in Hyam’s voice never... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Jay Parini as our guest author. Jay's five books of poetry include Anthracite Country, House of Days and New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015 (Beacon Press, March 29, 2016). He has written eight novels, including Benjamin’s Crossing, The Apprentice Lover, The Passages of H.M., and The Last Station—the last was made into an Academy Award–nominated film starring Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer. Parini has written biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, William Faulkner, and, most recently, Gore Vidal. His nonfiction works include Jesus: The Human Face of God, Why Poetry Matters, and Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America. Welcome, Jay. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Apr 17, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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On the night of April 16-17, 1941, the Luftwaffe conducted a raid over London. Several hours after midnight, two bombs fell into Jermyn Street, causing extensive damage and killing 23 people. One of the victims, a well-known professional entertainer named Al Bowlly, had declined the offer of overnight lodgings in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, after having performed there the previous evening, preferring to catch the last train home. He was in bed reading when the parachute bomb went off outside his apartment building. His bedroom door, blown off its hinges by the force of the explosion, was propelled across the room, hitting him in the face and killing him instantly. He was 42 years old. Al Bowlly, January 7, 1898 – April 17, 1941 Though he is still well remembered in Britain, Al Bowlly’s name is not widely known here. Many know it only as a reference in the title and lyrics of Richard Thompson’s song “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” (from which my title is taken), on his 1986 album Daring Adventures. Yet, for every American who knows his name, there are scores who have heard Al Bowlly’s music. His recording of Noël Coward’s “Twentieth Century Blues” was used over the main titles of the 1968 BBC miniseries (shown here on PBS in 1972) made from Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point. Stanley Kubrick used Bowlly’s “Midnight, the Stars and You” and “It’s All Forgotten Now” in The Shining (1980), and Steven Spielberg featured his “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)” in Empire of the Sun (1987). Al Bowlly songs have been used in films as recent as The King’s Speech (2010) and Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (2014). Everything Is Copy, Jacob Bernstein’s documentary film about his mother, Nora Ephron, which premiered on HBO premiere only four weeks ago, concludes with Bowlly’s “Love Is the Sweetest Thing” playing over the closing credits. But beyond all doubt, the one person most responsible for keeping the name and music of Al Bowlly alive was the late Dennis Potter, whose enthusiasm for the singer bordered on the obsessive. In fact, Potter’s 1969 teleplay Moonlight on the Highway (the title of a 1938 Bowlly recording) starred Ian Holm as a sexual abuse victim whose own obsession with Bowlly becomes a psychological coping mechanism. Potter made use of Bowlly’s music in several other television dramas and serials, including his last major work, The Singing Detective (1986), but it is Pennies from Heaven (1978), the six-part series that is universally acknowledged to be Potter’s masterpiece, that makes the most prominent use of Al Bowlly’s records, fourteen songs in all. Long before we knew one another, my wife, Vicky, watched it when it was broadcast on PBS and was overwhelmed by both the drama and the music—so much so that she flew from New York to London shortly thereafter, partly to visit her then-favorite city, but principally to find, in those pre-Amazonian days, the otherwise unobtainable soundtrack LP. Years later, it was through her insistence that... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Sinatra is great but when I'm in a melancholy mood I'll take Chet over Frank. Stacey
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Together we saw an imagined buffalo This is the bison I rode when Cherokee and you were not, did not. I rode it to ride with the Wind Gods. On open plains bordered by clumps of brushy cottonwoods so distant they seem other countries. This is the shaggy creature you see, the magnificent beast we share, whose temblor gallop shakes and remakes the features of your face I see I saw you before quite indistinctly. This was before you rode this bison to ride with the Wind Gods when Cherokee and I can just turn my head to see you true. Merci to Muriel Patarroni, painter of natures Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
When Steven Rea agreed to blog this week, I immediately thought of this song in connection with his new book Hollywood Cafe: Coffee With the Stars. I promise that if you listen to it you won't need your afternoon pick-me-up. "You date a girl and find out later she smells just like a percolator." -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic Steven Rea hosts an evening of coffee-centric film clips, including a Charlie Chaplin silent classic, a mid-'60s Michael Caine spy thriller, scenes from a pair of highly caffeinated Hitchcock classics, Quentin Tarantino talking gourmet beans in "Pulp Fiction," Audrey Hepburn sipping from a to-go cup in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," plus lots more! Copies of Hollywood Cafe: Coffee With the Stars, the new coffee table celebration of cinema and a cup of joe, will be on hand for sale and signing. And coffee from Parry Coffee Roasters, the amazing artisinal roastery based in Ambler, PA, will be served. And did we say that the whole show is free?! The County Theater 20 East State Street Doylestown, PA 18901 |215-345-6789 Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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I've been collecting photographs seriously for the last seven years or so: First, focusing pretty much entirely on vintage Hollywood images of movie stars riding bikes, issued by the studios' publicity departments to promote their melodramas and westerns, rom-coms and noirs -- and the actors and actresses playing all type of hero and heroine, villain and vamp, in them. It's an ongoing obsession: I post a few new (old) photos on my blog, Rides a Bike, every week. Movies and bikes are two of my passions, and landing on, say, a photo of a Mad Men-era Paul Newman pedaling around the backlot on a clunky delivery bike, or Virna Lisi in a white sundress on an Atala step-through, stopping on a country road somewhere... well, pretty much bliss. Same thing happened -- the kick of discovery, surprise, joy -- when I started searching through dealers' collections and movie memorabilia shops for photographs of stars having coffee, making coffee, clinking their mugs next to craft services tables (and grabbing a donut while they're at it), refilling from a trusty percolator in their dressing room, or in their kitchen back home. Coffee: another passion, and, yes, probably an addiction, too. Last night my wife and I went to hear Kelly Jones and Teddy Thompson play at a club in Philadelphia -- the two singers and songwriters have teamed for Little Windows, a collection of heartbreakingly beautiful duets that recall classic country couples like George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris (and the Everlys and the Louvins). There was one song with a line about sugar in a coffee cup, how it dissolves like true love can dissolve.... It was a sweet moment, or bittersweet, anyway. Where am I going with this? Well, as I continue (daily) to troll for bike photos and coffee photos on the eBay sites of dealers in Canada and California, France and Argentina (yes, there's a gentleman in Buenos Aires who has a collection of 50,000 photos, 20,000 posters, all hailing from Hollywood), I sometimes screech to a stop on an image that has neither a bike nor a steaming cup of joe in it, but it's a photo that I nonetheless feel compelled to bid on, to own. An iconic star from an iconic movie, a still from one of my all-time favorites (I've got an expanding folder of press photos from Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels, with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake in and out of their hobo gear), an incongruous, odd or just-plain-beautiful shot. So, on this a.m., as guest author on the Best American Poetry blog, I thought I'd share two of these gems, at least I think they are. Poetry in motion... pictures. First, here's Jean Parker in an artfully staged shot from 1934's Sequoia, an MGM wildlife drama set in California's sequoia forests. Parker's character, Toni Martin, grew up in the woods, befriending puma and deer, and then loggers came rolling in threatening the animals'... Continue reading
Posted Apr 4, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Steven Rea as our guest author. Steven is the movie critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a member of the National Society of Film Critics, author of Hollywood Cafe: Coffee With the Stars and Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling With the Stars. He is also the producer of the photo blog ridesabike.com . You can read his movie reviews here and follow his twitter feed (which is really fun) @Steven_Rea. Welcome back, Steven. -- sdh Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< Fortunately for the family, my uncles and brothers had liquidated most of their holdings in the firm by the time of its collapse in September 2008. Nevertheless, whether out of nostalgia or pure forgetfulness, or perhaps just in order to keep getting annual reports and the like, a few of us kept some odd lots and attended shareholder meetings once in a while. And I maintained friendships with old friends, including the source of some scuttlebutt that I am now legally entitled to share. One villain in the tale is the little known Peter Rubella, who headed the firm's missing documents department. The department comprised debentures, affidavits, flight manifests, stock certificates, and bills of lading, each one a surprising source of revenue for financial outfits wary of IPOs and LBOs but acutely conscious of the millions that go unclaimed each year in the form of lost lottery tickets, savings accounts of the deceased, uncanceled autopay, insurance reimbursements sent to defunct addresses, payments to remittance men, dead letters, the contents of grandma's safe deposit box, and the like. The department proved that working for an investment company is not just being a glorified broker or accountant but has elements of detection as in the dime novels you devour, though it has been decades since any book cost a dime. James M. Cain, author of Double Indemnity, would have been considered a classic if he had only taken the precaution of being born in France. But for the analogy to hold, you need an Edward G. Robinson in the driver’s seat -- not an unctuous snot like Rubella. According to spokesperson Dana Goodrear of the YWC, an NGO whose turf is serious white-shoe wingtip investment-banker crime, Rubella engineered a complicated Ponzi scheme that cost an estimated 1.2 million investors upwards of $225 billion dollars. He put together a consortium of Indian companies that was thought to be running so-called "chit funds" in Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, and Eastern India. A partial list of the celebrities he defrauded includes Phyllis Dietrickson, Lucky Garnet, Julie Jordan, Ilse Lundt, Joel Cairo, Garance, Sam Malone, Fred Derry, Norma Desmond, Peter Joshua, Alicia Huberman, Noah Cullen, Melanie Wilkes, Pepe Le Moko, Schuyler Green, Privates Finch and Moss, Sergeant J. J. Sefton, Commander Shears, Mark Dixon, Waldo Lydecker, Carmen Sternwood, Khartoum, Roger Thornhill, Terry Malloy, Popeye Doyle, Sally Draper, Barbara Doll, Bunter, Sollozzo, Alice Kramden, Dianna Scott, Madelene Elster, Robert E. Lee Prewitt, Frankie Five Angels, and Addison DeWitt. The scheme had become so vast that it threatened to sink the whole company. How did Rubella elude the scrutiny of investigators for so long? And how, even after the crisis of September 2008 broke and he duly went to jail, did he avoid the unfavorable publicity that lesser thieves, cheats, con artists, and other felons received? While operating the scheme, the son of a bitch went unsuspected largely because he bribed the right officials and purported to be an advocate of liberal causes. He gave it out that... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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On Easter Monday of 1916, 150 or so Irish rebels took armed action against their British rulers, seizing the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin. After a week of fighting, they lost to the thousands of British troops arrayed against them, but the Rising ultimately led to Irish independence from the mighty British Empire. Given the musical and literary traditions of the Irish, it is no surprise that the rebellion also gave rise to poems, songs, movies, and books. (In fact, Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising, was himself a poet.) Probably the best-known of the poems is William Butler Yeats's "Easter 1916": Easter 1916 I I have met them at close of day Coming with vivid faces From counter or desk among grey Eighteenth-century houses. I have passed with a nod of the head Or polite meaningless words, Or have lingered awhile and said Polite meaningless words, And thought before I had done Of a mocking tale or a gibe To please a companion Around the fire at the club, Being certain that they and I But lived where motley is worn: All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. II That woman's days were spent In ignorant good will, Her nights in argument Until her voice grew shrill. What voice more sweet than hers When young and beautiful, She rode to harriers? This man had kept a school And rode our winged horse. This other his helper and friend Was coming into his force; He might have won fame in the end, So sensitive his nature seemed, So daring and sweet his thought. This other man I had dreamed A drunken, vain-glorious lout. He had done most bitter wrong To some who are near my heart, Yet I number him in the song; He, too, has resigned his part In the casual comedy; He, too, has been changed in his turn, Transformed utterly: A terrible beauty is born. III Hearts with one purpose alone Through summer and winter, seem Enchanted to a stone To trouble the living stream. The horse that comes from the road, The rider, the birds that range From cloud to tumbling cloud, Minute by minute change. A shadow of cloud on the stream Changes minute by minute; A horse-hoof slides on the brim; And a horse plashes within it Where long-legged moor-hens dive And hens to moor-cocks call. Minute by minute they live: The stone's in the midst of all. IV Too long a sacrifice Can make a stone of the heart. O when may it suffice? That is heaven's part, our part To murmur name upon name, As a mother names her child When sleep at last has come On limbs that had run wild. What is it but nightfall? No, no, not night but death. Was it needless death after all? For England may keep faith For all that is done and said. We know their dream; enough To know they dreamed and are dead. And what if... Continue reading
Posted Mar 26, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Jim Cummins initially filed this report in 2009. It has become a classic. -- DL <<< Everybody my age knows about Hemingway's story about measuring F. Scott Fitzgerald's penis in A Moveable Feast, but maybe it's a good way to introduce a younger generation to Big Papa's work. I've always wanted to write a poem about it, but nothing I ever came up with came close to matching Hemingway's account. The story is this. F. Scott Fitzgerald asked Hemingway to advise him about an important problem that had come up between Scott and Zelda. (So to speak.) So Scott and Papa go to Michaud's ("on the corner of the rue Jacob and the rue des Saints-Peres") for lunch and consultation. Fitzgerald swore Hemingway to tell "the absolute truth" when answering. Hemingway says, "He drank wine at the lunch but it did not affect him and he had not prepared for the lunch by drinking before it." (This doesn't have a lot to do with the story, but the sentence knocks me out; I think it's the "did not" and "had not" constructions.) Anyway, Zelda had told Scott his penis was too small. Here's the Hemingway: 'Finally when we were eating the cherry tart and had a last carafe of wine he said, "You know I never slept with anyone except Zelda." 'No, I didn't.' 'I thought I'd told you.' 'No. You told me a lot of things but not that.' 'That is what I want to ask you about.' 'Good. Go on.' 'Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. [Ed. note: This conversation was held somewhat after what Hemingway describes as "what was then called her first nervous breakdown."] She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.' 'Come out to the office,' I said. 'Where is the office?' 'Le water" [the "WC," i.e. the men's room], I said. We came back into the room and sat down at the table. 'You're perfectly fine,' I said. 'You are O.K. There's nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.' 'Those statues may not be accurate.' 'They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.' 'But why would she say it?' 'To put you out of business. That's the oldest way in the world of putting people out of business. Scott, you asked me to tell you the truth and I can tell you a lot more but this is the absolute truth and all you need. You could have gone to a doctor.' 'I didn't want to. I wanted you to tell me truly.' 'Now do you believe me?' 'I don't know,' he said. 'Come on over to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Trochaic theory, the political forecasting system based on poetic metrics, which correctly predicted Obama's presidential victories in 2008 and 2012, has shortened the odds on Bernie Sanders -- if, and it's a big if, the Sandman gets the Democratic party nomination. The reason: his name conforms to the double trochee pattern that has reliably given us an array of chief executives including Andrew Jackson, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon. The odds of presidential triumph shorten further if the candidate's first and last name alliterate (e.g. Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan). But it is probably too late for Bernie to change his name to Sandy. While deeply critical of Israeli PM Netanyahu, the Brooklyn-born Sanders remains a Zionist ("Do I think Israel has the right to exist? Yeah, I do") who scores high on the "Jew You" test devised by a team of experts including Larry David, Sarah Silverman, and University of Vermont professor Richard Sugarman. His favorite poet would be Yehuda Amichai if he had a favorite poet and were at liberty to disclose the name. Hilary Clinton merits an asterisk if only because the two major precedents for her name are those of Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln -- in both cases a dactyl before a trochee. Astrological analysis sees the likelihood of war following such an ascendant. But maybe that's just talk. If Clinton were to consider an "Abraham Clinton" ad campaign, with an actress playing Hillary in the role of Honest Abe, she would gain ten points in some polls. Deliberate mispellings of her last name (Clitnon), common in right-wing supermarket tabloids, are bound to backfire. The monosyllabicTed Cruz doth lose unless, like George Bush he faces an opponent who shortens his name to the same thump thump (2000) or a hapless chap on water skis (2004) The triumph of the first George Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988 remains an aberrant case that is usually explained (a) as an expression of satisfaction with the Reagan administration, (b) proof that a picture (Dukakis in tank with helmet) is worth a thousand words, and (c) the insertion of two middle initials in Mr. Bush's name, ostensibly to distinguish the 41st from the 43rd US president, but with attendant metrical mischief. It is however pertinent to note that the metrical makeup of "Michael Dukakis" resembles that of Barack Obama except that, luckily for Barry, his first name scans as an iamb not a trochee and so he escapes the Dukakis ignominy. Of John Kasich, it may be said that his best hope is to add a middle initial, preferably F, and launch an "all the way with JFK" campaign, but that would cost a huge amount of money and the candidate would dismiss the idea in line with his no-nonsense Ohioan personality. The relative fates of the governors of Ohio and Michigan during this primary season fall into their own pattern -- the many seasons when the Buckeyes trounced the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Very thoughtful piece. Thank you, Larry. -- DL
1) Bug juice is a) an experiment conducted by the nature counselor b) insect repellent for canoe trips c) the fruit drink that is served at meals d) none of the above 2) The song beginning "Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts" has all these words except a) "mutilated monkey meat" b) "chopped-up little birdies' feet" c) "beetles and beets and other things unsweet" d) "and me without my spoon" 3) A marine is a) a John Wayne-type b) a strict counselor c) a humorless head counselor d) a camper who occasionally has an accident in bed 4) When a waiter drops a full tray, the campers spontaneously sing a) "You'll Never Walk Alone" b) "What kind of Fool Am I?" c) "He's a hero (he's an all-American jerk)" d) the Notre Dame fight song 5) OD means a) off drugs b) on duty c) O Delice, the name of a cheap condom stashed in a sleeping bag d) an ordinary day 6) Color War is a) an extension of finger-painting in Arts and Crafts (for the youngest bunks) b) a week when the camp is divided into two teams competing in athletics, dramatics, music, and art (posters, stage scenery) c) a recreation of a Civil War battle with everyone in either a gray or a blue uniform d) the summer camp equivalent of war games in basic training (army) 7) Arts & Crafts was popularly known as a) "Faigala Fiesta" b) "Arts & Farts" c) "Farts & Crap" d) "A one-hour time out" 8) On Palm Sunday a) the girl campers wear grass skirts and carry a palm branch while they dance to Neal Sedaka singing "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." b) even the irreligious attend services c) the counselors (shirts) play the waiters (skins) in basketball d) parents visit and counselors stick out their hands for tips 9) General Swim is a) the nickname for the chief lifeguard b) the time when everyone is in the pool,(or lake) except the lifeguards c) any group activity that is mandatory for all except those in the infirmary d) the required weekly test of the buddy system 10) To keep bottles of Coke and Pepsi cold, a) campers pool their resources to buy a mini-fridge b) counselors bribe the cook for use of the kitchen refrigerator c) campers stash the bottles in the back of the toilet d) see (c) above As a counselor, the author of this quiz a) excelled at no sport other than ping pong and archery b) once received a letter consisting entirely of the complete lyrics of "To know know know him / is to love love love him" c) wrote the songs and plays for his team in competitions d) broke curfew twice and was duly punished e) gained weight by drinking a nightly rum collins or two at the local bowling alley slash cocktail lounge f) lost weight by swimming daily and drinking skim milk g) never had a serious girlfriend... Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Woman: Do you have pullet eggs? Vendor: Yes. Woman: Great! I'll take some. Me: I'd like some too. Woman: Would you consider splitting a dozen? I live alone and half a dozen is just right for me. Me: Sure. Me: How do you use them? For baking? Or just as you would use any egg? Woman: I like to fry them. Like in the Velazquez painting, the one at the Prado. Me: So you fry them in olive oil? Woman: Yes! Me: That painting was here briefly, at the Frick, last year. Woman: I didn't know that! Me: Yes, it's gorgeous. Woman: I agree. Enjoy your eggs! (Me, to myself: I miss Paul Violi) -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Mar 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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The Ohio State University Press KS: I live in northeast Ohio, and a few months ago I attended a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Kent State University Press. The Wick Poetry Center, at Kent State, had just opened their beautiful historic house and center, with a gorgeous poetry park graced with a large bronze sculpture and poetry on banners tucked around the landscaped greenery and meditative spaces. The press, itself, was jubilant and the gala well attended. In attendance were friends and acquaintances of mine from the University of Akron Press that, in that moment, had fallen to budget cuts. It would receive a national groundswell of support and the president would reverse his position and reinstate the press, although as I write this, the exact terms of the near future are unclear. I want to begin with this question of politico-economics, because as a press in Ohio, you will have also experienced these simultaneous events viscerally, and I also want to give you a chance to preach to the choir and talk about how, in this world of mega publishers and mega online book outlets, why we need university presses. KER: It’s an important question, so I’m glad you asked. University presses have a mission: to disseminate important scholarly work. And many university presses have long recognized that charge to dissemination as not just applying to scholarly work, but to regional and literary work as well. We need university presses because they are willing to publish artistic, daring, and innovative literary titles—in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry—that push boundaries and seek to expand in content, form, and style the field of literature. And while there are seemingly limitless publishing venues for literature, truly innovative work—whether in format, content, or style—tends to be ignored by for-profit trade houses who are concerned with sales numbers as a bottom line. University presses can take risks on unknown authors, books that may not have mass market appeal, books which will incite debate and critique. We want to expand the field of literature and promote new thought. It’s right there in our mission. Being not-for-profit and mission based helps us to keep the priority on the artistic medium, on providing a platform for new writing and new thought[1]. University presses fill a void by publishing the important, cutting edge work that for-profit publishers eschew. And university presses can act as small, boutique trade houses developing thoughtful publication lists in cultivated areas, becoming a place where people know to look for high quality literature. So as an editor, I’m not looking to change manuscripts to fit a certain mold or expectation, again, because I’m not interested in satisfying a particular established audience. For us, at a university press, it’s about collaboration with authors and the individual and unique merits of books, and then the quality and care we bring to the table in terms of editorial, production, and marketing. And, of course, we serve the same purpose when it comes to publishing academic scholarship. For... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
“The dust of an eroding planet and the tiny animalcules of the chalk are destined soon or late to entomb us all” - Loren Eisley (Introduction to T.H. Huxley’s On a Piece of Chalk, 1967) As I mentioned in my previous post, I am writing in one of the oldest buildings in one of the oldest cities in North America, and all that on top of a rock partially made of the oldest physical material on the planet. And the stories I am writing, these true-fictions, are all about danger. Each story (though mostly still unwritten) tells about a violence that was close enough to whisper in my ear. We live on just the thinnest sliver of the planet, and all above and beneath us is so fundamentally inhospitable that traditional hellscapes look like cluttered, stuffy, basements. Below us is the searing density of mantle, above us the freezing void of space, and just there, driving towards you in a late model, white sedan, is someone without your best interests in their heart. I am writing about that sedan. All the tiny exquisite dangers on our human scale. Or… my intent is to write about that sedan. Three weeks in to this eight week residency at Mallard Cottage, and what have I written? I am writing these fictions, and concurrently rushing to understand how I can write fiction. All while I practice writing fiction so I can do it well enough to produce it. This concurrency is the least efficient synchronicity of work I have experienced. And, so far, my fictions are not even false. Some are other people’s stories I have dug up, some are stories I remember. For the latter, the fiction is in the translation of memory. Some of the stories happened, objectively. Probably. Others are accretions of auxiliary memory. Anecdotes and little white entertainments lying up against favored personal myths. They may have no chronological or geographical origins in common but have since slid along the strike-slip faults of resonance and lateral thinking and now form one contiguous landscape. Your story overheard, my story, that guy’s story that is mine but more suspenseful, now lie together: valley, mountain, plateau, desert. They are waiting for good lighting (the illumination of sunrise/surprise) and the right vantage to deepen the shadows, until the surface compels exploration. Adjusting that lighting. Making the landscapes I love compelling outside of myself - that is the art. But not art, not science. Stage lighting is a trade. I am learning a trade. Up here in (sort-of)Canada, we have been following the sexual assault trial of once popular CBC host Jian Ghomeshi as it plays out, tweet by painful courthouse tweet from the mainland. Each woman’s memories of the traumas he caused, taken apart by the defense. Memories are so vulnerable to cross-examination. The problematic subduction of details and compression of emotion forms terrain, crumpled and difficult to map. Once subducted, a memory metamorphoses and is not so much in disarray or partial, but... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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L to R: Anne Lehman, Pat Conroy, David Lehman at the White House, 2003 (photo (c) Stacey Harwood) In 2003, Dana Gioia, then chairman of the NEA, invited David and me to join him at the White House for the ceremony preceding the National Book Festival, in which David and Dana were going to take part. "Oh how my mother would love to be there!" said David. Dana promptly phoned his office and arranged a ticked for Anne, David's mother. She was 88 at the time and was a Holocaust survivor from Austria. Following an extravagant breakfast buffet, we took our seats in a large room set up auditorium style. Laura Bush welcomed everyone and talked about the importance of books and reading. She was followed by Pat Conroy who spoke warmly of his life of reading and writing. He shared an anecdote from his childhood about how upon learning of the Holocaust he ran to the home of Jewish neighbors and knocked on their door. "If the Nazis come," he said, "we will hide you!" When the speeches were over and everyone was milling about, Anne worked her way through the crowd to reach Conroy. "I was there," she said. "When the Nazis came. And look at me now! In the White House with my son." Pat Conroy took her hands and looked into her eyes. "I'm glad you made it," he said. Within a year or so Anne began her long slow decline. I'm forever grateful to Dana Gioia for giving her such a wonderful memory and to Pat Conroy for his kindness. More pictures from the trip: Basketball great Willis Reed spoke about his literacy project. David was eager to get his predictions for the upcoming Kincks season. That's me with former Detroit Pistons center Bob Lanier. (Note: I'm 5'6") Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Since its inception in 2008, we have cheered on Bill Cohen, one of our favorite bloggers, as he has assembled an array of tattooed poets for Tattoosday's annual tribute to National Poetry Month. We are once again happy to spread the word to inked poets everywhere. Bill would like to post an image of your tattoo on Tattoosday every day during April. Tattoos need not be literary in nature to qualify. If your ink is featured, Bill hopes to give a little history of your tattoo, some background about you and your poetry, and he'll include links to your own website, books, and poems. With your permission, he'll even post a poem. In addition, you'd be joining the ranks of over two hundred poets, many of them BAP contributors, who have participated in years past. You can see who's been cool enough to join the ranks here . For more details and to express your interest,please contact Bill at tattoosday@gmail.com. Continue reading
Posted Mar 10, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Born on November 11, 1821, in Moscow, Fyodor Dostoyesvki suffered from epilelptic fits (see The Idiot) but did well in his examinations though he loathed mathematics. On April 23, 1849, Dostoyevski was arrested for belonging to a group of crazy liberal loudmouth intellectuals. He was sent to Siberia, was sentenced to be executed, and faced a firing squad in the freezing rain. But it turned out to be a mock execution and Dostoyevski went back to his cell the shape and size of a coffin convinced that it is better and wiser to be a saintly fool in Siberia than to pimp in St. Petersburg. Released in 1854, he wrote Crime and Punishment in a hurry because he needed the money to cover his gambling debts. He was a compulsive gambler. From analyzing Dostoevski's astrological profile, you can safely arrive at several conclusions. His favorite songs would have been “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (Sinatra version, late 1940s) and “He's a Rebel” (from the early 1960s). The prophetic nature of his writings, including The Brothers Karamazov and Notes from Underground, doom him to be a Cassandra without honor in his native land. He believed that his novels constituted irrefutable proof that politics implies either madness or betrayal or both; that the sensual man can win absolution while the intellectual who has demolished god will face eternity alone; and that a beggar woman in the street with her children can out-argue all the philosophers and police inspectors in Saint Petersburg. Much of what he wrote was difficult for the Russian people to accept. Yet his fame eclipses that of all other Russian authors with one exception. His chart predicts him to die in his sixtieth year, and this indeed he did on February 9, 1881. Dostoyevski's birth pattern -- a full house, with only one empty chamber -- is replicated exactly on the second day of August 1914. Had this fact been understood correctly, World War I might have been averted! The celestial mechanics of Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto intimate that Dostoyevski would die on the same day as the end of the war, and indeed, the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, which would have been the novelist's ninety-seventh birthday. But the sweet release of death would have come more than four years earlier if in the prison of his days the free man had learned to praise. The German minister smoked a Turkish cigarette in a jade holder. "Nothing ever happens in Brussels," he shrugged. On November 11, 1918 – Dusty’s birthday – in graveyards in the Ukraine and Byelorussia, in Latvia and Estonia, school children in tatters stood shouting, "Hooray for Karamazov!" -- DL Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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For the last week I have been, and for the next seven weeks I will be, the Writer in Residence at the 22nd best restaurant in Canada in my adopted home of St. John's, Newfoundland. This is a position I invented. When I pitched the idea to the co-owner of Mallard Cottage, I called my own bluff. You see, I am working on some short fiction. Sort of fiction. I am writing a fictional version of real horror. I write regularly, journalistically, for St. John’s local Arts and Culture monthly (The Overcast), but fiction is new to me. I was looking for a way to commit myself to the work while having a deadline to work towards and an audience to work up to. I have been a writer for only two years. Most of the work I have done since declaring myself a freelancer was in response to various requests: can you write, research, investigate, comment on, review this? Yes. I can. No problem. I can help. I can be of service. I can write. This is my way of taking the next step: Here is a story no one asked for. You are welcome. For this residency in a restaurant, I am provided a space to write, undisturbed but not lonesome, three mornings each week before they open for evening service. I am offered coffee/tea and a plate of cake from the icebox. If the kitchen staff has lunch while they are butchered or prepping, I have it too. I get a weekly stipend and a venue for a reading of my new work at the close of the residency. In return, I make myself available to customers and the public at a table during Friday brunch service. What that looks like, I will find out over the next weeks. What I have discovered so far is that writing in this setting embraces superstition. It is an experiment and a dare. Newfoundland is a place of deep superstition (this is simply true, but it is also a quote from Jason Sellars, the public programming officer at The Rooms, our provincial museum and archives). I am a person of no superstition. My beliefs all lay out in the open, ready for testing, on serpentine asbestos labtop tables. Query. Attempt. Observe. Test. Repeat. Rethink. What I do have in common with my new compatriots on this island is a willingness to use whatever tools are within reach. Superstition is a tool. So are fear and misery; an implicit understanding of the horror of life; the lack of claim we have to a long one. These lay all around the woodpile in Newfoundland. These are tools I am using. I use them in two ways. First, I let the random brutishness of this North Atlantic outpost compel the spirit of laissez les bon temps rouler, a spirit required when attempting an artistic life. A spirit I found seductive, but ultimately sickening, in the permissive heat of New Orleans where I lived... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Karine and I were on the way back from the movies at the Louxor Palais de Cinéma the other evening. Since it was a nice night – no, that’s not right. It was not a nice night or, not yet or, not again, a nice night. It no longer signifies that the air was warm as we left the theater. Warm and cold fronts seem to change and change about in the atmosphere like the ticks of a crazy clock: cold, colder, warm, cold, warm, warm, hot, cool, cold, warm. We now decide to walk only on grounds of physical or spiritual need. “Nice” has become “lucky”. The walk east along the boulevard de la Chapelle is only for people who unconditionally love urban landscapes: all crash-banging elevated, enameled cast-iron pillars, blank walls and emptied space. Hand-in-hand, we set off toward Stalingrad. I was just opening my lips to begin enlarging on my new Theory of Vaginal Perplexity and its pertinence in respect of the socially and politically retrogressive Jihadi movement and its hypocritical patriarchist lickspittles when Karine said something I didn’t quite catch. No wonder, either. Using this type of abstract political language makes me temporarily unable to hear, or even notice, other people. Even so, I am using such language to talk to Karine, who, like many people of a progressive bent, has a tendency to put things in abstract and analyzed political terms. So, like the cheese-eating surrender monkey I truly truly am, I try to mime what she most easily understands rather than just wind her up with perplexing blather she has no hope of ever getting. The mime comes out as bombast, sure. But when two ways of expressing one’s self are so contrasting, what do you want? For instance, hearing that Donald Trump has endorsed torture, Karine might say, “This man personifies, as well as legitimizes, the sense of radical victimization that masquerades as politics these days. Thus, his politics naturally has a fascistic expression.” Or, hearing of Marine Le Pen, the egregious American’s Gallic counterpart, murmuring on the special nature of white folks, she might say, “The question here is power. Such people want to put themselves into power. Thus, she mouths the narcissistic self-congratulation of the majority without necessarily believing in this or anything else beyond her own need for power. Heaven only knows what that woman will do if she climbs into office.” For my part, I tend to express my socio-political opinions in terms of hidden erotic anxieties and fears. Thinking of Trump, I hear the wet slap of his meaty red hands on the pale, withered, buttocks of a superannuated prostitute. I share this man’s shiver of creeping dread as he realizes that, this time, he may just have to work too hard for the money. I think of Marine Le Pen and see through the quivering lens of my anxiety: the bead of sweat bulging out just below her ear as she makes me a coarsely-worded proposition in... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2016 at The Best American Poetry