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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
And speaking of Jim Jarmusch's films, I watched "Dead Man" several times when doing research for an essay on poetry in film. After a while, it struck me that, while there many overt references to William Blake, the entire film was informed by Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun." I wonder if anyone else observes the connection. -- Stacey Lehman Continue reading
Posted 7 hours ago at The Best American Poetry
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We're thrilled to announce that Terence Winch's most recent album, This Day Too: Music From Irish America is now available for download from the Free Dirt site, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon. You will find in these songs the same talent and insights that we so admire in Terence's poems. I love this video of the tender "Childhood Ground" with its haunting evocation of a lost time and place, made all the more moving by the spare arrangement and Eileen Este's pure, clear soprano. You can purchase This Day Too here. Hint: Valentine's Day is fast approaching. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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In January of 1974, a five-pound bag of sugar cost 85 cents; by year-end, just in time for the office cookie exchange, the price of the same five-pound bag increased to $2.35. The trend was driven by a complicated combination of geopolitical events, including bad weather that wiped out crops, changes in domestic subsidies, import quotas and tariffs, along with a growing national sweet tooth. I was aware of the price-hike and the reasons behind it not because I was a preternaturally astute observer of market forces but because I worked after school and on weekends as a cashier for Shop-Rite supermarket in our largely working-class neighborhood. Where there had once been rows of yellow and white Domino sugar bags, shelves were empty. Cereal, candy, bottled juice, cakes and cookies, baking mixes, even TV dinners with their gelatinous desserts, were now out of reach for many customers. With soaring prices, the market behaved as if there were a shortage. Management cut back on inventory and over the course of the year customers who would typically buy one bag of sugar every couple of weeks hoarded it whenever word circulated that another price increase was on the horizon. For a short time, my store rationed sugar at one 5-pound bag per customer. Some families gamed the system by having each spouse and child march through the checkout line alone with a single bag. For some of us, myself included, it was the best thing that could have happened. At the time, I took my coffee with three teaspoons of sugar and drank a lot of soda. During weekend lunch breaks, a friend and I would share a smoke and to satisfy the inevitable hunger attack that followed would devour a bag of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. There was no combination of sugar and fat that I would turn down. My consumption of all things sugary had to stop. Over time I weaned myself of sugary drinks and sweetened coffee. It helped that nutritionists were finding an audience for their claims that sugar was detrimental to one’s health. They encouraged consumers to find alternatives, like fresh fruit for dessert and fruit juices or plain water instead of soda. Newspapers and magazines published recipes for sugar-free desserts. The sugar crisis of the ‘70s marked the beginning of my interest in healthy eating. Alas, in the forty-plus intervening years, sugar and its evil sibling high-fructose corn syrup, continue to be a mainstay of the American diet. You find it in the obvious places but also hidden in processed foods like bottled salad dressings, canned soups, hot dogs, bread, and even in nut butters. While sugar alone has been cited as the cause of obesity and the associated illnesses (heart-disease, diabetes, and certain cancers), Gary Taubes, (The Case Against Sugar Knopf, December 2016) writes in the Wall Street Journal that “the evidence for the hypothesized chain of cause and unfortunate effects—eat sugar, become insulin-resistant, fatter and diabetic and then die prematurely—is ambiguous. It will probably... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
In the TV show "To Tell the Truth," there were always three individuals pretending to be the prominent or accomplished figure, an adventurer or a football hero, and the panel had to choose who was the genuine article. But Cary Grant stumped the panel. Each of the three individuals named Cary Grant was extraordinarily handsome, suave, charming, and irresistible even though one was a glib ad man named Roger Thornhill, skillful at stealing a taxi cab or fobbing off girlfriends with gifts of chocolate and insincere praise. The second Cary Grant was a fast-talking newspaper editor ("Duffy! Get me rewrite!"), who can outwit Ralph Bellamy or whoever the designated rival is and recover the affections of alienated partners such as Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell. The third showed up at the top of the Empire State Building to meet Deborah Kerr but she, though equally eager, gets hit by a car in the street below, and they do not consummate their affair to remember. Born Archie Leach on January 18, 1904 in Bristol (England), Cary Grant spoke in an accent that sounds somehow British and yet is not out of place in any set of circumstances in the States. His versatility extended from the globetrotting realm of Hitchcock's thrillers (the England of "Suspicion," the South America of "Notorious," the French riviera of "To Catch a Thief") to comedies with leading ladies on the order of Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint. Possibly the handsomest leading man in the movies, though not the sexiest, he starred with both Hepburns, Katharine in a whole bunch of films and Audrey in Charade. He ties Jimmy Stewart as the most frequent Hitchcock hero. He became a US citizen in 1942 and never won a regular academy award, although he did collect an honorary Oscar in 1970. Origin of name: Boring Hollywood legend has it that "Cary" came from his stage role as a guy named Cary in a musical with Fay Wray, and "Grant" was assigned to him by the studio. You and I can do better. "Grant me an hour, and I will carry you over the altar," he said sheepishly. Marital status: five times, with wife #3 (Betsy Drake) the marriage that lasted longest. He had a genius for screwball romantic comedies and was a natural straight man -- in Frank Capra's "Arsenic and Old Lace," example. His last romantic hurrah: Charade with Audrey Hepburn in 1963. The Stanley Donen-directed film also exploits the talents of Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, the Marche aux Timbres and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Gene Kelly doing a carefree dance on the banks of the Seine (though filmed on a studio) is lovingly recalled by Miss Hepburn (Mrs Charles Lampert) as the hero and heroine hold hands under a bridge and a bateau mouche glides by. Cary Grant shrewdly insists that the romance begins on the lady's side -- he is acutely conscious of the age... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Do male poets have crushes on female poems? Maybe, but the reverse is also true, and the old canard that male poetry editors like it when the women talk dirty implies bad faith on the part of the males and bad morals on the part of the females and is as reductive as concluding from a man's appreciation of, say, Marianne Moore's poems that the guy likes scholarly and quaint. There's more to Moore than that, and a poem with the tits to start "Fuck me" is daring not so much because of the grab-you opening but because that's a high standard of intensity for the rest of the poem to live up to. Do (some) male poets have a weakness (or a yen) for lustful poems by women such as Olena Kalytiak Davis, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Kim Addonizio, Jennifer L. Knox, Nin Andrews, Deborah Landau, Moira Egan, Cynthia Hungtington, Sharon Olds? Sure, but the length of that list and the fact that it could be twice as long lead to a different explanation, and I would argue that female sexuality is an area of experience that had not until recently been explored quite as candidly and with language as frank and sometimes even deliberately crude as you find in the best American erotic poetry. After the 1960s you could tell there was a void in the literature and you knew you could do something about it. Taking advantage of the opportunity, talented women have given us some wonderful erotic poems. Now the idea of "gendering" neutral objects fascinates me. In Grench and Ferman, I mean French and German, the nouns are grammatically either masculine or feminine. I believe this is for arcane reasons having more to do with signs than with meanings, and there are oddities aplenty -- in French the word for the female breast (sein) is masculine and the word for the male chest (poitrine) is feminine. There was always a semantic difference between gender and sex, and though it has been obscured tremendously in recent usage, it's a pity if the distinction is lost, and "the difference between gender and sex" has real possibilities as a title. That said, don't you love the idea of assigning a sex to the parts of speech -- or to individual poems? Please then, dear reader, guess the sexual identity of the following works: "Ode on a Grecian Urn." "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." "The Waste Land." "In Memoriam." "The Sick Rose." Though all were written by men, I'd say two of these is female. Read The Iliad and you are in a universe that is male and tragic. Read The Odyssey and you are in a universe that is female and comic. Mark Van Doren said that. The Odyssey has the greatest cast of female characters: Calypso, Nausikaa, Circe, Athena, and Penelope. But that is just one reason The Odyssey is feminine. A more challenging case is that of "To His Coy Mistress" (Andrew Marvell) versus "To His... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
You can’t swallow the lump in your throat so stop trying. Start breathing, you’ll see, eventually it’ll soften. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. You start with a hiccup, a sip of tea to calm the crispy sighing. You begin to unravel, tears drip from the corners of your eyes at night. You hurt often. You can’t swallow the lump in your throat, so stop trying. It’s the story of the wolf and the hood you’re not buying, Her ignorance, his carnivorousness. You place both of them in a small coffin. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. Be quiet, you bird! But it’s you who’s shouting, and all of them you’re eyeing Like planets you wish you could go to, because you’re lonely, or alone? boxed in. You can’t swallow the lump in your throat, so stop trying. It wasn’t me, but the wolf that was lying, Telling you and the birds of young berries gone rotten. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. It is no other way, and it never was, says the night air, prying. Pacing in your room, waiting to pounce, wondering about the blood in the walk-in… You can’t swallow the lump in your throat so stop trying. It’s dark at night, the birds are quiet, except for one that keeps on crying. 12/6/16 Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Boy Scout Salute, Mike Cockrill, 2009 This just in: Our friend Elisha Wagman writes to tell us about an exciting group show on view at Undercurrent Projects in the East Village. Here's what Forbes Magazine has to say about the show: On January 11th, 2017, just 9 days before Inauguration Day, Spirit will unveil the third chapter of her ongoing curatorial series, HOTTER THAN JULY: Hands Off My Cuntry, at Undercurrent Projects in New York City’s East Village. “The first one was really just an experiment,” says Spirit over the phone from her home in Brooklyn. “I called it a ‘sexploration.’ I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know what was going to happen.” The latest show features work by Mike Cockrill, Lapis Danado, Annique Delphine, Courtney Frances Fallon, Adam Handler, Jones the Savage, Morgan Jesse Lappin, Joanne Leah, Nikki Peck, John Phelan, Alexandra Rubinstein, and Spirit herself, whose cheeky, not so safe for work, femme fatale self portraits frequently find the artist in hot water on various social media platforms. In fact, less than thirty-six hours before the show’s opening, Spirit saw her Instagram account deleted without warning. Continue reading here. Continue reading
Posted Jan 12, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
He's right.
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Sylvia Maier, "The Bread Cutter", 2008, oil on canvas, 44 x 72 inches Poet, painter, and editor Didi Menendez writes to tell us about FORMATION, a group show presented in conjunction with a special issue of Poets & Artists Magazine. The exhibit features works by Erin Anderson, Erica Elan Ciganek, Michelle Doll, Heidi Elbers, Shana Levenson, Sylvia Maier, Jenny Morgan, Sarah Muirhead, Omalix, Lee Price, Nadine Robbins, Victoria Selbach. Poets & Artists includes poems by Grace Cavalieri, Jessica Smith, Amy Gerstler, Nin Andrews, Sarah Blake, Lauren Amalia Redding, Michelle McEwen, Ivy Alvarez and Megan Volpert and with an introduction by Lorena Kloosterboer. BERNARDUCCI.MEISEL.GALLERY 37 West 57th Street New York, NY 10019 Between 5th and 6th Avenues 3rd Floor (212) 593-3757 The reception for the show is January 12, 2017 from 5 to 7PM. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Philip K. Dick What is reality? "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." -- Philip K. Dick Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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"Oy" is one of the greatest words in any language and I've noticed that people of all backgrounds quickly pick it up and start using it. Let's take a look at some situations in which saying "Oy" is very appropriate (click on thumbnail for full-sized image): Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability rather than an asset – that in view of the fact that spirit creates form we are justified in supposing that you must have brains. For you, a symbol of the unit, stiff and sharp, conscious of surpassing by dint of native superiority and liking for everything self-dependent, on anything an ambitious civilization might produce: for you, unaided, to attempt through sheer reserve to confute presumptions resulting from observation is idle. You cannot make us think you a delightful happen-so. But rose, if you are brilliant, it is not because your petals are the without-which-nothing of pre- eminence. You would look, minus thorns – like a what-is-this, a mere peculiarity. They are not proof against a storm, the elements, or mildew but what about the predatory hand? What is brilliance without coordination? Guarding the infinitesimal pieces of your mind, compelling audience to the remark that it is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently, your thorns are the best part of you. Roses Only by Marianne Moore Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Mitch Sisskind’s collection of poems and stories, Do Not Be a Gentleman When You Say Goodnight, is a retrospective of a near fifty-year career of provocative, unnerving, absurd, but most of all, searingly funny comic writing. Relying on irony, paradox, and the unexpected to evoke emotion, Sisskind’s comic talent lies in his ability to be at once humorous and moving, reassuring and unsettling. There is little room for sentimentality in Do Not Be a Gentleman When You Say Goodnight, and both the comic and the tragic resonate more forcefully because of its absence. There are no winners in Sisskind’s world, nor are there any neatly wrapped moral lessons. Conclusions are reached abruptly and without epiphany, but frequently there is wonder, or perhaps a wondrous perplexity, that allows for the consequences of his characters’ exertions, both fantastical and mundane, to wrestle for sense in the reader’s mind. A feature of Sisskind’s writing is his habit of placing speakers and characters in the surreal, and then granting them powers of reaction and response that are only too real. In the short story Mr. Tivy, the title character believes he has the unique ability to speak to animals. His ideas on how to employ this talent, however, are rather less profound, first wanting to make a “successful film” about his powers, and then attempting to impress a masseur (who has just jerked him off) by speaking with the parlor cat, Gross Out. Gross Out does not comply, and after the masseur leaves the room, Mr. Tivy interrogates the cat as to his lack of obedience: “I thought you wanted to help me out.'You know what you’re asking can never be... and anyway, what is she but a lowlife broad wasting her time in dives? On the other hand, you’re a remarkable person! A precious gift was given to you. Go to Lincoln Park and spend some time at the large-mammal house Gain the wisdom of the elephants!' 
Mr. Tivy had heard all this before. 'You talk like my dog.'” The baseness of human ambition, the fact that we are “human, all too human,” is something frequently found in Sisskind, yet the paths by which we arrive at this conclusion are always unexpected. In a wildly humorous story, It So Happens, the speaker, Allison, is visited by the famous actress Jacqueline Bisset, who floats in through the young girl’s bedroom window at night to give her advice on how she should go about her future, “Until you blossom, concentrate very hard on your schoolwork. Then, as soon as this process is finally completed, compare yourself with the other girls.” And what if Allison never blossoms? “Simply admit this to yourself. Then decide if you might be someone who is skinny but with a lot of pizzazz to make up for it.” Sisskind reminds us that it is often through the absurd that the clearest picture of the human condition is rendered and it is because of this absurdity that we can shed the urge... Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Dear Readers, We've had thousands of posts and hundreds of guest bloggers since we began this blog in 2008. Here are your favorites, by date, of 2016: I Don’t Like Poetry, I’m Not a Poetry Person [by Tara Skurtu] (January 08, 2016) Place, Origin, and Stalks of Corn [by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo] (January 26, 2016) Meet the Press: Dante Di Stefano in Conversation with Adam Deutsch and Christine Bryant Cohen of Cooper Dillon Books (February 6, 2016) St. John's, NL: where real food and real art are so (un)common we may lose them [by Emily Deming] (April 4, 2016) The Guardian of the Riddle — Aphorisms by Yahia Lababidi (May 15, 2016) Grief Canning [by Barbara Hamby] (August 26, 2016) Bad Workshops [by Alan Michael Parker] (September 20, 2016) This Just In: Fearless Election Predictions (2016) -- by David Lehman (September 28, 2016) Meet the Press: Dante Di Stefano in Conversation with Martha Rhodes, James Fujinami Moore, Ryan Murphy, and Sally Ball of Four Way Books (September 30, 2016) For Autumn: Poems by Latino/a/xs: Rachel McKibbens (December 9, 2016) Continue reading
Posted Jan 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Posted Jan 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I am a young man sitting on the end of a bed in a Motel 6 in Pensacola Fl. holding in my hands a mask carved by a decade of echos of America’s proselytizers. The mask is difficult to put on for it is shaped by each prophet to their image and from second to second it changes. It is the image of Elvis. I am Elvis, bloated like an infection. Now I deflate into a strong black woman. I am Nina Simone stamping her pain into the piano. I am Einstein’s greatest discovery: Leadbelly, the homicidal harmonizer. I am Dylan when he loved being hated, sending himself electric. I am Son House; and Nick Cave; and Rowland S. Howard at all ages and times, but especially since his death. I am Johnny Cash; and Shane McGowan before he got his new teeth. The mask is glued on with whatever I can find. Tonight it is a cheap rum and —— In the background plays Bellringer Blues. Tonight I will play a show nobody will care to listen to at a bar I don’t know the name of. Nobody knows who I am, least of all myself, for I can never tell how the mask will fit. * I am a middle-aged man sitting on the end of a bed in the penthouse of the Chateau Marmot being pumped full of prescriptions to rise me above the weather so I can walk on stage tonight for the fourth night in a row at the Hollywood Bowl and become a God. I am living my version of somebody else’s life. No longer do I have to worry about masks. There is no mask, it has calcified onto my face so that I have become what I always wanted and now I cannot be anything else. I dream Nick Cave’s dream of pushing Elvis’s bloated body up a mountain, like Sisyphus rolling my influences’ influences up and up until they fall back upon me and crush who I was. I rise and am no longer me: I am a God on stage at the Hollywood Bowl and I’m not sure who that is for no man can know God and I cannot be anything else. Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
My legs look their thinnest in the mirrored windows of the Bed Bath and Beyond loading dock on W 65th. Employees only, I smile and say good morning to the men smoking their cigarettes out back. Every morning I admire them, my legs, cascading over the pavement, the 65% of my body that every fling or boyfriend of my past has told me is my greatest attribute. I saw a girl with long legs and blonde hair on the beach and she reminded me of you. The same legs that have urged teachers to pull me aside and inform me, that skirt is too short to facilitate a positive learning environment. I would make my wingspan smaller and argue those skirts passed the 3 finger test. These legs are good for more than just looks, though - They are strong and toned and prepared to run from an attacker, to bike a Pan-Mass Challenge, or run a New York City marathon. But for now, they have a simpler task - to hold me up, in heels that accentuate their longevity, for me to stare at and admire in store windows on my morning walk to work. -- Lily Bowen Continue reading
Posted Dec 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
15 Poems to Avoid The “very punny” The overly enthusiastic— Dickinson!— Fan! The simile that’s as overused as your favorite tee-shirt The cliché that has all the teenagers rolling their eyes moodily The hyperbolic behemoth, the extreme titan of a poem to end all poems, born of Apollo and watched over by Poe’s own raven Speaking of which…anything involving a raven or a blackbird. Crows are iffy at best. The poem that r e l i e s TOO much on form to make a point that could have been (made) easily Don’t understate TOO ABSTRACT TO UNDERSTAND O! To attempt to venture thither and evoke the language of previous poets! Muses, be with me as I attempt to elucidate my Reader on the dangerous ignus fatuus of Trying Too Hard! The nonsensical metaphor, a bird in a pair of fishnet stockings The repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, the repetition Beware: when it comes to rhyming it’s all about timing. The poem that spends too much time in a field of flowers, or in any proximity to a rosebush, especially a beautiful rosebush that also contains thorns. When it comes to list poems, you’re on thin ice. So just watch yourself. Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's, Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ; The sun is spent, and now his flasks Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ; The world’s whole sap is sunk ; The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk, Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk, Dead and interr’d ; yet all these seem to laugh, Compared with me, who am their epitaph. Study me then, you who shall lovers be: At the next world, that is, at the next spring ; For I am every dead thing, In whom Love wrought new alchemy. For his art did express A quintessence even from nothingness, From dull privations, and lean emptiness ; He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not. All others, from all things, draw all that’s good, Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ; I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood Have we two wept, and so Drown’d the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow, To be two chaoses, when we did show Care to aught else ; and often absences Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses. But I am by her death—which word wrongs her— Of the first nothing the elixir grown ; Were I a man, that I were one I needs must know ; I should prefer, If I were any beast, Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest, And love; all, all some properties invest. If I an ordinary nothing were, As shadow, a light, and body must be here. But I am none ; nor will my sun renew You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun At this time to the Goat is run To fetch new lust, and give it you, Enjoy your summer all, Since she enjoys her long night’s festival. Let me prepare towards her, and let me call This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is. -- John Donne (1572- 1631) "Considered by many to be the greatest of all Capricorn odes." -- Alastor Crowley Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Abdul Ali: I'd like to know how the process of writing your first book and receiving the kind of recognition you did either helped or intimidated you to begin work on something new? L. Lamar Wilson: It's really been a startling and beautiful experience, having Sacrilegion flourish first on the basis of word-of-mouth and love for Carolina Wren Press's always excellent work. Then came a number of very generous reviews and opportunities to read around the country. Then its poems morphed into a staged musical performance in Miami, and now, nearly four years after publication, they're beginning to appear in anthologies in the States and abroad (the Ukraine and possibly Germany soon). We're in our third printing of Sacrilegion, with more than 1,000 books in print, absolutely astounding for such a small press. I won the CWR prize in the midst of completing my doctorate at UNC-Chapel Hill, so I was eye-deep in scholarly essays and books about queer theory, sound studies, critical race studies, Afro-pessimism, and African American poetics. Now that I'm soon closing that chapter with the imminent conferral of the PhD, the hardest part has been consistently adherring to my early-morning writing rituals from which the best drafts of poems always emerge. AA: How do you know when a subject is right for your poems? And how are your approaching book #2 in terms of discovering your project? LLW:Poems start as a line a voice in my head says with such clarity that I must write it down. I rarely say to myself, "I'm going to write a poem today about __________." It starts with a line, then another, then others flow. I'm about a third of the way into my second full-length poetry collection now, and I've realized that in it, I'm continuing the journey I began with Sacrilegion, which featured “Resurrection Sunday,” a long poem that revisits a 1934 lynching in my hometown and generated the collection’s title. Whereas Sacrilegion limns the tightrope of piety, profligacy, contrition, and abjection through the voice and lens of one speaker marked “disabled” and “queer,” this new book's speakers command more mythic voices who meditate on the psychological impact of the recent upsurge in anti-black, State-sanctioned brutality on African Americans’ consciousness and the ways this violence affects our intimate choices. The ascendance of a neo-Nazi sympathizer to the presidency again has brought the KKK and related hate groups from the shadows, and America is experiencing its third wave of a so-called "Reconstruction." Just as Barack Obama's presidency sparked white male rage this time, black men's prominent leadership roles in the U.S. government in the wake of the Civil War and the past century's Civil Rights Movement fueled the first and second waves as angry white men threw public tantrums and terrorized every non-white male in their paths. I grew up among the men and women who survived the hate crimes white men committed without recourse in the early- to mid-1900s, including the aforementioned lynching in a close-knit North Florida... Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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This is me and Ray sometime in the 1960s I believe...we first met at the University of Iowa when I arrived there after four years in the military to try and get into their Writers Workshop at the last minute without even a BA and managed to get them to not only accept me on the G. I. Bill but let me work on a BA and MFA at the same time. I was a married veteran and Ray was a single ex-"seminarian" (he had spent his high school years preparing for the seminary and the priesthood) who was living the life of a bachelor in the swinging '60s...we became instant friends based on our mutually obsessive, even addictive, love of books and our ethnic "neighborhood" East Coast backgrounds (he an Italian-American from outside Pittsburgh, if I remember correctly, and me Irish-American from outside Newark NJ) among Midwesterners and WASP graduates of Ivy League colleges, etc. (probably a misconception on my part, but that was the feeling). We remained friends until now, though there was a brief few years where we weren't in touch over some perceived slight—Ray was one of my dearest and oldest friends, but also one of the most demanding—but when another poet friend I had loved but wasn't talking to for some reason suddenly dropped dead of a youthful stroke, I decided I would never again let anything separate me from my friends, and got back in touch with Ray and remained close ever since. He was the godfather to my oldest son, and was visiting me and my then, now long deceased, wife when our son was born forty-seven years ago, and was the neatest guest we ever had in our apartments over the years, always leaving no trace of his having been there. Ray and I spent a lot of time in the 1970s when we had both moved to Manhattan, hanging out at each other's pads and walking lower Fourth Avenue in what was then the used bookstore district where Ray could spot a rare find almost mystically. We'd be walking and talking and he'd zoom over to an outdoor table with bargain books and pick up the one rare find that he could resell for much more or that we both had been hoping to find but he always spotted first. We also spent Sunday afternoons watching NFL football games while stoned, with our then close friend, the recently departed poet Ted Greenwald. By the time I moved back East at the turn of this century, Ray had burned a lot of bridges and we no longer had as many mutual close friends as we once had. I sensed the hurt this caused him, but it didn't change his behavior until more recent years when he began to express regrets and wishes to reconnect with old friends, and began to make an uncharacteristic display of his love for me and others and his gratitude for our friendship. We spent most of our... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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your life is your life don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. be on the watch. there are ways out. there is light somewhere. it may not be much light but it beats the darkness. be on the watch. the gods will offer you chances. know them. take them. you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes. and the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be. your life is your life. know it while you have it. you are marvelous the gods wait to delight in you. -- by Charles Bukowski Read more about Charles Bukowski here. Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Just like clockwork, I publish a book about every 25 years. I'm proud to say this new book includes an Afterword by BAP series editor David Lehman and an Introduction by 2010 BAP editor Amy Gerstler. If you've been waiting 25 years, you'll want to get this book asap. Here's a link to the publisher, where your order will be fulfilled at once. You can also get the book on Amazon: "To no place he is called...” To no place he is called And thither he is bound— Cloudbursts, desiccated plains, Nothing slows his Volkswagen. Old Philadelphia disappears In the trembling rearview mirror, Chicago looms, then vanishes, Houston fades, Dallas evanesces. Those years of the yearning siren Voice’s call—the longing intonation Unheard or unacknowledged— They like the towns and cities lie Behind him now as to no place He is called and thither he is bound. Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2016 at The Best American Poetry