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Susan Lewis
New York, NY
Susan Lewis is the author of ten books and chapbooks and the editor of Posit, an online journal of literature and art.
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The recent passing of John Ashbery provided the impetus for this week's final post. Ashbery's death, and those of others I deeply admire, including James Tate and Russell Edson, turned out to disturb me, emotionally, in a way that, quite honestly, took me by surprise. I had never met any of them, and only had the chance to hear Ashbery read once, at the Poetry Project. But their importance to my writing (and reading, and thinking) life were enormous – as, it turns out, was the fact that they were living poets, making new work and continuing to construct their unfinished oeuvres, side by side with the rest of us, in the face of the same technological and cultural paradigm shifts, natural (and political) disasters, etc. As well: that the loss I felt was shared by untold others. Which led me to wonder about the emotional valence of this question for other writers. How (and why) is it meaningful to them to know that a writer they admire is their living contemporary? How has the loss of such figures affected their attitudes towards the work of those who are still with us – or to their own? It is my honor to share two moving and thought-provoking responses, by two extraordinary poets. G.C. Waldrep: On the Deaths of Poets I’ve never been the sort of person to fetishize poets, their lives or their persons or their things. I’ve visited Amherst, Mass., three times now and never had any desire whatsoever to tour Emily Dickinson’s house. (Edward Gorey’s sly smack in The Willowdale Handcar pretty much sums up that sort of literary tourism to me.) Fetishize their poems, yes: but not their persons, not their possessions. Poets are always and forever in the act of leaving us, poem by poem. Every poem is posthumous, every poem reaches out to the living moment from a past that is no longer directly accessible. But there comes a moment when there will be no more poems, because the poet has left the room, permanently. When the news of Czeslaw Milosz’s death came in August 2004, I was at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and I cried. Not because he had died — he was, after all, 93; many people at Bread Loaf seemed unaware he hadn’t already died, years before — but because he had continued to write almost up until that moment: we were still, all of us who cared about his work, caught up in the flow of its becoming. And now, barring hidden, unpublished (or untranslated) manuscripts, there would be no more. Milosz was not my “first poet”— that would be Robert Penn Warren, whose Selected Poems I was awarded by way of a prize upon my high school graduation in 1986 — but he was my first master, the first poet I consciously placed myself under, longing to understand some fraction of what he understood, which was about time and impermanence, how these relate to the mysteries of the self,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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A few months ago I had the opportunity to hear Tongo Eisen-Martin read with Rae Armantrout at the Poetry Project. Anyone who has heard this young San Francisco poet recite his exhilarating work from memory might recall how it felt to realize one was witnessing a very special talent, one whose work recalls the likes of Ginsburg, Whitman, and Gil-Scott Heron. This realization led me to look more closely at the following poem, with its titular nod to Gil-Scott Heron’s 1970 “Comment #1” (sampled by Kanye West in “Who Will Survive in America”), from his new book, Heaven is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017): Wave at the People Walking Upside Down I am off to make a church bell out of a bank window “kitchens meant more to the masses back in the day” and before that? “we had no enemy” somewhere in america the prison bus is running on time you are going to want to lose that job before the revolution hits Somewhere I won’t be home for breakfast. Everyone out here now knows my name. And I won’t be turned against for at least four months. The cop in the picket line is a hard working rookie. The sign in my hand is getting more and more laughs It says, “the picket line got cops in it.” “I can take care of those windows for you if you want, but someone else has to go in your gas tank” was clear to the man that rich people had talked too much this year go ahead and throw down that marble park bench everyone is looking up at, you know, get the Romans out of your mind Maybe a good night’s sleep would have changed The last twenty years of my life —Playing an instrument Is like punching a wall— What would you have me do? Replace the population? Give brotherhood back to the winter? Stop smoking cigarettes with the barely dead? They listen in on the Sabbath Police called the police on me —a white candlestick beneath my detention “I’ve ruined the soup again,” thought the judge as he took off his pilgrim robe behind a white people’s door (and more) “I didn’t get lucky. I got what was coming to me,” he toasts “fight me back,” the man said, of course, to himself washing windows with a will to live tin can on his left shoulder enjoying the bright brand new blight with all partygoers (both supernatural and supernaturally down to earth) what, is this elevator traveling side to side? Like one thousand bitter polaroid pictures that you actually try to eat All the furniture on this street is nailed to the cement Cheap furniture, but we have commitment This morning, an essay opens the conversation between enemies “why, because you control every gram of processed sugar between here and a poor man’s border?” “because in the tin can on my left shoulder I can hear the engines of deindustrialization?” —You should get into painting, You... Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
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Oct 29, 2017