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Angela Ball
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I love this poem and its translation! (Which, knowing Spanish, I read as though through holes in a heavy veil.) You are so right about the self-righteous guardianship of ice in France--yet another of many reasons to drink wine there at every opportunity.
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Sometimes I feel so inspired after Ulalume González de LeónI think I am flying. Yes, flying far away. So far away, in fact, that between you and me, I am at a loss for words. So this is what it’s like to be an artist, I think. Which brings me to the question: if I had to choose between being bliss and writing about it, which would I choose? Oh Yellow Bird, I sigh as I gaze outside. Oh Yellow Sun, Yellow Mood flooding my office with longing, I want to surrender to you. I want to give up all my bad habits. I am so filled with happiness, I do not write. I cannot. What should I do? I finally ask you, my dearest poet friend. You don’t answer. So I watch you. I do what you do. Word by word, line by line, I change my mind. I change my mood, my laundry, my socks. I change the sun into wind, the wind into clouds and grief. I talk about my soul as if it were a shroud, my heart as if it were lost. Then I change it into a sparrow, an egg, a frying pan. Yes, I lie. Today, I am a poet. I write lies. Nin Andrews is the author of seven chapbooks and seven full-length collections of poetry. Her poems have appeared in many literary reviews and anthologies including Ploughshares, The Paris Review, The Best of the Prose Poem, and four volumes of Best American Poetry. She has translated the prose poems of Henri Michaux and edited an anthology of them titled Someone Wants to Steal My Name (Cleveland State University Press). Her most recent book, The Last Orgasm, was published by Etruscan Press in 2020. In writing this poem, I was thinking how inspiration is the crack cocaine of writers—that there’s a high when the rush of ideas and images and words coalesces in the mind and begins to form a poem, an essay, a story. But there are also those days when the high is there, but one can lack the ability to translate it into words. I wanted to describe the distance that sometimes opens up between what I feel and what I can express, between what I say and what I mean, between what I describe and what I actually see. I was also thinking of the Mexican poet, Ulalume González de León, and how she often addresses that which cannot be put into words. --Nin Andrews The New York School Diaspora, Part Five: Nin Andrews Nin Andrews’s poem, “Sometimes I feel so inspired,” like the poems of Frank O’Hara, engages the mutable and its quandaries, the seemingly competing needs to experience bliss and to write it. Here, as in O’Hara, there are friends to consult: “What should I do?” . . .”You don’t answer. So I watch you. I do what you do.” The vexed question, Be or Write: O’Hara evaded it. Or rather, surrendered to both, as Andrews... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Ode on My Prison This morning I read about a couple arrested for selling hundreds of tickets to heaven which they said were made from pure gold and all you have to do is hand yours over to St. Peter and you are ushered into paradise. Tito Watts, the mastermind of this scheme, told the police Jesus gave him the tickets in the parking lot behind the KFC and told him to sell them so he could pay Stevie, an alien Tito met at a bar, to take him to a planet made of drugs. "You should arrest Jesus," said Tito. "I'll wear a wire and set him up." His wife agreed they both wanted to leave Earth, and I know how she feels, because most newspaper stories are such a bummer— sexcapades, lying, the Russians—so Jesus, where is my golden ticket? Not that I'm all that keen to go to heaven, but I would like to go to Vietnam and Cambodia, though I guess a travel agent could set that up for me, and I'm always fantasizing about dropping in on Haydon’s immortal dinner and eavesdropping on Keats and Wordsworth or spending a fortnight in London in 1601, seeing Shakespeare as Hamlet's father’s ghost, taking in the general squalor and maybe picking up some manuscripts from the printing house floor, tucking them in my farthingale, and then taking off to Chawton Cottage to stalk Jane Austen for a while, though in that dress it’s going to be hard to go incognito, so maybe I should wear black jeans, and you may be forgiven for thinking that I’ve touched down on that planet of drugs, but who needs them really when your mind can spin out its own delirium, a dream here, a phantasmagoria there, and right now I'm fixated on Tito wired to bust Jesus, and doesn't it seem sometimes as if we’re hanging around the KFC waiting for something supernatural to appear, not Jesus, but maybe Walt Whitman walking to New Orleans with his brother, a cloud of words crowding out Stevie and the other aliens as Walt fuels his own dream of America where we’re looking after each other instead of grubbing for all the moolah we can stuff up our backsides, though a friend of my sister’s says that Earth is an alien penal colony, and we’re all doing time for crimes against the universe, so I guess Stevie’s a rogue guard in the Florida penitentiary, and sometimes my body does seem like a prison of sprains and back pain, my mind like the trenches at Verdun—the mud, the mustard gas—yet when the war is over, I'm still alive, seem to have all my limbs, every cup of tea is ambrosia, and if that’s not enough, it’s May, jasmine and roses are blooming, my heart clambering over the clouds as if on wings, and I can’t help but think of Solzhenitsyn looking back on his years in the gulag saying, “Bless you, my prison, for having... Continue reading
Posted Jun 8, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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STENDHAL SYNDROME Ever wanted to make love to a work of art— die in the obscene smear of paint or a written passage where the protagonist stands on a Sears Tower diving board but then climbs down, ever mirrored a manikin and felt you were falling into its apparel, the fabric swimming you, sometimes listened to music with the back of your head or took a moment in the bath to observe the water in opposition with your hair, had a pop song puncture to nerve by amplifying something hidden, finding a stranger knew your feelings exactly, but more so, decided nature is wonderful, but alive, you needed acrylic, oil, the page, a breathing note, or a warm drink in a white cafe designed by someone rich from drawing children in animal suits? It’s not that you cannot go on living without these things, it’s that without them you have questioned the point. Allison Campbell is the author of the prose poetry collection Encyclopédie of the Common & Encompassing. Her work has appeared in such places as Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, Witness, and Rattle. She lives in New Orleans. In a museum built into the side of a mountain, I stood before Claude Monet’s Sunset on the Seine in Winter. Until this point, my experience of Impressionism was limited to dentist’s office reproductions and wall calendars. But in this museum, I stared at the orange-red dot-of- a-setting-sun and felt myself falling into the river. I began to cry. I did not know what I was experiencing, but later learned that the syndrome was named in 1989 by an Italian doctor who saw many patients whose physical and mental health were affected by the beauty of Florence. I wrote this poem pointing out overwhelming episodes, instances when I was acutely receptive to human-made beauty. --Allison Campbell The New York School Diaspora, Part Three: Allison Campbell A member of the New York School seminar that participated in the USM Center for Writers’ 2014 Symposium on the New York School of Poetry and the South, Allison Campbell served as The Best American Poetry’s special correspondent, blogging about the event. “The Stendhal Syndrome” is an affliction named after the 19th-century French author, whose description of his experience in Florence first documented the phenomenon. Of his initial visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolo Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo Galilei are buried, Stendhal wrote I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty ... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations ... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call 'nerves'. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling. Allison Campbell’s invocation of art-generated rapture, its head-over-heels multi-part interrogative, suggests Kenneth Koch and his“Fresh Air”; in particular,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Laura Cronk, for this terrific poem.
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Failure I’m standing at the stove cooking pancakes when in walks a goat. The goat is black and white and gives me a look over the bridge of his nose that I recognize as a look of sadness. And so I have a sad goat in my kitchen. The tornado sirens have stopped. He’s countertop height. The cast on my arm under the sleeve of my sweater isn’t visible to the goat, and I’m glad for that. I flip the pancakes. The goat shakes gently his beard, kicks his left hoof, and stomps. I try to imagine anything as smooth as a flipped pancake as I wait for the other side to brown. I was introduced to the work of Russell Edson, Charles Simic, James Tate and the French surrealist prose poets, including Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Guillaume Apollinaire early on in my writing life, in high school. Their influence is forever in my imagination, I think, as are the Surrealist painters. One day, I was standing in the kitchen in Kentucky cooking pancakes when I heard tornado warning sirens. This poem came out of that moment. --Julia Johnson The New York School Diaspora, Part Two: Julia Johnson My post here last week, “The New York School Diaspora, Part One,” asserted that the values of the New York School of Poetry survive to enliven much of the strongest American poetry. James Tate’s work, incorporating what appreciative critics have called “the surrealism of everyday life,” represents a branch of this diaspora. Julia Johnson’s “Failure” shares with James Tate’s work (in such poems as “The Buddhists Have the Field” and “The Distant Orgasm”) the marriage of the pedestrian and the unexpected. It shares one of the key convictions of New York School poetry: life is chaotic, resists explanation. The poem’s title, “Failure,” sits at an oblique angle to the poem. We are tempted to think of how tragedy is goat-song, and how failures of character result in tragedy. There’s the expression, diluted by time, “I am the goat.” Is the goat a stray sacrifice? Why does he stamp? From whence his sadness? Why does the speaker cook pancakes when there is a cast on her arm? Why glad that her cast is hidden? Is the now-absent tornado connected with the goat? With guilt? Question marks rotate playfully, as in an old illustration of bewilderment. The incident, as solid and self-contained as a flipped pancake, calls to us. The cooking continues. --Angela Ball Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Jack Skeeley, thank you for this gracious comment. Elaine Equi is wonderful and I look forward to reading your Q and A in the Los Angeles Review of Books.
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DEAR AMERICAN AMNESIA, I know you are only trying to make white people feel better— and some of us might even appreciate it, but maybe it’s good you sometimes let us remember certain things, like the origin of gratuities. Racist restaurant owners “hired” newly freed slaves who they didn’t have to pay and passed on the expense to diners who had the choice of tipping or not. Any American waitstaff or stripper today knows how temperamental a customer can be—how grabby, how angry, or sullen. How cheap. By 1938, America established a minimum wage, but not for hospitality workers who were expected to live off tips. (Translation: Ladies, shake those tits.) The Great Depression and Great Recession seem quaint and faraway because you prefer we deep-six the fact Wall Street hasn’t changed. But, Amnesia, sometimes even you can’t repress everything in us—consider our American paranoia and guilt. Chomsky says zombies are just the latest manifestation of our need to be punished for what we’ve done to the Indians and slaves. How easy it is to make white Americans afraid. Afraid we’ll be treated the way we’ve treated others. Jen Hofer asks, through which holes does history break into our day? Who built the White House? Why are corporate cubicles shaped like swastikas? Why are there so few Asian leading men? When the 60’s revolution happened, women turned to vintage clothing so fashion magazines had to do something to control them, get them back. Enter diet pills and the term cellulite. Rubens celebrated those bumps in his 17th century paintings, but a 1968 issue of Vogue decried them as a disease the most focused of women could cure through exercise, diet, and rubbing their legs with special rolling pins. Now the wage gap is replaced by the thigh gap, as we try to squelch that persistent subcutaneous fat, bubbling up like everything, Amnesia, you’d rather we forget. I wrote “Dear American Amnesia” after reading Rachel E. Greenspan’s article “’It's the Legacy of Slavery’: Here's the Troubling History Behind Tipping Practices in the U.S.” (Time, October 15, 2018). I remembered all my waitressing jobs, the lousy shifts, the fussy customers, and my smiling incessantly even when I wanted to pour coffee over the head of a customer who grabbed me as I walked by his table. The poem started down that path but suddenly veered into bigger questions of who America values in society, who we pay well, who we pay poorly, and why. --Denise Duhamel Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Second Story (Pittsburgh, 2021). Her other titles include Scald; Blowout; Ka-Ching!; Two and Two; Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems; The Star-Spangled Banner; and Kinky. She served as the guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2013. She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami. The New York School Diaspora Part One: Denise Duhamel I have long believed that the poets of the New York School, John Ashbery,... Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
What great tributes. Much appreciated.
I enjoyed this so much. And still enjoy it.
What a fine tribute to Coleridge's RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER and his other amazing work.I have always loved (and used) his vital contrast (in BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA) between "fancy" ("fixed and dead") and "imagination," which is "gifted with "esemplastic power." And the end of "Kubla Khan" is indeed great. The mysterious "milk of paradise" is both innocent and sublimely canny. Thank you, David.
Wow! I can't imagine a better poem to end the year with. A poem of beginnings, it floats in the ether that supports the best poems, a sacred and permanent form of the substance found inside the Magic 8 Ball, that buoys the answer, "Ask Again Later" out of blackness.
I love this poem.
Thank you so much, David! And thank you so much for the terrific challenge. The highlight of my week.
Words from a Painting by Giorgio Di Chirico I am mannequin and still life plucked from wire in Verdun. If you prefer, think of my eye cups as motorcycle glasses; if you prefer, think of my thoughts as fish, noble, never to be caught. I’ll mount my Ducati, speed through storms to Santiago de Compostella, become a holy shell in a field of stars.
Beautifully said, David. You were an ever-generous quizmaster, and it was always a lovely bonus when you included a reply--partial or complete--to your own prompt, in the spirit of sharing your craft as you asked us to share ours.
David, this is wonderful. I will be gifting it to my undergrads. Kudos!
Yes, David! You definitely should.
What a beautiful translation, David!
Wow! Enjoyed this poem so much. Especially the cascading ending.
So well said, David Lehman.
To enjoy David Lehman's "Ninth Inning" even more, watch Kurt Gibson's game winning home run, 1988, on YouTube.
David and Amy-- Already looking forward to the delayed second half of the last season--as much for your commentary, that blooms so many details we might have overlooked--as for the show itself.
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In the radical simplicity of James Schuyler’s poetry, the world is constituted each morning in the form of what is here: a cup, an ashtray, a Korean Mum. The job of the poem is to converse elementally, without judgment or hierarchies, but with a saintly respect for the small details that bring us to life. Martin Heidegger, one of the philosophers most amenable to the New York School of Poets, made a plea against tracts exhorting large changes in society, but which in turn slight the present as "relatively impotent appearance,” "suggest[ing] that the fragile and transitory can safely be neglected." Schuyler’s style emulates that of artists Fairfield Porter and Jane Freilicher—both working against (Abstract Expressionist) fashion to represent the ordinary extraordinary of every day. (I include here images of two of Frielicher’s beautiful paintings—to this day she is represented by the Tibor de Nagy Gallery—and Fairfield Porter’s portrait of John Ashbery and James Schuyler.) In its intense interest in accepting the windows offered us, Schuyler’s poetic method implements in words Freilicher’s method of composing through gentle attention. Often in her work, the domestically pastoral (vases and paint jars of flowers) consorts with the matter of the containing city. (Freilicher was once offered a fellowship to travel anywhere in the country to paint a scene: she choose to stay in her apartment to make a new window scene.) Graduate poet Annette Boehm talks about Schuyler’s “unashamed reality”: Part of this fascination with what is real is accepting that what is real can be different from what is generally acceptable or generally considered beautiful. Lehman [in The Last Avant Garde] quotes Schuyler’s recollection of an incident in the early 1950s: “We were walking along the beach at sunset, heading for a cocktail party. The sun was casting those extraordinary Technicolor effects on the sea and sky. John [Ashbery] turned to me and said, ‘I always feel so embarrassed by these gaudy displays of nature.’ I didn’t feel embarrassed at all” (260). I think that Schuyler might enjoy hearing the journals from our class, the students’ daily observations of his work. Here is literature student Anna Williams (we are using the FSG Selected Poems): “March Here.” I like this poem for the way it positions the natural environment/weather with neon signs and tall towers. The wet of spring/March aligned with the wetness of “the hard-running river” and the “damp/from your bath.” I’m sure there’s a way to critique commodity culture in this. Also, the blurring of the lines between human and nonhuman worlds is critically rich. “December.” “Each December! I always think I hate “the over-commercialized event”/and then the bells ring, or tiny light bulbs wink above the entrance/to Bonwit Teller or Katherine going on five wants to look at all/the empty sample gift-wrapped boxes up Fifth Avenue in swank shops/and how can I help falling in love?” Yup. Commodities are dazzling and tempting. And to a certain extent I think that’s ok…I mean, it’s necessary to be aware of the implications... Continue reading
Posted Mar 7, 2014 at The Best American Poetry