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Daniel Nester
Delmar, NY
Daniel Nester is the author of Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects (99: The Press 2015). He teaches writing at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.
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Record-listening and writing go hand in hand for me. It’s the throughline of my life. Heaven, if it exists, will consist of a room with a stereo, where for eternity I will put favorite vinyl records on a turntable, sit back, and listen. A cup of coffee or cocktail may be involved, as well as cleaning, organizing, alphabetizing, writing notes, or poem-editing. Maybe I am preaching to the choir here, talking about the benefits of listening to records and writing, although I know a lot of writers who prefer to write in silence or in a cafe. I’m not embarrassed to say that a good chunk of my life has been spent in chairs and on rugs, listening to discs of vinyl. And, while I wouldn’t say I am a record collector per se, I do own a few shelves’ worth. This week, I’d like to share specific selections from my collection: poetry records and spoken word records. First up: Black/Angeles, a 1988 recording that features performances from two poets, one on each side: Michèlle T. Clinton on side A, and Wanda Coleman on side B. I got this record maybe 15 years ago, going by the price tag. I was unfamiliar with Clinton’s work when I picked this record up, but was jarred and rocked by the poems—they’re raw, punk, fiery. “Anti Apart Hate Art” is a favorite. At the time I picked this record up, the main draw was hearing Wanda Coleman’s performances, and they do not disappoint. An interesting detail is that the label that released this and other Wanda Coleman recordings, New Alliance Records, was founded in 1980 by Minutemen members D. Boon and Mike Watt, along with a friend from San Pedro High School, Martin Tamburovich. I recognize the label on records from my old Hüsker Dü and Descendents records. Last year, the mighty Black Sparrow Press released Wicked Enchantment, a beautiful collection that covers Coleman’s career, edited by Terence Hayes. It’s a terrific introduction to Coleman’s work. Coleman who passed away in 2013, presented herself as largely existing outside the poetry establishment. With Wicked Enchantment, Coleman’s work is receiving a new look from that establishment, although it is a bit awkward to read largely white critics circle around and try to provide a critical framework for a poetry is both entirely straightforward and transformational and future-seeking. Wanda Coleman’s work on record deserves a second look as well, possibly even a box set of some sort. That prospect of a box set or even some reissues seems unlikely. Joshua Bodwell, the current publisher of Black Sparrow Press, informs me that the New Alliance label was consumed by the SST record label, an essential punk label that is also quite, well, terrible at working with its catalog and its artists. "I'm not sure those Wanda recordings will ever see the light of day again," Bodwell tells me over email. "Wanda had such interesting overlap with the LA punk scene for a little while," Bodwell writes. "I... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
I am such a fan of these squibs I can't even. Please tell me there will be a collected!
And what better way to promote an open mic than on a 12-month-old post and not mention the city!
I will close out this week with something from sorta-kinda from my new book. This is an early version of one of the chapters from my soon-to-be-released book, a memoir called Shader. This chapter tells the story of how I fell in love with New York City. It also has a lot more poetry world-related stuff, so it makes sense to me to share it here in BAP blog. Wednesday, January 1, 1992. I greet the New Year from Derek’s cold concrete floor on East 37th Street. Black drapes enshroud the place in darkness and silence, save red lights and random bleeps from a wall of electronics. I’m still stoned from last night, where I helped Derek DJ a party for Skidmore students who rented a space on Jane Street. At one point, we played “Walking on Sunshine” three times in a row while the party host, dressed in tan khakis and a rugby shirt, stood beside our booth, arms crossed. We suspected cocaine was involved. Derek just moved to New York City. He called his apartment “The Studio” because he’s interested in working in a recording studio, but also because it’s an illegal sublet and his place was zoned commercially. In one corner sits a mixing board, speakers, microphones, and a set of electronic drums; in another huge, sealed bins filled with pot. Someday the next Fear of a Black Planet or Ride the Lightning will be recorded in his bathroom-less, 30-by-30-foot room in Murray Hill. For now, Derek sells pot and DJs parties to pay the rent. Everything he says about New York makes me want to move there more. He’s played Sega against a Beastie Boy. He saw the Fat Boys record their cover of “Wipeout” in the studio he helps run. I may be the one who graduated college, but in my mind it’s Derek who’s made it. By my fifth year of college, Derek had landed a modeling job and ended up on a billboard above a V.I.M. Jeans store on Lower Broadway. We stood across the street once, admiring a 20-foot tall image of him. Two skinny models curled up on the floor around at his feet, reaching up his legs like he was a god. And I thought to myself: I wear a tie to a proofreading job at Arthur Andersen. I make 11 dollars an hour. Derek gets to do modeling shoots, bang hot chicks and smoke all the pot he wants. Punk rock and hair metal have died on the vine, Freddie Mercury is dead, Nirvana has the number 1 album and the golden age of rap is over. And me? I’m still in fucking Philadelphia, checking the grammar on Arthur Andersen accounting reports. *** Walter Benjamin uses the phrase “profane illumination” to describe surrealism, how to place language before meaning or even God is necessary for visions of the future. Maybe it was time for my own surreal and profane illuminations. *** Derek subletted his room from Lisa, a thirtysomething... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
1. Write your name illegibly on the sign-up sheet. 2. Complain to host when he/she can’t read/pronounce your last name. 3. Go over the allotted time, so much so that you are mistaken for the “featured” reader, who has traveled three hours on an interstate to promote her most recent book, and has advertised the event on her personal website, Facebook author page, sent announcements college alumni listserv (undergraduate and graduate), as well as posted to Twitter and Snapchat accounts. 4. Go over time by reading a poem that combines several short poems into a single, multisectioned SuperPoem®, which uses different voices (precocious child, mermaid, Muddy Waters) and which features with an epigraph, a joke in Latin, which you do not translate and yet giggle to yourself before proceeding with main body of the poem. 5. Tell host you need to read first, last, or “when my friends get here.” 6. While onstage, complain about how bad most poetry is then fail to realize the mountain of social privilege and assumed power required to proclaim oneself the final gatekeeper of what counts as good or bad poetry. 7. Complain about writing workshops. 8. Then lead one yourself. 9. Read poem you just wrote about being outside at a coffee shop, which addresses your thoughts about how hard it is to write a poem in a coffee shop, what with all clanging of porcelain and milk getting frothed. 10. Mention journal your poem was published in before you read it, as if to say, you better like this poem. 11. Complain about poetry slam’s format and hip-hop MC style, being competitive or too showy or adhering to some random, three-minute limit. 12. Proceed to perform a poem, in hip-hop MC style, that clocks in at two minutes, 57 seconds. 13. Plan another open mic with the same people at the open mic where you are reading. 14. Prick thigh with ballpoint pen every time anyone says the following words: “darkness,” “fuck,” “loamy,” “gleam,” “amongst,” “nevermore,” “nothingness,” “cumquat,” “capitalism,” “shame.” 15. Complain about the exclusiveness and ivory tower mentality of colleges and all those student-types who take creative writing classes. 16. Talk about how you first discovered poetry with professor X in college. 17. Avoid speaking into the microphone provided by your host, then ask if people can hear you. 18. Read narrative lyric poem about any of the following: 1. your dog; 2. going out into the woods and feeling vaguely religious; 3. Sharing hummus with your lover. 19. Precede your poem by explaining everything about the poem—the story, inspiration, place it was written, time of year the action takes place—and then repeat this same information in the title of the poem. For example, your poem might be inspired by your going to art galleries with an ex-lover in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, in the middle of winter. Explain all this, and then introduce your poem entitled “Visiting Art Galleries with Ex-Lover, Chelsea, Mid-Winter, 2009.” 20. Promote an open mic... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
A few years ago, a friend gave me a writing prompt: "re-visit an essay you wrote years ago and write another essay on that." Very essayistic, I thought. So I dug up an old paper, “Some Words on My Hatred of Cheese,” which I wrote as an unmatriculated graduate student, and got to essaying. Before I get started, I just want to say that I do like yogurt. I especially like it with cherries, strawberries, or blueberries. That’s because, I’m told, yogurt isn’t actually what it appears to be: the bacteria change the chemical make-up of the milk product, making it a completely different substance. Different, say, than cheese. I am reading a printout of a 24-year-old piece of writing. My writing. The pages came from a friend’s word processor, which I borrowed whenever something was due and I couldn’t make it to the computer lab. It was really a typewriter with a floppy disk drive. Its dot matrix printer would issue dolphin-like sounds as it printed out, line by line. The memory of old technology and these yellowed pages force me to think about an earlier version of myself, a writer but not yet a writer. *** I wrote an essay. In this essay, I write about cheese, but also, in no particular order, fondue, city-dwelling, dinner parties, and a fear of cunnilingus. I hate cheese. I hate how it smells, how it tastes. I hate how it goes down my digestive tract. It more than doesn’t agree with me—I disagree with cheese. It alienates me at the dinner table. Cheese is my kryptonite, my garlic clove; melted cheese is the goop that ruins my meals, smelling up the room, the dreaded killer ingredient that demarcates me from all that is cheese-loving. The essay was an assignment for a graduate class I took the summer after I graduated college. I treated myself to two graduate classes at the Rutgers campus in Camden, NJ as a non-matriculated student in Fall 1991. I was 23. I had won a product liability settlement from a lawnmower manufacturer after one of its models drove off by itself and sliced off my Achilles Five years later, I cleared $40,000. Not a lot of money, as these things go, but it did give me some time to think and not work. I nicknamed the check "my ticket to the middle class." Paying for these classes was my way of forcing the question of whether I was cut out to be a writer. I knew I was going to keep writing anyway, whether I knew if I sucked or not. Writers crave approval. No surprise there. Younger writers crave approval more so than older ones, I think it’s fair to say? Or maybe I’m just saying that to feel better, not that I am old. When I think back to coming up with things to write for this class, what I remember is a desire to impress not myself, but my teacher. My ultimate dream: that... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Stacey. I go on Joan jags for weeks at a time. 'Lucky' is such a super song.
There are certain albums I pair exclusively with cassettes. I doubt there will be a tape revival anytime soon, at least as big as the current vinyl boom. Still, people of a certain age, myself included, continue to dub copies and take out write-protect tabs in our dreams. My personal cassette canon includes Squeeze’s Singles 45s and Under, which one hot afternoon fused onto the top lip of the stereo in my 1972 Ford Country Squire and remained there for months. There’s R.E.M.’s Reckoning, which I purchased after hearing “Radio Free Europe” on a college kid’s stereo. Face Value, Phil Collins’s solo debut, was the only selection me and this dude who wore a confederate wool cap could agree on playing as we mopped up hallways at my Catholic grade school. Then there's Joan Armatrading’s Track Record, which I bought on impulse one day at a Sam Goody. I only had an interview in Musician magazine to go on. That and the cover: a woman with her not insubstantial afro, who crouches in profile atop a grand piano in runner’s starting block pose. *** “I never heard of Joan Armatrading,” the full-page ad from New York magazine reads, “but she knew me.” In the ad, a woman sits on an oriental rug, headphones off to the side. She sips tea and stares into the eyes of the Joan Armatrading pictured on her third self-titled LP from 1976, the one with her breakthrough songs “Down to Zero” and “Love and Affection.” “I discovered Joan Armatrading,” the ad continues. “An incredible artist who happens to be a woman. She’s been in the places I’ve been, felt the feelings I’ve felt.” In 1984, there wasn’t that much difference between myself and the woman in the ad with the short Sandy Duncan haircut. I bought Track Record after a series of girls had turned down my offer of being their date to the junior prom. I now know that I first heard Joan Armatrading under ideal laboratory conditions: a rain-filled day, alone in a house, wearing headphones, drinking tea. *** I write this a few months after seeing Joan Armatrading on what has been billed as her final world tour. I sat in the fourth row, accompanied by my wife and friends for what I regarded as a bookend to that afternoon more than 30 years ago. This was one of a few occasions where I wanted others to hear music I had listened to for years in some attempt to “convert” them, or at least appreciate what I appreciated. It’s been a mostly impossible task over the years (or too effortful, to use a word my old therapist used) to try and balance enjoying live music and making sure my companions aren’t in hell while as stand in front of bands with names like Lubricated Goat or the Blue Aeroplanes. But I try. *** Armatrading’s career spans four decades, twenty-plus albums, a catalog filled with songs about love and losing love and relationships... Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
This year we celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with original artwork reissue of the single for Record Store Day’s Black Friday edition and “Bohemian Lager,” a Queen-endorsed brew made in--where else?--the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. Over the years, the Freddie Mercury-penned song has evolved from FM radio staple to competition showcase for melismatics everywhere to something akin to public domain. There’s countless parodies: “Bohemian Carsody,” a car-themed parody by the all-female comedian troupe SketchShe, racked up 25 million hits. There’s also “Bohemian Gravity,” “Bro-hemian Rhapsody,” “Bohemian Momsody,” the Minecraft-themed “Bohemian Craftsody,” and “Nintendohian Rhapsody.” And that's just scratching the surface. Interpretations of “Bohemian Rhapsody” also abound. Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro’s TED Talk cover has 5 million views and counting. Adam Lambert’s American Idol singing “Bo Rhap” led his getting a job sitting in for Mercury in real life, not just fantasy. Kanye West, the supremely self-confident rap artist and provocateur, opened his headlining set at last July’s Glastonbury Music Festival with the “Mama” heard 'round the world in a performance could be described charitably as pitch-imperfect. Remember Robert Wilkison? Arrested for intoxication in Alberta, Canada, he proclaimed his innocence with a full-throated “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the back of a squad car. He racked up 11 million hits. They did not let him go. But who made the very first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover? Perhaps 1982’s Royal Philharmonic recording? Or maybe the 1987 cover by Bad News, the comedy metal band? Good guesses, but both are wrong. The very first “Bohemian Rhapsody” was recorded for a Top of The Pops compilation and released in December 1975, three months after the song was released to the airways. Not to be confused with the television show by the same name, Top of The Pops were budget-priced compilations that featured studio musicians and singers recreating soundalikes of chart-toppers. We’re talking everyone from the Supremes to the Sex Pistols. Found on Top of The Pops #49, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios, next to Wembley Stadium--where, it might be noted, Queen recorded early demos for tracks like “Keep Yourself Alive.” Recently I tracked down Tony Rivers, one of the four Top of The Pops singers who sang the first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover. He was also the vocal arranger on the sessions, a thankless task for which he was well-prepared: Rivers’ long and varied career includes tracks from early 60s vocal groups Harmony Grass and the Castaways, recordings with Pink Floyd and INXS, and backup singing for Cliff Richard and Elton John, all of which he’s written about in a new book, I’m Nearly Famous: The Tales of a Likely Lad. Rivers was kind enough to let me pick his brain over email about the very "Bohemian Rhapsody" cover. DN: Everyone covers or parodies “Bohemian Rhapsody” these days—from the Muppets, Phish, Flaming Lips, William Shatner, Zac Brown Band, Kanye West—everyone climbs Bo Rhap Mountain, it seems. TR: Well, not, Not many could manage to put this together,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
It seems fitting that there's a Kickstarter campaign to publish a book related Gregory Corso. Back in the 1990's I remember stories, perhaps apocryphal, of Corso walking around the Poetry Project and telling people to give him a dollar. When asked why, he'd say because I'm Gregory Corso! So when I saw the Kickstarter page for The Whole Shot: Collected Interviews with Gregory Corso, I knew that I had to support it. I love underdogs, and Beat poet Gregory Corso (1930–2001) was an underdog’s underdog. He always struck me as the most dangerous and least housebroken among the core group of the Beats. Perhaps because of that image, Corso was regarded as the Ringo in the Beat fab four of Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac. A collection of interviews with Corso will hopefully start to change those misperceptions. Edited by Richard Schober, The Whole Shot collects 13 rare and out-of-print Corso interviews from 1955 to 1982, with a foreword by Dick Brukenfeld, publisher of Corso's debut 1955 collection The Vestal Lady on Brattle and Other Poems. I emailed questions to Schober, who lives near Cambridge, MA, and we talked about the book, Corso, getting permissions, and the acronym OPM. The Kickstarter will end on March 26, which would have been the Corso's 85th birthday. Get over there and help a worthy cause. I guess I'll ask the obvious question first: Why Gregory Corso? Back in the heyday of the so-called “Beat Generation,” the late 1950s and early 1960s, Corso was considered one of the most influential and groundbreaking American poets but, unlike the other major Beat writers (Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs), he has fallen into relative obscurity. In my opinion, Corso was the most beat of the Beats. His backstory is fascinating. When he was just an infant, he was abandoned to foster care by his young parents and his mother just up and left. In 1941, after 11 years in a series of foster homes, Gregory’s father brought him home, thinking it would help him avoid the military in World War II. He ended up getting drafted anyhow and was shipped overseas. Corso spent his early teens homeless on the streets of New York City and spent time in prison, including New York’s infamous Tombs, for a series of petty crimes. When he was 17, he was arrested one more time. As the story goes, he broke into a tailor shop to steal a suit so that he could impress a girl on a date. Since he had prior offenses, he was sentenced to two to three years at Clinton State Prison in Dannemora, New York. There, he educated himself by reading every book in the prison library including the 1905 Standard Dictionary from cover to cover. It was also in prison that he started writing poetry. A chance meeting with Allen Ginsberg shortly after his release from prison led to introductions to both Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. The two poets and two novelists formed... Continue reading
Posted Mar 12, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Last February 1 was the New York launch reading for The Incredible Sestina Anthology, held at the beautiful Poets House. Featuring yours truly as the master of ceremonies, we had a host of contributors (or, as I call them, "Sestina Masters"): David Lehman, Sharon Mesmer, Sparrow, Jade Sylvan, Victor Infante, Marilyn Nelson, Patricia Carlin, Sharon Dolin, Scott Edward Anderson, Michael Costello, Jason Schneiderman, Drew Gardner, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Jenna Cardinale, Marilyn Nelson, Brendan Lorber, and Ned Rust. It was an intense afternoon of sestinas, and I was floating. There was a film crew there--Thomas V. Hartmann, Michael Bodapoti, and Nadine Guerrera. Thomas and a College of Saint Rose MFA student, Juliet Barney, took stills. Here's a selection below, and if you want more, here's a link. And another. Sharon Mesmer David Lehman Marilyn Nelson Scott Edward Anderson Sharon Dolin Jason Schneiderman We're in the middle of a tour this month, and hope you can make it out for some all-sestina readings for the ages. Next Wednesday, February 19, we'll be at the NYU bookstore, with Paul Muldoon, Scott Edward Anderson, Patricia Carlin, Victor D. Infante, Jason Schneiderman, Drew Gardner, Carley Moore, and more. We'll be in Chicago next Friday, February 21 at The Book Cellar, with Jonah Winter, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Marty McConnell, Kent Johnson, Jenny Boully, Elizabeth Hildreth, Michael Costello, Kathleen Rooney, and more. And then, in Seattle, the big one: an off-site reading to coincide with AWP, at LUCID Lounge: Patricia Smith, Paul Hoover, Geoff Bouvier, Ravi Shankar, John Hoppenthaler, Sarah Green, Beth Gylys, Sharon Dolin, Nate Marshall, Tomás Q. Morín, Richard Peabody, Tara Betts, Sonya Huber, Aaron Belz, Jade Sylvan, Kiki Petrosino, James Harms, Jeffrey Morgan, Sandra Beasley, Marilyn Nelson, Lynn Kirkpatrick, Jay Snodgrass, and more. More information, go to Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Poet, teacher, and founder of Brooklyn Poets Jason Koo emailed me a few days ago to tell me more about its new venture, The Bridge, which he describes as “the world's first poetry networking site connecting student and mentor poets.” After a few exchanges, it turned into a real interview, which appears below. Brooklyn Poets launched a campaign to develop The Bridge; their Indiegogo page has a video and more details. I enjoyed exchanging thoughts with Jason about poetry and mentoring, as well as new ways of teaching and learning--“delivery models,” as we say in the education business--and, of course, The Bridge. I guess the first question I have would be: Is this a social media poetry site? Essentially, yes. The Bridge would be a social network for poets, though something like "craft network" would be closer to what we have in mind. There are a few examples of poetry networks out there, such as, but the design leaves a lot to be desired and there's a lack of seriousness about craft--it looks like a site for amateurs. Ah, the BBS and message boards. I remember them well. So The Bridge will take a different approach, I take it? What we're hoping to build is a space where amateurs can interact with professional, teaching poets--poets who wouldn't be caught dead on a site like You see this on Instagram, where professional photographers share work in the same community as amateurs. But in our community, poets wouldn't just be sharing and commenting on each other's work, liking it, etc.; student poets--a better term than "amateurs"--would have an opportunity to get serious critiques of their work from mentor poets they admire. On, a "review" of a work consists of a little comment and some stars and everyone tries to accumulate points and badges. That sounds like a lot of fun, but no one's going to learn how to become a better poet that way. Well, you also have an actual faculty, a super line-up of poets, from Melissa Broder to Jenny Zhang. On The Bridge, a "critique" would, at the very least, consist of a rigorous written response to a student's manuscript, whether it be one poem or a whole book, plus line-edits, etc. This is something I provide all of my college students, but that I personally never received from any of my mentors at the undergraduate or graduate level, great as they were--I'd get verbal feedback in class and sometimes a few written remarks, but never the kind of rigorous critique I was looking for and felt I deserved. Now, mentors will have the choice on The Bridge to add on services, if they choose to; they might offer off-site video or phone conferencing or even make themselves available to meet in person, should the student requesting a critique live in the same city. And they'd be able to set their prices based on those extra services. But Brooklyn Poets would be setting a minimum quality standard... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
There’s always the anxiety that the line to Albany is not the line to Albany. I’m standing in Penn Station near Gate 6, waiting, I hope, for the Empire Service to board. A woman with mid-length blonde hair and a cotton Nehru-style jacket stands ahead of me. I ask if the line is the line for Albany and she says yes. We talk about trains, then why we’re here. She’s a singer, she tells me. Opera and theatre. Teaches part-time at one of the colleges in Albany, not mine. I tell her I’m a writer, professor. Almost in passing, the singer mentions her current project: an opera about a poet. Oh, I say. Which one? William Carlos Williams? She answers in the form of a question, as if I might not know who the name. William Carlos Williams! I say back. He’s my favorite all-time poet! It feels odd saying that; I mean, normally one would say “all-time favorite” when referring to a baseball player or movie. But a poet? Anyway, hearing more about the Williams opera has to wait. It is confirmed that the line for Albany is in fact the line for Albany, and the crowd is moved uniformly toward the escalator. We sit across the aisle, the train half-empty. The singer’s name is Kara Cornell (pictured above), and she lives upstate, a few towns over from me. In the Williams opera, she plays Flossie, the doctor's wife. A baritone-co-star plays Dr. Williams, two girls play the Williams sons as boys. Another couple plays art patrons whose name escapes me. And Ezra Pound. A singing Ez! As way make our way past Yonkers, Cornell lets me look at the score. It’s a full-on opera, The News from Poems, written and composed by Susan Kander. I’d written a libretto once years ago, and I want to say Kander’s name sorta rings a bell. Initially a six-song cycle (“The Red Wheelbarrow,” “This is Just to Say” among them), Kander has expanded the work into a full-fledged opera. Cornell loves her character. “It’s fun because she gets more drunk as the opera goes on,” she says. One scene takes place in Paris, where the Williams family lived from 1928 to 1929. She sings a Flossie snippet in clear mezzo-soprano. “I love Paree, I love Paree!” Even whisper-sung, Cornell’s voice fills our part of the train. No one seems to mind. We have one Facebook friend in common, WAMC’s Joe Donahue, host of The Roundtable. I tell her about The Summer King, an opera composed by my old friend Daniel Sonenberg, about Negro League home run king Josh Gibson, for which I co-wrote the libretto. Cornell’s repertoire is varied: solo, theatre, opera. Lately, there’s been a pattern, if two roles make a pattern. In another, recent performance, the opera Shining Brow, Cornell plays Catherine Wright, another, shall we say, less-than-happy wife of a prominent artist, architect Frank Lloyd Wright. There will be a world-premiere atelier (workshop) performance of The News from Poems... Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
At Our Lady of Perpetual Help elementary, the game we played for years was Wall Ball. All you needed was a wall and a ball. Actually, that’s the generic term we used, when one of the sisters or teachers asked us. Wall Ball meant we were throwing a rubber or tennis ball against the two-story tall brick wall and catching it, throwing it again. But then it got boring. So we started keeping score, like how people play Horse in basketball. If you tried to catch the ball off the wall and missed it, you got a letter: A, then an S, then another S.That spells ASS. When you spelled out ASS you assumed the position against the wall, bent over with your arms tucked in, cupping over your crotch, and the rest of us got in line to throw as hard as we could at the ASS target. I still remember the hiss from the tennis balls when one of the boys threw it, the sting as it hit my ass cheek or, worse, the tip of my tailbone. Some people took it easy, but most flung away as hard as they could. There was one day in maybe sixth grade, because we were playing in the back yard near the rectory, where we decided to play DICK ball, and got so far as to have one poor guy stand facing the firing squad, everyone aiming at his crotch. I think he put his social studies text in his pants. Sister Katherine, our principal, got wind of that and put the kibosh on it. Rarely did Sister Katherine come out herself to stop some ruckus. In the Facebook page for our old school, everyone said they hated Sister Katherine with a passion, but I liked her a lot. I was scared of her something serious, but my mom worked for her, and I’d see her after school. She’d be calm, laughing at some joke my mom made. She had a deep voice, which she would make even deeper when she would be serious. When she hollered, she spoke in only spondees; nothing was unaccented when she would cry out, slapping the back of her left hand onto the palm of her right with each syllable, “GIVE THE BALL TO ME HONEY BUNNY.” It sounds hilarious now—who calls anyone honey bunny when they’re angry?—but trying to hear her voice when she says that in my head still sends a tingle up my neck. Sometimes Sister Katherine would do that to me, and I think she did it to show there was no favoritism toward her secretary’s son. But the other boys and girls, especially the delinquents, had no doubt I was a big brownnoser. As much as I still care about what people think of me, I didn’t really care what they thought about that. Maybe it’s because it involved my mom, and my mom didn’t take any shit from anyone. She was nice to everyone at school. She’s six... Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
What follows is an adapted version of an essay I contributed to Coming Close: Forty Essays on Philip Levine, edited by Mari L'Esperance and Tomas Q. Morin and published by Prairie Lights Books earlier this year. The book collects accounts of Philip Levine as a teacher and mentor, and it was a real thrill to be included in the book, alongside some great writers. Strictly speaking, Levine wasn't a mentor as much of a professor I had one semester. As I hope I explain here, he is much more than that, but the process of wanting a mentor, and accepting one, and seeking one, at least in my experience, is a complicated one, at least if you're me in your mid-twenties. I'm hoping to include this essay as well as its companion piece on another person I now call my mentor, Afaa M. Weaver, in a collection next year tentatively called Shader: 99 Notes on Grief, Puberty, and Making Out in Church, from 99: The Press. *** When was the first time I saw Philip Levine? I’m pretty sure it was the first day of classes at New York University in the fall of 1995, out in the lounge with ratty couches, on the second floor of 19 University Place. He sat next to Gerald Stern. They talked about the food in New York and the great poets of Cleveland. Who? Hart Crane and…where in Ohio is Rita Dove from? Some of us joined naming names. Who else? d. a. levy? Yes, d. a. levy, I threw in his name. The desire to impress fogs my memory. Later, Levine sat at the end of the seminar table as we walked in, dressed in a sweater and collared shirt, nice jacket. I had been in the city for a year, had committed to making something of myself as a poet, and assumed Levine and I would be simpatico, fellow blue-collar travelers. I might have even thought that I had “outgrown” Levine’s poems, fancying myself a more experimental type. The sequence of different disguises I wore in those days is still unclear. What is clear is I was at once worshipful and ambivalent about being in the same room as the poet who redefined, for me, what was acceptable subject matter in a contemporary poem and how to go about writing about work. Here I was, 26, old by grad student standards, with this 67-year-old poet, in the flesh, about to read our poems for the next 15 weeks. *** I do remember the first time I read Levine’s poems. It was the fall of 1991, my first poetry workshop, led by Michael S. Weaver (now Afaa M. Weaver) at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. I was a non-matriculated student who had limped through undergrad. We’re talking figuratively, but I also wore a polio brace on my right leg from a landscaping job accident. The figure I struck then was Dickensian. My leg clacked as I walked. Weaver assigned several poets... Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
What follows is the introduction I wrote for The Incredible Sestina Anthology, which is about to be released by Write Bloody Publishing. Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
Greetings from the Capital Region, 800,000- and four counties-strong. We're north of the Hudson Valley, south of the North Country, west of Western Massachusetts, east of Central New York. So now you know where I come from (or from where I come). Anyway! Stacey invited me to post here once in awhile to pass along news of events going on and stuff that goes on. So here goes. Frequency North: The Visiting Writers Reading Series at The College of Saint Rose, is my little series, and starts up this Thursday, October 27, with two super novelists, Dana Spiotta and Tobias Seamon. Spiotta has been racking up quite a critical round of applause for her new novel Stone Arabia. Seamon's latest, The Emperor's Toy Chest is a follow-up to The Magician's Study. I published a sestina of his over at McSweeney's. I just came across this piece of his on that site as well. On November 10, Megan Abbott, a mystery-noir master, comes to the series, which should be a blast. The Nitty Gritty Slam is the first proper poetry slam round these parts in over a decade. I've been keeping score and generally putting Frequency North support behind it. It's a combined effort with Albany Poets and Urban Guerilla Theater. We started last month, and it's been a real hoot. It's held at Valentine's, a rock club/bar that hosts lots of what has been called alternative music for quite some time now. Slams happen on the first and third Thursdays, and what's been interesting, for me at least, is that since there has been no set-in-stone slam here for so long, the work is quite strange, quirky. People read off the page. They're not overly rehearsed, as is often the case with slammers. It's hosted by a man named Dain Brammage (on right). Think about it. OK. Let's move on. The New York State Writers Institute has an excellent line-up of writers, all top-notch, many familiar to those on the poetry world: Wayne Koestenbaum, Philip Shultz, not to mention Colson Whitehead and events sponsored by Fence magazine. Most events are held in the white concrete moon colony that is the SUNY-Albany campus, which only makes arriving at a warm room and a reading all the more miraculous. That's it for now. More soon. Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Greetings from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where I am waiting for my flight to the Motor City, where I will connect to my flight home to Albany International Airport, where I will be picked up by my lovely wife and little daughters. I’ve been on a mini-tour of Atlanta and Morrow, GA. Wednesday night, I was at Clayton State University, at a series hosted by Brigitte Byrd, who was a lovely host. I got a hold of Byrd's latest book, Song of a Living Room, published by the mighty Ahsata Press. The collection of superb prose poems leaps from folk tales to bedtime stories to semi-autobiographical meditations on language and writing (originally from France, she peppers some pieces with full sentences in her native tongue), and general alchemic ratatouille of what she calls “lyric occupation.” I read some new memoir stuff I’ve been working on in my sabbatical year, including, as an audible at the line of scrimmage, the tale of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to my hometown of Maple Shade, NJ. Before I read, I was told the lake in Clayton hosts two "aggressive swans" (one is pictured above), which made me giggle. I suggested that if Clayton decides to have a football team, that should be their name, shortened to "Agswanns" or something. Brigitte and her companion Scott treated me to supper last night. We sat outside, where it was a “chilly” 64 degrees. I could get used to such chilliness, certainly in the months to come in Upstate New York. The evening before that, I read in Bruce Covey’s What’s New in Poetry series with two better craftspeople than I: Matt Henriksen and Lee Ann Roripaugh. I’d met both poets in the past, mostly at AWP-type clustereffs, but had not heard either read their work. Roripaugh read from published and newer poems, including one in Spam form that had this listener in stitches. Her mention of a “squirtier turkey baster” alone made it worth the price of admission. She also read a list of “squalid things,” an imitation-homage of/to Sei Shōnagon’s pillowbook. Henriksen read from his most recent book, Ordinary Sun, a mix of prophetic and twangy poems. It was great to hear the poems in his own voice. He also read and talked about a special section he edited for Fulcum: An Annual Poetry and Aesthetics dedicated to the late poet Frank Stanford. Henriksen provides notes towards a biography, twenty unpublished or uncollected poems, fiction and correspondence. It's fascinating stuff. He was kind enough to give me a copy and I’ll continue to read it on the flight today. Bruce Covey was a great host, and accompanying him was Gina Myers, new to Atlanta from Saginaw, Michigan, as well as a couple Emory University creative writing fellows. As readers of the BAP Blog know, Covey a super poet—a unique meld of experimental methods with and humor and precise feeling. He’s put together a nice series at Emory, which you should go to for sure. OK.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
-- Eleanor Berry, "The Free Verse Spectrum" "I know some will say it is a mingled language. And why not so much the better, taking the best of both the other? Another will say it wanteth grammar. Nay, truly, it hath that praise that it wanteth not grammar. For grammar it might have, but it needs it not; being so easy in itself, and so void of those cumbersome differences of cases, genders, moods, and tenses, which, I think, was a piece of the Tower of Babylon’s curse, that a man should be put to school to learn his mother-tongue. But for the uttering sweetly and properly the conceits of the mind, which is the end of speech, that hath it equally with any other tongue in the world; and is particularly happy in compositions of two or three words together, near the Greek, far beyond the Latin,—which is one of the greatest beauties that can be in a language."—Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy "When Ezra Pound called for the "direct, objective treatment of the thing itself," he was in some sense echoing the historicism of late nineteenth-century thought. Historicism implicitly rejects systems, whether an ideological or a theological sort; and, in attempting to understand historical events without the benefit of any transcendent framework, it tacitly accepts the end of absolute value and absolutist authority as signaled by the French Revolution, Though Pound’s polemic addressed itself to eradicating the "emotional slither" he identified with late Victorian poetry, it inadvertently limited the poet almost exclusively to the ironic mode. Since mythical elements, and expressions of direct sentiment, would be curtailed by any rigorous adoption of "direct, objective treatment," the lyric poem might well lose the chief sources of its resonance. One way for the poet to render some justice to the complexity of experience is by turning to his own divided consciousness as his chief subject and presenting the consciousness directly while ironically qualifying the mind that discovers it. Or the poet might take different, fragmentary, but conflicting views inherent in an experiential situation, relate them to one another, dampening his own intentions and judgments, and energize the poem through an ironic interplay of multiple but partial "truths." Poets, especially ironic poets, became in some sense historicists of the imagination."—Charles Molesworth, The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry “I don't understand this talk of Coltrane being difficult to understand. What he does, for example, it to play five notes of a chord and then keep changing it around, trying to see how many different ways it can sound. It's like explaining something five different ways.”—Miles Davis "Like many others, I grew up in an age which preached liberty and built slave camps. Consequently, reformers of all varieties terrify me. I only need to be told I'm being served a new, improved, low-fat baked ham, and I gag."—Charles Simic, The Poet’s Notebook “Can it be said that any of these entertainments expresses the hearts and minds of the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
I. That ambivalent, oblique, laconic way of speaking, it’s very self-defensive, but it thinks of itself as very up-front. A really charming guy last night, one of the musicians, said to me ‘Hey, man, you got a really interesting voice.’ You know, I was very charmed. And he said, ‘Yeah, the way you really push it out there--you can hear every beat.’ [laughs.] That’s terrific. That’s the way I feel it. These words, taken from an interview with Anne Waldman in Ron Mann’s 1982 documentary Poetry in Motion, come from the most laconic of 20th century laconic American poets, Robert Creeley. Creeley’s sound-driven poetry is in a sense halfway between Cage’s silence and, say, Michael McLure’s shaman-fire. As a twentysomething wanna-be poet commuting to Rutgers University’s Camden satellite campus, I first saw the film on a VHS tape rented from TLA Video in Philadelphia. The documentary was 4-5 years old by then, and I rented it on countless occasions, accumulating some serious late fees. Sometimes, I took the train across the Delaware River for the sole reason of hearing the clip where John Giorno yelps his poems over a prerecorded track or Jayne Sanchez duels with Jamaaleen Tacuma’s bass. The documentary’s angle or thesis was that poetry, as a heard form, can be freed from the academy’s grip, which according to several of the featured poets, is “so hard to understand.” As someone forced to read Pound and Eliot at a premature point of my writing life, I agreed with these assertions wholeheartedly. Watching the film again, I also recall feeling that I was somehow more hip than the academics. Creeley, a poet in academia almost all of his writing life, at first seemed staid and laid-back to me, certainly not as viscerally satisfying as the poets reading with the bells and whistles, like Ed Sanders of the Fugs, for instance, with his "musical tie." Creeley’s comments that immediately follow his reading of “Self-Portrait,” however, have always helped me appreciate the poem. On the surface, the speaker does seem rather coy, “laconic,” and “oblique” in his meaning and intention. Over the years, I grew to like the poem more and more as my ear changed; Creeley’s pauses in his performance and line, after tens of listenings, I learned, provided a perfect form for the sound and meaning contents of the poem. It indicated deeper ambiguities. Here's the poem: Self-Portrait He wants to be a brutal old man an aggressive old man, as dull, as brutal as the emptiness around him, He doesn’t want compromise, nor to be ever nice to anyone. Just mean, and final in his brutal, his total, rejection of it all. He tried the sweet, the gentle, the “oh let’s hold hands together” and it was awful, dull, brutally inconsequential. Now he’ll stand on his own two dwindling legs. His arms, his skin, shrink daily. And he loves, but hates equally. The structure and sounds the poem sets up is just like the jazz I’ve learned to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Hey there. Daniel Nester here. I've guest-blogged before in this space, so I'll cut to the quick and start posting things. If you want to know more about me and whatnot, check out where I live online as well as my usual blogging space, the group blog We Who Are About To Die. I'll start off with a scan of W.H. Auden's "daydream College for Bards," from his essay "The Poet and The City" collected in The Dyer's Hand. I love bringing this up when, as the seasons seem to dictate, people start talking about the utility of graduate, and even undergraduate, writing classes. I think I first encountered the Auden quote reading Clayton Eshelman's piece in the collection of poetry/prosody, Conversant Essays, in a class given by Mark Rudman. David Lehman mentions the Auden Daydream College in his introduction to the 2008 edition of Best American Poetry. Writing in 1991, Erica Riggs addresses Auden's Item #5, the bit about cultivating a garden plot. Good ole Wystan stipulates this, Riggs writes, "perhaps to teach them how a crop is brought to "'ripeness.'" Riggs continues to say that "a gardener can do much, using experience and judgment to produce asuccessful crop, just as a poet may bring critical judgment to bear on the composition of poetry. But the crucial processes of germination and fructification draw energy from earth and sun in their seasonal cycle--vast powers that he can only hope to engage by being humbly responsive to them." I'll leave this this kicker-quote, also found in the Riggs. "I am always interested," Auden writes, "in hearing what a poet has to say about the nature of poetry, though I do not take it too seriously. As objective statements his definitions are never accurate, never complete, and always one-sided. Not one would stand up under a rigorous analysis." Continue reading
Posted Sep 12, 2011 at The Best American Poetry
Sometimes I am a dirty little bird. My feet wrap around branches winds will never clack together. My tongue lies in the splatters of rain that pool in low spots. I swallow what feet say to the ground, and none of their claims are sweet enough to caress my mouth. I stand for hours. I close on nothing. I cannot sit up, and I do not bow. Sometimes I am nothing but a dirty little bird with a wet beak. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
-- Phil Rizzuto [from Oh Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto] Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2009 at The Best American Poetry