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The Best American Poetry
Welcome to The Best American Poetry blog. We launched this blog in January, 2008, to create a place where we and friends can exchange, discuss, and argue about poems and poetry. We soon discovered that it would be even more fun to post about anything that fuels our passions, be it movies or sex or baseball or ballet or cocktails or finance or music, because these are, after all, the same subjects that generate poems. Then we flung the doors open and invited others to join in. And we decided that contributors to the blog need not be poets as long as they share a love of good writing and poetry. The only things we ask our regular and guest bloggers to avoid are personal attacks. You'll find enough of that stuff elsewhere. We celebrate freedom of expression. The opinionS of our contributors are their own and not necessarily those of the blog's editorial team or of other contributors. We welcome comments as long as they keep within the bounds of civil discourse. Our roster of correspondents is always changing. We are large! We contain multitudes! Please visit often.Our roster of correspondents is always changing. We are large! We contain multitudes! Please visit often.
Interests: music, food, finance, cocktails, movies, baseball, sex, poetry, mad men.
Recent Activity
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Cheryl Quimba, Ange Romeo-Hall, Dean Smith, & Carmen Torrado Gonzalez with David Lehman Thursday November 15 | 6:00PM - 7:00PM Buffalo Street Books The Dewitt Mall 215 North Cayuga Street Ithaca, New York 14850 Spend an evening with the poets of Cornell University Press: Cheryl Quimba, Ange Romeo-Hall, Dean Smith, and Carmen Torrado Gonzalez! By day – they publish some of the leading academic and trade books in the country and world. By night – they emerge from Sage House to write and share their own evocative, imaginative, and inventive works. Join us for a reading with Ithaca’s poet-publishers & special guest David Lehman! Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thirty-Two Titles for Bad Poems Epistle to the Guggenheim Foundation Everyone Was Chill Sincere Voyeurism Ode to the West Wing Why Women Matter At the Grave of Mel Gibson Ode to My Vacuum Cleaner Ferns Hate Speech Chugging Ersters to Chincoteague Bad Hair Day 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall The Voice in the Coffin Iconic Landmarks of Germany Self-Portrait in a Side-View Mirror The Rubber Band That Lost Its Elasticity Of High School and Heartbreak Debbie Downer Doubles Down Why I Am Not an Astronaut Wife Studies A Harmonica for Monica The Love Song of William Jefferson Clinton The Crime of the Ancient Mariner One Fart The Wizardry of Ozymandias An Elegy for the U.S. Constitution Why “Nothing” Matters The Revolt of the Pronouns Parasite Lost Vowel Movements Sullen Weedy Lakes Gone with the Window Washer -- David Lehman Runner-up: “My First Backpack.” Note: The magazine 32 Poems devotes its back cover to lists consisting of 32 items. My "Thirty-Two Titles for Bad Poems" appeared in the back cover of the Spring / Summer 2017 issue. -- DL Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Retronym time Cheering: it was done. But soon the Great War would be renamed World War One. -- from "Time Pieces" by Rachel Wetzsteon "Time Pieces" first appeared in The New Criterion and was selected by Kevin Young for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2011 and by Robert Pinsky for inclusion in The Best of the Best American Poetry 25th Anniversary Edition. -- sdl (11/11/18) Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Here is an excerpt from Ron Padgett's essay, "A Few Things about Apollinaire and Me." The occasion for this essay was the publication, by New York Review Books, of Ron's long-awaited translation of Guillaume Apollinaire's Selected Poems. It is a coincidence only in the sense Gertrude Stein gave that word, that I, too, was influenced deeply by Apollinaire in my time in Paris, a few years after Padgett's year there. Unlike Ron's, my attempts to translate Apollinaire are limited to two of his poems, "Zone" and "Hotel," and that makes me appreciate all the more the accuracy and the intelligence that Ron brings to the translator's task. He has done a noble service to literature. -- DL <<< I wish I could recall the first time I learned of [Apollinaire, pictured left]. I do remember hearing, in the very early 1960s, Kenneth Koch talking enthusiastically and often about his poetry. I also recall being attracted to the sound of his name, which of course was not his real one. Would I have felt as much allure in a poet named Wilhelm de Kostrowitzsky (his real name)? Probably not: less euphony and no suggestion of Apollo. The first two poems of his that I tried translating, “The Pont Mirabeau” and “The White Snow,” have moments of complex word play, but, being enthusiastic and naïve, I didn’t let that deter me. Over the years I got deeper into his work by translating more of his poems, as well as his novella The Poet Assassinated, which I tackled as a student in Paris in 1965. Well, I wasn’t really a student, I was a Fulbright fellow who attended no classes; instead I kept on being the poet that I had become, but now one who was falling deeper and deeper into what I imagined to have been Paris before World War One, a Paris whose writers and artists I had been drawn to since my teen years. Living below the poverty level—my wife and I subsisted on a Fulbright stipend allocated for one person—gave me the impression that I had even more in common with the threadbare poets I was captivated by, such as Reverdy, Cendrars, and Jacob, and among them Gui stood at the center of things, representing the exciting and innovative cultural world of pre-war Paris. My just being there, walking his neighborhoods—there were back streets whose buildings still had turn-of-the-century signs painted on them, cafes and restaurants that had hardly changed in 70 years—visiting his grave and sensing him there in the ground, standing mesmerized in front of the Bateau Lavoir, feeling the late-night danger and poverty of the Montmartre of 1907, and, perhaps above all, holding in my hands, just as he had, his manuscripts, corrected proofs, and letters—I was hooked for life. More than that, I assumed that as a young (avant-garde!) poet I had every right to be hooked, for we had something in common. However, fueled by youthful energy and adoration, I never stopped to ask... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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The most talented trumpeter of his generation, who played for us in Albany, used to hang out at Smalls, that low-ceilinged cellar near us where he proved he could sing, a bonus, because we came for his trumpet “Whisper Not,” and when Cyrille Aimée sings “Love for Sale” and he plays, it’s as if he’s Coltrane to her Johnny Hartman Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Daryl Sznyter’s debut collection of poem, Synonyms for (OTHER) Bodies is a raw, honest book that takes the reader beneath the poet’s flesh. The narrator’s voice in the first poem, “The Virgin to Gabriel,” is both vulnerable and powerful. Sentences rub up against one another. A passage that begins “My knees bruise softly” may end with the somewhat aggressive “clean up / your mess / leave / go / bother god.” Sznyter plays with hard and soft language throughout the collection. She pays homage to poets such as Anne Sexton and Eileen Myles. In “Bad Girl” there are hints of Olga Broumas, “architect of my body.” The title poem exposes the reader to an intimacy that is curt and painful. “I am fat and I am invisible / I go out to eat in groups / & the waitress always / seems to forget my food.” It’s as if one is reading lines out of the poet’s diary. Perhaps these poems are so discomforting because we have all felt this otherworldly disappearance of self. Sznyter’s poems speak to family, her relationship with her hometown, and the stumbling beginnings of her romantic life. She finds strength in her body (“I Skip Work for Adult Ballet Class”) and resilience in who she is not and who she is becoming. In this first collection, not only do readers hear the chilling clank of bone on bone, the rattle of prescription pills, and the sweat dripping down a sunburned back, but we also hear a voice that describes two worlds: one where the speaker was not permitted to speak and one that creates a world where she will no longer be silenced. Daryl Sznyter is a brave new voice in the literary world. Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Good column. I bet Heather Newman could write a knockout ode to lipsticks. -- DL
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You've heard Chet Baker's take on these lovely Frank Loesser lyrics. Now listen to Ms. AImee. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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We'd like to welcome back Tami Haaland as our guest author. Tami will be posting weekly during her stint teaching at a small school near Stuttgardt, Germany. Tami is the author of three poetry collections, What Does Not Return (Lost Horse Press, 2018), When We Wake in the Night, and Breath in Every Room, winner of the Nicholas Roerich First Book Award. Haaland’s poems have recently appeared in Consequence, Ascent, The Ecopoetry Anthology Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry among other publications. She received an Artist Innovation Award from Montana Arts Council and is a 2019 recipient of a Governor’s Humanities Award. Haaland has served as Montana's Poet Laureate and is a professor of creative writing at Montana State University Billings. Welcome, Tami. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Oct 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Wonderful post! Favorite moment: << it’s very difficult to write a novel, whereas it’s easy to write poetry, provided that you’re a poet. I’m always amazed at performative art, like a violinist who plays an incredible concerto. Of course, it’s easy for him because that’s what he does. >> Thank you -- and thanks to the students. -- DL
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Dear, I can’t subsist on this diet (really more of a fast—celery seed and a soft word every other month) any longer. Is that blood on your pillowcase or another girl’s lipstick? I want you to know I’ve had such unalloyed joy over the past several decades, smelling your hair and petting your sweat-beaded feet while you were asleep. It was far sweeter than I ever thought possible. But my ancestors are welling up in me now and keep nudging me towards the door. Bells are rung, harps are played: recessional music. We both know the theater will close in a few minutes. If you had been more attentive or a better pretender I could have run on fumes for a few more years, sipping snow melt, remaining quite high on it. Let the record show I recited prayers for your perpetual ascension and good health as I laid this note in its frozen envelope on your desk and left, taking both dogs, the teal parakeet and the black cat with me. They got custody of our love. from American Poetry Review (2008) Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Nice. My favorite: <<< Young Charlie Manuel, while playing for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, walked into one of Tokyo’s finest restaurants for the first time, and the staff knew immediately to prepare him an off-menu dish of squirrel meat and dumplings. He said upon sopping up the last swaths of gravy with a flaky buttermilk biscuit, “では、神を恐れるチャウチャウ、小さい相棒をありがとうございました。 y’すべての右である、知っている ya’ll ですか? >>> -- DL
Brilliant post! "As with many different forms [Kenneth Koch] tried out, he wanted to subvert it at the same time as he followed its rules": totally true. I'd love it if someone created the board game. To use pennies is a nice touch. What a wonderful thing Kenneth created here! Kudos to all concerned. -- DL
A terrific poet. Many speak of "taking risks" in their work. Tony did it. --DL Continue reading
Posted Oct 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Nancy Mitchell (pictured below) : David thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us on the eve of the publication of your new book Poems in the Manner Of, which Scribner will publish in spring 2017. You know, I don’t think I’m aware of any living poet who so thoroughly inhabits poetry and its milieu, as you seem to do. An award-winning, well and widely-published poet, the founding editor of the respected annual Best American Poetry, an erudite, brilliant scholar, essayist and critic, you are, as I once heard Nikki Giovanni call herself, “a cultural icon.” And if that wasn’t enough to intimidate this rube from the eastern shore of Maryland, you, in the words of your editors, represent “the contemporary New York sensibility at its most splendidly cosmopolitan.” You are of the true literati, dashing and debonair! Don’t disclaim—I’ve seen your photos! I have to confess that I was, in the words of a self-styled redneck friend “fixin’ to get scared” as I prepared for our interview. But, what assuaged my fears were your wonderful poems, many of them sparked by other poets/poems. For example, the lovely “Aubade” chimes with Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” with “…a peeled orange, /espresso cups and saucers” long before we get to the direct reference “… The Necessary Angel by / Wallace Stevens, a little violet /paperback opened to page 58:” I mean, who could read those lines without plucking that violet paperback from the shelf and re-reading it well into the night? David Lehman: Thank you for the great compliments. I’m glad you liked “Aubade.” Having always wanted to capture the feeling of love in the morning, the love you feel after making love and enjoying the deep sleep of contentment, I thought of the universal “her” getting out of the bathtub, as in a Degas, and I ran with that image. NM: And I, in turn, ran to search archives of visual images to find my mind’s-eye match. It was great fun, especially the website Western Art: 600 Years of Women Getting Out of Bathtubs! Amazing stuff! As I turned to The Necessary Angel immediately after I read “Aubade” and before the other poems in this selection, I couldn’t help but read and think about them through Stevens’ lens. That said, it’s fascinating how the first five lines of “Aubade” demonstrate what Stevens writes is “poetry’s nature to resolve the interdependence of imagination and reality as equals” via the taxonomic shift from the abstract “universal woman” to the specific “you”: I could stare for hours at her, the woman stepping out of her bath, breasts bare, towel around her waist before I knew it was you, DL: Her beauty in his eyes transforms the ordinary breakfast table-top into a still life, and life itself becomes an aesthetic adventure. From Plume February 2017 Click on link to read the entire interview. https://plumepoetry.com/2017/01/featured-selection-david-lehman/ Continue reading
Posted Oct 22, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Justin Jamail as our guest author. Justin grew up in Houston, Texas, and he now lives in Montclair, New Jersey. His first collection of poems, Exchangeable Bonds, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2018. Justin is the Deputy General Counsel of the Metropolitan Opera. He studied poetry at Columbia University and the UMass Amherst MFA program. Find out more about Justin Jamail here. Welcome, Justin. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Great comment. Thanks. -- DL
As one who believes in the poetics of the big tent, I say we make this an annual event in the season of changing leaves. And this year, as you turn seventy-seven, whom do I see in heaven but Igor Stravinsky speaking for all In celebrating, as a rite of fall, your birthday, Mr. Pinsky. David Lehman 10 / 17 / 17 Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< In Ashbery's collages the juxtaposition of images is like the two-person collision in boxing. And you can quote me on that. Everything is adagio. And you can quote me on that, too. Looking at the ocean Fairfield Porter once said to me, very slowly, "it's very hard to paint a good painting." "A dog's obeyed in office. That was my father's favorite line." "From King Lear." "Very good. If they were good enough, we know them by heart, the poems we love. Do you love Walter de la Mare? "Here lies a most beautiful lady, / Light of step and heart was she; / I think she was the most beautiful lady / That ever was in the West Country." I now understand "frozen speech, frozen language." Psychiatrists say it's sweet to abandon your life and go anywhere but I'm too timid to do that. Someone wants me to write a libretto [for an opera] on the death of Eichmann. Isn't that crazy? Listen to Barber's violin concerto. When I met E. M. Forster I told him I had decided to give up music. He said, "I fail to see how anyone can give up music." I've never used that phrase since. "O wild chocolate is difficult to find." That's my best line in the last day or two. Full many a glorious morning have I seen. So let's hope for glory. >>> As an addendum let me quote the rest of Shakespeare’s sonnet thirty-three. -- DL Full many a glorious morning have I seen Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, Kissing with golden face the meadows green, Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy; Anon permit the basest clouds to ride With ugly rack on his celestial face And from the forlorn world his visage hide, Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace. Even so my sun one early morn did shine With all-triumphant splendour on my brow; But out, alack! he was but one hour mine; The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now. Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth; Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth. Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Ce chanson est meilleur en francais. La version americaine, "If you Go Away," traduit par Rod McKuen, est beaucoup moins satisfaisant. Dee Dee Bridgewater, qui est nee a Flint, Michigan mais a passe un an a France (ou elle a joue Sally Bowles dans une version francaise de "Cabaret"), hits it out of the park. The video below is excellent, or try this one. Thank you, Rhonda Hamilton of "Real Jazz," for bringing this amazing recording to my attention. My keyboard has no accent marks so please, dear reader, supply the accents aigues where needed. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Savo When Kirk Gibson hit perhaps the most unlikely home run in baseball history – when, hobbled with injuries, he pinch-hit with two out and a man on first base, and the Dodgers were one pitch away from losing the game, and with one swing Gibson reversed the team’s fortunes – play-by-play man Jack Buck said “I don’t believe what I just saw.” Beautiful: a totally colloquial line of iambic tetrameter. Vin Scully, describing the same at-bat, let a few seconds of silence pass before saying, “In a year of the improbable, the impossible has just happened.” I am going from memory and it is possible that I may have a word or two wrong there but the point of this piece is an appreciation of play-by-play announcers and the memorable things they say. This is Vin Scully’s last year as the voice of the Dodgers, and I dedicate these musings to him, the red-headed gentleman who invites viewers to pull up a chair and join him in Dodger Stadium. There were many anecdotes about Scully making the rounds as he completed his astounding career – having broadcast or telecast Dodger games since 1950. Everyone loves his call of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game in 1965. In October of that year, when Koufax on two days’ rest shut out the Minnesota Twins to win the World Series for his team, Vinny said, “Sandy, two days ago you said you felt like a hundred years old. How do you feel now?” “Like a hundred and one,” Koufax replied. Every so often Scully will surprise you with a literary allusion, and he usually doesn’t repeat himself, though Milton’s “They also serve who only stand and wait” has served him well for years. When he broke the news of the untimely death of Don Drysdale, the great pitcher who had become his broadcast partner, Scully said, with simple eloquence, “Never have I been asked to make an announcement that hurts me as much as this one. And I say it to you as best I can with a broken heart.” Sometimes the humor of play-by-play announcers is wonderful if unintentional. Michael Kay, the Yankees’ TV announcer, remarked that some pitcher had a zaftig ERA.” The color man, I forget who it was, a former player, David Cone maybe, looked blank. “What,” Kay said. “You don’t know zaftig?” The other guy said sheepishly that he may heard the word “in English class.” The Mets at the moment have an outstanding trio calling their games on television: Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling. The versatile Howie Rose and Josh Lewin handle the radio. Columbia graduate Cohen (a government major) is like a one-man encyclopedia of Mets’ history. Here is his description of one of the greatest catches in Mets’ history, the catch made by Endy Chavez in the National League Championship Series in 2006, which the Mets ultimately lost to St. Louis: “Edmonds at first and one out, and Pérez deals. Fastball hit in the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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I've had a soft spot in my heart for Eve Merriam's poem "The Coward" ever since I watched, when I was ten or eleven, the 1949 film Home of the Brave on the old Million Dollar Movie on TV (where they played the same movie back to back to back, and the theme from Gone with the Wind played before and after). The movie, which was directed by Mark Robson, dealt with racism in the army, centering on a platoon entrusted with a dangerous mission on an island in the Pacific that the Japanese tenaciously held. Home of the Brave was based on a play of the same title by Arthur Laurents (1945), only there it was a Jewish GI subjected to anti-Semitic abuse. The substitution of a black man (played stirringly by James Edwards) was a shrewd stroke for more reasons than one even if it is entirely artificial. It could not have happened thus for the simple reason that the US Army was not integrated until Harry Truman made it happen in 1948, a year after Jackie Robinson won the Rookie of the Year award playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers and three years after World War II was in the books. Benny Goodman integrated his band a decade sooner than the United States military. One thing in particular that interests me is the idea that an African-American man may be understood as an allegorical representation of a Jewish-American man -- especially in plays, movies, and musicals of the 1920s and '30s written by Jewish authors and composers. Consider, for example, “Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat (Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein) or all of the Gershwin’s’ Porgy and Bess. While the Jewish authorship of songs sung definitively though not exclusively by African American singers intimates an affinity between the two groups, it also implies a certain amount of more or less creative tension, and the more complicated feelings that inevitably attend such a relation. But back to the matter at hand. In Home of the Brave two great friends and former basketball teammates, one black, one white, serve together until Finch, the white man, in a moment of panic, angrily calls Moss a “nitwit,” pausing long enough between the “ni” and the “twit” to leave the impression that he was going to reveal, in the one word, the real racism beyond the appearance of friendship. When Finch dies, Moss is -- and the cliche is justified here -- paralyzed not with fear but with guilt, and I won’t give the rest away. Carl Foreman and Arthur Laurents wrote the screenplay for Home of the Brave; Dmitri Tiomkin composed the music, Stanley Kramer produced. The cast included Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, Steve Brodie, Jeff Corey, and James Edwards, Steve Brodie is very good as the redneck racist, Corporal Evans. See it. In black-and-white. As for Eve Merriam's poem, Lovejoy, playing a tough-as-nails sergeant, quotes the last six lines of "The Coward," saying that his wife wrote them. The lines... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Wonderful interview. -- DL
Another beautiful post. Many thanks. -- DL