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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.
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Witness to a Murder -- Barbara Stanwyck (1954) She saw a murder. She bought all the papers. She pocketed the murdered woman's earrings. She called the police. She smoked a cigarette. She told her story and was not believed. She deduced that the door had been tampered with. She answered the doctor's unreasonable questions reasonably. She heard the woman say one thing: “Show Mr. Peabody into the library, please.” She didn't back down. She insisted she saw the ex-Nazi, author of Age of Violence, kill the girl, “Joyce Stewart.” She didn't write the threatening letters that were typed on her machine. She didn't get ticketed, just scolded, for speeding on a scary mountainous road. She took the elevator down. She ran in the street. She hurried up the black and white steps pursued by shadows. Continue reading
Posted 9 hours ago at The Best American Poetry
Question: In the Igor Stravinsky score for the 1928 Balanchine ballet Apollon Musagète, today known as Apollo, which 17th-century French poet’s treatise, L’Art poétique—as the dance scholar Lynn Garafola has written—“sparked Stravinsky’s conception” and called for poets to practice which poetic meter, built by Stravinsky into the variation for Calliope? Answer: Nicolas Boileau, Alexandrines. Question: Name three ballets or ballets within other musical works in which Balanchine included the figure of a poet, immortal or mortal, anonymous or named. Answer (choose any three): Apollo (or Apollon Musagète, 1928, Stravinsky score, Ballets Russes), Orphée aux Enfers (Comic opera in three acts and nine scenes, 1931, Jacques Offenbach, Les Ballets Russes de Georges Balanchine), Les Amours du Poète (Comedy with music in five acts: Act III song “Le Pauvre Pierre,” 1932, Robert Schumann, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo), Waltzes of Beethoven (1933, Les Ballets 1933), The Bat (1936, Jacques Offenbach, American Ballet Ensemble), Orpheus and Eurydice (Opera in two acts and four scenes, 1936, Christoph Willibald Gluck, American Ballet Ensemble), The Song of Norway (Operetta in two acts and seven scenes, 1944, Edvard Grieg, dancers from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo), The Night Shadow (later retitled La Somnambula; 1946; Vittorio Rieti, based on themes in operas by Vincenzo Bellini; Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo), Orpheus (Ballet in three scenes, 1948, Stravinsky, Ballet Society), Orpheus und Eurydike (Opera in three acts and five scenes, 1963, C.W. Gluck, Ballett der Hamburgischen Staatsoper. N.B.: The “Chaconne” of this production served as the basis for the 1976 ballet Chaconne at the New York City Ballet), Don Quixote (Ballet in three acts, 1965, Nicholas Nabokov, New York City Ballet). (From George Balanchine’s catalog raisonné, www.balanchine.org ) Question: Who answered as follows off the top of his head in response to a question during a 1983 interview with Richard Philp for Dance Magazine? “Recently I was reading a collection of poems and felt a sudden shift, which at first I couldn’t identify. In a very modest, unemphatic way a simple “it” had been slipped in which had the effect of changing the whole sense of the four lines before and the three or four lines which followed. In just one sentence everything had been changed as a result of the placement of one two-letter word. You enjoyed the feel of that, sensed the correctness. The same is true of the shifts in Balanchine’s dances. As subtle as they may be, they are essential to the life and meaning of his work. Few choreographers have known how to do that.” Answer: Edwin Denby (from “Balanchine’s Poetics,” Dance Writings, ed. Robert Cornfield and William MacKay, first pub. 1986 by Alfred A. Knopf, reprinted by The University Press of Florida. from the archive; first posted June 2, 2014. Continue reading
Posted 12 hours ago at The Best American Poetry
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How Rudy Burckhardt photographed on the move is something of mystery. He did it, so we know it’s possible, but try to put yourself in his position. He must have moved with a dancer’s speed and precision, or, cat-like, lain in wait before pouncing on his unsuspecting prey. He regularly captures head-on in close proximity the precise moment at which or just before someone looks at him and says, “Hey!” In addition to tableaux frozen from the city’s gyre, Burckhardt could compose images that seem snatched from a Renaissance picture-making textbook. Such a one is V-Back, from about 1985. There are two versions of this moment. In the first, Rudy has come up close behind a beautiful woman, her hair carefully styled and held back by a clip, a slender chain around her neck, a purse hanging from her left shoulder, her sweater turned backward, so that its V reveals her upper back. We can see the spinal cleft as it travels down, widening to a darkness in between her delicately flaring shoulder blades. We see a man in a suit in front of her, waiting to cross the street. We catch a glimpse of the traffic as it rushes past. In the second photo of this moment, Burckhardt has quickly and adroitly turned his camera from a vertical to a horizontal format. He takes advantage of a moment of urban serendipity. A large white delivery truck is passing. In Burckhardt’s horizontal frame, we now see, in addition to the man in the suit on the left, a man in a long-sleeved striped shirt on the right. These two men frame this remarkable woman, each one turned slightly toward her, without actually looking at her, in two different gestures, diffidence and deference. And in that split-second, the woman has suddenly become aware of something behind her, some heat of energy, some thinking, something stretching back to the galleries of European museums, kindled on the stages of New York’s ballet. She turns, looking at Burckhardt, and now at us in the photograph, her beautiful face caught in that glance, the whole picture given a timeless quality by the pure background of the white truck passing, such that, for a split-second, Burckhardt has taken the city completely away, and we are enveloped in this moment of observation, two people seeing each other for the first time. The exhibition of these and other chance encounters of New York City residents immortalized by Burckhardt’s eye and body is punctuated by a sequence of three films shown on a wall-mounted monitor. In these three films — Default Averted (1975), Cerveza Bud (1981), and Ostensibly (1989) — Burckhardt takes three different approaches, all showing his complex approach to cinema. Default Averted refers to the moment when New York City almost went bankrupt; Burckhardt takes a typically wry approach to the topic, choosing to show a building being demolished over time. This is a favorite motif of his in his films; he loved the way New York... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I am pleased. In vast quantities it has been remaindered Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized And sits in piles in a police warehouse, My enemy's much-prized effort sits in piles In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs. Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles One passes down reflecting on life's vanities, Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book -- For behold, here is that book Among these ranks and banks of duds, These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns Of complete stiffs. The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I rejoice. It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion Beneath the yoke. What avail him now his awards and prizes, The praise expended upon his meticulous technique, His individual new voice? Knocked into the middle of next week His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys The sinker, clinkers, dogs and dregs, The Edsels of the world of moveable type, The bummers that no amount of hype could shift, The unbudgeable turkeys. Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper Bathes in the blare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine, His unmistakably individual new voice Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook, His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed by others, His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretense, Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots-- One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment, And (oh, this above all) his sensibility, His sensibility and its hair-like filaments, His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs, A volume graced by the descriptive rubric "My boobs will give everyone hours of fun". Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also, Though not to the monumental extent In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out To the book of my enemy, Since in the case of my own book it will be due To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error-- Nothing to do with merit. But just supposing that such an event should hold Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset By the memory of this sweet moment. Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets! The book of my enemy has been remaindered And I am glad. Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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A shame you blew me off. I shaved my legs, the sheets are clean, the dust poodles all gone. I’ve spent the day lounging in my new dress or standing at the mirror (it does attest I’m looking pretty hot) and drinking wine. A shame you didn’t make it. I shaved my legs and finished that novel about a family mess: an affair, a murdered child, a mother stricken. I’ve whiled the hours lounging in my new dress. I even wore lipstick. I try to want you less. Night and not even a message on my phone. Too bad that you aren’t here. I shaved my legs, cooked veal cutlets. I serve the cat the dregs, shimmy out of Spanx, my black-lace thong. I wash my face, slip off the wrinkled dress, put on sweats and think how I would press against you. I touch myself. I’m so alone. Again you blew me off. I shaved my legs, another wasted day, waiting in some new dress. Ed. Note: The villanelle is a notoriously difficult form to master. I, a great believer in the value of constrictive verse forms, regard it as far more challenging than the others I have tried -- the sestina, the sonnet, the pantoum, the canzone, the tanka, you name it. For many years now, Beth Gylys has made the villanelle serve her narrative and lyrical purposes reliably, with good nature, candor, and humor: an achievement it gives me pleasure to salute. Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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The great Mad Ave mad men could not have created a better ad for TWA. -- DL Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Photo © Alex Pieros. What is poetry’s greatest role in your inner life? Why do you write poems? Often when people have some ability or inclination, they become aware of that or others might point it out to them. Then they’re well-advised to develop that ability. If you’re seven feet tall, try playing basketball. Unfortunately, there can be blocks against it. You might refuse to play basketball for the very reason that you’re seven feet tall. But if you’re a certain kind of person—let’s call it a creative person—and you don’t act upon that fact, there can be problems. In “Madmen” someone says of the main character, “This is what happens to an artistic personality who isn’t an artist.” So I have to give it a shot. Are there any reliable critics? If so, who, and why is his/her perspective useful? If no, why not? What happens when poetry is critiqued? What is gained? What is lost in translation? When I was in middle school the girls learned to speak Pig Latin. They liked speaking it fast to each other, both for its own sake and because the boys couldn’t do that or understand it. As I remain a “boy” after all these years, much of academic criticism is like Pig Latin to me. Meanwhile, Auden wrote that negative criticism always turns into showing off, so it's best to skip it as a writer or as a reader. Sometimes wonderful critical insights appear spontaneously. My professor Angus Fletcher once casually remarked, “Freud is such a great writer. He can make you believe anything.” Negative and positive at the same time! What themes and inquiries most fascinate and inspire you? I have a few inspiring alter egos that can help me write. One of them is the “peckerwood”—a sort of backwoods man in the modern world who breeds dogs. But he's not a Trump person. He’s deeply apolitical and anti-materialist. He likes it when his car breaks down. He would see Trump as soft, materialistic, and frightened of dogs. Perhaps surprisingly, V.S. Naipaul shows real understanding of peckerwoods in his book on the American South. Other alter egos are the Torah scholar, the sorority girl of the 1950s, and the Chicago policeman. Maybe a common theme would be people who have passionate, unconventional interests that they desperately want to communicate, and they assume that the reader shares their interests. I identify with these people. I don't have to “get inside” them. They’re inside me. Your new book of poems, Collected Poems, is rich with moments of delightful surprise, sudden twists beyond the mundane moment and into themes that feel vast and universal. How do you achieve this element of freshness? Was this volume’s unifying quality of surprise a conscious choice? I like characters and voices that are hard to identify as either mundane or transcendent. If I can create that indeterminacy, whether in a short poem or in a whole book, I hope it brings the surprise and freshness you refer... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Rudy Burckhardt : “New York Hello!” Photographs and Films from the 1970s and ‘80s At Tibor de Nagy Gallery, December 11, 2020 through January 23, 2021 https://www.tibordenagy.com https://www.tibordenagy.com/exhibitions/rudy-burckhardt4 Through January 23, run over to Tibor de Nagy Gallery at 11 Rivington Street to see a glorious selection of the later New York City street photographs of famed downtown denizen Rudy Burckhardt. You can also see the images online, but Burckhardt’s prints, small and unassuming as they are, repay close observation in person. I guess the only art form that survives intact online is poetry. Poetry was something Burckhardt had a lot of, and I often find myself making the Freudian slip of referring to a photo of his as a “poem.” Partially, that has to do with the wide spaciousness Burckhardt was able to include in his photographs. They have a space in them that reminds one of the space in the city poems of his friends Edwin Denby, James Schuyler, and Frank O’Hara. When he first came to New York from his native Basel, in 1935, at the age of 21, excited though he was by the city’s gigantic scale, he was unable to photograph it, focusing instead on a prescient series of fragments — pedestrians rushing past him in midtown against slivers of storefronts and sidewalks. The effect was almost hermetic, as though Rudy was a consciousness that the urban swirl buffeted but never disturbed. That still consciousness was something he brought to his well-known photographs of the 1940s, iconic views of Times Square and the Flatiron Building. After a few years in New York, Burckhardt had figured out a way to bring the tallest buildings and pedestrians into the same frame. He worked quickly, never wasting film, preferring to wait for the right season and light, rather than to force an unwilling moment into a picture. Concomitant to his photographic practice, Burckhardt made over one hundred 16-millimeter films, some in collaboration with other artists, musicians and poets, others on his own as a form of diary or collage film he would assemble over time from footage shot in New York, Maine, and other locations. The collaborative films were one way Burckhardt kept up to date, choosing to invite into them succeeding generations of New York’s brightest stars, from Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Virgil Thomson, Paul Bowles and Aaron Copland, through Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara, to Red Grooms, Mimi Gross, Rackstraw Downes, Taylor Mead and Yoshiko Chuma, Douglas Dunn, Grazia Della Terza, Dana Reitz, David Shapiro, Christopher Sweet, Alice Notley, Ron Padgett, Jacob Burckhardt and Tom Burckhardt, among others. Like his lifelong friend and collaborator, poet and critic Edwin Denby, Burckhardt made it a habit to keep up on the latest developments in poetry, music, theater, dance, and visual art. Denby and Burckhardt were inveterate culture vultures, inspiring generations of New Yorkers after them. Part of that urbane desire involved being attuned to the look of people and things, as they... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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For three years, before I had my own children, I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate to two little girls living in the foster care system. As a CASA, I visited these girls weekly—at home, at school, and at daycare—and attended all court hearings relevant to their placement. My goal was to make sure they were safe and thriving—both in their foster home and when they visited their mother, who was overcoming a series of difficulties in her life. The role as a volunteer CASA is not unlike that of a social worker—get to know the children, learn their routines and habits, and hope that they come to see you as someone they can trust. If many cases, they will confide in you things they might not confide to a foster parent or a social worker, situations that could become harmful or life-threatening. I loved these little girls. We played paper dolls and “running away to Hollywood.” I watched them enter kindergarten and learn to read, sounding out each word with furrowed brows, and then graduate to chapter books. These girls were fortunate to have a caring foster family. But in their guardianship situation they were not so lucky. They still linger in the foster system after many years, caught in a court battle that remains unresolved. It was heartbreaking to watch these girls struggle to feel safe, to understand where they belonged, to wonder if they were wanted. Now that I am a mother to two little girls of my own, I look back on those years I spent as a CASA with new eyes. It was what drew me to support the Pajama Program, an organization that provides new pajamas and new books to children like the ones I knew. The children they help are in foster care, or living in shelters, or living in poverty, or have been abandoned. These are kids who do not get tucked into bed. Sometimes these pajamas and books are the only new things they have ever received. Pajamas, and books, help them feel warm and secure at a time when they are most vulnerable. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to have never owned a book as a child, to have never had those long Sunday mornings in bed reading, dreaming up new worlds. If you would like to get involved, visit the Pajama Program site to donate, sponsor a book drive, or volunteer at their NYC reading center. Or go here to learn about volunteering as a CASA. from the archive; first posted October 7, 2015 Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
And balagan and Milosz on jstor. Certainly Danny Kaye was The Court Jester. “This day” (Darwin wrote) “I shot me a condor.” Who manages to say no to being quaestor? And in Jerusalem, what is the new measure? Zechariah 2. The Duke composes. The maestros Generally struck down this whole orchestra. And the chord, the long interval, is Shakespeare-Castro. Because of polyptychs, or was it politics, disaster Struck the General Strikers from the cadastre. Yestreen, Torahs of authors met in The U Bistro. Tzaddik, what untold mastery, Cholesterol Pollster? What violence is done within all the test rows? What worth, after your Censuses, your lustratios? (Who, long dead, outpipes the Hasty Paperer? What Domesday Book is or is not a roster? On bikes with bamboo shoots, whose happy jousters?) & is the acrobat is a knot in the air, a typographer? What freedom in this world but the unrhymed rooster’s? Carl Friedrich carries dawn’s K down on a poster.) And Certs and Crest to brush our teeth, the Flosser. To defy all surfaces, asters and pilasters. And balagan and Milosz on jstor. Certes, Danny Kaye was The Court Jester. from the archive; first posted September 22, 2018. Jim Dolot's poems have appeared in Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms and The Stud Duck. Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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There are people who are too intelligent to become authors, but they do not become critics. -- W. H. Auden, "Reading" (in The Dyer's Hand, 1962) Compare with Kenneth Tynan's: "The critic knows the way but can't drive the car" and Hemingway's "Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors." Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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In 1985 the Dodger skipper Tommy Lasorda -- who died a few days ago at age 93 -- turned the team's season around when he switched Pedro Guerrero from third base to left field on June 1st. Guerrero hated playing third base. When Steve Sax was the Dodger second baseman and suddenly developed a tendency toward errancy, Guerrero was asked what was in his mind when he played the hot corner and the opponents had two men on base. His first thought, he admitted, was "Please don't hit the ball to me." And what was his second thought? ''Please don't hit it to Sax." Guerrero, which in Spanish means "warrior," hit fifteen home runs that June, after Lasorda reversed himself and moved Guerrero to left field, where, in Jim Murray's words, "the action is more sporadic, the existence more monastic." The change woprked wonders for Giuerrerao and since "hitting is contagious" (Lasorda) for the team. "I've seen Mays and Aaron carry ball clubs," Tommy said. "That's what Pete is doing for us." Jim Murray, one of the great sports columnists, asked Lasorda how he had persuaded Guerrero to play third in the first place. In a piece for the Los Angeles Times that rain in late March, 1985, Murray described the problem: "[Guerrero] is not at his best at certain fine points of the play at third base. At picking up or stopping ground balls for example. "A minor detail, shrugs Lasorda. Even Caruso had to learn to sing. "A more major detail was that this particular third baseman did not really want to be one. He preferred some place where the action was more sporadic, the existence more monastic, where he had somewhat more than a blink of an eye to react to a batted ball approaching at something only slightly less than the speed of sound. "Tommy called Guerrero in. 'Pete,' he asked him in the fatherly tones Moses might have used carrying the tablets down from the mount or guaranteeing the Red Sea would part, 'when you walk down the street and the team is trying to get in the Fall Classic, do you want kids to read where Pete Guerrero said that ‘since the Dodgers made it possible for me to be secure for life, I want to repay them in any way I can, including playing third base,’ or do you want them to read, ‘Pete Guerrero says he won’t play third, too bad about the team?’ ” "History doesn’t record Guerrero’s exact answer, but he was next seen on third base, whereupon Lasorda next introduced him to Brooks Robinson, a passing broadcaster who only happens to be the greatest third baseman of his day, and a man who practically invented the position as it is practiced today. "Now, introducing Pedro Guerrero to Brooks Robinson is tantamount to introducing Ma Kettle to Miss America and urging her to find out how to be more like her, but history records Pedro Guerrero went out that afternoon... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Although I’ve been urged, now and then, to go there, I’ve never been to Hell. A good Minnesotan might say, “I hear it’s nice there in the winter.” They say war is Hell, and I’m pretty sure they’re right about that, so that means there’s a little Hell here on Earth. Two arid locales come to mind, and, in case we forget while the “battle” over heath insurance rages, dozens of other wars churn around the globe today. Of course, Hell is a state of mind, really, not a place, and it befalls us all from time to time. And, as is the way with most things, Hell comes in degrees. There’s the burning, piercing Hell of torture and war, and then there’s the low-grade fever variety that catches us between what we have and what we want, leaving us feeling either stuck or adrift. Thankfully, this is in the province of poetry, and this week’s poem, “Hell,” by Sarah Manguso, marches in triumphantly. “Hell” first appeared in our “Dumb Luck” issue (#14). It was then selected for Best American Poetry’s 2005 edition, edited by Paul Muldoon, before appearing in Ms. Manguso’s Siste Viator. In this lovely prose poem, full of humanity and humor, Manguso uses short declarative sentences and longer winding ones that arrive just where they should to the reader’s great pleasure. Somehow she manages to say things, wise things, you wish you had. She does this often, yet the poem doesn’t prescribe a remedy, it is a remedy. -- William Waltz Hell The second-hardest thing I have to do is not be longing’s slave. Hell is that. Hell is that, others, having a job, and not having a job. Hell is thinking continually of those who were truly great. Hell is the moment you realize that you were ignorant of the fact, when it was true, that you were not yet ruined by desire. The kind of music I want to continue hearing after I am dead is the kind that makes me think I will be capable of hearing it then. There is music in Hell. Wind of desolation! It blows past the egg-eyed statues. The canopic jars are full of secrets. The wind blows through me. I open my mouth to speak. I recite the list of people I have copulated with. It does not take long. I say the names of my imaginary children. I call out four-syllable words beginning with B. This is how I stay alive. Beelzebub. Brachiosaur. Bubble-headed. I don’t know how I stay alive. What I do know is that there is a light, far above us, that goes out when we die, and that in Hell there is a gray tulip that grows without any sun. It reminds me of everything I failed at, and I water it carefully. It is all I have to remind me of you. --Sarah Manguso from the archive; first posted by The Best American Poetry on September 20, 2009 at 03:46 AM in... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Ed. note: An exchange of e-mails on January 2, 2003, prompted David Shapiro to suggest to David Lehman that the two Davids "link haiku" for a year. They more modestly sustained their haiku exchange through the month of January 2003. In February of that year they traded couplets, and in March aphorisms. Here is haiku exchange #4 dated January 11, 2003. On left, a photo of David Shapiro between two portraits of him. DL to DS your mystifying silence is the answer to all haikus Date: 1/11/03 1:33:45 PM Eastern Standard Time Let's face it: it has always been snowing, it has never stopped snowing. Do you ski? No, I snow. I don't know why but I do. Do you know why? Why have I not heard from you I wonder. It's strange for you to miss a turn. [DL, 1 / 11 / 03] DS to DL Re: silence due to lack of access; also an elegy for Rudy B.,etc. Date: 1/11/03 7:41:34 PM Eastern Standard Time My son controls screens: The computer, memory, And other green scenes. That's why I missed turns: The turning fire that burns: Those that father bairns. The boy has grown up: Knows the secrets of poems: Grown girls he'll phone up-- Everything speaks: Your lost voice, found computer, The space between words. Dead photographer: He saw it all, spoke to it: The space between clouds. My son said: Are there Words for everything, Dad? For sky between clouds? Poetry's secrets: I taught you on walks to school: Now I am your Fool-- Because of him I lose A turn in haiku---because Of him I see saws--! [ DS, 1 / 11 / 03] DL to DS Quick rejoinder Date: 1/11/03 11:43:45 PM Eastern Standard Time Because of love too you lost count of syllables on yon abacus which happens to me frequently though less frequent now than dark blue snow. What Kenneth poem will you read at the tribute at Columbia? I'd opt for "Proverb" or maybe "At Extremes" from "A Possible World." Brueghel painted it: my window: hunters in snow, skaters on green ice. [DL, 1 / 11 / 03] See also the first of their haiku exchanges https://thebestamericanpoetry.typepad.com/the_best_american_poetry/2009/01/haiku-exchange.html and this one devoted to Kenneth Koch https://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2009/01/haiku.html Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Prima ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, who inspired Frank O'Hara's "Ode to Tanaquil Le Clercq," pictured here with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and George Balanchine, (photo © Irving Penn). Special Edition: Poetry and the Dance Question: What do the careers of Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson, Louis MacNeice, Marianne Moore, Amiri Baraka (né LeRoi Jones), James Merrill, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara have in common, apart from the fact that they all wrote poetry in English? Answer: All of them wrote at least one poem about the ballet, not as a metaphor but as a self-contained art. Many of their ballet poems, in fact, are about particular ballets or named dancers. Question: What do Edwin Denby, Jack Anderson, and Jay Rogoff have in common? Answer: All of them were or are known as poets and also as working dance critics. Question: What do Théophile Gautier, Jean Cocteau, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline have in common, apart from the fact that they wrote in French? Answer: All of them wrote libretti or scenarios for ballets. Gautier’s brainchild was the 1841 ballet Giselle. Cocteau, who served Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes (1909-1929), wrote ballet scenarios after Diaghilev’s death as well—most famously for the 1946 Roland Petit ballet Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, which Cocteau also conceived. Céline, a balletomane, wrote several scenarios that he hoped would be adopted by a ballet company in the U.S.S.R., to which he traveled in 1936 to try to get his ideas produced. For some reason, none of them seemed to attract the Soviets’ attention. And, yet, who could possibly resist Céline’s ballet scenario “Scandal in the Deep,” a bit of which goes: “There he is, Captain Krog, with his spike in his hand. . .with his men. . .on the ice floe. . .massacring a thousand baby seals surprised in their little games. . .the blood of innocent seals runs everywhere on the ice. . .on the men. . .splattering Captain Krog. . .Captain Krog and his men dance with delight!. . .The Dance of the Massacre!” (Thomas and Carol Christensen, trans., Ballets without Music, without Dancers, without Anything, Los Angeles: Green Integer Press, 1999.) Question: In terms of the New York City Ballet, what did the poets W.H. Auden and Lincoln Kirstein have in common? Answer: They both wrote program notes for the company. (Read those ballet programs! You never know who the anonymous authors actually are.) Question: Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Arthur Rimbaud, Edith Sitwell, and Gertrude Stein were some of his choreographic inspirations. Name the choreographer. Answer: Frederick Ashton. Question: What poet’s work provided the title of the Martha Graham-Aaron Copland masterpiece of modern dance, the 1944 Appalachian Spring? Answer: Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.” Question: The title of Paul Taylor’s 1990 dance Of Bright & Blue Birds & the Gala Sun comes from the work of what poet? Answer: Wallace Stevens’s poem of the same title. Question: What soloist from the original, 1948 group of dancers for the New York City Ballet—where her culminating assignment... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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"A woe of ecstasy" -- Emily Dickinson's phrase. Run with it. Continue reading
Posted Jan 9, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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It is exceedingly difficult to come to terms with the facts— someone you love is redacted The river continues as though no one were missing The country moves toward violet abutments ever adjacent to the idea we once had of ourselves redacted You must listen to what’s there & to what’s left out You must love too the silk & the must of the ash Ed. note: "The Arson Prevention Program" is from (Creature Sounds Fade) by Shanna Compton. Black Lawrence Press, 2020. "You have to see how these poems sound in your head." -- Dara Wier. Continue reading
Posted Jan 8, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Here are the opening line of Thomas Moody's new poem “Construction Magnet.” The poem has a remarkable epigraph "(For who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? -- Ecclesiastes 3:22). Please click here for the full poem as posted by the Journal of American Poetry. <<<< I try walking for profit… Certainly progress follows me Across oceans, through time zones, down dark alleys Construction workers wait for me Ready to form a guard-of-honor On the boulevards facades drool over my aura of resurrection Friday’s forgotten basilica is Sunday’s throbbing fitness centre Into the squares and municipal buildings, history is not immune to my magnetism! Statues of great men launch themselves from bridges as I approach city rivers So I make my way down the Passage of the Comforters of the Sick Past the Prince Lover’s Lane, onto the Keizersgracht and the famed canal houses— The centuries shed from their walls! Amsterdam’s Golden Age is not safe Even in Manhattan, the salivating murder of developers can’t keep pace Billboards on the BQE project my face “Having Trouble Getting Your Project Off the Ground?” For six easy payments I’ll move in across the street. Call Now. >>> Continue reading
Posted Jan 7, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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When Frankenstein meets Abbott and Costello he’s waiting for some major surgery. He needs a new brain, Dracula decides, and Lou’s brain is the pick; it’s pliable. Lon Chaney Jr. plays the anxious Wolf Man, who helps the boys elude, on moonless nights, Bela Lugosi’s campy Dracula. Bela, who cut his teeth portraying Christ in Passion Plays, had been for several years a junky languishing in darkened rooms, and this intensifies his creepiness. Lenore Aubert is fetchingly undead and comelier by far than all those “True Blood” sluts on HBO, those horny avatars of soulless succubism, our new faith, the fusion, finally, of church and state. But all those monsters who meet Bud and Lou seem powerless and weak, as powerless, in fact, as poets. Multiplicity is here the problem. More is less with monsters. Their vyings and collusions are absurd; their frantic free-for-alls and spastic scuffles will make them seem as unformidable as poets. Spells cast by the Count wear off immediately, and only Lou is scared and sometimes Bud. Lon’s frightened of himself and knows that like a poet he’ll convulse before capitulating to the moon, and poet-like he’ll tremble as he morphs into a ravening monstrosity. The poets fidget Lon-like at their desks and wait to monsterize themselves at readings. Twisted, depraved, they jumble manuscripts blinking like owls. They disarrange their hair, then gibber into useless microphones and crackling speakers, cursed to meet their doom, not crushed beneath a crumbling citadel or immolated in a roaring blaze, but dying more like Bud, completely broke in Hollywood, bedridden and depressed, sending an open letter to his fans that begged them each to mail him fifty cents. “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein” was originally published in Valley Voices (vol. 14 no. 2, Fall 2014), and reprinted in E-Verse Radio on Nov. 30, 2020 Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Ed note: I write the "Talking Pictures" monthly column on movies for The American Scholar. My latest deals with Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 masterpiece, "To Be or Not to Be," with Carole Lombard and Jack Benny. Here is my opening and a link to the post: Carole Lombard, Maude Eburne, and Jack Benny in To Be or Not to Be, 1942 A master of the slow burn and the exaggerated double take, Jack Benny may have been the greatest of all persona comedians on radio and television. The persona was preposterously vain. He played the violin, badly. He would never admit to being older than 39. Above all else, he was cheap. In his most celebrated radio routine, Jack is walking along carrying a borrowed Oscar award. A mugger stops him, asks him for a light, and then demands: “Your money or your life.” There ensues a lengthy silence. Finally the mugger says “Look, bud! I said your money or your life!” And Benny replies: “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” Benny plays five roles in Ernst Lubitsch’s comic masterpiece, To Be or Not To Be (1942), and in each of them, he is Jack Benny. We are in Warsaw in August 1939, and Benny is an actor in a troupe—in his own words, “that great, great actor Josef Tura,” whose ambition is to play Hamlet. Behind the scenes, he is the jealous husband of actress Maria Tura (the charming and justly acclaimed Carole Lombard, in her last film appearance), afraid he is being cuckolded. During the course of the film, he also plays a fictional Nazi colonel on stage, impersonates a real Nazi colonel, albeit badly, and impersonates a bewhiskered Professor Siletski (Stanley Ridges), who has passed himself off as a Polish resistance leader but is actually a Nazi spy. to read the rest of this piece, please click here: https://theamericanscholar.org/hamlet-vs-the-nazis/ Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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These are the confessions of a mask. I looked in the mirror and saw a ghost. Of all lost causes I miss it the most. These are the questions you must not ask. These are the oaks that once stood here. And shall the earth be all of paradise That we will know? Roll the dice; These are the nights when praise turns into fear. These are the memories of a man without a past. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Therefore, let us sport us while we may. These are the reveries of a man who climbed the mast. These are the reasons the student failed the course. Some mute inglorious Milton Against windmills did go tilting. These are the seasons of a girl and her horse. These are the days of sunlight and high skies. Did she put on his knowledge with his power? Unseal the earth and lift love in her shower. These are the ways the humble man is wise. These are the questions you must not ask. Was it a vision or a waking dream? Let be be finale of seem. These are the confessions of a mask. https://slate.com/culture/2005/06/confessions-of-a-mask.html first published in Slate June 28, 2005 7:12 AM ; in Yeshiva Boys by David Lehman (2009) and in New and Selected Poems by David Lehman (2013). Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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<<<< A university student should have at least one unforgettable teacher during his or her formative years. So it was with poet Dana Gioia, California's poet laureate and the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2018. In 1975, he began his last year as a graduate student in English at Harvard. He faced a choice: taking Robert Lowell‘s class on 19th century poets, or Elizabeth Bishop teaching “Studies in Modern Poetry.” She rarely attracted more than a dozen students – but she attracted this one, who would go on to be chairman of the NEA. The class dwindled down to five, four of them undergraduates by the second meeting. But the friendship of the poet and the poet-to-be endured. After each class, he walked with “Miss Bishop” to their respective quarters, since they lived in the same direction from Harvard’s Kirkland House. The story is one of several told in Gioia’s new book Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life, out in January with Paul Dry Books. Also included in the collection are accounts of John Cheever, Robert Fitzgerald, James Dickey, and more. The publisher, too, has a story: he was a stock options trader, and a successful one, but the Harvard grad had a secret yen to be a publisher (read that story here). The Stanford Publishing Course convinced him to have a go. Back to the class in the basement of Kirkland House: Elizabeth Bishop was new to teaching and it showed. “I’m not a very good teacher,” she began. “So to make sure you learn something in this class I am going to ask each of you to memorize at least ten lines a week from one of the poets we are reading.” “Memorize poems?” one of the dismayed students asked. “But why?” Miss Bishop’s reply was modest and sincere. “So that you’ll learn something in spite of me.” The class final at the end of the term, in Dana’s own words: “Our final examination surprised even me. A take-home test, it ran a full typed page (covered with the hand-scrawled corrections that by now were her trademark) and posed us four tasks unlike any we had ever seen on a college English exam. Furthermore, we were given exact word lengths and citation requirements, as well as this admonition as a headline: ‘Use only your books of poems and a dictionary; please do not consult each other.'” The final hurdle of the test was this, in Bishop’s words: Now, please try your hand at 24 lines of original verse; three poems of eight lines each, in imitation of the three poets studied, in their styles and typical of them. (In the case of Lowell, the style of Lord Weary’s Castle.) I don’t expect these pastiches to be great poetry! – but try to imitate (or parody if you prefer) the characteristic subject-matter, meter, imagery, and rhyme (if appropriate). We may not have consulted each other about the answers to this test, but, walking... Continue reading
Posted Jan 4, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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In October 2018 I had a phone conversation with my friend from Columbia days, David Shapiro. Some highlights from his telephonic table talk: <<< 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 [Samuel] 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 Jan 4, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
For the first week of this new decade [i.e. January 3, 2010), I’ve chosen “A Woman of the Wrong Altitude” by Elaine Equi (Barrow Street, Summer 2007). Among many other pleasures the poem offers, it’s an antidote to any misguided New-Year’s resolution for self-improvement. A Woman of the Wrong Altitude Turbulence. Bad posture. Air pressure falling in the cabin’s head. Islands lost somewhere. Oily velour below. Idle among the industrial music set to nonmusic. Panic like a playing card turned suddenly face-up. -- Elaine Equi There’s a music of the mind in this compressed and evocative poem, one filled with half tones, as phrases open into ripples of meaning. A reader must actively complete, through speculation and imagination, what each fragment of the collage portrait suggests. The title, for example, sets up the airplane trope that follows. It also invites speculation: who is the woman, and what might “the wrong altitude” be? The reader also hears the phrase “wrong attitude” lurking behind “wrong altitude” -– a phrase we associate with parental/social injunctions to improve. “Bad posture,” too, may invoke a childhood world of parental admonishment. But in addition, a reader must wonder, and begin to imagine, what that bad posture might be in the wider sense of an attitude toward life. Perhaps, too, these phrases evoke a sense of resistance, the resistance we feel as children when told to improve our attitude or posture. There’s so much going on in this minimalist portrait. To choose another example, in stanza three, who is “idle” -– the woman being pictured, the poet or, by extension (as we read), the reader? The word “industrial” conjures up (again in the sparest way) a contemporary scene, the world we live in, and also suggests “industrious” -– the hardworking inhabitants of that scene, who contrast with the “idle” one, the woman portrayed, with her “wrong” altitude/attitude. At the same time the words of the stanza convey the poem’s subtle aural music, fully original and fully of the moment -– an “industrial / music set to nonmusic.” This music is resolutely non-lyrical. No familiar pattern of either stresses or sound echoes shows up. Vowel and consonant sounds do echo each other throughout the poem, but always unobtrusively, as in “posture,” “pressure,” “somewhere,” “velour.” The poem's rhythms are abrupt, staccato, imitating the emotional mood of the piece. Here mental and aural music merge. Fragments of details appear abruptly: “Turbulence. Bad posture. / Air pressure falling / in the cabin’s head.” The situation isn’t good. The reader is caught up along with the woman in this distressing psychological flight through moments of a life. The world is out there, but not much help. Islands below are “lost somewhere”, and nothing can be seen but “oily velour.” The poem ends as abruptly as it begins, with “Panic like a playing card / turned suddenly face-up.” Aural music and the music of the mind merge. Panic appears as suddenly in the poem as it does in life, as the ‘p’ sounds... Continue reading
Posted Jan 3, 2021 at The Best American Poetry