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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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from Paul Berman [left] on Tablet in the second of a series of highly provocative and thoughtful essays on the American left and the dangers of anti-Semitism. <<< Michael Walzer has brought out a book called A Foreign Policy for the Left, in which he argues that, when people on the American left contemplate domestic affairs, they do so in a thoughtful, sober, and serious manner—or, at least, they make what Walzer considers to be an honest effort. But when those same people turn to world affairs, they slip into a different habit of mind, as if sliding from one lobe of the brain to another. ** The question of world affairs arises, and the left-wing public responds by thinking: “Everything that goes wrong in the world is America’s fault.” No elaboration seems required. From that one assumption follow all the others. ** There is the spectacular instance of left-wing delusion about the Islamist political movement—the left-wing supposition that something has got to be progressive about the Islamists, even if the Islamists appear to be medieval reactionaries; and the further supposition that Islamism’s enemies among Muslims and non-Muslims alike must surely be the actual reactionaries, even when the enemies appear to be liberals and progressives. Here is a “politics of pretending” in a double-twist pretzel version. ** You can read about Bernie [Sanders’s] shortcomings in Truthdig, where he turns out to be a major sellout, a non-socialist because a non-anti-imperialist, and a tool of the sinister Democratic Party. The anti-Zionists and the fantasists yearn for an American [Jeremy] Corbyn [head of Britain's Labour party]. They want a national leader who will denote as realistic their own fictions and dreams about faraway dictators; and will usher the fictions and dreams into the American mainstream; and will say nice things about Hamas and bad things about Israel; and will offer an appalling speech to the Democratic National Convention; and will stand shoulder to shoulder with the outright bigots; and will drive everyone with a Jewish soul out of the left, except for a pitiful handful. But America has produced no such leader. America has produced Bernie Sanders. America is different. Not different at every moment, but, even so, different. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
<<< . . .in France, a great mass of Jews have lately undergone experiences that are unimaginable in the U.K. Some 50,000 French Jews, or 10 percent of the entire Jewish population, are said to have decamped from one place to another within central France (or have emigrated to Israel) during the last few years, in order to escape quotidian persecutions from neighbors who have come to accept the Islamist doctrine. The intermittent massacres and murders of Jews in France and in Belgium have added up to a low-level protracted terror. >>> <<< Anti-Zionist street protests got underway [in Paris] in the summer of 2014, at the time of the most recent of the full-scale Israel-versus-Hamas wars in Gaza, proclaiming solidarity with Hamas. At a demonstration in Paris—called by one of the smaller Trotskyist parties, not under Mélenchon’s leadership, but drawing on the public that is his—a street full of marchers broke into a cry of “Death to the Jews!” And “Jew: Shut up, France is not yours!,” together with “Allahu Akbar!,” and “Jihad! Jihad! Jihad!,” which are not normally Trotskyist slogans. >>> <<< Do the many American campaigners, student councils, minor and major politicians, immigrant activists, distinguished intellectuals and vigorous chants add up to the kind of political force that anti-Zionists have amassed within the radical left in Britain and France (and elsewhere in Western Europe)? Is there a possibility that, having assembled a great many supporters, the newly cheerful left-wing anti-Zionists in America will succeed in hollowing out whole portions of the culture of the traditional liberal left in the United States, on the European model? Or is anti-Zionism in our own country mostly an annoyance, perhaps larger and friskier than a university fad, but not vastly so, and easily brushed off? Is America, in short, different? >>> Paul Berman, "The Left and the Jews," Tablet (November 11, 2018) Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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At Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center *681 Venice Blvd. Venice, CA 90291 November 18, 6:00 p.m. *Free Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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You and I both know why “all my blondes and brunettes” become “all my Harlem coquettes” when Fats Waller sings “Lulu’s Back in Town” after playing it on the piano in 1935. Think of that: in 1935 when everyone was supposed to be miserable, here was Fats Waller in his derby hat mustache cigarette and huge grin playing and singing for the sheer joy of it Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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When James Schuyler gave his first ever poetry reading, it was at DIA's SoHo headquarters -- on Mercer Street, if memory serves -- and there was a long line snaking around the block, and I remember seeing Henri Cole, and Douglas Crasew, and Jonathan Galassi, and a whole lot of other people, and John Ashbery introduced Jimmy by saying "he makes sense, damn it" and getting a loud laugh for some reason when he said "this is not the time and placer to discuss" something or other. With thanks to Andrew Epstein, and acknowledgment of his splendid "Locus Solus," New Yor School-centric blog, we can post this rare video of that reading of November 15, 2018 -- thirty years ago today. -- DL https://newyorkschoolpoets.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/new-video-of-james-schuylers-legendary-debut-reading-in-1988 Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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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 Nov 12, 2018 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 Nov 12, 2018 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 Nov 11, 2018 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 Nov 9, 2018 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 Nov 9, 2018 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