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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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We hear from the artist David Alexander: <<<< A selection of digital art pieces related to a recent print project of mine can now be seen on the website of the literature and art journal The New Engagement. https://thenewengagement.com The opening art on the site is a detail of one of these. To see all, scroll down to the visual arts section. [About] the method involved in many of my larger pieces: I start with a photographic image and do many (many!) variations in Photoshop. Then I take parts of the best and combine them collage-wise to create the final work. What is on view is a selection of some of the individual transformations, something I don't usually show. On paper the finished version is 74 by 12 inches in four sections. >>>> Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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My dad landed on Omaha beach, not as part of the first wave, thank god, or I probably wouldn't be here, but later, to clean up. He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and to liberate a concentration camp. Like so many others, he enlisted, a tough street kid from the Bronx, the child of Eastern European immigrants. During boot camp, he was court-martialed for striking an officer who called him a dirty kike. Though he was acquitted, he got shipped out soon after without having completed his training. I don't know much about his service, not because he was particularly reticent but because he died suddenly at 50, before I was mature enough to imagine my parents had lives worth learning about. How I regret that I never asked him about those years. Anyone who has tried to get WWII military records knows that a fire destroyed many of them. All I have are the things he carried, a French-English dictionary, a guide to Europe, and, oddly, a copy of Don Quixote, in Spanish. Several years ago, I gathered these mementos together and along with a few photographs asked Star Black, the brilliant poet, photographer, and collage artist to make something of them. A few weeks later she presented me with three collages, one of which is shown here. That's my dad in the middle, looking handsome, and so young! In the upper left is a page from his guidebook in which he wrote a list of the places he fought his way through, ending with "and a funeral in some god-forsaken place." The picture on the right is of his dog tag, which I recently discovered while cleaning out my mother's place after she died. My father's name was Hyman Horowitz. When he and his brothers returned from the War, they believed they would have an easier time finding work if their names weren't "so Jewish." Thus, Hyman became Huy, and Horowitz became Harwood. One of the more moving accounts of life as an infantryman during WWII can be found in Roll Me Over, by Raymond Gantter. Ganttner was a teacher who decided to turn down his third deferment. He was unfit for officer status so he joined the infantry as a private. His service was almost identical to that of my father's. Here's a passage: It is the slow piling up of fear that is so intolerable. Fear moves swiftly in battle, strikes hard with each shell, each new danger, and as long as there's action, you don't have time to be frightened. But this is a slow fear, heavy and stomach filling. Slow, slow . . all your movements are careful and slow, and pain is slow and fear is slow and the beat of your heart is the only rapid rhythm of the night . . . a muttering drum easily punctured and stilled. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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President Dwight D. Eisenhower signing HR7786 June 1, 1954, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Reconciliation Word over all, beautiful as the sky! Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage, must in time be utterly lost, That the hands of the sisters Death and Night, incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world; For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead, I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin--I draw near, Bend down, and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin. -- Walt Whitman ("Reconciliation" by Walt Whitman appears in The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Ed. David Lehman, Oxford University Press, 2006) -- sdh Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, John. It's a great suggestion. If I speak to LOA people I'll relay the idea. I'd love to write an introductory essay. Tom's stories are masterly. And if you'd like to write something about Tom's work for the BAP blog, let us know. -- DL
Absolutely. I agree with you (and Wordsworth, too). -- The person from Porlock
Dream Bus. . .book me for a ride. -- DL
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--for Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) You were folklore in Tucson, where you graduated the year before I arrived, where I befriended Agha Shahid Ali, now also gone, whom you had befriended before me. Shahid was kind, but even he couldn’t get me to stay longer than a semester. This was decades before “#MeToo,” decades before Facebook or hash tags. Rotary phones were still making way for touch-tones—to speak to someone in customer service, press the pound key. Shahid died in 2001, almost three months after the towers came down. I don’t remember him as a target of any malice as we laughed at the diner eating pancakes or pulled up to the Shell to fuel up his car, a Nissan Stanza he purchased because of its nod to poetry. I don’t remember, in 1984, any visceral prejudice directed our way for his skin (brown), his beliefs (Muslim), or his sexuality (gay). But I was living in my clueless, white-skin privilege and, if Shahid was having a hard time in Arizona or America, he surely didn’t tell me. I remember him bubbly, not one to complain. His first book A Walk Through the Yellow Pages is akin to the pound-key-turned-hash-tag. No one uses the yellow pages anymore—not for research nor doorstops nor booster seats for kids. One grad student in Tucson was still in love with you, Tony, although you’d moved on. Or maybe you two had never dated and her affection was misplaced. She mentioned you often in workshop, like you were a young ghost haunting her psyche. This was before your first book or even your first chapbook. Your freckled admirer wore a straw sunhat with an oversized brim and gauzy long sleeve dresses because she so easily burned. The male professors talked about your poems, too, as though the poems they now had to read by the lot of us bored them. When I first met you in person, maybe ten years later, you were eating oatmeal for breakfast at Yaddo and, though I usually sat at the silent table, I pulled up a chair next to you. I introduced myself as John Keats and you said you were Galway Kinnell, that oatmeal is “better for your health/if someone eats it with you.” We had fun with our nerdy poet jokes and then set off to work. We must have been in Saratoga Springs together that one day only. Otherwise I would have sought you out to tell you of Tucson’s adoration. Before Shahid died, he and I saw each other at a reading at the 92nd Street Y. I was trying to live on adjunct wages in Alphabet City. I must have been grousing as Shahid said, “Well, then, let’s steal these books!” Before the reading started, we saddled up to the merchandise table and slid a copy of each poet’s latest into our backpacks. I wonder if Shahid, who was from a wealthy family, knew he had brain cancer then. What did taking a few books matter... Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Did you know that T. S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled "The Triumph of Bullshit"? Neither did I until I started reading The Poems of T. S. Eliot, volume one (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), the massive tome edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue in an heroic act of scholarly dedication. Of its 1311 pages, approximately nine hundred and sixty are devoted to commentary, and I cannot imagine a more meticulously annotated book of TSE's greatest hits. I meant to review it nearer its pub date last December, but to do it justice would require forty seminar hours. The commentary and notes are immensely valuable. Eliot is no doubt the profoundest modern poet, and the one with the greatest lasting influence. And it is good to remind us, as the volume does, that in his younger days, Eliot had an irrepressible sense of humor that was gloriously incorrect. For example, consider "The Triumph of Bullshit," one of tse-tse's "scabrous exuberances," in Ricks's phrase. Stanza one follows: Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited If you consider my merits are small Etiolated, alembicated, Orotund, tasteless, fantastical, Monotonous, crotchety, constipated, Impotent galamatias Affected, possibly imitated, For Christ's sake stick it up your ass. You can read the rest of this curiously erudite poem here. -- DL Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Twenty years ago or so, when I was still director of The Print Center, I was at a book party, chatting with Jayne Cortez [pictured left] and Ted Joans. “I need to come out to Brooklyn and talk to you about a book I want to publish,” Ted said. “One of your own?” I asked. “No, no,” he said. “Years ago, Allen Ginsberg told me ‘Never publish yourself.’” I knew Ted and Jayne were friends, but that still struck me as a bit awkward since Jayne famously self-published all her books. “Well,” she said, “Duke Ellington told me, ‘Honey, always control your own shit.’” And she always did. -- Robert Hershon Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Tchaikovsky died today! And if I were Frank O'Hara I'd note that it was on November 6, 1893, in St. Petersburg, which is St. Petersburg again after a stint as Leningrad, but I am not. I am listening to Tchaikovsky's fifth to which Lew got me to listen, and the music goes on. We asked the composer for a comment, and the Kurosawa connoisseur replied as follows. -- DL The Power of Tchaikovsky [by Lewis Saul] Henry Miller Monsieur Soyez Croque Madame The egg on top Subway: Viva Vavin! to Châtelet and all that Future History Played back daily I miss the baguettes and Free Art Dipsy doodle Oysters from street vendors And then my friend Chantal Schtenkrek played her violin From the fifth floor of the Bastille Making bright yellow cracks in the glowing Cobblestones below How could any of us have known? Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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MOVIE PHOTO: THE MOSQUITO COAST, 1986-HELEN MIRREN 'What p***es' me off is the disparity between the appreciation of women's expertise..... just think of making a shirt. I sew. I love to make my own clothes, I do it badly, ... but I love the process. But it's very difficult...to turn a collar, to put in a placket, to put in a zip... it takes real expertise and .......why is it that the incredible, agile, expertise of women is so undervalued? I go to thrift stores, and I buy beautifully embroidered doilies....I have no use for them but I love the work, the work is so beautiful, and it's so undervalued. Whereas you see...a piece of carpentry made by a man, beautiful, not saying it's not, it's absolutely beautiful, but it's much more highly valued than that incredibly intricate beautiful work of embroidery, or crocheting. It just annoys me that over centuries women's incredible expertise and artistry and artisanal work is so underappreciated.' (@bbcwomanshour) --sdl Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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With thanks to Star Black, herself an original co-director of the KGB Bar Monday night poetry series, this photograph of Deborah Landau and David Lehman, two former directors of the series: Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Suzanne Lummis: Okay, David your turn. Like me you've written many noir poems. How about choosing one that illustrates Lynn Emanuel's contention that "form is content in noir movies"? David Lehman: Here's a pantoum. Laura Then the doorbell rang. Time for one more cigarette. It wasn’t Laura’s body on the kitchen floor. He is not in love with a corpse Time for one more cigarette. The venomous drama critic insinuates He is in love with a corpse. It’s a typical male-female mix-up. The venomous drama critic knows He is sane. It’s a typical male-female mix-up. He thinks she is dead and she thinks he is rude. Is he sane? Each wonders what the other is doing in her living room. He thinks she is a ghost and she thinks he is rude When the picture on the wall becomes a flesh-and-blood woman. Each wonders what the other is doing in her living room. It hasn’t stopped raining. The picture on the wall becomes a flesh-and-blood woman: Gene Tierney in Laura. It hasn’t stopped raining. “Dames are always pulling a switch on you,” Dana Andrews says in Laura. There was something he was forgetting. “Dames are always pulling a switch on you.” It wasn’t Laura’s body on the kitchen floor. There was something he was forgetting. Then the doorbell rang. from When a Woman Loves a Man by David Lehman (Scribner). Click here for other recent noir features we have posted on Sundays since July 2019. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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So you've never heart it before, / or even heard it, / you're driving on Highland Road when it starts, / and instead of driving up East Remington and home, / you drive down Highland / until it intersects with Hanshaw, / then double back, and drive up the Parkway / and back down and then over to Berkshire / and then to Cayuga Heights Road / and finally Sunset Park, / but you don't stop, you continue driving, / so you can hear the whole thing /all eighteen minutes forty eight seconds of it, / the end enthralling, the music outlasting the applause / with thanks to Lauren Rico for playing it / on "Symphony Hall" (Sirius 76) / Bernstein's Divertimento for Orchestra / composed in 1980, and said to be / based on two notes, B (for Boston) and C (for Centennial). -- DL Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Mitch Sisskind's "Facebook" comment: <<< A good example of O'Hara's Anglophilia. Although I have no personal experience, I lately read an explanation of the chemistry of shaking vs stirring: stirring won. I will send that link if I can find it. >>> I, too, prefer to stir, though it is undeniably fun to shake, and most bartenders do the latter unless explicitly instructed otherwise. -- DL
Great comment. Thanks, Liz. -- DL
And, too, his early sci-fi novel "Camp Concentration" is a masterpiece. -- DL
When Tom Disch committed suicide on July 4, 2008, we ran this short obituary note by Ken Tucker: The general public may know his best-known credit: He wrote the novella The Brave Little Toaster, which became the acclaimed 1987 Disney cartoon. But Disch also wrote ten science fiction novels and scores of short stories that placed him at the center of his genre for their uncommon literary adroitness, dry wit and clear-eyed skepticism. Go read the lyrically beautiful On Wings Of Song (1979) immediately, please. He also wrote a unique trilogy of mordant thrillers: The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984), The M.D.: A Horror Story (1991), and The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1994). His primary calling, however, was as a poet. He published a half-dozen collections characterized by a mastery of poetic form, and in 1995 published a collection of essays, The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters, that overflowed with glowing appreciation and ruthless criticism of what he considered the best and worst tendencies in modern poetry. I kept it on my bedside table for periodic re-reading and inspiration. I'll quote just one apercu among many from that collection that all critics would do well to heed: "The larger value of negative criticism—beyond the sigh of relief that 'At last someone has said it'—is that, without it, any expression of delight or enthusiasm is under suspicion of being one more big hug in that special-education classroom where poets minister to each others’ needs for self-esteem." Others will doubtless comment on the importance of Disch’s poetry in this space; my small request is that you also read the full range of what Disch wrote and fully appreciate his art, craft, and passion. It was the failure of an audience to appreciate the scope of what Disch accomplished that, I'm willing to bet, was one cause of his sad, too-early death. --Ken Tucker Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< "Tell Mrs. Liggett what you told me about shaking Martinis," said Nancy. "Oh. yes," said Farley. "You know, like everyone else, I suppose, I've been going for years on the theory that a Martini ought to be stirred and not shaken?" "Yes, that's what I've always heard," said Emily. "Well, in London last year I talked with an English bartender who told me that theory's all wrong. American, he said." "Scornfully," said Nancy. "Very scornfully," said Paul. "I can imagine very scornfully," said Emily. -- John O'Hara, Butterfield 8 (1935) >>> Elizabeth Taylor won the "best actress" Oscar for her work in Butterfield 8 (1960) -- DL Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Poor Keats. A Scorpio with Virgo rising and, just to clinch the deal, his moon in Gemini. This is the equivalent of being dealt the Fool, the Lovers (inverted), and the Tower as the three culminating cards in an eleven-card Tarot reading. There is sadness in his life, illness, a consumptive cough. But he has a generous soul, he meets afflictions with renewed resolve, he is capable of great feats of self-discipline. Willing to work hours on meters and rhymes, he is a born dreamer, who can shut his eyes and transport himself in a second to fairy lands forlorn, an enchantment of mist, an early autumn of heirloom tomatoes and three varieties of peaches. Life is a struggle, but he prevails, and then dies young. Born on the 31st of October, Keats had a soft spot for Halloween and tried his hand at writing spooky verses that would scare school chums sitting around the campfire during the season of burning leaves. The fact that Keats's moon is in Gemini, that the nocturnal northeastern quadrant is predominant in his natal chart, and above all that Mercury is his ruling planet, supports the view of this poet as a divinely-ordained messenger of the gods trapped in the frail body of an undernourished London lad with his face pressed against the sweet shop window, as Yeats wrote.[1] Keats's Venus is, like his sun, in Scorpio. This is crucial. It means he is as passionate as he is sensitive and a gambler not by instinct or by social association but by his intransigent attachment to his ideals. He can be loved by many but reserves his own love for one. Auden's poem “The More Loving One” depicts a conflict that Keats resolved each time he picked up his pen to write. He felt he was destined to be the more loving one in any partnership, and he would not have had it any other way, but he didn’t live long enough to test his resolve. Keats loved the four elements and presented their interplay with the clarity that Vermeer brought to the study of light. Vermeer, too, was born on Halloween. In an unpublished story by E. M. Forster with a strong hint of bisexuality and a blithe disregard of historical possibility, the seventeenth-century Vermeer and the nineteenth-century Keats -- accompanied by Dorothy Wordsworth (nineteenth century) and Virginia Woolf (twentieth century) – meet in Oxford and discuss aesthetics and metaphysics as they float slowly down the Isis on a punt. The story that Keats died because of a bad review in an influential Edinburgh journal is to the biography of English poets what history was in the mind of the automobile manufacturer who invented the assembly line, bunk, but it was kept fresh by Byron’s oft-quoted couplet in Don Juan: “Tis strange the mind, that fiery particle / should be snuffed out by an article.” But the mischievous Byron, born on January 22 (1788) -- an Aquarius trailing clouds of Capricorn, and with... Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Ninety years ago, the stock market crashed. It was on the 29th of October, a Tuesday, as it is this year. A little known fact is that the poet, professor and scholar John Hollander was born October 28, 1929, when the market fell thirteen per-cent. On the 29th, it lost another twelve percent, and the rout -- and panic -- was on. -- DL <<< Black Tuesday hits Wall Street as investors trade 16,410,030 shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors, and stock tickers ran hours behind because the machinery could not handle the tremendous volume of trading. In the aftermath of Black Tuesday, America and the rest of the industrialized world spiraled downward into the Great Depression. During the 1920s, the U.S. stock market underwent rapid expansion, reaching its peak in August 1929, a period of wild speculation. By then, production had already declined and unemployment had risen, leaving stocks in great excess of their real value. Among the other causes of the eventual market collapse were low wages, the proliferation of debt, a weak agriculture, and an excess of large bank loans that could not be liquidated. >>> for more, link here. Continue reading
Posted Oct 29, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I agree with Alan and would add that "Lyrical Ballads" would be a good title for Mitch's next collection of poems. -- DL
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Lehman: Have you written a noir poem? Lummis: Here's one. Femme Fatale It’s a crime story she’s in: betrayal and larceny, few clues. Someone stole what she lived for, made off like a thief in the night or high noon. What shall she do? This: slide a heel on each foot and set out, snapping at each step. The man she loves smiles from the covers of glossy and starstruck drugstore magazines. Looks like he’s wrapped his movie, dropped his wife on a Frisian Island and is flying his girlfriend to St. Tropez. The men who love her finger coins in the stale linings of their front pockets, and whimper What’s your name? The job she wanted went to the man who tells the truth from one side of his mouth, lies from the other: a bilingual. The job she got lets her answer the questioning phone all day. Her disappointment has appetite, gravity. Fall in, you’ll be crunched and stretched thin as Fettuccine. Watch out for her, this woman, there is more than one. That woman with you, for instance, checking herself in the mirror to see where she stands— she’s innocent so far, but someone will disappoint her. Even now you’re beginning to. Even now you’re in danger. -- Suzanne Lummis (from In Danger (Roundhouse Press/Heyday Books) Click here for other recent noir features we have posted on Sundays since July 2019. Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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after fifty-nine years he saw the woman with two faces there was no such thing as an ex-Catholic or an ex-Spaniard living in France first Paris with Max then back to Madrid an old guitarist what can you do with blue, blindness and the female nude with two faces Ma Jolie Fernande Eva, Gaby, Pacquerette, Irene Lagut, Olga, Marie-Therese, Francoise, Jacqueline I the harlequin and the minotaur you the women in the mirror 10 / 25 / 19 (Picasso's birthday) Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2019 at The Best American Poetry