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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
Scott Wenner made this terrific movie of David Lehman's poem "French Movie" for Motionpoems in Fall 2011. French Movie I was in a French movie and had only nine hours to live and I knew it not because I planned to take my life or swallowed a lethal but slow-working potion meant for a juror in a mob-related murder trial, nor did I expect to be assassinated like a chemical engineer mistaken for someone important in Milan or a Jew journalist kidnapped in Pakistan; no, none of that; no grounds for suspicion, no murderous plots centering on me with cryptic phone messages and clues like a scarf or lipstick left in the front seat of a car; and yet I knew I would die by the end of that day and I knew it with a dreadful certainty, and when I walked in the street and looked in the eyes of the woman walking toward me I knew that she knew it, too, and though I had never seen her before, I knew she would spend the rest of that day with me, those nine hours walking, searching, going into a bookstore in Rome, smoking a Gitane, and walking, walking in London, taking the train to Oxford from Paddington or Cambridge from Liverpool Street and walking along the river and across the bridges, walking, talking, until my nine hours were up and the black-and-white movie ended with the single word FIN in big white letters on a bare black screen. 9 / 6 / 06 <<< A poem from Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009), produced to honor the general editor of the Best American Poems series at Motionpoems‘ first screening of films produced for this year’s anthology: Scott Wenner surprised audiences at the Motionpoems Festival in Fall 2011 by unveiling this motionpoem adaptation of David Lehman’s poem, “French Movie.” In it, the narrator is depicted as an old-school movie camera, and the inevitability of the poem is like a bullet. (From the description at Vimeo.) >>> Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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The Seven Sages – a time-traveling band of philosophers appearing in ancient China, India, and Greece. The Seven Senses from which the Self must be emancipated. The Seven Dwarves -- domesticated and Disney-fied into cuteness. Bashful and Dopey being perennial favorites. The Seventh Seal opens on the dark night of a knight as he wanders Bergman’s black and white medievalism. The Seven Deadly Sins --- without envy, greed, and pride there would be no capitalism. The Seven Brides, like Snow White, must civilizE the Seven Brothers, best known for brawling, barn-raising, and cocky dance moves, before a group wedding can take place. -- Elaine Equi Ed. note: The poem is from The Intangibles by Elaine Equi (Coffee House Press, 2019). The photo below was taken by John Tranter in New York City in 1992. Elaine is at the center, with Lyn Tranter to her right and David Trinidad puffing on a smoke. Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Every word is a doubt, every silence another doubt. However, the intertwining of both lets us breathe. All sleeping is a sinking down, all waking another sinking. However, the intertwining of both lets us rise up again. All life is a form of vanishing, all death another form. However, the intertwining of both lets us be a sign in the void. — Roberto Juarroz [trans. W.S Merwin]. With thanks to Howard Altmann. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
October 2020 David Lehman to Judge the 2021 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prizes Read about him here. Available Now: Where Did Poetry Come From by Geoffrey O'Brien "A remarkable book: nothing has brought me so close to poetry in years. Made for rereading and re-encouraging." –Michael Heller, author of Telescope: Selected Poems "Where Did Poetry Come From is no conventional memoir... [O'Brien] trains his sensitive, meticulous instruments of attention and his eloquent prose style upon his own poetic origins...Poetry is a dream without end, and O'Brien is our witness to its continuity." –Norman Finkelstein, author of The Ratio of Reason to Magic: New and Selected Poems Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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From Sir Henry Taylor, "On Secrecy" (1836: <<< A secret may be sometimes best kept by keeping the secret of its being a secret. >>> I believe Poe was paying attention. Borges, too. -- DL Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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The subject of my latest "Talking Pictures" column for The American Scholar is Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, and these are the warmup paragraphs: <<< Nearly four hours long, Once Upon a Time in America was drastically cut when released in 1984. Viewers were puzzled, and reviewers panned the butchered 144-minute version that they saw. The movie makes a lot more sense at its proper length. When the 85 minutes of deleted footage were restored, some of the same folks who derided Once Upon a Time in America hailed it as Sergio Leone’s melancholy masterpiece, a gangster epic that doubles as an exploration of friendship, betrayal, male competition masked as sexual desire, greed, violence, and the American dream. The gangsters here are first-generation Jews, the locale is New York City’s Lower East Side, and there are three distinct time periods. Though the story begins in the early 1920s, the movie opens in 1933, in the aftermath of a disastrous caper that only one of the gang members survives. That survivor is David Aaronson (Robert De Niro), known to all as “Noodles.” >>> For more click here. https://theamericanscholar.org/gangsters-in-love/ www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_jIL0UJe1Q https://youtu.be/-LCAIUamxZ0 Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Click here for Robert Pinsky's explication of Fulke Greville's great poem that begins "All my senses, like beacon's flame," from which the following excerpts are taken: <<< This month's classic poem narrates an adulterous nighttime adventure that doesn't work out as planned. In the 56th poem of Fulke Greville's sequence Caelica (published in 1633), the poet tells of going to a married lady's bedchamber, where, as he puts it, "wonders I saw, who can tell." Gazing at Cynthia, apparently "naked on the bed of play," he launches a "conceit"—an extended comparison—drawing out likenesses between the sky and the object of his adulterous desire. Cynthia's heavenly eyes are stars, he declaims, and her body is the Milky Way. This pale splendor leads his gaze to the "dainty throne" where Vulcan—traditionally the cuckold of the gods—"thinks to dwell alone." (Greville's dizzy, heavenly, and unreined conceit is even longer in one manuscript version, which will be linked to this week in "The Fray.") The poem presents these poetical musings as a practical and moral blunder. On the one hand, the extravagant conceit fails as practical ars amoris, giving Cynthia time to change her mind and slip away—leaving the amorous poet alone with his arousal: "There stand I, like Arctic pole." On a moral plane, his prolix, poeticizing wonder at Cynthia's body has deluded him, elevating bodily and imaginative play as though they were actually "divine" Erotically charged fancy has distorted his understanding of his own emotions. Or, as Greville puts it, "Wonder hinders love and hate." Yet the most powerful, arresting element of this poem for me is the quality that most defies description. I mean the way the poem sounds: the rhythm of these "beheaded" (seven syllables rather than eight) tetrameter lines—the form of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"—bound with a mix of self-reproach and excitement. The line "In the night where smooth is fair," as the lustful expedition begins, sounds to me like both a severe moral judgment and an enthusiastic sexual notion: In the dark, anything that feels good is "fair." That line also raises the idea of functional blindness or degrees of vision—seeing less than one might is both arousing and risky, foreshadowing the final couplet, "None can well behold with eyes/ But what underneath him lies." On the level of ars amoris, in other words, make sure you are on top of your lover's body before you start comparing it to heaven. On a moral level, realize that your eyes can take in only the physical world, not the divine or spiritual realm. A ferocious playfulness and self-mockery characterizes the poem, supersaturating its incantational language: the meaning of "die" as orgasm, here bizarrely linked to a prelude of prayer; the tradition of preaching at the execution place; compact apothegms like "Wonder hinders love and hate" or "Hope went on the wheel of lust." Greville ultimately seems to relish letting his "conceit" go wild, then reining it in with terse moral formulas. That internal, psychological drama heightens the external drama... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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My husband is a left wing snob and I love him anyway because the road to salvation leads through the tunnel of sexual intercourse. I have read de Sade as well as the Story of O, My Secret Life, and the Song of Songs and I know because My husband has all the resentments of a lifelong protester instead of accepting reality as it is, and I have to listen when he’s in the driver’s seat and I’m in the death seat, though the very words death seat bring me back to bed, to being in the death seat when we’re in bed, and orgasm is a distinct possibility, because he’s not a selfish lover, and that to me is more important than his hateful leftwing snobbery. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
With "Moonlight in Vermont" on the radio (you were right: No rhymes) I think of you, a true blue Libra if ever I knew one, And I am happy to know that today you're one Day older and yet you haven't changed a bit or a byte (Unlike J. Blackburn I have to rhyme) and it's fun to do Just that while toasting you and the gloria mundi Which passeth show (I liked your poem in Salmagundi) DL, 10 / 20 / 16 Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
I never read John O’Hara’s stories, but having read them Now they all seem pretty much alike. There’s a lot of Background and a few remarks before not very much happens And the story ends, and apparently things are somehow changed. I never even thought of reading them, yet now I like the way They sometimes sound the way I like to think life feels, full of Nuances and nothing, in which nothing’s ever heightened Or exaggerated, and something unspoken and unrealized remains. I even like the way they’re disappointing, and the way he’s disappointed Too inside those Yale dreams he had in Pottsville, Pennsylvania--- The reciprocal resentments of the stories he embodied and the ones he wrote. They’re called New Yorker Stories now that no one writes them anymore And no one lives the way they used to live in them, or understands The code of conduct they implied for everything one did or said or wrote, When almost everything was implied --- hanging on something Somebody suggested in a bedroom in the east eighties, or left unsaid To someone sitting next to them at a late-night table at the Colony or 21. I began by wondering what poetry used to be, and what it’s now become. It still means everything to me, though to nearly everyone I know It doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever did. Sometimes I think I’m terrified That it was all a style, like John O’Hara’s or a restaurant’s or a way of talking That’s had its day, and I’ve wasted my life. Of course I hasten to say That I don’t believe it for a moment, and that the fact of its near invisibility Is a sign of how much it actually matters. Still, it means that in the last analysis You’re all alone, and that the only proof of its importance is your own. What is this craving for validation? When John O’Hara received the Gold Medal From the American Academy of Arts and Letters he stood up and wept, And then retired to Princeton and the life he thought it owed him, To no avail. Stellification comes too late to make a difference If it comes at all, because it’s always about to happen or because it’s over Before anyone even notices. Either way, you can’t know whether It was real or just an exercise in self-delusion, for whichever it might be The view from where you are remains the same, with nothing to go on But the trying, and dying for it to happen again and again. Ed. note: Written this summer (2020), the poem will appear in John Koethe's new book Beyond Belief, which Farrar Straus & Giroux will publish next year. Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
I never read John O’Hara’s stories, but having read them Now they all seem pretty much alike. There’s a lot of Background and a few remarks before not very much happens And the story ends, and apparently things are somehow changed. I never even thought of reading them, yet now I like the way They sometimes sound the way I like to think life feels, full of Nuances and nothing, in which nothing’s ever heightened Or exaggerated, and something unspoken and unrealized remains. I even like the way they’re disappointing, and the way he’s disappointed Too inside those Yale dreams he had in Pottsville, Pennsylvania--- The reciprocal resentments of the stories he embodied and the ones he wrote. They’re called New Yorker Stories now that no one writes them anymore And no one lives the way they used to live in them, or understands The code of conduct they implied for everything one did or said or wrote, When almost everything was implied --- hanging on something Somebody suggested in a bedroom in the east eighties, or left unsaid To someone sitting next to them at a late-night table at the Colony or 21. I began by wondering what poetry used to be, and what it’s now become. It still means everything to me, though to nearly everyone I know It doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever did. Sometimes I think I’m terrified That it was all a style, like John O’Hara’s or a restaurant’s or a way of talking That’s had its day, and I’ve wasted my life. Of course I hasten to say That I don’t believe it for a moment, and that the fact of its near invisibility Is a sign of how much it actually matters. Still, it means that in the last analysis You’re all alone, and that the only proof of its importance is your own. What is this craving for validation? When John O’Hara received the Gold Medal From the American Academy of Arts and Letters he stood up and wept, And then retired to Princeton and the life he thought it owed him, To no avail. Stellification comes too late to make a difference If it comes at all, because it’s always about to happen or because it’s over Before anyone even notices. Either way, you can’t know whether It was real or just an exercise in self-delusion, for whichever it might be The view from where you are remains the same, with nothing to go on But the trying, and dying for it to happen again and again. Ed. note: Written this summer (2020), the poem will appear in John Koethe's new book Beyond Belief, which Farrar Straus & Giroux will publish next year. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
1 On the streets of Hawthorne I sat down and wept. Yes, wept as I remembered it. I came to the asphalt country of my childhood, To revisit the precincts of memory. I walked the old boulevard, where the shops Had been condemned and demolished. I passed the bankrupt mall, defaced and boarded. And all was vacancy and squalor. Where was the drugstore where my parents met? And the neighborhood park with its Indian palms? Where was the Plaza Theater with its neon beacon Taller than a church spire? I wandered the silent ruins of my city. What was there to sing in a strange and empty land? 2 If I forget you, Los Angeles, let my eyes burn In the smoggy crimson of your sunsets. If I prefer not the Queen of the Angels to other cities, Then close my ears to the beat of your tides. Let me stand on the piers of Malibu, blind To the dances of the surfers and the dolphins. But, O Los Angeles, you dash your children against the stones. You devour your natives and your immigrants. You destroy your father’s house. You sell your daughters to strangers. You sprawl in the carnage and count the spoils. You stretch naked in the sunlight, beautiful and obscene— So enormous, hungry, and impossible to pardon. Ed. note: From the Summer 2020 issue of Hudson Review. Gioia was the guest editor of the 2018 edition of The Best American Poetry. Continue reading
Posted Oct 17, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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To the very end of Cape Cod the refugees have arrived, shipwrecked heroes out of Homer. But even Helen was an exile of sorts, pointing out her noble countrymen to Priam from the stone barricades. Alternating with picnics on the beach, flirtation, clam pie and pitchers of martinis, important work remains to be done. Typing out an English translation of Weil and Bespaloff’s essays on The Iliad, Dyers Hollow sand gets into the inky keys just as it does between sun-burnt toes. Survivors, not yet human remains dearer to the vultures than to their wives as the Greek is deftly rendered by Dwight MacDonald, though death, and victory, feels imminent as a thunder storm. On an otherwise beautiful August day, the first bomb is dropped on Hiroshima. A female chorus will continue to share footnoted recipes while performing witty blue-stockinged dances, sporting reversible masks of lover and mother. Articulate overprotective Thetis hovering above the waves. A visit from Hermann Broch. Nicola Chiaromante in a blue ruffled apron on the threshold where myth steps nto poetry sweeps sand out of his Truro cottage. Philosophic principles. Sexual practice. The pursued and the pursuer. Shoplifted taffy, infidelity warranting the inflated tragic dramaturgy accorded a child’s scraped knee. Ed. note: From Cultural Tourism by Mary Maxwell (Longnookbooks, 2012). From a sequence of poems devoted to figures of renown who spent quality days in Cape Cod. Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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On this day in 2015, Rabbi Aharon Eliezer Ceitlin passed away. He was a greatly beloved Rev, acclaimed for his devotion to the cause of education and to the governing principles of Lubavitch-Chabad. Born and raised in Montreal, he was hand-picked by Rabbi Menachem Schneerson of righteous memory to serve as an "emissary" to Israel, in which role he distinguished himself, founding a network of Chabad kindergartens serving 1,500 children. He was an inspiring speaker. After undergoing radical surgery following chemotherapy, I spent a week in the same hospital ward as Rabbi Ceitlin, who was enduring the same treatment. When Stacey saw a group of Chassidim and heard the unmistakable sounds of davening from a hospital room around the corner from mine, she encouraged me to take a look. We were invited into a room crowded with Rabbis who had flown to New York from all parts of the United States to pay their respects and lend support. Rabbi Ceitlin let me put on his t'fillin, and we davened together on that day and again on the next. He gave a sermon and told a joke that only he and I found funny, so much so that I laughed out loud, prompting him to point to me and say "he got it!" I write about the encounter, which continues to inspire me, in my book,One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir. This is from Menachem Posner's obituary in the Chabad.org newsletter of October 15, 2015. <<< A large man with a flowing beard and a booming voice, [Rabbi Ceitlin] was equally at home in Yiddish, English and Hebrew, and would speak passionately about Torah and Judaism to audiences across the globe. Aharon Leizer, as he was known, was born in Montreal two days before Yom Kippur in the fall of 1953 (8 Tishrei 5714), to Rabbi Heshel and Rivkah Ceitlin, who had escaped the oppressive Soviet Union and found refuge in Canada. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Rabbi Aharon Eliezer Ceitlin, who perished in a Soviet labor camp, where he had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor as punishment for his efforts to keep Judaism alive in the face of Communist oppression. >>> <<< A passionate and inspired personality, [Rabbii Ceitlin] he was often invited to address Chassidic gatherings around the world. He would often weave together anecdotes from the Russian yesteryear with fresh experiences and teachings of the Rebbe [Schneerson], helping spellbound listeners appreciate the seamless bond of service and self-sacrifice that he personified. Dedicated to the Rebbe’s work, he was among a group of young Chassidim who carried out the Rebbe’s instructions to print the Tanya—the seminal work of Chabad philosophy—in a number of locations in Lebanon during the 1982 Lebanon War. Despite the danger involved, he and his companions went directly to the front lines in order to print the sacred book, specifically in Beirut. >>> For more click here. https://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3098133/jewish/Rabbi-Aharon-Eliezer-Ceitlin-of-Israel-62-Passes-Away-in-New-York.htm Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Like wicked men whose evil exploits taint The pages of the story of their lives, Damned by God, cursed by all the saints, Banished, of any glimpse of light deprived, The month of March should share their fate as well And perish in the raging flames of Hell. Each day I would condemn him, without doubt, Who cruelly afflicts my foot with gout. From his eyes, may the bright sun be ever hid, Nor may the moon’s rays ever grace his night. His realm is darkness, which all light forbids. Nature is his nemesis, whom he would fight With coward’s weapons. May the deceit Of such a thief and looter earn defeat. Perish that King of Ice, that miserable lout, Who cruelly afflicts my foot with gout. May other months expel him from their fold And Nature consign him to oblivion. Let April instead be honored and extolled, The gentlest, noblest, and the kindest one, Who strews the world with flowers ever fair, In pastures, meadows, forests everywhere, Who cures me when the month of March he routs Who cruelly afflicts my foot with gout. -- Guillame de Machaut (1300-1377) translated by Robert Launay. Ed note: The French title for Machault's poem is "Ballade Contre la Goutte." The double meaning of complaint" makes "Machaut's Complaint" superior to "Against Gout, a Ballad" as a title for this masterly poem. Machaut was celebrated as "a master of French versification and regarded as one of the leading French composers of the Ars Nova (q.v.) musical style of the 14th century" (Brittanica). Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
"Tea for You, Too" by Ron Padgett: Ron Padgett's poem "Tea for You, Too" appears in Together in a Sudden Strangeness: American Poets Respond to the Pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn and published by Alfred. A. Knopf. --sdl Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Leaves that left the trees are litter now on the ground in orange and yellow. This, and six other haiku, are in the November 2020 issue of The Atlantic under the title "Homage to Bashō." Please click and read the poems and, if so inclined, leave a comment. Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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An ant has landed in the distance, as I try to realize the swords as bumbershoots fallen tracked around under the horses placed, and beneath there are giant cracks in lace. The hook cap of a cat left into crystal of wood. Seeing a matter of oranges raised, pole-braided into instrument of throng. Nobody’s flag catches into pages marbled of an end. I throw throats, howls the one in bath cap, but the shower is raisin and he clicks on lit glass, a shard map of pink of blood and the berry stillness. No one looks beyond all this, and I only get to see it tiny from away where I am. Ed. note: Thanks to Geoffrey Young, publisher of The Figures, the press that published Coolidge’s Odes of Roba in 1991. On top, Paolo Uccello's "Battle of San Romano" at the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Sometimes I would see her with her lovers walking through the Village, the wind strapped about her ankles. Simply being, she fought against the enemies of love and poetry like Achilles in wrath. Her tongue was not a lake, but it lifted her lovers with the gentle strength of a lake that lifts a cove of waterlilies— her blue eyes, the sky above them— till night fell and the mysteries began. My friend I love, poet I love, if you are not reading or writing tonight on your Underwood typewriter, if no one is kissing you, death is real. (originally in The New Yorker, 2008) Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< British director Carol Reed turned out three masterpieces in the late 1940s. With an exemplary performance from Ralph Richardson, The Fallen Idol (1948) does justice to Graham Greene’s brilliant story “The Basement Room.” The Third Man (1949), the most celebrated of the three, has its unforgettable zither theme, its evocation of postwar Vienna, and its extraordinary script, including the speech Orson Welles improvised at the Prater amusement park. Fierce competition, but my vote for Reed’s best goes to Odd Man Out (1947), a modern passion play about a doomed man in the shadows and alleys of his last hours alive. Odd Man Out foregrounds political and religious themes and differs thereby from most film noirs. Yet I wouldn’t hesitate to claim it for the category. The setting is Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the people take their Catholicism seriously, and the robbery that triggers the plot is committed not by your typical thieves but by an unnamed underground movement, presumably the IRA. Thanks to the inspired cinematography—the hero’s haunted profile, the desolate cityscape, the long narrow alleys—the Belfast we see is a dark and bleak war zone. You may argue that the revolutionary cause is undermined in Odd Man Out, which establishes that the men who rob a mill for a cause are no nobler than those who rob banks for money. Nevertheless, the viewer’s sympathy is with rebel leader Johnny McQueen (James Mason), whom the children in the street emulate in their pretend games of cops and robbers. “It’s probably the best thing that Mason has ever done, and certainly the best film he’s ever been in,” Richard Burton observed. Johnny, who escaped from prison six months ago, has spent the time hiding at the house where Kathleen Sullivan (Kathleen Ryan) and her grandmother reside. Kathleen would be Johnny’s natural mate if he were not wedded to “the organization.” Far from a femme fatale, she is closer to a martyr or saint, embodying the Christian virtue of caritas. Love is the moral absolute that sustains her. There is no evidence that she and Johnny have so much as kissed. Yet she is willing to die for him or with him. The narrative takes place all in one day. When McQueen and chums go over last-minute details of the heist, Kathleen implores him not to go: “You’re not fit for it.” Another man offers to go in his place: “Your heart’s not in this job, Johnny.” Johnny is rusty; his six months in hiding followed eight months behind bars. But though he is not as steady on his feet as he should be, Johnny is “the chief” and feels he must lead the four-man team. Naturally something goes wrong. Alarms sound. Johnny has renounced violence, but now he finds himself in a struggle with an armed cashier, and when the guns go off, the cashier lies dead and Johnny has taken a bullet in his left shoulder. No one was supposed to get killed. And Johnny wasn’t supposed to fall... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Opening the box. Opening the book. Opening the self. What often initially emerges from opening is just what Pandora unwittingly released into the world: fear, ignorance, jealousy, and hatred. And just as often, agency has either been denied or stripped from the one who lifts the lid, or in the case of Pandora, uncorks the jar. This swirling cloud of misery easily blinds us to the hope trapped inside the vessel of gifts from the gods and goddesses. In opening, we release boundaries either permanently or temporarily, and for varying lengths of time and amounts of space. For many, the potential discovery, insight, and growth are worth suffering, with the absence of clarity ultimately causing deeper damage to the self. Experiencing the self must become communal for the price of isolation is the death of identity, the soul. Helen Vendler writes that art, especially poetry, is a means by which one identity reaches out to another, tries to explain itself to another, gathers images to define its shape, to clarify itself, to author itself. A constant, ever-changing business, the desire for terminus is intense, and the existential angst can devour one. There is great relief in declaring something finished, beyond change. In the poetry of Louise Glück, the boundaries of self are destroyed and recovered through the dialectic of identity formation. Like Kali, the speaker in Glück’s poems both creates and destroys the world of the self in hope of reconciling with death and accepting the way things are (reality). Our identities are constructed, according to the modern paradox, by others. And one’s inner authority struggles against outside disabling conceptions to accomplish the self. Yet, identity is provisional, constantly evolving in slender moments of time and space, sometimes almost imperceptibly. It is also through these multiple perspectives that Glück comes to know and understand the self. Her lyric personae become vehicles through which the poet discovers and authors both the linguistic, ephemeral self and the contingent, embodied self. The tension produced between these incarnations is what makes Glück’s work so powerful. The evolving self, constantly subject to revision, is composed of different voices, is most safely explored on the page, yet to enter language is to abandon human relation. In The Triumph of Achilles, Louise Glück records the process of creating the self. These early poems explore the tentative movement from emotional isolation to humanity. For Glück, leaving the safety of the mind for the page is a risky endeavor for even something as controlled as the poetic lyric posses the power to expose too much of the self, thus inviting vulnerability. Yet the desire for intimacy requires action, and Glück accomplishes this through the form of the poem. It is the tension between what can and cannot be said, through the possibilities and limitations of language that Glück explores being and non-being. The lyric form's power to contain yet release, to hide yet reveal, to dissolve yet embody allows Glück to cautiously test the boundaries between two equally attractive... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Kudos to the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, Louise Glück, a wonderful poet whose work has appeared in many editions of The Best American Poetry. She was the guest editor of the 1993 edition and it was a pleasure working with her -- and something of an education as well. She is as astute a close reader of poems as I know. I remember, too, being the subject and addressee of one of her poems. This was the result of a bet as to who would win a certain book award that year. The loser of the bet had to write a poem and dedicate it to the winner. From 1992 to 1994 a grant from the Lila Wallace -- Reader's Digest Fund enabled me, in conjunction with the Community School of Music and Art, to bring these poets to Ithaca: Mark Strand, Donald Hall, Charles Simic, Jorie Graham, A. R. Ammons, Louise Glück, Kenneth Koch, and John Ashbery. Each gave a public reading and did a session with Ithaca schoolkids. Louise accompanied me to the Montessori School on King Road where my son Joe was a student. The Best American Poetry 1993 was a highlight in our series. There were poems by Ammons (a huge chunk of "Garbage" that had appeared in APR), Ashbery, Bukowski ("Three Oranges"), Merwin "The Stranger"), Rich, Snyder, Stone, Strand, Tate, and the greatly underrated John Updike ("To a Former Mistress, Now Dead"). There's Billy Collins, when his work was still a secret, and Denise Duhamel, then a new name. A magnificent poem by the late Tim Dlugos, "Healing the World from Battery Park," which saw the light of day because of the archival work of David Trinidad and the judgment of the editors of Hanging Loose. "I loved 'litany,'" the first published poem, a knockout, by the unknown Carolyn Creedon. Susan Mitchell's "Rapture"; Jane Kenyon's "Having It Out with Melancholy." Ron Padgett. Michael Palmer. And Louise has an excellent introduction. If copies of The Best American Poetry 1993 are available, you will be impressed and then some with the quality of the work Louise chose. In the University of Michigan Press's Under Discussion series, we published an excellent collection of critical essays devoted to Louise's work. Joanne Feit Diehl edited On Louise Glück. I still remember some of the catalogue copy, particularly "her searing honesty and compelling first-person personae." -- DL Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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King and Trumpet One night I was drunk at the Heartland, And, apparently, I spoke to Dan, the bartender, Because his roommate called the next night to say, “My roommate, Dan, was your bartender last night. I hope you don’t think I’m crazy for calling like this?” A few hours later, after cocktails at the Green Mill, She invited me home and screamed when she flipped The lights on to find her chows, King and Trumpet, Each with a dead kitten hanging from their mouth, Which I wrapped in tin foil and buried them warm In the backyard by moonlight smoking a Lucky. That Sunday we met up near the Shell with the “S” Burned out at the corner of Touhy before heading To Leone Beach. She was so small, all that fit her Was this worn out pink girls’ bikini she later made A point of saying was see-through, her bobbed hair Bobbing with baby-blue ribbons, nearly horizontal In flip-flops and giant sunglasses, trying to hold back Her chows. She’s a cop, a mom, and a boxer now, Yet years before we met, when she was a stripper In New York, she would shoot junk into the cowgirls Riding torpedoes on her forearms, but after the beach, She made us chicken and corn on the cob. Her hope Was I’d write more and drink less, while she— With the giant dogs at her tiny feet—painted The monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey over A clown from her collection of John Wayne Gacy Originals surrounding the bed where we made Love and I first read The Double Dream of Spring. Mise en Abyme An erotic life Of boredom Enacts a fake Movie with Real violence, Sincere as sun Sparks lightning. Looking out Closed eyes, Sagacity’s field Is in arrears— Video feedback, Beside the point, History a habit. from A Better Place Is Hard To Find by Aaron Fagan (The Song Cave, 2020). Photo credit: Camilla Ha. Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2020 at The Best American Poetry