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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
Thanks, Mark. I've made the correction.
from the current issue of Literary Matters, this excerpt from Grace Schulman's eloquent "Remembering Harold Bloom": <<< Harold Bloom had been my friend since 1989, when I received bound proofs of The Book of J. David Rosenberg, who translated it for Harold’s interpretation, asked for a blurb, and I wrote one with deferential zest, feeling humble before it. My heart beat faster when I read phrases like “King David, open to more life, more grief, more guilt and suffering, more dancing in exuberance before the Ark of Yahweh.” Then I met Harold. I saw an amiable man with a delicate, Byronic profile and melancholy eyes over a substantial, Falstaffian body encased in a stylish leathery jacket. I heard his attractively high-pitched voice talking, in carefully enunciated tones, about writers from Whitman to Anne Carson, and about professors he referred to as “uncle” and “aunt.” When asked to see one of my poems, he read it in minutes. I was suspicious of his enthusiasm, not yet knowing that he read at lightning speed. But yes, his response told me he’d taken in every word. At that time, he taught at New York University as well as at Yale. His second home was in Washington Square Village, just a few blocks from where I lived with my late husband, Jerome Schulman. The four of us became fast friends. We went to see Shakespeare: The Tempest on Broadway, and Richard III, with Ian McKellan, at BAM. To my surprise, Harold was usually delighted rather than critical. We had dinners at neighborhood restaurants or take-out meals at home. Usually, that is: once or twice Jeanne led me on walks through Noho and Chinatown to shop for dinner, and, when I balked at women’s home-making roles, she replied, “No, we’re hunters and gatherers.” Harold’s books filled our shelves. In them I found insights I’ve memorized. Like this: Our lives are perpetually renewed by that ordinary process of hallowing the commonplace that Wordsworth had first described in poetry. And this: We are our imaginations and we die with them. And this: The Blessing gives more life, awards a time without boundaries, and makes a name into a pragmatic immortality. I can’t say that they influenced my own work, at least not consciously. Once I showed Harold a poem I wrote called “Names” with an epigraph that he quoted from Nietzsche: “that which we find names for is that which we cannot hold in our hearts.” His look told me I’d proved a point he’d made. “It’s a lovely poem, but you have Nietzche all wrong. The epigraph means the opposite of what you wrote.” When I recalled Harold’s theories of misreading, I dropped the epigraph. I was never his student, but I did attend his lectures in New York. At the Fales Library, shortly after the publication of Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, he woke a crowd by speaking of Shylock as a comic villain, who should be directed on stage to act “like a... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
That is a great photograph. It inspired me to write a poem called "The American Dream."-- DL
The current issue of Literary Matters includes "A Garland for Harold Bloom." For the other entries, click here. <<<In one of my earliest years as an assistant professor, the man who hired me at SMU brought to campus Harold Bloom (his friend and former colleague at Yale) and Geoffrey Hartman, for a weekend of lectures, seminars, conversations, and meals. After what was, for me, the intellectual wasteland of my graduate school experience, this weekend provided a shot in the mind’s arm. I was jolted, delighted to be in the presence of men thinking–to quote Emerson–and I was grateful to learn how greatness dealt with greatness, in this case Bloom and Hartman on the Romantic poets and their legacy. Harold had just published The Anxiety of Influence, so we in the audience felt that even in provincial Dallas we were close to the cutting edge. Over the years, I saw and heard him occasionally. The last time was two weeks before his death, in New Haven. He was failing, but very much alert mentally. We made plans for a future visit, which, alas, never happened. Mostly, I read him, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes with perplexity or frustration. He was large, of course, in many ways, and he repeated himself. As a writer and as a thinker he vacillated among three stylistic modes: the opaque, the vatic, and the epigrammatic. He did not, like John Hollander and Helen Vendler, “explain” things. Literary style was of little interest to him. He remains a model of titanic energy, prodigious memory, and insatiable intellect, an example of a now seemingly old-fashioned, passionate commitment to literature as a high art. -- Willard Speigelman. For other articles from "A Garland for Harold Bloom," click here. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Why Rimbaud for D. L. Why Rimbaud, ambivalent boy Who renounced music Geology, murder, adulthood, throwing a stone at a stranger A butterfly lands on his lapel like a Jewish star. No more music. -- David Shapiro from In Memory of an Angel by David Shapiro (San Francisco: City Lights, 2017) Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
High Windows This is the job that finally they gave me: in spring, in autumn to sweep up the bodies of finches around the bases of the crystal-windowed towers. When I used to sleep on the streets, it was similar: one of us died, the body would be picked up but as long as we lived, never. It was as though there were someone somewhere who said: Let them live. Let them be always. Let them alone. Let us have them with us as they are forever. So strange it was, and seemed, at first: one of us disappeared, no trace, or just the filthy crumpled bag of stuff left in a corner, but where was she?—until it ceased to appear, so often it happened, a wonder. Seasonal work, a job for a while, to search the long planters and bases of the walls for birds who break against windows in the times of migration: unable to see the hardness in the shining image of the new more perfect world’s openness. In the future there are people who will have to imagine what world these words of mine are living in—imagine it from their day in which there is no longer the knowledge of what were towers. A. F. Moritz's The Sparrow: Selected Poems appeared in April 2019. A Canadian poet, he has won the Griffin Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Award in Literature of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Ingram Merrill Fellowship. His poems have appeared in Hudson Review, The Paris Review, Partisan Review, and several issues of the Best American Poetry anthology series. He is Blake C. Goldring Professor of the Arts and Society at the University of Toronto, Victoria College. A question for the author: why the allusion to Philip Larkin? Click here for the current issue of Literary Matters. Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thursday, February 27, 2020 5:30 pm Reading, Q&A, and Book Signing 215 N Cayuga St, Ithaca, New York 14850 607 273 8246 In One Hundred Autobiographies, poet and scholar David Lehman applies the full measure of his intellectual powers to cope with a frightening diagnosis and painful treatment for cancer. No matter how debilitating the medical procedures, Lehman wrote every day during chemotherapy and in the aftermath of radical surgery. With characteristic riffs of wit and imagination, he transmutes the details of his inner life into a prose narrative rich in incident and mental travel. The reader journeys with him from the first dreadful symptoms to the sunny days of recovery. This "fake memoir," as he refers ironically to it, features one-hundred short vignettes that tell a life story. One Hundred Autobiographies is packed with insights and epiphanies that may prove as indispensable to aspiring writers as Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. Set against the backdrop of Manhattan, Lehman summons John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Edward Said, and Lionel Trilling among his mentors. Dostoyevsky shows up, as does Graham Greene. Keith Richards and Patti Hansen put in an appearance, Edith Piaf sings, Clint Eastwood saves the neighborhood, and the Rat Pack comes along for the ride. These and other avatars of popular culture help Lehman to make sense of his own mortality and life story. One Hundred Autobiographies reveals a stunning portrait of a mind against the ropes, facing its own extinction, surviving and enduring. "Lehman’s exquisite essays illustrate the ways that beauty can flow out of pain." Publishers Weekly "Lehman’s memoir pulses with life and memory." from "Writing In The Face Of Death,"Sandee Brawarsky, New York Jewish Week David Lehman and Johnny. photo 2020 © Stacey Lehman Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
This year on her Saint's Day, Molly, whose name came from Mary, decided to be Mary Magdalene. She let her hair down, put on her chaste dress, which resembled a burlap sack, grabbed her grandfathe's stick with the carved snakes on it and went to the bar. On Sunday "The Silk Stocking," an establishment owned by two of her friends, opened at 11 for brunch. It had a black board in front that said, "Madonnas and Whores Happy Hour." Crespo, one of the owner was sleepy. Molly what are you doing in that outfit? Here to see the play. What play ? Andrew of Faversham. Crespo opened her eyes wide. She was wearing a careless orange sarong. Molly, that play was performed here in 1968! Our cafe didn't even exist then! I was born in 1983, Molly said. You couldn't have seen it then. I heard that this was a small theatre in the Sixities, a place for avantgarde plays. "Arden of Faversham" is an Elizabethan play, directed by a young Romanian director. That's possible, but you and I weren't even born when this play was perfomed. Maybe it's a dream, said Molly. Maybe I'm dreaming I'm Mary Magdalene. Would you like a coffee? Yes, please, a grande skim latte with three shots. I had the coffee and I woke up. I wrote this in the third person but it happened to me. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
A section of the new issue of Literary Matters (ed. Ryan Wilson) is devoted to elegies for Harold Bloom, who died last Autumn. Here is what Rosanna Warren wrote: <<<< In his writing, his speaking, his very being, Harold Bloom was a great Teacher: provocative, often outrageous, and to use one of his favorite words, daemonic. Expounding Shakespeare or Emerson, the Bible or Cormac McCarthy, he invited his listeners to scorch our hands in the fire of literature and to accept the elemental encounter. It wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with Harold: it was a matter of participating. As he wrote in the just-published The American Canon, “Poems matter only if we matter.” His parting has made, as Shakespeare wrote in Antony and Cleopatra, “a gap in nature.” >>> For the other pieces on Bloom -- by such as Grace Schulman and Willard Spiegelman -- gathered under the heading "A Garland for Harold Bloom," click here. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Editor's note: this week we are highlighting some of the works appearing in the new issue of Literary Matters edited by Ryan Wilson. Click here for the table of contents. Everyone Says I Should Write a Love Poem but I am too busy. My dog is too loyal. A war could break out any minute; it might be a Civil War. I don’t know how to make charms and I’ve never owned an amulet. These horns and hooves never let me rest comfortably. It is better when looking at sculpture and fine art to keep moving. The moon is a pod of milkweed, the seeds are the stars. An emerald beetle is destroying ash trees. Blood pools in surprising areas away from the mortal wounds. In death, his eyes were closed and glued. He could not see me even when he was alive. My father wanted to be a preacher. So did his father. Now, when I make the bed I have to tap his pillow four times just like this: ……………………. I find clementines too bitter. My son remembers the last words he said to him. My scars feel like fish moving under my flesh. The winds are too strong in my new home. We lose power often. I have fallen in love ………………………………. with the snow. from the current issue of Literary Matters edited by Ryan Wilson. Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
from the current issue of Literary Matters, ed. Ryan Wilson. <<< Note: The following is an excerpt from Chapter 8, “In Memoriam”, from the book, Damaged Heritage: The Elaine Race Massacre and A Story of Reconciliation by J. Chester Johnson. Damaged Heritage is being published in May, 2020 by Pegasus Books. The Elaine Race Massacre of 1919, which occurred one county removed from where the author grew up white in southeast Arkansas, serves as a backdrop for much of the book’s commentary. As an excerpt, the following article also contains certain clarifications, modest in size, to provide context and linkages that do not appear in Chapter 8 of the original work. In October, 2010, I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas, located in the extreme northwest corner of the state and home of the University of Arkansas, to receive the University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. As part of this campus visit, which lasted several days, the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, an entity of the University, interviewed me through Scott Lunsford, associate director of the Center, for upwards of ten hours. At some point during the extensive interview, we began to explore the issue of race and its impact on my life, and as the discussion progressed, I veered toward the Elaine Race Massacre of 1919 that occurred among the rich cotton fields of Phillips County, Arkansas, in the Mississippi River Delta: more than a hundred and possibly hundreds of black sharecroppers and members of their families were killed. By this time, the Massacre had already begun to occupy a good deal of my intellectual attention, as well as my time, including a considerable amount dedicated to research on the particulars of the conflagration and its legally significant aftermath. >>> for more of this piece by J. Chester Johnson, please link here. Johnson has written extensively on race and civil rights. Several of his writings are part of the J. Chester Johnson Collection in the Civil Rights Archives at Queens College. Educated at Harvard College and the University of Arkansas, he is one of the fifteen writers showcased in October 2019 for the inaugural Harvard Alumni Authors’ Book Fair. Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thanks for spreading the news on Mark Scroggins -- and for the picture of Lord Byron in pirate dress-up when you click on the first of these two links. DL
No one ever accused you of being inarticulate, Kent. But aren't you de-contextualizing the column wildly in defense of, what, persons "as socially inept as a cheese log"? The position devalues the aesthetic and exalts "social ineptness." To put it another way, wouldn't you agree, looking around you, that people need all the help they can get to look like adults, and attractive ones at that? DL
Emma Lazarus's immortal sonnet is the perfect poem for multiple translation -- the perfect start to the program. The statue was installed in 1886 with Grover Cleveland presiding. Lazarus wasn't there. When she died in 1889, no one foresaw the posthumous glory of her lines. -- DL
An overstatement in support of artistic liberty -- always an unpopular ideal, subject to the pressures of the political moment -- is something that doesn't demand to be examined as if it were testimony in a court of law, with bible and sworn vow. -- DL
This is such a wonderful and important project! I wonder if there will be recordings of these translations. It would be great to hear all of these voices. Thank you. Stacey
photo © Valentin Moscaliuc This week we welcome Mihaela Moscaliuc as our guest author. Mihaela was born and raised in Romania. She is the author of the poetry collections Immigrant Model (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) and Father Dirt (Alice James Books,2010), translator of Carmelia Leonte’s The Hiss of the Viper (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015) and Liliana Ursu’s Clay and Star (Etruscan Press, 2019), and editor of Insane Devotion: On the Writing of Gerald Stern (Trinity University Press, 2016). Her scholarship explores issues of representation, appropriation, cultural identity, exophony, and empathy. She has published essays on the works of Agha Shahid Ali, Kimiko Hahn, Shara McCallum, Colum McCann, C.K. Williams, Gerald Stern, and in the field of Romani Studies. The recipient of two Glenna Luschei Awards (in poetry and prose, respectively) from Prairie Schooner, residency fellowships from Chateau de Lavigny (Switzerland), Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the MacDowell Colony, an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and a Fulbright fellowship to Romania. Moscaliuc is associate professor of English at Monmouth University (New Jersey). You can find her most recent article, "Accessorizing (with) 'Gypsyness' in the Twenty-first Century" here. Find out more about Mihaela at her website here and on her faculty page here. Welcome, Mihaela. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, Angela. I'm looking forward to your gathering of the best of your NLP poems. DL
I booked a four-way once. I was sitting in a bar when War & Peace sidled up and sat down on the stool next to me. "Gotta light?" she asked in a heavy Moscow accent. "I don't burn books," I replied; she laughed a long, low, melodious Russian laugh. "Actually," she said, "I only smoke afterwards," and winked, as she gently dragged a long blood-red fingernail across my cheek. "Have you met my friend, Naked Lunch?" I'd been so transfixed by the Russian beauty--there was so much of her!--that I hadn't seen the thin, waif-ish tart slipping up behind me. She looked like a walking STD--tattoos, piercings, nose & navel rings, wearing a black leather jacket that couldn't conceal the fact she had nothing on underneath. She must've seen the involuntary look of revulsion that passed over my face before I could readjust my bar mask. She looked hurt. "I know," she whispered, "but I bring a lot of coke to the table." I hadn't thought of that; this could be my lucky night! We continued to drink until W&P suggested we go over to her apartment and "sort things out." I agreed, but Naked Lunch said, "First we need a little spice." We pretended we didn't know what she meant but she knew we did. So we looked around the room. I saw Beloved sitting at a table with The Bluest Eye, but NL pointed out that Beloved was too old and TBE a little too young. War & Peace agreed. She said, "I met The Intuitionist at a signing once," motioning with her chin toward a table in the corner where TI sat, drinking alone. "Whoa," I said. "That's too spicy for me!" and we all laughed. "How about a poet?" Naked Lunch asked. "Don't turn around but Thomas & Beulah is sitting a few tables over." T&B was writing assiduously in a notebook, next to a half-empy (or half-full, depending on how you looked at it!) glass of wine. "I'm in," I grinned, and W&P and NL flipped a coin to see which one would make the approach. As it turned out, T&B was more than eager to join us--and in fact, showed us all what "poetic license" really meant, "all night long," as the song goes. Damn, I love curling up with a good book! Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for the wonderful sampling of poems by Nicole Santalucia, Dante di Stefano, and A. R. Ammons. A most lovely bouquet perfect for today. -- DL
From Showboat (1927) -- seven and a half minutes of genius. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Feb 14, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
For Valentine’s Day tomorrow I recommend Come Rain or Come Shine with born-today Eileen Farrell proving an opera singer can sing great jazz and Leonard Bernstein proving he could have been a contender in the jazz piano arena Eileen Farrell (1920-2002), one of the great sopranos of the twentieth century, had a radio show in the 1940s, launched a sensational recital career in the 1950s (culminating in Carnegie Hall), sang with the Metropolitan Opera in the 1960s, and on one occasion pinch-hit for Louis Armstrong at a jazz concert. Her first theatrical role was as Little Buttercup in "H. M. S. Pianofore," though little she was not. She was married to a distinguished officer of the New York Police Department. This post is dedicated to another daughter of February 13, Stephanie Paterik. And let's not forget the heroine of Vertigo, Kim Novak, born on the thirteenth day of the second month.-- DL See also Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
Continuing my fitful John D. MacDonald reading, I just finished ‘Cry Hard, Cry Fast’ (1955). It’s about a highway auto accident. In each of the first five chapters, we’re introduced to people in cars who’ll be involved in the accident. MacDonald sketches in their lives, and what led them to be on the road on this day. It’s a tricky narrative challenge, to keep starting with a character, stopping, and going on to someone new, but MacDonald does it so deftly that you keep everyone in your mind. The middle of the book has a discussion of the physics of auto crashes and how insurance companies calculate the results: great, precise stuff. ‘Cry Hard’ isn’t even a thriller, really—just one car contains people who’ve committed a crime, but no crime is committed in the course of the novel. I loved it. I have some other stuff to read now, but my next MacDonald will be, I think, ‘A Bullet for Cinderella.’ -- Ken Tucker Continue reading
Posted Feb 12, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
#380 is very tough, even for fedora aficionados. But #373 is easy. The right answer is: You can be better than you are. You could be swinging on a star. (The last four words are on the gravestone of the song's composer, Jimmy Van Heusen.) -- DL