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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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In my farewell address, I warned against the military-industrial complex and made an allusion to "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," by John Donne, whose moral compass I honor. <<< Well, it had to happen. This is my last column as your ringleader. I know the news will surprise and perhaps disappoint many of you. It saddens me too, and I’ll miss the party. But it’s time. I’ve directed us since we started “Next Line, Please” back in May 2014, and I’ve always felt it is wiser to part a month early rather than a week late. My next months are crowded with deadlines and occasions. They always are, but this season more so. One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir will be published in October, and I will be expected to promote it and my recently published books of poetry, Playlist and Poems in the Manner Of. “Next Line, Please”—the brainchild of Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar—has been a great success by any criteria, including the quality of the writing; the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants; and the establishment of a community of very smart individuals who enjoy the free exchange of ideas and practical criticism, value civil discourse, and eschew the gratuitous meanness that one so often encounters on the Internet. Cornell University Press thought enough of our project to publish Next Line, Please: Prompts to Inspire Poets and Writers in 2018. Some of our more assiduous NLP regular are at work on an anthology of poems that will highlight some of our all-star performances. >>> Read on, dear reader, here. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
Terrific play by Ring Lardner. Thanks!
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Suzanne Lummis For the chemistry between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, as “Slim,” the drifter who’s been living by her wits and an occasional lifted wallet, and Harry “Steve” Morgan, expatriate American with a fishing boat for hire, and for their subtly charged exchanges, that’d be To Have and Have Not. And, of course, it includes perhaps the most sexually electric lines of dialog on film—certainly from that era—beautifully delivered by Bacall in her low, sly, silky voice: “You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to do anything. Or, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve…” Director Howard Hawks, together with the writers, primarily Jules Furthman, William Faulkner, and some contributions from Papa himself, pulled apart and re-imagined Ernest Hemingway’s story, setting it in the French territory of Martinique during the Nazi occupation of France. So, in this 1944 movie the balmy island paradise becomes a microcosmic setting for the global battle between good and bottomless evil, while the evolution of the script involved a dance between the Production Code people and the writers. The censors curtailed what the movie-makers could show, and the writers kept striving to outwit them with smoky, sultry dialog. Amidst this battle, and this dance, Bacall, the young actress in her first role, and Bogart, by now a star, were falling in love. Does it come across on camera? Does it ever. Small wonder that shortly after this movie wrapped, Bogart ended his fraught, unhappy marriage, and Bogart/Bacall became one of the most celebrated couples in Hollywood history. If some know To Have and Have Not only from the "...you know how to whistle" line, c'mon now. Take the time to see the whole movie. Like Casablanca, it charts the evolution of a laissez-faire type of guy coming into his own sense of moral conscience. However, it includes some flavors Casablanca does not. David Lehman Many would say Out of the Past should get the award for sexual heat. Three reasons are Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. Greer is as fatal as cyanide without the after odor of almonds, and the dialogue is hot. For example, Kathie (Jane Greer): Did you miss me? Jeff (Robert Mitchum): No more than I would miss my eyes. While I would divide my own vote between Out of the Past and Double Indemnity, I would also register my admiration for the sexuality of Gun Crazy (1950). Joseph H. Lewis directed, and the script was written by MacKinlay Kantor and the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. The leading characters, Bart (John Dall) and Laurie (Peggy Cummins), seem young and ordinary; they’re not stars on the magnitude of Mitchum or Barbara Stanwyck, and you can see in them younger versions of yourself. There’s all that phallic imagery, all the guns, and how comfortable she is handling one. It’s significant that Dahl is a pacifist before sharpshooter Cummins casts her spell over him. She is the... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for this tribute to the late Tony Hoagland. He was a poet and writer of great intelligence, courage, and honesty. -- DL
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Years ago, as a graduate student shuttling between England and France, I spent a lot of time at Reid Hall in Paris, Columbia's footprint in the city of lights. It was and is at 4 rue de Chevreuse, near the corner of boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, an easy walk from the Vavin and Notre-dame-des-champs metro stops. Reid Hall served as headquarters for many junior year abroad students. (I am pretty certain that Jacqueline Bouvier spent time at Reid Hall in her year in France.) When I got the news that the buildings are getting a make-over, I excitedly phoned Oscar Hammerstein, who evoked the time and place, the romance of being young in a foreign tongue, and suddenly we were at a nearby cafe. "No matter how they change her, / I'll remember her that way." <<< The 18th-century rue de Chevreuse building has a new roof and facades, and the repurposed southwest corner building is now home to Columbia's Institute for Ideas and Imagination. The institute, a presidential initiative led by Columbia Professor Mark Mazower, aims to promote collaboration across the arts and academia through fellowships, workshops, conferences, exhibitions and events. Plans are being finalized to create new gardens and restore the Grande Salle. >>> For more, link here: https://news.columbia.edu/news/fresh-start-reid-hall-paris Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Ithaca alert: On Monday evening, September 16, 2019, at 7:30 PM I will give a talk -- punctuated by wonderful music -- about the great American songbook. at Ithaca College, Textor 101. The talk is based on my book A Fine Romance: Jewish songwriters, American Songs and will include songs by the brothers Gershwin, Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Ziggy Elman, Leonard Bernstein Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Kern & Oscar Hammerstein. Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Thank you, Angela. -- DL
Which brand did your Dad smoke?
We love your posts, dear Nin. The idea of moving one's residency from a Disney movie to "The Gulag Archipelago" is terrific. Who's we? "Every buddy." -- DL
Thanks for this excellent post. The titles of those movies would make excellent titles for still-to-be-written poems. -- DL
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<<< Some paradox of our natures leads us, when once we have made our fellow men the objects of our enlightened interest, to go on to make them the object of our pity, then of our wisdom, ultimately of our coercion. from The Liberal Imagination >>> Continue reading
Posted Sep 9, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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On TCM today at 10 AM and last night at midnight Eddie Muller of Noir Alley showed The Big Clock (1948), a great movie adapted from the fearless Fearing novel centered on a magazine empire that puts out such periodicals as Newsways, Crimeways, Sportsways, Airways, Styleways, and Artways. Charles Laughton is the Luce-like villain; Ray Milland the magazine editor who happens to be in the wrong place at the right time and is the object of a manhunt that he is supposed to be in charge of. Watching it, and enjoying Elsa Lanchester's splendid performance as a kooky painter modeled on Alice Neel, I recalled writing this paragraph years ago from American Heritage. Here's what I wrote when asked to name an "underrated" detective novelist: <<< The 1940s was a great period for the indigenous American crime novel, and Kenneth Fearing was a notably sophisticated master of suspense. A distinguished feature of his Dagger of the Mind (1941) is that it is set at a venerable artists’ colony like Yaddo or MacDowell, where intrigue and amorous affairs are usual but homicide is not. The Big Clock (1946), one of the greatest murder mysteries, has inspired two movies (the one from 1948 with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton has it all over the 1987 remake with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman, No Way Out). Fearing offers a clever variant on the law of the purloined letter, which stipulates that the elusive object of a search may be most effectively concealed if it is left out in the open. The Big Clock —the title is an allusion to Time Inc.—also features a manhunt organized and led by the hunted man, an editor at a magazine empire whose publications include Newsways, Crimeways, Homeways, Personalities , and The Sexes . How can I, a poet who has written for a newsmagazine and has a passion for detective novels, fail to embrace Kenneth Fearing, a hugely undervalued poet with a splendid last name who wrote for a newsmagazine and produced several masterpieces of detective fiction? >>> Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Steven Rea as our guest author. Steven is the author of The Hollywood Book Club: Reading with the Stars, just out from Chronicle Books, and also Hollywood Cafe: Coffee with the Stars and Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the Stars. Formerly the film critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, he lives and works in Philadelphia and Maine, and keeps a collection of archival Hollywood photographs that now numbers in the thousands. He posts new photos several times a week at Rides a Bike. Follow Steven Rea on Facebook and Twitter, @Steven_Rea. Welcome, Steven. In other news: Don't miss the Best American Poetry 2019 launch reading on September 19, 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM (EST) at the New School. (The Auditorium, Room A106, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall, 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011. More information here) -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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What do you make of the cigarettes that get smoked in any Noir movie? David Lehman: Goddamn, they’re sexy. Suzanne Lummis: Sure are, and it’s clear that cigarettes had to go—no question about that—but the cinema lost a language. Aside from the smoking, the lighting of the cigarette could be handled so many ways with such different effects. Richard Conte, Robert Mitchum, all those guys—in two smooth gestures they’ll slide out that silver lighter and make the flame leap up, and we get the message—this is what unflappable cool looks like, virile confidence. Sometimes, men light each other’s cigarettes and that has meaning; often it’s about camaraderie. In Out of the Past, an easy-going ritualistic exchange occurs at the start of the first meeting between Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey and Kirk Douglas as the gangster Whit Sterling. Whit offers Jeff a cigarette almost before he’s got his foot in the door, but he already has one so he smoothly lights Whit’s who is reaching for his matches. It’s all quite friendly. Then, the camera cuts to Whit’s unsmiling gunman, Joe, whose eyes shift darkly between the two, sizing up this new guy, watching for unconscious indicators or one false move. Those who don’t watch much noir, early or neo-, probably think a woman never has to light her own, a man’s always near-by and quick on the trigger, but, no, not always. For example, Faye Dunaway in Chinatown shakily lighting up, and Nicholson’s nasal drawl off-camera, “You’ve already got one going, Misses Mulray.” (The camera shows us her bejeweled hand rubbing out the live cigarette in the ashtray.) “Does my talking about your father make you nervous?” Most often, and most memorably, men light women’s cigarettes. I like Clare Trevor everywhere I see her, and I like a moment in Murder, My Sweet, when Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) fires up his lighter and she puts her hand on his and moves it toward the tip of her cigarette, “You will help me, won’t you?” Marlowe: “Am I doing this for love, or will I get paid with money?” But those moviemakers could achieve other affects outside of social interactions. I’ve never come across a mention of this in any writings about film noir, but I spot an eerie, ominous illusion near the end of Murder, My Sweet when, outdoors, Marlowe’s starting to make his way up to the luxurious piece of property perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. It’s night. He’s going to confront Helen, who is actually Velma, who is actually a killer. Inside the shadowy beach house, the camera focuses on the couch sunk in darkness. Heavy smoke rises from it and, all along, specks of light begin to glint like embers. Someone, something, set fire to the couch—this whole place is going to go up. Then Velma rises from the shadows with her cigarette, in her gown slashed with stripes of glinting sequins. It’s a premonition of danger embodied by this woman. Soon, characters will be lying... Continue reading
Posted Sep 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Marsh Hawk Press, under the direction of Sandy McIntosh, has launched a monthly on-line feature in which poets are asked to write up the "chapter one" of their vocations. Among those who have written for the project are Denise Duhamel, Philip Lopate, and Jane Hirshfield. My own contribution is up now. I've called it Opening Shot and this is how it begins: <<< In high school I read “Song of Myself” in a course in American literature that began with the poets who had three names (William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Julia Ward Howe, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and never reached the moderns who went by their initials (T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden). In that context it meant something that Whitman used no middle name and only a shortened version of his forename. I liked this fellow who was “mad for it to be in contact with me,” whether “it” stood for nature, the grass, a particular person, a brook—that was how I felt, too, in my more uninhibited moments. I liked the anthology excerpts so much I bought, with fool’s luck, a thin paperback of Leaves of Grass that called itself the “original edition,” edited by Malcolm Cowley. To this day I maintain that the 1855 edition is the greatest version of this great American poem, which Whitman revised often and not always for the better. >>> Pictured above: David Lehman Stacey Lehman, Yukiko Kaneda Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< Consciousness is conditioned by the intellect, and the intellect is a mere accident of our being, for it is a function of the brain. The brain, together with the nerves and spinal cord attached to it, is a mere fruit, a product, in fact a parasite, of the rest of the organism, in so far as it is not directly geared to the organism’s inner working, but serves the purpose of self-preservation by regulating its relations with the external world * All philosophers before me, from the first to the last, place the true and real inner nature or kernel of man in the knowing consciousness. Accordingly, they have conceived and explained the I, or in the case of many of them its transcendent hypostasis called soul, as primarily and essentially knowing, in fact thinking, and only in consequence of this, secondarily and derivatively, as willing .... My philosophy . . . puts man’s real inner nature not in consciousness but in the will. * For years we can have a desire without admitting it to ourselves or even letting it come to clear consciousness, because the intellect is not to know anything about it, since the good opinion we have of ourselves would inevitably suffer thereby. But if the wish is fulfilled, we get to know from our joy, not without a feeling of shame, that this is what we desired…. * [Satisfaction can never be anything but temporary, because] it is always like the alms thrown to the beggar, which reprieves him today so that his misery may be prolonged till tomorrow. Therefore, so long as our consciousness is filled by our will, so long as we are given up to the throng of desires with its constant hopes and fears, so long as we are the subject of willing, we never obtain lasting happiness or peace. >>> The painting on the right is by Gail Campbell, 2016. Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< Writing about him in the Times, poet Rae Armantrout reflected on how Ashbery’s down-to-earth humor manifested within his poems. “He is one poet who can somehow be simultaneously elegiac and playful, even goofy,” she wrote. “If you could find the impossible space where Franz Kafka overlapped with the Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, John would be sitting there happily, grinning like the Cheshire cat.” >>> Click here for more of Daniel Witkin's piece, "How Poets And Novelists Are Mourning John Ashbery" (from The Forward, September 3, 2017).. See also "Remembering JA," which David Lehman wrote for The American Scholar. https://theamericanscholar.org/remembering-ja/#.XSqz15NKiM9 Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Kent Johnson has written an eight-page poem about The Best American Poetry, the American poetry scene and his place in it. "It is all in the honorable, august traditions of satire," he says. The poem is entitled "Could Someone Tell Me Why?" Click here to read the poem, which he prefaces with these sentences: <<< Yeah, so some of the people who were my former friends are now dead. I feel bad about that, but then I think to myself, Hey, life is short and at least you were published in the Best American Poetry! No, I don’t really mean that, just kidding, I’ve never thought that, and never would I. >>> Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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7:00 PM to 10:00 PM (EST). The Auditorium, Room A106, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall. 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011 The celebration to kickoff fall in NYC! Series editor David Lehman and guest editor Major Jackson headline an all-star roster of poets included this year's volume of the celebrated annual anthology. Featuring: Dilruba Ahmed, Catherine Barnett, Joshua Bennett, Chen Chen, Laura Cronk, Thomas Devaney, Martín Espada, Nausheen Eusuf, Camille Guthrie, Edward Hirsch, James Hoch , Bob Holman, Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Deborah Landau, David Lehman, Gail Mazur, Shane McCrae, Jeffrey McDaniel, Kamilah Aisha Moon, Andrew Motion, John Murillo, Sharon Olds, Nicole Santalucia, Philip Schultz, Lloyd Schwartz, Jane Shore, and Kevin Young. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be for sale and contributors will be available to sign your copy. Find more information here. --sdl Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Why are poets attracted to film noir? Suzanne Lummis: Well, out this way there aren’t as many poets who double as film noir buffs as one would expect, but, for some, my YouTube series produced by poetry.la, They Write by Night, has been their introduction to film noir and the poem noir, or my UCLA Extension Writers’ Program workshop, “Poetry Goes to the Movies.” In Los Angeles, the poet Cece Peri has struck black gold with her poems noir, which get published and re-published. The poem noir, when it works, can be remarkably appealing, and not necessarily as grim as one might think—so many different values, tones and approaches can come into play. Some of these poems conjure a kind of dark laughter in the face of the inevitable. That’s certainly an element of noir’s appeal for me, in film or on the page. One thing for sure, these days more women poets than men seem drawn to these movies, and they’re bringing unexpected perspectives. The poet Marsha de la O did something extraordinary—right after my own heart—with Janet Leigh’s appearance as the preyed upon Susie in Touch of Evil followed by her role as slashed-to-death Marion Crane in Psycho. “Janet Leigh is Afraid of Jazz” reads as one long hysterical plunge from damage to death, and—without being heavy-handed about it—speaks to the specific vulnerability of women in a violent world. David Lehman: Many of us are attracted to the shadows, the stuff beneath the surface of human relationships, the things we do or fantasize doing when no one is looking. In noir, sex is the ultimate prize, but also the consummate killer. We love forbidden fruit. Of all the mammals, only humans have sex for reasons other than to perpetuate the species. The intensity of desire creates the motive for murder, whether acted on or not, and makes guilt and paranoia inevitable. The tensions between man and woman animate this genre, are palpable, feel real. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them”: the fundamental things apply as time goes by. The genre recognizes that we are fallible people, sinners, gamblers, drinkers, addicts, dreamers, losers. We occupy the night as night-club singers, piano players, thieves, detectives, kept women, greedy men with criminal minds almost as infinite as our lust for sex first and money second. In a curious sense the poet’s identity in our society has more in common than meets the eye with a hard-boiled detective or noir loser. Also, the genre has a certain charm. I can never get over the fact that gangsters and hit men wear double-breasted suits in these movies, the women are as stylish as they are dangerous, and many of the background songs (“Tangerine,” “How Little We Know,” “Laura,”” Too Marvelous for Words”) have lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Finally, this column appears on September 1, 2019, exactly eighty years to the day that Germany invaded Poland, World War II began, and W. H. Auden wrote "September 1, 1939." That poem more than... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Here it is again: September 1, 1939, eighty years later. Can you picture Auden at that "dive" on Fifty-Second Street, (aka Swing Street) on that terrible day when the Germans invaded Poland and quaked the earth? One of the best stanzas, the fifth, is a metaphorical description of that bar and others like it. Quiz of the day: WHA disliked the last line of the penultimate stanza because he felt it was "dishonest," by which I think he meant "untrue." He changed it to (1) We must love one another and die (2) We must love one another or die (3) We must love one another or diet (4) One must love mother nature or die (5) If winter comes, can spring be far behind? Light up a Winston and think of dear Wystan. Bragging rights go to the winner! Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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September 1, 1939 I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night. Accurate scholarship can Unearth the whole offence From Luther until now That has driven a culture mad, Find what occurred at Linz, What huge imago made A psychopathic god: I and the public know What all schoolchildren learn, Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return. Exiled Thucydides knew All that a speech can say About Democracy, And what dictators do, The elderly rubbish they talk To an apathetic grave; Analysed all in his book, The enlightenment driven away, The habit-forming pain, Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again. Into this neutral air Where blind skyscrapers use Their full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man, Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse: But who can live for long In an euphoric dream; Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism's face And the international wrong. Faces along the bar Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home; Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night Who have never been happy or good. The windiest militant trash Important Persons shout Is not so crude as our wish: What mad Nijinsky wrote About Diaghilev Is true of the normal heart; For the error bred in the bone Of each woman and each man Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love But to be loved alone. From the conservative dark Into the ethical life The dense commuters come, Repeating their morning vow; 'I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work,' And helpless governors wake To resume their compulsory game: Who can release them now, Who can reach the dead, Who can speak for the dumb? All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die. Defenseless under the night Our world in stupor lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame. -- W. H. Auden Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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It’s easy to describe the readers I have in mind when I write my column in The Nation: the 185,000 Nation subscribers, who are mostly liberals, progressives and leftists of various sorts, college-educated, over thirty, up on the news. I know quite a few of these readers, and hear from them all the time. Beyond the magic subscription circle, there’s the larger community of feminists, other journalists, and writers I admire including a few dead ones in my head. But whom do I write my poems for? “Anyone who wants them” is one easy answer. “Myself” is another. Both are true in a way, but incomplete. Who is that “anyone” who pockets the breadcrumbs I cast upon the water? And if I write for myself, why do I try to publish my poems and care what anyone thinks about them? At least for me, communication is intrinsic to writing, so I must have some blurry idea in mind about who I’m communicating with -- or, perhaps more accurately, given the state of poetry these days, wish I was communicating with. There’s a sociological answer to the readership question. According to The Poetry Foundation’s survey, “Poetry in America,” the most frequent readers of poetry (or, as the study oddly calls them, “users” of poetry) are middle-aged women with post-secondary degrees, who began reading, or using, poetry when they were young. That’s me all over! Sociologically, “I write for myself” and “I write for anyone who wants it” are not such different statements after all. But what about the ideal reader? The one who really sees what you are trying to do in a poem, and if you can please that demanding but simpatico person, you feel you’ve gotten it right? If you’re lucky, you might have a teacher like that when you’re young, or a friend, or a fellow poet or two. Failing that, or in addition to that, you might have to imagine your ideal reader, as Dante for all intents and purposes imagined Beatrice, whom he’d had such a crush on when they were kids. One popular type of imaginary ideal reader is, curiously, the non-reader. In “In My Craft or Sullen Art,” Dylan Thomas claimed he wrote not for literary people or for the ages but for “the lovers,/their arms round the griefs of the ages,/who pay no praise nor wages/nor heed my craft or art.” And indeed, if those lovers disentwined themselves long enough to read a poem, it was probably one by Thomas, one of the last poet-celebrities of the English-speaking world. Yeats [above] was another one who envisioned an ideal non-reader. In l914, fed up with the ideologically overheated Dublin literary-political scene, he imagined his ideal reader as a Connemara fisherman, a “wise and simple man” whom Yeats believed belonged to an older, better, truer, more organic (in the old sense) Irish people. What saves “The Fisherman” from nationalistic sentimentality is Yeats’ admission that this ideal fisherman-reader does not exist. He is a necessary fiction,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I don’t believe desire is the root of all suffering, though it’s better to pull up the roots of the weeds you desire to be rid of, rather than poison them. For nothing will grow again in that dirt. I never read philosophy. It hurts the way a fall from the monkey bars does or an argument with someone you desire that goes round n’ round and ends in a knock-out or an even less satisfying temporary truce. Birds keep getting stuck in the body of my stove. I open the soapstone door and they emerge soot-covered, disoriented, batter their tiny skulls against glass. Eventually finding their way out through one of the opened windows – the way I want to find my way through to the real you if there is such a thing - changing as we do our passwords, our undergarments, the pets in our garages. Desire cannot be the root of all suffering! Hunger and loneliness, or ineradicable pain perhaps. The boa is hard-wired to crush endoskeletons. Every religion has their saints and their power mongers. Some are allergic to strawberries. To be human is to desire. Eggs and garlic and the oil of the evening primrose. The pollen hurting some, others unaffected. The only agreed upon creed: Do no harm. I like to be under the canopy of trees, so you could say I desire shade. The heads of tiny quail in puff pastry. My children to outlive me, that I may give them my land. The dome of the cerebellum an umbrella – white paint is falling from the eaves of my roof. Today I loaded a stack of old coats into black garbage bags and left them on a loading dock behind the Salvation Army – unsure that the portal into the sky will fit us all. first published in American Poetry Review Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
You're right: ugly uniforms, a three-game sweep, and we feel like Ray Milland in "Lost Weekend."