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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.
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I love the way this poem captures the sad, sweet, isolated longing of adolescence. The tension created by the interplay of short lines and sneakily unruly syntax seems to mirror the experience of tentatively feeling one's way toward, eventually, hope. —MB When I Was Fifteen When I was fifteen I suddenly knew I would never understand geometry. Who was my teacher? That name is gone. I only remember the gray feeling in a classroom filled with vast theoretical distances. I can still see odd shapes drawn on the board, and those inscrutable formulas everyone was busily into their notebooks scribbling. I looked down at the Velcro straps of my entirely white shoes and knew inside me things had long ago gone terribly wrong and would continue to be. When the field hockey star broke her knee, I wrote a story for the school paper then brought her the history notes in the snow. She stood in the threshold, a whole firelit life of mysterious familial warmth glowing behind her, and took them from my hands like the blameless queen of elegant violence she was. Walking home encased in immense amounts of down I listened to the analog ghost in the machine pour from the cassette I had drawn flowers on. Into my ears it sang everything they told you makes you believe you are trapped in a snow globe forgotten in a dark closet where exhausted shadows argue what is sorrow cannot become joy, but I am here from the future to tell you you are not, all you must do is stay asleep a few more years great traveler waiting to go. Matthew Zapruder’s most recent book is Why Poetry (Ecco, 2017). His fifth collection of poetry, Father’s Day, came out from Copper Canyon in fall 2019. He is associate professor in the MFA program at Saint Mary’s College of California and editor-at-large at Wave Books. from the archive; first posted March 1, 2019 Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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On This Very Street in Belgrade Your mother carried you Out of the smoking ruins of a building And set you down on this sidewalk Like a doll bundled in burnt rags, Where you now stood years later Talking to a homeless dog, Half-hidden behind a parked car, His eyes brimming with hope As he inched forward, ready for the worst. -- Charles Simic (born May 9, 1938). Photo of Simic, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1992, holding a copy of the book, with David Lehman at a reading organized by Bill Wadsworth of the Academy of American Poets in October 1992. Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Jacques d'Amboise during a curtain call following his variation in Who Cares?, 1979 Credit: © Steven Caras, all rights reserved In the Hollywood film of Carousel, Jacques d’Amboise—hemmed in on both sides by lines of dancers—suddenly takes off into a sequence of four precisely placed double air turns and then, reorganizing his focus, streams aloft into a leap, his legs beating before him as he sails. This is virtuoso ballet dancing, by any measure. However, it is a different kind of virtuosity than d’Amboise’s colleague, Edward Villella, displays as, say, Oberon in the film of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both men are performing classical steps with the same exactitude, but they aren’t performing them to the same effect. In his memoir, I Was A Dancer, d’Amboise makes it clear how much he admired his colleague’s dancing; Villella was at once his brother-in-arms and a nonpareil standard. And, in the twenty-four roles that Balanchine created for d’Amboise, not to speak of his casting and coaching of the latter in the title role of Apollo (for some devoted members of the NYCB audience, he was the definitive Balanchine Apollo), Balanchine made it clear how important d’Amboise was to him. Jacques d’Amboise and Allegra Kent in 1957 in George Balanchine’s “Apollo.” D’Amboise was a head taller than Villella, longer boned and less visibly muscled: The comparison might be a quarterback against a boxer. (Villella was an actual welterweight boxing champion at the New York Maritime Academy; he also lettered in baseball.) They both jumped high and landed with buoyancy, but Villella, with a more compact physique, put more torque into his preparations for jumping and turning. And although both men achieved brilliant batterie (the beating legs), it took the dancer with longer limbs a nanosecond more time to perform the opening and closing of his legs than it did his colleague. Villella’s beats, now legendary even on film where (as Villella’s greatest chronicler, the critic Arlene Croce, could have put it) they read as a blur, were slightly faster in fact, and the power of his movement made them register as much faster in effect. Villella’s feet also pointed more sharply than d’Amboise’s, making Villella’s beats seem extra-clear. There was something else. Villella performed classical allégro combinations with a phrasing that arrested their momentum at the height or most complex part of the step, giving a flashing photographic moment of stillness in the midst of motion that seemed almost unreal. (Among Balanchine’s ballerinas, Merrill Ashley achieved that effect, too.) Yet d’Amboise did not “stop” mid-stream that way; he showed the poses beautifully, but he displayed them in the course of the dance current. He didn’t enunciate them. And he didn’t show the sculptural power involved in initiating classical steps. He performed steps as conversational gestures, as elements in a larger song—and the song, with its unpredictable counts and uninflected climaxes, was written by George Gershwin for his good pal Fred Astaire, even when Gershwin was channeling the fantastical imagination of Fauré, the... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Your life is your life don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. be on the watch. there are ways out. there is light somewhere. it may not be much light but it beats the darkness. be on the watch. the gods will offer you chances. know them. take them. you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes. and the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be. your life is your life. know it while you have it. you are marvelous the gods wait to delight in you. -- by Charles Bukowski Read more about Charles Bukowski here. Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
https://marshhawkpress.org/marsh-hawk-press-poetry-prize-awards/ MARSH HAWK PRESS POETRY PRIZE AWARDS The 2021 MARSH HAWK PRESS POETRY PRIZE CONTEST JUDGE: DAVID LEHMAN ($1,000.00 Cash Prize and Publication of the Book. Additionally the winner receives a $100.00 Duotrope Gift Certificate) The ROBERT CREELEY MEMORIAL AWARD ($250.00 Cash Prize) The ROCHELLE RATNER MEMORIAL AWARD ($250.00 Cash Prize) Prize Competition Opens December 1, 2020 For online submissions (open until 11:59 PM EST on April 30, 2021) click here. Beginning December 1, 2020, Marsh Hawk Press is accepting submissions of poetry manuscripts to the annual Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prizes. Deadline is April 30, 2021. We welcomes submissions from emerging as well as established poets. The winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize receives $1,000.00, book publication and promotion. Winners of the Robert Creeley and Rochelle Ratner prizes, selected from finalists, receive $250.00 each. Guidelines for Manuscript Submission: We accept electronic submissions only. Screening for the Marsh Hawk Press prizes is blind. Because of this, no contact information is allowed within your manuscript, including within the filename. Electronic submissions will have contact information collected via Submittable, which is hidden from our screeners. Do not include any preambles, or bios within your submitted manuscript. Manuscripts must have a table of contents. Please query first before submitting manuscripts with illustrations, photographs or images. Manuscripts must be typed in a no less than 12 point font, paginated, and 48 – 84 pages in length (single spaced). Individual poems from the manuscript may have been previously published in magazines, anthologies, or chapbooks of less than 25 pages, but the collection, as a whole, must be unpublished. Translations and self-published books are not eligible. Send your manuscript via Submittable only with a cover page that lists the title of your manuscript. No personal/contact information is allowed to be included within your manuscript file. Winners will be announced in the summer, following the close of contest. Entry fee for the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize is $25.00 for each submission. Payment is through Submittable. To submit (open until 11:59 PM EST on April 30, 2021) click here. About Marsh Hawk Press’ Screening Process Manuscripts submitted to the Marsh Hawk Press prize contests are screened anonymously. During the screening process, every manuscript is read by a minimum of two Marsh Hawk Press editors. Submissions are winnowed to a group of finalists from which the Contest Judge chooses the winners. CLMP Contest Code of Ethics. CLMP’s community of independent literary publishers believe that ethical contests serve our shared goal: to connect writers and readers by publishing exceptional writing. We believe that intent to act ethically, clarity of guidelines, and transparency of process form the foundation of an ethical contest. To that end, we agree to 1) conduct our contests as ethically as possible and to address any unethical behavior on the part of our readers, judges, or editors; 2) to provide clear and specific contest guidelines—defining conflict of interest for all parties involved; and 3) to make the mechanics of our selection process available to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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A POEM THAT MADE SOMETHING HAPPEN--NOW IN MULTIPLE TRANSLATIONS If you want to refute W.H. Auden's assertion that "poetry makes nothing happen," all you really need is one poem: Emma Lazarus' sonnet "The New Colossus," written in 1883 to help raise money for the base of the statue we now call the Statue of Liberty. The statue, a gift to us from France, was supposed to celebrate the friendship between France and the United States, and was originally inspired by American emancipation. By the time it was completed and erected, it was called "Liberty Enlightening the World." It had nothing to do with immigration. But the poem came at a moment when immigrants -- many of them East European Jews escaping waves of pogroms -- were pouring into the country, and it radically changed the meaning of the statue, of the Port of New York, and of the USA. We were "a nation of immigrants." Then as now, America was divided. Immigration was fiercely resisted by many Americans, just as it is today. But Lazarus' symbol of "the Mother of Exiles" welcoming a tide of people "yearning to breathe free" took hold. The Mother of Exiles has greeted arrivals here for well over a century, and the poem speaking in her voice is widely understood as representing the core American value of hope. See, for example, its presence in The Oxford Book of American Poetry edited by David Lehman (2006), and other anthologies. Wishing to expand its global reach in this time of turning to a more generous America, with its renewed hope for us as a nation of immigrants, we have collected translations from poets and writers speaking over 40 languages. Here they are online, hosted by the American Jewish Historical Society, with comments by the translators, voice recordings by over a dozen of them, and brief essays by Alicia Ostriker and Mihaela Moscaliuc. https://ajhs.org/emma-lazarus-translations Alicia Ostriker Mihaela Moscaliuc Tess O'Dwyer PS: If you are interested in translating "The New Colossus" to a language that is not yet present on the site, please write to Rebeca Miller rmiller@ajhs.org and Mihaela Moscaliuc mmoscali@monmouth.edu. PPS: For those of you who are teachers (or parents, or children), check out the children's 2021 Statue of Liberty Poetry Contest: https://www.ajhs.org/emma-lazarus-project-poetry-contest Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Vladimir Nabokov's poem about "Superman of the Funnies," written in June 1942, has surfaced and been published in London's Times Literary Supplement. Nabokov sent the poem to The New Yorker, whose poetry editor, Charles Pearce, rejected it, saying "Most of us [at the magazine] appear to feel that many of our readers wouldn't quite get it. And then, too, there is the problem you foresaw about the lines in the middleof the poem." Nabokov had conceded that the poem, about the man of steel's explosive wedding night, might be "too risqué." -- DL The Man of To-morrow’s Lament I have to wear these glasses – otherwise, when I caress her with my super-eyes, her lungs and liver are too plainly seen throbbing, like deep-sea creatures, in between dim bones. Oh, I am sick of loitering here, a banished trunk (like my namesake in “Lear”), but when I switch to tights, still less I prize my splendid torso, my tremendous thighs, the dark-blue forelock on my narrow brow, the heavy jaw; for I shall tell you now my fatal limitation … not the pact between the worlds of Fantasy and Fact which makes me shun such an attractive spot as Berchtesgaden, say; and also not that little business of my draft; but worse: a tragic misadjustment and a curse. I’m young and bursting with prodigious sap, and I’m in love like any healthy chap – and I must throttle my dynamic heart for marriage would be murder on my part, an earthquake, wrecking on the night of nights a woman’s life, some palmtrees, all the lights, the big hotel, a smaller one next door and half a dozen army trucks – or more. But even if that blast of love should spare her fragile frame – what children would she bear? What monstrous babe, knocking the surgeon down, would waddle out into the awestruck town? When two years old he’d break the strongest chairs, fall through the floor and terrorize the stairs; at four, he’d dive into a well; at five, explore a roaring furnace – and survive; at eight, he’d ruin the longest railway line by playing trains with real ones; and at nine, release all my old enemies from jail, and then I’d try to break his head – and fail. So this is why, no matter where I fly, red-cloaked, blue-hosed, across the yellow sky, I feel no thrill in chasing thugs and thieves – and gloomily broad-shouldered Kent retrieves his coat and trousers from the garbage can and tucks away the cloak of Superman; and when she sighs – somewhere in Central Park where my immense bronze statue looms – “Oh, Clark … Isn’t he wonderful!?!”, I stare ahead and long to be a normal guy instead. Vladimir Nabokov June 1942 Times Literary Supplement (March 2021) https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/superman-returns-poem-vladimir-nabokov-andrei-babikov/ see also the write-up in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/04/vladimir-nabokovs-superman-poem-published-for-the-first-time "my namesake in Lear": Kent Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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When Denise Duhamel checked her spam folder for the first time in years, she found that so many women, mistaking her for a heterosexual man, had been leaving her messages. When she saw the subject heading “I LOVE SEX IN ALL ITS FORMS,” she immediately thought of her favorite poetry form, the “pantoum.” Here is a found pantoum from her new book Second Story (University of Pittsburgh Press). “I LOVE SEX IN ALL ITS FORMS” --Spam email from Mindy Hi big guy. I’m lonely and wet. Being in love—a blessing or a curse? My boner brew will make you a better screw. I just added three new naked photos. Being in love—a blessing or a curse? Text me. I guarantee we’ll have a blast! I just added three new naked photos. Want to hear me talk dirty in my luscious British accent? Text me. I guarantee we’ll have a blast! What should I do? I’m married but only want you! Want to hear me talk dirty in my luscious British accent? Need a hot date with a sexy lady? What should I do? I’m married but only want you! We don’t have to explain ourselves to anyone. Need a hot date with a sexy lady? I’m gorgeous and only 2.8 miles away. We don’t have to explain ourselves to anyone. Are you man enough to rock my world? I’m gorgeous and only 2.8 miles away. Here are some other girls you might like. Are you man enough to rock my world? I’ll prove to you we’re the perfect match. Here are some other girls you might like. Don’t forget to leave space in your life for me. I’ll prove to you we’re the perfect match. Are you available? Literally or metaphorically? Don’t forget to leave space in your life for me. It’s raining men, and I need one. Are you available? Literally or metaphorically? My boner brew will make you a better screw. It’s raining men, and I need one. Hi big guy. I’m lonely and dry. This poem originally appeared in Cherry Tree: A National Literary Journal at Washington College. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Molly enjoys writing poems while walking. She has led a peripatetic life -- at various times she has lived in each of the New England states plus Florida and Arizona. At 19 she was a junior finalist for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. As a sophomore in college she and three friends developed a brand of "Bircher muesli" cereal that blended the Swiss (Familia) type with American hippie granola. The scheme proved a success. And when she and her friends sold their shares to Kellogg's, she was able to live on the proceeds for five years in Cleveland where she learned Latin and began writing poetry. She went to graduate school at Cornell for one year and translated Catullus. She has worked as a research librarian at two universities. In 2002 she served as associate editor on the "F-U" anthology David Lehman edited for Slope Editions. With Reb Livingston she founded No Tell Motel. She used to blog over at molly arden says so but that was before three children appeared on the scene. She plans to continue her "free translations" of Catullus thinking of them as the kind of mask Yeats liked to put on. She has had a kindergarten crush on Jim Cummins since reading his poem about violins and violence. There are days when looking out the window is enough for her. There's a sculpture of snow in the shape of trees, branches, bushes, boughs, and the floor of the earth is whiter than fresh laundered sheets. Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Ed note: Since December 2019 I have written a regular column on classic movies for The American Scholar. Here are the opening paragraphs of my latest, which was posted yesterday (April 17) under the heading "Blind Accidents: How John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle brilliantly epitomizes the caper film." -- DL <<< “If you want fresh air, don’t look for it in this town,” Louis the “box man” Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) tells Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe),the mastermind of a million-dollar jewel heist, in John Huston’s 1950 noir, The Asphalt Jungle. Surprise: the robbery doesn’t go off as brilliantly planned. Doc, also known as “the professor” and “Herr Doktor,” will end up in prison along with Gus (James Whitmore), the hunchbacked counterman who is a top-notch getaway driver; Cobby (Marc Lawrence), a bookie; and Lieutenant Ditrich (Barry Kelley), a crooked cop . Louis will leave a widow and a small, sickly child after a watchman is punched and falls to the ground, misfiring his gun, and a slug finds its home in Louis’s belly. Oh, yes—“box man” means safecracker. Based on the novel by W. R. Burnett, The Asphalt Jungle is the ur-example for the whole caper subgenre. The booty could be the gems in a shop on Paris’s ritzy rue de Rivoli (Rififi), the proceeds at the track on the day of a big race (The Killing) or, in a comic register, the take of five Las Vegas casinos at midnight on New Year’s Eve (Ocean’s Eleven). Whatever the setting, the result is failure, not because of the ratiocinative powers of the police but because of the inevitability of betrayal, miscalculation, and violent death. Nearly all of noir is founded on this assumption made somehow romantic and even glamorous. >>> For the rest of this piece, please link to The American Scholar website here: https://theamericanscholar.org/blind-accidents/ For other "Talking Pictures" posts, click here: https://theamericanscholar.org/dept/sections/departments/talking-pictures/ Photo: Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, and Sam Jaffe in The Asphalt Jungle, 1950 Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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from the Library of Congress: November 22, 2019 by Anne Holmes The following essay was written in 2012 by David Lehman as part of the Poetry and Literature Center’s online “Poetry of American History” series that ran from 2012-2014. The series included essays and interviews by leaders in the literary field, including former Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry, that illustrated how poems by Americans helped define or expand the country. The aim was to complement conventional historical texts and showcase poetry’s place as an essential tool for recording our nation’s past. Though the series is no longer active, From the Catbird Seat is reprinting essays from “Poetry of American History” to bring them new light. Peace and War in American Poetry 1. David Lehman. Photo credit: W. T. Pfefferle War and Peace: the title of Tolstoy’s massive novel of Napoleonic Europe trips off the tongue. Not so “peace and war”: the inversion of the customary word order represents a victory of hope over experience—or of the poetry of aspiration over the prose of sad actuality. As a subject for poetry, war has an immediate advantage over peace, because war entails action, whereas the experience of peace is an absence, not noticed until not there, like the absence of pain. War was the first subject to quicken the pen of an epic poet. But the author of The Iliad knew that the scenes of the Trojan hero Hector in battle with Patroclus and later with Achilles would not be so remarkable if there were not also a tender scene of Hector bidding farewell to Andromache, his wife, and their baby boy, who is scared of daddy’s helmet. Epic poets have followed Homer’s lead, widening the scope of war inevitably to include peace—whether peace be construed as the absence of hostilities or as something positive in its own right. In book XVIII of The Iliad, Homer describes the shield of Achilles that the lame god Hephaistos has fashioned for him. The shield depicts two cities—one embattled, besieged; the other functional, with a wedding and a court of civil law where disputants can settle their differences without violence. In layers of concentric circles the shield also shows some of the things conspicuously lacking in fields of battle: a vineyard, a herd of cattle, a circle of young men and women dancing, the bounty of the harvest—the fruits of peace. W. H. Auden’s “The Shield of Achilles” (1952), one of the strongest poems of his later period, invokes the Homeric precedent to throw into relief the bleakness he sees around him. World War II may have ended in 1945, but Auden’s shield reflects a world dominated by implacable hostility between erstwhile allies. We were at peace, but the supreme metaphor of the era joined winter freeze with military might: the Cold War. On the shield of Achilles, as Auden pictures it in 1952, are “an unintelligible multitude,” a disembodied voice proving “by statistics that some cause was just,” a martyrdom enclosed in barbed wire,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Chevalier bookstore: L.A.'S Oldest Independent Bookstore, Est. 1940 Virtual Event Monday, April 19, 2021 at 7:00PM INDEX OF WOMEN by AMY GERSTLER the author in conversation with LOUISE STEINMAN FOLLOW THIS LINK TO JOIN: https://www.chevaliersbooks.com/amy-gerstler From a maestra of invention (The New York Times) who is at once supremely witty, ferociously smart, and emotionally raw, a new collection of poems about womanhood Amy Gerstler has won acclaim for sly, sophisticated, and subversive poems that find meaning in unexpected places. Women's voices, from childhood to old age, dominate this new collection of rants, dramatic monologues, confessions and laments. A young girl muses on virginity. An aging opera singer rages against the fact that she must quit drinking. A woman in a supermarket addresses a head of lettuce. The tooth fairy finally speaks out. Both comic and prayer-like, these poems wrestle with mortality, animality, love, gender, and what it is to be human. AMY GERSTLER Author Amy Gerstler has published thirteen books of poems. The most recent is Index of Women (Penguin Random House, 2021). In 2019, she received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant. In 2018, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Scattered at Sea, a book of her poems published by Penguin in 2015 was longlisted for the National Book Award, shortlisted for the Kingsley Tufts Award, and was a finalist for the PEN USA Literary Award. Her book Dearest Creature (Penguin, 2009) was named a New York Times Notable Book, and was short listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Her previous books include Ghost Girl, Medicine, Crown of Weeds, which won a California Book Award, Nerve Storm, and Bitter Angel, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2010 she was guest editor of the annual anthology Best American Poetry. Her work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including The New Yorker, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Poetry, several volumes of Best American Poetry and The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. She is currently collaborating with composer, actor and arranger Steve Gunderson on a musical play. She is also collaborating with comics artist, author and scholar Trina Robbins on a comic about women comic book artists from the 1940s. LOUISE STEINMAN in conversation Louise Steinman is a writer, artist, and literary curator. Her work frequently deals with memory, history, and reconciliation. Her three books include: The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation; The Knowing Body: The Artist As Storyteller in Contemporary Performance and The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father’s War. Steinman founded-- and was for twenty-five years the curator—of the celebrated ALOUD literary series at the Los Angeles Public Library. Her essays have been published widely, most recently in Los Angeles Review of Books. She is the editor of the 2018 anthology: Country Gone Missing: Nightmares in the Time of Trump. Her installation, “Welcome the Stranger: An Urban Installation for Social Engagement” (with Dorit Cypis), was featured at the 2019 Lublin (Poland) Open City Festival. She is co-director... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Remember when the Sunday Times Book Review, frankly middlebrow and proud of it, used to run author's queries ("for a biography of Maxwell Anderson I would be grateful . . .") and legitimate questions from college grads who wanted to track down a favorite quotation (was it Scott Fitzgerald who said "live fast, die young, and have a handsome corpse?") In that spirit I offer you this cocktail party line that would have beguiled Flo Bear. "If the Kennedy White House was decadent; the Clinton White House was sordid." Who said it? I have asked a lot of smart people, to no avail, and would be grateful for any leads. Meanwhile, my friend Burt Hooton proposes this multiple choice list of possible candidates: 1) Jane Fonda 2) Arthur Schlesinger 3) Diana Trilling 4) Senator Susan Collins 5) Jacques Barzun 6) Lawrence P. Berra I'm not convinced by any of Burt's suggestions, though the terms of the distinction do sound as though they could have come from #3 or #5, and I appreciate the convention observed in #6. You get extra points if you can say what Ava Gardner is doing in this post or if you can make a convincing case in favor of Oliver Stone's theory of JFK's assassination. -- DL Continue reading
Posted Apr 6, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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On Robert Lowell Lowell, Lowell, Lowell, Lowell, Corn is the thing he does so well. . . This version of the couplet was written in 1966; an earlier one was crafted in 1964. Among British academics Robert Lowell was considered top of the American heap in the 1960s and 70s. from Philip Larkin, The Complete Poems ed. Archie Burnett (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. From the archive; first posted March 18, 2013. Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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“Love takes time to overcome.”--Confucius Certain love songs beloved by men are listened to with something like derision by women. So I have been assured, by a woman, and I wonder about that. I don’t doubt it, but I wonder. I have known for many years that most of the canonical American songbook “torch songs,” for example, were written by men but in their classic versions sung by women. Imagine Sarah Vaughn singing “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.” We are to believe she would never get over loss of the man for whom she carried forever “a torch.” Right. But I would like to consider a song almost diametrically the opposite of a torch song. I mean “On the Street Where You Live,” jaunty and upbeat, its lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, from the musical play My Fair Lady (Frederick Loewe wrote the music), first staged in 1956, when I was five. The film version, which I saw in a theater in St. Louis with my parents and sister, appeared in 1964, right about the time I crashed face-first into puberty. I remember being resistant to the improbable fact that the handsome young Englishman was standing on the street and singing, with orchestral accompaniment, but I also remember thinking that such a feeling as he expressed (turns out the actor was lip-synching; someone else did the expressing), that that feeling might be—I didn’t know—real. I suppose I wanted it to be. Why wouldn’t I? He seemed so happy, so thrilled, that young man, and the lyrics of the song represented his happiness very convincingly, even to, or perhaps especially to, a thirteen year old boy. Somehow, I’m sixty-eight now, a year older than Alan Jay Lerner was when he died in 1986 of lung cancer, impoverished, owing the IRS over a million dollars, and unable to pay his medical bills. Lerner was married eight times. He said once, “All I can say is if I had no flair for marriage, I also had no flair for bachelorhood.” (Something in that quip and its delivery is in his best lyrics too.) It seems that Mr. Lerner might have felt the exhilaration his song expresses a few more times than anyone ought to. The character who sings the song in My Fair Lady, one Freddy Eynsford-Hill, is lost in infatuation with Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl taken in by Professor Henry Higgins, after she comes to him seeking elocution lessons. The play, of course, is adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Professor Higgins wagers with his friend and houseguest, Colonel Pickering, that he can turn Eliza into a passable young “lady,” one who can, with his lessons, function in the upper social caste of which he and Pickering are a part. The scene in which Freddy falls for Eliza takes place at a gathering of exceeding privilege and decorousness, at a race track. Women in gowns and elaborate, even outlandish, hats; men in tophats, tails, and spats. The... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Like John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, though not as flamboyant as the first or as metrically inventive as the second, George Herbert proved that devotional poetry can generate high intellectual excitement. Born in Wales in 1593, Herbert distinguished himself at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was elected to Parliament twice. In 1630, a year after he married, Herbert took holy orders. He served as rector in Bemerton near Salisbury, delivering sermons and writing poems, for the rest of his short life. Before he died in 1633 he entrusted a gathering of his poems, The Temple, to a friend. The poems won an immediate audience. Herbert is one of the so-called “metaphysical” poets, who rely on cunning wit and use elaborate, sometimes incongruous metaphors to explore complex themes. He has a poem, “The Pulley,” in which God pours all his pleasures on man except “rest.” Anyone who doubts that the lowly pun can perform sublime feats need only consider these two lines in which “rest” meaning “remainder” and “rest” meaning “repose” are entangled to their paradoxical enhancement: “Yet let him keep the rest, / But keep them with repining restlessness.” Where Herbert is most obviously innovative is in his use of carmen figuratum – shaped or patterned poems. He has one in the shape of an altar and another, “Easter Wings,” that demands to be viewed as a pair of winged birds in flight. Herbert was also an inveterate compiler of proverbs. To him we owe that durable cliché: “His bark is worse than his bite.” But Herbert is most dear to us because his poems suggest an intimacy of discourse between the poet and his creator. Not for Herbert the attitude struck by Donne, who can begin a poem by telling off a heavenly body (“Busy old fool, unruly sun”). The speaker in Herbert’s poems is marked by an unforced humility – he may be the only poet in the body of English poetry who is believable not only when he addresses the divinity but when he transcribes the responses he gets. Among my favorites is “Love (III),” the most admired of three Herbert poems with that title: Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lacked anything. “A guest," I answered, “worthy to be here”: Love said, “You shall be he.” “I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.” Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?” “Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame Go where it doth deserve.” “And know you not," says Love, “who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down," says Love, “and taste my meat.” So I did sit and eat. The poem is the record of a dialogue. The key metaphor is the personification of “Love” at the door... Continue reading
Posted Apr 2, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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The emergence of a previously unknown and uncharacteristically fiery essay by Lionel Trilling is all the buzz in intellectual circles. Our stringers at far-flung campuses report the excitement at faculty clubs and academic production centers where Trilling's essays in criticism, particularly those written between 1940 and his death in 1975, command a respect accorded to few contemporaries, not because he had a penchant for oracular pronouncements (he did not) but because of the nuanced style of exposition in his writing, which reflected a mind of immense subtlety, irony, and complexity. By indirections he found directions out. The reputation for what champions admired as subtlety (and detractors considered coyness) may change with the posthumous appearance of an essay Trilling was said to have begun in 1967 but never completed to his satisfaction. The essay's working title was "I Hate the Liberals." Victor Mathis, the archivist who discovered the draft in Trilling's papers, insisted that marginal handwritten comments in the legendary Columbia prof's distinctive script imply "that this jest was a place-holder for an ultimate title along the lines of 'The Liberal Dilemma in an Age of Economic Decline'." That Trilling, author of "The Liberal Imagination," had commenced on an essay critical of New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay and of what was vulgarly known as "limousine liberalism," a phrase Trilling dissects, made news wherever talking heads shmooze. "It's like an intellectual version of Tom Wolfe's outing of Leonard Bernstein's black panther party as 'radical chic'," said Jenna Clauss of the Brookings Institute. Marvin Murdeck of the McLuhan School of Public Information emphasized that the title, though evidently a joke Trilling enjoyed, was "deliberately reductive of his thoughts on the whole question of political hypocrisy among union-smashing NIMBY elites who are incredibly full of shit but should not be caricatured nevertheless." Handmade signs declaring "I Hate the Liberals" (or variants, including celebrations of poetry as the antithesis of sociological claptrap, have sprung up in affluent parts of Ann Arbor, Madison, Colorado Springs, Ithaca, Providence, Rhode Island, and Evanston, Illinois. Some say this is happening in the spirit of a joke. "It's post-modernism, man," said Josh Lucas, a freshperson at Northwestern, who has not yet declared a major but is leaning toward sociology. But there are those who see in the outpouring of anti-liberal sentiment the hyperbolic release of impulses long repressed. Professor Leon Elson, the Hayte-Ashbery Professor of Applied Kenesiology at Florida Ache, compares the "I Hate the Liberals" fad with people screaming out the windows, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more." Elson's point: "It's not so much a matter of art following life, or life following art, but life following life, and art, art, depending on how you define it." from the archive; March 31, 2011. Professor Trilling, asked to comment for the record, replied with this link but said he was of "mixed minds, because of the implicit inaccuracy in the record of any correspondence between two persons, neither of whom is... Continue reading
Posted Apr 1, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Today (3/31/21), Caesura posted Inspector Watt's review of Poems in the Manner of, and in a curiously contrarian way I am pleased that in the poetry business, in which it sometimes seems that business is always personal (in defiance of the Corleone family's command not to mix the two), a review of a poetry book can appear four years after the book's pub date. You ask who is Inspector Watt? I don't know, but the pseudonymous one also comments on Maureen McLane's 2014 volume This Blue and Chelsea Minnis's 2018 collection Baby, I Don't Care, with its wonderful title: Robert Mitchum's line in Out of the Past (which so well sums up Mitchum's attitude that it served as the title of Lee Server's biography of the actor). Inspector Watt's idiosyncratic style makes one wonder whether he praises with feigned damns. -- DL <<< Poems in the Manner of by David Lehman. Scribner Poetry, 2017 ($18.00) There are two ways to look at this strange book of poetry, which “channels” poets from Catullus to Joe Brainard. If you’re not convinced that Lehman can imitate any poet you can name, at the end of the book, just for good measure, he includes his satirical lyrics for songs by Bob Dylan, Lorenz Hart and Irving Berlin, and Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Lehman can parody anyone, with aplomb and humor. Here’s his tribute / goof on Bashō’s famous haiku: “Pond / Frog / Splash.” So, on the one hand, the book is a display of brilliance. But on the other hand, it wonderfully illustrates where contemporary American poetry is — driving forward by looking in the rear-view mirror. This book implies that the best poetry is behind us. The new and improved poets who have rose petals tossed at them by critics for their shockingly new and improved poetry pale in comparison to the poets listed on the front cover of Lehman’s book: Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda. OK, Ernest Hemingway not so much. Damn you, David Lehman. You’ve left me elated and depressed. https://caesuramag.org/posts/anvil-and-rose-10 Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Flesh 78 Brancusi hinted it Giacometti stinted it Miró laughed at it Degas choreographed it Bosch hated it Bruegel skated it Watteau crêpe de chine covered it Manet gape to dine uncovered it Botticelli virgin Spring emerged Titian love-in fling resurged Kandinsky ignored it Gaugin adored it Renoir bathed his coquette in pink Bellows slathed hot sweat in stink Ingres slipped in two vertebrae Maillol worshipped her in clay Seurat biked it to the park Tintoretto liked it for St Mark Gorky mangled it Pollock tangled it Picasso pranced in Avignon Matisse danced in primary tone Michelangelo mixed genders Fragonard transfixed splendors Cézanne preferred yellow lemons Van Gogh preferred star-glow demons Lachaise inflated it Schiele conflated it Beckmann painted bloody stumps Hals sainted ruddy rumps Warhol silk-screened it Chagall flute-dreamed it Giotto enrobed it in gesso Géricault unrobed it al fresco Daumier mocked it Wood defrocked it Rodin raptured eroticized it Braque fractured analyzed it De Chirico enigmatically stylized it El Greco astigmatically exorcized it Velásquez grew a mischievous chin Da Vinci drew a mysterious grin Rothko dazzled with colors bold Klimt razzled with showers gold Lautrec wrapped Braunt’s neck in red Stieglitz snapped O’Keeffe’s pec in bed Duchamp sighted it descending Caravaggio whited it offending Rubens sketched it out Modigliani stretched it out Artists obsess on flesh From Marrakesh to Uttar Pradesh Published in HARVARD REVIEW ONLINE on February 25, 2016 with this contributor's note: Herbert Engelhardt was born in New Jersey in 1925. He served in the Pacific Theater of World War II from 1943 to 1946 and was awarded the Purple Heart in the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. He received his BA and MBA from Harvard in 1949 and 1951, respectively. In his late seventies, he began to write poems. He has lived in New York City since the early 1950s. Ed. note: Herb, whom I met twelve or thirteen years ago, had a passion for poetry and a zest for life that continually inspired me. We met sixteen years ago, when he was eighty, and worked together on his poems. His book, Ordinary Soldiers, which he published under the title World War II Poetry: Memories of an Ordinary Soldier, deserves to be far better known and celebrated. One reader commented that the book is "Intimate. Visceral. Honest. First rate. Fine poetry and also a valuable as a historic record of a soldier's life, much of it in Okinawa and the Philippines, during WW II." Herb and I lunched together often and talked about all manner of thing -- his travels, his years in the service, his time at Harvard (where he housed with Henry Kissinger), and his own successful business career. For years he taught a course at NYU's Business School, with a reading list that included Julius Caesar and other works in which management made costly decisions to their detriment. Herb is quoted in my book One Hundred Autobiographies. We were comparing medical experiences and he said with his customary salty wit, “No... Continue reading
Posted Mar 30, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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James Schuyler is often celebrated as a poet who celebrated the everyday and ordinary, what he called “the pure pleasure of / Simply looking.” He took a walk or peered through his window, and the poem became the daily record of what he saw. He had a keen eye and reveled in particularity. But Schuyler was afflicted by periodic bouts of mental illness and he was often looking at life from the outside, as through a looking glass. The reason that daily life takes on such a luminous glow in a great deal of his work is because he was effectively cut off from it much of the time. He cherished the familiar because it was never quite familiar enough, never something that he could take for granted. He reminds me of the eighteenth-century English poet, Christopher Smart, in the way his work spotlights and exaggerates familiar things. Both fastened themselves to daily life as a meaningful way to hold onto the world. It’s not necessary to pathologize Schuyler’s enthusiasms or the way that he took pleasure in describing ordinary things. But this way of looking at some of his work from this angle does help account for its psychological pressure, its odd intensities. The language is plain but seems psychologically lit from within. He looked hard at things, but he wasn’t an Objectivist poet, like Louis Zukofsky or George Oppen. There is an inner nervousness driving his work. Schuyler’s mental health was fragile, and he was institutionalized several times in the 1970s. In 1975 he wrote “The Payne Whitney Poems” while he was interned at the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York City. He published the entire eleven-poem cycle in the New York Review of Books in 1978. The diary-like series subsequently appeared in The Morning of the Poem (1980). Here, as the poet David Herd suggests, “Schuyler presents in miniature many aspects of his work: the importance of observation, a fascination with the vicissitudes of weather, a fondness for the collage-like list (as in ‘Sleep’), and, throughout the cycle, a sense that in writing one might better make oneself at home in one’s world.” “The Payne Whitney Poems” are nervous, low-key, focused on the daily, sometimes funny. The opening lines of the poem “Trip” set the tone and establish the subject: “Wigging in, wigging out: / when I stop to think / the wires in my head / cross: kaboom” (“Trip”). Here’s the poem “Arches”: Arches of buildings, this building, frame a stream of windows framed in white brick. This building is fireproof; or else it isn’t: the furnishings first to go: no, the patients. Patients on Sundays walk in a small garden. Today some go out on a group pass. To stroll the streets and shop. So what else is new? The sky slowly/swiftly went blue to gray. A gray in which some smoke stands. The title runs into the first line and the poem sets off on its own hesitant string of thoughts. As so... Continue reading
Posted Mar 29, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Adam Zagajewski, who died Sunday, the first day of spring, age 75, was a wonderful poet and sweet gentleman. This is from "Self-Portrait": Black birds pace the fields, waiting patiently like Spanish widows. I'm no longer young, but someone else is always older. I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist, and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses dissolve like cumuli on sunny day The photo above was taken by Jill Krementz in January 1986. Left to right: Mark Strand, Joseph Brodsky, Adam Zagajewski, Derek Walcott Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Grains of Paradise -for Adam Zagajewski The time of impossible friendships, cruel steps, the time of refrigerated semi-trucks and their willing assistance, the time of I-pad goodbyes, of casual stock, pastured, backs to the wind, of taking counsel from vibrating grass, the time of light stored in windshields, in chrome trim, of recipes written on matchbooks, on prison stationary, in braille, calling for grains of paradise. Unseen, they are anywhere, not waiting, just beyond recognition. Continue reading
Posted Mar 24, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Mourning the loss of Bob Hershon. His life-long work at Hanging Loose Press is beyond measure. Bob’s poems, with their "downhome speech," lead with the heart. The one where he puts his hand back to reach-out for his son's hand as they're crossing the street always hits me. The son much older now, Bob writes: Don't fill up on bread I say absent-mindedly The servings here are huge. My son, whose hair may be receding a bit, says Did you really just say that to me? What he doesn't know is that when we're walking together, when we get to the curb I sometimes start to reach for his hand. Bob was one of the great walkers in the city. Cut out of that same generous grain celebrated by Alfred Kazin and Walt Whitman, where he says: "Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else." The streets of the city are before us: Bob's gait remains distinctive. His stride is deliberate with a range of tempos. His sense of being is transmitted in the stride of his line breaks and lines. Notice the poem “Pace.” Yes, we never know which direction he might go, or the pace the poem may take to get there. But, in its own workaday way of that form, it’s also a concrete poem. Bob writes: on skinny old Lexington Avenue I speed up to pass this man so I can slow down I take great pleasure in the exact size of my steps The poems are living maps: all the worlds in all of the names, all the places, which continue to live in Bob's honest and vivid words. Somewhere, I believe, Sherman Alexie credits Bob and Donna Brook with saving his life. They published Sherman's first book with Hanging Loose Press. Later, even though his big publishers wanted him to publish all of his books with them, Sherman stuck with Hanging Loose for his poetry collections. His tribute to Bob helps to tell the larger story: "Bob's Coney Island" – Let's begin with this: America. I want it all back now, acre by acre, tonight. I want some Indian to finally learn to dance the Ghost Dance right so that all of the salmon and buffalo return and the white men are sent back home to wake up in their favorite European cities. I am not cruel. Still, I hesitate when Bob walks us around his Coney Island: the Cyclone still running the skeleton of the Thunderbolt the Freak Show just a wall of photographs the Parachute Drop which has not been used in 30 years but still looks like we could tie a few ropes to the top (Why the hell not?) and drop quickly down, spinning, unravelling watching Bob's Coney Island rise from the ashes of the sad, old carnival that has taken its place now, this carnival that is so sad because, like Diane says all carnivals are sad. We drop to the ground, our knees buckle... Continue reading
Posted Mar 22, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Like many others, I am deeply saddened today over the death of my dear friend Bob Hershon. Bob was smart, funny, and generous. He was also a wonderful poet. Bob was the co-founder of Hanging Loose magazine and press, and helped bring the work of hundreds of writers (including me) to light. He was beloved by many, and earned that love through his great generosity of spirit. Here is a poem by Bob's from last August. It may very well be one of his last poems, but like all his work it is characterized by his warmth, humor, wisdom, and literary genius ---- Terence Winch. Chatter I did the Saturday puzzle on Sunday and the Sunday puzzle on Saturday and I watched a thousand hours of cops and robbers when my friend assigned me the task of writing a baseball poem, since right now there is no baseball except in memory so I thought of the Miracle Mets and then the Boys of Summer but they both seemed frayed from overuse and I began to think of the teams of my boyhood, call them the Boys of Early Spring—Eddie Stanky and Pete Reiser and Cookie Lavagetto, Kirby Higbe and Ed Head and that perfect baseball name, Dixie Walker, brother to Harry the Hat Walker, and remembered more as a bigot who wouldn’t play with Jackie Robinson than as an outfielder, but I didn’t know that when I was ten and we had the only television set at 946 Bushwick Avenue and I watched the games by myself with a bag of candy corn the cheapest loose candy Woolworth’s sold, assuming the Dodgers and I would grow old together (twelve, fourteen, beyond) and wondering why all baseball announcers had Southern accents and now the rich players and the even richer owners have finally decided to play some baseball and I guess I’ll slump down and stare at the games, by myself again, without candy corn but maybe with a sip or two of Scotch Original note: Robert Hershon has written 15 books of poems, most recently End of the Business Day and Freeze Frame. He's won two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and three from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Hershon has been co-editor of Hanging Loose Press since its founding in 1966. >> Ed. note: "Chatter" was the "pick of the week" for August 30, 2020, and it elicited enthusiastic and charming comments from Bill Zavatsky, Michael Lally, and Jack Andreson, among others. I woke today to the sad news that Bob died in his sleep last night. Our hearts go out to Donna and Lizzie. --DL Continue reading
Posted Mar 21, 2021 at The Best American Poetry