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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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One died, and the soul was wrenched out Of the other in life, who, walking the streets Wrapped in an identity like a coat, sees on and on The same corners, volumetrics, shadows Under trees. Farther than anyone was ever Called, through increasingly suburban airs And ways, with autumn falling over everything: The plush leaves the chattels in barrels Of an obscure family being evicted Into the way it was, and is. The other beached Glimpses of what the other was up to: Revelations at last. So they grew to hate and forget each other. So I cradle this average violin that knows Only forgotten showtunes, but argues The possibility of free declamation anchored To a dull refrain, the year turning over on itself In November, with the spaces among the days More literal, the meat more visible on the bone. Our question of a place of origin hangs Like smoke: how we picnicked in pine forests, In coves with the water always seeping up, and left Our trash, sperm and excrement everywhere, smeared On the landscape, to make of us what we could. John Ashbery, “Street Musicians” from Houseboat Days. Copyright © 1987, 1979 by John Ashbery. Astrological fact: Ashbery, a July Leo with Virgo rising, and a lot of Virgo in his chart, outraged the astrological community by ending his poem “The Skaters” with these lines: The constellations are rising In perfect order: Taurus, Leo, Gemini From John Ashbery as Icon by Jonathan Walker: <<< “By placing Leo ahead of Gemini, as if the world went from May to August and then back to June, Ashbery either (a) deliberately subverted the natural “order,” (b) questioned the concept of “perfection” when related to the heavens (or any force outside of human agency), or (c) exhibited an aloof indifference to fact, thus showing that (a) ignorance of esoteric matters is not a liability, or (2) one was entitled to disregard the Vietnam War as a subject even if good citizenship requires that one “brush the teeth” and all that. >> Asked to comment, Ashbery recommended the Kirby cocktail at Trestle on Tenth, on 10th Ave and 24th St. The recipe consisted of “gin (Plymouth, I think), sweet vermouth (I think), cucumber juice (I think) made from kirby cucumbers, which are now in season--they're the small, pickle-like ones, Cynar aperitif (it's an Italian brand, made from artichokes), and orange bitters, which proved very difficult to find. Maybe you could have one at the bar there to (a) see if you like it, and (b) coax the recipe out of the bartender (though they didn't seem very secretive about it).” Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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Jackie Kennedy Fabulous beast rumored to have roamed the dunes, a sighted unicorn of sorts, gone to the Moors for a slumming late-night drink, or so some claim. Somewhere behind her oft-photographed dark glasses, possibly a private self. Carrier of culture waving from the back of the awful convertible. Forty-four thousand acres of land protected with her husband’s flourishing signature, just ahead of developers eyeing the Provincelands and contemplating the construction of a bridge from Long Point back to Plymouth. At Land’s End, at the Pilgrim’s landing site, did she order the very, very dry martini preferred by Arthur Schlesinger? The Cold War’s narrow ties, its playboy spies, gadgets and international girlfriends on the side. That Atomic Age as one of optimism rather than doom, galactic horizons as something other than a dump site for Earth’s waste. Outer space versus inner resources. Her favorite poem by Millay recalling all our country’s youthful, windblown promise. Iconic shared visage, not only historic but component of us, a multitude’s satellite decade with her as breathless bungling mother to a network generation. In front of Town Hall, she’s resurrected in pillbox and tottering heels. from Cultural Tourism by Mary Maxwell (LongNookBooks, 2012). Ed. note: Jackie Kennedy shares her birthday of July 28 with Marcel Duchamp and John Ashbery. Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
for Dimitris Papaioannou I tame you. (No you don’t). You were nude. You were intangible. You were unconvincing. You were vague. You claimed you were born from angels. You stank of the horrors of war. You blazed with ruthless pride. Your full, loose mouth blazed. You had a fruit bloom. You bloomed like a cannibal. Ready to devour or be devoured. Or both. You had your portrait painted as a butcher’s block. Yet you were not a still life. You were meat but recently living. You had come with your own legs. I replaced your legs. I replaced your crotch. Crotches. All of them. You were ghosting around as if a mystery of Hymen. I undressed you. That is the only difference. Beyond that there was little development between us. I used crutches, stilts, evisceration, plaster casts. I rooted your shoes. I tilted the stage, I knocked it apart, I combined you with other genders. I rolled up my sleeves. I showed you no tenderness, we might as well have been sexual! Or medical! Or archaeologists! I required you to clean up whatever mess we made. I used the mess again next day. I slowed your steps, inhibited your breathing, assaulted you with film score music (waltz). I littered the stage with open graves and you fell into them – hilarious! I laughed at you! I made you walk on your hands without oxygen or effective friends. I made you build the floor you walked on. I blew your clothes off. I mangled your Orpheus scene. I threw someone else’s thighs at you. I doused you with the waters of Lethe. I flattened you into a lozenge and stuffed you in my pocket. I shot all the arrows of King Darius’ Persian army at you (fast!) then made you pick them all up (slow). I tossed your skeleton off its slab (it smashed). I played with your skull. I got you chasing a nostalgic scrap of paper then turned out the lights and told the audience to go home. Beyond that nothing was resolved between us. The legs were of various heights. You invited me into your golden age, I made you a stranger, a loser, an arriviste, an undocumented alien, an unclaimed hostage, a bad birthday gift. I had you eaten into by the human. I broke your energy, I invented your gravity, I pulled you out through your own peep-hole. (No you didn’t). I tame you. (No you don’t). Anne Carson will publish, with Rosie Bruno, a comic book version of Euripides’ Trojan Women in 2021 from the Times Literary Supplement (January 22, 2021) Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at The Best American Poetry
And is there not religion, and reform, Peace, war, the taxes, and what's call'd the "Nation"? The struggle to be pilots in a storm? The landed and the monied speculation? The joys of mutual hate to keep them warm, Instead of love, that mere hallucination? Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure. by Lord Byron from Don Juan, Canto the Thirteenth --sdh Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Andrew McCarron as our guest author. Andrew is a teacher and writer born and raised in the Hudson River Valley. He holds a Ph.D. in Psychology, chairs the Religion, Philosophy & Ethics Department at Trinity School in Manhattan, and teaches in the English Department. His books include: Mysterium, a poetry collection (Edgewise Press, 2011); Three New York Poets: Charles North, Tony Towle & Paul Violi, a collection of critical biographies (Station Hill, 2016); Light Come Shining: The Transformations of Bob Dylan, a study of the Nobel Laureate’s religious identities (Oxford University Press, 2017); and The Ballad of Sara and Thor: A Novella (Station Hill, 2017). He is currently completing a creative biography on the late classicist William C. Mullen. Welcome, Andrew. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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When Men Were the Only Models We Had: My teachers Barzun, Fadiman, Trilling. By Carolyn G. Heilbrun Carolyn Heilbrun is best known for her books of feminist theory, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny and Writing a Woman’s life, but she also wrote a small book that few seem to know, titled When Men Were the Only Models We Had: My teachers Barzun, Fadiman, Trilling. Published by the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, this compelling book describes a young woman’s earnest search for an appropriate academic model when there were none. The three models Heilbrun found for her motivation, inspiration and fantasy were, of necessity, men. There were no older women for a young woman to admire, emulate or imitate. The few women who were literature professors at universities were sadly deficient as models. They were unmarried, unloved, and unbeautiful. Heilbrun did not want to be them, but she did not want to be excluded from the world of male accomplishment. Thus, she was in the uncomfortable position of wanting to join a club that did not want her as a member. Even more uncomfortable was her desire to join the club while also wanting to dismantle it. Before recognizing her wish to be a serious student of literature, she admired the unpretentious writing of Clifton Fadiman, whose modestly titled and popular book Reading I’ve Liked, she delighted in at the age of fifteen. Fadiman, whom she never met, considered himself a pitchman-professor, a popular commentator, a mere book reviewer. Heilbrun writes of him with affection and admiration for his curiosity, his precision, and his unpedantic prose. She writes about her Columbia professor and subsequently her colleague Jacques Barzun with gratitude. Although terrifying at first, Barzun was kind and courteous to students. He happily shared with Heilbrun his interest in detective novels as well as his appreciation of high culture. Most importantly and surprisingly, he offered her something like friendship as well as encouragement. But it is Lionel Trilling, remote, diffident, and shy who truly captured her spirit and her mind. Although she grew somewhat disenchanted with him, she treasures what he represented to her — an important kind of honor and courage and an “enduring gift for inspiring with its essential magic a piece of literature only seriously engaged with for the first time.” (p. 145) But what drew her to him most powerfully was that he seemed to offer salvation, “Not religious salvation, of course, but a sense of how to live in a culture I both treasured and wished to overturn. What Trilling provided was an acrobatic balance between ‘bourgeois’ values and the need radically to affect them. It was in literature that he believed this balance, and profound instruction on how to live, could be found.” (p. 26) When accused of having no position, of always being in-between, Trilling responded, “Between is the only honest place to be.” (p. 52) Between was where Heilbrun lived at the time. I have tried to reconstruct how I came to... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Who hasn’t wished for a painless way to find out what the big shots of philosophy – the Hegels and Kants, the Nietzsches and Sartres – thought of the human condition? It has never made for easy reading, the pondering of such formidable thinkers, and most explainers and textbooks tend either to get things wrong or to massacre the language. Still, the reader aproaching Kant or Hegel needs help, and when it comes from someone with a sense of humor and a refusal to be boring, my heart leaps up. So it did when I opened Witold Gombrowicz’s Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes (trans. Benjamin Ivry; Yale University Press), an exceptional effort at summarizing concepts in bold, declarative sentences. Descartes had one important idea, “absolute doubt.” Kierkegaard had grown up on Hegel’s philosophy, then suddenly “declared war on him, in one of culture’s most dramatic moments.” Gombrowicz (1904-1969), arguably Poland’s greatest modern novelist, took Schopenhauer's pessimism in stride. Schopenauer's "is a grandiose and tragic vision which, unfortunately, coincides perfectly with reality." Gombrowicz writes with a comic wit that made him persona non grata in his Soviet-controlled homeland. He spent his last years lecturing in Paris. A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes, which he was working on when he died, is like the course in philosophy you wish you had taken in your junior year. -- DL (2004). Reading the book rekindled my fascination with Schopenhauer and inspired me to write my poem "The Will to Live," which went on to win the Laurence Goldstein Award from the Michigan Quarterly Review. Pictured above: Raphael's "School of Athens." Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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“They say that Schopenhauer [pictured] is pessimistic. That is not saying very much. [His] is a grandiose and tragic vision which, unfortunately, coincides perfectly with reality.” – Witold Gombrowicz, A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes Arthur Schopenhauer was a competitive man who felt nothing but scorn for Hegel. So he scheduled his philosophy lectures on the same day and at the same time and therefore Hegel had a packed auditorium while only a handful of us – a Polish writer, an ex-girlfriend, a few wayward apostles and I – heard Schopenhauer’s lectures on Descartes, doubt, and the will to live. Life’s a bitch and then you die. Everything proceeds from this proposition. Many philosophers, professional sad sacks, make merry with women and whiskey at night. Not Schopenhauer. He was logical. Eating a delicacy like pressed goose livers with a good Sauterne proved only that nothing exists except the temporary satisfaction of a hunger that will return and a thirst without which no liquid tastes good. Pleasure is merely the absence of pain, not a thing in itself, and the same may be said of peace in relation to war. And yet – Look at all the things we need to endure – death and pain, struggle and fear – in order for the species to survive and so great is our determination to live that endure these hardships we do, putting a good face on things, hurricanes and suicide bombers, the death of adulthood and the abandonment of the beautiful English language. And yet – One of the apostles asked about suicides. What about them, Schopenhauer replied. "Don’t they invalidate your theory Of the will to live?” “Not at all,” he smiled for once. “In suicide they prove the will to live is greater than they are.” There were two proofs: (a) God must exist if we can conceive of god (b) God must but cannot exist if we can conceive of that than which nothing greater can be or be conceived. Therefore, God has to exist as a logical possibility impossible to disprove or credit. That’s what he said. I wrote it down. You may think he was a world-class pessimist but then you didn’t know him as I did in Berlin a hundred years before Hitler. – David Lehman (October 2004) Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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I suspect I know what you’re thinking, dear readers. “Poetry and vinyl records?” you exclaim. “That’s a recipe for commercial disaster!” To this hypothetical remark I would point out that interest in vinyl records is the highest it’s been in decades. While streaming remains the dominant way we listen to music, vinyl sales have outpaced CD sales for the first time in 34 years. Selling and listening to vinyl is no longer a niche interest for sad, middle-aged men trying to recover a mythical past; it’s for sad people of all ages! One of the most interesting developments in the poetry on vinyl universe: Fonograf Editions, a bona fide literary record label that was founded in 2016 and has put out a steady run of superb poetry on wax, from Rae Armantrout’s Conflation to Nathaniel Mackey and Susan Howe’s Stray: A Graphic Tone (cover pictured here), and has recently branched out into CDs and print books such as Lovability by Emily Kendall Frey. There’s just so much to praise and cover in the Fonograf Editions universe, so I reached out to Jeff Alessandrelli, one of their editors. Over email, we talked about records as objects, an upcoming John Ashbery release, and branching out into books. Fonograf has been around for a couple years now, and its backlist is really impressive. Can you tell me a bit about the receptions among the vinyl and poetry communities? Being at quite a few writing conferences and book fairs in the past few years has made clear that people are always really excited to see literary vinyl in the world—even if they don’t have a record player or really listen to records. All of our vinyl releases also come with a download card and poem/liner notes insert, so there have definitely been people who have bought our albums simply for the album-as-artifact (coupled with the electronic listening option). I do appreciate your whole packaging and pricing credo. You’re not going for the bespoke and often overpriced vinyl packages we see now during the vinyl renaissance, but at the same time these are quality records with inserts and the recordings are always high quality. Whether it’s a book or record or t-shirt, the actual Fonograf Ed. object is supremely important to us. The goal with our albums is for them to be part of the owner’s collection for the long term. Meaning that I have a lot of literary vinyl records—from Gertrude Stein to Marianne Moore to Albert Camus to Langston Hughes—and I don’t listen to them every day. I sometimes go years without listening to them. But in my opinion the point of a literary album isn’t to constantly be putting it on your turntable; it’s instead to capture a specific time and place by a writer you really like or love. Our first three albums by Eileen Myles, Rae Armantrout and Alice Notley were all, to a certain degree at least, recorded live, and that exact experience will never be recreated, except in... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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What would it sound like if a book of poetry had its own musical score, like a film, written specifically to match the poems line for line and word for word? So begins the liner notes booklet that comes with poet and critic Ernest Hilbert’s LP, Elegies & Laments, which was released in a limited-edition pressing of 100 copies back in 2012. Ernest, Ernie, is a good friend. We are both South Jersey boys, both went to Rutgers-Camden, and are both poetry and music nerds. Ernie’s a a real renaissance man, a rare book dealer, and bon vivant. To hear Ernie hold forth about metal metal bands of all varieties—hair, death, speed, thrash, parody, glam—is one of my life’s immense pleasures. It wasn’t that big of a surprise, then, to hear from Ernie about his plans to put out a record to go along with Sixty Sonnets, his 2009 debut collection from Red Hen Press. [https://open.spotify.com/album/4IKzfIXSR8Z4HridaIklet?utm_source=embed_v2&go=1&play=1&nd=1] What was surprising? The production value. This is not just a recording of Hilbert reading or performing poems. This is a music and poetry collaboration, produced by Dave Young and Marc Hildenberger, with orchestral composition by Christopher LaRosa. Sixteen poems feature over the course of four tracks, backed by the band Legendary Misbehavior and several string players. The record itself, a beautiful white-colored disc, sounds beautiful through my Technics 1200 turntable. Part One, “Failed Escapes,” features a kind of overture of famous spoken word and poetry snippets—Sylvia Plath, others—under a bed of transistor radio squelch sounds, and leads into the first four Hilbert poems. The remaining tracks pull off similar experiments, and even feature guest readers Paul Siegell, Quincy R. Lehr, and Kristine Young. One question, when it comes to music combined with poetry performances, is if the music will overpower the poetry. There’s always the chance the music will drown out the vocals in the mix, or the music won’t really complement the poetry itself. Or, frankly, the music is more interesting than the poems. In Elegies & Laments, the music and poetry work together magically well, miraculously well. It’s a legitimate collaboration. The photos inside the liner notes show Hilbert drinking a beer at a studio console, watching the musicians lay down bass and guitar tracks, and smoking a cigarette on a rooftop with the Philadelphia skyline in the background. As with many things related to Ernie, I’m jealous I didn’t think of doing something like this first. Rounding up musician friends and colleagues to put together a musical score for a poetry book? It sounds like such a simple idea, at least now that Hilbert has done it. Here’s hoping more poets experiment with music with their poetry. And please: put out a vinyl record, so I can fill my house with more records. Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Today is July 21. Hart Crane was born today, so I reread his “Chaplinesque,” a poem inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Kid. Crane recognized Chaplin as a kindred spirit on an artistic mission like his own. The “we” in the poem stands for the two of them: “We can still love the world, who find / A famished kitten on the step.” In a letter Crane makes it clear that the kitten stands for poetry, and what the poem appears to be saying is that the redemptive nature of modern art makes it a Romantic enterprise, a secular version of a spiritual project. These are magnificent lines: “We have seen / The moon in lonely alleys make / A grail of laughter of an empty ashcan.” The key phrase here, “a grail of laughter,” is a great example of a poetic image that defies logical analysis, for we instinctively grasp it as a figure of the sublime, though we know that a grail cannot be “of” laughter in any conventional sense. It is a poem I have read many times, and on one of these it dawned on me that Crane’s first name was a hidden subject in the stanza of the poem in which “you” may or may not stand for the world: We can evade you, and all else but the heart: What blame to us if the heart live on. I am not sure how to construe these lines regardless of whether heart refers to the organ of the body associated with sentiment and romance or to the artist in general and Hart Crane in particular. Why would “blame” attach itself “to us” in either case “if the heart live on”? Who are “you” that we – the artist as embodied by Charles Chaplin and the poet in their separate realms – can evade? It is a difficult poem -- most of Crane’s are -- but then again, conventional meaning is not necessarily what one prizes in Crane’s poetry. Rather it’s the promise of a new meaning, ambiguous and elusive but full of possibility, as exemplified in such a triumphant phrase as “a grail of laughter.” Poetic logic works in unusual ways, and it’s no accident that several of Robert Frost’s signature poems take place on cold winter nights, or that Hart Crane depicts the heart as inescapable and enduring, or that in a Rodgers and Hart song you can’t be in love unless your “heart stands still.” When Larry Hart writes, in My Funny Valentine, “you make me smile in my heart,” is there a clue here about the nature of the love Hart felt for Rodgers, which the latter could not reciprocate? (Here’s how Frederick Nolan concludes chapter two of his biography of Hart: “Poor Larry,” one of his close friends said. “What a shame he had to fall in love with Dick.”[1]) Could the song’s “unphotographable” but lovable individual, whose “looks are laughable,” be Hart himself? Picture Hart in the splendor of his... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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This poem by Paul Violi appears in his collection Overnight and has been reprinted in a number of places, including The Best American Poetry. Counterman What’ll it be? Roast beef on rye, with tomato and mayo. Whudduhyuh want on it? A swipe of mayo. Pepper but no salt. You got it. Roast beef on rye … you want lettuce on that? No. Just tomato and mayo. Tomato and mayo. You got it. …Salt and pepper? No salt. Just a little pepper. You got it. No salt. You want tomato? Yes. Tomato. No lettuce. No lettuce. You got it. …No salt, right? Right. No salt. You got it. – Pickle? No, no pickle. Just tomato and mayo. And pepper. Pepper. Yes, a little pepper. Right. A little pepper. No pickle. Right. No pickle. You got it. Next. Roast beef on whole wheat, please. With lettuce, mayonnaise and a center slice Of beefsteak tomato The lettuce splayed, if you will, In a Beaux Arts derivative of classical acanthus, And the roast beef, thinly sliced, folded In a multi-foil arrangement That eschews the Bragdonian pretensions Or any idea of divine geometric projection For that matter, but simply provides A setting for the tomato To form a medallion with a dab Of mayonnaise as a fleuron. And—as eclectic as this may sound – If the mayonnaise can also be applied\ Along the crust in a Vitruvian scroll And as a festoon below the medallion, That would be swell. You mean like in the Cathedral St. Pierre in Geneva? Yes, but the swag more like the one below the rosette At the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. You got it. Next. -- Paul Violi This is my twelfth and last Sunday Poetry Post, and I thought I’d end the party by leaving a big gift box on your doorstep, one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. You want elegance, wit and a flawless ear? You got it. -- Robert Hershon from the archive; first posted April 25, 2010 Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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(Ed note: In 2014, Coldfront published a wide range of writing in an attempt to capture the spirit of Paul Violi and his writing. Here is part 2 -- on 20 July, Paul's birthday.) Commedia Violi by Michael Quattrone Tuesday morning in Putnam Valley, New York: Population: 9,500 Elevation: Infrequent Paul Violi is standing at his desk in a navy blue, flannel bathrobe and brown, Ecco walking shoes. He has just returned from a driveway jaunt to retrieve the Times, which his wife, Ann, had run over on her way to work. He tosses the paper aside, removes a deerstalker cap and unwinds a wool scarf from his neck. “It’s windy out,” he reports. He reaches for his coffee, but the mug has vanished. “By the time I find it, it’ll be cold.” Violi has the stoic squint of a movie star. The corners of his mouth draw in when he smirks, or laughs, or grimaces. Disappointed but not flummoxed—or perhaps flummoxed but not truly disappointed—Violi surveys the familiar territory of his workspace. The poet’s desk is long and narrow, more sideboard than escritoire. Its antique varnished oak bows beneath the weight of books stacked high on either side of Violi’s circa-1985 Wizard™ word processor. Histories on the left side, everything else on the right. Atop a moldering volume of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria sits a bouquet of cigarette butts in a restaurant-style, glass ashtray, and a red plastic lighter on a half-empty soft-pack of Tareyton cigarettes. He proffers one to his guest before lighting up himself, and then leans over the precarious stacks to peer outside. The second-story window reveals a trapezoid of lawn below, badly in need of raking. Violi has decided to wait for all the maple leaves to fall before addressing them, at which point they will likely be covered in snow, and he will have to chop firewood instead. In the distance, a dog barks at the passing of a neighbor’s invisible car; Violi sits. Continue reading here. See also http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/obituaries/articles/2011/04/18/paul_violi_66_satirical_poet_wrote_poem_of_index_entries/ https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/16/books/paul-violi-poet-dies-at-66.html Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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"You know what they say about actors performing poetry?” my old professor, Philip Levine, once asked our class. “They make bad poems sound good, they make good poems sound good, and they make great poems sound good." I don't think we necessarily need to unpack that quote, which I think Levine got from someone else. Let's just let it hang in the air as we go over the next entry in our Poetry on Vinyl series: Some Haystacks Don't Even Have Any Needle. I picked up my copy at Last Vestige record store here in Albany back in 2009. Released in 1970, Some Haystacks is in fact a companion double-record release to Some Haystacks Don’t Even Have Any Needle and Other Complete Poems, published by educational publisher Scott, Foresman and Co. in 1969, and edited by Stephen Dunning, Edward G. Lueders, and Hugh Letcher Smith. This is not a rare record. You can buy the record or book used online for under ten bucks. My ex-library copy comes from Doane Stuart, a private school that was located in Albany and now located across the river Rensselaer, NY (pronounced by the locals as REN-sler). File under “Smalbany”: as the library card shows in the image, my copy was once checked out by the sister of none other than the renowned poet and Doane Stuart alum, David Yezzi. Some Haystacks, from the poem selection to the performances, adds up to a professional, sincere effort to get kids into a selection of poems that, while good and great, aren’t written specifically for young people. They’re not particularly scandalous for kids, either. I’m trying to imagine myself in school, listening to this record, and trying to get into poetry. I don’t think it would have done the trick. I think I’d probably dive back into my beloved Mad magazines. It is indeed a trip to hear actors read these poems. Tony Randall’s take on e.e. cummings’ “since feeling is first” rings faithful and, well, actorly. Tony winner René Auberjonois (of Deep Space Nine and Benson fame) takes on Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” and does it justice. Anne Anglin, whose name I recognize from Scanners and who appears in a TV movie based on Mia Farrow's life, recites Larry Rubin’s “Warning,” a poem I’d never heard of, in an able, affable manner. “As the album was being planned, the taped interpretations were auditioned by several hundred students and by teachers and other adults,” reads the liner notes. “These audiences were asked to indicate their reactions to both the poems and their interpretations....the degree of enthusiasm, the spontaneity of discussion, and majority preferences determined the final structuring of the album.” This account makes the album sound more of a joyless, scientific project than what it is, which is a recording of contemporary actors performing poems of mostly contemporary poems. Considered that way, it makes me wish there were more recordings like this nowadays, even if adds up to a noble experiment, even if it flattens... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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photos 2021 (c) Jessica Kerns This summer we have had so much rain here in the Finger Lakes that mushrooms, both edible and toxic, are popping up everywhere and the hunters are out. Better be careful! Over on Facebook, where friends are posting photos of their fungus finds, polymath Jessica Kerns responded with an emphatic "NO!" when I asked if I could serve up a spectacular mushroom I'd spotted while walking the dog. Elsewhere she notes that "[t]he forests are magical right now. Hunting mushrooms for harvest is therapy." Scroll through her photos, above, and you'll see what she means. "Not all of these are edible," says Jessica, "but two of them are and they are delicious!" Extra credit if you can guess which to saute with butter and garlic and a splash of wine and which belong in an Agatha Christie novel. I'm reminded of this poem: Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath Overnight, very Whitely, discreetly, Very quietly Our toes, our noses Take hold on the loam, Acquire the air. Nobody sees us, Stops us, betrays us; The small grains make room. Soft fists insist on Heaving the needles, The leafy bedding, Even the paving. Our hammers, our rams, Earless and eyeless, Perfectly voiceless, Widen the crannies, Shoulder through holes. We Diet on water, On crumbs of shadow, Bland-mannered, asking Little or nothing. So many of us! So many of us! We are shelves, we are Tables, we are meek, We are edible, Nudgers and shovers In spite of ourselves. Our kind multiplies: We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot's in the door. >>> And this passage from The Debt to Pleasure, a favorite contemporary novel by John Lanchester, also comes to mind: On the seat beside me were my wicker basket, my Sherlock Holmesian magnifying glass (hardly ever used or needed), and my copy of Champignons du nos pays by Henri Romagnesi (ditto, though I also keep all six volumes of Champignons du Nord et du Midi by Andre Marchand back at the house). In the following account, the alert reader will notice that I am being a little bit coy about the geographical specifics. Forgive me, but we amateur mycologists, especially amateur mycologists of a culinary bent, passionately guard our favored patches of land--a promising batch of cèpes-yielding beeches here, a cropped roadside thronging with ink-caps there, a yonder patch of nettles known to feature spectacular examples of Langermannia gigantea, or the giant puffball, and somewhere else a field with a healthy quantity of cow excrement conducive to the fructation of the nasty tasting but currently popular halucinogen Psilocybe semilanceata, appropriately known in English as the Liberty Cap. (This, by the way, is not as it is sometimes taken to be, the hallucinogen used by the notorious shamans of the Koryk tribe in far Siberia, the Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric, ingestible via reindeer or indeed human urine, most often popularly reproduced in the image of a re-capped white-dotted toadstool, providing a convenient seat for any... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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1 Be kind and courteous We aim to create a welcoming environment. Let's treat everyone with respect. Healthy debates are natural, but kindness is required. 2 No hate speech or bullying Make sure everyone feels safe. Bullying of any kind isn't allowed. 3 Self-promotion, spam and irrelevant links aren't allowed. 4 Let's keep in mind what made us love poetry in the first place. Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome back Daniel Nester as our guest author. Daniel is the author most recently of Harsh Realm: My 1990s, a collection of poetry and prose poems coming soon from Indolent Books. His previous books include Shader, a memoir; How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction; and The Incredible Sestina Anthology, which he edited. His first two books, God Save My Queen: A Tribute and God Save My Queen II: The Show Must Go On, are hybrid collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His work has appeared New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Bennington Review, The Hopkins Review, Word For/Word, Court Green, Love’s Executive Order, Barrelhouse, and other places. He edits Pine Hills Review, the online literary journal of The College of Saint Rose, where he is professor of English. Find out more about Daniel here. Follow him on Instagram @danielnestermfa Welcome, Daniel. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Stock Lineup for Charles North, inventor of the form Pepsi SS J. P. Morgan 2B Apple LF Microsoft CF Berkshire Hathaway C Johnson & Johnson IB Deere 3B * Crowdstrike RF DH Amazon * LHP Paypal RHP Alphabet * = rookie status Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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The Homecoming the true south and the upland grass the bright glade and the fallen lintel the driving rain and the sudden calm the fiddle tune and the rowan berries the ruined chapel and the black water the hard road and the steady light the heat haze and the peat smoke the pebble bed and the yellow flag the grey song and the fault line the dog rose and the meeting place the keen air and the pine needles the furze blossom and the brown trout the far hills and the broken boat the bleached bones and the summer dwelling the slack tide and the raised beach the blue sky and the summit cairn the hanged crow and the sheep dip the bracken fronds and the healing pool the lobster pots and the teasel patch the old fort and the malt whisky the scree slope and the circling buzzard the lonely glen and the heather fire the sphagnum moss and the golden lichen the bladder wrack and the shell mound the west wind and the last harebell the lark notes and the ripe brambles the tweed jacket and the grouse moor the barbed wire and the holy island the standing stone and the loud burn the wild goats and the bog myrtle We begin with Scotland as observed by one of its most attentive poets. Born in 1944, Thomas A. Clark lives in a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland, and his affinities lie with poets such as Robert Creeley and Lorine Niedecker. He publishes small books and cards through his own Moschatel Press, in collaboration with the artist Laurie Clark, while Carcanet Press has published The Hundred Thousand Places (2008) and Yellow & Blue (2014). Clark’s work is spare and meditative, taking its rhythm from the pace of long-distance walking. As Peter Riley remarks, ‘The language doesn’t just advise patience, it enacts it.’ To hear Clark read is to fall under the spell of his phrases, where the seeing ‘I’ is rarely present. ‘The Homecoming’ evokes rural Scotland, her sea, streams and hills, wild life and history; amongst these, malt whisky takes its place as part of a palette of gold tones. What is manmade in this landscape is dissolving back into the land. See http://thomasaclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/ from the archive; first posted January 25, 2015 See also https://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2015/02/poetry-from-scotland-2-liz-lochhead.html Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< On Tokens and Tokenism From George Washington to Jill Biden, Black literature has long been plagued by ignorant white patrons, who arbitrarily anoint a few writers as symbols of the Black experience BY ISHMAEL REED JULY 07, 2021 Tokens are the bane of Black literature, and for that matter, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American literature. They are often selected arbitrarily as symbols by those who know little about Black literary traditions or literature in general, and their work overshadows the production of writers who might write as well or better. From George Washington, who anointed the poet Phillis Wheatley back in the day, to Jill Biden, who gave Amanda Gorman the nod earlier this year, a powerful white patron can offer a Black writer huge sales and exposure. In return, these writers become the go-to sources about the Black experience for readers as well as academics who are spared the trouble of viewing Black writing as a tradition that extends at least to the 1700s. This includes Black writer-slaves who wrote in Arabic. Instead, we are limited to renaissances, each generation canceling the previous ones. Both John A. Williams and John Oliver Killens, who wrote as well as any of the tokens, agreed that once a powerful white literary trend-maker or institution selects a token, segments of the Black cognoscenti line up to ratify the choice no matter their politics. Before the decline of the Black newspapers, those writers who were neglected by the outsiders, who control the patronage networks, could get some space. Langston Hughes, John A. Williams, and Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote for newspapers. Dunbar’s newspaper, The Dayton Tattler, was supported by his classmate Orville Wright. Black writers had influence over which of the younger writers would receive support. Then came the ascendancy of critics who are housed in universities and paid by foundations. These critics decide which writers will receive grants that might provide them the time to complete creative projects. Critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. controls the patronage of at least three foundations. He often provides grants to his Harvard colleagues instead of awarding them to creative writers. Contrast this with the generosity that Richard Wright extended to a struggling James Baldwin. In 1948, Wright used his influence to provide Baldwin with a Eugene Saxton Memorial Trust fellowship from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. For my part, after the publication of my novel Reckless Eyeballing I was left as literary roadkill because I took aim at some of the dizziest ideas of bourgeois feminists, among them women who regarded Valerie Solanas as a hero, viewed male ejaculation as “an act of war,” or argued that Emmett Till, who allegedly whistled at a Southern white woman—who confessed on her deathbed that she lied—was just as guilty as his murderers. Luckily, I received a cash award from the great poet Gwendolyn Brooks that helped to sustain me, financially. Who are some of the writers that have been neglected by these guardians of patronage more... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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"You can't cancel me. I'm Superman." <<< Superman is just a flash in the pan. . . I've been around the world in a plane, Settled a revoltuion in Spain, The North Pole I have charted, But I can't get started with you. On the golf course I'm under par, Metro Goldwyn wants me to star, With queens I have a-la-carted, But I can't get started with you . . . >>> (from "Can't Get Started," music Vernon Duke, lyrics Ira Gershwin; you'll hear it in the background of Chinatown, which has a world-class soundtrack from Jerry Goldsmith.) Continue reading
Posted Jul 14, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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from Poets & Writers <<< The letter protesting the temporary closing of Poets' House during the pademic, because the institution is saddled with debt] recognized the work and commitment of the board, [executive director Lee Ellen] Briccetti, and [pmanaging director Jane] Preston to sustain Poets House, but described being “saddened and deeply unsettled that, through whatever combination of financial and intra-staff/management crises, the organization has fired its entire staff in an abrupt, unkind, and otherwise questionable manner.” Belladonna* added that the board’s press release did not “assuage the appearance of anti-union, anti-whistleblower retaliation around the timing of this extraordinary move.” The letter went on to ask the board of directors why they did not opt to furlough staff if they intend to reopen the organization, and why they did not organize a “community-wide fund-raising campaign.” (The iconic San Francisco bookstore City Lights, for example, launched a GoFundMe in April after the pandemic forced it to close; it has since raised nearly $500,000.) “Without pretending to be versed in the full specifics of institutional culture at Poets House,” the letter continued, “the grievances we are reading about are familiar to us: a personality-driven system of management; exploitative wage labor structures that use the poverty of poetry to take advantage of committed workers, who are often young; desired donors actively being protected from having to reckon with or curb their racist and transmisogynist habits. These are dishonorable and corrosive practices that your staff was correct to call out—for their own workplace environment and for the larger causes at hand.” The letter concluded by urging the board to reverse their decision to fire staff and to let them unionize. “We want other organizations to learn by your example (take note) because they are no different. There is no poetry in exploiting workers and protecting power. We ask you for an honest engagement with your community. We ask you to commit resources not to lawyers and stonewalling but to positive change. We ask you to accept the need to change and respond ethically, with care for all concerned.” On December 9, board member and poet Monica Youn responded to several of the questions raised in the Belladonna* letter, and reinforced that the organization temporarily closed because it was operating at a $200,000 deficit and running out of operating funds. She noted that, unlike many literary nonprofits, Poets House faced the challenge of financing and fund-raising for its main service—operating a free, physical library and event space—that was now closed due to the pandemic. Youn went on to address the charge of union busting: “I am a member of the UAW. I spoke at a UAW rally during which I pulled my child out of school rather than cross the picket line in October. I also work on antiracism and gender equity issues both as part of my job and in my nonprofit involvements. If I thought for one second that that the closing of Poets House was in some way a pretext for either... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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For all who are wondering what the philosophers in England are up to, take a look at “Game-changer: A Philosophy for Homo Ludens” by Vid Simoniti, a review of Games: Agency of Art by C. Thi Nguyen (Oxford UP). Here are the opening grafs: << “Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.” When Jeremy Bentham notoriously declared all pleasures to be interchangeable, he chose a children’s game to represent pleasures of the lower sort. What entertainment could be more banal than push-pin, a sort of Victorian “thumb war” played with pins? Since Bentham’s day, though, games have come a long way. Video games now create more revenue than television, music or films. Together with board games, they span a variety of subgenres, and foster loyal communities of connoisseurs and critics. And yet games are still largely considered to be (mere) entertainment rather than art. They are seldom given sustained attention in literary reviews, say, or in university syllabuses. Thi Nguyen’s philosophy of games seeks to redress this bias. Games are an art form, Nguyen argues, and their medium is human agency. Just as a painter manipulates pigments to create a likeness, so a game designer induces the players to live out certain patterns of doing things. Chess compels us to deduce and to plan; poker to dissimulate and to take risks; and the ungainly choreographies of Twister push us towards hilarious self-abasement. The art of games is the creation of such “agential modes”, be they intense or jovial, cerebral or daft. >>> https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/games-c-thi-nguyen-review-vid-simoniti/ Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Ange Mlinko is one of our most astute and courageous critics. She is unafraid to speak her mind; she has a subtle intelligence, does her homework, arrives at an opinion and states it with precision and without worry about crossing the boundaries of conventional wisdom. It is this rare quallity of critical intelligence brought to bear on poetry, something she cares deply about, that would make her valuable even if the times were not as inimical to free spech as they are. Herself a poet, she has a vigorous and lucid prose style. Here are two brief sections of her characteristically engaging review of two books, Adrienne Rich's Of Women Born and Hilary Holladay's biography, Ther Power of Adrienne Rich (Doubleday, 2020). The review appeared in the London Review of Books (15 July 2021) under the heading "Waiting for the Poetry." I have a feeling the piece is causing a ruckus in some circles, but it should be read -- the whole piece, not just excerpts -- because of its heartfelt, mindful engagement with an important poet, whatever your politics or your affection (or lack of same) for Adrienne Rich. -- DL <<< The collections that mapped Rich’s personal and ideological trajectory during the tumultuous aftermath of [her late husband] Conrad’s suicide include The Will to Change (1971), Diving into the Wreck (1973) and The Dream of a Common Language (1978). Stylistically Rich broke no new ground: when she abandoned formalism, she found her footing in the confessionalism of Lowell’s Life Studies and Plath’s Ariel – which, as Holladay points out, ‘had driven a stake in the heart of New Criticism’. But her work was now getting exhilarated responses, such as Margaret Atwood’s review of Diving into the Wreck, with its twist on Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry: ‘When I first heard the author read from it, I felt as though the top of my head was being attacked, sometimes with an ice pick, sometimes with a blunter instrument: a hatchet or a hammer. The predominant emotions seemed to be anger and hatred, and these are certainly present; but when I read the poems later, they evoked a far more subtle reaction. Diving into the Wreck is one of those rare books that forces you to decide not just what you think about it; but what you think about yourself.’ Atwood wasn’t alone. Elaine Showalter, Catharine MacKinnon, Robin Morgan and Susan Griffin were among her admirers. Reporting on the crowd that descended on a women’s bookstore when Rich gave a reading in New York, Holladay says that she ‘was welcomed as a sort of messiah’. Overall, however, the verdict was mixed and would remain so throughout her career. Holladay refers to an ‘enigmatic’ review by Rosemary Tonks, but there’s nothing enigmatic about it: it is the frank confrontation of a poet of the Nerves with a poet of the Will: ‘In Miss Rich’s work, the moral proportions are valid, the protagonists are sane, responsible persons, and the themes are moving... Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2021 at The Best American Poetry