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The Best American Poetry
Welcome to The Best American Poetry blog. We launched this blog in January, 2008, to create a place where we and friends can exchange, discuss, and argue about poems and poetry. We soon discovered that it would be even more fun to post about anything that fuels our passions, be it movies or sex or baseball or ballet or cocktails or finance or music, because these are, after all, the same subjects that generate poems. Then we flung the doors open and invited others to join in. And we decided that contributors to the blog need not be poets as long as they share a love of good writing and poetry. The only things we ask our regular and guest bloggers to avoid are personal attacks. You'll find enough of that stuff elsewhere. We celebrate freedom of expression. The opinionS of our contributors are their own and not necessarily those of the blog's editorial team or of other contributors. We welcome comments as long as they keep within the bounds of civil discourse. Our roster of correspondents is always changing. We are large! We contain multitudes! Please visit often.Our roster of correspondents is always changing. We are large! We contain multitudes! Please visit often.
Interests: music, food, finance, cocktails, movies, baseball, sex, poetry, mad men.
Recent Activity
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1. A-Rod, your body rocks as does your bat but not so much, perhaps, your plucked eyebrows or TV teeth, and— is your hair frosted? It's OK because when you're at the plate, you look like a Cavalier—maybe more a Fop, a frivolously fastidious dandy. Something very Jeremiah of you, too. Your tendency to hit into double plays, the frequent and overzealous strikeouts, and your well-documented lack of clutch. I like to win, but it gives me comfort, lying on my velvet couch, to know that despite the stats one can still suck. Nevertheless, you give black socks a whole new meaning. On you, more like stirrups. Not like stirrups at the OBGYN, (cold, insidious) but like those that fall from a saddle. A relic from your world. Your world the world of men—spitting, then hitting into the sunset. Hopefully. II. Elizabeth Bishop, I have a bone to pick with you. Your Collected admonishes and the clock ticks loudly in the kitchen. I need to read you but A-Rod is up, the crowd is booing loudly and he is about to mount the plate on an imaginary horse. It stamps the dirt, snorts, and A-Rod points his bat at the horizon. Elizabeth, I implore you—discover baseball wherever you are. The diamond is perfect geometry, tracks of diagonals mowed like lattice the low sun makes shine, then deepen. The crowd, white noise, like the CD a friend uses to quiet her baby: children playing in a pool, a hairdryer, running water. A full house tonight, Elizabeth, a meditation, like Sudoku on a moving train or a jigsaw puzzle, pieces scattered on the coffee table. Unlike your book, consecrated by the required reading list. Poets love the mirror. Perhaps as much as A-Rod, who searches for a fastball, leaning back on his right leg swaying back and forth. I've learned, Elizabeth, that they do this to keep time. Something you know a lot about, I can tell from your poem "Poem" (nice title), which I read during the Jeter's Ford Challenge commercial. I had it on mute. Here it comes—a curveball, off the plate. III. At the plate, a hitter has only one thought: right now. At the computer, I have only one thought: kill me. And it could, Elizabeth, but not as much as Yankee commentator Michael Kay, who sputters, "the Melkman cometh" about Melky Cabrera, a returning, demoted rookie who has lost his swing (late nights, girls). These things happen when you're 24. These things happen when you're 34. Elizabeth, why were you reading about Baroque prose in college when you should have gone to keggers? There is art and there is an art to life. Like A-Rod's uniform, which reminds me of Marilyn Monroe's "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" dress, so tight she had to be hoisted over the toilet to pee. Blondes. Something A-Rod knows a thing or two about. We can’t help whom we’re attracted to, Elizabeth. If I had to love someone else's rack as much as... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at The Best American Poetry
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<<< The perch was on the roof, and the puck was in the air. The diffident were driving, and the daunted didn't care. When I came out to search for you the lauded hit the breeze On detonated packages the bard had built to please. The century was breaking and the blame was on default, The smallest mammal redolent of what was in the vault, The screeches shrill, the ink-lines full of interbred regret— When I walked out to look for you the toad had left his net. The discourse flamed, the jurors sang, the lapdog strained its leash— When I went forth to have you found the tenured took the beach With dolloped hair and jangled nerves, without a jacking clue, While all around the clacking sound of polished woodblocks blew. When I went out to look for you the reductions had begun. A demento took a shopgirl to a raisin dance for fun, And for you, for me, for our quests ridiculous and chaste The lead sky leered in every cloud its consummate distaste. The mayors queued for mug shots while the banner rolled in wind That beat at bolted windows and bore down upon the thin, And everywhere warped deliverers got bellicose and brave, When I walked out to find you in the reconstructed rave. The envelopes were in the slots and paperweights were flung. When I came down to seek you out the torrents had begun To rip the pan from handle and horizons from their shore, To rip around your heady heart looking there for more. >>> from Smokes by Susan Wheeler (1998). (It's Susan's birthday.) -- DL Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Born in Brooklyn Heights on July 16, 1907, Barbara Stanwyck was an atypical Cancer, with both her moon and her rising sign in Virgo. Gemini, the sign of the twins, rules her midheaven. A talented actress (Mercury in Leo), she was able to project a wide variety of women -- a paranoid hypochondriac, a confidence artist, a calculating femme fatale, an unflappable witness to a murder, a spurned lover, a scheming sophisticate -- in modes tragic or comic. According to Isaac Babylon in The Charts of the Stars, his classic study of six Hollywood starlets from the 1940s (Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Myrna Loy, Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford), Stanwyck's Virgoesque self-restraint balances the gush of liquid emotion that comes from having not only her sun but her Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune in Cancer. She was a good businesswoman (Mars in Capricorn) but prone to morbidity (Saturn in Pisces). The actresses of the 1940s – we can add Katherine Hepburn, Ida Lupino and Rosalind Russell to Babylon’s list -- belie the notion that women born before the age of female enlightenment lacked strong models who could either keep their families together despite the stresses of war or be psychiatrists, reporters, or con artists; they could solve murders or commit them, could go crazy, could run a restaurant, pack a gun, slap her daughter, commit adultery, speak Chinese, or risk her life as an American agent in South America during World War II. Barbara Stanwyck came from a working class background. She went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Thanks to shrewd investments (Mars in Capricorn) she grew rich. It figures that she never won an Oscar though she was nominated four times. Her real name was Ruby Stevens. She was hilarious in “The Lady Eve” and superb in “Golden Boy.” She helped William Holden get the title part and became Holden's lucky star. He was crazy about her as photos taken on the set of “Executive Suite” attest. In 1939 she married Robert Taylor. Whisperers said it was a sham designed to get gullible people to believe the two stars were heterosexual. Taylor was four years younger than Stanny. “The boy's got a lot to learn and I've got a lot to teach,” she said. She kept the ranch and horses when they divorced in 1951. Robert Wagner said he had a four-year affair with her. Could be. When they gave her a lifetime achievement award she dedicated the Oscar to her "golden boy," the recently deceased William Holden. Stanwyck (some close friends called her “Missy”) had a sharp tongue. She defined “egotism” as “usually just a case of mistaken nonentity.” She had a proud notion of her true worth. “Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don't care what happened before. I don't even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing. I'll take it in those fifteen minutes.” During the filming of Double Indemnity, the Billy Wilder... Continue reading
Posted 4 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Philip Brady as our guest author. Philip's forthcoming book is The Elsewhere: Selected Poems and Poetics (Broadstone, 2020). His most recent book is a collection of essays, Phantom Signs: The Muse in Universe City (University of Tennessee Press, 2019) His most recent poetry book is To Banquet with the Ethiopians: A Memoir of Life Before the Alphabet (Broadstone, 2015). He is the author of three previous books of poetry, a previous collection of essays, and a memoir. He has edited a critical book on James Joyce and an anthology of contemporary poetry. Brady’s work has received the Snyder Prize from Ashland Poetry Press; a ForeWord magazine Gold Medal; an Ohioana Poetry Award; the Ohio Governor’s Award and six Individual Artist Fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council; and Thayer and Newhouse Fellowships from New York State. Brady has taught at the National University of Zaire, University College Cork, and on Semester at Sea. Currently, he is Distinguished Professor of English at Youngstown State University. He is Executive Director of Etruscan Press. He also serves on the low-residency MFA faculty of Wilkes University. Welcome, Philip. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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Name your favorite underrated noir movie? Suzanne Lummis: Night and the City (1950) is only a bit underrated by film noir enthusiasts, who grudgingly say it's Good; but I think it’s better than Good. It was shot in London because director Jules Dassin was blacklisted, so the whole production got kicked out of town. (Studio head Darryl Zanuck continued to support Dassin and the production.) Richard Widmark, probably my favorite noir actor, plays a grifter always looking for a new angle, and now he’s aspiring to take over London’s underground wrestling world. The movie features so many delights, including some fine performances and, at the end, a stunningly shot footrace through the outskirts of the city. David Lehman: While my hat’s off to Jules Dassin (Naked City is my own favorite of his films) and Richard Widmark (Pickup on South Street) -- and while I’m sorely tempted by D.O.A. in which Edmund O’Brien is in the perfect noir predicament of having to solve his own murder (“why me?”), not to mention Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past -- I vote for John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle. It’s not exactly underrated, but I’ve interpreted the question as an opportunity to talk about a second favorite. The cast is fantastic, up and down, with special kudos to -- Sterling Hayden as Dix, the “hooligan” and “big hick,” brawny, trustworthy, an honest crook, no genius, but his instincts serve him well; -- Sam Jaffe as the brains of the operation, Doc Riedenschneider, about whom Dix says “that squarehead . . . has plenty of guts”; -- the suave Louis Calhern as Emmerich, who, says Dix, “even double-crossed himself”; -- Jean Hagen as Doll, sweet, sincere, and smitten with as Dix – she’s even more underrated than Fred MacMurray, and as versatile: compare her work here to that in Singin’ in the Rain), -- scene-stealing Marilyn Monroe as Angela, Emmerich’s backstreet girl; she calls him Uncle Lon (and tells off a cop, “Haven’t you bothered me enough, you big banana-head?”) On a recent TCM viewing, I noted that “Soup” is slang for explosive; that, as in so many great noir movies, even the crooks wear jacket and tie, and the getaway car is beautiful; and that the plot – the caper and its deadly aftermath illustrate two essential noir precepts. Emmerich: “Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.” Doc: “What can you do against blind accident?” See the first in our series -- about Double Indemnity -- by clicking here. Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Here's how the whole gang sang it in Paris on 14 Juillet 2016: And, of course, Paul Henreid is on hand to lead the regulars in a rousing rendition of this brilliant and bloody anthem at Rick's Cafe Americain. And they're still singing it in Paris. Read all about it here. Or sing along with the Casablanca crowd: Continue reading
Posted 6 days ago at The Best American Poetry
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A Bird, came down the Walk - He did not know I saw - He bit an Angle Worm in halves And ate the fellow, raw, And then, he drank a Dew From a convenient Grass - And then hopped sidewise to the Wall To let a Beetle pass - He glanced with rapid eyes, That hurried all abroad - They looked like frightened Beads, I thought, He stirred his Velvet Head. - Like one in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb, And he unrolled his feathers, And rowed him softer Home - Than Oars divide the Ocean, Too silver for a seam, Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, Leap, plashless as they swim. Ed. Note: Consider "Dew / From a convenient Grass," where "grass" would seem to be nature's glass. This is a magnificent poem on first reading or tenth. Ideally one should recite the poem while juggling four pink balls or white bowling pins while a couple of writer friends applaud. -- DL Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Laka Paran in Bennington: what wonderful memories that brings up. Summer frolicking. -- DL
View in Browser PAINTING THE FIGURE NOW Please join us at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art for the Opening Ceremony July 11, 2019 from 6 to 8 PM PAINTING THE FIGURE NOW Many of the artworks you will see tonight are available from Artsy and Artnet. View pricing and availability now. Check out the article in Beautiful Bizarre Magazine. Check out the July issue of American Art Collector. The inside front over ad of the July-August issue features a painting by Sara Scribner. Check it out on Instagram. PoetsArtists , 604 Vale Street, Bloomington, Illinois 61701, USA Unsubscribe Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< He [Scott Fitzgerald] really had but little impulse to blame, which is the more remarkable because our culture peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect. 'Forbearance, good word," is one of the jottings in his notebook." >>> --Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950) Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I respect a man of poetic parts who always wears a hat. How did you come to hear of him, or did you meet him on one of your jaunts to India? -- DL
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With Kim Addonizio, Bruce Bond, Denise Duhamel,David Kirby, Nancy Mitchell, J. Allyn Rosser, Ryan Wilson, and a cast of baker's dozens http://www.theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/index.html Here is my own effort from the new issue: Texting Does the triumph of the text message over the phone call or voice mail imply that they were wrong all along, those analysts of the text who said that the spoken word is invariably valorized to the detriment of the written word in the most primal of binary oppositions that the myrmidons of critical theory were determined to dismantle by valorizing the bottom half of any ratio, be it day-night, white-black, male-female, dominant-submissive, the haves versus the have nots, parents and children who dress alike, and even truth-falsehood, fact-fiction, cause and effect, as if each pair were in perpetual conflict, the universal dialectic having seen to that? -- David Lehman (The image above / is from a painting by Arthur Dove, "Me and the Moon," 1937) Continue reading
Posted Jul 10, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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A favorable review will warm an author's heart even if he becomes aware of it some twenty-eight years -- to the day -- after it was published. De Man's Deconstruction [in the Christian Science Monitor, July 9, 1991] Signs of the Times by David Lehman Reviewed by Merle Rubin. Merle Rubin regularly reviews literature and contemporary fiction for the Monitor. LONG before the scandalous revelations about Paul de Man's wartime writings for the pro-Nazi press came to light, deconstruction - the school of literary criticism most closely identified with him - was a hotly controversial topic inside and outside academe. Proliferating in the hothouse climate of graduate-school literature departments in the 1970s, deconstruction had spread far beyond academia by the end of the 1980s. It has become the word of moment - in David Lehman's phrase, a sign of the times - applied to everything from new fads in clothing and architecture to the questionable tactics of Wall Street junk-bond dealers. David Lehman, a poet, mystery writer, journalist, and graduate school veteran who covered the de Man story for Newsweek, offers "debunking" as a rough-and-ready synonym for deconstruction. In "Signs of the Times," his spirited, immensely readable guide to "Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man," Lehman also provides a far more complete summary of deconstruction's salient points: First, there's the assumption (derived from linguistic studies earlier this century) of an unbridgeable gap between signs (words) and the things they are supposed to signify. This leads to the supposition that language has a life of its own: It determines what we think and how we see, and not the other way around. We are its prisoners, unable to do without it or get around it. Therefore, when we read a text - be it a sonnet by Shakespeare or an ad for margarine, the United States Constitution or a Gothic romance - we are justified only in watching what the words are getting up to: Any effort to evaluate literary merit or discover the author's intended meaning is a pointless exercise. For all the panache he displays in unmasking the pretensions of deconstructionists, Lehman is not entirely hostile to deconstruction. Nor is he the kind of writer who glibly dismisses what he fails to understand. His discussion of deconstruction in particular - and of literary criticism in general - is lively and well-informed. He even makes a good case for the value of "soft core" deconstruction as distinct from the "hard core" variety: The former is free-spirited, playful, creative, open-ended; the latter is a pseudo-religious cult that thinks it has all the answers and brooks no rival schools. If the first half of Lehman's book is a shrewd, enlightening, witty, often entertaining look at the academic politics of literary criticism, the second half has the dramatic impact of a suspense novel. The deconstructionists' hubristic dismissal of biography and history met its nemesis in the form of incontrovertible biographical and historical facts. De Man, a Yale professor regarded by his... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I'm looking forward to your posts. -- DL
To celebrate life, drink in hand, at a Mediterranean or Caribbean beach, burst spontaneously into Cielito Lindo: Ay, ay, ay, ay Canta y no llores Porque cantando se alegran Cielito lindo, los corazones Sing, don't cry Because when we sing, Lovely heaven, our hearts are happy Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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This week we welcome Cassandra Cleghorn as our guest author for the week of July 8-12. Cassandra's Four Weathercocks was published in 2016 by Marick Press. Her poems and reviews have appeared in journals including Paris Review, Yale Review, Poetry International,Colorado Review, Boston Review, Field and Tin House. She lives in Vermont, teaches at Williams College, regularly reviews poetry for Publishers Weekly and serves as poetry editor of Tupelo Press. For more about Cassandra Cleghorn see www.cassandracleghorn.com. We also welcome Alec Bernstein, who will begin posting periodically from New York City. Alec is an independent consultant in counter-intuitive design. His previous trades were in industrial design, technology, classical and avant-garde music, performance art, and poetry. The first 20 professional years he performed as, in or under Svexner Labs, Aesthetic Research, Co-Accident, Gregg Smith, and Robert Kraft. In his teenage poetry years he co-published Buffalo Stamps (as this is a poetry blog, more later). The second 20 years, he worked for BMW Group in their Los Angeles design studio. He holds patents and has published papers on visual theory. Welcome Cassandra and Alec. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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We initiate a new feature today: a running dialogue between David Lehman and Suzanne Lummis, two ardent fans of noir. Suzanne's film noir and poetry themed series, They Write by Night, can be found on YouTube and the website poetry.la, and features explorations such as "Damaged Women," "Separating the Dark from the Light," and "Are the Femmes Fatale?" Her essays include "The Poem Noir--Too Dark to Be Depressed" in Malpais Review and "Never Out of the Past: Noir and the Poetry of Lynda Hull" in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Her most recent poetry collection, Open 24 Hours, won the Blue Lynx Prize. Our columns will go up on Sundays at noon -- timed to coincide with the conclusion of Eddie Muller's noir movie of the week on TCM. Eddie, I like your period-accurate ties and your taste, and this, the first of our exchanges, is dedicated to you, with thanks for today's seventy-minute feature, The Tattooed Stranger, with the shootout amid the gravestones and with the detective and his botanist lady friend in Fort Tryon Park and the GW Bridge in the background. That -- Washington Heights --is where I grew up. -- DL What is the greatest noir movie? Suzanne Lummis: I think Double Indemnity of 1944 is seminal, though a couple of others before it have strong noir elements. But Double Indemnity’s got it all, a terrific script and story, thanks to director Billy Wilder; smart, cracking dialog, thanks to co-writer Raymond Chandler, master of the hardboiled detective novel; and the best (worst!) crime: Two Lovers Kill Husband Then Shoot Each Other. In the annals of immortal crimes, that one’s hard to beat. However, although John F. Seitz is credited with some innovations—such as the smoky look of certain interiors—I prefer the hard, almost glossy, contrasting shadow and light of John Alton and Nicholas Musuraca. David Lehman: We agree. Double Indemnity is the ne plus ultra of noir movies, and if we were to give out noir awards on the model of the Oscars I believe it would win for best picture, best screenplay, best femme fatale (Barbara Stanwyck), and best supporting actor (Edward G. Robinson). The underrated Fred MacMurray would get a nomination for best actor in a lead role but would lose to Robert Mitchum (Out of the Past). My favorite moments: Stanwyck as traffic cop, MacMurray as speeding motorist; Edward G. Robinson’s great speech on types of suicide; the movie’s last line (“I love you, too”). It’s a movie I watch at least once a year and could talk about it for an ardent hour. Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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<<< One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir David Lehman. Cornell Univ, $22.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-5017-4645-1 Poet and critic Lehman (Poems in the Manner of...), who was treated for bladder cancer in 2014, brilliantly captures the despair, uncertainty, and anger he felt in these 100 short reflections on life, death, and writing. Likening his ordeal to the plot of a novel, he declares, “the road connecting memory and desire is not linear... one lesson of any brush with death is that time is finite.” He muses on why he writes: “I write to assert my will to live. To prove I exist.” Throughout, he reflects on literature and pop culture figures to tell his story: arriving at the hospital for treatment wearing his fedora, Lehman recalls the movie Some Came Running and Dean Martin’s hat, “which he wears even in bed, even in a hospital bed.” After reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lehman ponders the concept of evil: “the real question is not whether you believe in god as such but whether you believe there is such a thing as evil.” In his final reflection, being in excellent health—though, like many cancer patients, he acknowledges that this might just be a reprieve—he advises that “even on bad days, there are pleasant hours,” and “it is amazing how much pain the body can withstand.” Lehman’s exquisite essays illustrate the ways that beauty can flow out of pain. (Oct.) >>> https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-5017-4645-1 Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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"Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy." Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Discuss. --sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
As Walter Neff would say, "I love you, too."
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After he read my book "A Fine Romance" in 2009, David Shapiro -- my friend since my freshman year at Columbia --wrote me one of the greatest letters I have ever received, ending with this off-the-cuff poem: You’re the top you’re the TS Eliot you’re the mop making clean the Shelley bit You're the top you’re the cream of Pop's crop you're Warhol despite the whore and the false goal You're the top you're where Jew and Jazz meet you're the sweet that makes the off-rhyme well met You're the top you remember your mom you're dutiful and productive as the jazzy beat of the tom tom You're a memory device you're falling on no thin ice you're now like me pretty nice when the jazz joins the blue night twice Since I reached my circumcision and began to like sexual curls And John Ashbery decried things Schuberty I tell my son not to date too many girls oh no, it's the wrong smile it's the wrong face You're the top You’re the bottom's eaglet you're the top you're eeyore eats piglet you’re the top you're the boat for Noah you’re the top You lunch at Goa-goa you're the top you’re Columbia and Cambridge you’re the top You're the Jewish language (lanvidge) You're the top you’re the martini bullet you’re the top you go on foot to shul (*Sit!) you’re the top of feminine endings you're the top where jazz and jew blended you’re the top you're as yizkor sadness you’re the top you don't know from badness but baby if I'm not Jewish who is doing the stew fish' but baby if I'm not jazz then who's the spaz But baby if I'm not Jewish its close enough for twoish and baby if I'm not gefilte you’re the Hilton etc etc. Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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George Balanchine loved America. This Russian émigré choreographer, who founded the New York City Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein, delighted in everything from the songs of George Gershwin to the city's ''Don't Walk'' signs. When asked why he would choreograph to the marches of John Phillip Sousa, as he did for Stars and Stripes, Balanchine replied, "because he makes me happy." On January 25, 1981, just five days after the American hostages were released from Iran, Balanchine added "Stars and Stripes" to the program, as a special encore. It remains one of my favorite ballets. I saw it as a girl, with several of the original cast, and I remember my awe at the finale, when a giant Stars and Stripes is unfurled as a backdrop while the stage fills with dancers. The spectacle continues to "take the top of my head off" every time. It is in this country that Balanchine was able to make his great contributions to dance. It pains me to think that there might be other Balanchines waiting to get here so their gifts can find full expression on our shores. Here are highlights from Stars & Stripes. -- sdl Continue reading
Posted Jul 4, 2019 at The Best American Poetry