Archive for the 'From the Editors' Category

Paul Valery on Poetry

paul valery self-portrait

“The greatness of poets is that they grasp with their words what they only glimpse with their minds.”

“Of all occupations the poet’s is perhaps the one in which the greatest impatience has an essential need of the greatest patience.”

“A professional poet is a man (or woman, of course) who sits down regularly at the table of his mind to try his luck. It is a game of mixed chance. Cards are dealt, and the player calculates. He plays against the common language. A person plays against a brain, a semi-external being against a wholly internal one. Against oneself.”

“For a poet, it is never a matter of saying it is raining. It’s a matter of…making rain.”


The Ashbery Enigma

ashbery by elaine de kooning

If anyone has ever strugggled trying to relate to the work of John Ashbery (or to have sensible discussions with those who idolize him), S Shirazi has illuminated the darkness for us. It’s alright to throw up your hands and admit, “I don’t understand what he’s talking about!” You mustn’t be embarassed. Nobody–not even the Blooms and Vendlers of this world–probably has any more than an inkling of an idea what Ashbery so impenetrably–at times valiantly–versifies.  Except, of course, for the venerable poet himself.

In their comic disjunctions, abrupt swerves and mundane deflations, his poems function something like grown-up Mad-Libs, but with the names of Renaissance painters instead of fart or booger.” Read all of Shirazi’s essay here.

Who’s the Greatest Living Poet?

The Greatest Living Poet

Always reluctant to snark another poet (see recent post), this time it couldn’t be helped! This guy (not Lemmy), who bills himself as the Greatest Living Poet, boasts the following revelation on his website: “At the year 2001 (sic) I made the observation that powerful poetry no longer exists in the West.” And a very powerful observation it was. Inspired by Ziggy Stardust–David Bowie’s early seventies alter ego–he decided to take up the mantle, as it were, as the Greatest Living Poet. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this guy snarks himself so well that all commentary is superfluous. Read on: “I took the mask of a visitor from another planet. This poet did not write poetry like any other human then on the planet . Yet this persona wrote his poetry with the confidence and skill of a great poet. It was an outrageous experiment that had a perfect result.” Again, no quip could do justice to this brand of self-worship. And here’s what he has to say about Walt Whitman: “I am certain that when Whitman self- published Leaves of Grass he had in mind a project similar to mine – he too was a greatest living poet (small caps). ” Small caps!! For a while I thought to myself, What a perfect joke!  I should add, however, that this guy takes out an ad in every issue of the New York Review of Books. So, in a way, we must take him (ahum!) seriously, and look to the poetry for an answer. After all, perhaps he really is the greatest living poet, which would be seriously bad news for the rest of us. Judge for yourselves. I present the evidence.

from Daniel, Isaiah, Habbakuk

No longer keep me incantation,
flesh my seamless electron
antenna to all human screens.

Earth behind on math elevators,

light in my space ray, a steam on glass;
daily love soon forgot at the mechanic level;
paper money held till I squeezed the ink,


poem courtesy of the Greatest Living Poet (whatever be his name).

Who’s the Snark?

hunting the snarkEvery now and then I go and check out what’s new at Poetry Snark. The first time I stumbled into this blog I felt my blood begin to rise. All they seem to do is make fun of poets–serious, sincere, hard-working poets. They hold no punches. They are acerbic, clever, offensive, jerky, smirky, fresh and–at times–funny as hell. Which is not to say that I like them or would want my poetry snarked by them (then again…). But I have had a modest revelation thanks to their irreverence. I used to be a poetry snark, too. Deep down I still am, I suppose, because snarkiness never quite leaves you. Of course, I’ve realized that there are ways I prefer to use my energy other than snarking. The snark is always on the lookout for a bigger, more ruthless snark. A snark’s snark is far worse than his bite, because rule number one is that a snark is a frustrated critic. A critic is a frustrated artist, an artist is a frustrated human being and so on… When the snark begins to publish creative work he (or she) will often quit snarking, as snarking is usually a means to an end. So have no fear of the snark. There’s one lurking inside all of us somewhere. American Poets Abroad would like to offer a meek consolation to the snarked poet Samuel Menashe. We happen to think he’s a fine poet. And here’s hoping your poetry is good enough to get snarked!

The Shrine Whose Shape I Am

The shrine whose shape I am
Has a fringe of fire
Flames skirt my skin
There is no Jerusalem but this
Breathed in flesh by shameless love
Built high upon the tides of blood
I believe the Prophets and Blake
And like David I bless myself
With all my might
I know many hills were holy once
But now in the level lands to live
Zion ground down must become marrow
Thus in my bones I am the King’s son
And through death’s domain I go
Making my own procession

Samuel Menashe

Klezmatics Back in Rome!

guthrie mosaic The Klezmatics are coming back to Rome! So this is a reminder to all music lovers (at least those who happen to live in Rome) to get your tickets. The best group in America won a grammy with their last album, Wonder Wheel, a compilation of lesser known Woody Guthrie lyrics, which also happens to be their first album entirely in English. You can see a live performance here. Click here for details on the upcoming concert at the Auditorium.

The following observation has been attributed to Allen Ginsberg: “…if you’re able to listen to this music (the Klezmatics’) without seeing God you must be fucking blind.”

Mermaid’s Avenue

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the fast and slow folks meet,
Where the cold ones meet the hot ones
Just a block from Coney’s beach.
Mermaid Avenue that’s the place
Where the wolves and haybags chase
In big fur coats and bathing suits
They’re in the raggeldy race.

But there’s never been a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
No, I’ve never seen a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
I’ve seen hags and wags and witches;
And I’ve seen a shark or two
My five years that I’ve lived along
Old Mermaid’s Avenue

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the lox and bagles meet,
Where the hot dog meets the mustard
Where the sour meets the sweet;
Where the beer flows to the ocean
(Where the halvah meets the pickle)
Where the wine runs to the sea;
Why they call it Mermaid Avenue
That’s more than I can see.

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the saint and sinners meet;
Where the grey hair meets the wave curls
Where the cops don’t ever sleep;
Where they pay some cops to stop you
When you hit that Sea Gate gate;
Where them bulls along that wire fence
Scare the mermaids all away

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where the sun and storm clouds meet;
Where the ocean meets that rockwall
Where the boardwalk meets the beach;
Where the prettiest of the maidulas
Leave their legprints in that sand
Just beneath our lovesoaked boardwalk
With the bravest of our lads.

Mermaid Avenue that’s the street
Where all colors of goodfolks meet;
Where the smokefish meets the pretzel
Where the borscht sounds like the seas;
This is where hot Mexican Chili
Meets Chop Suey and meatballs sweet;
Mermaid Avenue she’s a nervous jerk
But, still, she’s hard to beat.

Woody Guthrie

Glatshteyn’s God

by ben shahn 


The inmost sense
of my sublimest words
turns my prayer imbecile.
Exalting You makes incense fill
the air with redolence
of idols.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

The least little flower
rejoices You more
than all six days
of Creation.
Evil’s inertia
brings You small care.
You lend us years
by the thousands,
then hide Your face.
The walls of our houses
drool gibberish.

We have yet to learn
the ABCs
of holiness.
How many myriad lives must we seize
before our thoughts can earn
even the footstool of Your favor.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

You do not terrify,
You have no malice.
Still You keep Your distance from us
who live in the profanation
of every moment.
The flash of eternity
in our nostrils
assures our ruin.
I pray from a tongue-tied page
my woebegone God.

Jacob Glatshteyn

Translated by Cynthia Ozick, from the Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse.

The Miracle of Lazarus

 by edward moran
Emma Lazarus was America’s first great Jewish poet. Almost every American (and not only) has three lines of her poetry ingrained in their psyche, lines as well-known as the Constitution itself or the Ten Commandments. “Give me your tired, your poor…”, then fill in the blank. Just about anyone who has a high-school diploma knows that the next line welcomes Europe’s desperate “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But her verse does not stop there. John Hollander has recently edited a new volume of Lazarus’ poetry for the Library of America. Schocken Books has published Esther Schor’s biography of Lazarus in its Jewish Encounters series. Below is the original sonnet that is engraved in bronze at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Contrasting Views

"Literalism is a feature of boorish translators." Cicero "The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase." Nabokov

The Faerie Queene

"John Ashbery said reading the Faerie Queene was like reading an endless beautiful comic strip." Kenneth Koch

Sigmund Freud

"Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."


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