OK, I said, and wrote her
this calling it "Lune de Miel"
and shared it today
with the infinite internet
as "the poet of the month"
for The Inqusitive Eater:
The best thing about Paris
is being here with you
(a Sauterne with one course,
a Cote de Beaune with the next)
and the best thing about
being here with you
is Paris (three letters short
of paradise but I
wouldn’t have it any
other way) on this November
day of clean blue skies
(a Chablis with one course,
a Pomerol with the next)
after yesterday’s umbrellas three
stories below our window
where three streets meet
in the cold gray rain
of a new day in the past
which we’re keeping alive
The Times published an obituary for Harry Mathews on Thursday. Written by Sam Roberts, the piece is headlined “Harry Mathews, Idiosyncratic Writer, Dies at 86.”
I had learned of his death from the painter Trevor Winkfield, so I could respond to the headline rather than the news and I immediately thought about how true it was as a journalistic summary– you could see why the copy-editor signed off on it – and yet how wide of the mark.
True, the writings of Harry Mathews are unusual, singular, eccentric. Some might even write him off as a well-educated dilettante who cultivated literature as a hobby. But there are those of us who believe him to have been a true original -- brilliant and inventive and uncompromising in his allegiance to an avant-garde esthetic.
Mathews stars in the category we might call “An American in Paris.”
Living in Paris for so many years, Harry was a persuasive advocate for a brand of poetics that would have taken a much longer time to reach our shores had he not been the one to spread the news as the first and for a long time the only American member of the Oulipo, the French organization devoted to the creation and practice of constrictive literary forms.
The Conversions, his first novel, is a masterpiece of its kind. It has elements of comedy and absurdity but they are there not to make a satirical point or mount a critique. The book revolves around an eccentric millionaire’s will, which poses riddles that the would-be heirs must solve. It is the riddles and the complications they generate that Mathews values. He is an aesthete first and foremost. The only moral in a Mathews story, such as the one in the form of a recipe (“Country Cooking,” if memory serves), is joy. Meanings and messages are the last thing on his mind. I see that I am speaking in the present tense and will continue to do so as if language could outwit fate.
“Histoire,” a sestina in which Seth and Tina cap off a romantic dinner by making love, makes devastating use of an unlikely set of end-words: Maoism, Marxism-Leninism, sexism, fascism, racism, and militarism. By poem’s end none of those words means what you thought it did. Each could do service as a stand-in for something gastronomic or amorous. The instability of language is most entertainingly demonstrated, but the pleasure of the poem goes beyond its linguistic adventurousness.
In January 1979 Harry came, at my invitation, to teach a one-month course at Hamilton College, where I was then on the faculty. It was Harry’s first teaching gig in the United States – Bennington would follow – and he made the most of it. He introduced the students to OuLiPo procedures such as the “n + 1” construction (and variants thereof), the equivoque, and the technique of generating a plot by starting with a phrase that has or can have a double meaning. (Consider “orange crush,” “twin peaks,” “risk management,” “radio silence,” “tequila sunrise”). One time he had the students make a translation of the star-filled nighttime sky. There were a lot of stars that January in the skies of Clinton, New York.
That January Harry and Stefanie and I dined together every evening. Steffi cooked and we drank the case of wine Harry, a connoisseur and a bon vivant, brought. We had a piano at our place and either Harry or Steffi would play and we would sing the songs of Irving Berlin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. Ever energetic, Harry got me to play racquetball with him four nights a week even though both of us were teaching long hours daily.
I'd like to invite friends of Harry to record, perhaps in the comments field, a memorable comment or anecdote. Michael Malinowitz recalls his ordering "a double espresso in a single cup." I remember telling Harry that I wanted to cook coq au riesling (a variant of coq au vin), to which he replied that he thought Coco Riesling would be a terrific name for a character in a novel.
The Times obit has a lot of useful information and should not be dismissed because of the reductive headline. (All headlines are reductive.) Born on Valentine’s Day, the son of a prominent architect and a real-estate heiress and patron of the arts, Harry grew up on Beekman Place, went to Groton, dropped out of Princeton, went to Harvard, went to Paris, stayed there, founded Locus Solus with John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch.
Ashbery, Koch, Mathews, and James Schuyler edited Locus Solus. They named it after the novel by Raymond Roussel, the patron saint of the enterprise. Before the money ran out four issues appeared. You could do worse than start with these if you wanted to explore the aesthetics at the heart of the New York School of poets – the joy of collaboration; the importance of modern French poetry; the belief that chance can contribute to a work of art if only because there are no accidents; the related belief that exuberance is delight; the pleasures and the paradoxes of the experimental and, yes, the idiosyncratic way of writing.
Go to an art museum—or to the website of New York’s Metropolitan Museum—and write a sonnet about the painting you name in your title. Remember to pivot after line eight, whether you rhyme or not.
Deadline: Sunday night, February 5, midnight any time zone
Winner will be disclosed Tuesday the 7th along with the challenge for next week. Click here for details.
These are poems of wit and humor but also deep emotion and clear intelligence, informed by Lehman’s genuine and knowledgeable love of poetry and literature. From Catullus and Lady Murasaki to Wordsworth, Neruda, Virginia Woolf, W.H. Auden, and Charles Bukowski, Poems in the Manner Of shows how much life there is in poets of the past.
Stay Thirsty Magazine has featured five Poems in the Manner Of. You can read them here.
In the TV show "To Tell the Truth," there were always three individuals pretending to be the prominent or accomplished figure, an adventurer or a football hero, and the panel had to choose who was the genuine article.
But Cary Grant stumped the panel.
Each of the three individuals named Cary Grant was extraordinarily handsome, suave, charming, and irresistible even though one was a glib ad man named Roger Thornhill, skillful at stealing a taxi cab or fobbing off girlfriends with gifts of chocolate and insincere praise. The second Cary Grant was a fast-talking newspaper editor ("Duffy! Get me rewrite!"), who can outwit Ralph Bellamy or whoever the designated rival is and recover the affections of alienated partners such as Irene Dunne and Rosalind Russell. The third showed up at the top of the Empire State Building to meet Deborah Kerr but she, though equally eager, gets hit by a car in the street below, and they do not consummate their affair to remember.
Born Archie Leach on January 18, 1904 in Bristol (England), Cary Grant spoke in an accent that sounds somehow British and yet is not out of place in any set of circumstances in the States. His versatility extended from the globetrotting realm of Hitchcock's thrillers (the England of "Suspicion," the South America of "Notorious," the French riviera of "To Catch a Thief") to comedies with leading ladies on the order of Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly and Eva Marie Saint. Possibly the handsomest leading man in the movies, though not the sexiest, he starred with both Hepburns, Katharine in a whole bunch of films and Audrey in Charade. He ties Jimmy Stewart as the most frequent Hitchcock hero. He became a US citizen in 1942 and never won a regular academy award, although he did collect an honorary Oscar in 1970.
Origin of name: Boring Hollywood legend has it that "Cary" came from his stage role as a guy named Cary in a musical with Fay Wray, and "Grant" was assigned to him by the studio. You and I can do better. "Grant me an hour, and I will carry you over the altar," he said sheepishly.
Marital status: five times, with wife #3 (Betsy Drake) the marriage that lasted longest. He had a genius for screwball romantic comedies and was a natural straight man -- in Frank Capra's "Arsenic and Old Lace," example.
His last romantic hurrah: Charade with Audrey Hepburn in 1963. The Stanley Donen-directed film also exploits the talents of Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, the Marche aux Timbres and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Gene Kelly doing a carefree dance on the banks of the Seine (though filmed on a studio) is lovingly recalled by Miss Hepburn (Mrs Charles Lampert) as the hero and heroine hold hands under a bridge and a bateau mouche glides by. Cary Grant shrewdly insists that the romance begins on the lady's side -- he is acutely conscious of the age difference between him and Audrey Hepburn. But then you think about it and you realize that he is ever the pursued one -- that his good looks trump the ladies and he doesn't even have to make a pass to score. If life were a romantic comedy with a Nora Ephron accent, you could not do better than cast Cary Grant in the lead role.
From Charade: "You know what's wrong with you? Nothing." From North by Northwest": "The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I've no desire to make love to her." "What makes you think you have to conceal it?" "She might find the idea objectionable." "Then again she might not."
There is, however, a blank where an identity should be.
Cary Grant took LSD more than 100 times, having been introduced to the narcotic by Betsy Drake. It helped him more than a posse of doctors in his lifelong quest to confront his identity. Best quote: "Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant." The plot conceit generating North by Northwest, in which a Madison Avenue executive is mistaken for a CIA agent who doesn't exist, is based on an incident in Grant's biography.
A rose is just a rose: "I never had so much fun since Archie Leach died," he says in His Girl Friday. If you watch Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace, you'll see the grave of Archie Leach.
Posthumous scuttlebutt that doesn't shock anyone anymore: he may have been bi-sexual (LTR with flatmate Randolph Scott).
Dodger Fan Info: Shared exclusive box seats with Frank Sinatra and Gregory Peck at Dodger Stadium. Did not pay very close attention to the games.
Retirement job: Became a director of the Fabergé company and promoted the fragrance firm's products.
Vital stats: Rising sign Libra, moon in Aquarius; Water Cat (Chinese astrology); six feet one and a half inches tall.
The well-dressed actor's method was the opposite of the method of Marlon Brando. Brando wanted to find the character within himself. Cary Grant lost himself in the character he was playing.
Like a handful of other Hollywood giants -- Bogart, Cagney, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, John Wayne -- he was always himself and whoever he was depicting. When Bogart or Cagney want to shock you, they act like madmen, Bogart the paranoid ("The Caine Mutiny"), Cagney the psychotic bundle of rage who holds conversations with his dead mama ("White Heat."). Gable is always dashing, Cooper always stoical, strong, and silent, and John Wayne will never lose a fight or a battle. But Cary Grant is at heart a comic actor of supernal charm thrust into a melodrama of high gravity. And what he acts out is invariably a romance. No man is luckier in love than the Cary Grant that existed only in the movies. It is said that Ian Fleming concocted Jame Bond with Cary Grant in mind.
Do male poets have crushes on female poems? Maybe, but the reverse is also true, and the old canard that male poetry editors like it when the women talk dirty implies bad faith on the part of the males and bad morals on the part of the females and is as reductive as concluding from a man's appreciation of, say, Marianne Moore's poems that the guy likes scholarly and quaint. There's more to Moore than that, and a poem with the tits to start "Fuck me" is daring not so much because of the grab-you opening but because that's a high standard of intensity for the rest of the poem to live up to.
Do (some) male poets have a weakness (or a yen) for lustful poems by women such as Olena Kalytiak Davis, Jill Alexander Essbaum, Kim Addonizio, Jennifer L. Knox, Nin Andrews, Deborah Landau, Moira Egan, Cynthia Hungtington, Sharon Olds? Sure, but the length of that list and the fact that it could be twice as long lead to a different explanation, and I would argue that female sexuality is an area of experience that had not until recently been explored quite as candidly and with language as frank and sometimes even deliberately crude as you find in the best American erotic poetry. After the 1960s you could tell there was a void in the literature and you knew you could do something about it. Taking advantage of the opportunity, talented women have given us some wonderful erotic poems.
Now the idea of "gendering" neutral objects fascinates me. In Grench and Ferman, I mean French and German, the nouns are grammatically either masculine or feminine. I believe this is for arcane reasons having more to do with signs than with meanings, and there are oddities aplenty -- in French the word for the female breast (sein) is masculine and the word for the male chest (poitrine) is feminine. There was always a semantic difference between gender and sex, and though it has been obscured tremendously in recent usage, it's a pity if the distinction is lost, and "the difference between gender and sex" has real possibilities as a title.
That said, don't you love the idea of assigning a sex to the parts of speech -- or to individual poems? Please then, dear reader, guess the sexual identity of the following works: "Ode on a Grecian Urn." "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." "The Waste Land." "In Memoriam." "The Sick Rose." Though all were written by men, I'd say two of these is female.
Read The Iliad and you are in a universe that is male and tragic. Read The Odyssey and you are in a universe that is female and comic. Mark Van Doren said that. The Odyssey has the greatest cast of female characters: Calypso, Nausikaa, Circe, Athena, and Penelope. But that is just one reason The Odyssey is feminine.
A more challenging case is that of "To His Coy Mistress" (Andrew Marvell) versus "To His Mistress Going to Bed" (John Donne). Set the poems before a group and ask for its preference, and you'll see a 50-50 split on which they like more -- and which they consider more acceptably masculine. It's always the women that have the strongest opinions.
Reading a poem without knowing the identity of the author, as during certain prize competitions, you invariably wonder whether the author is old or young, man or woman. Researchers Camille Pascale and Robert Petit tested themselves and were 80% wrong. Guessing the age and the sexual identity of twenty poems anonymously presented in a variety of typefaces, they were wrong sixteen out of twenty times. This happened repeatedly. They concluded that the whole endeavor was a blind alley. (See Camille Pascuale and Robert Pettit, "Blind Judgment: The Poetic Case for Gender Neutrality.")
But the conceit makes it great: the idea played with in the dance hall of poetic improvisation. The idea that some poems are male and some are female, and that male poets may write female poems and female poets may write male poems, stands or falls not on its truth value but on its value as a stimulus to thought and discussion.
As Ern Malley observed, "a poem is both the means and the end." Eric Rice adapted Orwell: "Some poems are more equal than others." The Dickinson expert Jessica Miller said "some poems have cojones" but was opposed as sexist by Jane Splice, who favored the "tits" locution used above.
From the archives: originally posted January 13, 2012.
The first Major League baseball game I ever saw took place in May 1957 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The Dodgers, my team, were taking on the New York Giants, and my father took me on the long subway ride from Washington Heights, where we lived, to deep Flatbush, where Duke Snider patrolled center field, Carl Furillo played the caroms off the right field wall and nailed the runner trying to stretch a double, Pee Wee Reese gobbled up grounders and Gil Hodges completed the putout, and Roy Campanella won three MVP awards.
And who should be pitching for the Dodgers that day? A local boy, who played first base at Lafayette High and basketball at the U of Cincinnati: a Jewish "bonus baby" with a fantastic fastball, a lot of potential but somewhat erratic results thus far in his Major League career: Sandy Koufax, born on this day in 1935.
Auspicious. Also, of course, heartbreaking to fall in love with a team that would move to California at the end of that very season, taking the Giants along with them. The Dodgers settled in Chavez Ravine, and Dodger Stadium, erected in 1962, remains the most elegant baseball park in the nation. It is also, amazingly, the third oldest. The Giants have given strutting San Franciscans something extra to cheer about in the last couple of years, but I like the Dodgers' chances with their astute new management this season.
On that May day in 1957 Duke Snider stroked his 1,500th major league hit. He also homered and made a graceful running shoestring catch of the line drive that ended the game. Koufax pitched into the eighth inning when Clem Labine relieved him. The final score: Brooklyn 5 -- New York 3. Ray Jablonski homered for the Jints (the authenticating detail!). I was eight years old and still remember Gil Hodges's smile when, before the game, he turned in our direction and acknowledged the greeting of a devoted fan.To this day I have never had a better seat at a ballpark than that one some ten rows back from first base at little Ebbets Field.
I have known a number of Sandys -- such as Sanford ("Sandy") Friedman, my classmate at Clare College, Cambridge, who quarterbacked our occasional touch football games and knew more than most of us about pipe tobacco, English cheeses, Renaissance poetry, and Wittgenstein.
But I am told that Sandy (like Leslie) is now assumed to be a girl's name -- as you could tell from the coverage of Hurricane Sandy back in 2012. That tempest did terrible damage, and was altogether lamentable, but it did suggest a nickname and an image for the greatest pitcher, who totally owned home plate for a stretch of six years in the early half of the 1960s. Hurricane Sandy. He had the most beautiful curve ball -- it bent like the semicircle that forms the top of a question mark -- but he could beat you even when that pitch deserted him. A steady flow of fastballs mastered the fearsome Minnesota Twins sluggers (Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison) in game seven of the 1965 World Series, won by the Dodgers 2-0.
Desire for spring as the winter of our discontent refuses to go gentle into the past?
All of that, plus the chance to praise my Dad, who took me to that game in May 1957 as he had taken me to the United Nations years earlier when it seemed like a significant entity; who gave up a Wednesday afternoon at the office years later for a pair of choice orchestra seats at "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," that perfect musical for the period; and who drove me to Yale (1965) and Harvard (1969) for memorable visits?
Nice to praise the greatness of Sandy Koufax and your own father in the same column, I must say.
Originally posted on Sandy Koufax's birthday, December 31, 2015.
From Las Vegas to New Hope, Pennsylvania, fans are toasting Old Blue Eyes at black-tie dinner parties with Rat Pack entertainment. Siriusly Sinatra satellite radio is going wall-to-wall Frank. He is the star of the month on Turner Classic Movies.
Why do people continue to celebrate this man? Begin with his musical genius. As long as melody and harmony are valued, people will listen to, and dance to, and make love to the sounds of Sinatra.
The first of his nicknames was "The Voice." The young man's voice was incomparable in its power, timbre, range and agility. There are the songs he sang in the 1940s as the boy singer in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands and when he went on his own and wowed the girls who rioted at the Paramount in New York City for a chance to hear Frankie. And there are the songs he sang in the 1950s when the voice deepened and he began to epitomize a grown-up masculine ideal.
In the first category the songs include "All or Nothing at All," "I'll Never Smile Again," "Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night in the Week," "Time After Time." In the second category: "You Make Me Feel So Young," "I've Got You under My Skin," "Witchcraft," "All the Way."
In the 1960s, the third decade of his dominance, Sinatra took swing to new heights with Count Basie ("Fly Me to the Moon"), dabbled in the Bossa Nova ("The Girl from Ipanema"), and made great songs sound like chapters in his own autobiography ("It Was a Very Good Year").
More often than not, it is Sinatra's version of a song that is definitive. He recognized that the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen and many others had created classic American popular songs. By recording them, Sinatra renewed the life of great music.
Originally posted 12/12/15. Written for CNN. Reposted on the occasion of the paperback edition of "Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World."
(a) Because Gene Kelly favored the “rule of three”
(b) Because one can sing, one can dance, and one can provide comic relief
(c) Because human kind cannot bear very much reality
(d) Because, according to Freud, “three” is a magic number and a phallic symbol
(e) Because Al tells Fred to lay off Peggy until Wilma marries Homer.
Which movie illustrates the condition described by T. S. Eliot in the garden?
(a) All of them
(b) All musicals except It's Always Fair Weather
(d) The Third Man but only if seen in Vienna on a Friday evening
Who is "the third man" in The Third Man?
(a) Fred MacMurray
(b) Claire Bloom's lover when they reach the Berlin Wall and begin to climb
(c) Harry Lime
(e) Franz Kindler
When Carol Reed made The Fallen Idol,
(a) he understood that he could not be faithful to Graham Greene's story
(b) he asked Orson Welles for advice on casting the butler
(c) he cast his own butler as the butler
(d) he was dating Carol Burnett
(e) he and she sang carols with Carroll O'Connor
The star of the movie was
(2) Ilse Lund
(3) Laurence Olivier as Hamlet
(4)The man who didn't shoot Liberty Valance
Who is the “odd man out” in Carol Reed’s film with James Mason?
(d) Johnny McQueen
(e) Father Tom
(a) Because they appealed to his sense of fair play.
(b) Because he was a queer bird, even for an American.
© Because he has done what Don Draper will do in Korea: he steals the identity of an officer killed in an action that he survives. But unlike Draper he is found out and hasn’t any choice.
(d) Because Holden was a natural hero, the American who has to get talked into putting his life on the line for a good cause.
(e) Because he is depicted shirtless at the POW camp reminding the viewer of Picnic with Kim Novak.
(a) She phoned the number her lover gave her and the voice on the other end said, "City Morgue."
(b) She said we're both rotten and he said only you're a little bit more rotten
(c) She beat Henry Fonda at poker
(d) She saw Addison De Witt commit a murder and tried to pin it on her
(e) When she went to bed with Robert Taylor, he called her Ruby Catherine Stevens
What are the last words spoken in Double Indemnity?
(a) "Round up the usual suspects."
(b) "Straight down the line."
(c) "I love you, too."
(d) "How fast was I going, officer?"
(e) "Sorry, baby, I'm not buying."
(a) favors the navy but lets army and air force get drunk as a skunk
(b) plays "How Little We Know" on the piano for Lauren Bacall to sing
(c) celebrated his birthday on November 22
(d) owns the bar where Dana Andrews meets Teresa Wright
(e) invented the hoagy by shoving in a roll everything he could find in the icebox
David Lehman is the author of many collections of poems, including New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013), Yeshiva Boys (Scriber, 2011), When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005), Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (with James Cummins, Soft Skull Press, 2005), and The Evening Sun (2002). Among his books of non-fiction are Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Shocken Books, 2009) and The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998), which was named a “Book to Remember 1999” by the New York Public Library. He edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), and is the series editor of The Best American Poetry. He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University. He lives in New York City and Ithaca, NY.
Elizabeth A. I. Powell is the author of The Republic of Self, a New Issue First Book Prize winner, selected by C.K. Williams. Her second book Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances won the Robert Dana Prize in poetry, chosen by Maureen Seaton, and will be published by Anhinga Press in 2016. In 2013, she won a Pushcart Prize. Powell has also received a Vermont Council on the Arts grants and a Yaddo fellowship. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Ecotone, Harvard Review, Handsome, Hobart, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Slope, Sugarhouse Review, Ploughshares, Post Road, and elsewhere. She is Editor of Green Mountains Review, and Associate Professor of Writing and Literature at Johnson State College. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing and Publishing. Born in New York City, she has lived in Vermont since 1989 with her four children.
Host Dan Crane tells the story of two strangers in the night, a bag full of cash, and a ship full of weapons bound for the fledgling state of Israel, in this special episode dedicated to Frank Sinatra’s Jewish activism. Guests: Anthony Summers, David Lehman, Shalom Goldman, Paul Karolyi, and Tony Michaels.
Frome the Archives (November 8, 2012):
About a year ago, the Chicago based theater artist Erica Barnes approached David Lehman for permission to adapt his poem "Mythologies" for the stage as a dance performance piece. According to Erica, she was in the midst of a somewhat fallow period when on a whim she visited the Poetry Foundation website, clicked on the "Poem of the Day" and "fell in love." David's sequence of thirty sonnets "Mythologies," first published in the Paris Review issue 106 (1988) and awarded the Bernard F. Connors prize, was the Foundation's featured poem. Erica has this to say about David's poem:
We need new myths. Our old heroes are too unattainable, too perfect, too… heroic. David Lehman’s poem ‘Mythologies’ tells the story of a man struggling to construct new myths in the wake of the disintegration of his expectations. Blending the language of poetry with the ritual of theatre, ‘Mythologies’ searches for the answer to the age-old question -- what is it to be human?
David granted permission and over the next several months Erica dispatched periodic updates of her work- in-progress. She secured funding, hired a full cast and crew, found performance space, and held rehearsals. On November 1, "Mythologies" opened at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater in Chicago. "It was a success," writes Erica, and her excitement is palpable. She sends along this preview video, which makes us wish we could put the production on the road:
Erica promises to send more photos of the performance, which we will share here. Meanwhile, you can find out more about "Mythologies" in Chicago by visiting the dedicated website. You will find Erica's interview with David here.
"Mythologies" will be included in David Lehman's forthcoming New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013).
On May 2, 2013, CNN proleptically ran a news segment in which Henry Kissinger advised Hillary Clinton on the life she may expect to lead after serving as secretary of state. It is an amusing piece not only because of the jokes he and she made but also because of a book published almost secretly in 1974 entitled President Kissinger, a satirical piece of political fiction that I found riveting atthe time. Somehow the poet Andrei Codrescu got hold of some advance copies of the book, in mass-market paperback form, and he gave me two of them.
As I recall the plot, a constutional amendment makes it possible for Kissinger -- born in Germany and therefore ineligible to become president -- to overcome the rule that eliminating foreign-born citiens fom pursung the White House. Teddy Kennedy is Kissinger's vice-president, in charge of domestic affairs, and Kissinger ends up as President of the World, certified as such by the UN General Assembly. The writing of the book is quite ordinary and it depends for its effects entirely on a scenaro that seemed far-fetched but oddly in line with where the nation was in August 1974, the month Richard Nixon resigned as president. I pitched a piece on the book and even interviewed its publisher, Maurice Girodias, but New York magazine, which wanted me to write for them, nixed the idea because of Girodias's chequered career as a sensationalist. It is a pity because as a publishing stunt -- though by no neas as an artistic achievement and as a vision of political paranoia President Kissinger was effective in the way of Oliver Stones's brilliant Oliver Stones's JFK, though nowhere near the artisic success that Stone achieved in the film. -- DL
<<< Washington (CNN) – Former Secy. of State Henry Kissinger gave a very public nod Wednesday night to a 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign – saying that secretaries of state have a good track record of moving into the highest office in the land.
“At least four secretaries of state became president,” the foreign-born Kissinger joked during remarks at the annual Atlantic Council awards dinner in Washington. “And that sort of started focusing my mind even though there was a constitutional provision that prevented me from doing it. I thought up all kinds of schemes to get around that.”
Then, adopting a more serious tone, he continued. “I want to tell Hillary that when she misses the office, when she looks at the histories of secretaries of state, there might be hope for a fulfilling life afterwards.”
Kissinger, himself a former secretary of state, was presenting Clinton with a Distinguished Leadership Award.
for more, inckuding Clinton's response, click here
Born yesterday, November 11, 1821, in Moscow, Fyodor Dostoyevski was haunted all his life by an overwhelming burden of sin, its temporary relief, and its hyperbolic return in the catastrophic sequence of events that led to the second World War. He suspected that the evil that men do lives after them while their good is oft interred with their bones. There was no remedy other than a centralized government within which the church was universally respected. "Only God can save us now," he said when he saw rioters in the streets and foresaw the Russian Revolution and the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, which amounted to ruthless totalitarianism comparable to that of the Nazis.
On the basis of his novels, The Brothers Karamaziov and Crime and Punishment in particular, it is possible to mount the argument that the great writer knew in his bones that on his birthday ninety-seven years later, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year, the War to End All Wars would end -- with the seeds of a new global conflagration already planted.
Asked to provide a head note on the great writer for a new edition of the Astrological Dictionary of Artistic Greatness, Walter Lehmann wrote:
<<< Dostoyesvki suffered from epilelptic fits (see The Idiot) but did well in his examinations though he loathed mathematics. On April 23, 1849, the twenty-seven-year-old Dostoyevski was arrested for belonging to a group of crazy liberal loudmouth intellectuals. He was sent to Siberia, was sentenced to be executed, and faced a firing squad in the freezing rain. But it turned out to be a mock execution and Dostoyevski went back to his cell the shape and size of a coffin convinced that it is better and wiser to be a saintly fool in Siberia than to pimp in St. Petersburg. Released in 1854, he wrote Crime and Punishment in a hurry because he needed the money to cover his gambling debts. He was a compulsive gambler. Confronted by Sartre on the matter of his anti-Semitism, he reminded the other that he was not alone in this particular vice, naming Ezra Pound and Edgar Degas as similarly stupid on the subject of Jews.
From analyzing Dostoevski's astrological profile, you can safely arrive at several conclusions. His favorite songs would have been “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (Sinatra version, late 1940s) and “He's a Rebel” (from the early 1960s). The prophetic nature of his writings, including The Brothers Karamazov and Notes from Underground, doom him to be a Cassandra without honor in his native land. He believed that his novels constituted irrefutable proof that politics implies either madness or betrayal or both; that the sensual man can win absolution while the intellectual who has demolished god will face eternity alone; and that a beggar woman in the street with her children can out-argue all the philosophers and police inspectors in Saint Petersburg. Much of what he wrote was difficult for the Russian people to accept. Yet his fame eclipses that of all other Russian authors with one exception. His chart predicts him to die in his sixtieth year, and this indeed he did on February 9, 1881.
Dostoyevski's birth pattern -- a full house, with only one empty chamber -- is replicated exactly on the second day of August 1914. Had this fact been understood correctly, World War I might have been averted. The celestial mechanics of Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto intimate that Dostoyevski would die on the same day as the end of the war, and indeed, the armistice was signed on the novelist's ninety-seventh birthday. The sweet release would have come more than four years earlier if in the prison of his days the free man had learned to praise. The German minister smoked a Turkish cigarette in a jade holder. "Nothing ever happens in Brussels," he shrugged.
On November 11, 1918 – Dusty’s birthday – in graveyards in the Ukraine and Byelorussia, in Latvia and Estonia, school children in tatters stood shouting, "Hooray for Karamazov!"
A few years ago I wrote a piece for The American Scholar employing the Raymond Roussel method of composition that obliges the author to commence with one word or phrase and end with a meaning derived from a homonym of the initial word or phrase. Noir became No R. Here's how:
Kaminsky got on the noir bandwagon early on.
At Wesleyan he majored in French, spent his junior year in Paris, went to the Cinémathèque Française at the Palais de Chaillot, and watched American movies with French subtitles as a way to learn the language. Many of the films were classic noir efforts of the 1940s and early ’50s. He saw Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, and Double Indemnity with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, and Dark Passage with Bogart and Bacall, and The Killing with Sterling Hayden organizing a racetrack heist, and The Lady from Shanghai with Anita Ellis’s voice coming out of Rita Hayworth’s mouth singing “Please Don’t Kiss Me” and meaning the exact opposite, and Pickup on South Street with Richard Widmark as an experienced pickpocket who lifts a woman’s wallet in the subway and the wallet happens to have strips of microfilm that the Communists crave, and Widmark lives on a houseboat under the Brooklyn Bridge and Thelma Ritter gets offed and Jean Peters gets beaten up like you wouldn’t believe, and Cry Danger and The Woman in the Window and Laura and The Asphalt Jungle and the dozens of other notable movies that feature fatal females, mixed-up males with mixed motives, robberies and insurance scams that go wrong, greed that turns lusty, lust that turns deadly.
The dialogue is snappy, witty in the hard-boiled manner. Even cabdrivers crack wise. The fare is a private eye, and the cabbie says sympathetically, “Tough racket.” “Maybe so,” the dick replies, “but cabdrivers don’t live forever.” “Maybe not,” the cabbie concedes. “All the same it’ll come as a surprise to me if I don’t.” In another part of town, Ann Sheridan of the magnificent mane kills a burglar in self-defense, or so she claims. The dame-in-distress sobs to the police: “I’ve told you all I know.” Husband Zachary Scott of the mustachioed sneer knits his brows, but can’t help looking bitchy: “There’s nothing for you to be ashamed of.” Both are lying. But the true noir note is sounded by Eve Arden as Paula, a secondary character, officiating at a party for the suspects, witnesses, and extras. When she has everyone’s attention, she admits to having committed a crime against society some years ago. I “married a man,” she announces. Later the busty broad deadpans that “practically everything” she has is real. “It’s a shame to waste two perfectly good mouths on you,” she remarks when a pair of gossiping girlfriends get on her nerves. Later, still: “Don’t show me out, I know the way. I always look for an exit in case of a raid.”
“Some things that happen for the first time / seem to be happening again”: Lorenz Hart’s definition of déjà vu (from his lyric for “Where or When”) applies with a vengeance to noir. Accidents seem predetermined; events occur as if repetitions of themselves. The gang leader has a heart-to-heart with his dead Ma in the back yard after dark, and the brains of the operation feeds nickels into the jukebox so he can watch a nubile girl jitterbug with a boy her own age. Exhibitionists in gaudy undergarments perform for laid-up photographers across the courtyard. The surgeon with a cigarette dangling from his lips gives the escaped con a new face, and if there’s a knock on the door, the chances are that a man with a gun will enter the room and shoot first, ask questions later. What do you want me to do, count to three like they do in the movies?
A thug throws a pot of hot coffee at a moll’s face or, giggling, rolls an old lady’s wheelchair down a flight of stairs and the wrong man is arrested. The prizefighter refuses to throw the bout and gets beaten in the alley. There's a scheme to do away with one angle of the triangular three, sit pretty, and collect the insurance. bit it doesn't quite work out as planned. The pampered invalid has a panic attack, picks up the phone, and dials the emergency number she has been given. A voice answers, “City Morgue.” The dead return to life. A beautiful murder victim walks into her own living room wondering what the hell the gumshoe asleep in an armchair is doing there. A small-town notary goes to San Francisco, has a drink, feels funny, and spends the next week—that is, the rest of his life—trying to solve the mystery of his own murder before he expires of a slow-working poison. In one scene at a club, a girl singer does a swinging version of “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are.” We go to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Reno, Mexico, the state penitentiary, a lost highway or two, but for some reason we keep returning to San Francisco. There is also a valise stuffed with $20 bills, a crooked cop, a cuckolded husband, a pair of lethal scissors on the desk, a sensitive black man played by James Edwards, a stick-up in the parking lot, a confusing plot, a lot of rain, and a lot of cigarettes.
It was an easy genre to like. The French were crazy about it.
But that's just the noir portion. How do we get from here to "no R"?
Click here to find out.
From "No R" by David Lehman in The American Scholar. Click here for the rest of the piece. [Originally posted 2015.]
Conservatives had a field day when FDR enlisted the Hoboken crooner who made girls faint. That was just the beginning for Sinatra. Here, an excerpt from David Lehman's Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, in book stores now.
The “Swoonatra” phenomenon reached its apex in the fall of 1944. When Sinatra performed at the Paramount Theater in New York that October, the throng of frenzied teenage girls—the so-called bobbysoxers—made mayhem in the streets. After a Sinatra performance—and Sinatra gave nine of them a day, starting at 8 in the morning—the girls refused to vacate their seats. Sometimes as few as 250 left theaters crowded with more than a dozen times that number. Police had to be called in. In what came to be known as the Columbus Day Riot, the bobbysoxers set in motion the pattern of behavior that marked the arrivals of Elvis Presley in 1956 and the Beatles eight years later. Having practiced their fainting techniques in advance, girls shrieked and swooned in bliss when the skinny vocalist bent a note in his patented way.
When Sinatra met Humphrey Bogart, the star of Casablanca andThe Maltese Falcon said that he’d heard Sinatra knew how to make women faint. “Make me faint,” Bogart said. Sinatra’s faint-inducing ability was also on the agenda when he met Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Fainting, which once was so prevalent, has become a lost art among the ladies,” the president told Sinatra in the White House on September 28. “I’m glad you have revived it.” Then the commander in chief asked Sinatra how he did it. “I wish to hell I knew,” Sinatra said.
The singer had wrangled the White House invitation when the Democratic Committee chairman asked his pal, the restaurateur Toots Shor, to a reception. FDR was glad to host Sinatra; it would counteract Bing Crosby’s endorsement of his opponent, Republican Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York, Roosevelt’s old job before he went to the White House. “Look who’s here,” Roosevelt exclaimed and asked the singer to confide the title of the song that would be No. 1 on the hit parade next week. “I won’t tell,” FDR grinned. “Amapola,” Sinatra said. (The title may have sounded Italian to the president—and Italy was an uncomfortable subject in wartime—so he switched the subject.) The meeting went well, though the president was said afterward to scratch his head in wonderment at the idea that the skinny crooner had revived what he called “the charming art of fainting.” “He would never have made them swoon in our day,” he told an aide after the party broke up.
This quote from Larkin made me ask myself, _______ are for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth. I started to wonder how other poets might answer this. What are your daffodils? How would my favorite poets answer this?
I thought that maybe New York City or painters would be for Frank O’Hara what daffodils were for Wordsworth, though it’s funnier to say that lunch is for O'Hara what daffodils were for Wordsworth. Barbies are for Denise Duhamel what daffodils were for Wordsworth, and angels could be for Rilke what daffodils were for Wordsworth. Orgasms might be my own personal daffodils, as well as Elvis and Jim and James Dean. I do love all three. Last night I dreamt of Elvis singing, Are you lonesome tonight . . . Are you worried we drifted apart, and I was, even in my sleep. I woke up thinking of the subconscious or unconscious . . .
Of how the unconscious might be for Jung what lonely clouds were for Wordsworth.
The penis might be for Freud what Tintern Abbey was for Wordsworth.
The ground of being was for Tillich what the leap of faith was for Kierkegaard. The overman was for Neitzche what the stranger was for Camus. Or would it be Sisyphus?
Today is Camus’ birthday. The New Yorker once called Camus the Don Draper of existentialism.
Maybe meaninglessness was for Camus what deprivation was for Larkin . . .
I read in The Paris Review that Larkin tried to make every day and every year exactly the same.
My mind was spinning with all of this when I talked to Nicole Santalucia who joined in to say:
A ferry ride is for Whitman what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
A beard is for Whitman what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
Deep breathing is for Whitman what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
A bulge in tight jeans is for Whitman what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
A secret is for Dickinson what a pants suit is for Hillary Clinton
An attic is for Dickinson what a broach is for Gertrude Stein
A fly is for Dickinson what a nipple is for Gertrude Stein
Stillness is for Dickinson what Picasso is for Gertrude Stein
A nobody is for Dickinson what an everybody is for Gertrude Stein
An apple tree is for Dickinson what a poodle is for Gertrude Stein
A raindrop is for Williams what salvation is for Bradstreet
A chicken is for Williams what a husband is for Bradstreet
A black dress is for Maria Gillan what a paintbrush is for Frank O'Hara
Then David Lehman added his commentary and brilliance, writing:
The irony is that Larkin's statement (which I believe I quote in a poem of mine "Desolation Row" -- it is in my "New and Selected Poems") is applicable not only to Larkin but to Wordsworth as well. In other words, for Wordsworth, too, deprivation was what daffodils were to the character who sees them in "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."
These are the crucial lines: "For oft when on my couch I lie, / In vacant or in pensive mood / They [the daffodils] flash upon the inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude." The condition that triggers off the memory is solitude and vacancy - deprivation, in other words.
As for me, well, daffodils are for me what deprivation was for Larkin.
Champagne, no pain, and Mary Jane are for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
A phone conversation with John Ashbery or an email from Nin Andrews is for me what daffodils.
Chocolates, snow, and myself are for David Shapiro what daffodils are for Wordsworth.
Or music stands, philodendrons, and philosophy are for David Shapiro what daffodils are for Wordsworth.
Shapiro is on the phone right now and I can hear him typing in the background. I recommend "champagne at night" to lift his spirits.
David (Shapiro) says: "'Champagne at Night' is a good title for you. Lindsay thinks so, too."
I am writing a novel while we talk.
O Natalie Wood!
You are to me what Natalie Wood was for me in 1964.
Kim Novak is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
Kim Novak does not stand for anything other than Kim Novak.
Ava Gardner said, "Elizabeth Taylor is pretty. I was beautiful."
Marilyn Monroe singing "Heat Wave" is for me what fishing and hunting were for Ernest Hemingway.
Stacey is for me what roses were for Robert Burns.
Stacey is for me what silence was for John Cage.
Stacey is for me what Paris would be for me if this were 1973.
Stacey is for me what a psalm was for David.
Stacey is for David what David is for David.
A two thousand dollar violin is for David Shapiro what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
Alban Berg is for David Shapiro what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
A James Tate poem is for John Ashbery what daffodils were for Wordsworth
A painting by Matisse is for Mrs. Matisse what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
A flood is for Noah what the Tower of Babel was for modern linguistics.
Aer Lingus is for Charles Mingus what the Maltese Falcon is for Same Spade.
According to David Shapiro,
God is subtle but not malicious,
And I agreed.
In fact, I added,
God was for Albert Einstein what daffodils were for Wordsworth.
David Lehman, poet and columnist for our website, is writing a book about his cancer diagnosis and recovery. “In a way, the book has the logic of a poem,” he says. “But the illness and the treatments are really a springboard for memory, dream, fantasy, invention—all the ways we try to escape—and for taking stock of your life and the ultimate questions that face you when you take seriously the fact that you may die sooner than you thought.” The following passage is from Lehman’s manuscript in progress.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.