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Posts Tagged ‘poems’

And Frank O’Hara As Himself

February 24, 2015 | by

Warning: going down the Frank O'Hara reading rabbit hole can swallow your day. It’s not that the poet’s reading of Lunch Poems is such a revelation, by which I mean different from what you might have imagined in your head. Rather, he reads them exactly the way you imagine them, or even read them aloud yourself: conversational, matter-of-fact, and incidentally just touched with Boston. He’s who you’d cast to play him. 

It’s gratifying when things look or sound or act as we picture them; it’s nice not to have the limits of our imagination challenged. Or maybe that’s what imagination is. Anyway, it doesn’t happen often, and if we are surprised nowadays, there’s nothing to blame but laziness. The last time I remember being pleasantly surprised by the synergy of a voice and a face was when I first saw a picture of Brian Lehrer.

My Lost Poet

February 23, 2015 | by

Anger and tenderness in Philip Levine.

Photo: Frances Levine

In the spring of 2012, Philip Levine delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress called “My Lost Poets,” marking the end of his tenure as the eighteenth U.S. poet laureate. In the talk, which was later published in Five Points, Georgia State University’s literary journal, Levine takes us to Wayne University’s Miles Poetry Room in 1948, where, once a month, he and other aspiring poets gathered to talk shop and critique one another’s work. The group comprised four World War II vets and a number of Wayne University students, including a young man who would eventually be drafted to the Korean War, a narcissistic Hart Crane wannabe, a rural Southern Baptist woman from Kentucky, and a young black man obsessed with Walt Whitman. In the wake of the war, Levine explained, the group found urgency and vitality in poetry, regardless of their respective talents. This poetic camaraderie was short-lived, though. The Hart Crane fanboy died in a car wreck at an early age; the Southern Baptist disappeared into the jungles of Latin America; the Whitman worshiper saw his idealism dissolve in the face of fifties-era politics and Jim Crow laws. Still, it was these people, along with the war poets he discovered during that time, who helped shape Levine’s own poetic voice.

That voice, when he finally found it, decried the injustices of our society, of working-class life in particular, lending Levine’s experience a “value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own.” Unlike his great hero, Walt Whitman, Levine doesn’t seem to stand over us, exalting and exalted. Instead, he’s always among the multitude bearing witness to the historical moment. He looks out every so often to address his reader with a plural or a singular you that invites us to share his vision, expanding our own. His poems are full of unrealized dreams, with auxiliary verbs—would, could, should—signaling inevitable disappointments or a foreboding sense of what’s to come. This dissonance between one’s idealistic fantasies and reality conjure a tremendous anger in his work, evident especially in his earlier poems about factory life in Detroit. Read More »

My Mother Taught Me

February 18, 2015 | by

A poet’s misadventures in erotica.

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GILBERT

I’ve written prose. I’ve written several novels that no one has seen. Well, one was published.

INTERVIEWER

My Mother Taught Me, an erotic novel, wasn’t it? 

GILBERT

It’s about sexuality. You have to understand, people were writing sex books but no one was writing them well. I thought pornography should be as much of a genre as cowboy stories. But pornography is boring. Childish. Unhealthy. I thought, Why not have a novel of sexuality that’s not paralyzed by the need for orgasm? So I wrote a good pornographic novel to show it could be done. An enjoyment rather than a momentary excitement. There were so many pornographic novels written; why weren’t they effective? A momentary spasm. Some people will have an orgasm if you say a dirty word or say, What he did to her body was . . . But what if you approach it as a real novel? The idea of entertainment intrigued me at the time—so I wrote one.

The Art of Poetry No. 91, 2005

Jack Gilbert, who would’ve been ninety today, actually published two erotic novels: My Mother Taught Me and Forever Ecstasy, both coauthored with Jean Maclean and published under the opaque nom de porn Tor Kung. Olympia Press, a short-lived purveyor of smut and other wonders, foisted both titles upon the unsuspecting public, and in time they became the most requested books in the publisher’s oeuvre.

The premise of My Mother Taught Me, which appeared in 1967, is absurd, even farcical—and in its outlandishness, it seems designed to effect what Gilbert called “an enjoyment rather than a momentary excitement.” But what kind of enjoyment? Our hero is Lars, a naive Swedish schoolboy who was raised in an all-male orphanage. The place was so strict, so straitlaced, that Lars in his nonage had never so much as laid eyes on a woman—not even a photograph of a woman. Read More »

Philip Levine’s “A Sign”

February 18, 2015 | by

Philip Levine in 1980.

This week, we’re celebrating Philip Levine by posting some of his poems from our archives. This one, “A Sign,” comes from our Spring 1981 issue.

The last words the sea spoke
before it died, the last sigh
of the great wind that blew
before we were born, the last
light that dawns on the hill
of our dying, skull hill we
would call it.

Read the whole poem here.

A Green World

February 17, 2015 | by

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William Bronk

Whenever anyone mentions William Bronk, they usually preface the word poet with obscure, or little known, or forgotten. Bronk—born February 17, 1918; he died in 1999—is apparently read so rarely that Daniel Wolff’s piece on him in last spring’s Literary Review was called “Why Nobody Reads William Bronk.”

“First, it’s hard,” Wolff writes. “The second reason is: it’s hard.” He outlines Bronk’s ars poetica: Read More »

Philip Levine’s “She’s Not Gone”

February 17, 2015 | by

Levine in 1980.

As we mentioned over the weekend, we’ll be celebrating Philip Levine this week by posting some of his poems from our archives. This one, “She’s Not Gone,” comes from our Winter-Spring 1980 issue. To my knowledge, Levine never reprinted it in any of his collections.

“You met a lot of unpretentious people in Philip Levine’s spare, ironic poems,” Dwight Garner wrote in the New York Times on Sunday. “Come as you are, this important and emotionally committed poet told us.”

Someone enters your life
on a day you no longer
remember. The years pass,
and she becomes the mother
you never had, the older
sister smoking before breakfast,
the first friend.

Read the whole poem here.

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