Yours the Moon
Yours the moon
mine the Milky
Way a scarf
around my neck
I love you
as the night
loves the moon's
dark side as
the sky, distant,
endless, wears her
necklace of stars
over her dress
under my scarf
that she wears
against the cold
Photo by John Tranter
David Lehman is the series editor of "The Best American Poetry." His new collection, "New and Selected Poems" draws on more than 40 years of material. He has published seven other books of poetry, including "When a Woman Loves a Man," "The Daily Mirror" and "Valentine Place." He teaches at The New School and lives in New York City.
Hear David Lehman read "Radio."
Poet Michael Collier grew up in Arizona, but he hadn't lived there for a while when he wrote "At the End of a Ninetieth Summer." His father was celebrating his 90th birthday, but Collier couldn't return to his home state to participate.
"I felt sort of disconsolate that I couldn't be there for it and give him my love and wish him well. So I created a moment that I imagine must have happened knowing where the gathering was and who the people were."
Collier writes poems about moments. During a conversation with Art Beat, Collier explained the importance of looking closely and "(describing) it as accurately as possible, because if you can do that, sometimes what happens is you kind of pass through the surface of the scene to get to something behind it."
While the scene in "At the End of a Ninetieth Summer" is fictional, Collier still captures careful details. The "robot vacuum" for example is "coming out and spraying water and breaking the stillness of the moment. It doesn't have a particular meaning, but it seemed to have a huge symbolic meaning."
At the End of a Ninetieth Summer
They drink their cocktails in the calm manner
of their middle years, while the dim lights
around the swimming pool makes shadows
of that world they've almost fully entered.
Though many Americans know him through his columns for The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books, Clive James inhabits a much larger, diverse role in British culture. This man of letters is a journalist, a cultural critic, a TV personality and an author of poems and novels.
An Australian by birth, James has lived in England since 1961. He has written five books of "unreliable" memoirs, and has several volumes of essays, including his most recently published, "Cultural Amnesia." His translation of Dante's "The Divine Comedy" was also published this year.
Reports circulated last year that the writer was "getting near the end." James, at 74 years old, has serious, life-threatening health concerns. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and then with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or onset emphysema. He can no longer fly and he is restricted by his physical limitations. But he keeps writing, with his sickness a source for new subject matter.
James' latest collection of poems, "Nefertiti in the Flak Tower," was published in the U.S. in October 2013.
Clive James recently talked to Art Beat by phone. This excerpt has been lightly edited for length.
ART BEAT: From where are you speaking?
CLIVE JAMES: I'm speaking to you from my house in Cambridge, England. And it's a cold day. This is a house full of my books and probably this is as far as I will get, since I have been quite, quite sick lately.
But if I make it through this winter, I plan to get some more writing done. I don't think I've got a big poem like Dante to translate, but I might pull out a few surprises yet.
In May of 1891, photographer Samuel Murray accompanied the New York sculptor William O'Donovan to Walt Whitman's home in Camden, N.J., Murray photographed Whitman as an aid to O'Donovan's sculpting the poet: "they took hell's times in all sorts of polishes," Whitman groused, but he was excited about this profile portrait, admiring its "audacity" and its "breadth and beauty both," calling it "an artist's picture in the best sense." Photo by Samuel Murray/Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution
Clive James wrote his poem, "Whitman and the Moth" during a 10 day stint at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital. In 2010, James was diagnosed with leukemia and battling terminal emphysema when his friend, Canadian writer Adam Gopnik, brought him books to pass the time in the hospital. One of those books was "The Times of Melville and Whitman" by American literary critic Van Wyck Brooks.
"(Van Wyck Brooks) said this wonderful thing," James recounted in a recent phone interview with Art Beat, "that Whitman had spent his last few weeks on Earth, his last time as it were, sitting beside a pond wearing nothing but his hat."
"The idea struck me so much that I wrote a poem about it right there in the hospital."
Brenda Hillman reads "Till it Finishes What it Does" from her new collection "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire."
Till it Finishes What it Does
Where is the meaning, the old man asked.
The night nurse has put on
his little frowning socks; he lay
on his lifebed, in the dusk, holding
the tail of a comet. Outside
the hospital, creosote;
the cactus wren is such a good packer.
Granite, wild at the hands
of quartz rose in the saddle
of the mountains (i'm writing this
with a pharmaceutical pen,
at the nexus of science & magic) ...
When all visitors
had left the room,
the tiny valve of the pig beat inside
our father's heart, like the spokes
of the sun-disk, in a hieroglyph--
above the squiggly river symbol,
like meaning & its tributaries,
nothingness & art ... Active one,
the animal is not your emissary.
It is not the decoration you sought;
its beauty runs without your will.
It drives the mystical heart.
"Season Works with Letters on Fire" (Wesleyan University Press, 2013) is Brenda Hillman's 10th collection. Her previous books include Practical Water (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), for which she won the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry. Hillman is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California.
Check back on Art Beat on Tuesday to watch Brenda Hillman's conversation with chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown about her new collection, "Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire," her connection to the elements, and her understanding of social justice and being an activist.
The Second City
for Cathy Simon
Even though there are motorized conveyances
I am on foot; even though there is a map
I negotiate the streets by landmark
there are no landmarks
but a series of edges
common to several cities
the hill is in San Francisco,
the great shopping district
with its glittering windows
and esplanade before the fountain
is in New York
and the river with its bridges is in Paris
I'm working on the park
with its glass botanical gardens
marble pillars in the distance
leftover from the exposition
there is probably a hill
from which I descend
and arrive at the "market district" below
clearly indicated by the word "brick"
like those on the west side of Buffalo
to make this descent
is to parse the terrifying grid
of hill cities, roads
dead-ending against canyons, barriers
where a street careens into space
and continues below
bearing the same name
so that a second city rises
out of the forgotten one
more pointed because not yet filled in
by monument or palisade
the place where water touches land
and forms a line
the leaflike veins of streets
it is too late
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
Sometimes poet David Lehman likes to leave the radio on when he leaves his home, so that when he returns, his home is filled with jazz. It's this sensation that inspired his poem "Radio."
"I thought of how interesting it is when you walk into a dark apartment and there's music playing," Lehnman told Art Beat. He hoped to mimic the rhythm of jazz by writing in three-word units.
The choice of Teddy Wilson's "After You've Gone" is also important. "The whole poem is about how the music goes on after you've gone, after one has left ones apartment. And, of course, there's a larger famous philosophical question about whether something makes a sound if your ears are not there to take it in."
By Dexter L. Booth
They split the hog down the middle.
It was cold and raining, I remember
the steam and the knife and the squeal and how
they all left the body like a ghost.
They lasted and lasted and the body shook
in your hands. I was
told this is sex my friend,
Take care to roll it
like a swollen log
pushed up from the belly
of the river. Gently turning
it over, take note of the red
ants harvesting what is left
beneath the bark.
Be gentle. It might all just fall apart at your touch.
But I know little of the shape of a breast,
perhaps that it curves like a spoon on the tongue.
Your mother had one breast.
I touched it
once. It was a dare
and I was promised
it was the only way
to become a man.
No one thought to call the police.
They ran when she began coughing
up blood. I opened her shirt,
pushed on her nipple like an alarm.
It was the time
your sister danced up
and down the aisles in church.
She was possessed
by some ghost,
a beast built like your father.
There was dinner:
white bread and someone's blood.
They dipped her in the water
and your father said she was clean.
Dexter L. Booth, born in 1986, earned an MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University. His poems have appeared in Amendement, Grist, the New Delta Review, and Willow Springs. His debut collection, "Scratching the Ghost," is the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, selected by Major Jackson. He lives in Tempe, Ariz.
"The Body" copyright © 2013 by Dexter L. Booth. Reprinted from "Scratching the Ghost" with the permission of Graywolf Press.
One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago
as I waited for my eggs and toast,
I opened the Tribune only to discover
that I was the same age as Cheerios.
Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the seventieth birthday of Cheerios
whereas mine had occurred earlier in the year.
Already I could hear them whispering
behind my stooped and threadbare back,
Why that dude's older than Cheerios
the way they used to say
Why that's as old as the hills,
only the hills are much older than Cheerios
or any American breakfast cereal,
and more noble and enduring are the hills,
I surmised as a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.
Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, has published a total of 10 collections of poetry. "Aimless Love" is his first collection of new and selected poems in 12 years and comprises over 50 new works and draws on poems from four previous books, "Nine Horses," "The Trouble with Poetry," "Ballistics" and "Horoscopes for The Dead." Collins, who regularly appears in "The Best American Poetry" series, is also a distinguished professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York and a distinguished Fellow at the Winter Park Institute of Rollins College.
Billy Collins stopped by the NewsHour recently for a conversation with chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown. You can find that conversation along with his reading of "A Dog on His Master" here.
Humor wasn't always integral to Billy Collins' poetry. The former U.S. poet laureate thought he had to be serious, or at least "pretend to be serious." Collins eventually found a way to meld his personality with his poems, and his new collection, "Aimless Love," continues to show that off. He stopped by the NewsHour recently to speak with chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown about capturing everyday life in a poem.
To hear Billy Collins read "A Dog on His Master, watch the video below: