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.”
When speaking about his poem, Lehman did so with air of a teacher. After all, he teaches poetry at the New School in New York City. But spreading the gospel of poetry exists beyond the classroom for Lehman. In 1988, he started “The Best American Poetry,” an annual anthology that publishes the best crop of poems determined by a distinguished poet turned guest editor. The project turned out to be much more successful than even Lehman anticipated. The 26th edition was just published and he believes the anthology has broken through to a slightly larger audience. “If you’re a newcomer to poetry and you want to get your bearings. What do you do?” Lehman asked.
“If you go to the poetry section, even a stripped down one, where do you begin? It’s easy enough to get a volume of Keats because we know Keats is a great poet, but how does one navigate in contemporary American poetry.”
Lehman has many more ideas to introduce poetry to a larger audience, including something he calls “Poetry Olympics” — a competitive spelling bee-like approach to poetry. “Maybe I’ll get a chance to implement them someday.”
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.