So happy and honored that David Lehman, the de facto dean of American Poetry is this week’s Featured Creative. Unlike so many academics in positions of authority (he’s head of the Poetry MFA division at The New School), Lehman is incredibly disciplined about walking the talk of continuously producing new writing himself and mentoring his students. Lehman has published several volumes of poetry–most recently his New and Selected (Scribner, 2013)–including his accessible, witty, thought-provoking collections that come from his personal challenge of creating a poem a day. He has also edited anthologies of other poetry genres (erotica, prose poems) and produced several acclaimed works of cultural history, the latest being on Frank Sinatra. Unlike so many of his peers, Lehman is no bookish ivory tower loner, but a maestro of creating community. Every year Lehman invites a new guest editor to helm the selections and discover new voices for the annual Best American Poetry series (which he created in 1988). The other half of the Lehman dynamic duo is his wife, Stacey Harwood-Lehman, who curates the award-winning Best American Poetry Blog–and this week’s Ideablog posts. Whether discovering new talent for an anthology, discovering new ways to run a weekly quiz contest, or discovering a new form for a biography of a beloved pop-culture icon, David Lehman proves himself a explorer of the creative realm with an impressive knack for finding gold wherever he goes.
~Victoria C. Rowan, Ideasmyth Creatrix-in-Chief
David Lehman is my husband, and while I find it easy to praise him, I thought a better way to introduce him to you would be to let someone else do the talking. The poet Matthew Yeager recently introduced David to a full house at the KGB bar in the East Village, where he read from his forthcoming book Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man And His World. Here is an excerpt:
In thinking particularly about David Lehman’s mind , . . I thought of the arc . . . An arc is the apotheosis of mind methaphors. It grows out of the need for itself, it is capacious, it fills itself according to a plan, according to an imperative of love for the world and it helps the future come to be.
Lehman’s mind is an arc.
If you’ve been lucky enough to know him, you know this. I like to make predictions, as who doesn’t, and I’d like to predict that more and more David Lehman’s mind will be realized to be an arc by the culture at large having as it does the whole second half of the twentieth century in it and what we have so far of this one. And the times haven’t merely been remembered, they’ve been considered chronicled synthesized and as for poetry, his mind has more poetry in than anyone’s I’ve yet met. What you can learn from David Lehman’s poems is the power of motion and the power of love for life. If you keep moving and you keep loving life there will be poetry every day. Your eyes will alight on what’s wonderful and odd in a scene that’s otherwise familiar, your ear will single out a sentence spoken on radio connect it to Schopenhauer, and it will mix with the time of day and suddenly there will be depth, feeling, an explanation of feeling. Lehman’s poetry is often a poetry of many elements but it is not a disjunctive poetry, it ‘s a connective poetry. His daily poems remain the best of their kind, the exact kind of content for such a form. Re-read in 2015 you realize they encase a New York that has changed considerably in the way [Frank] O’Hara’s do. And the same truth pervades them as pervades O’Hara’s. If you walk around always with your net, your butterfly collection will be large, interesting and various.
Music has been a lifelong passion of David’s that has only increased as the years have gone on. His latest book will be Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man And His World. I encourage everyone to pick up The State of the Art, his collection of introductory essays to the Best American Poetry Anthology.
David Lehman is a poet, editor, essayist, teacher, acclaimed non- fiction writer, husband. . .
He’s one of a kind and we are grateful for him.
You can listen to Matthew Yeager’s complete introduction and David Lehman’s KGB reading here.
~~~David Lehman was born in New York City. He initiated The Best American Poetry series in 1988 and remains series editor of the annual anthology. He is the author of seven books of poems, most recently New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013) and Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009). Among his nonfiction books are The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry 1988-2014, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Nextbook, 2009), The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Anchor, 1999) and The Perfect Murder ( Michigan, 2000). He edited Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, (Scribner, 2003) and The Best American Erotic Poems (Scribner, 2008). He edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry, a one-volume comprehensive anthology of poems from Anne Bradstreet to the present. He teaches writing and literature in the graduate writing program of the New School in New York City. He lives in New York City and spends summers in Ithaca, New York.
~~~Stacey Harwood, Managing Editor of the Best American Poetry Blog, was until recently a policy analyst for the New York State Public Service Commission, the agency that regulates gas, electric, water, and telephone service in New York State. Her poems and essays have been published or are forthcoming in The LA Times, Michigan Quarterly Review, Humor, Lit, Saveur, Tablet, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. Paul Muldoon selected her poem Contributors’ Notes for The Best American Poetry 2005. She is the poet laureate of the New York City Greenmarket.