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September 24, 2008

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This is so interesting. By day, I work in the arcane field of public utility regulation - don't ask - and one day shortly after David (Lehman) and I married, a senior colleague, an engineer, asked me what my husband does for a living. "He's a poet," I said. "I read poetry," he said. I asked him to name his favorites. "I've always enjoyed John Ashbery," he said. And at Monday's Lydia Davis poetry forum, a lawyer I often see at public hearings and in negotiating sessions was in the audience. Worlds collide! It took us a while to recognize each other out of context. I'm never convinced by those who say there is no audience for poetry.

After my husband's aunt's funeral, about fifteen or so years ago, while we were sitting in the backyard having drinks, his uncle and his uncle's sister asked me about my studies at Bennington. When they found out I was studying poetry, they both got excited and took turns reciting Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." They had learned it sixty years earlier in elementary school. It was doubly touching, given the circumstances and how both of them were so obviously delighted that they remembered it.

One of the items I still keep from my father was a book he carried with him on his ship during World War II. It's a hardback anthology of literature "for the sailor," given out free to common seamen, full of adventure stories and essays (things like "The Man Without a Country"), and lots and lots of poetry. (For the rest of his life, my father was fond of reciting - "Abou Ben Adem - may his tribe increase!" at the drop of a hat.) I've always found it fascinating that the editors thought that the ordinary sailor would be perfectly comfortable reading the kind of stuff that gets shelved under "literature" at bookstores these days. They didn't appear to make a distinction between literary fiction and poetry and what we'd call popular fiction. The sailors apparently didn't make the distinction either.

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Radio

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


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Ringfinger was nervous
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