(Ed note: In a year that included publication of The Best of the Best American Poetry and The Best American Poetry 2013, David Lehman has also published his New and Selected Poems,(Scribner) which hits bookstores this week. NPR's Camila Domonoske recently spoke with David by telephone. Here's an exerpt with a link to the full interview. sdh)
Seventeen years ago, the poet, writer and editor David Lehman resolved to write a poem every day. It sounds a little similar to , which kicked off yesterday — except that Lehman kept it up for five years, publishing many of the daily poems in literary journals and in two well-received collections.
Lehman's reputation for prolific output extends beyond his poem-a-day project. For the past 25 years, he's been the series editor for Best American Poetry, the annual anthology series that he founded in 1988. He also chose the works for the 1,200-page Oxford Book of American Poetry, on top of editing collections of erotic and prose poetry, writing frequent reviews and releasing nonfiction books on topics from Jewish songwriters and the New York School of Poets to the detective novel and Deconstruction.
When Lehman started to work on a retrospective collection, it took him two years to sift through what he'd written. The result, New and Selected Poetry, presents samples from his work in reverse chronological order. Over the phone, Lehman told me about his unhelpful anthologizing know-how, his 40-year effort to translate a single poem and why he's inspired by spy novels.
You have a lot of experience selecting poems from the body of work of other poets. How does that relate to the project of curating your own work for a book like this?
I feel that when I read for the Oxford [Book of American Poetry], or the Best American Poetry, I read as generously as possible, and I have a certain receptiveness to American poetry — and really world poetry, in all its variety. And then to my chagrin I found that all of this know-how and experience did not necessarily help me in making selections of my own work. It's much more difficult to see your own work with a certain kind of quiet detachment that is necessary in such a project.