John Deming, editor in chief of the important on-line journal Coldfront, has posted Part I of a 3-part interview with David Lehman.
I interviewed David Lehman for about three hours in his office on a Friday night in October, 2009, two years after I finished studying with him and others at The New School. It was around that time that he published two new books–Yeshiva Boys, a collection of new poems, and A Fine Romance, a book of prose about the great Jewish songwriters in America. I was compelled by both books, and I also found it interesting that his book of poems had some thematic overlap with his book of prose–a pattern we’ve seen in him before, when he published The Last Avant Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets around the same time that he published The Daily Mirror, a book of daily poems that took on some of the improvisational whim that surfaces in some prominent works by New York School poets, especially Frank O’Hara (“just go on your nerve”).
Now, four and half years later, we have succeeded at transcribing and editing the conversation. Lehman is a well known poet, and perhaps equally well known for his editorial work–the annual Best American Poetry series is a staple, but he has also edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry, Great American Prose Poems, The Best American Erotic Poems, Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, and other books. He is also the author of several books of prose, including Sign of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man and The Last Avant Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets. He has drawn considerable attention to poetry and its many modern manifestations over the years. With all of this work to his credit, it is conceivable that his own poetry is not always afforded the attention it deserves, a notion suggested by the poet Bill Knott. Knott, who died earlier this year, had his own history of frustration with the Best American Poetry series, but on April 2, 2012 blogged the following of Lehman:
…I must confess my admiration for his superlative service to poetry and for his unique accomplishments…He is so well-known for his civic leadership in the poetry community, his role as the public persona aegis of BAP’s success, and for being the face of USA poetry as it were, that his own distinguished and marvelous verse is perhaps sometimes lost in the shadow of that spotlight fame, and doesn’t get the recognition and acclaim it deserves…He should put out a big Selected Poems, and it should win the Pulitzer on the strength of its own merits alone.