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About this poet

David Lehman was born in New York City in 1948. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Cambridge University in England as a Kellett Fellow. He received a PhD in English from Columbia University.

He is the author of several collections of poems, including New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013); Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005); Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man, coauthored with James Cummin (Soft Skull Press, 2005); The Evening Sun: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2002); The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2000); Valentine Place (Scribner, 1996); Operation Memory (Princeton University Press, 1990); and An Alternative to Speech (Princeton University Press, 1986).

His books of criticism include A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Schocken, 2009); The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998), which was named a "Book to Remember 1999" by the New York Public Library; The Big Question (University of Michigan Press, 1995); The Line Forms Here (University of Michigan Press, 1992); and Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (Poseidon Press, 1991). His study of detective novels, The Perfect Murder (University of Michigan Press, 1989), was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Lehman is also known as a prominent editor and literary critic. He is currently the series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988, and is general editor of the University of Michigan Press's Poets on Poetry Series. His other editorial works include The Best American Erotic Poems (Scribner, 2008) and The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006).

According to the poet John Hollander, "This increasingly impressive poet keeps reminding us that putting aside childish things can be done only wisely and well by keeping in touch with them, and that American life is best understood and celebrated by those who are, with Whitman, both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it."

Lehman's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award.

He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University. He lives in New York City and Ithaca, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

New and Selected Works (Scribner, 2013)
Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009)
When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005)
Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man, coauthored with James Cummin (Soft Skull Press, 2005)
The Evening Sun: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2002)
The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2000)
Valentine Place (Scribner, 1996)
Operation Memory (Princeton University Press, 1990)
An Alternative to Speech (Princeton University Press, 1986)

Prose

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Schocken, 2009)
The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998)
The Big Question (University of Michigan Press, 1995)
The Line Forms Here (University of Michigan Press, 1992)
Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (Poseidon Press, 1991)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

The Difference Between Pepsi and Coke

David Lehman, 1948
Can't swim; uses credit cards and pills to combat
   intolerable feelings of inadequacy;
Won't admit his dread of boredom, chief impulse behind
   numerous marital infidelities;
Looks fat in jeans, mouths clichés with confidence,
   breaks mother's plates in fights;
Buys when the market is too high, and panics during
   the inevitable descent;
Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference
   between Pepsi and Coke,
Has defined the darkness of red at dawn, memorized
   the splash of poppies along
Deserted railway tracks, and opposed the war in Vietnam
   months before the students,
Years before the politicians and press; give him
   a minute with a road map
And he will solve the mystery of bloodshot eyes;
   transport him to mountaintop
And watch him calculate the heaviness and height
   of the local heavens;
Needs no prompting to give money to his kids; speaks
   French fluently, and tourist German;
Sings Schubert in the shower; plays pinball in Paris;
   knows the new maid steals, and forgives her.

From An Alternative to Speech, published by Princeton University Press. Copyright © 1986 by David Lehman. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

From An Alternative to Speech, published by Princeton University Press. Copyright © 1986 by David Lehman. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

David Lehman

David Lehman

David Lehman is the author of several collections of poems and books of criticism and is also known as a prominent editor, teacher, and literary critic.

by this poet

poem
There comes a time in every man's life 
when he thinks: I have never had a single 
original thought in my life 
including this one & therefore I shall 
eliminate all ideas from my poems 
which shall consist of cats, rice, rain 
baseball cards, fire escapes, hanging plants 
red brick houses where I shall give
poem
He wrote the whole novel in his head,

Sentence by sentence. It took him all day.

Then he took out a wide-ruled yellow legal pad

With three pink vertical lines marking the left margin,

And from his breast pocket he extracted

A disposable plastic fountain pen,

And near the top of the page he wrote the word
poem
If Ezra Pound were alive today
            (and he is)
he'd be teaching
at a small college in the Pacific Northwest
and attending the annual convention
of writing instructors in St. Louis
and railing against tenure,
saying tenure
is a ladder whose rungs slip out
from under the scholar as he climbs
upwards to