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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

 

Shake the Superflux!

David Lehman, 1948
I like walking on streets as black and wet as this one
now, at two in the solemnly musical morning, when everyone else
in this town emptied of Lestrygonians and Lotus-eaters
is asleep or trying or worrying why
they aren't asleep, while unknown to them Ulysses walks
into the shabby apartment I live in, humming and feeling
happy with the avant-garde weather we're having,
the winds (a fugue for flute and oboe) pouring
into the windows which I left open although
I live on the ground floor and there have been
two burglaries on my block already this week,
do I quickly take a look to see
if the valuables are missing? No, that is I can't,
it's an epistemological quandary: what I consider
valuable, would they? Who are they, anyway? I'd answer that
with speculations based on newspaper accounts if I were
Donald E. Westlake, whose novels I'm hooked on, but
this first cigarette after twenty-four hours
of abstinence tastes so good it makes me want
to include it in my catalogue of pleasures
designed to hide the ugliness or sweep it away
the way the violent overflow of rain over cliffs
cleans the sewers and drains of Ithaca
whose waterfalls head my list, followed by
crudites of carrots and beets, roots and all,
with rained-on radishes, too beautiful to eat,
and the pure pleasure of talking, talking and not knowing
where the talk will lead, but willing to take my chances.
Furthermore I shall enumerate some varieties of tulips
(Bacchus, Tantalus, Dardanelles) and other flowers
with names that have a life of their own (Love Lies Bleeding,
Dwarf Blue Bedding, Burning Bush, Torch Lily, Narcissus).
Mostly, as I've implied, it's the names of things
that count; still, sometimes I wonder and, wondering, find
the path of least resistance, the earth's orbit
around the sun's delirious clarity. Once you sniff
the aphrodisiac of disaster, you know: there's no reason
for the anxiety--or for expecting to be free of it;
try telling Franz Kafka he has no reason to feel guilty;
or so I say to well-meaning mongers of common sense.
They way I figure, you start with the names
which are keys and then you throw them away
and learn to love the locked rooms, with or without
corpses inside, riddles to unravel, emptiness to possess,
a woman to wake up with a kiss (who is she?
no one knows) who begs your forgiveness (for what?
you cannot know) and then, in the authoritative tone
of one who has weathered the storm of his exile, orders you
to put up your hands and beg the rain to continue
as if it were in your power. And it is,
I feel it with each drop. I am standing
outside at the window, looking in on myself
writing these words, feeling what wretches feel, just
as the doctor ordered. And that's what I plan to do,
what the storm I was caught in reminded me to do,
to shake the superflux, distribute my appetite, fast
without so much as a glass of water, and love
each bite I haven't taken. I shall become the romantic poet
whose coat of many colors smeared
with blood, like a butcher's apron, left
in the sacred pit or brought back to my father
to confirm my death, confirms my new life
instead, an alien prince of dungeons and dreams
who sheds the disguise people recognize him by
to reveal himself to his true brothers at last
in the silence that stuns before joy descends, like rain.

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
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
The happiest moment in a woman's life
Is when she hears the turn of her lover's key
In the lock, and pretends to be asleep
When he enters the room, trying to be
Quiet but clumsy, bumping into things,
And she can smell the liquor on his breath
But forgives him because she has him back
And doesn't have to sleep
poem
I was in a French movie
and had only nine hours to live
and I knew it
not because I planned to take my life
or swallowed a lethal but slow-working
potion meant for a juror
in a mob-related murder trial,
nor did I expect to be assassinated
like a chemical engineer mistaken
for someone important in Milan
or a Jew