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The Best American Poetry 1998

Edited by David Lehman

About The Book

The appearance of The Best American Poetry every September is an eagerly awaited rite of fall -- as evidenced by soaring sales and terrific reviews. The popularity of the series is "ample proof that poetry is thriving" (The Orlando Sentinel), and this year's volume will dazzle and delight, instruct and inspire. Under the guiding vision of master poet John Hollander -- one of America's most erudite literary minds -- The Best American Poetry 1998 spotlights the imaginative power and insight of our finest poets at the fin-de-siècle. Diverse in form and method, the poems display an unwavering nobility of expression, maintaining the uncompromising artistic standards essential to The Best American Poetry tradition as it enters its second decade. With a foreword by series editor David Lehman and with comments from the poets illuminating their work, The Best American Poetry 1998 will lead you on an exhilarating and inspiring literary adventure.


Chapter 1


Mr. Moto's Confession

The famous Tokyo detective looked as if he'd taken a shower

in his linen suit and then slept in it.

He mopped his shiny forehead with a handkerchief.

"Pascal was right," he said, his tenor slightly nasal.

"Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to

another form of madness. What's more," he added, the cat

eying the canary, "contradiction is not a sign of falsity,

nor is the want of contradiction a sign of truth -- Pascal again."

He took out his fountain pen. I saw my chance.

Mr. Moto, I asked, should I believe all those stories

I've heard about you? "Please do not," he murmured. "I do not."

He was writing something on a cocktail napkin.

"In fact," he said, his pen continuing to move, "my real name is

Laszlo Löwenstein. I was born in Hungary, I drove myself crazy

as an actor in Zürich and Berlin, and now that I live in Hollywood

I have bad dreams. Last night one of them told me

I'll end up buried alive in a tale by Edgar Allan Poe."

He coughed politely, capped his pen, and getting to his feet

handed me the little piece of paper. "An ancient Japanese

poetic form," he said. Even as I stared at it

the little cairn of characters, each a tiny, exotic bird cage

with its doors open, blurred, melted, and reformed as if rising

to the surface of a well, where these words trembled

but stayed clear enough to read: As evening nears, how clearly

a dog's bark carries over the water.

from The New Republic


The Floating Post Office

(Note: The post boat was like a gondola that called at each houseboat. It carried clerk, weighing scales, and a bell to announce arrivals.)

Has he been kept from us? Portents

of rain, rumors, ambushed letters...

Curtained palanquin, fetch our word,

bring us word: Who has died? Who'll live?

Has the order gone out to close

the waterways...the one open road?

And then we saw the boat being rowed

through the fog of death, the sentence

passed on our city. It came close

to reveal smudged black-ink letters

which the postman -- he was alive --

gave us, like signs, without a word,

and we took them, without a word.

From our deck we'd seen the hill road

bringing a jade rain, near-olive,

down from the temple, some penitent's

cymbaled prayer? He took our letters,

and held them, like a lover, close

to his heart. And the rain drew close.

Was there, we asked, a new password --

blood, blood shaken into letters,

cruel primitive script that would erode

our saffron link to the past? Tense

with autumn, the leaves, drenched olive,

fell on graveyards, crying "O live!"

What future would the rain disclose?

O Rain, abandon all pretense,

now drown the world, give us your word,

ring, sweet assassin of the road,

the temple bell! For if letters

come, I will answer those letters

and my year will be tense, alive

with love! The temple receives the road:

there, the rain has come to a close.

Here the waters rise; our each word

in the fog awaits a sentence:

His hand on the scales, he gives his word:

Our letters will be rowed through olive

canals, the tense waters no one can close.

from The Kenyon Review


The Cove

Something was out there on the lake, just barely

visible in the dark.

I knelt and stared, trying to make it out,

trying to mark

its position relative to mine,

and the picturesque willow, the moon-silvered diving board

on the opposite shore. I listened hard

but heard

no sound from it, although I cupped one ear

as I knelt in the cove,

wondering how far I should take this, if I should seek

someone to row out there with me. Yet it didn't move

or grow darker or lighter. Most shapes,

you know what they are:

a rock-garden serpent, a house in the mist, a man's head,

an evening star,

but not this one. Whatever was out there kept changing

from large to small.

The mass of a wooden coffin surfaced,

then the head of an owl,

a tree limb, a window, a veil --

I couldn't resolve it. I ran one hand through my hair

as I stood up, shrugging. I had just turned 50

and whatever it was that might be floating there

I didn't want it to be. Too much before

that came unbidden into my life

I'd let take me over. I knelt again and stared again.

Something was out there just beyond the cove.

from The Hudson Review

FONT SIZE="-1">Copyright © 1998 by David Lehman

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (August 6, 1998)
  • Length: 336 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780684814506

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