March 2019 Poetry Feature: David Lehman


This month we’re pleased to bring you selections from Playlist, David Lehman’s new book-length poem forthcoming from University of Pittsburgh Press in April.





12/11/17 (Mahler’s Third)







11/ 20 / 17

Dear Archie, today

I drove past 606 Hanshaw Road

where you haven’t lived

since 1993, and where


you had green shutters

the current occupants

have maroon ones. Yours

were better. You left us


in February 2001, a week after

you turned seventy-five.

I thought of your coil

of tape for the turn


of the year while I was driving

and listening to the radio

and deciding I would write

this poem to you, old friend,


now that I’m the age you were

when we edited a book together

and you were so much older then

than I. If you were here you


would ask me what about

the radio enchants me so much?

Its randomness, I would say.

Someone else is choosing



the order, the sequence

which may never cohere into sense,

but the day is like that,

it gives you what it has


and lets you arrange it

and sometimes you luck into

Sinatra singing “The Song Is You”

arranged by Billy May in 1958


and you understand that, Archie,

you remember the phone call

when I sang “it seems to me I’ve heard

that song before” and you sang


back “it’s from an old familiar score”

you knew all the words

and reminded me that

you didn’t have a radio in your Toyota (which


I can still see in your driveway) but

you didn’t need a radio,

because you had

a very entertaining mind.


11 / 29 / 17

I’m listening to Eric Dolphy without understanding a word

there are no words but I know what you mean

on the drive back to Hamilton College

after visiting Archie for the first time

in Goldwin Smith Hall in 1976 I brought my hardcover copy

of Diversification she signed it and took me

to Epoch headquarters we took a walk

around the Cornell arts quad he showed me

the one building on campus he liked (was it Barnes Hall?)

because it “has some diversity to go with its unity”

he complained of bad health bad teeth bad skin

well, I said, you look good

well, he said, I fuck a lot


12 / 11/ 17

Mahler’s Third

You can tell that the guy

who wrote “I’ll Be Seeing You”

(in all the old familiar places)

was listening to the langsam last movement

of Mahler’s third symphony

at the time but in a less

exalted though equally schmaltzy mood


Just as you can be sure that Mahler had

Nietzsche on the brain

in the fourth movement

when the alto asks the deep midnight

to speak and it does it says the world’s pain

is deeper than daytime can guess

but pain passes and joy seeks eternity

as do I when I wave my baton


12/ 12/ 17

Somewhere some summer a few decades ago,

Mahler’s first symphony, “the Titan,”

is playing and melodies familiar from his songs

are turning up with so much sturm und drang no wonder

Lenny loved conducting him,

“Frere Jacques” as a funeral march in D minor

dazzling, a double-bass solo no less,

and as for the agitated end, Mahler

storms the heavens “with an apotheosis of D Major”

but only after staring at the abyss and having a good long cry


12 / 16 / 18

for Lew Saul

Perfection: Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21

Delight: Beethoven’s Sixth (“the Pastoral”)


1 / 8 / 17

There are two things all investors need to know

Don’t sell your winners


It’s always a good time to take some money off the table

Now how you implement these contradictory adages is anyone’s guess

But this I know

Jazz is the music of the stock market

As it zigs and zags, from “Dearly Beloved” (Sonny Rollins),

To “September Song” (Gary Burton),

“Blue Rondo a la Turk (Chris Brubeck),

“Sermonette” (Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross) and

“Honeysuckle Rose” (Ella Fitzgerald)

All on my playlist for today

A Facebook friend asks if I have one piece of advice and only one

To give a young writer, what would it be?

And I say

“Play Count Basie, ‘April in Paris,’ and write”


1 / 9 / 18

Lew Saul reads my two-line poem for him

(See December 15) and adds

Le Sacre du Printempsfor air-conducting

on a perfect breezy spring day in Paris

47 years ago” in my room,

where he also played recordings of

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue,

and Frank Zappa at the Fillmore East, 1971.

Bravo, Lew. And here’s a piece by

Eduard Toldra, “Nocturno,” which I don’t know,

do you? It seems to be a prelude

to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor

which itself seems to be a prelude

in the sense Wordsworth gave the word.



David Lehman is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and Great American Prose Poems. He is also the general editor of the annual The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988. His recent books of poetry include Poems in the Manner Of and New and Selected Poems. He has authored eight nonfiction books, including The State of the Art: A Chronicle of American Poetry, 1988-2014. Lehman has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

March 2019 Poetry Feature: David Lehman

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