David Lehman,

David Lehman,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Jan. 15 1998 12:30 AM

David Lehman,

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       Political correctness isn't dead. In her lecture on Robert Frost, Marie Howe unwittingly antagonized a young hip-hop poet sitting in the front row. Marie was distinguishing the wild bucks that turn up in certain Frost poems from domesticated animals like dogs that have been trained to protect us. The offended student, a passionate animal-rights advocate from the San Francisco Bay area, took exception to the notion that humans had domesticated dogs. In her view, dogs came to our aid of their own free will--a position she felt was in better keeping with the dignity of dogs. When Marie expediently said something that seemed to concede the point, which was, after all, a peripheral one in her talk, the young poet flexed her arms triumphantly. "Yes," she hissed, like Marv Albert announcing a successful hook shot.
       An ice storm has turned out the lights in eastern Canada, so it seems a propitious moment for our group outing to see The Ice Storm. I like it, a terrific re-creation of suburban 1973. My favorite motifs are the waterbed, the reference to est, the minister's awful hairdo, and the towel blocking the crack under the door to keep the aroma of marijuana from seeping out of one's dorm room. After the screening, Rick Moody patiently fields questions. He says that no one in New Canaan will admit to having gone to a "key party"--where the husbands put their car keys in a bowl and the wives go home with the men whose car keys they fish out--but at least two or three such parties definitely took place.
       It wasn't difficult to decide the subject of the emergency lecture I'm scheduled to give on Saturday. Since I've just finished a book on the New York School of poets, I'll probably read from the last chapter. The book is called The Last Avant-Garde, and I have the complete manuscript with me because my editor at Doubleday has given me until Feb. 1 to make final changes. Meanwhile, my editor at Scribner--Gillian Blake, whose birthday this is--phones with 1) the news that the Book-of-the-Month Club has acquired The Best of the Best American Poetry, coming out in April and 2) the urgent need to settle the copy editor's queries. And here I'd almost succeeded in forgetting the world of production schedules and deadlines. It's usually easy to do that here, because--and now follows my entry for the bad metaphor contest--a Bennington residency is a parenthesis the length of a Homeric simile that interrupts the catalog of ships in Book 2 of The Iliad of your life.
       I have also come up with an entry for the pithy summary contest: "Salesman dies. Audience forced to pay attention."