David Lehman to A.R. Ammons


That’s always the way of it.  No matter where we settle – the most glamorous city, the most stimulating region – we inevitably catch word of folks in some other realm who sound like they’re having more fun.


For the first letter in our series of epistles, New York City’s David Lehman has kindly allowed us to feature one his letters to his friend and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award recipient, A. R. Ammons.

David Lehman’s poetry collections include “The Evening Sun,” “Valentine Place,” and “The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry,” all from Scribner.  His exploration of the detective genre, “The Perfect Murder,” was nominated for an Edgar Award.  He is chief editor of the popular “Best American Poetry” series and teaches at Bennington College, The New School and in the undergraduate honors program at NYU.

21 April 1997


Dear Archie,


Thanks for your letter. I love my pied-a-terre, and you will, too! You will have to visit and see it for yourself. It seems cruel that I will have to vacate it so soon: I must fly to Florida on May 9th to be a "master artist" at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach which I hear is lovely & they're paying me & it means I can spend a weekend or two with my Mama in Miami, so I am doing it, though it is yanking me away from this bloody crazy city to which I am as addicted as a junkie to his needle, and now I must find a subtenant for the summer months. In June I spend two weeks teaching at Bennington then return triumphantly to Ithaca on June 25 or so. Will stay until August 15th -- providing that I can find tenants to live in Valentine Place next year.


My current house sitter, Prathima, would make a very suitable tenant but she needs work and though she is extremely efficient, when prospective clients hear her voice on the phone, with its rich Indian accent, they terminate discussion immediately. So much for our enlightened Ithaca neighbors.


I have been reading about some of the amazing drugs they are developing at  Pfizer. That is a definite BUY in my opinion. All this stuff about the "drug wars" would make a terrific novel. I mean, the idea that some are illegal while others are being pushed with the full weight of the psycho-pharmacological establishment. If I vote this November it will be a write in for Louis Rukeyser or you.


My address from May 9 to the beginning of June will be c/o Atlantic Center for the Arts, 1414 Arts Center Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, Florida 32168.


I was over at you know who's (or who knows you's) for tea yesterday and told him about your hunt for the right apartment or pied-a-terre in Manhattan. He was incredulous, of course, but then he seemed to forget all about it as he rested his hand on my knee and told me some wild gossip including an interesting Wall Street joke the punchline of which is that the God of the Old Testament is a Jew with a phone who doesn't return calls. Also he was at a luncheon in the formerly Judenrein Knickerbocker Club where he heard Ned Chase (Cynthia Culler's Papa) explain to old Louis Auchincloss what "mooning" entails. He almost demonstrated. Anyway Richard Howard is reading his poems tonight at KGB. I am introducing. If you are around next fall you will read in our series which  is considered either hot or cool depending on your thermometer. Either way it means TBSH [Top Bard Slept Here].


Joseph is visiting me this Wednesday. I will take him to my Columbia class (the poor kid) but the next night will treat him to the theater and the night after that either jazz or Chinatown or maybe both plus a trip to a comic book store.


If you write me a letter I promise to read it. And reply to it. In the meantime here are some new poems. Hope you like ‘em as much as they like you, which is plenty.


Take care of yourself and give my love to Phyllis. As Billie Holiday would put it, do nothing till you hear from me.







Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach