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Feel the Burn

Poet Wayne Koestenbaum reveals his toxic attractions

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Poet, critic and English professor Wayne Koestenbaum has a penchant for provocative book titles, from The Queen’s Throat, his study of opera and homosexuality, to Cleavage, a pop culture exegesis.

The title of his newest poetry collection, Best-selling Jewish Porn Films, gets points for shock value. But does it also signal a new interest in things Jewish?

Koestenbaum discusses the grappa-like pleasure of listening to German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, his immigrant father, and what he’s after with his latest collection.

* * *

From Best-selling Jewish Porn Films

Two Little Elegies for Joe Brainard


I sit awake all night

watching a ladybug

cross the windowpane.

The tower of Babel

at my fingertips

bewitches her.

I’ve wasted my forties—

today’s the second

morning of my fortieth year.

Oh, but I must mention

one rare red record,

found at a flea market:

“The Rosary,” sung

by Vivian Delia Chiesa.

It holds up.


At the great soprano’s husband’s funeral

the synagogue smells of talc and hair oil.

I wear a tie with chromosomal squiggles

and read “Kubla Khan” while waiting for the service

to begin. My grail is intersection,

though I can’t hold it,

don’t know what it is—

mysterious sadness falling into neat piles.

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Feel the Burn

Poet Wayne Koestenbaum reveals his toxic attractions

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