Born in New York City, David Lehman grew up the son of European Holocaust refugees in Manhattan's northernmost neighborhood of Inwood. He attended Stuyvesant High School and Columbia University, and Cambridge University in England on a Kellett Fellowship. On his return to New York, he received a Ph.D. in English from Columbia, where he was Lionel Trilling's research assistant. Lehman's poem "The Presidential Years" appeared in The Paris Review No. 43 (Summer 1968) while he was a Columbia undergraduate.
His books of poetry include New and Selected Poems (2013), Yeshiva Boys (November 2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (2005), The Evening Sun (2002), The Daily Mirror (2000), and Valentine Place (1996), all published by Scribner. Princeton University Press published Operation Memory (1990), and An Alternative to Speech (1986). He collaborated with James Cummins on a book of sestinas, Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (Soft Skull Press, 2005), and with Judith Hall on a book of poems and collages, Poetry Forum (Bayeux Arts, 2007). Since 2009, new poems have been published in 32 Poems, The Atlantic, The Awl, Barrow Street, The Common, Green Mountains Review, Hanging Loose, Hot Street, New Ohio Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry London, Sentence, Smartish Pace, Slate, and The Yale Review.
Lehman’s poems appear in Chinese in the bilingual anthology, Contemporary American Poetry, published through a partnership between the NEA and the Chinese government, and in the Mongolian-English Anthology of American Poetry. Lehman’s work has been translated into 16 languages overall, including Spanish, French, German, Danish, Russian, Polish, Korean and Japanese. In 2013, his translation of Goethe’s "Wandrers Nachtlied" into English appeared under the title "Goethe’s Nightsong" in The New Republic, and his translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s "Zone" was published with an introductory essay in Virginia Quarterly Review. The translation and commentary won the journal's Emily Clark Balch Prize for 2014. Additionally, his poem, "French Movie" appears in the third season of Motionpoems.
Lehman is the series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988. Lehman has edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006). The Best American Erotic Poems: From 1800 to the Present (Scribner, 2008), and Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (Scribner, 2003).
He is the author of six nonfiction books, including, most recently, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Nextbook, 2009), for which he received a 2010 ASCAP Deems Taylor award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Sponsored by the American Library Association, Lehman curated, wrote, and designed a traveling library exhibit based on his book A Fine Romance that toured 55 libraries in 25 states between May 2011 and April 2012 with appearances at three libraries in New York state and Maryland.
In an interview published in Smithsonian Magazine, Lehman discusses the artistry of the great lyricists: “The best song lyrics seem to me so artful, so brilliant, so warm and humorous, with both passion and wit, that my admiration is matched only by my envy ... these lyricists needed to work within boundaries, to get complicated emotions across and fit the lyrics to the music, and to the mood thereof. That takes genius.”
Lehman’s other books of criticism include The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998), which was named a "Book to Remember 1999" by the New York Public Library; The Big Question (1995); The Line Forms Here (1992) and Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (1991). His study of detective novels, The Perfect Murder (1989), was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. A new edition of The Perfect Murder appeared in 2000. In October, 2015, he published Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World.
Lehman worked as a freelance journalist for many years. His by-line appeared frequently in Newsweek in the 1980s and he has written on a variety of subjects for journals ranging from the New York Times, the Washington Post, People, and The Wall Street Journal to The American Scholar, The Academy of American Poets, National Public Radio, Salon, Slate, Smithsonian, and Art in America. The Library of Congress commissioned an essay from Lehman, “Peace and War in American Poetry,” and posted it online in April 2013. In 2013, Lehman wrote the introduction to The Collected Poems of Joseph Ceravolo. He had previously written introductory essays to books by A. R. Ammons, Kenneth Koch, Philip Larkin, Alfred Leslie, Fairfield Porter, Karl Shapiro, and Mark Van Doren.
In 1994 he succeeded Donald Hall as the general editor of the University of Michigan Press’s Poets on Poetry series, a position he held for twelve years. In 1997 he teamed with Star Black in creating and directing the famed KGB Bar Monday-night poetry series in New York City’s East Village. Lehman and Black co-edited The KGB Bar Book of Poems (HarperCollins, 2000). They directed the reading series until 2003.
He has taught in the graduate writing program of the New School in New York City since the program's inception in 1996 and has served as poetry coordinator since 2003. In an interview with Tom Disch in the Cortland Review, Lehman addresses his great variety of poetic styles: "I write in a lot of different styles and forms on the theory that the poems all sound like me in the end, so why not make them as different from one another as possible, at least in outward appearance? If you write a new poem every day, you will probably have by the end of the year, if you’re me, an acrostic, an abecedarium, a sonnet or two, a couple of prose poems, poems that have arbitrary restrictions, such as the one I did that has only two words per line."
At the request of the editors of The American Scholar, Lehman initiated "Next Line, Please," a poetry-writing contest, on the magazine's website. The first project was a crowd-sourced sonnet, "Monday," which was completed in August 2014. There followed a haiku, a tanka, an anagram based on Ralph Waldo Emerson's middle name, a couplet (which grew into a "sonnet ghazal"), and a "shortest story" competition. Lehman devises the puzzles — or prompts — and judges the results.
Lehman has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the NEA, and received an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award. He has lectured widely in the United States and abroad. Lehman divides his time between Ithaca, New York, and New York City. He is married to Stacey Harwood.
works written by David Lehman:
- Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World (2015)
- New and Selected Poems (2013)
- A Fine Romance (2009)
- Yeshiva Boys (2009)
- When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005)
- The Evening Sun (Scribner, 2002)
- The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (2000)
- The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (1998)
- Valentine Place (1996)
- The Big Question (1995)
- The Line Forms Here (1992)
- Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (1991)
- Operation Memory (1990)
- The Perfect Murder: A Study in Detection (1989)
- An Alternative to Speech (1986)
- Beyond Amazement: New Essays on John Ashbery (1980)
works edited by David Lehman:
- The Best American Erotic Poems (2008)
- The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006)
- A. R. Ammons: Selected Poems (2006)
- Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (2003)
- Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms: 85 Leading Contemporary Poets Select and 'Comment on Their Poems' (1987, expanded 1996)
- The Best American Poetry with guest editors:
Terrance Hayes (2014), Denise Duhamel (2013), Mark Doty (2012), Kevin Young (2011), Amy Gerstler (2010), David Wagoner (2009), Charles Wright (2008), Heather McHugh (2007), Billy Collins (2006), Paul Muldoon (2005), Lyn Hejinian (2004), Yusef Komunyakaa (2003), Robert Creeley (2002), Robert Hass (2001), Rita Dove (2000), Robert Bly (1999), John Hollander (1998), James Tate (1997), Adrienne Rich (1996), Richard Howard (1995), A. R. Ammons (1994), Louise Glück (1993), Charles Simic (1992), Mark Strand (1991), Jorie Graham (1990), Donald Hall (1989) and John Ashbery (1988).
works written collaboratively:
- Poetry Forum: A Play Poem: A Pl'em with Judith Hall (Bayeux Arts, 2007)
- Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man with James Cummins (Soft Skull Press, 2005)
works edited collaboratively:
- The Best of the Best American Poetry: 25th Anniversary Edition with Robert Pinsky (Scribner, 2013)
- The KGB Bar Book of Poems with Star Black (HarperCollins, 2000)
- The Best of the Best American Poetry, 1988-1997 with Harold Bloom (Scribner, 1998)
- James Merrill: Essays in Criticism with Charles Berger (Cornell University Press, 1983)
- David Lehman, The Library of Congress
- David Lehman at poets.org
- David Lehman at bestamericanpoetry.com.
- 32 Poems, Spring 2011.
- "The Ides of March", The Atlantic, March 2011.
- "On the Beautiful and Sublime", The Awl, September 6, 2012.
- Barrow Street, Winter 2012–13.
- The Common Online, June 28, 2013 and The Common, Issue 05, 2013.
- Green Mountain Review July 3, 2013.
- "Poem in the Manner of Contemporary American Fiction," "The Count," "Fuck You, Foucault," and "Poland of Dreams", Hanging Loose, Issue 100.
- Hot Street.
- New Ohio Review, Spring, Issue#11.
- "Cento, The True Romantics", The New Yorker, October 22, 2012, p. 37.
- "The Breeder's Cup", Poetry Magazine, 2012.
- "On the Beautiful and the Sublime", Poetry London, Summer 2013.
- Sentence, Issue 9, 2011.
- "Comparative Fates," Smartish Pace, Issue 15.
- "The Escape Artist," Slate Magazine, May 28, 2013.
- "The Case of the Spurious Spouse", The Yale Review, Volume 100, No. 4.
- "NEA Brings Contemporary Chinsese Poetry to U.S. Audience through Release of Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China, NEA, October 11, 2011.
- "Remarks by Ambassador Jonathan Addleton at the official release of the bilingual Anthology of American Poetry, Embassy of the United States Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, November 10, 2010.
- "Goethe's Nightsong".
- "Apollinaire's 'Zone'", Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2013, Translations.
- "Oxford Updates Its Collection of American Poems", NPR, May 2, 2006.
- "At This Moment in Taste", The Guardian, January 5, 2007.
- A 2009 podcast featuring Lehman on A Fine Romance
- David Lehman on Poetry Net.
- "New Traveling Exhibits Celebrate the Lives and Works of Jewish Artists", ala.org, November 9, 2010.
- Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, October 07, 2009, Smithsonian.com.
- "Why I Love You", The American Scholar.
- "Poetic Perfection: Three Favorite Poems of 2011," NPR, January 2, 2012.
- "A Poetry-Free Presidency," Salon.com, January 19, 2001.
- "Where Ignorance is Bliss, Tis Folly To Be Wise", Slate Magazine, January 22, 2013.
- "Peace and War in American Poetry", Library of Congress, April 2013.
- The Collected Poems of Joseph Ceravolo, Wesleyan Press, 2013.
- "Archie: A profile of A. R. Ammons".
- Tom Disch talks with David Lehman, The Courtland Review.
- "Next Line, Please", The American Scholar.
- Essay: David Lehman on post-modernism
- Lehman Explains Motivation for The Last Avant-Garde
- Film adaptation: Lehman's "French Movie" in Motionpoems Festival, 2011
- Commentary: Lehman on Frank O'Hara's "Meditations in an Emergency" in AMC's Mad Men, Mad Men blog, 2009
- Interview: David Lehman in Eurozine, 2009
- Television appearance: David Lehman on PBS, 2006
- Interview: David Lehman with Jane Hammond, Bomb Magazine, 2002
- Review: Lehman's The Evening Sun in The Adirondack Review, 2002
- Interview: David Lehman with A. R. Ammons, The Paris Review, 1996