IN YOUR FACE: STEPHEN DOBYNS AND EILEEN MYLES GO FOR THE FINAL FOUR

DOBYNS BEAT LOTS OF GOOD POETS TO GET HERE, AND SO DID EILEEN MYLES. NOW ONLY ONE CAN ADVANCE TO THE FINAL FOUR.

WE ASK ONLY THAT THESE TWO POEMS STAND IN THE LIGHT SO THAT WE CAN TELL WHICH ONE IS BETTER.

‘BEING’ IS EASY, BUT TO BE BETTER—TO BE THE MORE LOVED, TO BE MORE FAVORED—TAKES IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL, SOCIALLY, PHILOSOPHICALLY & AESTHETICALLY—DESPITE THE PROTESTS OF THE WEAK.

PERCEPTION ITSELF DEPENDS ON WHAT IS, OR IS NOT, BETTER: CREATION, IMAGINATION, JUDGMENT, ACTIVISM, THE SENSES, AND LOVE ITSELF, MUST CONSIDER ‘BETTER OR WORSE.’  WHY IS POETRY ANY DIFFERENT? IS POETRY LACKING IN APPEALS TO THE SENSES, OR IMAGINATION, OR JUDGMENT?  WHO WOULD PERISH IN AN EARTHEN JAR JUST TO SPITE THE HIERARCHY LEADING UP TO THE HEAVENS!

MARLA MUSE: Tom, what soaring rhetoric to start this match-up between these two excellent poems!

DOBYNS!

Allegorical Matters

Let’s say you are a man (some of you are)
and susceptible to the charms of women
(some of you must be) and you are sitting
on a park bench. (It is a sunny afternoon
in early May and the peonies are in flower.)
A beautiful woman approaches. (Clearly,
we each have his or her own idea of beauty
but let’s say she is beautiful to all.) She smiles,
then removes her halter top, baring her breasts
which you find yourself comparing to ripe fruit.
(Let’s say you are an admirer of bare breasts.)
Gently she presses her breasts against your eyes
and forehead, moving them across your face.

WHAT AN OPENING STRATEGY!  DOBYNS TAKES IT RIGHT TO EILEEN MYLES’ FACE!!

“LET’S SAY YOU ARE A MAN (SOME OF YOU ARE)” WHAT A PROVOCATION ON THE PART OF DOBYNS AGAINST MYLES!!

LET’S SEE HOW SHE REACTS!

MARLA MUSE: What an image by Dobyns!  And right in Myles’ face!  This contest is freaking me out already!

MYLES!!

Eileen’s Vision

One night I was home alone
quite late past eleven
and my dog was whining and
moaning and I went over
to stroke her & pat
her & proclaim
her beauty

MYLES COMES BACK STRONG!  SHE COUNTERS DOBYNS’ OUTDOORS SCENE WITH A ‘HOME ALONE AT NIGHT’ AND FENDS OFF THE HUMAN BREAST IMAGERY WITH PATTING AND STROKING HER FEMALE PET DOG!!  BEAUTIFUL: COUNTERING OUTRAGEOUS, SURREAL OUT-OF-LEFT-FIELD, SEXUAL IMAGERY WITH QUIET, DOMESTIC INTRIGUE!  MYLES DOESN’T PANIC.  SHE STANDS HER GROUND!  THE DOG IS A BRILLIANT TOUCH, AND ‘PROCLAIM HER BEAUTY’ IS DEFT, INDEED!

BUT DOBYNS COME ROARING BACK!

You can’t get over your good fortune. Eagerly,
you embrace her but then you learn the horror
because while her front is is young and vital,
her back is rotting flesh which breaks away
in your fingers with a smell of decay. Here
we pause and invite in a trio of experts.

A MORAL LESSON FINDS ITS WAY INTO DOBYNS’ GAME PLAN!  OR IS IT FATE? ONE GARISH IMAGE FOLLOWED BY ONE EVEN MORE INTENSE: SEX, AND THEN ROT! WHOA! CAN MYLES STAY WITH DOBYNS HERE, OR IS HE GOING TO BLOW THIS GAME WIDE OPEN? NOW…WHAT’S THIS? “WE PAUSE AND INVITE IN A TRIO OF EXPERTS?” DOBYNS GOING TO HIS BENCH ALREADY! HE SLOWS DOWN THE GAME! DID MYLES EXPECT THAT?

MYLES TRYING TO COME BACK:

&
then I returned
to my art review
but Rosie wouldn’t
stop. Something was
wrong. & then
I saw her.

JUST LIKE THAT MYLES DRAWS EVEN WITH DOBYNS!!  THE AMPERSAND SIMPLICITY, EVOKING TENSION WITH “SOMETHING WAS WRONG. & THEN I SAW HER.” BEAUTIFUL! MYLES MAKES AN IMPRESSIVE COMEBACK AS THE FIRST QUARTER DRAWS TO A CLOSE!

DOBYNS LOOKS A LITTLE SLUGGISH TO BEGIN THE SECOND QUARTER:

The first says, This is clearly a projection
of the author’s sexual anxieties. The second says,
Such fantasies derive from the empowerment
of women and the author’s fear of emasculation.
The third says, The author is manipulating sexual
stereotypes to acheive imaginative dominance
over the reader—basically, he must be a bully.

DOBYNS IS APOLOGIZING FOR HIS POEM!! AN INTERESTING STRATEGY, BUT IT DOESN’T SEEM TO BE WORKING.

AND NOW MYLES COUNTERS:

It looked like a circle
a wooden mouth
in the upper third
of my bathtub
cover which
was standing
on its side
it is the Lady I thought
this perfect sphere
on the wooden
bathtub cover
incidentally separating
kitchen &
middle room
in my home
where I
live &
work. That is
all.

MYLES ALSO TURNS MATTER-OF-FACT, BUT SHE STAYS WITH THE PICTURE OF THE DOMESTIC SCENE, NOT WAVERING FROM THAT, AND “IT IS THE LADY I THOUGHT” KEEPS THE TONE OF MYSTERY AND REVERENCE AMID THE PLAIN. MYLES BOLTS INTO THE LEAD!

AS WE START THE SECOND HALF, DOBYNS WORKS CAUTIOUSLY:

The author sits in front of the trio of experts.
He leans forward with his elbows on his knees.
He scratches his neck and looks at the floor
where a fat ant is dragging a crumb. He begins
to step on the ant but then he thinks: Better not.

WHAT A MOVE BY DOBYNS!  AN ANT! IS THIS A DELAYED RESPONSE TO MYLES’ DOG?

MYLES STRUGGLES TO MAINTAIN HER ADVANTAGE:

I’m just
a simple
catholic girl
I had been
thinking, pondering
over my
review. That’s
why it’s
so hard
for me but the
Lady came &
she said, stay here
Eileen stay here
forever finding
the past
in the future
& the future
in the past
know that it’s
always so
going round &
it is with
you when
you write

WHAT A MOVE BY MYLES! SIMPLE, ELEGANT, INSPIRING, THIS “SIMPLE CATHOLIC GIRL” PUTS HER FINGER ON WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT: “FINDING THE PAST IN THE FUTURE & THE FUTURE IN THE PAST.”  AND THE AMPERSAND SEEMS TO BE GIVING DOBYNS PROBLEMS.

AS WE ENTER THE FOURTH QUARTER, MYLES HOLDS ONTO A SLIM LEAD…

DOBYNS:

The cool stares of the experts make him uneasy
and he would like to be elsewhere, perhaps home
with a book or taking a walk. My idea, he says,
concerned the seductive qualities of my country,
how it encourages us to engage in all fantasies,
how it lets us imagine we are lucky to be here,
how it creates the illusion of an eternal present.
But don’t we become blind to the world around us?
Isn’t what we see as progress just a delusion?
Isn’t our country death and what it touches death?

DOBYNS GETTING A LITTLE HEAVY ON THE RHETORIC…HE’S NOT GOING TO CATCH MYLES THIS WAY…HE’S GOING TO HAVE TO BE MORE AGGRESSIVE…

MYLES:

& she didn’t
go, she
remains a stain
on the bathtub
cover

NICE!  THE THEME OF PERMANENCE, BUT DONE WITHOUT A SHRED OF HYPERBOLE!

DOBYNS:

The trio of experts begin to clear their throats.
They recross their legs and their chairs creak.
The author feels the weight of their disapproval.
But never mind, he says, Perhaps I’m mistaken;
let’s forget I spoke. The author lowers his head.
He scratches under his arm and suppresses a belch.
He considers the difficulties of communication
and the ruthless necessities of art. Once again
he looks for the ant but it’s gone. Lucky ant.
Next time he wouldn’t let it escape so easily.

DOBYNS TRAILING IN THIS GAME, AND HE’S STARTING TO GET FRUSTRATED. HE THREATENS HARM TO HIS ANT! DOBYNS IS STILL TRYING TO RECONCILE HIS POEM WITH HIS OPENING FANTASY IMAGE, AND ITS CAUSING HIS PLAY TO BECOME TOO PONDEROUS. HE’S THINKING TOO MUCH OUT THERE. “LUCKY ANT.”  AN EXISTENTIALIST CRY OF DESPAIR?

MYLES:

 along with
many other stains,
the dog’s leash &
half-scraped lesbian
invisibility stickers
and other less specific
but equally permanent
traces of paper &
holes
four of
them and they
are round too
like the Lady
& I don’t have to
tell anyone.

MYLES HINTS AT THE DOG AGAIN WITH A MENTION OF THE DOG’S LEASH, SYMBOLIZING MAN’S CONTROL OF NATURE; THE ARTIFACTS OF HER HUMAN LIFE, HER “STAINS” AND “STICKERS,” A BRIEF REFERENCE TO LESBIANISM, BUT NOTHING HEAVY-HANDED HERE, “THE LADY” GETS A LAST MENTION, AND THEN THE POEM CLOSES IN SILENCE: “& I DON’T HAVE TO TELL ANYONE.”

AND THAT’S IT! MYLES WINS! EILEEN MYLES IS GOING TO THE FINAL FOUR!

MARLA MUSE: What a thrilling contest! Congratulations, Eileen!

1 Comment

  1. Nooch said,

    June 11, 2011 at 9:13 am

    A bruising contest of much physicality,
    With an ultimately triumphant “female reality.”


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