SEMI-FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP: BEN MAZER V. DEREK WALCOTT

 

Mazer and Walcott are East and South champions—the winner goes on to the 2012 Scarriet March Madness Championship Game.  It began with 64 of the greatest English-speaking, living poets.  Soon it will be down to two.  The winner here plays the winner of Stephen Dunn/Marilyn Chin.

The ‘March Madness Tournament’ process is, as one would expect, very ‘reader response.’  All the elements of any poem must combine to produce a singular result in one reader.  One can harumph and object and theorize and pontificate all one wants, but this is a legitimate way of experiencing poetry.  How does the poem affect your heart rate?  End of story.

Here are the two poems.  Which one comforts you, which one wets your eye, which one makes you sigh—the most?

Looking back at our March Madness articles, we are proud to say that a poetry lesson was embedded in almost every one.

Enjoy these poems, will you?

Then we’ll tell you who won.

First Walcott, the Nobel Prize winner, with his “Schooner Flight,” and then Mazer’s “Cirque D’Etoiles”:

Schooner Flight

11. After the Storm

There’s a fresh light that follows a storm
while the whole sea still havoc; in its bright wake
I saw the veiled face of Maria Concepcion
marrying the ocean, then drifting away
in the widening lace of her bridal train
with white gulls her bridesmaids, till she was gone.
I wanted nothing after that day.
Across my own face, like the face of the sun,
a light rain was falling, with the sea calm.

Fall gently, rain, on the sea’s upturned face
like a girl showering; make these islands fresh
as Shabine once knew them! Let every trace,
every hot road, smell like clothes she just press
and sprinkle with drizzle. I finish dream;
whatever the rain wash and the sun iron:
the white clouds, the sea and sky with one seam,
is clothes enough for my nakedness.
Though my Flight never pass the incoming tide
of this inland sea beyond the loud reefs
of the final Bahamas, I am satisfied
if my hand gave voice to one people’s grief.
Open the map. More islands there, man,
than peas on a tin plate, all different size,
one thousand in the Bahamas alone,
from mountains to low scrub with coral keys,
and from this bowsprit, I bless every town,
the blue smell of smoke in hills behind them,
and the one small road winding down them like twine
to the roofs below; I have only one theme:

The bowsprit, the arrow, the longing, the lunging heart—
the flight to a target whose aim we’ll never know,
vain search for one island that heals with its harbour
and a guiltless horizon, where the almond’s shadow
doesn’t injure the sand. There are so many islands!
As many islands as the stars at night
on that branched tree from which meteors are shaken
like falling fruit around the schooner Flight.
But things must fall, and so it always was,
on one hand Venus, on the other Mars;
fall, and are one, just as this earth is one
island in archipelagoes of stars.
My first friend was the sea. Now, is my last.
I stop talking now. I work, then I read,
cotching under a lantern hooked to the mast.
I try to forget what happiness was,
and when that don’t work, I study the stars.
Sometimes is just me, and the soft-scissored foam
as the deck turn white and the moon open
a cloud like a door, and the light over me
is a road in white moonlight taking me home.
Shabine sang to you from the depths of the sea.

CIRQUE D’ETOILES

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

*

*

*

Mazer 89 Walcott 86

MAZER WINS!

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    July 17, 2012 at 2:59 am

    Mazer’s piece strikes me as facile and inept. There is no disputing taste.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    July 17, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Anonymous,

    “that you shall sit in furs at high table” and “(the stupid jerk)” help to break up the pure ‘Romanticism,’ which nonetheless seems sincere and earned to me…”Here among flowering lanterns of the sea” –how can you not like a line like that? And how can you reject the tenderness at the end of the poem, and its tenderness throughout? I think Ben is downright Byronic in his mixture of sweet sincerity and haughty abrasiveness—I think it’s refreshing to see this today, where poets don’t dare sound anything like Byron. Ben is taking the long road…moving beyond Ashbery backwards (and forwards) to High Romantcism. I think Ben is doing important work.

    Tom

  3. drew said,

    December 26, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    My sister in law gave me “Selected Poems” by Derek Walcott for Christmas – but I haven’t read much of his stuff yet.


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