THE SCARRIET 2011 FINAL FOUR

Poetic reputation: do we want to know how the sausage gets made?

Last year, the Scarriet Final Four, using David Lehman’s Best American Poetry volumes 1988 through 2009, was “That’s Not Butter” by Reb Livingston, “Composed Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey” by Billy Collins, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, and “The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite” by William Kulik.

This year, using Berg and Vogelsang’s American Poetry Review’s anthology, The Body Electric, we got “Aubade” by Philip Larkin, “litany” by Carolyn Creedon, “Eileen’s Vision” by Eileen Myles, and “What They Wanted” by Stephen Dunn.  How the Brit Larkin slipped in, we’re not sure, but he was included in the APR, and won his games fair and square to advance to the Final Four.  Creedon, Dunn, and Myles are not exactly household words.

Last week Jeopardy! had an American Poetry category: Ogden Nash, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens, and Allen Ginsberg were the five answers: Stevens‘ most famous poem, “The Emperor of Icecream,” drew a blank, as did Ginsberg and Hughes; only Frost and Nash were recognized by one of the three Jeopardy! contestants.

As we have watched a field of 64 get reduced to four, and then one, for two years now, we wonder if Scarriet’s March Madness Tourney is the only such competition in the world.

There are many who sneer at poetry and competition.  But look, when a poet wins a major prize today, when a poet wins recognition, should we really be so naive or hypocritical in convincing ourselves that the renown of someone like John Ashbery is not the result of poems and poets competing against each other?

And if not, what the hell is it?

What pushes someone like Ashbery to the top?

I ask this, because to win a March Madness Tournament, you have to have a poem entered that’s good enough to beat other poems, in match-up after match-up, and I don’t know that Ashbery has one poem that has that ‘breakthrough’ quality to win against “litany” by Carolyn Creedon, for instance.  Ashbery’s poems all read like clever jokes, and such poems don’t tend to win against the really accomplished poem of poignancy and beauty. I doubt an Ashbery poem could go very far in a March Madness Tournament, under the scrutiny of refs and rabid fans.

Ashbery defeated O’Hara for the Yale Younger Poetry Prize—one judge, Auden, played his own “March Madness Tournament,” after smoking a few hundred cigarettes, and Ashbery won that Tournament.   From a just issued review:

Wasley’s book [The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene, Princeton U. Press] vividly catalogues Auden’s social connections, friendships and influence among East Coast, Ivy League-educated, formal, emerging poets. Ginsberg and Ashbery wrote college essays on Auden; the pre-Ted Hughes Sylvia Plath adored Auden’s “burlap-textured voice”. We’re taken to parties and table talk, and to theatres where Auden explains a play’s reference to the entire mezzanine: “Shelley, my dears!” Still, must we learn who drilled the peephole to the toilet? Who looked?

This lineage study is redolent of smoking-jacket, anecdote and club. Auden dislikes the Yale Younger Poets submissions; he asks Ashbery and Frank O’Hara for manuscripts (or Chester Kallman, Auden’s lover, does); Ashbery’s poems are selected. Nowadays, if a public university manages its competitions this way, it will be exposed and condemned (as in the case of the University of Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series). Nearly everyone – poets, critics, even Wasley’s back-cover blurbers – is from the universities of Harvard, Yale, Columbia or Princeton.

Did you catch that?  Both Ashbery (Harvard) and Ginsberg (Columbia) wrote Ivy League college essays on Auden.

Iowa wasn’t the only place where the U.S. Poetry Workshop formula was being pushed in the 1940s; Allen Tate, one of the leading figures in the Anglo-American Modernist Clique—which got its ultimate marching orders from Pound and Eliot—started the ball rolling at Princeton, and Auden was Eliot’s chosen trans-Atlantic successor.

Maybe Chester Kallman ran into Frank O’Hara, or John Ashbery, or Allen Ginsberg in a men’s room, and the rest is history?

Anyway, the point is, there’s always going to be competition—winners and losers—and to pretend this is not the situation, is silly.  To pretend ignorance only make the “winning” that much more dubious, and perhaps, unfair.

Note, also, how the work of Foetry.com (which exposed the U.GA Poetry Series when Alan Cordle caught Bin Ramke cheating) is now part of the normal poetry dialogue these days.  We hope you caught that, too.

Everyone in their hearts knows there are winners and losers in poetry; the question is, do we have the courage to make the process as transparent as possible?

DO WE HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME? PHILIP LARKIN AGAINST MAURA STANTON

 

Philip Larkin’s “Aubade” is a 60-line, ababccdeed, iambic pentameter (penultimate line trimeter) meditation-on-death powerhouse.

What was Hull, England’s Philip Larkin even doing in the APR, Vogelsang, and Berg, eds? 

Berg studied with Robert Lowell & attended the Iowa Workshop; Vogelsang has taught on the west coast, and they made APR into a journal of Iowa free verse, not British formalism.

But here’s Larkin and his “Aubade” in APR’s Body Electric anthology, and thus in the Scarriet 2011 Tournament, bullying his way to the top of the heap against poems without rhyme or meter. 

“I work all day and get half drunk at night” is throwing fear into all opponents. 

Is this why certain poets hang together? Among themselves, they are poets, but next to poems like Larkin’s “Aubade,” they are not?

Larkin’s poem says ‘death is coming and there’s nothing we can do about it’ and the rhymes don’t soften this message—they harden it.  Verse is soft and prose is hard, verse is ‘la la la’ and prose is pointed—at least this is what modernist aesthetics would have us believe, but Larkin proves otherwise: his verse is a cold knife, and most of these APR prose poets are waving fake magic wands, by comparison.

Maura Stanton, then, in contemplating facing Larkin’s “Aubade” with her poem, “The Veiled Lady,” must be feeling what Larkin in his poem expresses: “Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare” and “Unresting Larkin, a day nearer now” and “the sure extinction that I travel to” and “This is a special way of being afraid/No trick dispels. APR used to try” and “Courage is no good.”

Stanton’s poem features an atmosphere of 19th century seances and ends up saying our real selves are conjurer’s tricks, ending with:

That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.

This is lovely, but one can safely object: The woman I love does exist, and I can embrace her.

The Larkin poem, however, imprisons you with its whole self.

One can see in this interview that Maura Stanton, a Vietnam War era Iowa Workshop student, knows many of the poets in APR’s Body Electric. It’s her world.

But Philip Larkin is a poet not for Iowa City, but for the ages.

Larkin 99, Stanton 66.

PHILIP LARKIN IS IN THE FINAL FOUR.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS APR SWEET SIXTEEN WINNERS!

EAST BRACKET

BARBARA GUEST

LESLIE SCALAPINO

GILLIAN CONOLEY

CAROLYN CREEDON

NORTH BRACKET

PHILIP LARKIN

BILL KNOTT

HOWARD NEMEROV

MAURA STANTON

SOUTH BRACKET

TESS GALLAGHER

EILEEN MYLES

STEPHEN DOBYNS

SHARON OLDS

WEST BRACKET

ALLEN GINSBERG

JOY HARJO

CAROLYN MUSKE

STEPHEN DUNN

In the East Bracket, four relatively unknown poets emerged victorious from competition with John Ashbery, James Wright, Robert Creeley, James Tate, Stanley Kunitz, A.R. Ammons, and Jack Spicer.

Poetry tournaments are richer and more exciting with upsets than other types of competitions, and this is because reputations of clique-poets tend to be artificially inflated.  But kiss-ass and in-crowd behavior don’t help when you’re under the net and playing for a win in front of crowds!

Poems matter when it comes to winning, not poets. 

We’ve all dreamed of writing that one great poem that will ensure our place in eternity.

Poets’ names travel faster than poems, and poems these days don’t travel very fast at all.  Editors, publishers and critics need to identify the best poems; but what usually happens is poets—who are more ambitious than poems, as it turns out—fight to the top and occupy mouths and ears and anthologies.  A poet’s name is sung and the poems follow, even in the wake of the famous poet, obediently and hardly read.

Poets’ names should come attached to poems; instead we get poems meekly following poets’ names.

It give us great pleasure then, to present sixteen poems which have tangled and tussled and proven themselves.

We are proud of the poets, too, but you can be sure their place in the sun is deserved.

The 2010 March Madness Tournament used the BAP volumes (David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series) from 1988 (its founding) to 2009.  Billy Collins’ “Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey” won that tournament.

These 2011 March Madness poems are from one anthology, the best of APR, (the American Poetry Review) from its founding in 1972 to 2000, and produced by the editors of APR, Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Arthur Vogelsang.  So these poems are seen through that lens—the editors did not include Billy Collins—but it’s an important lens, and shows basically what American poetry was doing in those years.

Two big names have survived so far: Larkin (one of a few Brits in the collection) and GinsbergSharon Olds is well-known, and Stephen Dobyns has some renown.

The poems will be examined, because they have to win more to get to the top: Elite Eight, Final Four, and the Championship.

Thanks for watching!

POETRY MARCH MADNESS IS COMING! POETRY MARCH MADNESS IS COMING!

Danse Macabre is our theme for Scarriet’s Second Annual March Madness Poetry Tournament.

Death and poetry used to be closer; then with Modernism, Things in poetry became the rage, but Death as a symbol (and reality) cannot be denied.

So, here’s our thinking: The Second Annual March Madness Tournament, is, first of all, an elimination tournament. 

Secondly, every poet lives with the anxiety that their poems will be neglected; even those with fame today may be forgotten tomorrow; all their sweat, worth and reputation may be utterly buried by Time. 

Thirdly, many of the poems in the tournament have Death as their subject. 

Fourthly, the poets themsevles are old, or dying, or dead.

But dancing implies vigor and joy, and there is that, too.  What if we never really die?  And why shouldn’t we dance, anyway?

Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness Tournament source this year is the APR anthology, The Body Electric, with an introduction by Harold Bloom.

Last year Scarriet drew from David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series for its Poetry March Madness contest.

Scarriet came into its own with its Poetry March Madness, attracting widespread attention from published poets thrilled to finally throw an elbow at their rivals, or freeze them with a soft jumper, or drive right over them to the hoop to win with seconds remaining.  Booya.

Who knows?  One day we may refer not to the work of a poet, but the play of a poet.

This year, taking center stage is the best of the American Poetry Review, poems from Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review, compiled by editors Stephen Berg, Arthur Vogelsang and David Bonanno.

APR began in 1972, and the poems in Scarriet March Madness Two have that hippie/post-hippie, ‘free-spirited intellectuals having nervous breakdowns’ energy, the glorious free-verse confessionalism where poets finally ‘get to say what they want to say’ in a fireworks of expressionism.  The embarrassment, however, is sometimes palpable in these poems, as death winds its way even into the most comfortable of poet-professors’ dens, and the happy, rounded, sexually-tinged, rhetoric, seeking escape from death-sonnets and other old, quaint devices, wrestles with the horror of old death, anyway.  Post-modernism, Modernism and the Ancients leveled, one might say.

And great poets are here, 180 of them, but only 64 get to enter the tournament itself.

Who will be in, and who will be out, during this first stage?

Can poets like Bill Knott, Eileen Myles, and William Kulik beat out poets like Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath?

Let the elbowing commence.

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