BIN RAMKE AND MARGARET ATWOOD COLLIDE IN NORTH BRACKET FIRST ROUND ACTION

Bin Ramke: forever linked to Foetry.com and poetry contest favoritism?

Neither Bin Ramke nor Margaret Atwood are in Dove’s anthology of 20th Century American Poetry: Atwood, no. 4 seed in the North, because she’s Canadian, and Ramke, 13th seed, because life has never been the same since he was brought down by Foetry.com.  Life must have seemed good when Mr. Ramke won the Yale Younger in 1978.  He teaches at the University of Denver and edits the Denver Quarterly.  He published the following in 1989:

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

I was young once, at least, if not beautiful.
And what is beauty anyway? The light off snow
is pretty. I was young once, as young as any.
After all, she thought, to know the edge
of truth or of mountains, you need to lie or fall.
 
Everyone has an inner life, O careless love,
it’s as simple as that. That’s why they hurried
to marry before the month ended—fear of June.
She would avert her eyes from the magazines’
special issues with brides on their creamy covers.
 
He worked to replace her money he’d squandered.
Then came a time of last intimacy, her injections,
when once a week he’d puncture with the silken needle
her arm, her condition worse with age, her pain
made him wince and call her Dear; her alluring allergies.
 
From where they retired all views were distant,
nothing true or tender at hand. Mountains to the west
like pets kept for good weather or loneliness
and the need for cold to gloat upon.
They would sometimes think of history together,
 
of the choked passes which killed, of the grasses of summer
when water was rare and expensive as illicit love.
With the interstate smooth as needles gleaming beneath
the snow-slick peaks, they would think of pioneers
lost and together, alas, two by two, with beds as baggage.
 
Another edge to be cut on. She loves the little
line of houses or trees in landscapes, the thin
horizons hugely bearing the weight of drama
and of sky with its tooth of cypress or steeple.
And he, while he turned the wheel and tuned the radio,
 
what was on his married mind? He remembers often,
these latter days, the cousin he first loved,
her marriage to an ugly man when he lit the candles
and wore the little suit his mother made,
and he cried for her because she was only beautiful.
 
He remembered riding in the car from the library,
having taken a book on Freud because his cousin
was studying Freud, and such studies were forbidden
his Catholic childhood. And riding in the back seat
as his father drove he read about the fountain pen
 
as phallic, the ink seed of Onan spilled, and he
grew sick and felt the frisson of guilt and glory.
And she was married to an ugly man, but the world
conspires to avert its eyes, and the needle-sharp
peaks hover behind them as the little dashes of white
 
lines spurt out beneath their car on the highway home,
a little line like spoor marking their path, so easy
to retrace, ready made, like everyone’s. So there’s
no need to look, just live long, since youth is truer
than beauty, Love; long life and many children.
 
We can only say this poem is strange, with moments of interest.  Poems either cohere or they do not.  This one does not.  Poets in that absurd and genocidal century, the twentieth, decided—a great many of them—that to make a poem cohere, one needed only to add details of a somewhat unique nature, slightly connected to each other in some odd manner, in prose that depended on a certain amount of dazzling alliteration, and that was it.  It was—and is—a very odd practice.  It is almost psychotic—a poetry that defers to experience, which, in order to be articulated, has to feed on the poetry, as if experience were something meant to suck in the reader in a perplexed state and devour him.  To read Bin Ramke is to be eaten alive—by a psychological anecdote in a landscape.
 
Let’s see if Margaret Atwood can slay the monster, Bin Ramke, with his “ink seed of Onan spilled:”
 
A SAD CHILD

You’re sad because you’re sad.
It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.

Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.

Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.

My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,

and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are.

We don’t know what to make of this poem, but Atwood is not coy like Ramke—she has something to say to the reader—in this case a child who is sad.  It is a piece of advice in images out to prove sadness cannot exist.  Atwood deserves credit for attempting to bring good into the world. 

Atwood 70, Ramke 68

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

1. Rita Dove—Penguin editor reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYRB
2. Terrance Hayes—In Dove’s best-selling anthology, and young
3. Kevin Young—In Dove’s anthology, and young
4. Amiri Baraka—In Dove’s anthology
5. Billy Collins—in the anthology
6. John Ashbery—a long poem in the anthology
7. Dean Young—not in the anthology
8. Helen Vendler—hated the anthology
9. Alan CordleTime’s masked Person-of-the-Year = Foetry.com’s once-anonymous Occupy Poetry protestor?
10. Harold Bloom—you can bet he hates the anthology
11. Mary Oliver—in the anthology
12. William Logan—meanest and the funniest critic (a lesson here?)
13. Kay Ryan—our day’s e.e. cummings
14. John Barr—the Poetry Man and “the Man.”
15. Kent Johnson—O’Hara and Koch will never be the same?
16. Cole Swensen—welcome to Brown!
17. Tony Hoagland—tennis fan
18. David Lehman—fun lovin’ BAP gate-keeper
19. David Orr—the deft New York Times critic
20. Rae Armantrout—not in the anthology
21. Seamus Heaney—When Harvard eyes are smilin’
22. Dan Chiasson—new reviewer on the block
23. James Tate—guaranteed to amuse
24. Matthew Dickman—one of those bratty twins
25. Stephen Burt—the Crimson Lantern
26. Matthew Zapruder—aww, everybody loves Matthew!
27. Paul MuldoonNew Yorker Brit of goofy complexity
28. Sharon Olds—Our Lady of Slightly Uncomfortable Poetry
29. Derek Walcott—in the anthology, latest T.S. Eliot prize winner
30. Kenneth Goldsmith—recited traffic reports in the White House
31. Jorie Graham—more teaching, less judging?
32. Alice Oswald—I don’t need no stinkin’ T.S. Eliot Prize
33. Joy Harjo—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
34. Sandra Cisneros—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
35. Nikki Giovanni—for colored girls when po-biz is enuf
36. William Kulik—not in the anthology
37. Ron Silliman—no more comments on his blog, but in the anthology
38. Daisy Fried—setting the Poetry Foundation on fire
39. Eliot Weinberger—poetry, foetry, and politics
40. Carol Ann Duffy—has Tennyson’s job
41. Camille Dungy—runs in the Poetry Foundation forest…
42. Peter Gizzi—sensitive lyric poet of the hour…
43. Abigail Deutsch—stole from a Scarriet post and we’ll always love her for it…
44. Robert Archambeau—his Samizdat is one of the more visible blogs…
45. Michael Robbins—the next William Logan?
46. Carl Phillips—in the anthology
47. Charles NorthWhat It Is Like, New & Selected chosen as best of 2011 by David Orr
48. Marilyn Chin—went to Iowa, in the anthology
49. Marie Howe—a tougher version of Brock-Broido…
50. Dan Beachy-Quick—gotta love that name…
51. Marcus Bales—he’s got the Penguin blues.
52. Dana Gioia—he wants you to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so what r u waiting 4?
53. Garrison Keillor—the boil on the neck of August Kleinzahler
54. Alice Notley—Penguin’s Culture of One by this Paris-based author made a lot of 2011 lists
55. Mark McGurl—won Truman Capote Award for 2011′s The Program Era: Rise of Creative Writing
56. Daniel Nester—wrap your blog around my skin, yea-uh.
57. Yusef Komunyakaa—in the anthology
58. Adrienne Rich—in the anthology
59. Jeremy Bass— reviewed the anthology in the Nation
60. Anselm Berrigan—somebody’s kid
61. Travis Nichols—kicked us off Blog Harriet
62. Seth Abramson—poet and lawyer
63. Stephen Dunn—one of the best poets in the Iowa style
64. Philip Levine—Current laureate, poem recently in the New Yorker  Movin’ up!
65. Ben Mazer—Does anyone remember Landis Everson?
66. Reb Livingston—Her No Tells blog rocks the contemporary scene
67. Marjorie Perloff—strutting avant academic
68. John Gallaher—Kent Johnson can’t get enough punishment on Gallaher’s blog
69. Fred Viebahn—poet married to the Penguin anthologist
70. James Fenton—said after Penguin review hit, Dove should have “shut up”
71. Rodney Jones—BAP poem selected by Dove riffs on William Carlos Williams’ peccadilloes
72. Mark Doty—no. 28′s brother
73. Cate Marvin—VIDA and so much more
74. Richard Wilbur—still hasn’t run out of rhyme
75. W.S. Merwin—no punctuation, but no punk
76. Jim Behrle—the Adam Sandler of po-biz
77. Bin Ramke—still stinging from the Foetry hit
78. Thomas Sayer Ellis—not in the anthology
79. Henri Cole—poetry editor of the New Republic
80. Meghan O’Rourke—Behrle admires her work
81. Anne Waldman—the female Ginsberg?
82. Anis Shivani—get serious, poets! it’s time to change the world!
83. Robert Hass—Occupy story in Times op-ed
84. Lyn Hejinian—stuck inside a baby grand piano
85. Les Murray—greatest Australian poet ever?
86. Sherman Alexie—is this one of the 175 poets to remember? 
87. Geoffrey Hill—great respect doesn’t always mean good
88. Elizabeth Alexander—Frost got Kennedy, she got Obama
89. A.E. Stallings—A rhymer wins MacArthur!
90. Frank Bidart—in the anthology
91. Robert Pinsky—in the anthology
92. Carolyn Forche—in the anthology
93. Louise Gluck—not in the anthology
94. Keith Waldrop—his Hopwood Award paid her fare from Germany
95. Rosmarie Waldrop—her Hopwood helpled launch Burning Deck
96. C.D. Wright—born in the Ozark mountains
97. Forrest Gander—married to no. 96
98. Mark Strand—translator, surrealist
99. Margaret Atwood—the best Canadian poet of all time?
100. Gary B. Fitzgerald—the poet most likely to be remembered a million years from now

CRASH!

Poetry MFA graduates

The recent hubbub over the respectable poetry press which demanded their authors pay for the cost of producing their own book struck a real nerve.

Why?  Because an uncomfortable truth was brought into the open: U.S. poetry market inflation is so severe, a book of new poems not only has no value–it has a negative value.

In today’s marketplace, a new book of poems represents not growth, but a grave—new poetry not only does not add wealth, it takes wealth away from the world.

The truth will be argued away by some, convinced their poetry is worth something.

But this rationale fails, since the economic fact of this uncomfortable truth is no less true for being a general truth.

At least when a publisher asks you to pay for your book’s publication costs, it’s better than the contest system—where you pay for the publication of someone else’s book, and unethically so, in the crooked contest system judged or run by once respected poets such as Jorie Graham and Bin Ramke, who were exposed by Alan Cordle’s Foetry.com.

The press which asked its own authors to pony up did so because it couldn’t stomach the contest system.  Ironies such as this will breed when a market collapses—and the market for new poems has collapsed big time.

Hence, it is no wonder that financial aid is the chief criterion in rating MFA programs.

What other criteria could there possibly be?  Earning an MFA degree in poetry is nothing more than an individual poet’s desperate gamble against inflation—even as MFA numbers add to that inflation.

The poets swim in the sea of their own doom, unable to be a poet unless they get wet.

A bunch of MFA profs and administrators have signed a letter of protest against the Poets & Writers rankings of MFA programs put together by Seth Abramson.

It’s unfair, say the protestors, who include relative titans such as Robert Pinsky and Tony Hougland, to weigh financial aid so heavily; there are other criteria, they protest, such as teaching methods.

Really?  What teaching methods?  Even the MFA programs themselves admit they don’t teach anyone to be a poet—the programs only give one time to make the attempt, with varying degrees of informal contact with peers.

Classical criteria, based on quantity and measurement, never did grace Poetry MFA curricula.  The aesthetics of Plato, Aristotle and Horace would seem horribly old-fashioned in today’s MFA.  Classical learning is not even included in a hybrid.  It is the enemy.  It is out. Byron is out, because he may have read a classical author once.  The exclusion of the old is total.  Intelligence is the only hallmark: intelligence left to swim on its own.  This is poetry education: We can’t teach you is what we will teach you.

Modernists outlawed quantity about 90 years ago, and these same gentlemen established the MFA programs 60 years ago.  The result?  Inflation as the world has never seen.

Scarriet’s MFA Poetry program criterion is simple.  Find one book of poems published by administration or faculty in the MFA program which has been purchased freely by a general reader. Then, check out the financial aid package.

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?

NY TIMES POETRY CRITIC DEFENDS ALAN CORDLE

David Orr, a refreshingly smart, honest, and independent critic—and kind of sexy, too.

Scarriet’s Thomas Brady used to be Monday Love on Foetry.com, Alan Cordle’s poetry consumer protection site that warned poets against rigged poetry contests. 

Foetry.com came to my attention in a Boston Globe piece by Stephen Burt in 2005.  Despite Burt’s attempt to discredit Cordle’s site, I knew immediately that Foetry.com was something new and different, and as soon as I began reading the site, Cordle impressed with his honesty and tenacity.  Po-biz corruption obviously meant something to Cordle, and he was doing something about it by ‘naming names.’ 

A few thought it was wrong that Cordle exposed ‘foets’ anonymously—but I thought of Foetry.com’s anonymous nature as similar to an anonymous suggestion box in a workplace: the anonymity of Foetry.com was simply a method to uncover deeply entrenched wrongs: poetry contest cheating. 

Academic poetry contests were important.  Why?  Because a public for poetry no longer existed, academic ‘fame’ was the next best thing, and winning an academic poetry contest was not only the step to academic renown, but contest entry fees paid for the publication of the winning manuscript.  Judges were choosing their friends and their students.  It was easy to find this out, and it was easy to see this wasn’t fair. 

The self-righteous, indignant responses made it easy to see that a nerve had been struck.

The art of poetry was never supposed to be about private contests and academic awards.  It was supposed to be about fame and genius.  I had sent my poems to magazines and had some published, I had an advanced degree and had taught, but reading contemporary reviews, criticism and poetry and comparing it to the way poetry used to be, I knew, from a critical point of view, that something was rotten; Alan Cordle’s work—which quickly made him famous in po-biz—made sense to my whole way of thinking.  I knew there were ambitious poets who mailed out more poems to magazines than anybody else, who earned advanced degrees and got to know the right people and were shaping po-biz through personal influence. I knew that I was probably lazier than these people.  But poetry was poetry and truth was the truth.

And the truth, it seemed to me, was this:

1) Poetry was still an important academic credential.  

2) Reaching out to the public (‘selling books’ the old-fashioned way) was no longer possible. 

3) An art form once popular and prestigious was now only prestigious.

4) The game was now controlled by a relatively small number of networking academics.

When opponents of Foetry.com uncovered Alan Cordle’s identity, it turned out the ‘masked crusader’ was a librarian. His wife was the published, contest-winning poet (uneasy in fact, with his crusade, and not signed on to it) and this only confirmed that Foetry.com’s crusade was indeed a chivalrous one.

Complaints against Foetry.com inevitably took three forms:

1. The Witch Hunt Charge.  

Foetry.com’s investigations were mild—they used documents in the public record: who judged a contest, who went to what school,  the contents of a mass-mailed letter to potential contestants in a poetry contest.  Perhaps the guiltiest foet, Jorie Graham, didn’t lose her job at Harvard, or any prestige, really, and she probably gained a few book sales from all the excitement; Bin Ramke stepped down from a Contest Series (that was crooked) but life goes on the same for every foet. Public awareness was raised—and this was important, because of the very issue that made Foetry.com necessary in the first place—poetry has a small public, and so: Alan Cordle’s consciousness-raising and public shaming was huge.  The net amount of ‘pain’ was the moral humiliation of those who were guilty. If the anonymous Foetry.com was the Dark Knight, he was gentle, and performed a much-need service for poetry.

2. With all the wrongs in the world, why focus on pettiness in poetry?

But this question is unfair. If a wealthy, corporate criminal, for instance, gives to charity, are they the moral authority in every other sphere? If a person with little means wishes to do some small good, should this be resented?

3. Haven’t the great poets always networked and helped each other?

Not really. Byron and Shelley were companions, but neither judged the other a winner in a poetry contest, or wrote fawning notices in the press for each other—their pride would have found this abhorrent. Poe and Alexander Pope attacked puffery, mediocrity and self-serving cliques with glee.

Pound, Eliot and their friends at the Dial Magazine, however, did give each other (Cummings, Williams, Moore) annual Dial Prizes of $1,000 (equal to a year’s salary for Tom at Lloyd’s bank).

American poets Edgar Poe, Amy Lowell, and Edna Millay were attacked by the Pound clique, and naked ambition was the cause, even historical revenge, as Eliot’s New England roots trace directly back to the hatred between Poe and “English Traits” EmersonScarriet is the first to investigate this.

Scarriet has moved closer to solving Poe’s probable murder.

Scarriet is Foetry.com with a highly historical and critical perspective.

And Scarriet will not ban or censor or silence anyone for their views.

Foetry.com closed down and was archived in 2007.  One day in September of 2009, without warning, Thomas Brady, Alan Cordle, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman were banned from making comments on Blog Harriet.  The always amusing, ‘don’t-get-mad-get-even,’ Alan Cordle set up Scarriet.

So we can’t help but celebrate the publication of Beautiful & Pointless by the NY Times Poetry Critic, David Orr.  From the Slate review (4/14):

So who are these poets, anyway? Orr says they suffer from the fact that “even if most people don’t know what poets do, the average person feels that whatever it is, it must be spectacular.” Orr cuts them down to size, an exercise that turns out to be bracing for all concerned. Poets spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in front of computers typing, or else reading, or else worrying over the fact that they can’t muster the concentration to read or write. When not writing, poets also preoccupy themselves with “sending dozens of envelopes filled with poems to literary magazines read by, at most, a few hundred people,” mostly fellow poets.

No wonder their world is what Orr calls a “chatty, schmoozy, often desperate reality.” There are, as you’d expect, the drunken book parties and the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conventions, which are more like returning to college—or is it high school?—than anyone would like to admit. And Orr reports at length on a full-blown scandal, “the Foetry eEpisode,” capitalizing on the gossip while also issuing a cautionary tale: Inbred cultures beware! Between 2004 and 2007, the Web site Foetry.com, run by a man named Alan Cordle, took aim at corruption in the supposedly anonymous book contests that land many poets their small and university-press-publishing contracts. Orr describes the site “stocked with outraged allegations of favor-trading, creepy insinuations about people’s personal lives, and buckets of name-calling (including my personal favorite, ‘foet,’ which referred to careerist poets).” People got hurt, at least one prize was shut down, and targeted poets like Jorie Graham basically stopped judging contests. It was ugly, often petty, and it made headlines outside of Poetryland. It was enough to make you forget that what poets really are is craftspeople: They make intricate little things out of very carefully chosen words, presumably at least in part for other readers to examine.

Alan Cordle has come a long way since he got mad and decided to do something about it. 

The art of poetry has been treated shabbily by “the  new.”  It sometimes seems the dollar has been replaced by the Pound. But we can always find some good in the new: we have the internet now, and it wasn’t all that long ago that all the news came from sources like Walter Cronkite, or Understanding Poetry by a couple of crotchety old Southern Agrarians turned New Critics.

We celebrate the new, too. 

Thanks, Al!

SCARRIET LEARNS OF JORIE GRAHAM BAP MARCH MADNESS PETITION

Scarriet has learned of a petition protesting Jorie Graham’s Best American Poetry tournament position as a 16th seed, saying the Harvard Humanities Chair professor and Pulitzer-prize winning poet ought to be a top-seeded choice in the 2010 March Madness competition.

The petition is signed by Seamus Heaney, Helen Vendler, Harold Bloom, Robert Pinsky, John Ashbery, Peter Sacks, James Galvin,  James Wright, Marvin Bell, Joshua Clover, Bin Ramke, Don Share, Joan Houlihan, Brad Pitt, Michele Glazer, Joanna Klink, and Mark Levine, earning tens of thousands of Poetry MFA student signatures across the land.

The Best American Poetry March Madness Committee released a brief statement in response:  “We have not officially released the 2010 brackets.  When released, our choices are final.”

“A TERRIBLE CONJUNCTION:” MARRIAGE AND AMERICAN POETRY


“A poet should not marry” –old saying.

The unhappy marriage, or the marriage that never happened, is the marriage of American poetry.

Emerson’s livelihood came from marrying a woman he knew was dying and suing his wife’s family for the fortune after her death.

Longfellow found his wealth in marriage, and sorrow when his wife and the mother of his children burned to death while melting wax to seal a letter.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman never married.

After the death of Edgar Poe’s wife, his life was marked by marriages that never quite happened.

Also, Poe’s immense reputation was ruined in 1846 by rumors involving love outside the marriage contract.

Whitman (Helen, not Walt) almost married Poe until others got in the way, including the most powerful media mogul in the U.S. at the time, editor and owner of The New York Tribune, Horace Greeley.  Imagine CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, the New York Times and the New York Post combined: that was Horace Greeley.   Unfortunately for Poe, Greeley was friends with Rufus Griswold.

In a stunning letter Horace Greeley wrote to Griswold in January, 1849 :

“Do you know Sarah Helen Whitman ? Of course you have heard it rumored that she is to marry

Poe. Well, she has seemed to me a good girl, and— you know what Poe is.

Now I know a widow of doubtful age will marry almost any sort of a white man, but this seems to me a terrible conjunction.

Has Mrs. Whitman no friend within your knowledge that can faithfully explain Poe to her ? I never attempted this sort of thing but once, and the net product was two enemies and a hastening of the marriage; but I do think she must be deceived. Mrs. Osgood must know her.”

Poe scholars have been beating the bushes recently for the real story behind the scandalous relationship of Poe and Frances Osgood, and what’s coming out is that their relationship was no dime-store romance or starry-eyed love affair, but something far more complicated.   It turns out Osgood was probably, like Elizabeth Ellet and Margaret Fuller, more foe than friend.

The middle-aged Poe was the kind of tied-to-his-desk, scornful genius who had no interest in the sort of tawdry relationship which his enemies (and the gullible with their dime-store imaginations) have drawn up for him.  True, Poe recited poems in his soft, charismatic voice at literary salons, and as steward of American Letters he did take an interest in a literary society which included women, but he was not a romantic in life; he was an editor looking for a magazine and an American who hated in his blood puffery and British “ill will” towards the United States.  Poe even wrote in a ‘throwing-off-the-gloves’ mood, that America would take its quarrel with Britain “into Africa,” which is quite an ambitious, multi-layered, and belicose thing to say.  That stern anglophile, Emerson, must have been appalled.

Britain and America’s divorce was still an ugly one in the middle of the 19th century. Poe’s famous quarrel with his own northern brethren—New England writers—is not nearly as important as has been claimed.

Poe, in fact, was always reaching out to Boston authors.

In 1842, Poe wrote to the abolitionist poet James Russell Lowell: “Dear Sir,  Learning your design of commencing a Magazine, in Boston, upon the first of January next, I take the liberty of asking whether some arrangement might not be made, by which I should become a regular contributor.”  Lowell’s magazine was launched, and Poe was a regular contributor— while Lowell’s unprofitable venture lasted.   Poe and Lowell remained good friends.

As editor of Graham’s, on at least two separate occasions, Poe asked Longfellow to contribute to the magazine.

Poe wrote to Joseph Snodgrass in 1841, “You are mistaken about The Dial.  I have no quarrel in the world with that illustrious journal, nor it with me.”

It wasn’t New England that was the problem; Poe did resent, but more in the name of democracy, Northern monopoly in American Letters—a reasonable  complaint.  The larger shadow was that Britain was in a cunning position to enjoy U.S. difficulty on the slavery issue—which, after Poe’s murder—did blow up into the holocaust of civil war: a divorce inside of a divorce.  The American civil war gave birth to a creature of Poe-like dimensions in politics: poet and Poe fan Abraham Lincoln.

The best known marriage in 19th century Letters occured in Europe, when Elizabeth Barrett, who had been corresponding with Poe, eloped with Robert Browning.   Later, we can see by reading the letters, that Elizabeth Browning, with many others in Europe, hoped for a divorce between south and north in America over the slavery issue; to those like Barrett Browning, this was a simple moral issue; to others, and this would include those like Poe and Lincoln, it was more complicated and meant loss of unity, and thus a destruction of, the United States.

Margaret Fuller eloped with an Italian count in Italy after dallying with the hearts of Hawthorne and Emerson (though Emerson was like Poe; women found it impossible to dally with a heart of high seriousness set against mere romance).

In a letter on Poe to Elizabeth Barrett Browning just after Poe’s death, Fuller, friends with Emerson and Horace Greeley—the publisher of Griswold’s “Ludwig” obituary—shows herself to be Griswold-like:  “…several women loved him, but it seemed more with passionate illusion which he amused himself by inducing than with sympathy; I think he really had no friend.”

In another odd twist, Osgood published a poem in the Broadway Journal in 1845 when Poe was the editor there, called “To the Lady Geraldine,” in which a gossipy woman is attacked.  “Geraldine” is not identified, but “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” was the name of a famous poem published in 1844 by Barrett, before she met Robert, and in that poem she refers to Wordsworth,—the old poet wished to visit her, but could not, on account of her health—Tennyson, whom she adored, and Robert Browning.   Barrett had not eloped with Robert yet in 1845, and Poe was pictured as one of the many male poets hungering after Barrett’s affection during this time.

Poe dedicated his 1845 Poems to Elizabeth Barrett.

A marriage of sane and profitable domesticity versus insane and passionate divorce (Osgood, for instance, was separated from her painter husband during the time of her Poe-scandal in the period around 1845) was the ruling trope in Letters during the tumultuous pre-Civil War, Poe and Barrett era during the 1840s.   Poe wished for domestic bliss, not wild affairs; he wished for a growing America, not one torn apart by the slavery issue.

As a Southerner acheiving great fame in the North in 1845 and then crashing and burning in scandal in 1846, Poe is a symbol of America’s failed marriage as a nation.

In the 20th century, what does marriage and romance between poets symbolize?

T.S. Eliot’s marriage to an Englishwoman was an impetuous “burning of boats” in Eliot’s own words, to leap from America to England.   Reading “Prufrock,” one is not surpised at the poet’s disastrous marriage.

W.H. Auden marrying—to help someone escape the Nazis.  That might be the most symbolic marriage of the 20th century.

The tragedy of  the English Ted Hughes and the American Sylvia Plath doesn’t transcend what it is; that tragedy and the tragedy of Hughe’s subsequent marriage is a mere festering of flesh: petty, personal, stupid, wrong.

The most famous marriage among the Beats ended in a stupid “William Tell” death.

Further on in American literary history, we have the marriage of American, Jorie Graham, and South African-born Peter Sacks, a relationship best known for something even more petty: an act of foetry with partner Bin Ramke.

How sad that in Letters, the landmark history of marriage is the landmark history of the broken.

Surely happy marriages in Letters exist; we just don’t know about them.

Unfortunately for the muse of love, the “NO” of Maud Gonne, the Irish patriot, refusing the William Butler Yeats of dubious politics, rings more profoundly, down the years, in the annals of literature, than any affirmation.

Had Whitman married Poe, perhaps it would have all been different.

Tupelo Welcomes Your Submissions, But Alan Still Has Questions

An Open Letter from Alan Cordle.

This just arrived in the Scarriet inbox, and I’m still confused. Initially, Jeffrey Levine drew up the most ethical guidelines of them all, yet he still slipped up terribly, and hurt a lot of people. I also don’t get the  “non-profit” angle. So the Tupelo Press gets 1,000 manuscripts at $25.00 each, that’s $25,000 for each contest, right? So how can this be called “non-profit,” even when you subtract $3,000.00 for the prize?

And did Tupelo Press actually manage to match that $30,000.00 matching grant this year? I know some people offered to contribute to the fund if Jeffrey Levine would just clear up some doubts about his ethics, but I don’t think he did. Also, why do you only get $3,000.00 now for winning a Tupelo prize, whereas it used to be worth $10,000.00? Yes, things are getting more expensive as Tupelo says, but nothing like that much more. It makes you wonder how they managed to pay that astonishing sum when they were first just getting started?

And what happened to Jeffrey Levine’s sister-in-law, Margaret Donovan, I think her name was, the advertising executive who used to be Tupelo’s Managing Editor? Why is she no longer an officer at the Press?

It shouldn’t be forgotten that it was, of course, Foetry.com that pressured contests into specifying in their Guidelines that no “former students” of the judge are eligible.   It’s hard to believe, but there was even a time when  Foetry.com was derided for insisting upon just this, and now it’s routinely part of all poetry-contest guidelines.   “The Jorie Graham Rule,” it’s called, for obvious reasons.

Tupelo Press Guidelines

I’m still confused about the Tupelo Press Guidelines. This is what they say. “Readers” reduce the 1,000 submissions to 175, but as to who those “readers” are we are told nothing by Tupelo.    The “readers” also put comments on the manuscripts they like, and then “the editors” take the roughly 175 manuscripts and reduce the pile to 25 which are “ranked” for the Final Judge along with the supporting arguments from the “readers” and “anonymous” editors, so it’s hard to know who is who when it comes to responsibility for following the guidelines.

It could even be argued that the Final Judge makes no judgment at all, theoretically speaking.   For if the 25 manuscripts presented to the Final Judge are “ranked,” no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, etc., “editors” have essentially picked “the winner,” haven’t they, and the Final Judge, who is in the employ of Tupelo as well, presumably, is under no obligation to do anything more than automatically choose No. 1 as the winner of the contest.

What bothers  me is that there are no clauses in the Guidelines that address the relationship between the poets who submit their manuscripts and the “readers” and “editors” who are so crucial in choosing the winner.

Still, in perfect keeping with the published Tupelo Guidelines, couldn’t a personal friend, even a spouse of a “reader” or an “editor,” submit their manuscript to the Dorset Prize competition and “win”?    The Final Judge, who does not personally know the wife, let’s say, of a Tupelo editor, and who receives the manuscript anonymously, sees that the manuscript is ranked No. 1 out of the whole slush pile sifted by the “editors” before him. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, Bin Ramke selected winners at Georgia who were known only to Jorie Graham, and in at least one well-documented case who hadn’t even entered the contest. And, of course, there was that other well-documented case of someone else’s otherwise unrelated almost husband who still managed to win and is now also a professor at Harvard.

Yes, I do worry that a published, well-known poet who submits to a Tupelo contest, and is known to a “reader” and/or “editor” at Tupelo, will have the same advantage.  The “anonymous” character of the judging is suspicious, isn’t it, since the Tupelo editor winnowing the manuscripts down to a “ranked” 25 can “know” the poet who is submitting, and Tupelo can have an overriding wish to declare “a known poet” the winner? Isn’t that exactly what was also done year after year by Graham and Ramke at Georgia? Indeed, there’s nothing in the Guidelines that says the Tupelo editors can’t directly let the Final Judge know which manuscripts they (the Tupelo “editors”) “admire.” It doesn’t take a corporate lawyer to set that one up!

Colrain Manuscript Conferences & Crazyhorse/ Tupelo Press Graduate Program: Matters Arising

I’m also concerned about the students who have paid such a lot for the intimate editing services offered in both the Colrain Manuscript Conference retreats and the Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press Graduate Programs — they even advertise what a large number of their graduates get published. Hasn’t the work of these poets been discussed in fine detail by some of the same people who will winnow down the field in other contests? Does it say anywhere that these “students” are ineligible for the contests, because it ought to, shouldn’t it?

The only interdiction is they can’t be a personal friend or student of the Final Judge. But the Tupelo or other editors can easily make sure that all 25 or so manuscripts the Final Judge reviews are submissions by 1.) their friends, 2.) well-known poets they are keen on recognizing, and 3.) their own Colrain/Crazyhorse students.  So it becomes a fait accompli, doesn’t it? The 999 other contestants who have paid their $25.00 fee, or more, and including you and I, won’t have a clue that the game has potentially been rigged as described above—even while observing the rules set out in the guidelines.

And don’t forget that Joan Houlihan, the director of the Colrain Manuscript Conferences, was published by her colleague in the business, Jeffrey Levine, just as she was defending Jeffrey Levine and Bin Ramke in Poets & Writers — and of course trashing Foetry.com as “losers.” (A lot of us are still waiting for her to address that horrendous indiscretion, and until she does, it’s likely to go on haunting her.)

Also Robin Beth Schaer, the On-Line Editor at The Academy of American Poetry, was shortlisted for a Tupelo prize just weeks before Christopher Woodman was banned for mentioning Joan Houlihan’s P&W Letter about Jeffrey Levine in a comment on the Poets.org Forum. (Robin Beth Schaer appears to be no longer in the job, whether because there was an actual or perceived conflict of interest will probably never be known. The Site Administrator also resigned during the scandal — she was quietly reinstated after all the threads involved were deleted and there was no one and nowhere left on Poets.org to discuss the matter.)

And of course, Carol Ann Davis, the editor of Crazyhorse,  was published by Jeffrey Levine just as Carol Ann Davis announced a new course, The Crazyhorse/Tupelo Press Publishing Institute graduate program at the College of Charleston – taught by Jeffrey Levine. The program also selects the Tupelo Press First Book Prize, and awards yet another $3000.00, and of course, gets you the cred that will really get you the job — which explains why you bite the bullet of the bill!

Ouch, that last one is particularly gratuitous. We addressed it in some detail on Foetry.com, but apparently students still continue to sign up for it, which is disturbing.

Do Jeffrey Levine and Joan Houlihan Care For Poetry?

Of course Jeffrey Levine  and Joan Houlihan care for poetry, and both believe they are working hard on behalf of the art—I don’t deny that. But obtaining money from, or for, poetry is simply not an act in which the end can ever justify the means. Faith must finally reside in the public’s reception of that poetry, whether one is a poet or an investor. If you are producing a product no one wants, put it out there with private money. If you have to defraud part of the public to put that product out there, you shouldn’t be putting it out there at all.

Alan Cordle

A Letter To Tom about “Rhyme”


Tony Woodman and me at the Gran Prix of Czechoslovakia, Brno, 1963

Dear Tom,
My hunch is that your emphasis on “rhyme” in your previous article is going to be misunderstood. I think it will give those who don’t want to hear you at all the excuse not to read you, and may weaken your argument even for those that are willing to give what you say a try.

Let me say this first: I’m a curious critic because I’m so sophisticated yet so naive and trusting — I know so much (or at least ought to, considering the length and expense of my education) and yet am so obviously an innocent. I deliberately didn’t say ‘ill-informed’ there, because what I do know I know quite well, and my eyes are always wide-open. It’s just that I’ve only been engaged with the history of ‘modern poetry’ since I started writing it at 50, and have never sat in a modern poetry lecture and rarely attended a reading, have scarcely ever even started to read a contemporary literary-historical text, know no editors and only one poet who just happened to come to my house in Chiang Mai last Christmas. And of course I only got interested in ‘Modernism’ when I realized that the 14 precious packets I had sent to Bin Ramke over the years at Georgia probably never even got opened, and that my 8 packets to Tupelo hadn’t deterred its editor from sending me a form letter pretending to be a personal critique of my work and suggesting that just $295.00 more might make all the difference. Then Joan Houlihan scolded me in public (P&W, Nov 2006) for my limited understanding of editing and publishing poetry while praising the very editors who had abused me, and I knew modern American poetry was in deep trouble.

And of course, Joan Houlihan was right, too, in a sense, but I’m still nowhere near ready to concede that the situation she regards as normal is ethically acceptable or conducive to the development of good poetry. Indeed, for challenging just that  I’ve been banned on-line by P&W, The AoAP, and The Poetry Foundation — not a very promising start to a new career, particularly not at 70, but revealing.

So what should you call me, then, and how can my input be useful?

Hardly a “noble savage,” as my style is too perfect even if my content is analphabet. Yet I am a “peasant” in poetry when you compare me with somebody like Stephen Burt or David Lehman, for example — and indeed, one of the reasons I got put “on moderation” (aka censorship) at Blog:Harriet so early was that I annoyed the hell out of people who knew a hell of a lot more than I did. Yes, who was I to strew the nice Harriet ground with metaphors that exploded with such devastating effect, even taking out the management? [Click here for a fatal example]

What I have (and this is all about that word “rhyme,” of course, Tom) is my Rip Van Winkle status, a contemporary poet back from the dead. Because my anomaly is that I was so highly and successfully educated in literature (Columbia, Yale, King’s College, Cambridge, summa cum laude, phi beta kappa, Woodrow Wilson, Kellett Fellow [a whole decade before David Lehman!], C.S.Lewis, F.R.Leavis, Fellow of Christs, you name it) yet I never got educated in modern poetry, not once. So I go straight from the 30s in which I was born and jump straight to 1992 in which I got published for the very first time by Marilyn Hacker in The Kenyon Review — sans mentor, sans prize, sans compromise.

So I can see a lot — and since I’m much too old for success, and nobody is ever going to hire me what’s more give me a prize, I’m free to burn any bridges I want behind me, which is rare.

A “noble non-starter,” I might be called, playing on Joan Hoilihan’s “loser.” Or a “noble non-shopper,” or a “noble non-whopper,” or a “noble non-accredited accomplisher” — because the irony is that my publishing credits are not bad at all, considering my age and when I started, but I have no position and no reputation to advance or defend.

So “rhyme,” then, Tom. I’m sure you know exactly what you mean by the word, and you do know the literary-historical details like the back of your hand. But what you don’t know first hand is the snobbery that lies behind the creation of modernism, the revulsion with which those early 20th century poets around Pound and Hilda Dolittle rejected the late 19th century mush so loved by those who had just emerged from the crude working class.  Because the Hallmark-type “rhyme” was not the actual hallmark of the verse they despised, but rather the feel-good sentimentality which celebrated the feeling you got when you sat down at last to ‘dinner’ together around a ‘table’ or ‘read’ together  in the ‘parlor’ — which factory workers were still not going to do in Britain or America for a long time to come (which is a huge social and educational grey area, of course, and not yet quite out of the bag like what happened to the Native Americans!).

That’s what I know about more than most of you who are reading this and interested in our struggle. Because I was brought up in the 19th century, and I was a snob and mush made me feel unclean too, so I know the feeling only too well. I spent my early years in Gladstone, New Jersey, after all, the Gold Coast, and in my American childhood never met an African-American or a Jew and very few Catholics not descendants of Diamond Jim Brady (my mother’s family in Boston in the 30s didn’t mix with the Kennedys, who were Irish like the servants, and my mother was terribly distressed when I named my second daughter Delia Orlando, the middle name also being mistaken for Italian!).

And to our great credit, but goodness knows why, we ran, my brothers and I — my younger brother westward to Wyoming, myself eastward to Cambridge, and our older brother just really really fast (he was the first American to have a big success in Gran Prix motorcycle racing in Europe until he broke his back in the Northwest 200 in Ireland in 1965.) And I ran, and I kept bees, and I fiddled around with Trungpa, and I sailed, but mostly just fell in love with my wonderfully wrong women — and little by little I sloughed off that good taste and sense of superiority which went along with the family silver (I still have a trunkful somewhere, and enough 18th century willow pattern china to serve you all at once, though goodness knows where that is as well) — and now I’m writing to you like the fool…

No, it’s not the rhyme, Tom — it’s the snobbery of a new intellectual class that is still not too secure and needs to put a lot of distance between itself and the petit bourgeois poetry that makes sense when you finally arrive on the first rungs of the new upwardly mobile America.

And should the ‘petit bourgeois poetry’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries be re-evaluated, then, should that forgotten corpus be restored to grace? Hardly, but the alternative “make it new” movement at the opposite extreme must be re-assessed as ‘petit bourgeois poetry’s’ shadow, in the Jungian sense, so that those aspects of our western poetry traditin that got debased and/or hidden by ‘Modernism’ can be brought out into the open and liberated — like feeling, like music, like value and meaning and even, when its applicable, like rhyme. Indeed, all the underpinnings of Modernism must be fearlessly re-examined, and it’s tendency to sew new clothes for the emperor ruthlessly exposed, as we’re doing — and how the courtiers do kick and howl!

That’s our theme, of course, and it’s a big one, and one for which I think  I’m well-equipped even with just a small “compatty hammer” [click here] in my hand.

Christopher

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