HOW THE LEFT HURTS POETRY

Uhhh…excuse me…ahem….can I ask just one more question?

As enlightened as we know ourselves to be, we may as well admit it: the Left hurts poetry.  (Doesn’t perfectionism always let us down?)

But does the Left really hurt poetry?

Let’s begin with ideology.

Ideology turns poetry into rhetoric, but this is really not the issue, for if ideology presents bias, so does love, and the lyric and love can walk hand in hand.

We might say Modernism has been unkind to romantic love and Romantic poetry, (when is the last time you heard a contemporary poet praise Byron?) that hard-headed Modernism has sought to escape the feverish, the romantic, the emotionality of bias, and this might be true, but rhetoric and ideology of all kinds has not only persisted, but expanded, in poetic expression in the modern era.

The great drawback, one might say, is that ideology requires explanation, and poetry has less time than prose for explanations.

But this, too, is a thin objection, for poetry, and art in general, is perfectly capable of explaining things; we just expect it to do so with greater art or greater concision.

If Marxism, or Leftism, is a legitimate subject, or a legitimate philosophy, for mankind, and for the poet, why shouldn’t it work as material for poetry?

Before the whole matter is settled, however, we turn back, almost nonchalantly, like Columbo, for one more small clarification.

Poetry is no longer a popular art form; it merely breathes on life support in college, and even then, in its fragile state, in forms most people no longer recognize as poetry.

And this couldn’t make the Marxist poet, or critic, any happier.

The reason for this is quite simple: The Leftist equates the good of popularity with the evil of “market forces,” and so any chance for poetry’s mass appeal is killed in the cradle by those who believe bohemian martyrdom is preferable to bourgeois triumph: obscurity is preferable even to democracy, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of Marxism therefore, condemns poetry to appeal to the few.

Leftism hurts poetry, but it has nothing to do with ideology.  It has nothing to do with Leftism as a set of ideas or beliefs.

The problem lies in the Left’s tendency to apply the term “market” (a bad) to what is basically poetry’s audience (a necessity).

Poetry has been a Leftist activity ever since “make it new” (ironically popularized by a fascist).  Modernism, or as it was once called, Futurism, makes change paramount, and since the progressive (in terms of politics) also makes change paramount—for different reasons, perhaps—change, whether driven by right-wing Futurism or left-wing Progressive-ism has become the ruling animus of poetry.

Poetry has defaulted heavily to Leftism ever since WW II found the “make it new” poet disgraced, and on the losing side.  But almost as proof that change is the real issue, (not Left or Right) Pound is still worshiped as a Modernist poet—since change for its own sake is the true high god.

The market won, Pound lost, and poetry, progressive not only in politics, but in everything, forces change as the constant issue.

Desire for change inevitably finds opposition in whatever resists change, even if what resists change is democratic, or is grounded in common sense.

Poetry itself has no opinion, one way or the other, on change, nor do poetry’s origins have anything to do with change, per se.

The war for change being fought by progressives takes place outside of poetry’s walls—and this is not an anti-progressive statement, but merely a matter-of-fact one.

When the market becomes the enemy, all that is democratic and popular also, in quiet and hidden ways, then becomes the enemy, too.

Poetry can be anything it wants, and it can be a shouting match if it wants to be, and it can be a hectoring force ushering in change for all the standard and visible causes: race, women, gays, the poor, and the environment.  As we pointed out above, the issues themselves are not the issue.

But just as Marxism hinders poetry by making popular appeal a bad thing, so do all sorts of ideological issues—which feature ‘struggle for change,’ for these have the tendency to make poetry renounce pleasure, immediacy, and accessibility for things so complex that rhetoric itself breaks apart in attempting to comprehend it.

Again, it is not the issues, nor the ideology, nor the complexities themselves which are a bad thing; the damage to poetry is done indirectly by forces or circumstances which inherently foster obscurity—that makes a democratic art (whatever kind of art that might be) impossible.

There is no going back.  We don’t think poetry can simply drop these issues, or should.  Poets will just have to figure out ways to be true to their ideals while working harder to be popular.

But just to give one example of how complex the problem has become:

Eileen Myles, the lesbian poet, on twitter, attacked the film about two young lesbian lovers, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” calling it a “hate crime” against lesbians, and the resulting conversation by lesbian poets, mostly supporting Myles’ remarks, featured a great deal of graphic sexuality, along with how a lesbian relationship does or does not resemble, favorably or unfavorably, a heterosexual relationship.  Eileen Myles is politically astute, if nothing else, and one could easily call a discussion like this political, and most poets writing on this subject, no matter how sexually frank, would still think of themselves as making “progressive” contributions of a political nature to society at large.  But it was really difficult to tell, for example, what Myles’ political objections to the movie were, besides a feeling she had that it did not depict the lesbian lifestyle as a universally happy one.  But what “lifestyle” is universally happy?

The question here is not that ‘lesbian sex’ will never be a popular, or a popular topic for poetry; the only case we are making here is that we should not, on Marxist principles, or any other principles, condemn popularity for its own sake; for a democracy, after all, resides in the popular will.

But homosexuality, as a “progressive” topic, does have its pitfalls; it will lead us into obscurity and away from the popular taste, and will have a great deal of trouble in making itself accessible and meaningful, in either a political or an aesthetic manner.  Homosexuality, looked at aesthetically, inevitably becomes Rabelaisian, as any sexuality would, whether or not the topic is “progressive,” or not.

And now Columbo needs to make one more little point of clarification, if possible…

What sort of political influence does poetry have?  It has none. 

Pound’s broadcasts from Italy in support of the Axis powers during the war were of little consequence, according to Pound apologists.

The right-wing character of Eliot/Pound Modernism and Southern Agrarian/New Critic Modernism dominated poetry in the first half of the century; some like to point to Robert Lowell, who was influenced by Ransom and Tate, as an important Leftist: Lowell opposed the Vietnam War—and Lowell also, in a personal way, reconciled highbrow, “cooked” poetry with the “raw” poetry of the Beats, but this was not seriously on the nation’s radar screen, and truly, the confessional-ism of poets like Lowell and Ginsberg was more Modernism swerving back toward the excitement of Romanticism than anything political.

So there you have it.  Poetry, as a study and a practice, right now in the United States, may be Leftist, but Leftism in poetry is actually of very little consequence, except in the manner outlined above, and from that very important standpoint, Leftism has hurt poetry.

Perhaps the whole question lies closer to the issue of the sacred versus the secular, and poetry finally residing closer to the former as an art form—but that discussion is for a future time.

We point out this issue with Leftism, not as any form of censorship—but only as a warning, and a challenge.

CAN THE MFA SAVE LITERATURE?

Can it, really?

There are so many positions one can take on education and literature—in fact, one could have a lengthy debate on which is more important, literature, or the education of literature, and that’s before we even get started.

Let’s see if we can sum up quickly the various positions regarding Creative Writing and the Academy under the umbrella: what is literature and how should we teach it?

First, the one relevant fact:  The Creative Writing degree is replacing the old English degree, not only on the graduate, but on the undergraduate level.

Now, the positions:

1. First, “The Old Man” position. We quote him in full—from a recent Scarriet comment, because we don’t think anyone could say it better:

Creative Writing, along with Today’s MFA is part of the campaign to replace canonical literature as the “jewel in the crown” of English Studies. There is a tacit alliance among the supporters of Postmodern Poetics, Queer Studies, Ethnic Studies, Womens’ Studies and Creative Writing (in all its forms and levels of instruction) to topple the traditional curriculum. Contemporary fiction and poetry overshadow the great writing of the past. Creative writng students do not have to read Milton, Pope, Keats and Yeats. Either they read their peers in the class or the “so called” free verse of the hour. As creative writing gradually eclipses literature, instructors follow suit. Soon the majority of teachers in the typical American English Department will no longer feel comfortable about grading a comprehensive literature exam in an Honors Program – – or even the typical MA English Comprehensive Exam.

This position is the Outsider, Conservative one:  Creative Writing is part of a wider modern problem which sees canonical excellence swallowed up by all sorts of things which are beside the point.

2. Second, “The Seth Abramson” position, which all who are bothering to read this, are surely familiar with by  now: the MFA is a beacon of democratic insurrection and radical experimentation, a thousand flowers blooming in the desert of academic dullness.

This position is the Insider, Radical one: Creative Writing, through its democratic open-ended, open-exchanged fertility, will lead us to the Promised Land of Democratized Freedom.

3. Third, “The Laura Runyan” position, and we take the liberty of excerpting her Scarriet comments:

Seth’s po-biz attitude doesn’t represent the vast majority of those MFA students I know who attended the better MFA programs. He certainly doesn’t speak for me (a fiction MFA grad). Unfortunately, his tendency to over-classify results in misleading oversimplification as he attempts to define and describe various poetic forms and the history of poetry.

I don’t blame writers who bypassed the MFA route for being suspicious of MFA programs now. I believe that Seth is largely responsible for making the entire enterprise appear very insular or, even worse, like some sort of scam. At the same time, I know that most of the poets in my program worked hard to produce formalist poetry; few of them were content amusing themselves with pseudo-clever experiments.

Oh, and we read books in my program. LOTS AND LOTS of books: novels and short story collections (a portion of which had been published before 1900) and books of poetry. Reading is one of the best educations a writer can find. One doesn’t need an MFA to acquire that education, but an MFA also offers good writers on the faculty (if the faculty actually consists of good writers) who will read your work and respond to it in detail. And if you get funding, this is, in the 21st century, a far cheaper alternative to living in Greenwich Village or Paris so you can meet other aspiring writers.

I couldn’t stand the prospect of majoring in English because I couldn’t stomach “critical theory,” by which art is reduced to cultural studies and very bad postmodernist “philosophizing.” So much of the reasoning behind critical theory is dreck, it’s bloated with jargon, much of the writing in the “scholarship” associated with that group of sub-disciplines is dreadful, and had it been embraced by my MFA professors, I wouldn’t have survived more than a semester there. (As an undergraduate, I majored in “analytic”–Western–philosophy.by the way.) My first semester as an MFA student, I asked one of the fiction faculty members which lit professors to avoid (we were one of those so-called “academic” MFA programs). As soon as I said that I didn’t want to take a lit-crit-style literature class, this professor knew immediately what I was talking about and advised me on which classes I would probably want to avoid. In fact, not one faculty member in my MFA program was “into” the critical theory stuff. If anything, they were contemptuous of it.

Laura Runyan’s is the Insider, Conservative position: Creative Writing, at least as practiced in the best MFA programs, is an escape from the postmodern-corrupted English MA programs. Runyan is pro-MFA, but for a very different reason than Abramson.

4. Finally, that leaves the Outsider, Radical position on Creative Writing, rejecting it altogether, either from an anti-institutional stance or an anti-canonical stance even more radical than Abramson’s, a radical political position suspicious of canon and institution, anything smelling at all like the status quo.  This final ‘catch-all’ category contains poor people, eccentric rich people, slam poets, the Ernest Hemingway/Jack Kerouac anti-intellectual, manly type of independent writer, or someone like Eileen Myles.

So the four main pedagogical threads are

1. Old Man: MFA is part of a radical, post-modern conspiracy

2. Laura Runyan: MFA is the new throw-back canonical MA

3. Seth Abramson: MFA is the crown of forward-looking, post-modern legitimacy

4. Eileen Myles: MFA is one more brick in the wall

As we can see, roughly speaking:

1 (Old Man) and 3 (Seth Abramson) are philosophical opposites, as are 2 (Laura Runyan) and 4 (Eileen Myles).

1 (Old Man) and 2 (Laura Runyan) are philosophically similar, as are 3 (Seth Abramson) and 4 (Eileen Myles), but these two pairs disagree on how the MFA works—or doesn’t.

Where do they all agree?

If one could afford to hang out in Left Bank cafes with interesting writers of all kinds, the Old Man, Laura, Seth, and Eileen might all be able to agree on this scenario.

We have ventured the opinion that ‘hanging out’ and writing really don’t go together at all, but let’s leave that aside, for the moment.

Most of those in mainstream, institutional life, the Old Man and the Laura Runyan schools of thought, would probably see eye to eye on this:

Literature provides a necessary social glue: despite various political differences in any population, it is crucial that, intellectually and artistically, there is a place for all of us to be more or less on the same page, even as we work through various political differences based on class, race, sexual orientation, and philosophical opposition.

This point alone makes both the Old Man and the Laura Runyan positions attractive.  Chucking the canonical in favor of the new is counter-productive and common sense cries out against it.  Is life so radically different now that as a society we can say for certain that the best of the past should be demolished?

We can talk about political differences all day, but there is one aesthetic matter which seems to participate in these divisions more than any other: Good Storytelling. Laura Runyan captured this idea when she wrote:

A friend of mine who finished the MFA program at Iowa in the 80s, after he’d established a career as a pharmacist, told me the following about Frank Conroy, then the well-known director of the Workshop, and whom my friend had as a teacher. He said that often, Conroy–who was hardly gentle on students–would often say in workshop in response to a meandering piece of prose by a student, “Beautiful prose in the service of WHAT?” (That comment was repeated by another person I know who’s a grad of Iowa’s MFA program.)

What did he mean by that comment. Simply this–which isn’t so simple to many aspiring fiction writers: that the story, with all its musing and imagery, HAD NO STORY! No Aristotelian rise and fall, no obvious conflict, nothing that made you wonder what would happen next!

Story-telling can bring together many politics and philosophies under one roof, so much so, that this might even seal the deal for universal agreement.  Let’s rally round, with all our differences, the articulate story-teller, and let every radical impulse fit in—or not—with this mandate.

All in favor, say aye.

Just as we thought: a lot of ayes.

But not so fast.  “Wondering what happens next” is a primitive impulse and not necessarily one we should promote.  Narrative is a slippery pedagogical subject, if we are honest about it, and take the time to look at it more closely.  Scarriet recently examined this in a post titled, “Does Narrative Make Us Stupid?” (May 2013).

To truly unite literature and education, we grant narrative a high place, but not the highest place.

Our criteria, in order of importance are:

1. Philosophical Truth

It seems to us that Plato’s dialogues should be central to any advanced literary and writing education, with the Phaedrus, the Symposium, the Ion, and the Republic as must-reads.  Add to that Edgar Allan Poe, who is, if truth be told, a canon all to himself.  Both Plato and Poe are rigorous, accessible and free of both dogma and triviality.

2. Beauty

In the broadest possible terms, the beautiful encompasses good taste (which is not trivial) and all we associate with the ‘well-put-together,’ and pertains to whatever is uplifting, sublime, and brings people together in passionately fused thought and feeling.

3. Undercurrent of Meaning

This hardly needs explanation.  Without this, stories will be either trivial or flimsy pieces of moralizing.

These three are far more important than storytelling, per se, though Frank Conroy’s advice certainly has merit.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

THE TWO FREEDOMS

Eileen Myles: Nature offers so few choices.  Man. Woman. What a drag.  But the real dilemma: avant-garde outside the institution has no cred.

The most memorable moment at the sunny but chilly 2013 Massachusetts poetry festival in Salem, May 3-5, was when poet Terrance Hayes said at the podium: “I didn’t realize Salem was on the coast; I wish I had brought a jacket.”

I didn’t realize Salem was on the coast.  I wish I had brought a jacket.

This was the most memorable moment in the festival.  Why?

Because here was a headlining poet talking to an assembled crowd and

1) admitting he didn’t know something.

2) without feeling he had to be clever, related a simple, physical fact.

It was beautiful.

Unfortunately family trauma had to be turned into poems, so we got those.

It was pretty much the usual: 

1. Familial framework filled with ruminative imagery much too difficult to understand, or

2. Indignant ethnical framework filled with belabored association. 

It seems the geometric shape of a circle can be contemplated with a great deal of profit when one’s cousin stabs a policeman in the eye.

Ghosts are almost never black people, even though blacks have very good reason to haunt their killers; but the poet, in this instance, does not believe in ghosts anyway; what is more arresting to the poet is the fact of a body floating from a tree twelve feet off the ground.

Hayes got in some powerful moments; he is both a good poet and sincere in what he is doing.

If you are a black person in that room, you present black stuff, etc.  But you don’t want to overdo it, so you  present your black stuff as poetry—which, by default, in the modern/post-modern climate, becomes “difficult” stuff that only in flashes makes its indignation felt, which actually can be quite effective, just in terms of pure performance and timing.  Which is perhaps one of the reasons ethnic poetry is overtaking language poetry right now: performance and timing has always been a crowd pleaser (relatively speaking, at least).

Hayes delivered, and delivered well, what all have come to expect in that small, closed, stuffy room known as po-biz.  No one in that stuffy room had a clue what he was talking about most of the time, but that’s what fans of respectable poetry have come to expect.

Speaking of  the room in po-biz, Eileen Myles referred to it recently in a polite (this is po-biz, after all) attack on Marjorie Perloff:

I feel like the back story of Marjorie’s avant garde mandate is mourning. I think Perloff has sustained an enormous amount of loss in her life and along with her championing of avant garde practice in her criticism she’s also deeply engaged in controlling the emotional climate of the room she’s in. Who gets to feel what when, and how! And that’s a problem because poetry is a community not an institution and we’re always at multiple purposes here in this room. When she opens her piece with Jed Rasula’s assertion of the problem of there being too many poets I wonder why neither of them notice that in the mainstream there aren’t any poets. We’re mainly hearing that no poets are being read. That there’s no understanding of poetry today.

Myles reminds Perloff and Rasula that “poetry is a community not an institution” and that “in the mainstream there aren’t any poets.” 

But Myles, because she is stung by the avant-garde bug herself, does not go far enough. Poetry is poetry inasmuch as it reflects that primitive poetic sensibility which exists in everyone. The modern extenuation can be novel and exciting, but only so if it is understood by everyone, for the original and universal sensibility naturally feels it as such.  If poetry is not seen as something that expresses what all people already feel it will continue to exist 1) outside the mainstream and 2) as an institution, not a community.

As Myles surely knows, “mourning” and “loss” affect everyone, and all poetry, and in fact all art, all writing, and all human endeavor involves either “loss” or preventing “loss.”  The act of writing pre-supposes absence.  And that’s just for starters.

Myles, representing the bodily, grounded, political aspect of the avant-garde, extends a desperate hand to Perloff, theoretical elitist, in the name of “mourning” and “loss,” believing Perloff to have “sustained an enormous amount of loss in her life,” but this is to concede far too much to Perloff and lose the whole argument before Myles has even begun, not because Perloff hasn’t suffered “loss,” but because everyone has.

Myles belongs to the expansive, pluralistic, democratic, street version of the avant-garde—which is why she opposes Perloff, who is narrower and more theoretical—and therefore Myles is almost in a position to define poetry as Scarriet does; but Myles cannot, because Myles ultimately needs to defend her avant-garde creds.  Myles is a part of the problem as much as Perloff is.  This is the institutional game in which the institutional members flatter each other, and Myles proclaiming Perloff’s unique loss is doing this, and Myles is not even aware of what she’s doing.  Myles is not tough.  She’s extremely nice.

Myles cannot be a radical democrat defining poetry from a true human, universal, pre-existing, standpoint, precisely because of her (and this is very common in the avant-garde) theoretical pluralism:

I arrived on the scene in New York in my 20s landing very deliberately in the avant garde where it seemed everyone I met took it upon himself to pass on to me ze avant garde canon as he saw it. There were so many approaches and rightnesses and because I already came from a doctrinaire catholic background I wasn’t so open to learning from some man of my age or older “the truth.” My avant garde then & now was composed of a shaky imagined grid holding a multiple of approaches. ***  I think of the reader as somebody who deserves something other than a recitation from the long phallic night of my heart whether that recitation takes the form of personal expression or a wily conceptual sound poem.

Myles does not want to hear “the truth” from “some man.” Myles is unable to see that her “multiple approaches” approach is not democratic, but elitist—poetry common to all is vigorously and academically defeated by sly, doctrinaire pluralism; the “truth from some man” is a straw man invented by Myles to relieve her own institutional/avant-garde guilt.

Marjorie Perloff, on the other hand, has no trouble believing she has a unique poetic sensibility which only a couple of thousand people possess and that it is her duty to bring this unique wisdom to as many people as possible.

But there is no such thing as a unique poetic sensibility—poetry is precisely poetry in its social universality.

The phenomenon is what might be called the big tent/small tent syndrome: poetry, the big tent, can have a lot of small tents under it, but fanatical small-tentism is what finally kills the universal appeal of poetry. 

Myles, like Perloff, is unable to champion poetry as a pre-existing sensibility common to all humanity, for this is precisely where the avant-garde cannot compromise, for this marks the break, the avant-garde break, of those like Pound and Eliot with High Romanticism, not to mention the break with countless others:  Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, and already we see the list has too many dead white males for Myles.  Myles, when push comes to shove, finally joins Perloff in the avant-garde boat.  Ironically, right-wing goons like Pound and Eliot mandated the break with poets like Shelley, a break which avant-garde left-wingers Myles must stylistically and institutionally obey.

The institution is precisely what fills up poetry’s universal vessel with what makes it avant-garde—and inscrutable to the mainstream.  Academic study of poetry is not some guild which teaches the craft of poetry; it is instead a default scholarly pursuit which happens to co-exist with poetry, but really has nothing to do with it.  Freedom to ‘write any poetry you want’ destroys the freedom to ‘write poetry that, as poetry, precisely prevents writing anything you want.’  In academia, the first (excessive) freedom has replaced the second (universal poetic) freedom, and this is what has taken poetry out of the mainstream.

Since poetry which is ‘respected’ and ‘awarded’ now belongs to ‘the scholarly,’ all commentary on poetry is caught in the scholarly web; poetry is doomed to fade further from public consciousness. 

The more poetry attempts to be ‘relevant’ as a force for ethnicity, capitalist-critique, the newest fashionable phase of its own existence, etc, the more irrelevant it becomes.  Poetry as ‘stand up comedy’ was the default public success for poets at the mic at Salem, but this is only comic relief a short distance from the classroom.  Professional comics are funnier. When poetry is everything it is nothing.  Poetry is the helpless fly kicking in the unfriendly spider web of academic ‘scholarship.’

Poetry is not historical; it is not chronological, finally.  

Poetry is a passion, not a study, Poe once said; a histrionic-sounding protest, perhaps, but now we see what he meant—for study (scholarship) is not poetry’s friend; high-sounding scholarship has seduced poetry.

The relationship is not necessarily nefarious; it is an innocent error, perhaps; but the damage has been done.

Poetry as a scholarly pursuit no longer exists as poetry. 

The simple truth is that poetry which the world understands as poetry is the poetry of Shelley, no matter how vociferously avant-garde scholars protest.

We understand the radical nature of our thesis: Not ‘commentary on Shelley.’  The actual poetry of Shelley is—poetry.

Will the truth flash upon the scholar’s soul?

Salem is on the coast.

Marjorie Perloff has suffered a great amount of loss.

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…

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?

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!

YOU’RE SPEAKING I’M LISTENING: SHARON OLDS V. EILEEN MYLES

Does Eileen Myles have a prayer against an icon like Sharon Olds?

Marla, this is one terrific match-up, Sharon Olds against Eileen Myles!

MARLA MUSE: I’ve been looking forward to this one!

Writing free verse has nothing to do with lines and stanzas, and it’s funny how, long after these parts of the poem have become useless limbs and organs, critics keep pretending that they matter.

MARLA MUSE: Shrill and controversial, as usual, Tom…

The line and stanza counts of Olds’ and Myles’ poems are insignificant compared to the number of words per sentence and the tense-changes. 

“Eileen’s Vision” by Eileen Myles is as skinny as a young girl: the poem has 73 lines, but just 220 words, and it also has 3 long sentences—one is 120 words.

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

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

“The Request” by Sharon Olds has a more regular, fleshed-out figure; 195 words in 30 lines, and only four sentences—all long.

The Request

He lay like someone fallen from a high
place, only his eyes could swivel,
he cried out, we could hardly hear him,
we bent low, over him, his
wife and I, inches from his face,
trying to drink sip up breathe in
the sounds from his mouth. He lay with unseeing
open eyes, the fluid stood
in the back of his throat, and the voice was from there,
guttural, through unmoving lips, we could
not understand one word, he was down so
deep inside himself, we went closer, as if
leaning over the side of a well
and putting our heads down inside it.
Once—his wife was across the room, at the
sink—he started to garble some of those
physical unintelligible words,
Raas-ih-AA, rass-ih-AA, I
hovered even lower, over his open
mouth, Rassi baaa, I sank almost
into that body where my life half-began,
Frass-ih-BAA—”Frances back!”
I said, and he closed his eyes in his last
yes of exhausted acquiescence, I
said, She’s here. She came over to him,
touched him, spoke to him, and he closed his
eyes and he passed out and never
came up again, now he could move
steadily down.

It terms of pure dramatics, the long sentence produces urgent, attention-holding, excited, and frantic speech in both of these poems.

Both poems are told in first-person past tense, but finish in the present tense.

Myles’ poem begins:

“One night I was home alone”

Myles’ poem ends:

“she remains…& I don’t have to tell anyone.” 

Olds’ poem begins:

“He lay like someone fallen from a high place”

Olds’ poem ends:

“now he could move steadily down.” 

Could is past tense, but could is also conditional (for example: he says if he could, he would) and coupled with the word “now,” Olds implies the present tense.

The past-turning-into-present-tense adds dramatic significance: the poet is relating to the reader something that happened, but which still has meaning now.

Both poems deal with Threshold Phenomena, like “The Raven,” the model for all such poems: a visitor from beyond comes to the window of one’s familiarity with a coded message that involves amazement, assurance, fear, puzzlement, or, in more pedantic poetry, advice.

Both Olds and Myles use assurance at the center of their poem’s Threshold Phenomenon.

Olds: “Frances back!” I said…I said, She’s here. She came over to him, touched him, spoke to him

Myles: it’s so hard for me but the Lady came & she said, stay here Eileen stay here forever…& she didn’t go, she remains

Each poem, then, features hyper-simple, Biblical actions: “She came over to him” and “the Lady came,” both mystical, acts of profound comfort.

Another similarity is the counter to the sublime (the poems would not be ‘modern’ otherwise?) in both poems:

Myles’ Lady is a “stain” on a “wooden bathtub cover” that has “other stains” and “half-scraped lesbian invisibility stickers” on it, “standing on its side” and “incidentally separating kitchen and middle room in my home where I live and work.”

Olds: “fluid stood in the back of his throat, and the voice was from there, guttural, through unmoving lips, we could not understand one word”

Olds, however, is much closer to the pure sublime in her poem: a man is dying, she, the narrator figures out what his slurred words are saying: “Frances back!” and Frances, the wife, who just happened to be at the sink for a moment, goes to him, comforts him, and then he dies.  It’s a tear-jerker, almost Victorian, but I think the Victorians would have been embarrassed by a poem like this, because with so much death in those days (infant mortality rates at 50%) the Victorians would have would found this poem too starkly self-satisfied with itself.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning would have probably leaned over to inspect a poem like this and gagged. Elizabeth Oakes Smith would have frowned.  Helen Whitman would have merely winced. Walt, however, would have approved, but we can’t allow one sensibility to approve of a poem for all, if we wish to honor it with a place under the dappled shades of the Elysian Fields of anthology pieces.

Both poems feature, as is typical in the Threshold Phenomenon poem, limited speech or communication: in Olds’ poem, the dying man can hardly speak, and Myles closes her poem: “& I don’t have to tell anyone.”

Specific lack of speech is just one element that can work as a framing device.

The Imagist poets thought image would, by itself, provide that limit, that frame, that focus, which is at the heart of aesthetics—but unfortunately the Imagists confused the great art of painting with cartoon.

To make anthologies for the whole history of mankind, to truly categorize poems as Scarriet March Madness does, is the second-highest calling in poetry, beneath only the inspired writing of the masterpieces themselves.

Eileen Myles, in about as many words, provides more detail than Olds; we learn, for instance, that Eileen is struggling to write an art review, that she’s a catholic but also a lesbian, we get a feel for her tiny apartment, the appearance of that wooden bathtub cover, and we’re even introduced in the beginning to Myles’ dog, who is acting a little strange, to set the tone of the “entrance” of “the Lady.”  

Myles, in attempting to frame her poem, and make sure we understand how simple and mundane the poem’s “event” actually is, mid-way through the poem writes, “That is all.” We understand the intention, and it’s minor, but this sentence is probably superfluous.  Two hundred seventeen words, and the poem goes to Heaven; two hundred and twenty, and it doesn’t.  Poetry is that exact a science.

We like knowing these extra details of the Myles poem; both poems are terrific, the Olds more expertly framed; the Myles with slightly more of an abiding, quirky interest.

Without being sentimental (as we pejoratively use that term today), the Myles poem is more Shakespearean, more loveable than the Olds—the Olds resembles a Rembrandt painting (I’m not thinking of a specific one) in its simplicity, its beauty, its passion, and the darkness of its theme. (One crazy critic speculating how the Victorians might feel upon reading it should not be held against it.)

Sharon Olds is one of the best poets writing today.

But these two poems, placed side by side, and scrutinized together, slightly favors the Myles.

Give it up for Eileen Myles, who is advancing past Sharon Olds!

MARLA MUSE: What a thrilling contest!  Scarriet has done it again!

Final score, 66-63.  Eileen Myles is going to the South Bracket finals.  She’s in the Elite Eight.

(cheering)

THE DEATH OF THE TEXT

Authorship almost died in 1967. 

Roland Barthes tried to kill the author with his The Death of the Author (1967)

The text certainly went through a change in 1967, too—one could easily mark this as the year when songs, media bites, and video really began to replace the text as communication in wider western consciousness.

In 1967 the Beatles as a band disappeared into their album, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, their last hurrah before John Lennon’s heroin-and-Yoko Ono addiction and the Beatles’ final breakup a year and a half later.

The Beatles started a trend of bands “disappearing”—Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in the early 70s did not appear on their album covers; photos of band members standing in meadows were replaced by mystical art. The “concept album” replaced individuals playing mere lists of songs. Individual song writing credits were no longer prominent, compositions simply came into being as part of a process from group efforts. I remember sitting on the floor as a kid, listening to the blasting, electronic, sound-effect enhanced, swirlings of a Led Zeppelin album and thinking four guys were not making this music—something else was. My naivety was short-lived—but it was a wonderful experience.

The ego of the singer/songwriter did not go away, nor did individual identity in pop music—not by a long shot. And if one listened to a Pink Floyd album, one could still hear a definite group of individuals playing their individual instruments—the band did not go away any more than the author—or the author’s intention—did.

Media bites, songs and video did not reduce the importance of the charismatic individual—they enhanced it.

In the universities, they may have been saying Homer or Shakespeare were really many people.

But this was more a history issue (given we knew so little about Homer and Shakespeare) than fundamentally asserting authorship was plural—or didn’t exist at all.  The average poet today knows more about Eileen Myles than he knows about Homer.

Automatic writing was first given prominence by William James under the influence of nitrous oxide—James, Emerson’s godson, would later teach and influence the young Modernists at Harvard, such as Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot.

But Man’s ego was such that the author could not really be killed.

But there was something exciting about saying the author was dead, of being the author of that idea. 

To say the author is dead appeals to all sorts of mass political movements who hate and fear the individual or the lone genius for all sorts of reasons—the foremost, jealousy: hating the genius author because one is not a genius author oneself; secondly, conservatism: hating the genius because the genius successfully breaks rules; thirdly, radical politics: the authorial genius is a “patriarch” to be overthrown; fourthly, New Criticism: famous for “the Intentional Fallacy;” fifthly, Linguistics: Mallarme’s “it is language which speaks;” sixthly, the Yale School of de Mann—the criminal hides where no authorial accountability exists; and seventhly, dionysians: no author in the blur of pure, nitrous oxide, sensation.

In a corrupt society, blame gets passed around and hidden: no accountability, a death of the author, and that death is the death of society.

The death of the author supposedly “liberates” the text, as if “the author” were a tyrant, and the text, an oppressed people.

It’s too late to resurrect the author in the minds of those who would kill him. What I would like to do is add a radical thought of my own: let’s kill the text, too.

The target of many ‘kill-the-author’ advocates, such as Derrida and Rorty and…well, there’s too many to count—was Plato. That’s because the divine Plato, with wonderful common sense, pointed out that a speaker is alive, but a piece of writing is dead. A speaker must convince with his whole being, and, by being alive,  has a context which dwarfs the self-created context of the text. If the text lives, it is because the author is alive in it—if we must doubt the existence of one of them, we should doubt the text.

This is not to say a living person cannot speak ill, or lie, or that a text cannot express beautiful things, but all things being equal, which is more real?  And why should we kill what is more real?

A text is created by an author not just in the time that it takes to inscribe the text, but in the time (years) it takes the author to become the author who is then able to write that text.

We all understand this truism: If the author is feeble-minded, the text will not be strong, if the author is a genius, the text will be strong.  (But introduce nitrous oxide or LSD into the equation, let both the feeble-minded and the genius take LSD, and things become a little different, a little more equal, perhaps.)

The text is the impression left not just by the author, but by the maturity and genius of the author in the context of that author’s existence.  Nor is the text merely inscribed; it is authored during the inscription process itself, as revisions, backtracks, erasures, additions, and revisions occur during the time it is inscribed. Nor does this does take into account the blueprint created by the author before the text comes into being, and again, this blueprint is the result of who the author is and what he has thought: it is not merely a moment’s impulse, even if the flash of conception occured in a moment.

Finally, when the text is read, the inscription takes place again in the reader’s mind, an impression not of the text, but of the author, for we do not say a footprint is the impression of a footprint.

A footprint is not produced by a footprint; the author produces the effect on the reader.

Nothing comes between the author’s intention and the text, for a text (never finished until it is finished) is a slave to the author’s intention.

But all sorts of things come between the text and its reception by the public, so many things, in fact, that it can be easily seen that the text is part of the author to the author, the genius and his text are practically one, whereas to the public, the text hardly exists at all. 

We all know the phenomenon of people saying they have read a book when they haven’t, but what of reading a book and then forgetting most of it, even as we confidently announce, “I’ve read that book.” 

We all know that most books become bestsellers because readers are reading what other people are reading—this is how empty texts sometimes have windows of popularity. The text in question is not of real concern—only that others are reading it, and no one knows really what it is they are reading and most realize part-way through they are not enjoying it at all. There was merely some aspect, unrelated to the quality of the text itself, which invoked enough curiosity to push it over that threshold of ‘people reading a book because others were reading it.’

What sort of existence does the text have in this case? 

Texts that have real effects on people are often divisive books that have a positive effect on a one part of a population in exact ratio to the negative effect they have on the other.

If two contrary opinions are generated—wild praise on one hand, and sheer disgust on the other: where is the text, in that case? 

Where is the text in the various reactions and differing opinions and misreadings of it? 

Where is the text when eras pass away and tastes change?

Where is a text when different political factions fight to destroy it on one hand, and canonize it, on the other?

If a genius authored the book, and time passes and tastes change, what remains, then, of the book’s greatness, save the intention of the author, still able to impress the reader—despite all the changes. What essentially remains, if not the author’s blueprint and the genius of the author?

Where is the text, if it has no unity?

Where is the text, if it contains empty spaces, and weak, topical impressions, and unconnected details?  These sorts of texts tend to have random parts which take on importance depending how they are perceived by myriads of readers; where is the text, then? 

Where does a text exist if it is a pile of fragments, or perceived as a pile of fragments, or if the text is too long to read at one sitting?   

We may point to peeling wallpaper as a thing,  just as we can point to any writing as a thing—but the various shapes of the peeling wallpaper in any given area of the wall exist not as the wallpaper, or the wall, or the thing. 

Only in the intention of the author is it possible to sort out the mysteries of the contingent universe, the universe of endlessly slippery texts and endlessly slippery perceptions.

The author never died, nor is intention ever a fallacy.

The universe of texts and perceptions is confusing, and therefore not holy.

Authorship is holy.

Textuality has interest only by the merit of an author’s intention.

This comes down to pure, physical science: no text can be discussed, because no text of any length can exist as a whole in the mind; at best we can discuss what we feel is the gist of a text, but finally it is only our faulty memory of what we believe is the gist of the text—filtered through all the imperfect influences and political opinions that others have of the text.

This is why poetry exists—to make it somehow possible, through the quantum of sequencing, aided by the mathematics of music—to hold an entire text in one’s mind.

What is the quantum of poetry?  Has anyone dared to ask?

In reality, only the author’s pure intention, which is the author’s being, which is being, itself, communicating itself one-on-one with the reader’s being— exists.

In reality, the text does not exist.

The author exists.

The book does not.

AMY GERSTLER LOCKS HORNS WITH EILEEN MYLES

Amy Gerstler: her fate and Eileen Myles’ are forever intertwined.

We’ve never done this and don’t want to do this. Amy Gerstler and Eileen Myles have produced poems so precisely equal in worth that every simulating sports device has failed to bring us a winner. We have even gone so far as to contemplate Amy and Eileen donning basketball shorts and sneakers, with numbers on their backs, and flying (gratis, of course) our two poets to a secret basketball court location. We, for one second, entertained the idea of (shudder) asking Christopher Woodman. Such is the nature of the crisis; for what if there can be no winner? How could March Madness continue? How could the most popular poetry trope in the modern age continue to entertain and enlighten? We will not stoop to “a vote,” for how can democracy ever be allowed to enter the bedroom of the sacred muse? Perish the thought!

Myles has unrolled a meditation—“Eileen stay here/forever finding/the past/in the future”—on a vision of Our Lady on a stain on a bathtub cover, and Gerstler has heaved up a poem that breaks the heart as it ends, “Bye.” These poems have an accidental, insoucient quality which nevertheless enhances their visionary inevitability—Myles has written the best Beat poem in the world and still kept her integrity, while Gerstler has fashioned a bauble that electrifies.

We don’t want to do this, but we will.

O, Fortuna!

Are you not the ruler of all?

Is Chance not the secret to life?

We have flipped a coin.

Congratulations, Eileen Myles.

The heavens have given you a 101-98 victory!

Eileen Myles is going to The Sweet Sixteen.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE FIRST ROUND MARCH MADNESS WINNERS!

Let’s get this winners and losers business out of the way…

Here are the winners:

EAST BRACKET

LISA LEWIS (d. John Ashbery) Responsibility
WILLIAM MATTHEWS (d. James Wright) Good Company
GILLIAN CONOLEY (d. Robert Creeley) Beckon
CAROLYN CREEDON (d. James Tate)  litany
GREGORY CORSO (d. Stanley Kunitz)  30th Year Dream
DORIANNE LAUX (d. A.R. Ammons)  The Lovers
LESLIE SCALAPINO (d. Jack Spicer)  that they were at the beach
BARBARA GUEST (d. Larry Levis) Motion Pictures: 4

NORTH BRACKET

KAREN KIPP (d. Robert Lowell)  The Rat
JACK HIRSCHMANN (d. Robert Penn Warren*) The Painting
EILEEN MYLES (d. Frank O’Hara)  Eileen’s Vision
WILLIAM KULIK (d. Czeslaw Milosz)  Fictions
SHARON OLDS (d. Robin Becker)  The Request
TESS GALLAGHER (d. Richard Hugo)  The Hug
STEPHEN DOBYNS (d. Jim Harrison)  Allegorical Matters
AMY GERSTLER (d. Norman Dubie)  Sinking Feeling

NORTH BRACKET

JACK MYERS (d. Seamus Heaney)  The Experts
PHILIP LARKIN (d. Joseph Duemer)  Aubade
BILL KNOTT (d. Robert Bly)  Monodrome
EDWARD FIELD (d. Donald Justice)  Whatever Became of Freud
MAURA STANTON (d. Anne Carson)  The Veiled Lady
ALAN DUGAN (d. Hayden Carruth)  Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton
HOWARD NEMEROV (d. David Ignatow)  IFF
MICHAEL PALMER (d. Yusef Komunyakaa)  I Do Not

WEST BRACKET

ALLEN GINSBERG (d. Howard Moss) The Charnel Ground
DONALD HALL (d. Douglas Crase)  To A Waterfowl
RICHARD CECIL (d. Robert Hass)  Apology
JOY HARJO (d. Sylvia Plath)  A Post-Colonial Tale
JAMES SCHUYLER (d. Stephanie Brown)  Red Brick and Brown Stone
REED WHITTEMORE (d. Heather McHugh)  Smiling Through
STEPHEN DUNN (d. Sam Hamill)  What They Wanted
CAROL MUSKE (d. Charles Bukowski)  A Former Lover, A Lover of Form

* Robert Penn Warren resigned from the tourney

MARLA MUSE: Some of the losers I really don’t want to say goodbye to; the Milosz, the Justice, the Dubie, the McHugh…

The Bukowski…there’s something holy about his work, a wry honesty that few poets evince…I was thinking about the qualities that go into writing good poetry, both the New Critical qualities of the poem itself and those qualities the poet as a human being must have…

MARLA MUSE: The poet must say the right thing at the right time.

Or seem to.  Because in real situations in life, that’s a good quality to have: to be able to say the right thing at the right time, but for the poet, “time” can be years as they work on the poem, which distorts the meaning of that ability, the ability to say the right thing at the right time: if someone really has that ability in life, to really say the right thing at the right time, they wouldn’t need to fake it in a poem…

MARLA MUSE: Oh, you’re getting all Plato on me…life is real, poetry is fake

But isn’t it true, Marla, that ‘saying the right thing at the right time’ is not the same thing in life, as it is in poetry…poets can wait for the right time to pass, but in life, you can’t…the room is silent, and life calls for something to be said then, but to be a poet you can slink away and say something later…it doesn’t have to be at the right time

MARLA MUSE: The right time in the poem?

Yes, when you failed to say the right thing at the right time in life…

MARLA MUSE: But if we’re talking about qualities, the person who can say the right thing in a poem is probably the person who can say the right thing in life…

No, because if you can say the right thing at the right time in life, there’s no motivation to do so in a poem, for the poem is a shadow…life doesn’t let us wait years…

MARLA MUSE: But it does.  You are trying to connect life and poetry, you are trying to connect two things, and you can’t, and therefore you are saying nothing…

Am I?  So I shouldn’t have asked my original question: what qualities in life match those qualities in the poet…

MARLA MUSE: What about not fearing to go into an underground mine?  Does that help a poet?  To risk your life for somone else, does that have anything to do with being a poet?  I think we can only look at the poem.  I think the New Critics were right…

But Marla, you are beautiful!  How can you say something like that?

MARLA MUSE: Are we talking about poetry?

Thomas Brady is never talking about poetry, is he?

MARLA MUSE: Well, Tom, sometimes you do…

I’m thinking about that Bukowski poem, the car headlights, the remark by the mother, and the son’s joking, half-shameful, half-boastful response, and all the various parts in that Bukowski poem—isn’t the good poem when all those parts cohere?

MARLA MUSE: Bukowski lost! Why are you talking about him? Ah, you are recalling that debate you had…when you used the word “incoherent”…clever boy…you’re a New Critic, after all…

Yea, but the New Critics themselves were such narrow-minded, creepy—

MARLA MUSE: They hated the Romantics, that’s all, but that’s why you’re here, Tommy boy…

But right now this is not about me…congratulations, poets!

THE MEANING OF MARCH MADNESS

Ma, I lost.

There’s been a lot of buzz since Jack Hirschman’s “The Painting” went down in defeat to New Critic icon Robert Penn Warren’s “Night Walking” in the first round of play.

Hirschman’s poem, “The Painting” considered a controversial work of art, the banned “painting of the late black heroic/mayor of Chicago/in woman’s underwear,” a work of art as controversial as anything shown in the Salon des Refuses, if not more so, and surely still as controversial today, as then.

So what is an icon, and how is it made?  What is sacred, and how is the sacred constructed, and who is the sacred for?  Does meaning itself require that there be something sacred?  Is the sacred something found in life, or does it pre-date the things of this world?

Some find Scarriet’s March Madness itself an iconoclasm—one that does not respect its subjects, or the art.  (We find this objection nonsensical.)

Can you have art without iconoclasm?

Can you have art without icons?

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

& she didn’t
go, she
remains, a stain
on the bathtub
cover, 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
thens and they
are round too
like the Lady
& I don’t have to
tell anyone.

Eileen Myles!  Has she got a chance against Frank O’Hara?

To John Ashbery on Szymanowski’s Birthday

Whitelight, keenair, someone
with a Polish accent: j’ai septembre,
et les milles-fois-retours d’Ashes,
like so many violins, from Paris.

The memory of seven sickening seconds
at the top of Carnegie Hall, where
the bow was pulled off its horse-hairs
and the insect suddenly started

humming, unwinding the silver cord
that binds the heart. That was
a concerto! simply-moving glacier
of northern sympathies, sliced banyans

wrapped in glistening green leaves,
lying in an enormous white freezing unit.
Did you practice the piano, John,
while you were gone? summoning thunder

as the delicate echoes of Slavic
nostalgia pretend to have defeated
Napoleon? and have, heaving into a
future of crystaline listening.

I am conducting you in his Symphonie
Concertante. Remember our successes
with the Weber Konzertstuck? It is no
repetition, when the marvelous

is like taking off your earmuffs
at the North Pole. I am writing to invite
you to the Polish Embassy for cocktails,
on this superb fall day, musicien americain.

Eileen Myles wins, 67-45 as her honest mysticism crushes O’Hara’s show-offy cuteness.

Marla, did you think Myles would have such an easy time with O’Hara?

MARLA MUSE: O’Hara shot clunkers all night, so I don’t know if the ‘real’ O’Hara showed up at all.  He had the moves, but the ball wasn’t going through the hoop.  O’Hara was like a comic who was on fire, but just not getting laughs.  Then he began to press…

Yes, Marla, and Myles just stayed within herself, played good defense, nothing fancy, but the result was an easy victory!

2011 SCARRIET AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW MARCH MADNESS BRACKETS ARE HERE! MYLES & KNOTT ARE IN!

EAST

1. JOHN ASHBERY— “LIMITED LIABILITY”
2. JAMES WRIGHT— “AND YET I KNOW”
3. ROBERT CREELEY— “BE OF GOOD CHEER”
4. JAMES TATE—  “DREAM ON”
5. STANLEY KUNITZ— “HORNWORM: AUTUMN LAMENTATION”
6. A.R.AMMONS— “WIDESPREAD IMPLICATIONS”
7. JACK SPICER— “A POEM WITHOUT A SINGLE BIRD IN IT”
8. BARBARA GUEST—“MOTION PICTURES: 4″
9. LARRY LEVIS— “FAMILY ROMANCE”
10. LESLIE SCALAPINO— “THAT THEY WERE AT THE BEACH PT.4″
11. DORIANNE LAUX— “THE LOVERS”
12. GREGORY CORSO— “30th YEAR DREAM”
13. CAROLYN CREEDON— “LITANY”
14. GILLIAN CONOLEY— “BECKON”
15. WILLIAM MATTHEWS— “GOOD COMPANY”
16. LISA LEWIS— “RESPONSIBILITY”

There’s some familiar names here from last year’s BAP March Madness: Ashbery, Ammons, Tate, and William Matthews—who advanced the farthest.  A strong grouping, but we’ll look for the usual upsets, because these top seeds: do they write poems consistently better than thousands of other poets?  No.  Big reps mean nothing when the bodies start bumping.  We like Leslie Scalapino, whose poem has a cinematic quality—it feels like a life is really happening as you read it, and few poems have that quality.  James Tate is another to put your money on.

NORTH

1. SEAMUS HEANEY— “AN IRON SPIKE”
2. PHILIP LARKIN— “AUBADE”
3. ROBERT BLY— “SNOWBANKS NORTH OF THE HOUSE”
4. DONALD JUSTICE— “IN MEMORY OF MY FRIEND THE BASSOONIST JOHN LENOX”
5. ANNE CARSON— “MY RELIGION”
6. ALAN DUGAN—“DRUNK MEMORIES OF ANNE SEXTON”
7. HOWARD NEMEROV— “IFF”
8. MICHAEL PALMER— “I DO NOT”
9. YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA— “FORGIVE AND LIVE”
10. DAVID IGNATOW— “EACH DAY”
11. HAYDEN CARRUTH— “QUALITY OF WINE”
12. MAURA STANTON— “THE VEILED LADY”
13. EDWARD FIELD— “WHATEVER BECAME OF FREUD”
14. BILL KNOTT— “MONODRAMA”
15. JOSEPH DEUMER— “THEORY OF TRAGEDY”
16. JACK MYERS— “THE EXPERTS”

The North Bracket seems to be all about the titles of the poems: solid, not too fancy, invoking the iconic and the important.  If you can get away with “Aubade,” do it.  We like Larkin in the no-nonsense North.  Iron spike, indeed.

SOUTH

1. ROBERT LOWELL— “SHIFTING COLORS”
2. ROBERT PENN WARREN— “NIGHT WALKING”
3. FRANK O’HARA— “TO JOHN ASHBERY ON SZYMANOWSKI’S BIRTHDAY”
4. CZESLAW MILOSZ— “ENCOUNTER”
5. SHARON OLDS— “THE REQUEST”
6. RICHARD HUGO— “LETTER TO BLESSING FROM MISSOULA”
7. STEPHEN DOBYNS— “ALLEGORICAL MATTERS”
8. NORMAN DUBIE— “SANCTUARY”
9. AMY GERSTLER— “SINKING FEELING”
10. JIM HARRISON— “LETTERS TO YESENIN #9 PAPER CLIPS”
11. TESS GALLAGHER— “THE HUG”
12. ROBIN BECKER— “A HISTORY OF SEXUAL PREFERANCE”
13. WILLIAM KULIK— “FICTIONS”
14. EILEEN MYLES— “EILEEN’S VISION”
15. JACK HIRSCHMAN— “THE PAINTING”
16. KAREN KIPP— “THE RAT”

The South has it all: an original New Critic, the poet for whom ‘confessional’ was coined, a New York School poet, a touring theoretical lesbian, and last year’s BAP editor.  We can’t wait for play to start in the South.

WEST

1. ALLEN GINSBERG— “THE CHARNEL GROUND”
2. DONALD HALL— “TO A WATERFOWL”
3. ROBERT HASS— “SPRING RAIN”
4. SYLVIA PLATH— “INCOMMUNICADO”
5. JAMES SCHUYLER—“RED BRICK AND BROWN STONE”
6. REED WHITTEMORE— “SMILING THROUGH”
7. STEPHEN DUNN— “WHAT THEY WANTED”
8. CHARLES BUKOWSKI— “NOT MUCH SINGING”
9. CAROL MUSKE— “A FORMER LOVE, A LOVER OF FORM”
10. SAM HAMILL— “WHAT THE WATER KNOWS”
11. HEATHER MCHUGH— “AFTER YOU LEFT”
12. STEPHANIE BROWN— “INTERVIEW W/AN ALCHEMIST IN THE NEW AGE”
13. JOY HARJO— “A POST-COLONIAL TALE”
14. RICHARD CECIL— “APOLOGY”
15. DOUGLAS CRASE— “THERE IS NO REAL PEACE IN THE WORLD”
16. HOWARD MOSS— “MIAMI BEACH”

And there they are: the 64  poets in the March Madness, the best of the “best” of APR from its beginning in 1972 to about 2000, when the APR anthology, The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review, was published.

The APR tourney reaches back a little further than Scarriet’s 2010 BAP tournament—Lehman’s Best American Poetry series commenced in 1988.

Sharon Olds is back, and so is William Kulik, who made it to the Final Four last year.  Stephen Dunn, who crashed the Elite Eight, is back with a strong poem.  Komunyakaa, Laux, Justice, Hall, and Dobyns return to action.  Ashbery, of course, is back, as is Heaney, both no. 1 seeds, in the East and North, respectively.  Robert Lowell is the no. 1 seed in the South and Ginsberg in the West.  A few Brits, and one Polish Nobel are included; if APR put them in their book, they’re eligible.  Again, the women poets are well under 50% in representation (as they were in the book); with the recently released VIDA report, that simple count will be checked more closely from now on.

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.

EILEEN MYLES AND THE MATHEMATICS OF GAY

Voltaire, admiring England, once remarked that religiously, the Unitarians were mathematically the best. It was the beauty and simplicity of the one.

Eileen Myles is one of those Sexual Unitarians; she does the one-sex thing.  She looks sort of like a man.  Her religion: Gay.

(We’re not really talking about sex here, but philosophy.)

The feelings can be glimpsed in her novel, Inferno:

Dan somebody from Emily’s couch was now purring into a mike almost entirely constructed out of duct tape.  Infinity Space was his and he moved the night along with his voice that was so soft and full of feeling. He was extremely nice to women in a way that made me suspect he was an asshole. He wasn’t feminist. He was just needy. Sometimes I’d wait for two hours to get up and read my poem and they just never called on me. Some woman all wrapped up in scarves was hunched over the list. She’d look up, scan the room and look down shaking her head. So much pressure.

As with all religious wars, it is not enough for the believer to believe; they must resent other beliefs.

“Dan somebody” is guilty of being “needy.”

But worse, “Dan somebody” is not “femin-ist.”

“Dan somebody” isn’t Unitarian; he believes in a second divinity:  “He was extremely nice to women.”

The passage also features a great amount of self-pity on the part of the narrator: waiting to read her poem.  They never called on her.  All that pressure.

The self-pity is a pent-up, passive self-pity.  She doesn’t stand up for herself, or engage with anyone, and we don’t really know what these others are like; they are referred to as “some” or “somebody.”  The most important thing is that she “suspects” the man who is “extremely nice to women” of being an “asshole,” and the second most important thing is that she is “never called on” to read her poem.

Eileen’s morbidity reflects the unitarian religious fanatic who tends to be morose and passive and lonely.

The gods, in their randy pluralism, are needy.  The gods, whatever they are, are always “suspected” of being up to something by the monist.

Most of us worship gods. The gods of Plato were exchanged for the gods of the Trinity.  But along came the Unitarians, rejecting  the divinity of the Son.  Judaism believes in One God, too, but Judaism was prior to the Son, and Judaism’s monism implied, and was pregnant with, other gods.  Unitarianism is the one religion which takes the many back into itself and makes monism the true All.  Eileen Myles is infused with the same sort of reversal.

Gods interact with each other.  Gods are in a constant quarrel between slavery and liberty.

God issues laws.  God demands we all be mon-ists.  ” He wasn’t feminist.  He was just needy.”

Just because someone is religiously a monist, however, doesn’t mean they cannot also be a gasbag and jibber-jabber all day long, and run here and there, and be vulgar and slangy.   Of course they can.  In fact, this is what unitarians tend to do.  The one tends to inflate, get large and all gas-baggy.

The monk is trying to get away from something, but the true monist, the true unitarian doesn’t have to do that, because there’s nothing to escape from; there is no this or that, or division, there’s no god chasing god, it’s all one,  and thus the only thing left to do is be pluralistic in one’s monism, as plural in every moment as one can possibly be, since the one always implies a reverse reaction, a big bang, a splattering of everything, which, rhetorically, is what Eileen aims at.  The monk seeks the cell, the monk hides, the monk contemplates division, the monk is in love; but the unitarian, the monist, is a traveler.

Eileen Myles is confident moving from one random place to another.  (This could be an aesthetic judgement, as well, which, it should be pointed out, is all we are interested in.)

LOOK OUT! IT’S ANOTHER SCARRIET HOT 100!

1. Billy Collins  -a poet of wit and popularity
2. Dana Gioia  -his famous essay still resonates
3. David Lehman  -BAP takes the pulse better than prizes/contests do.
4. Louise Gluck  -the new Jorie; has stepped down as Yale judge.
5. John Ashbery  -the most famous unknown person ever
6. W.S. Merwin  -emerging as the e.e. cummings of our time
7. David Orr  -elegant critical manner, writes poetry, too
8. Helen Vendler  -when the dust settles, what has she done, exactly?
9. Paul Muldoon  -as long as he’s at the new yorker, he’ll be on this list.
10. Harold Bloom  -will he ever live down his nutty hatred of Poe?
11. Glyn Maxwell  -a one-man british invasion
12. G.C. Waldrep  -he’s all the rage, and deserves it
13. Anne Carson  -managed to secure that all-important ‘classical’ rep…
14. Robert Hass  -he sort of reminds us of Paul Engle…
15. Mary Oliver  -popular ’cause she feels, rather than thinks, nature poetry.
16. James Tate  -founder of the funny/absurd/surreal/realism school
17. Dean Young  -James Tate lite?
18. Sharon Olds  -nobody does frank sexuality so morally and deftly
19. Charles Simic  -perfected the small, vivid, cinematic poem
20. Marvin Bell  -long time U. Iowan
21. Donald Hall  -our Thomas Hardy?
22. Karen Solie  -2010 Griffin Poetry prize and good poet
23. Terrance Hayes  -beautiful, black, and a National Book Award…
24. Robyn Schiff  -Jorie love-blurbed her madly, UG Iowa Wrkshp dir…
25. Adrienne Rich  -for the sisters
26. Barbara Hamby  -rides the new ‘excessive’ style
27. Lucia Perillo  -2010 BAP; rocks the newly minted ‘A.D.D. School’
28. Matt Donovan  -2010 Whiting Writers award
29. Ron Silliman  -this is his time
30. Amy Gerstler  -2010 Best American Poetry editor
31. Henry Hart  -found a poem I liked by someone on the web, damn!
32. Sandra Beasley  -this gal is worth checking out!
33. Shane McCrae  -warning: this poetry may actually be good…
34. Philip Gross  -2010 T.S. Eliot Prize
35. Simon Armitage  -the closest brit who possesseth any wit
36. L.S. Klatt  -2010 Iowa poetry prize winner
37. Margaret Atwood  -she’s never boring
38. Carolyn Forche  -that ‘bag full of ears’ poem, seems like only yesterday…
39. Matthew Yeager  -2010 BAP, “Go now, my little red balloon of misery!”
40. Stephen Burt  -one day vendler’s empire will be his
41. Barrett Watten  -selling Language Theory to British academia
42. Cole Swensen  -Iowa City/Paris gal
43. Christopher Reid  -first poetry book to win Costa since ’99 (Heaney)
44. D.A. Powell  -seems to be making all the right moves
45. Frank Bidart  -actor James Franco digs his poetry
46. Carl Phillips  -one of our most understated, thoughtful poets…
47. Rachel Hadas  -writing, judging…
48. Alan Cordle  -the david who slew goliath
49. Bin Ramke  -has that ‘Bladerunner’ fallen angel look…
50. Donald Revel  -the blue twilight school
51. Jorie Graham  -has her move to p.c. extremism doomed her?
52. Natasha Saje’  -we like her poetry
53. Paul Hoover  -tortured, philosophical poetry, but good…
54. Conor O’Callaghan  -Bess Hokin winner
55. Terri Erickson  -exploded onto Scarriet, and won Nooch’s heart…
56. George Szirtes  -Hungarian Brit
57. Abigail Deutsch  -Poetry magazine’s 2010 reviewing prize…
58. Jason Guriel  -poet/reviewer making his mark with Poetry…
59. D.H. Tracy  -fastidious, not fawning, as Poetry critic…
60. A.E. Stallings  -studied classics in Athens!
61. Dan Chiasson  -belongs to new crowd of poet/critics
62. Mark Levine  -the David Foster Wallace of workshop poetry…
63. Katherine Larson  -2010 Yale Younger, Gluck’s last pick…
64. Dara Wier  -workshop queen at Amherst & has a Selected…
65. Joseph Donahue  -“the angel’s jibe would harry the glitter from the dew”
66. Robert Casper  -poetry society of america, jubilat
67. Ben Mazer  -Man of Letters: poet, editor, critic?  He has first two…
68. Eileen Myles  -will not self-edit, thank you…
69. Derek Walcott  -his Pure Style, like buttah…
70. Bob Hicok  -the school of manly sentimentalism…
71. Janet Holmes  -‘ass hat uh’ press is how you pronounce it, I think…
72. August Kleinzahler  -he chased Garrison Keillor away…
73. John Barr  -runs the Evil Empire?  Blog Harriet: zzzzzz
74. Philip Schultz  -his 8 year-old son told him he won the Pulitzer…
75. Seamus Heaney  -his iconic Bog-status is nearly blinding…
76. Kevin Young  -curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library…
77. Charles Bernstein  -his school producing a new generation of folly?
78. Tony Hoagland  -he dares to write like Billy Collins…
79. Ilya Kaminsky  -the spirit of translation…
80. Matthea Harvey  -carries a flag for a style which others do better…
81. Mary Jo Salter  -the most respectable force in poetry ever!
82. William Logan  -if his critic ever reads his poetry, he’s done…
83. Alice Quinn  -20 years picking poems for New Yorker
84. Julianna Spahr  “MFA is under-realized, under-theorized…”
85. Rae Armantrout  -one of the greatest little poem poets…
86. Rita Dove  -Clinton was prez, she was poet laureate, Oasis was cool…
87. Seth Abramson  -ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client’s poetry…
88. Adam Kirsch  -the Harvard kid who made good…
89. Daniel Nester  -We Who Are About To Die is a funny website…
90. Meghan O’ Rourke  -poetry’s audrey hepburn
91. Jim Behrle  -funny, creative, but can’t get laid!
92. Martin Espada  -“Latino poet of his generation” says his website
93. William Kulik   -scarriet march madness final four
94. Patricia Smith   -slam queen, rattle prize winner
95. C.D Wright  -tickled by the Elliptical…
96. Philip Nikolayev  -where’s Fulcrum?
97. Carl Adamshick  -latest Walt Whitman winner
98. Dora Malech  -everything going for her but poetic talent
99. Eleanor Ross Taylor  -best 90 year old poet around
100. Valzhyna Mort  -beautiful russian-american…uh…poetry.

101. Marcus Bales  -anybody like skilled verse?

THE DIGERATI SHOVEL BACK: Shoveling and Shoveling on Blog:Harriet..

Shovel Grab 0 copy

Today on Blog:Harriet, November 1st, 2009, marks The 60th day After the Banning of Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords, Alan Cordle and Christopher Woodman. To commemorate the occasion, we take the opportunity to examine the only thread in that period that has attracted more than a handful of desultory comments, and that is Kenneth Goldsmith’s rip-roaring, The Digerati Strike Back with a staggering 55 Comments!

To read the most recent of those comments and some even more staggering statistics, click here.

But don’t expect much about poetry, as even the posters themselves acknowledge it’s just shoveling, and because they are Travis Nichols‘ friends and colleagues, they’re obviously proud just to snip, snap and snuggle. Because that’s how you comment if you’re really on the  ‘in’ in the poetry establishment, unlike Thomas Brady, Desmond Swords or Christopher Woodman who actually read and write it, or Alan Cordle, so passionate and well-informed on the ethical and social issues, and a well-trained librarian.

But no passion please, we’re Blog:Harriet — no risk, no commitment, no challenge, no outrage or devotion, no Annie Finches, no Martin Earls, no Eileen Myles, no one who posts poems because they actually love them like Catherine Halley, or poets they would like to understand better like Joel Brouwer, and who give others both the space and the encouragement to explore difficult subjects in depth. Excellent Contributing Writers, and there are still some of those left, deserve better respondents — not just cynics and academics and a handful of groupies, insiders and glad-handers.

How sad, and nobody at The Foundation seems to care that Harriet is vacant. I guess that’s the way the Management  likes it, though how that serves Ruth B. Lilly’s larger mission remains to be seen!

WHAT YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT on HARRIET: Another Post Deleted by Travis Nichols

The following Comment was posted on Blog:Harriet on August 25th, 2009 but was put on “Awaiting Moderation.” It remained invisible until it was deleted altogether on Banning Day,  September 1st, 2009.

~

Blog:Harriet, a Reply to Eileen Myles’ “Post on the Post,” Aug 25th, 2009:
I read Ian McEwan’s Atonement just recently, and was very struck by the following, the brilliant ‘Rejection’ letter Briony Tallis receives from “C.C,” the editor of Horizon in 1941 — which shocked me into rethinking all sorts of things.

“You apologise in passing for not writing about the war. We will be sending you a copy of our most recent issue, with a relevant editorial. As you will see, we do not believe that artists have an obligation to strike up attitudes to the war. Indeed, they are wise and right to ignore it and devote themselves to other subjects. Since artists are politically innocent, they must use this time to develop at deeper emotional levels. Your work, your war work, is to cultivate your talent, and go in the direction it demands. Warfare, as we remarked, is the enemy of creative activity.”

Imagine believing that true artists aren’t political — in 1941!

Not so today, I hope. Certainly Eileen Myle’s recent POLITICAL ECONOMY thread [click here] was a very hot one politically, and a good many of the comments discussed local issues too, like the new voting system on Harriet — and sometimes in very critical language. And the management didn’t intervene either, even when requested to do so. So that’s good, and bodes well for the openness of Harriet toward political discussion.

On the other hand, I remain “on moderation,” and many of my posts get deleted.

What I suspect is different about me is that I discuss politics with a certain abandon and vividness of image that makes other posters as well as the management feel uncomfortable. For example, a while ago I compared a certain taste in poetry to a taste for bound-feet, and of course I was suggesting that although bound feet created an extraordinarily beautiful and refined environment the taste had a very sad effect on both the young crippled girls and the men who loved them. In a very recent post, now deleted, I combined a reference to female circumcision with an early memory of my mother confronting a big hairy truck driver who was eating his lunch parked by the roadside on Route 202 just outside our house in rural New Jersey in 1951 — outrageous, but I think in the context effective. Indeed, it seems to me that that those sort of inventions are key to truly effective political poetry as well as prose, that it does use wild ‘metaphysical’ imagery and is very often over the top. I would say all our most effective political satirists have always been over the top, even serving up babies as a way to reduce crowding in the home if you have to.

The answer to “C.C.” in the Horizon ‘Rejection’ letter must surely be that all poetry is political if the heart of the poet is engaged, because abuses will always stir up the heart of those who take the world seriously, and believe it can be changed. Perhaps the Poetry Foundation needs to re-examine its policy toward political discourse on Blog:Harriet. If it’s that poets should devote themselves exclusively to talking about the fine art of poetry as “C.C.” proposes,  and not about politics, and certainly not about politics in the house in colorful language, then they’re certainly going to continue to have a problem with me.

But I’m certainly not alone because, of course, brave Eileen Myles takes up political positions all the time as do such posters as Desmond Swords, Thomas Brady, Rachel, Bill Knott and Terreson, for example (see the latter’s recent courageous post about rape!), to all of whom I’m grateful for such vividness and candor.

Christopher

POSTED BY: CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN ON AUGUST 25, 2009 AT 9:38 AM [You will see that this URL has the comment # in it that it received when I tried to post it. The comment was deleted by the management before it became visible on Harriet.]

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