LAST FIRST ROUND CONTEST: JOY HARJO VS. MATTHEW DICKMAN

Matthew Dickman goes for the last Round One spot.

Joy Harjo knows Rita Dove from their student days at Iowa, and she has two poems in Dove’s anthology.  Harjo and Matthew Dickman, the celebrity twin, look to snare the last place in First Round play, as the West, and now all four brackets, are decided. 

Harjo brings a short poem from the Penguin anthology:

MY HOUSE IS THE RED EARTH

My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world. I’ve heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it, for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, that fool crow, picking through trash near the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy strips of fat. Just ask him. He doesn’t have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief,  after centuries of heartbreak and laughter—he perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.

OK, one is tempted to say, your house is the red earth; yea, sure.  And I’ll ask the crow.  About what, again?  And he laughs.  Sure.  Whatever you say.

Marla Muse: This poem seems to be coming from some sacred place that I just can’t get with.

Paris, New York…it’s a rejection of centrality—

Marla Muse:  Sure, it’s easy to see what the poem is saying.  I just don’t think it’s a good poem.

Because of what it’s saying?

Marla Muse:  What it’s saying and how it’s saying it. 

Let’s see what Matthew Dickman brings to the contest:

V

The skinny girl walking arm-in-arm
with her little sister
is wearing a shirt that says
TALK NERDY TO ME
and I want to,
I want to put my bag of groceries down
beside the fire hydrant
and whisper something in her ear about long division.
I want to stand behind her and run
a single finger down her spine
while she tells me about all her correlatives.
Maybe she’ll moan a little
when I tell her that x equals negative-b
plus or minus the square root
of b-squared minus 4(a)(c) all over
2a. I have my hopes.
I could show her my comic books
and Play Station. We could pull out
my old D&D cards
and sit in the basement with a candle lit.
I know enough about Dr. Who
and the Star Fleet Enterprise
to get her shirt off, to unbutton her jeans.
We could work out String Theory
all over her bedroom.
We could bend space together.
But maybe that’s not what she’s asking.
The world’s been talking dirty
ever since she’s had the ears to listen.
It’s been talking sleazy to all of us
and there’s nothing about the hydrogen bomb
that makes me want to wear a cock ring
or do it in the kitchen while a pot of water boils.
Maybe, with her shoulders slouched
the way they are and her long hair
covering so much of her face,
she’s asking, simply, to be considered
something more than a wild night, a tight
curl of pubic hair, the pink,
complicated, structures of nipples.
Maybe she wants to be measured beyond
the teaspoon shadow of the anus
and the sweet mollusk of the tongue,
beyond the equation of limbs and seen
as a complete absolute.
And maybe this is not a giant leap
into the science of compassion, but it’s something.
So when I pass her
I do exactly what she has asked of me,
I raise my right hand and make a V
the way Vulcans do when they wish someone well,
hoping she gets what she wants, even
if it has to be in a galaxy far away.

OK, why not?  This reminds me of a Billy Collins poem.  Dickman’s poem has definite parts—which are coherent within an overriding theme—and it’s amusing.  It seems we ought to expect a poem to deliver the goods this way every time, right?  At least this much ought to be expected.

Matthew Dickman gives us a night of stand-up comedy with a free drink, or two.   Joy Harjo gives us a lecture about what we ought to like, and no free drinks.

Who do you think should win?

Is there any high-brow consideration that can save Joy Harjo?  Any at all?  We are told the crow is laughing.  Will that do it?

No.

Dickman 88, Harjo 67

MARCH MADNESS SELECTION: A GLIMPSE INSIDE

Rita Dove: to be young and famous!

The Scarriet editors, with the help of Marla Muse—

Marla Muse: Hi.

Hi, Marla. —are in the process of choosing the 64 poets who will rumble for the championship this year.  How do we choose?

MM: May I speak?

In matters of poetry, the Muse should always speak.

MM: Thank you. Public contests exist for the audience, not the participants.  So we pick big names.

Wait a minute—that doesn’t make any sense!

MM: 63 poets have to lose.  Unknown poets—most of our audience—envy big name poets; our audience is guaranteed to enjoy themselves—and that’s the whole point.

But what’s a “big name” in poetry these days?

MM: Someone born in 1927, like John Ashbery, for instance.

The year Babe Ruth hit 60 homeruns for the New York Yankees.

MM: Don’t try and be poetic.  Don’t distract.  Don’t show off.  Let me make my point.

Sorry, Marla.

MM: Go back a little further. Wallace Stevens was 20, and it was still the 19th century.  But 1927 is probably far back enough.  There are not too many famous poets in Rita Dove’s recent 20th Century Poetry anthology born after 1900.  Before 1900, you’ve got Frost, T.S. Eliot, Edna Millay, E.E. Cummings, and then if you want to throw in Stevens, Williams, Pound, and Stein, you may.  But after 1900—

There’s lots, right?

MM: The bulk were born between 1925 and 1940—old enough to still be living and old enough to have won plenty of awards.  But none are household words, like Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings; none are really famous. Then there’s Billy Collins born in 1941; after that, no one is even close to being famous, not even a little bit.

What a cynical analysis!

MM: You are being sentimental.  Time and fame are not cynical; they just are.  The topic is not poetry, but poets.

And poets are made of flesh.

MM: Exactly.  And Helen Vendler and Rita Dove are flesh and their fight, I feel, was based on age.  Let’s look at the best known poets by decade of birth in Dove’s book:

1860s: Edgar Lee Masters
1870s: Robert Frost
1880s: T.S. Eliot
1890s: E.E. Cummings
1900s: W.H. Auden  (or Theodore Roethke)
1910s: Elizabeth Bishop  (or John Berryman)
1920s: Anne Sexton  (Allen Ginsberg not in Dove’s anthology)
1930s: Amiri Baraka  (Sylvia Plath not in Dove’s anthology)
1940s: Billy Collins
1950s: Rita Dove  (or Jorie Graham)
1960s: Sherman Alexie  (or Joanna Klink)
1970s: Kevin Young

No poet born in the 20th century is famous.  Except maybe Anne Sexton—because she committed suicide.

Marla, that’s depressing.  So the anthologist, Rita Dove, is the most famous American poet born in the 1950s?

MM: Who would you choose instead? Cathy Song?

What about Paul Muldoon?

MM: We speak of fame, here, that is so minute, that a reader holding this anthology in their hands will feel, at that moment, that Rita Dove is the most famous poet born in the 1950s.

OK, I see your point.

MM: The most famous poet in Dove’s anthology born in the ’50s might possibly be Jorie Graham, and born in the 60s?  Jorie Graham’s baby-sitter, Joanna Klink.  Dove, born in 1952, has 40 poets represented in her anthology born between 1880 and 1919—and 26 born between 1950 and 1954; the biggest single group of poets in the anthology were born around the same time as Dove herself, including Iowa classmates, Joy Harjo and Sandra Cisneros.

Interesting.

MM: Finally, Vendler was born in the 1930s, and Amiri Baraka is the best known American poet (from political controversy) born in the 1930s from Dove’s anthology.  Given Vendler’s expressed views on Dove’s Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry in the New York Review of Books that Dove’s anthology was a little too affirmative action, these dates have to make Ms. Vendler wonder.  Poets included, like Walcott, Clifton, and Lourde were also born in the ’30s; Vendler has to travel back to almost the middle of the 19th century to find the birth date of her beloved poet, Wallace Stevens.  This can’t help but make Vendler feel like the game is being lost.

Dove has picked good poems, but that doesn’t change the fact that her anthology feels very much driven by agenda rather than poetry.

MM: We shouldn’t get into that controversy.  Dove couldn’t help what she did, for anthologies are always about poets, not poetry.

LIfe too, is about poets, not poetry.  This is why we need to forgive Dove.

MM: Big names.

Let the games begin!  Stay tuned for the East Brackets.

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

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

IS JOY HARJO DUNN? SCARRIET’S ELITE EIGHT IS HERE!

Joy Harjo won a big victory over Donald Hall as her “A Postcolonial Tale” edged his “To A Waterfowl,” progressive politics writ large finally proving too much for biting, clever, personal cynicism.

Harjo’s poem, by all rights, should have been vanquished for its reach, its political vulnerability.  It succeeds, however, and we still are not sure why.

A Postcolonial Tale

Everyday is a reenactment of the creation story. We emerge from dense unspeakable material, through the shimmering power of dreaming stuff.

* * *

This is the first world, and the last.

* * *

Once we abandoned ourselves for television, the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming. It was as if we were stolen, put into a bag carried on the back of a whiteman who pretends to own the earth and the sky. In the sack were all the people of the world. We fought until there was a hole in the bag.

* * *

When we fell we were not aware of falling. We were driving to work, or to the mall. The children were in school learning subtraction with guns, although they appeared to be in classes.

* * *

We found ourselves somewhere near the diminishing point of civilization, not far from the trickster’s bag of tricks.

* * *

Everything was as we imagined it. The earth and stars, every creature and leaf imagined with us.

* * *

The imagining needs praise as does any living thing. Stories and songs are evidence of this praise.

* * *

The imagination conversely illumines us, speaks with us, sings with us.

* * *

Stories and songs are like humans who when they laugh are indestructible.

* * *

No story or song will translate the full impact of falling, or the inverse power of rising up.

* * *

Of rising up.

MARLA MUSE: It’s pretty simple. No “T.S. Eliot difficulty,” and yet this, for instance, is a strangely wonderful passage: “We fought until there was a hole in the bag. When we fell we were not aware of falling. We were driving to work, or to the mall.”

Yea, there’s something very primitive, yet worldly, ancient, yet modern, humble yet cosmic, plain yet epic about Harjo’s poem.  You like ths poem a lot, don’t you, Marla?

MARLA: Are you kidding.  It makes we want to stand up and cheer!

Harjo’s poem is a March Madness monster, definitely.

But what of the Stephen Dunn poem?

MARLA MUSE: I like it, too.  Here it is, arriving on the court:

What They Wanted

They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them,
for years, a spy,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leavetaking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said.
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else. Everything, I said.

MARLA MUSE: The key word in the poem is ‘they.’  It’s ‘I’ versus ‘they.’

It almost makes the Harjo poem seem shallow by comparison. The Harjo poem is about many people.  Dunn’s poem is about all people.

MARLA MUSE: I have to agree.  This Stephen Dunn poem is amazing.

“What They Wanted” is going to the Elite Eight as it knocks off “A Postcolonial Tale” by a score of 71-50.

So here’s the Elite Eight matchups for the Final Four:

East: Conoley’s “Beckon” v. Creedon’s “Litany”

North: Larkin “Aubade” v. Stanton’s “The Veiled Lady”

South: Dobyns’ “Allegorical Matters” v. Myles’ “Eileen’s Vision”

West: Dunn’s “What They Wanted” v. Muske’s “A Former Love, a Lover of Form”

HALL V. HARJO

Our greatest living poet?  If you think so, please give generously at your local English Dept.

Donald Hall, no. 2 seed in the West Bracket for the APR March Madness Tourney this year, is one of America’s best poets.  He’s a Whitman and a Frost rolled into one: an accessible lyric poet who writes vividly on just about everything, in tone: mocking to elegiac, in rhythm: metered, and rhymed to free.  If Hall is not getting streets and  schools and halls named after him, postage stamps and monuments, it’s because his long career wasn’t flashy at the start and because he’s been too close to po-biz for too long (even on a farm you can be close to po-biz). Hall writes brilliantly at times, but more for fellow poets than for the people. You can’t fool the people. If this sounds odd in a discussion of a contemporary poet—well, that proves my point. The people and po-biz are far apart and have been since Frost made a name for himself almost a hundred years ago. The 60s culture flew the flag of Ginsberg for a time, but that’s almost played out. Famous American poets today? That would be Poe, Dickinson, Frost—and Billy Collins.

MARLA MUSE: I made those poets.

OK, Marla, let’s examine Hall’s entry in the APR tourney, “To A  Waterfowl,” a tongue-in-cheek title after Bryant, America’s first famous poet, and advisor to President Lincoln (no, it wasn’t Emerson or Whitman, who were largely written into the canon by 20th century academics).

In the very first lines of the poem, we can see Hall letting slip that he cares more for a brainy take on the history of poetry than he does for the people: he pokes fun at the latter (“women with hats”) while invoking the former: “…applaud you, my poems.” In his Vita Nova, Dante sometimes spoke to his own  poem as an emissary to Beatrice (giving his poem advice in his poem) and Whitman wrote self-consciously of “my poems”—Hall, however, is in the bitter, sarcastic, modern mode, waging war on the public:

Women with hats like the rear end of pink ducks
applaud you, my poems.
These are the women whose husbands I meet on airplanes,
who close their briefcases and ask, “What are you in?”
I look in their eyes, I tell them I am in poetry,

and their eyes fill with anxiety, and with little tears.
“Oh, yeah?” they say, developing an interest in clouds.
“My wife, she likes that sort of thing? Hah-hah?”
I guess maybe I’d better watch my grammar, huh?”
I leave them in airports, watching their grammar

MARLA MUSE: Women in hats!  So appropriate for the wedding over in England today!

Hall, however, “feeling superior,” does poke fun at himself, as well: “I am a sexual Thomas Alva Edison,” and “I have accepted the approbation of feathers” even as he excoriates society and its entertainments—“Godzilla Sucks Mt. Fuji”—and those businessmen with their briefcases and those ladies with their feathers and hats.

In the last stanza, Hall does confess that the male and female elements he despises are, in fact, the parents to his beloved poetry. Addressing “his poems,” he takes a mocking tone with them in the end, too:

And what about you? You, laughing? You, in the bluejeans,
laughing at your mother who wears hats, and at your father
who rides airplanes with a briefcase watching his grammar?
Will you ever be old and dumb, like your creepy parents?
Not you, not you, not you, not you, not you, not you.

So Hall ends up making fun of everything, his poetry, eternity, youth, poetry as eternal youth—is he mocking Plath and her style at the end (see “Daddy”)?—and pulls it all down around him in a glory of acerbic glee.

But Hall won’t be forgiven by his public; the insult in the first stanza drives them away for good—that’s just how the public is; Hall being cute later on in the poem won’t save things. The public will see it all for what it is: clever self-pity. Hall sets it up so the only thing that can triumph is the poet’s sarcasm—which is unpoetic and inane or deliciously brilliant, depending on your temperament.

Harjo’s “A Postcolonial Tale” is a different fish.  She begins:

“Everyday is a reenactment of the creation story. We emerge from dense unspeakable material, through the shimmering power of dreaming stuff.”

So different from the Hall: “unspeakable,” “material,” “power,” and “stuff.” If Hall was a dog ripping and feeding on detail, Harjo is a sheep, simply in awe, without speech.

But then Hall had a kind of reach, and so does Harjo:

“This is the first world, and the last.”

Then Harjo joins Hall in a parade of didactic commentary. Hall hits the businessman, Harjo hits TV and the oppressive “whiteman.”

“Once we abandoned ourselves for television, the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming. It was as if we were stolen, put into a bag carried on the back of a whiteman who pretends to own the earth and the sky.”

But Harjo finally abandons Hall’s articulation and goes for the transcendent:

The imagination  conversely illumines us, speaks with us, sings with us.

Stories and songs are like humans who when they laugh are indestructible.

No story or song will translate the full impact of falling, or the inverse power of rising up.

Of rising up.

Is Harjo big, and Hall, small?

It depends on your temperament.

Harjo wins on a last second three-pointer, 69-68.

JOY HARJO IS GOING TO 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!

JOY HARJO V. SYLVIA PLATH

Marla, this is the first contest in Scarriet’s March Madness 2011 featuring two women teams.  Does Joy Harjo have the words to beat Sylvia Plath?

MARLA MUSE: Well, Tom, Plath not only has words, she has words that work well together. Ever since Plath won the John Crowe Ransom trophy in the junior league, her words have been playing intuitively, strongly, listening to each other, supporting each other.  Plath wants to win, has the will to win, and Joy Harjo will have to be very good to stop her.

Plath also has a good bench.

MARLA MUSE: That’s right, Tom.  Plath uses many words and uses them well. She’s not afraid to bring in words you might not expect her to use.

What’s her strategy against Harjo?

MARLA MUSE: Plath likes a blue-eyed strategy. No Third World politics for her.  Personal anxiety of the privileged is Plath’s strength. Plath plays hard, even nasty in the paint and on defense. Harjo, on the other hand, is all about team-play: passing well, a swarming defense… Harjo has to stay cool and maintain a friendly but determined attitude in the face of Plath’s ferocious intimidation.

“Incommunicado” for Plath speaks for itself, and Harjo’s “A Post-Colonial Tale” makes it pretty clear where she’s coming from.  Thank you, Marla. We’ll be right back with the action after this word from our sponsor!

Commercial Break: Tired of modern life? Is capitalism getting you down? Do you want relief from cynical buying and selling? ‘Language Poetry’ offers a blend of irony and exteriority. Try ‘Language Poetry.’ Today.

OK, Marla we’re back!

Incommunicado

The groundhog on the mountain did not run
But fatly scuttled into the splayed fern
And faced me, back to a ledge of dirt, to rattle
Her sallow rodent teeth like castanets
Against my leaning down, would not exchange
For that wary clatter sound or gesture
Of love: claws braced, at bay, my currency not hers.

Such meetings never occur in marchen
Where love-met groundhogs love one in return,
Where straight talk is the rule, whether warm or hostile,
Which no gruff animal misinterprets.
From what grace am I fallen. Tongues are strange,
Signs say nothing. The falcon who spoke clear
To Canacee cries gibberish to coarsened ears.

Sylvia Plath

A Post-Colonial Tale

Everyday is a reenactment of the creation story. We emerge from dense unspeakable material, through the shimmering power of dreaming stuff.

This is the first world, and the last.

Once we abandoned ourselves for television, the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming. It was as if we were stolen, put into a bag carried on the back of a whiteman who pretends to own the earth and the sky. In the sack were all the people of the world. We fought until there was a hole in the bag.

When we fell we were not aware of falling. We were driving to work, or to the mall. The children were in school learning subtraction with guns, although they appeared to be in classes.

We found ourselves somewhere near the diminishing point of civilization, not far from the trickster’s bag of tricks.

Everything was as we imagined it. The earth and stars, every creature and leaf imagined with us.

The imagining needs praise as does any living thing. Stories and songs are evidence of this praise.

The imagination conversely illumines us, speaks with us, sings with us.

Stories and songs are like humans who when they laugh are indestructible.

No story or song will translate the full impact of falling, or the inverse power of rising up.

Of rising up.

Joy Harjo

Plath verges on ridiculous cartoon: “the groundhog…faced me…to rattle her sallow rodent teeth like castanets…” while Harjo verges on utter propaganda: “whiteman who pretends to own the earth…”

MARLA MUSE: It’s getting ugly out there!  What a battle!

Both women seem to be dreaming of better things…it’s quite touching…look at the quality of play…I’m impressed…

MARLA MUSE: Sheer terror on the court!

What a game…

MARLA MUSE: Did you see that shot…after five rebounds? Look at that scrappy play…

Oh!  I don’t believe it.  I think it’s going to be HarjoPlath has no time outs…

MARLA MUSE: Well, how do you like that, Harjo wins…

We have another upset, Marla…Plath shakes Harjo’s hand, and that’s it, she’s gone…Harjo 78, Plath 72…

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