100 ESSENTIAL BOOKS OF POETRY

Collecting is where material pride, wisdom and love uneasily sit, an endless pursuit which moves product, an endless boon to any enterprise.  To collect is to amass, to buy, to own, to bring into one’s circle the niceties of some industry for one’s own comfort and inspection. The collectable items should be unique, if not numerous, and if not unique, at least very rare.  Collecting is to break off pieces of some whole, but the item, when found, bought, discovered, possessed, is a shining whole to the collector, and compared to it, the universe is a sad jumble—such is the profundity of collecting.

Poetry anthologies spread wealth; poetry is centrifugal; it scatters itself outward freely.  Except where it overlaps with the ‘rare book collector,’ poetry, despite its fecundity, is not collectable; collecting is centripetal; it waits in vaults and rooms crowded with unique paintings, coins, and cars.  To know coins, one must darken them in one’s palm; to know poetry, one merely glimpses what every other person glimpses.

The following list is not a rare book list; increasingly, great old poetry, important translated poetry, and all sorts of rare poetry, simply lives on the internet.

This, in many ways, is a perfectly centrifugal list, readily available to whatever soul—no matter how mysterious, no matter how centripetal, no matter how hidden, no matter how curious—happens to want it.

Poetry is against collecting.  Poetry doesn’t  hoard; you can be deeply poetic for free.

These are books you could own, or read, or memorize, or teach, or learn, and probably already have.

Good translations are necessary, but impossible.  Old poems are necessary, but impossible.  Good, new poetry is necessary, but impossible.

The list below is mundane, but necessary.  This—mostly from the top of the list—is what you read if you want to know poetry.

It is everywhere, but it still must hit you.

 

1. SHAKESPEARE SONNETS, AUDEN INTRODUCTION  Modern poetry begins here. A definite sequence: 1-14 children as immortality, 15-28 poems as immortality, etc.

2. POE: POETRY, TALES, AND SELECTED ESSAYS (LIBRARY OF AMERICA) Iconic poems, tales of poetic quality, even criticism of poetic quality

3. VIKING BOOK OF POETRY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD, RICHARD ALDINGTON  H.D.’s husband, got Eliot out of the bank, solid anthology by this Brit wounded in WW I who knew all the Modernists and hated most of them (375 poets)

4. PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, BOLLINGEN SERIES, EDITH HAMILTON, ED  Poetry being born

5. THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, COMPLETE WORKS  With Shakespeare the best is just to read, and forget all the notes

6. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE, JOHN D. SINCLAIR, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD U. PRESS)  Verse translation hopeless; take the prose Sinclair with Italian on the facing page

7. THE ILIAD OF HOMER TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER POPE (PENGUIN)  The king of men his reverent priest defied/And for the king’s offense the people died

8. THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY ALEXANDER POPE (MACMILLAN, 1911)  The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d/Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound

9. EDNA MILLAY COLLECTED, NORMA MILLAY (HARPER)  Tragically undervalued as Modernism came into vogue, Millay’s Collected is a must

10. PHILIP LARKIN THE COMPLETE POEMS, ARCHIE BURNETT  recently published master of the short lyric

11. LYRICAL BALLADS, WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE  A shame Coleridge didn’t contribute more

12. WASTELAND AND OTHER POEMS, T.S. ELIOT  The one Modernist who could really write poetry (and prose).

13. LEAVES OF GRASS, WHITMAN (1855 EDITION) The first edition, before it got too long-winded

14. THE COMPLETE POEMS OF JOHN MILTON WRITTEN IN ENGLISH (HARVARD CLASSICS) You can’t go wrong with melodious Milton

15. UNDERSTANDING POETRY, BROOKS AND WARREN Textbooks are propaganda—this most used anthology in the 20th c. attacked Poe and elevated Pound/Williams

16. SELECTED POETRY & LETTERS, BYRON, EDWARD BOSTETTER, ED  Byron was very, very unhappy

17. POCKET BOOK OF MODERN VERSE, OSCAR WILLIAMS (1954)  Okay. Some of modern verse is good

18. A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, AN INTRODUCTORY ANTHOLOGY, CZESLAW MILOSZ  International poetry collections are good things

19. SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS, WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, ROSENTHAL, ED  Yeats benefits from Selected as opposed to Collected

20. OVID, THE LOVE POEMS, A.D. MELVILLE, ED. And you can really learn something, lovers

21. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HAZEL FELLEMAN  Because these uncritical anthologies always have some gems

22. ROBERT BROWNING, THE POEMS, PETTIGREW, ED. 2 VOLS  Because it’s Robert Browning

23. A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY, SELDEN RODMAN (1938)   Great snapshot of poetry in the 1930s: lots of ballads of political anguish

24. 100 GREAT POEMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MARK STRAND, ED.  A very nice selection from a poet whose reputation is fading

25. POETRY OF WITNESS: THE TRADITION IN ENGLISH 1500-2001, CAROLYN FORCHE, DUNCAN WU, EDS   Poetry handles real horror

26. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1988, LEHMAN, SERIES ED. ASHBERY, GUEST ED. The first volume in the series may be the best

27. ARIEL, SYLVIA PLATH  A whirlwind of rhyme and rage

28. PABLO NERUDA, TWENTY LOVE SONGS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, DUAL-LANGUAGE EDITION (PENGUIN) Neruda may get you laid

29. GREAT POEMS BY AMERICAN WOMEN: AN ANTHOLOGY, SUSAN RATTINER (DOVER) Women once had a higher standing as poets

30. OXFORD BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, W.H. AUDEN, EDITOR  Who said light verse was light?

31. PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY, FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE (1861) Look out! Right-wing poetry!

32. LIBRARY OF WORLD POETRY, WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT Worth a peek

33. 100 POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE, KENNETH REXROTH  blossoms and other stuff

34. BLACK POETS OF THE UNITED STATES: FROM PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR TO LANGSTON HUGHES, JEAN WAGNER  Before rap

35. THE OXFORD BOOK OF NARRATIVE VERSE, PETER OPIE  A narrative poem does not exist?

36. A BOY’S WILL, ROBERT FROST  His first book, published in England while the 40 year old poet made contacts there

37. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY 1945-1960, DONALD ALLEN   Dawn of the post-war avant-garde

38. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1990, LEHMAN SERIES EDITOR, JORIE GRAHAM, GUEST EDITOR  Has that wonderful poem by Kinnell…

39. FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY, JON SILKIN, EDITOR  While being slaughtered, they wrote

40. SPANISH POETRY: A DUAL LANGUAGE ANTHOLOGY 16TH-20TH CENTURIES, ANGEL FLORES  Dual Languages are a must, really

41. THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIAN VERSE, DIMITRI OBOLENSKY  “From The Ends To The Beginning A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse” is available on-line

42. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007, LEHMAN, SERIES EDITOR, MCHUGH, GUEST EDITOR   One of the best volumes in the series

43. POETS TRANSLATE POETS, A HUDSON REVIEW ANTHOLOGY, PAULA DIETZ, ED.  Nice historical sweep…

44. ART AND ARTISTS: POEMS, EMILY FRAGOS (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)    Art really meets poetry; lovely poems

45. W.H. AUDEN COLLECTED POEMS Best poet of the 20th century; slighted by anthologies

46. POEMS 1965-1975 SEAMUS HEANEY  Never quite made it to major status

47. POEMS BEWITCHED AND HAUNTED, JOHN HOLLANDER, ED (EVERYMAN’S POCKET LIBRARY)  Some really darling pieces here

48. COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY (MODERN LIBRARY) The two best—the best, the best

49. THE 20TH CENTURY IN POETRY, HULSE, RAE, EDS (PEGASUS BOOKS)   Wonderful idea: poems in close chronology throughout the century

50. VITA NOVA, DANTE, MARK MUSA, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD) A great book for so many reasons

51. CHAUCER: THE CANTERBURY TALES (PENGUIN) father of English literature, we hear

52. HYPERION; BALLADS & OTHER POEMS, LONGFELLOW (1841)  “Hyperion” is a very modern poem…

53. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP OF THE HEART: A POETRY ANTHOLOGY, ROBERT BLY, EDITOR  A lot of Rumi and Neruda

54. WORLD POETRY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT, WASHBURN, MAJOR, FADIMAN, EDS  The translations are terrible, the selections are generally weak, but kudos for the attempt

55. LES FLEUR DU MAL, BAUDELAIRE  Ah…Baudelaire!

56. VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY, LEIGHTON, REYNOLDS, EDS (BLACKWELL)  That backwards era when women poets sold better than their male counterparts

57.  IMMORTAL POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, OSCAR WILLIAMS   Solid overview (150 poets) without too much emphasis on annoying moderns

58. ALEXANDER POPE, SELECTED (OXFORD POETRY LIBRARY) You could do worse than his verse

59. A TREASURY OF GREAT POEMS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER   Almost 2OO poets

60. AMERICAN POETRY: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HOLLANDER, ED, LIBRARY OF AMERICA   A good look around at two centuries ago

61. ANEID, VIRGIL, ROBERT FITZGERALD, TRANSLATOR  Poet of the silver age…

62. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, RUTH M. ADAMS INTRO  She was the famous poet when Robert met her

63. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, COLEMAN BARKS, ED  Passion pushed to the limit of wisdom

64. EUGENE ONEGIN BY ALEXANDER PUSHKIN, STANLEY MITCHELL (PENGUIN) The most modern of all epics

65. DYLAN THOMAS, COLLECTED, PAUL MULDOON, INTRO Too drunk to write many poems; this may be good or bad

66. POETRY OF DEREK WALCOTT 1948-2013, SELECTED BY GLYN MAXWELL  Between obligation and pleasure, we read…

67. BRITISH POETRY SINCE 1945, EWARD LUCIE-SMITH.  The poor modern Brits, neither old nor quite modern

68. THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND, WALLACE STEVENS, SELECTED POEMS & A PLAY  Pretentious rot, but fun

69. ROBERT LOWELL, COLLECTED  Most overrated poet of the 20th century, but has his moments

70  AMERICAN PRIMITIVE, MARY OLIVER  Our little Wordsworth

71. GORGEOUS NOTHINGS, EMILY DICKINSON, WERNER, BERRIN, EDS (NEW DIRECTIONS)  A really bizarre document

72. ELIZABETH BISHOP, POEMS (FSG)  Another one of those poets who wrote few, but good, poems

73. A CHOICE OF ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY, STEPHEN SPENDER (DIAL PRESS)  Rare, if you can track it down…(it’s at the Grolier in Hvd Sq)

74. CHIEF MODERN POETS OF BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 5th Edition, SANDERS, NELSON, ROSENTHAL  Can’t get enough of those chief poets

75. NEW AMERICAN POETS OF THE 80s, MYERS & WEINGARTEN Look back into the recent, recent past

76. BIRTHDAY LETTERS, TED HUGHES  The poetry isn’t good, but interesting historical document

77. TRANFORMATIONS, ANNE SEXTON, FOREWARD BY KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Modernized fairy tales—very influential

78. THE ESSENTIAL HAIKU, ROBERT HASS, ED (ECCO)  We forget Imagism sprang directly from haiku rage in West after Japan won Russo-Japanese War

79. THE DIVINE COMEDY, CLIVE JAMES, TRANSLATOR. This new translation is worth a read

80. PENGUIN BOOK OF FRENCH POETRY 1820-1950  Good translation anthologies are few and far between

81. ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS TO READ ALOUD, PINSKY, ED  Reading aloud is good

82. THE RATTLE BAG, SEAMUS HEANEY, TED HUGHES, EDS  Conservative selection: Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, Lawrence, Frost, etc

83. MODERNIST WOMEN POETS, ROBERT HASS, PAUL EBENKAMP, EDS   Not a large number of poets

84. COLLECTED FRENCH TRANSLATIONS, JOHN ASHBERY (FSG)  Not the most trustworthy translator, but we’ll take ‘em

85. VILLANELLES (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)  These editions are available and lovely—why not?

86. BRIGHT WINGS: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS ABOUT BIRDS, BILLY COLLINS, ED  All the best poems are bird poems—it’s really true

87. THE ETERNAL ONES OF THE DREAM: SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010, JAMES TATE Iowa Workshop poem par excellence, poignant, miserable, and cute

88. GOOD POEMS, GARRISON KEILLOR  As accessible as it gets

89. THE MAKING OF A SONNET, HIRSCH/BOLAND, EDS (NORTON) There’s no best sonnet anthology, but this one is good

90. MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA, DAVID HINTON, ED  Includes the major poets

91. SELECTED RILKE, ROBERT BLY, ED  Amazing how well Rilke sells in the U.S.

92. KING JAMES BIBLE  Yea, poetry

93. WELDON KEES, COLLECTED POEMS, DONALD JUSTICE, ED  Somewhat creepy—as modern poetry truly ought to be?

94. BILLY COLLINS, AIMLESS LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (RANDOM HOUSE)  Collins is America’s modern poet—get used to it.

95. JOHN ASHBERY, SELF PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR  His tour de force

96. NORTH OF BOSTON, ROBERT FROST (1915, HENRY HOLT) Like Emerson, Whitman, and Melville before him, interest by the English was the ticket to fame

97. HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, ALLEN GINSBERG  A Hieronymous Bosch nightmare

98. TALES FROM THE DECAMERON OF GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, RICHARD ALDINGTON (1930)  this 14th century writer considered a ‘novelist’ but influenced Chaucer

99. EROSION, JORIE GRAHAM  Such promise!  Then along came Alan Cordle

100. LUNCH POEMS, FRANK O’HARA  Not repasts; snacks; the virtue of O’Hara is that he’s funny

 

 

 

THE INSANE SCHOOL OF POETRY

Is poetry sane or insane?

O DNA! O lights and washes!
O John Ashbery! mountain air to miasma of swamp,
different! and the same! Unless I say otherwise.

We could write drivel like this all day, but for whom?  Cui bono? 

Is the poem above a parody of poetry?  A parody of insane poetry?  Or, are we insane?

No, we are not insane, though our words might be perceived as pointing that way. We are sane in our spirit of parody—you can trust the Scarriet editors.

Insanity can be either sincere or insincere. We do not mean: faking insanity or not.  We mean: is one sincere within their insanity?

But perhaps for poetry a more important question is:

Is sincerity a measure of poetic worth?  Surely we value sincerity in a friend; what about a poem?

The New Critics (and their heirs like Michael Robbins) would say no, sincerity is not a measure of poetic worth, since sincerity belongs to intention, and intention has no poetic value; in poetry, only the final result counts.

The New Critics were wrong, and for this simple reason:

The final result reveals everything, every cause of the poem, whether it is found in the final result, or not.

So intention and sincerity do matter, and therefore the philosophy of the New Critics has done much damage.

But back to insanity: If insanity—sincere or not—is “sanity at odds with circumstance,” we cannot say the same for insane poetry—for poetry has no outside circumstance with which to be at odds.  The poem is its own circumstance.

If poetry is insane, then, as critics we must reject it.

Insanity in life may be noble. In poetry, it merely makes the poetry hard to read, like a sentence unintentionally unclear thanks to bad grammar.  Remove the life circumstance, and insanity has no justification: it is not justified in the poem—even if we granted insanity is somehow revelatory; it can be no more revelatory than sanity (or mere accident) all else being equal. Genius is always better than insanity; it would be absurd to state otherwise.  Insanity—belonging to poetry—has neither hidden nor overt advantages.

It is philosophy’s job to tell us what is insane or not; Plato may tell us love is insane, but poems on the insanity of love can still be written by sane poets, and if strong feelings belong to both poetry and insanity, we need poets and critics to be all that much saner as they navigate their art.

We understand the whole subject of insanity and poetry is beneath the law of the dyer’s hand: what we work in will infect us.  We might even say that poetry itself can be defined as that which dives into insanity while trying to remain sane.

Even as we recognize the inevitable pitfalls of sorting out sane from insane, we think a poetically legitimate “Insane” School of Poetry can be classified in the following manner:

1. The Didactic

2. The Lyric

3. The Realized

The Didactic poem confronts insanity as a kind of recognized problem from the outside; a good example is this sonnet by nobleman and soldier, Philip Sidney:

Thou blind man’s mark, thou fool’s self-chosen snare,
Fond fancy’s scum, and dregs of scattered thought ;
Band of all evils, cradle of causeless care ;
Thou web of will, whose end is never wrought ;
Desire, desire !  I have too dearly bought,
With price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware ;
Too long, too long, asleep thou hast me brought,
Who shouldst my mind to higher things prepare.
But yet in vain thou hast my ruin sought ;
In vain thou madest me to vain things aspire ;
In vain thou kindlest all thy smoky fire ;
For virtue hath this better lesson taught,—
Within myself to seek my only hire,
Desiring nought but how to kill desire.

“Desire” is Sidney’s villain, but “fancy’s scum,” “dregs of scattered thought” and “causeless care” is a great description of insanity.

“Killing desire” might be more insane than “desire” itself, OK; but one can clearly see the poet’s intention—-to cure what he sees as insanity with sanity.

Other examples of this kind of poem are: perhaps any serious religious poem, “Under Ben Bulben” by Yeats, and “The Channel Firing” by Hardy, the sort of poem where you look at war or some other human folly and pronounce that the world’s gone mad, etc.

The Lyric poem of Insanity can be seen in this rather famous number by Poe:

LO! ’tis a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.

  Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly —
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
Invisible Wo!

  That motley drama — oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore,
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot. 

  But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes! — it writhes! — with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And the angels sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.

  Out — out are the lights — out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

The Lyric type confronts insanity from ‘inside’ and makes art out of the distorted.  “Mariana” by Tennyson is another good example.  Examples can be found scattered throughout Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, the ancient Greeks and Romans, and, of course, the Romantics.

The third type, what we here name the “Realized” type of Poetic Insanity, is a modern invention, with Ginsberg, the rough and autobiographical and Ashbery, the smooth and demure versions.

Our example is by Ben Mazer: part 13 of his long poem, “The King.”

Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere.
And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane.
Or would you say that I have gone insane?
What would you do, then, to even the score?
And what is more, should the boy King stand clear
and leave the sword undrawn, and face the door?
I could tell you, so many times before!
How every store front is its own museum
and where we two meet in the eyes of heaven.
Traffic stop! And listen to me now!
The King has spoken, and he takes his bow.
O How! How could his little woman
be admitted to the judgement of heaven.
The judgement day is here, the day is now!

The Realized poem of Insanity is fully “inside” the insanity, such that the poem is either tongue-in-cheek, intentionally obscure, or phantasmagoric for its own sake.  In this sort of poem the poet’s intention is what is most obscure, and this style arose, naturally, during, and as a result of, the reign of the New Critics, who suppressed intention in poetry, claiming it had no importance at all.  (See “The Intentional Fallacy” by Wimsatt and Beardsley (1946))

If we attempt a division between “sane” poets and “insane” poets, the sane ones would be, naturally, Shakespeare, Yeats, Pope, Tennyson, Larkin, Milton, Keats, Krylov, Dante, Millay, Goethe, Heine, Sidney, Homer, Daniel, Swift, Dryden, Barrett, Wordsworth, and Byron.

The “insane” poets would include Catullus, Clare, Beddoes, Smart, Coleridge, Hood, Poe, Shelley, Thomas, Bishop, Plath, Auden, Spicer, Lowell, Sexton, Cummings, Reznikoff, Blake, Williams, Ginsberg, Pound, Heaney, Melville, Hopkins, Herbert, Crane, Bunting, Winters, Dickinson, Spencer, Eliot, Stevens, and Stein.

A neat division like this, while relatively easy to do, can never be perfect.

A sane critic may, for one reason or another, write insane poems.  Yvor Winters strove to be a very sane critic, but in poems like “The Slow Pacific Swell” and “By The Road To the Air Base” one can see total insanity.  And this is an insight into perhaps why Winters resented Poe so much: it was the “Realized Insane” poet having no patience for the “Lyrically Insane” poet.  The issue is also more complex because of our three types of Insane Poetry, and, in addition, the “Realized” type has as an almost infinite amount of motives, layers and colorings.

One might ask why Byron is placed in the Sane group of poets, while a low-key person like Seamus Heaney is placed in the Insane category: the classification is based on the poetry more than the poet; Sane Poetry exhibits Reason, even if it’s masked by Wit; when strong passion is resisted by reason, sanity is often the result; when weak passion tramples the reason, insanity quietly follows.  Heaney fell victim to over-use of simile and milk-and-water fastidiousness; Byron talked witty sense in the end.

The Didactic type of Insane Poem often fails from just that: the didactic, or the preachy.   The Lyrically Insane, at its most rigorous, manifests the highest sense of art.  The Realized Insane soars, or suffers, from flying close to, or into, Insanity’s bright sun.

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

MAZER UPSETS HEANEY! MAZER UPSETS HEANEY!

Ladies and gentlemen, for the second time this spring, Ben Mazer has stunned the world of sports by defeating a heavily favored opponent in the 2012 Scarriet March Madness poetry contest!   First, John Ashbery, and now Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney goes down. 

How did he do it, ladies and gentlemen?

This was no obscure poem by Heaney—but his most anthologized piece!  “Digging!”  Universally praised and reprinted!

Oh, we can’t believe it!

How was Heaney’s poem vulnerable?  This is a Nobel Prize winner’s most famous poem!  How did it lose?

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
 
[Has there ever been an opening two lines as powerful as this?  Don't shoot! The pen resting!  It rests---between my finger and my thumb.  Oh poet! with your finger and thumb!  Oh writer with your instrument! O snug, squat pen!  Please, please, don't shoot!]
 
Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.
 
[O savage digging in the flowers!  gravelly and rasping, the sound!]
 
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
 
[O coarse boot!  O hard potato! ]
 
By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.
 
[God is invoked!  Shades of Milton!  A spade!  Think of it!  A spade!]
 
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
 
[Sloppily corked milk!  And digging!  The salt of the earth invoked!  Manly!  Wild!  Savage!  Sweaty!  Good turf!  Sods heaved! ]
 
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
 
[O tragedy!  "I've no spade"! ]
 
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
 
[O God!  "I'll dig with it."  Just like that!  With my squat pen, I'll dig! ]
 
How was Mazer able to stop this onslaught???
 
With this sad sea-dream: 
 
 
That hulking rooftop like a leviathan
still unexpectedly sails into view,
its byzantine tilework faded red and grey
like boxes within boxes visible from the sea,
at summer’s start eluding the goswogii.
Woodberry’s copy of his life of Poe
emerges from the flood, a constancy
that nobody will buy year after year.
Poe was born in Boston. In aught nine
Bruce Rogers did the job and Eliot
did shameful things that never will be known
on out of town trips. Something in the fog
grins like a skeleton beneath the cracked
continuity of what seemed like time.
Fall is spring-like. The fresh violins
of new arrangements lift the tortured heart
to hope, reflected light, the heart laid bare.
Poems are but evidence of poetry.
Mysterious kitchens you shall search them all –
and choose your death at sea by thirty-three.
And once in winter heard the Archduke Trio
performed by friends in the conservatory.
Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.
The museum closes in a timeless wave
of unutterable rhythms, lashed by rain.
The sea’s maw beckons to the life it spawned.
The white sheen of a sun pierced spray of fog
as we drop down the hill to the cliff’s edge
pierces the crowd out of time’s slow parade
that hits us like old music or a dream,
billowing out between their stupored legs,
the hot dog zeppelins and powder flags,
as if unseeable, but the grey ghost
of that hellion rowing with an iron crowbar
peers out through banjo chinks in the ragtime
that’s near but sounds as if it’s far away,
the certainty of death past the breakers.
 
 
There is a continuity here, in terms of sea and approaching land and glimpsing earth’s large buildings and contemplating with a self-conscious pathos the accomplishment of the human soul:  Poe’s “heart laid bare,” the sly reference to Eliot, and the reference to Christ: death at thirty-three, though it’s Hart Crane, too…this passage is especially rich:
 
Poems are but evidence of poetry.
Mysterious kitchens you shall search them all –
and choose your death at sea by thirty-three.
And once in winter heard the Archduke Trio
performed by friends in the conservatory.
Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.

The musical use of “t’ and “r” sounds is beautiful and uncanny: “poetry,” “mysterious,” “search,” “thirty-three,” “winter,’ “Archduke Trio,” “conservatory,” “moderate,” “contemporary,” and “admirer,” “admire,” those two words emphasizing the “r” music in a wonderful little coda.

Mazer 88, Heaney 86

HERE COMES SWEET 16: ROUND TWO BEGINS IN THE EAST!

 
The Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney: highly favored to kick Ben Mazer’s ass
 
The  first Second Round Scarriet March Madness contest has Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, the old Irish lion, facing off against the young—and hungry—Ben Mazer.
 
Second seed Heaney beat Carolyn Forche 65-61 in the first round, while Mazer won a thriller against no. 1 seeded Ashbery in triple overtime, 102-101.
 
In other East play, Billy Collins advanced against Carol Ann Duffy, 90-77 and will play Marie Howe, who won a close contest with Jorie Graham, 63-60. 
 
Franz Wright, who dominated Geoffrey Hill, 58-42 will dance with James Tate in round 2; Tate won handily against Paul Muldoon, 71-51. 
 
Rounding out the East, Round Two: Robert Pinsky, who destroyed Charles Bernstein, 80-47, matches up against Mary Oliver, who had little trouble knocking off Charles Simic, 67-53.
 
Heaney brings his most anthologized piece, “Digging,” against Mazer in Round Two, a poem built around pen and spade.
 
DIGGING
 
Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
 
Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.
 
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
 
By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.
 
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
 
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
 
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
 
The poet’s boast, “I’ll dig with it,” sounds confident, perhaps because the very act of writing about one’s ancestors (who dig!) simply accomplishes the boast.  Or perhaps it’s because the poet compares his pen to a “gun” in line 2?  The whole thing is almost too perfect—except for the “squat pen.”  Are pens “squat?”  Well, they must be in this poem.  We wonder if the son was ever given a shovel by his dad and told, “Dig with this!” 
 
Mazer counters with the following:

DEATH AND MINSTRELSY

“Our references have all aged a little
as we were looking at them, not noticing.”  —John Ashbery

That hulking rooftop like a leviathan
still unexpectedly sails into view,
its byzantine tilework faded red and grey
like boxes within boxes visible from the sea,
at summer’s start eluding the goswogii.
Woodberry’s copy of his life of Poe
emerges from the flood, a constancy
that nobody will buy year after year.
Poe was born in Boston. In aught nine
Bruce Rogers did the job and Eliot
did shameful things that never will be known
on out of town trips. Something in the fog
grins like a skeleton beneath the cracked
continuity of what seemed like time.
Fall is spring-like. The fresh violins
of new arrangements lift the tortured heart
to hope, reflected light, the heart laid bare.
Poems are but evidence of poetry.
Mysterious kitchens you shall search them all –
and choose your death at sea by thirty-three.
And once in winter heard the Archduke Trio
performed by friends in the conservatory.
Although I am only a moderate admirer
of your poetry, there is not a single other
contemporary poet who I do admire.
The museum closes in a timeless wave
of unutterable rhythms, lashed by rain.
The sea’s maw beckons to the life it spawned.
The white sheen of a sun pierced spray of fog
as we drop down the hill to the cliff’s edge
pierces the crowd out of time’s slow parade
that hits us like old music or a dream,
billowing out between their stupored legs,
the hot dog zeppelins and powder flags,
as if unseeable, but the grey ghost
of that hellion rowing with an iron crowbar
peers out through banjo chinks in the ragtime
that’s near but sounds as if it’s far away,
the certainty of death past the breakers.

Mazer’s poem is about a lot of things; there are lines in this poem which are about a lot of things. 

Heaney’s poem is not about a lot of things.  Heaney’s poem can be reduced to, “My dad was a peat moss farmer, but I’m going to be a writer: I’m going to dig with my pen.”  

Mazer’s poem cannot be reduced.  I think this style of poetry really began with early Auden, who awarded the Yale Younger to John Ashbery, and Mazer captures the idea with this line: “Poems are but evidence of poetry.”  The poetry is what we’re really after and poems, in their discreteness, can never be more than “evidence” that poetry has been there.  The style might be summed up thusly: I’m too intelligent to write mere poems, but my intelligence is very much attracted to poetry, and I find, with my intelligence, I’m able to produce poetry without it sinking into a poem.

Heaney wins with the primitive war cry, “I’ll dig with it” but loses—because after the poem registers its cave man meaning, with its men digging in the ground, the reason laughs: ‘who cares that these men dig in the ground?’  A poem has been crafted, but without poetry, for the soul cares not for the primitive manual labor of the poem.

The soul cares for, “death past the breakers” and “near but sounds as if it’s far away.”  One can hold up to examine, over and over, “Mysterious kitchens you shall search them all” to the light.  And it will look new from every angle…

And so poetry—which represents the soul’s pleasurable respite from discrete reality—is worshiped by the poets who are no longer interested in poems.

The game between Heaney and Mazer is close.  We have no idea who will win.

The game’s on the TV, which is high up on the blue wall and there’s a lot going on below… the beer’s flowing…

Marla Muse:  It’s making me nervous.  I can’t look!

SEAMUS HEANEY V. CAROLYN FORCHE

 
To upset No. 2  Seed Heaney, No. 15 seed Forche got naked.
 
Forche, the no. 15 East seed, comes right after Heaney, the somber Irish bear, with her fabulous “Taking Off My Clothes.”
 
I like this strategy, Marla.
 
Marla Muse:  Brilliant.  Forche is pushing the ball up the court hard.  She’s going to beat the great Irish poet with pure sweat, grit, and balls.
 
Balls? 
 
Marla Muse:  Basketballs covered in sweat.  What’s wrong with that?
 
OK, let’s look at Carolyn Forche’s  poem:
 
I take off my shirt, I show you.
I shaved the hair out under my arms.
I roll up my pants, I scraped off the hair   
on my legs with a knife, getting white.
 
My hair is the color of chopped maples.   
My eyes dark as beans cooked in the south.   
(Coal fields in the moon on torn-up hills)
 
Skin polished as a Ming bowl
showing its blood cracks, its age, I have hundreds   
of names for the snow, for this, all of them quiet.
 
In the night I come to you and it seems a shame   
to waste my deepest shudders on a wall of a man.
 
You recognize strangers,
think you lived through destruction.
You can’t explain this night, my face, your memory.
 
You want to know what I know?   
Your own hands are lying.
 
Marla Muse: Ab imo pectore!  What female fury!
 
Men are such jerks.
 
Marla Muse:  What do I care?  Poetry doesn’t care that men are jerks, or that women are angry at them.
 
How can you say that?
 
Marla Muse:  Would you leave me alone.  I’m cooking beans.
 
Do you like that you’re cooking beans? 
 
Marla Muse:  I do a lot of things .  Come on, let’s look at Heaney’s counter, “Death Of A Naturalist:”
 
All year the flax-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.
Daily it sweltered in the punishing sun.
Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles
Wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.
There were dragon-flies, spotted butterflies,
But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks. Here, every spring
I would fill jampotfuls of the jellied
Specks to range on window-sills at home,
On shelves at school, and wait and watch until
The fattening dots burst into nimble-
Swimming tadpoles. Miss Walls would tell us how
The daddy frog was called a bullfrog
And how he croaked and how the mammy frog
Laid hundreds of little eggs and this was
Frogspawn. You could tell the weather by frogs too
For they were yellow in the sun and brown
In rain.
Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings
Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew
That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
 
“Then one hot day…”  Quietist poem!

Marla Muse:  Poetry used to sing.  Now it plops.
 
I don’t believe the kid would turn and run, either.  If you’re a kid and you love frogs, why would you run?  I love the title, though.
 
Marla Muse:  I like the imagery better in the Heaney, the voice better in the Forche.   This is a tough one.
 
If the strengths of both poems were combined in one, it would be a hell of a poem.
 
Marla Muse:  I love that line, though, “Your own hands are lying.”
 
Yes.
 
Marla Muse:  Who wins?
 
The crowd is on its feet—they love both poems! 
 
Marla Muse:  Someone has to win!
 
Heaney 65, Forche 61.   The no. 2 seed in the East advances.
 

BLAH BLAH BLAH: INTRODUCTIONS, BLURBS

Don’t we hate them?  Those introductions praising a poet before they go on?  Why do they have them?  They are stupid, and they seem more stupid the more clever they are.  They are not necessary.  Shut up.  I don’t care how many prizes this poet has won.  Let the poet get up on the podium and read their goddamn poems. Enough with this tradition already.  The oily professors and graduate students with their prefaced remarks for the visiting poet: look how clever I am!  Bet you didn’t know how many layers of meaning gleam in the title of our poet’s latest book!  Maybe I’ll get laid!  The poet doesn’t need an introduction.  Imagine how annoying it would be if you went to the theater, and before the play: “Before we begin, I’d like to make a few remarks about our playwright tonight.  William Shakespeare, as you all know…”  Save it.

And then blurbs.  Has there ever been a blurb which does not negate everything we mean when we utter the sacred word, poetry?  The blurb is like the Introduction, but a frozen version of it, a cold stain.  Shall we do away with blurbs forever?  Yes.  Just give me a plain book that says “Poems” on it, and, in smaller letters, the author’s name.   The blurb is a sugary humiliation, a confectionery wreck, a cotton candy tomb, a blah blah blah that chokes and humiliates.  Have we no shame?

Therefore, without introduction, we present the 2012 Scarriet March Madness EAST BRACKET!

EAST

1. John Ashbery
2. Seamus Heaney
3. Geoffrey Hill
4. Billy Collins
5. Jorie Graham
6. Robert Pinsky
7. Mary Oliver
8. James Tate
9. Paul Muldoon
10. Charles Simic
11. Charles Bernstein
12. Marie Howe
13. Carol Ann Duffy
14. Franz Wright
15. Carolyn Forche
16. Ben Mazer

Blurbless, sans introduction, these names stand before you.

These poets want to do one thing: Win.

They want to win, because the winner will spend an entire night with Marla Muse.

Marla Muse:  I beg your pardon?

Marla! You’re supposed to say, “And they will never forget it.”

Marla Muse:  I never agreed to do that!  And I don’t think it’s funny!

I was just kidding…in the name of poetry…these poets…don’t you think the winner…?  I wasn’t implying…

Marla Muse:  It’s not funny.

Sorry.  Well, they still want to win…

Marla Muse:  Of course they do.

And soon we’ll announce what poems the poets will be going with in the first round!

Marla Muse:  Stay tuned!

It’s so cute the way you say “Stay tuned…”

Marla Muse:  Thank you.

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

ROBERT LOWELL CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY AS THE NO. 1 SEEDS BEGIN PLAY FOR MARCH MADNESS

Robert Lowell, the No. 1 Seed in the South, will celebrate his birthday as he rumbles with 16th Seed Karen Kipp

Kipp’s poem, “The Rat,” is a menacing cartoon. 

Lowell’s entry, “Shifting Colors,” is gentler, the water-color version of “The Rat’s” chiaroscuro, but will have no trouble bullying “The Rat.”  You don’t push Lowell around in the paint; maybe he misses from the outside sometimes, but he more than makes up with it with his rebounding. 

Both poems use animals and gods to invoke the human.  It’s stunning, really, how similar in approach these poems are. 

Will the master, Robert Lowell prevail?

MARLA:  Robert Lowell is a monster. 

A monster?

MARLA: That’s all I’m going to say.

Marla, do you think Lisa Lewis has a chance against Ashbery in the East?

MARLA:  Well, she is nervous.  She’s a woman, after all.

Oh, boy…

MARLA: Ashbery’s not worried.  He’s a man…

Let’s talk about the Lewis poem, “Responsibility.”

MARLA: Well, OK.

It’s a raw, painful, vulnerable meditation on existence, pretty bleak….

MARLA:  Meanwhile Ashbery’s poem is breezy, amusing…

I think an upset’s possible…and now let’s look at the other two No. 1 Seed contests!  Seamus Heaney’s “An Iron Spike” v. Jack Myers’ “The Experts” in the North.  

MARLA: Iron Spike v. The Experts.  I love it!

And, finally, in the West, Allen Ginsberg’s “The Charnel Ground” v. Howard Moss’ “Miami Beach.”

MARLA: Charming matchup…two little bald men… Charnel Ground v. Miami Beach…nice!

We’ll have more analysis, and of course, show you the poems.  A lot more coming up!

Meanwhile, Marla’s trying not to root for the women.  She’s trying to remain objective…

MARLA: I am.

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.

“IF THEY HAVE SINNED NOBODY KNOWS” –W.B. YEATS

Until now. 

Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney-Lite, sins against good taste, and we, being in a frightfully bad mood, and deciding we don’t need the New Yorker, anyway, have decided to kick over a toadstool, or two.

It really isn’t poor little Dan Chiasson’s fault for putting Muldoon’s new book of poems on his Eleven Best Poetry Books of 2010 , published by Chiasson in the New Yorker.   Young Mr. Chiasson merely seeks to advance his career by pleasing his elders.   It’s just embarrassing that it had to be done so publically, and at the risk of  Chiasson never being trusted as a critic, again.  Muldoon, Chiasson’s senior poetry editor colleague at the revered New Yorker, should have had the good taste to nix himself from the list, whether Muldoon’s book is actually good, or not.  Perhaps as a result of this article, Chiasson (no, it would be more proper if it were Muldoon) will send us a copy so we can read it.

The bad taste shown in letting himself be included in Chiasson’s list, however, can easily be found in any old poem by Muldoon, for, like Heaney’s  poetry, which errs by being overly metaphorical,  Muldoon’s poetry is fraught by a related, but greater error: simple bad taste, where the poet cannot resist being continuously clever, despite spoiling all sense of keeping and decorum and beauty which enjoyable poetry demands.

When I say enjoyable, I mean enjoyable to others.  Unfortunately, Muldoon, in his rhapsodic solipsism, can’t tell the difference.

The garbling, the encoding, the slipping and slopping, the gestures to Joyce and Heaney, the making hay by using a dozen terms for hay, the errata that’s wrong, then right, then accidentally wrong, then accidentally right, then wrong again, is a mighty effort, the kind applauded by the type of critic who runs the show now, besotted with difficulty for difficulty’s sake: this critic would consider it heresy to ask: is it worth the reader’s effort to dig for this?

The reader?  What reader?  Po-biz, as everyone knows today, is a kleptocracy.

“You have not understood Muldoon, though, unless he perplexes you,” writes Richard Eder in a positive review in the Times of Poems 1968-1998; but since all writing that is bad—but which is taken as good— perplexes, we wonder if this is a good recommendation.  “His Mona Lisas frequently wear mustaches,” Eder tells us; but no, they always wear mustaches.

Sadly, many believe, when it comes to poetry, that the perplexing leads to a host of virtues; but this is not the case, except in the minds of poets like Paul Muldoon, who, as Poetry Professor both at Oxford and Princeton, has been in the unique position to exemplify this falsehood.   The New Critics were schooled at Oxford, and Allen Tate, Fugitive and New Critic, got one of the first Writing Programs in the country going at Princeton.   20th century Oxford is where language was shorn of ideal qualities and treated as a mundane act.  Language Poetry was born from this, as was the New Criticism, taking its lead from T.S. Eliot that poetry should be “difficult,” and from John Crowe Ransom, that poetry should not please, or spiritualize readers, but should rather be an academic study overseen by “professionals, not amateurs” and those “professionals” should be “professors.”  Gone, the Romantic poet with emotionally inspired readers.  Enter, professionalized perplexity.

Heaney pants after Eliot’s New Critical empire, and the Mossbawner makes perfectly complex New Critical poems out of country labors; Muldoon, too, funny in the tongue, is always properly bucolic in that third-world Irish way.

“Monarch and Milkweed” is one of Muldoon’s best-known poems, and often praised.   Richard Eder:

“This comes as close as Muldoon ever does to making the neck hair rise. (His tonsorial kinetics tend more to stimulative tugging and twisting.) And even here he expresses sorrow by distraction, by an inability to remember or grasp. His parents’ graves blur; he thinks of something else. Grief is its own inability; Muldoon gets us to feel both.”  —Richard Eder

And here’s the poem:

Monarch and Milkweed

As he knelt by the grave of his mother and father
the taste of dill, or tarragon-
he could barely tell one from the other-
filled his mouth. It seemed as if he might smother.
Why should he be stricken
with grief, not for his mother and father,
but a woman slinking from the fur of a sea-otter
In Portland, Maine, or, yes, Portland, Oregon-
he could barely tell one from the other-

and why should he now savour
the tang of her, her little pickled gherkin,
as he knelt by the grave of his mother and father?
He looked about. He remembered her palaver
on how both earth and sky would darken-
‘You could barely tell one from the other’-

while the Monarch butterflies passed over
in their milkweed-hunger: ‘A wing-beat, some reckon,
may trigger off the mother and father
of all storms, striking your Irish Cliffs of Moher
with the force of a hurricane.’
Then: ‘Milkweed and Monarch ‘invented’ each other.’

He looked about. Cow’s-parsley
in a samovar.
He’d mistaken his mother’s name, ‘Regan, ‘ for Anger';
as he knelt by the grave of his mother and father
he could barely tell one from the other.

Paul Muldoon

But we feel the poem is spoiled when Muldoon inserts the idiomatic ‘mother of all storms’ into his ‘mother and father’ refrain.  He couldn’t resist this bit of cleverness, even in the face of a poignant elegy, and the poem, its bells and whistles of New Critical symbol and metaphor unable to save it, pays for his sin.

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?

WHAT TO DO ABOUT MODERNIST CRACKPOTISM?

Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Bob Dylan, “Tombstone Blues” (1965)

There is nothing wrong with crackpotism and literary experimentation in the salons; it is certainly welcome in private places; but what happens when it’s fed to the young?

Crackpotism is harmless unless it becomes institutionalized, and corrupts and confuses millions of young people.   The very clever may assimilate themselves to the crackpotism of the system and thrive in it, eventually becoming crackpot professors, but the vast majority of students, once exposed to modernist crackpotism, never read literature or philosophy again.

In our review of the Norton (2003) Vol. I of Modern poetry, we found that 16% of the pages were devoted to “poetics,” (the rest to poetry) and remarked on the prose’s poor quality.

Poetry has no need for Apology or Defense; no one bothers to attack poetry anymore—because poetry no longer has a public; thus the reason for “poetics” is drying up.

We would expect things only to get worse; and it has.  If we look at Norton’s Vol. II Contemporary Poetry volume, we find merely 8% of its pages devoted to “poetics” and gibberish is even more the norm:

Olson:  Because breath allows all the speech-force of language back in (speech is the “solid” of verse, is the secret of a poem’s energy), because, now, a poem has, by speech, solidity, everything in it can now be treated as solids, objects, things; and, though insisting upon the absolute difference of the distributed thing, yet each of these elements of a poem can be allowed to have the play of their separate energies and can be allowed, once the poem is well composed, to keep, as those other objects do, their proper confusions.

Dylan Thomas:  If you want a definition of poetry, say: ‘Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing’ and let it go at that.

Larkin:  But if the medium is in fact to be rescued from among our duties and restored to our pleasures, I can only think that a large-scale revulsion has got to set in against present notions, and that it will have to start with poetry readers asking themselves more frequently whether they do in fact enjoy what they read, and, if not, what the point is of carrying on.

Frank O’Hara:  But how can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them.  Improves them for what?  Death?

Ginsberg:  Mind is shapely, art is shapely.  Meaning mind practiced in spontaneity invents forms in its own image and gets to last thoughts.  Loose ghosts wailing for body try to invade the bodies…

Baraka:  The most successful fiction of most Negro writing is in its emotional content.

Levertov:  Rhyme, chime, echo, reiteration: they not only serve to knit the elements of an experience but often are the very means, the sole means, by which the density of texture and the returning or circling of perception can be transmuted into language, apperceived.

Rich:  Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.

Heaney:  Looking back on it, I believe there was a connection, not obvious at the time but, on reflection, real enough, between the heavily accented consonantal noise of Hopkins’s poetic voice, and the peculiar regional characteristics of a Northern Ireland accent.

Louise Bennett:  Aunty Roachy seh dat if Jamaican Dialec is corruption of de English Language, den it is also a corruption of de African Twi Language to, a oh!

Charles Bernstein:  Not “death” of the referent—rather a recharged use of the multivalent referential vectors that any word has, how words in combination tone and modify the associations made for each of them, how ‘reference’ then is not a one-on-one relation to an ‘object’ but a perceptual dimension that closes in to pinpoint, nail down (this word), sputters omnitropically (the in in the which of who where what wells), refuses the build up of image track/projection while, pointillistically, fixing a reference at each turn (fills vats ago lodges spire), or, that much rarer case…

A.K Ramanujan:  One way of defining diversity for India is to say what the Irishman is said to have said about trousers.  When asked whether trousers were singular or plural, he said, “Singular at the top and plural at the bottom.”

Derek Walcott:  Poetry, which is perfection’s sweat but which must seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue’s brow…

And we are done.  We have represented all the writers on “poetics” from this 1,200 page anthology, and I believe we are correct when we say these excerpts speak for themselves, and require no commentary.

ASHBERY AND HEANEY FALL IN FIRST ROUND

In North Division play this afternoon, Louis Simpson, Donald Hall, Denise Levertov, David Yezzi, and Franz Wright coasted to victory, while Margaret Atwood, 8th seed, won a nail-biter over 10th seeded Amit Majmudar.

The big news were the two upsets.  

Runner/dancer Nathan Whiting knocked off John Ashbery’s quirky but poignant “The Problem of Anxiety.”  

Ashbery has been a BAP fixture since it began, and was seeded no. 3 in the North.

Whiting’s 14th seed “In Charge,” a short lyric about owning 16 dogs, managed to be as quirky as the Ashbery, more grounded, and, according to many at the Kennedy Center today, strangely uplifting.

After his stunning victory, a smiling Whiting thanked his dogs.

13th seeded William Kulik’s “Triumph of Naarcissus & Aphrodite,” a harrowing classical tale in miniature, eked out a victory over Seamus Heaney’s haunting poem, “A Shooting Script,” (4th seeded) chosen for the 1988 BAP by John Ashbery (when the Irish poet was living in America as a Harvard professor).

Heaney and Ashbery stood during a lengthy ovation at the Kennedy Center; the crowd hated to see them go.

West and South division action gets underway tomorrow.

Until then, we’ll close with aphorism #4 from James Richardson’s “Vectors” (2001) which lost (East) in the first round:

Say nothing as if it were news.

BARD OR LARD?

Seamus HeaneyLiterary Lion or Mr. Potato-Head?

In a flattering  Harvard magazine cover story on Seamus Heaney published three years ago, ‘Seamus Heaney, Digging with the Pen: On rhymes and responsibilites,’ Adam Kirsch, Heaney’s former workshop student at Harvard, obediently strives to glorify his old prof and Nobel Prize winner.  

Kirsch, after making introductory remarks on poets’ “responsibility” to the “ideal reader,” turns to Heaney’s most famous poem (unfortunately for Heaney) “Digging:”

The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

There’s nothing wrong with honoring labor and one’s digging ancestors, as Kirsch hails Heaney for doing here.

The problem begins when the poet—as poet—attempts to own the ‘digging’ legacy—in his poem

In a heavy-handed manner, at odds with all that is poetical, the poet feels impelled to inform us that his pen, which rests “between” his “finger” and his “thumb” (as if anyone needed to be informed how to hold a pen) is “squat,” (like the gun in line 2, like the digging spade, like the poet’s fist?) and, since he has “no spade” he will “dig” with his “pen/gun.”   The metaphorical contraption of Heaney’s poem is rudely forced in a ham-fisted manner as would invite derision were such a thing handed in by a writing student to a writing class, and an example would surely be made: this is the kind of  forced metaphorical writing which should be avoided at all costs.

It’s not a smooth metaphor.  Pens don’t dig. 

Not only is Heaney going to dig with his snug, squat pen, but his “head” breathes in the inspiration of potato-smell from cut “roots.”  

If we ask how an ivory tower icon like Seamus Heaney, with his Harvard Chair, his T.S. Eliot Prize, and his Nobel could  have such a wretched poem (wretched even for a schoolboy) as his best-known poem, it might be well to remember that before he was an ivory tower icon he was the humble, Derry, Peat-moss, poet, and this very identity of a potato-digging, poor Irish Catholic, an Irishman from the fields, a genuine salt-of-the-earth, may have allowed his work to circumvent those close-reading strictures that would have otherwise condemned such bathetic, metaphorical excess.   

The “squat,” sweaty laborer was allowed his excesses as the token Irish Poet.  

The excessive gutterality of his poetry (the passage quoted from “Digging” is a pretty good example)  blends in with the excessive nature of Heaney’s metaphors, combining to produce a style which is not so much poetic as thick—the triumph of which is a sly joke played in the snobby, puritan halls of Harvard as Heaney attempts to chase down the ghost of T.S. Eliot.

When Heaney is not slathering on the metaphors, he’s often amassing sharp, primitive objects.  Kirsch quotes Heaney from his book District and Circle:

In an age of bare hands
and cast iron,

the clamp-on meat-mincer,
the double flywheeled water-pump,

it dug its heels in among wooden tubs
and troughs of slops,

hotter than body heat
in summertime, cold in winter

as winters body armour,
a barrel-chested breast-plate

standing guard
on four braced greaves.

 “The lip-smacking assonance of clamp and pump,” Kirsch writes, anxious to make Heaney’s work not only “responsible,” but a pleasure and a delight.

These lines, however, feel like a torturer’s inventory from the Saw films.  

They are hardly “lip-smacking.”  

Heaney is no grinning Irish jester at the Blueblood court of Harvard.

This tied-up bear will tear you to pieces if you get too close.  

Kirsch is merely heaping on praise when he says: “Heaney is also, and primarily, a poet of pleasure… What makes Heaney a lovable poet, rather than just an admirable one, is that his sense of responsibility extends to pleasure itself…”  

Heaney is not a “lovable poet” or a poet of “pleasure.”  

Heaney loves assonance, but assonance which slobbers all over the reader is not necessarily a pleasing effect—especially when it seems to have a mind of its own.

Heaney is best when he writes dramatically.    His style of metaphor and thing-ism tends to be self-indulgent and is mostly painful to read.  I could list little excellences in Heaney’s poetry all day, but I am concerned here with the true picture of Heaney’s reputation. 

Heaney looks hard at the world.   It’s time a critic looked hard back.

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