LET’S TALK ABOUT RACE FOR A MINUTE

Vanessa Place: Art School Cool Forever?

Which of the following four individuals are racist, everything else being equal:

1). A white man who reviles black men and sleeps with black women.

2). A black man who reviles white men and sleeps with white women.

3). A white lesbian who writes on Facebook that we need to carefully listen to people of color and not let our white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

4). A black lesbian who writes on Facebook that white people need to listen carefully to people of color and not let their white background get in the way of understanding what people of color experience every day.

The answer is obvious.  You know the answer, don’t you?

The issue of race is complicated—but not.

Poetry is complicated—until a good poet comes along.

The bad is complicated.

The good is not complicated.

Academics have been talking a lot about race lately—and making it sound extremely complicated—even as they try to make it sound extremely simple: white privilege.

A couple of conceptualist poets—Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place—used racist material for “art” and the “art” remained stubbornly invisible in the Conceptualist manner, leaving the Conceptualist Poets themselves looking a bit—oops!—racist.

Since every revolution has its purists, looking “a bit” racist can get you in a heap of trouble, and now Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith, once museum-curator-poet cool, are verging on not being cool.

Conceptualism messed with Ferguson and Gone With The Wind and learned the lesson of the dyer’s hand: like Lady Macbeth, Vanessa Place wishes her hand clean again.

Avant-garde poets sympathetic to Conceptualism, like Ron Silliman, have suddenly been reduced to apologetic whimpering re: the once proud 20th century poetry avant-garde which he and his friends represent (male and white…shhhh).

We at Scarriet have been Silliman’s gentle scold and conscience for quite some time.

Now it’s official:

Quietism 1 Conceptualism 0.

Remember Rita Dove versus Marjorie Perloff?  That seems like a minor dust-up in comparison to what’s occurring now. Or was it? Perhaps it is only possible for the scandalous and the wrong to exist this minute?

The cool-kids-trying-to-be-cool-again are fighting back, of course.

Vanessa Place, who was thrown off a committee because of her insensitivity to racism, may be a beloved martyr tomorrow: who knows?

Her defenders will say: Her hand is not clean, but no one’s is.  Nothing is clean.

We said the complicated is bad, and the simple is good, so here’s the whole Place controversy as simply as we can put it:

Those attacking Place are anti-Racists.

Place is anti-Pro-Racist.

This is like the early stages of the French Revolution: in the ‘race atmosphere’ which exists now, everyone is potentially a saint or a sinner in the blink of an eye.

The possibilities are endless.

Listening to everyone—especially academic poets—discussing race is amazing: talk about twisting oneself in knots.  “Am I good, or am I being too patronizing?”  “Am I being too honest?” “Shall I speak up? And what shall I say?”

Some just want to talk about art. Art, the concept, is the only umbrella that protects. Conceptualism thinks art is a useless concept, which is why the conceptualists feel unprotected and uncomfortable now.

The wheel is turning.

In Silliman’s latest, “Je Sui Vanessa,” Silliman cracks from the pressure of watching his beloved avant-garde  peeps, Goldsmith and Place, become totally uncool.

Silliman equates those attacking Place with hate crime murderers.

When morals are questioned, discomfort results. When cool is questioned, all hell breaks loose.

This is one of those points in history where you feel yourself moving, even as you are standing still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNFLINCHING

The famous fine arts painter Lucien Freud died in 2011 at the age of 88, bringing tears to the eyes of Sue Tilley, the model for one of his most famous paintings, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping.”

We quote the Telegraph:

Sue Tilley, who sat for the nude Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, said today she has had ”fantastic experiences” as a result of posing for the unflattering portrait.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: ”I found out last night on Twitter, bizarrely, and I did start crying. I haven’t seen him for a long time and he’s not really a close friend now but it’s a part of my life that’s kind of gone.”

Ms. Tilley has etchings that Freud gave to her, which are potentially worth thousands of pounds, but says that money is not an issue.

”Money’s not really important. Don’t you think in life sometimes experience is more important than financial gain? Because of this painting I’ve had fantastic experiences.”

The portrait is characteristic of Freud’s unflinching style, but Ms. Tilley said she watched the work being painted and so became acclimatised to it.

”I saw it all the time because it’s so huge, you would see it while he was painting it. He’s not behind it, so it’s in front of you the whole time, so I got very much used to it.”

“Unflinching.” This does sum up Lucien Freud’s “style,” doesn’t it?

Another term might be “High Realism,” or “Unflattering Realism,” and this raises an interesting question on how we view art—and poetry (since this is Scarriet’s milieu) in our time.

“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” (1995) sold for 33 million dollars at auction in 2008, a record amount for a living artist.

We might say that Lucien Freud’s work is the very opposite of Abstract Art. No one would ever call Abstract Painting “unflinching.” On the spectrum of artistic expression, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” is closer to Romantic Art than Modern Art—or does it lie between the two?

In Modern Art, the person disappears, human-oriented expression vanishes, the artist slyly hides as Design-Abyss stares back.

The “abyss of design,” a term we coin at this very moment to describe the rather inhuman, abstraction mania destroying all beautiful and intelligent art in an orgy of Ad-logo, unreflective doodling, might be occasionally called “unflinching,” but “unflinching” only and purely in regard to what is, unfortunately, in most cases, bad taste.

Go to any modern art museum, or any art school, and gaze with as much love and empathy possible at the so-called “art” on display there. What strikes us, after the initial and simple embarrassment of how purely ugly most of it is, is the awareness of an urgently crafted “design” of no design: art that says nothing, art that presents no context for what it is trying to say, and as a result, though there may be some interesting bare bones of  “design” present, some half-formed idea struggling to emerge from the foam of applied chemicals, some interesting pieces of material or texture present, nothing is finally realized or finished, to any moderately intelligent person’s satisfaction. It is Design so proud of itself (a pride typically fashioned from a philosophy that believes no audience can escape from the world which is brutal and meaningless) it has completely forgotten that it (design) exists for something else.

It doesn’t help that people in the art world often lack any real understanding of Letters.  The art world is full of brilliance—which unfortunately can barely read and write, and with an understanding of history skewed towards the haphazard and the new. Resenting those who can read and write, “artists” continue to commit suicide every day.

Animation/cartooning/illustration is the new wonder of the art schools, and has by far the most chance for something pedagogically useful, since the work on Cartoon Network is wonderful—precisely because it is forced to entertain coherent human ideas—to be, in a somewhat realized manner, happily and joyfully human, escaping the Prison Camp of Bad Taste “history” and “painting” and “design,” currently destroying thought in various near-illiterate institutions.

What do we think of Lucien Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping?” Does a work like this make abstract artists and designers, artists who produce things without true realism or context: 3-dimensional bodies and faces which float in unreal spaces; bad jokes of collage, cut-and-paste, two-dimensionality, cowards? Does Lucien Freud, with his unflinching view of humans in a completely human context, make cowards of them all?

Well, almost. Design, after all, has its place. Take a look at the mass of humanity: all those T-shirts, baseball caps, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, bangles, tattoos.

The art of “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” does make other “artists” look like mere designers. Advertisers. Art School Officials. T-Shirt Logo Makers.

And yes, “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” does look back to the art era known as Romanticism—which was the renaissance of the Renaissance: Keats, Shelly, and Byron extending Shakespeare—to the sounds of Mozart and Beethoven who were extending Bach—as painters like Copley and Goya made Truth and Painting synonymous.

Perhaps Romanticism, like the great Renaissance era which inspired it, which was itself inspired by Plato, could not last—but it will never go away, (although, God knows, the “art” schools have tried).

The era of Romanticism ended—with Corot, landscape, and then Impressionism prettifying and domesticating what had been great—for purely political reasons: the great rivalry of Britain and France dissolved like a dream in the mid-19th Century, and Britain and France became a Joint Empire dedicated to crushing the Spirit of Goya and the United States—a marvelous Romantic experiment which gradually went from David-to-the-British-Empire’s-Goliath to surrogate British Empire. Ugly, anti-human, modern art was intentionally spawned by Paris and London, and then in the World War One era, imported to New York, as the Modernist sickness, allied with the building and fashion trades, took over, eventually becoming its own self-fulfilling prophecy in “democratic” academia.

“Benefits Supervisor Sleeping,” a success today, (superficially, at least,) flying in the face of contemporary Abstract Painting “success,” reminds us of another unflinching, Hyper-Realism painting.

We think you will guess the painting we mean, when informed it emerged from a late Romantic artist in the very era we are discussing—the middle 19th century crossroads which saw the revolutionary greatness (if that be not too hyperbolic a term) of Romanticism still living but dying, as Britain/France, that dreaded, imperial, Modernist Monster, was born—: “L’Origine du monde” by Gustave Courbet.

This scandalous Courbet painting, a great Romantic painting, but veering towards what might be characterized as “unflinching” bad taste, is a symbol of Romanticism dying: a descent, perhaps?

We have hopes, then, that the late Lucien Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” in our era, might represent a renewed ascent of human-based Romanticism come to rescue us from our cheap, Modernist “Art School Design” Nightmare.

Freud’s “unflinching” view of woman—and we believe the woman is superior to the man—may offend.  What do you think?  Does it offend you?

We ourselves, here on Scarriet, have offended our own dear mother, with the occasional poem on the human frailties of women—whether it be vanity, or getting old, or lacking inspiration—and this “unflinching” look is not meant to offend any one person, but to show the type, and not even to blame the type, but to look unflinchingly on how the type, in general, can be trapped and oppressed.  We are vindicated by our conviction that pity and truth in art is better than flattery and lies.

The Romantic loves, but loves honestly, without flattery.

Scarriet is producing essays and poems in the great Romantic spirit—never to demean, but to save the world from significant aesthetic and philosophical lapses.

Genius—in the crisis period in 1866, when Courbet revealed his painting to the world—and in the crisis period of today in 2015—has no choice, in the Romantic spirit, hard beset and distorted by many forces, but to risk the “unflinching” view, even if it offends various institutions, the men who run them, but, God forbid and forgive us now!—never, the holiest being in the universe: woman.

 

 

WOMEN AND COMPETITION

As way of introduction, we will quickly reference two other articles on women and competition.

First, in “Where Women Are More Competitive Than Men,” the authors conducted an experiment with men and women to find out which gender was more competitive. They found women were just as competitive—it simply depended on whether the test subjects belonged to a patrilineal or a matrilineal society—one of these exists in a certain part of northeast India.

Second, in “Elite Professionals Hold Back Other Women,” we read the following:

It is, genuinely, a brave new world for women, but it is also a world that requires a completely new divide: between a cadre of educated, elite women at the top and the great female majority for whom things have barely changed except that now instead of cooking, cleaning or taking care of their own children in their own home, they’re performing such duties in restaurants, office buildings, and ironically, the homes of the successful female professionals.

Powerful women have no problem pushing other women down—administrative assistants are 97% women.

We need to face the truth at last: there certainly may be gender differences, but women are just as competitive as men. It wasn’t all that long ago that the vast majority of sports players and fans in the United States were men— and we see how that has changed.

But as the experiment in the the patrilineal and matrilineal societies showed, a great deal of social malleability exists.

There are three major areas of competition: sports, business, and—love.

Byron once wrote, “Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence.”

We’ve all heard the phrase, “love is a game,” and what people tend to mean by this is not that love is a mere toy, but that love is marked by intense competition—in love there are winners and losers, which has a profound impact on the emotional life of a person, and the stakes are not trivial; they are life-changing, extremely significant on many levels, and Darwinian.

It is said that men are “players;” they love and run; but the woman—traditionally shut out of sports and business—is the original Player when it comes to Love and Romance. She is the female spider who eats the male, beautiful, but nasty, like nature red in tooth and claw; male players “run” only because they don’t want to be caught and eaten.

Even advocates of love must admit love is a nasty business. It takes our worst traits: jealousy, anger, insecurity, doubt, lust, greed, and hooks us in.

When we “lose” in love, the “game is over,” and the “winner” wants no more to do with us: run along, little boy, you lost. So says the woman, who a short time before, wept and worried over us, covered us in kisses, told us we were all they cared about.

Women are more competitive in love because this is where they can be competitive.

If women are as competitive as men, then their competition needs somewhere to go. 

Men are freely competitive in sports and business—so they have no competition left for love. A man doesn’t want to fight in love; when a man is with a woman he likes, he is happy, and just wants to be happy with her. But for the women, it is far more complicated.

Kept from the competition of sports and business for so long, many women traditionally find reasons to be competitive in a place where the man is not—in romance.

Women choose a man, not based on how attractive he is, but on whether or not she thinks she has a chance to beat him in a good, well-played game. This may sound crazy, but we have a hunch it is true.

Love is a game for women, but not for men.

If men seem to be “game players” in love, it is out of fear, as we mentioned above, fear of being devoured by the female spider—or beaten soundly, trounced and humiliated, by the original “player,” the Female Player (femme fatale). It is the woman who truly relishes love as a game totally and completely.

This is not to say that men are not vaguely aware that love is a competition—they know love has winners and losers, and that in love gone wrong one can dump or be dumped; they know, of course, men compete, generally, at least, with other men for women.

It is this “competitive” aspect of love that makes it an arena for competition—and women, if they are competitive—and we think they are—find this the most convenient place to be competitive. And they get to compete (in the U.S.) against the most “competitive” creature on earth: the American male.

When we meet someone frustrated by love, single and no longer looking, we don’t say they are not “loving,” and we don’t cruelly assume they have given up because they are unloving; they are simply sick and weary of the “competition,” because that’s what love is.

Women, traditionally shut out of sports and business, have made it so.

Love either has a clear winner and loser (someone is dumped), or it is unclear who is winning, or the whole game is cancelled, or, and this happens fairly often, the man simply refuses to play the game, and while not “winning” with this strategy, can maintain a certain dull stability in a relationship.

How one plays the game of love depends on three things: 1) one’s personal history; 2) the kinds of gambits, strategies, and defenses one chooses; 3) how attractive, reckless, and heartless one happens to be.

The most common way to cancel the “game” is to have a child with someone. Therefore, those who don’t want to have children tend to be real players—be careful of them, no matter what they say.

Of course, one can have a child with someone and then be dumped by them—and so the dumped will be anxious to get in another game and win.

Having a lot of children with someone, however, is a pretty good way to get “love as competition” out of one’s system—but if a nasty dumping occurs, all bets are off. One may give up, or look for a win.

Those who have lost will often want to play again—so they can win. One should beware of them, obviously.

But there are some who may be addicted to “winning,” and so it is their “success” that makes them dangerous.

The addictive “winner” probably became that way because of a particularly heart-breaking “loss” which happened long ago.

Relationships that last for any length of time are those in which no clear winner is established.

One “wins” when a tipping point is reached on the issue of “trust;” for whatever reason, a threshold is reached in which jealousy belongs almost entirely to one person, and not the other—and that person, the one who is overly jealous or clingy—loses, and because they are too jealous, they are dumped. Interestingly, “evidence” and actual behavior mean little; both of you may be cheating, or one, or none, but if you don’t care and the other person does, you win.

One can dump, fearing one will get dumped, but the first one to dump does win. That is the iron rule of winning, and there are no exceptions—except if the one dumped doesn’t care. Not caring is the ultimate triumph.

If one dumps, but then undoes the dump, one is winning, but has not yet won.

When a woman chooses to start a relationship with a man, thinking she can win, she will find out pretty quickly if a man is very much a man: a simple, jealous creature, devoted and simple-minded when it comes to love, not effeminate and cunning in the least. He will be easy to vanquish.

The gay man is the natural antidote to the femme fatale—because he is gay, she cannot harm him; but if there are degrees of homosexuality, men may present different and exciting challenges to the woman hungry for a challenging win.

A fool can dump a genius.  Love is the great equalizer.

The unlearned beloved knows, the poet lover doesn’t.
The genius poet thought love was enough. It wasn’t.

One can dump, however, and think one has dumped successfully, when one really hasn’t.  It is possible for the “winning” fool to remain a fool.

If a couple dumps each other simultaneously, this can mean a variety of things, but it most likely means they both lose.

SINCE I FOUND LOVE

Since I found love
As a continuous dream continuing with thoughts of you,
I found the love we began grew
In new ways strangely and sweetly—
But not happily or completely.

I find that I love
The flowery paths we used to take,
When the sweet flowers by sweet winds would shake
Perfume of flowers into the air;
As I gradually lost the memory of your kissing,
As I breathed, on my own, the flowery air,
I found a deeper love, deeper than kissing,
A love for a beauty that doesn’t care
That I am walking there,
Or that I am pleasantly aware
Of those flowers we loved,
As this evening I breathe the flowery air.

When you were here,
There was too much care,
And when you were sweetly near,
I was always afraid—
Even when you kissed me in the scented shade—
That one day you would not be there:
A fear, proudly, but fearfully, I would not share.
Because we walked, like a dream, these paths together
It is almost too good to be true
To find a love I love that does not require you
To be here. Do you feel this, too?
Perhaps it is different for you.
I don’t know. Did I ever know you?
Could you walk these paths without feeling sad?
I was sure this would happen to me,
But without you, I feel—strangely, excitedly—glad,
As if I were loving all that time, and you
Were only the excuse to love this quiet beauty,
This loveliness of the world, and this pleasant view
Now makes me think of you,
But not with sorrow;
My love for you does not need you.
I am glad we loved, but now I look ahead to more lasting loves tomorrow.

GOD NEVER MENTIONED HER UNTIL SHE WAS ILL

God never mentioned her until she was ill.

No one discussed her until she died.

I was not allowed to be happy; I learned of her precisely as I cried.

My eyes were streaming as I found out

She had been; too late to know—all that I knew was in doubt—

Doubted the mountain had gold, doubted the river beyond was wide.


God made poetry from her life as her bones were lying there,

As storms raged, and every beast hid in its lair.

People huddled from the cold, complaining of the legendary weather,

And the world, I feared, would forget her altogether.

His poetry, I hoped, would keep her alive, but I wondered

Why His poetry was obscure—had the fates blundered?

Why did her cloudy illness and tears

Move God, the poet: what of her happier years?

Happiness? Everything is revealed in time:

Desire had been her illness. And oh my God she had been mine.

LIFE IS A LIE THAT TELLS THE TRUTH

They say the poem is a lie that tells the truth.
But life is a lie that tells the truth
For life is full of error, leading us to believe she doesn’t love us
When she does. Her actions were meant to deceive, for life deceives in love.

A poem is a truth that tells a lie. I write the truth: I love her.
But love is large, and she and I are small.
Hurrying to its conclusion, the poem makes sure we are not seen at all.

THE BEE GEES

I want to listen to Lana Del Ray all day

And the Bee Gees most of the night;

Or is it the other way around?

I never get music right.

I know the coolest music that no one else knows,

But that’s useless; what’s the point of an unknown rose?

You can’t win when it comes to unknown roses—

Or other people’s eyes, or other people’s noses;

Something about good taste and something about a bad smell

Interferes with sight, so we don’t see very well.

To protect ourselves, we close our eyes on the back of the bus,

But when we get there, we open them—and everyone’s laughing at us.

I walk downstage to the music of the Bee Gees,

Vanquished by trivia!  The aromas of teas…

WHAT IS POETRY?

A poem is an imaginative fiction, and though it may aim at a kind of truth, it is not real; it is not the truth.

The poet never necessarily endorses what he imagines in his poems.

A poet is essentially a playwright or a story-teller. Shakespeare is not himself guilty of mayhem, because he put mayhem in his plays.

The mind that imagines is not the hand that does. The author is never the persons imagined.

Countless authors have used their own experience to recount crimes in the first person. Of course this does not mean they are guilty of anything. A society would not be free if it prevented authors from making imaginative fictions.

Think of all the songs that sing of things not necessarily condoned by the singer or the songwriter. Poems, like songs, like stories, like plays, are finally not real; that’s why they belong to creative writing.

There are some, who have almost no imagination themselves, who would judge a poet harshly by that poet’s fictions—fictions meant to shine light on life by dint of imaginative thought, seeking to understand and cure the world’s ills, the very ones which most afflict those who have no imaginations, those who, ironically, imagine that a fiction is entirely real.

Unfortunately, poetry is increasingly taught in our schools as something which is not imaginative, but either a collection of facts or the real voice of a real person speaking. The imaginative virtue, in this case, is replaced by a different virtue, a virtue that is virtuous precisely because it has no imagination at all.  Either the poem makes no sense (without sense, there is no imagination) exhibits some political opinion found in any newspaper, or is a kind of memoir in which the poem’s speaker is precisely relating a real incident from real life. The imagination is nowhere to be found.

The virtue which is virtuous because it has no imagination is a necessary virtue, and there should be no objection to it: ‘virtue without imagination’ accompanies duty and loyalty and obedience of every kind, and society as we know it would be impossible without this kind of simple virtue.

But this kind of simple virtue has nothing to do with imaginative writing.

This does not mean that the imaginative cannot be moral and virtuous, in the final analysis, and in fact, it should be, but it is moral in a different manner; it arrives at the good in a more round-about way; as in Dante’s famous poem, hell may have to visited before heaven is gained. In the imaginative fiction, “hell” is both real and not real.

Great poets have been exiled. Mixing real with unreal, the real they include may still offend. Imaginative writing, which comes close to the real, includes this risk. The ‘scary’ real mingles with the ‘scary’ fiction.

But in the end, it is fiction, and, if it is good fiction, it overcomes the scary, it does not support the scary, for the imagination is guided by the ultimate truth or good, if it is good. The imaginative writer, using the bad occasionally, strives to be good. Not because the writer is ‘honest,’ as in writing a truthful memoir, or because the writer expresses a desire to ‘save the whales,’ but because the fiction is a fiction which participates in a truth expressed in a highly imaginative manner, so that the expression itself is as important as the thing expressed, the power of the expression giving a kind of license to say what people may think but are afraid, or too embarrassed to say, the embarrassment existing not because of who the poet is, but because of the world’s shortcomings. The poet is not expressing his thoughts, but in the imaginative act of the fiction, the thoughts of everyone. This is the purpose of imagination: to go out of ourselves in a moral act and identify with the world, to identify with the intrigues and secrets and welfare of the world, for the sake of the world.

I have been influenced by the work of Dorothy Parker, one of the best poets of the 20th century. The last stanza of her poem, “Love Song,” goes like this:

My love runs by like a day in June
And he makes no friend of sorrows.
He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon
in the pathways of the morrows.
He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,
Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
My own dear love, he is all my heart,—
And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

Parker is madly in love with a man who will not sit still long enough to love her, and the torture is such that she wishes somebody would kill him. We don’t know how real, in this particular case, this sentiment is, but we do know that this precise sentiment could be real, and this very sentiment could be Parker’s precise state of mind.

But since, as readers, we know it is a poem, we identify abstractly with its sentiment; we call it real and yet unreal, and don’t equate it with any actual behavior of Parker’s. As we live in a free society, we do not censor; we allow both Dorothy Parker and her poem complete freedom, with the democratic conviction that a society which suppresses fictional expressions of this kind will be a society which has less creativity and more violence.

Scarriet holds to this principle of free expression: we carefully and deliberately produce work that could be true, but which is not true; no person, place, or thing is ever identified so that a stranger might identify the truth of its content in any way; only its truth as an inspired fiction exists; a Scarriet love poem could be about any love; the universal sentiment is always the subject, never a particular individual in a particular circumstance. The imaginative poem is the only poem we allow to be published here.

Shelley said the secret of morals was love, for love makes us passionately identify with another person.

Romantic attraction, or love, used to be the staple of lyric poetry, but imagination is required to make love interesting, and the non-imaginative poetry of today is not up to the task.

First, since love has been written about so often, the challenge to be original is greater.

Second, romance has become problematic in modern times, just as romance.

Third, since poetry now exists most influentially in the college classroom, it behooves professors to make poetry a subject that feels more modern, and expresses the sort of social change college campuses are simmering with; thus love poetry is tacitly rejected as too simplistic and old-fashioned, too associated with popular music, and so essentially not serious.

Fourth, social media has created a firestorm of private-turned-public, take-no-prisoners, gossip which pries into slightly uncomfortable private feelings with a judgmental animus never before seen in history, and since original romance effusions are bound to entertain slightly, or even deeply, uncomfortable private feelings, the love poet may just throw in the towel altogether, and instead write poems on very simple subjects, like history, politics, and philosophy.

Imagine if the Beatles were told they couldn’t write love songs; the Beatles simply would not exist.

The result, today, is that poetry finds itself in a state of confusion, exiled from all song, or lyric, elements, and struggling, as “poetry” to make a prose more meaningful than—prose. Which, obviously, cannot be done.

Look at these lyrics from one of the Beatles’ best-known albums, Rubber Soul, released in 1965, the height of Beatlemania, in which the Beatles were also striving to be more sophisticated:

“Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to be with another man, you better keep your head, little girl, or I won’t know where I am.” —Lennon & McCartney

This is from the songwriters that would go on to produce “Imagine” and “Let It Be” and “Here Comes The Sun.” Imagine if a would-be John Lennon wrote a poem like that today, and it ended up on Facebook. “Run For Your Life” was influenced by an Elvis Presley song, and has been covered numerous times. What is the difference between a song and a poem? Should poets be held to the same standards as songwriters, recording artists, and other ‘creative writers,’ and what should those standards be? Should all creative writing, whether a movie script, a short story, a song, or a poem, be held to the same moral standard, whether or not it appears in a cinema watched by millions, or on some poor wretch’s blog?

If I make something up, which nonetheless has some resemblance to reality, in a poem, is this not the same as a major-release film depicting precisely the same thing, with the only difference that the latter costs millions of dollars to make, and employs thousands of people? It may just be that the film will be considered an elaborate fiction, no matter how horrific the content, but with the way poetry is increasingly read and judged these days, the poet, it will be assumed, is somehow responsible in his own person, as the filmmakers are not, for any offensive content that is part of the fiction.

Can censors say, “You may write about love, but you may not depict hateful things like jealousy?” No poems or songs like “Run For Your Life?” No ambiguity of desire allowed? Where do we draw the line, when it comes to imaginative fictions, in keeping a society creative and free? And can we ever justly assume something about an author’s personal character—think of our Shakespeare example—based on their imaginative fiction?

Look at what Plato demanded for his Republic: poems that only praise. (Plato, contrary to popular opinion, did not ban all kinds of poetry from his ideal society.) A song like “Run For Your Life” would be banned, because threatening to kill your girlfriend is not praising her.

It didn’t matter to Plato that Lennon wrote a song about an unnamed girl. What mattered was purely the bad emotions involved. Yet Aristotle would say these “emotions” are a vital part of art’s expressive good.

Was Plato right?

How imaginative/expressive/creative are we allowed to be?

We believe we have made it clear where Scarriet stands.

If Scarriet has ever strayed, in any way, from our rigorous standard,—we are human, after all, and poetry is a passionate and extremely difficult art—we apologize, without reservation.

I HAVE ONE MOTHER

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I have one mother, who bore me long ago,

From her I came, and from her I still go

Into all that is not mother—into all that she

Hopes I will create, as she created me.

Creation is a burden, and creation is a woe,

For much happens by the flesh that we do not know,

And I went from my mother, hoping that she

Could let me go, and yet not forget me.

That is our sorrow! That is our fear:

That what made us then will not love us here.

O, let my thoughts be consistent and clear.

Let sounds that rebound make sense in my ear.

What began my life, please see it through,

No dream! but love that lives forever in you.

 

BEAUTY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE

Beauty is not for everyone.
First, how would ugly work get done?
Second, how would the ugly ever be loved?
Third, beauty must be found.
You will not see it just lying on the ground.
And who understands its cruelty?

Say beauty belongs to me
And beauty will always stay.
Lie to me, and kiss me
Extravagantly.
See? This is almost beauty.
Back there, when you felt something, what did you surmise?
Kiss me, again. But this time close your eyes.

 

 

 

THE POETRY THAT COMES TO ME

The poetry that comes to me

Is the love that comes to you.

But first comes the love,

The sweet, sweet love.

The line invented by my mind

Is the praise that comes to you.

But first comes the love,

The sweet, sweet love.

The eye that finds my eye

Is the look that comes from you.

A love, they say, can die.

But love is all I do.

Always in love, and always free,

Because the poetry comes to me.

MY LOVE IS DYING

The fiction writer, to acheive the dark comedy of life,
Does best in simple, transparent language to draw that life,
Careful not to intrude on that life
With fancy language or opinions, letting the facts of that life
Do most of the work, like a painter of still life.
No artist, using life, can compete with life.

Life contains endless material for the artist
Who does not find it necessary to invent or feel or think.
A million reporters for one poet: everybody’s a poet, wink, wink.

The Instagram photograph is the new art.
Snap it. Ten thousand pixels: each the perfect singing part.

The picture is laughing, the picture is crying.
Literature—lovely literature! is dying.

The death of a beautiful woman is the most poetical topic, said Poe.
And the best topic for fiction?  I believe I know:
The unhappy beautiful woman.

We are disgusted when an ugly woman has sex.

When a beautiful woman has sex, we are torn,
Since we are happy if we are having sex with her,
But if she is having sex with someone else, we wish she were never born.

If the beautiful woman is not having sex, the harsh division vanishes;
We are no longer torn; we are content to read the fiction
Detailing the unlikely: a beautiful woman’s chaste sadness.

Love produces so much unhappiness
That unhappiness is how we see—the shadows of sorrow covering life,
So love, in unreal ways, might be tolerated, and in very small ways—even for a moment!—loved.
Sex penetrates our consciousness, disguised, and understood, by other means;

Inscrutable chastity!
I read what you wrote, to find out what beauty means.

IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW

The hill has water running down its sides
Beneath the pansies and forsythia
Where the hyacinth bends, and the slender cunning
Of the iris no longer hides.
Spring is here. There is no more snow.
In case you didn’t know.

My mind has love running in and out of it
Where desperate thoughts of flowers
Vainly strive with thoughts that kiss my thoughts of you
Where the butterflies flit.
You’re in my mind. You will never go.
In case you didn’t know.

There was nothing reasonable about last fall
When the trees heaved down their leaves
And the wind blew cold upon the dying hill,
Which was not ours at all.
But spring is here. There is no more snow.
In case you didn’t know.

ANOTHER’S HAPPINESS MAKES YOU SAD

Another’s happiness makes you jealous.
And so you understand
Why sorrow comforts you,
And sorrow comforts the jazz band
You love to listen to.

You sigh. You know why
Sorrow in every song is the best thing
And when you clap your hands, you sadly sing
And sing of sadness more, and to cry
Is your highest happiness.

Everyone who knows us,
Knows no one should be jealous.
Jealousy is worse than sorrow.
Happiness leads to jealousy, and more jealousy tomorrow.

I have seen every genius fall,
Sighing, into a wish there were no happiness at all,
As jealousy (born in hell!) makes a heaven of sorrow.

POETRY AS POP CULTURE TRIVIA, OR ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY

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I bet you think this poem is about you.

Three poets read at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival’s “Headline Event” in Salem on Friday night. By now, it is a truism that contemporary “headline” poets do not traffic in anything that resembles poetry: speech that aspires to music. Instead, we get speech aspiring to pop culture trivia. The poems themselves—clotted, reference-heavy—vainly strive to be interesting with all the things they talk about, but the befuddled audience greets ‘oh-is-that-the-poem? Is-it-over?’ effusions with deathly silence. Immediately, the poet begins to nervously joke with the audience and there is palpable relief in the crowd—in attendance for entertainment, or enlightenment, or social snobbery, perhaps—as the poet makes an off-the-cuff remark that elicits laughter (ah, we are being entertained!). “I should have told you that the poem [which I just read and no one could fathom] was about [fill in obscure pop reference].” (Laughter).

The evening was very much like this: unfathomable “poems” eliciting silence, with wheedling, used-car salesman joking in-between. Beethoven at the piano with hands in casts but joking up a storm. A wonderful evening of “music.”

The first poet did that annoying, stiff “poet-reading voice,” the sustained vocal tic in which prose is forced to sound like stilted prose in order to sound like poetry.

Reads a “poem.” No reaction. Poet: “I should have told you the whole book that poem is from is about me being poor and dreaming of being an astronaut.” Laughter.

And so the evening of “poetry” proceeded.

The death of poetry is kept from the audience and its friends because referential language is endlessly—referential. “I mention Peaches and Herb [70s soul group] in this poem,” the poet announces, to appreciative tittering. Peaches and Herb!

A poem, or series of poems, or something, on Jack Johnson, the early 20th century boxer, is full of information on the legendary figure: “poetry” meets Wikipedia. Peaches and Herb was only mentioned in passing in some poem that was trying to…? It sort of makes one feel sorry for Peaches and Herb. The first reader quotes Jack Johnson in his poem and then tells us of the theft in a sudden little-boy outburst, post-poem: “Decidedly dissatisfied by my presence.” It turns out the best line of the evening is by Jack Johnson, the boxer.

The second reader, a middle aged woman, Denise Duhamel, is more visibly ruffled than reader number one by audience non-response—she is bravely cheerful in a slightly heart-breaking manner and laughs nervously and obviously wants applause, and through sheer will, eventually gets a little, in  a spectacle of podium-groveling both touchingly noble and embarrassing at once. She has a romantic side—it fails in a mawkish poem about James Taylor and Carly Simon—but it saves her in what is the most satisfying portion of the evening—a piece in which a woman narrator and her husband witness another couple fighting, which elicits a lovers quarrel between them as they take sides. The other couple, overseen arguing on a beach, eventually make up, and the speaker ends with the observation: “no one was watching us.”

The “romantic” Duhamel was hit and miss, but at least she felt the romantic need to be heartbreaking, and the heartbreaking requires a certain coherence—and becomes naturally funny, by turns, if enough enough “heartbreaking” detail is provided.

The two men—Adrian Matejka and Nick Flynn—seemed intent on showing off, not communicating. I know this! (Good for you) the sole emotional content of the dudes’ poetry.

The third reader is best known for Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, a memoir about his homeless father which was made into a movie. Since poetry isn’t memoir or fiction, published poets seem to understand that one doesn’t get up in a front of an audience and make one personal tragedy or topic the centerpiece of the presentation—even though this is what an audience more easily digests. Poetry readings risk taxing the attention span very quickly, because there’s so many mental paths traveled over the course of even a few poems. And here’s why fiction and memoir sell better: it’s a simple matter of singular focus. Poetry’s “riches” defeat it.

Poets don’t help matters with musically-deaf poems chocked with facts and trivia. Lou Reed was the pop reference of importance for the third reader—the fact that his father died on the same day as the pop icon was well…a fact—like James Taylor and Carly Simon’s divorce, like black boxer Jack Johnson’s white mistresses—and facts were all equal here. The Poetry of Fact. The poems tended to remain on this level, the level of the fact: too much story and poems crystallize into fiction, too much emotional focus and poems harden into uncool sentimental poetry—so fact is where they stay, or, more accurately: move around in, in a molten fury, a super-intelligent flux; the more ambitious poems create a three ring circus of facts: the missing jetliner in the news, the painter Fra Angelico, the poet’s mother, and surely something is profound and enlightening in the mix—to the poet, but not, unfortunately, to the audience. It finally becomes an orgy of Wikipedia meets the personal, or worse, blah blah blah hell.

The charming and witty personality of the poet often hides the boring, badness of the poetry, in a live setting.  But in the long run, oh witty friends! we do not believe this is good for poetry.

WHEN MY HATE LOVES

When my hate loves, it is like love, in fact:
Love is the feeling, and sex, the desired act.

It is not like adding love to cause the hate to sleep
So one can make a show of politeness to a creep.

It is hate actually loving, and hate loves like love;
Hate is what it is, but love is what it does.

Love can be aroused by an identifying pity
Which makes us ache in a sweet melancholy—
We don’t love their perfection, but their faults;
We rejoice that love does not run, but halts.
Love halts right beside us.
The bus breaks down and we get on the bus.
But what notes faults insults.

So merciful, identifying love breeds hate—
The lover learns the hateful truth too late:
The one who kissed us is suddenly irate.
Sweet love is changed to injurious hate.

But since love was the original intent,
Hate loves, despite hate, despite resentment;
Love hates, driving the confused lover mad.
But hate loves, so the heavens are glad.

There’s no escape from a hateful love like this;
Love hates as love, teaching hate how to kiss.

It doesn’t matter what we feel, or what we do.
Hate tells hate to hate us if we hate you.

 

YOUR DIVERSITY IS CONFORMITY

The boy raised in a suburb, white,
Learns in school his heart is blacker than night,
Life is large animals eating small;
Not sin, but God’s City, the terrible loss, the terrible  fall,
He learns, he learns it all.
Vaginas have a great deal to say.
He listens to vaginas talk all day.
Vaginas are here. And they’re not going away.
Did you write a poem on a vagina today?
He learns he took something, and must give it back
To the world, his daddy, and his daddy’s daddy, the fault and the lack.
The old science and the old erection,
The old knowledge and the old protection,
Are dead, say the new Chairs, the new Head.
But nothing, when you look around, is changed at all:
Buildings and rockets and marriages and laws
Weigh heavy on the landscape, the economy,
Customs, play, manners, money, no pause
Of the world’s activities can be discerned. Everything is lovely.
And when the boy, now a man, receives his degree,
He assumes, with some debt, all the old knowledge,
And forgets what the vaginas had to say in college.

 

 

 

 

WHO SAID LOVE

Image result for taj mahal

Who said love is like money? They were right.

When you have a lot of it, you keep it out of sight.

The only time you spend a lot is when you need to get

What someone else can give you—but not quite yet.

I’m still making payments on the lovely house

That is you. A house, lovely, but quiet as a mouse.

Our two houses stand, indebted to each other.

How rich we are, in being poor for each other.

You have paid as much for me, and you, too,

Owe millions, with kisses the bank misses past due.

Love makes us poor, swells our debt

For a dry floor, a bed that’s wet.

Love, to be love, must be spent,

A kiss coming by a poem sent.

My mortgage is by your mortgage always due.

You must pay me love that’s always owed to you.

 

 

 

 

THE POETRY COMMUNITY LOSES ITS MIND

Over the weekend, thanks to Reb Livingston, we became aware of a brewing scandal in the poetry community.

Scarriet feels compelled to respond to the ‘anonymous sexual abuse outing document found in AWP restroom controversy,’ not because we have any special interest in it, per se, but because we believe the scandal currently poisoning po-biz manifests aesthetic attitudes of significant pedagogical importance.

Scarriet is a boutique—a high-end, up-scale, boutique, of what might be called expensive, high-fashion poetry and poetry criticism; we produce clothing and accessories for the soul, and we make no apologies for the beauty, love, truth, good taste and wit that we produce; and nor do we apologize for appealing to an elite class of soul (which has nothing to do with advanced college degrees or any of the credentialing nonsense that characterizes the pyramid scheme of so-called “professional” poetry, with its animal grunting and network stroking). We take poetry seriously, and don’t come around here with that ‘pyramid’ nonsense please. Our readers generally know, and do not.

This controversy has nothing to do with us, of course, because we are free of the odor of po-biz, and merely roll around in poetry. But this scandal affects us because it impacts how the world sees and practices poetry.

Scarriet is a high-end boutique precisely because we live the poetry, and can respond to a controversy like this without passion or self-interest.

Our position is this: poetry, some time around the beginning of the 20th century, was, in a series of adroit political and pedagogical maneuvers by Modernist poets, wealthy individuals, and government officials, coaxed away from its public role and public use to become a playground of pretense and experiment (all in the name of public and pedagogical improvement more accurately reflecting real life, etc).  Seducing poetry away from what it had been turned out to be wildly successful, since the seduction had a democratic appeal: obscure, fragmentary prose became the ‘poet’ standard anyone could reach, and, at the same time, one could ‘learnedly be modern’ and reject the ‘fussily moral’ past. (‘Could’ is not quite accurate; one did—the two necessarily went hand in hand.)

It is important to note here that “what poetry had been” is more accurately what poetry is-–as shown with poetry—by the best poets of the past. Shakespeare set a high standard, Poe set a high standard, Keats and Shelley and Tennyson set a high standard, Whitman and Wordsworth and Barrett set a high standard, not in the sense that professors are required to make us understand their poetry—the standard is a real one, in which accessible music joins accessible rhetoric in a highly skilled manner, clearly conveying things which the public is interested in: chiefly, relations between the sexes; moral philosophy; good taste; refinement; interest in nature and science; philosophical wit; wisdom, fears, loves and hopes common to all.

This high standard—which gave pleasure to a reading public, also took its inevitable place in the schools with the rise of universal public education.

Modernism piggy-backed into the schools as it managed to standardize itself there, and, gradually replacing the ‘old’ poetry with the “Red Wheel Barrow” and “The Waste Land,” used the force of its school-validation in combination with the rise of the Creative Writing Industry (Iowa, Paul Engle and his friends, the highly government-and-think tank connected New Critics, including Robert Lowell) as poet-teachers increasingly joined the piggy-back phenomenon in an orgy of self-interest that cut out the old standards and left no room for Byron. Poetry was no longer a public enjoyment—it was something only professors could teach, and as poetry became more experimental, inaccessible and obscure, the self-interested professor became more prominent in what became essentially a pyramid scheme of teachers/wacko explainers on the inside, and everybody else (including the public) on the outside.

Which brings us back to the scandal: an ugly manifestation of the ugly things which naturally occur whenever favors replace standards.

We don’t need to take sides here; we only need to point out—as we have just done—in the simplest manner possible, a truth, which, despite the brevity, we are certain everyone immediately understands (remember when poetry was like this?).

The accusers, in the current scandal, are accused of slandering the innocent (slander: 1. an important trope in Shakespeare, 2. used to destroy the reputation of America’s great standard-bearer, Edgar Poe).

The truth has yet to come to light. Accusations themselves can murk up the light on their own. We do not know the truth and do not speak of it, obviously. The rage of the accusers does not equal the truth; but their rage could be based on a truth; we are not taking sides. As we pointed out earlier, we have the luxury of not taking sides, since we stay clear of all po-biz insanity, and care for poetry alone.

The accusers open their letter (following a list of the accused names of the men) with a profundity which needs saying and which we agree with:

It has finally come to the attention of the literary “community” that women are abused and experience gendered violence just like women in all other social spheres of the world. The humanities do not save us, the assumed “humaneness” of the poet or writer does not exist. We say “community” in scare quotes because we have no shared actual commonality or trust that forms the bedrock of self-identified communities.

Yes. Poets and poetry need no special protection or defense, and it’s the Modernist (and contemporary) poets and their fans who play this ‘poet immunity’ card the most, even as they trash the reputations of a Poe or a Shelley. The accusers are right to expose this douchebaggery. And no more hiding behind “community,” either, which is code for the Creative Writing Era favoritism douchebaggery which has cynically steamrolled the standards of old.

But the accusers don’t get it entirely right, and come close to spoiling everything, for they go on to summarize:

This is a statement against the straight male cisgender patriarchy that enables this behavior: not only bringing direct harm to women, but those who have knowingly stayed silent while your fellow writers abuse people in positions of lesser power.

So we are to believe that gay men and women cannot, and do not, abuse women? How can one be interested in justice—and be so utterly naive?

The accusers, in their wrath, are strangely divided—they expose douchebaggery and yet they are victims of it, in almost equal amounts.

The reason for this is simple, as well. Since poetry has lost its public, there has been an increasing attempt in some circles to make poetry relevant to a public again by making poetry (poetry!) simply about hot button, political issues. But there are things like the essay which already exist for this. Here, again, we see the whole thing unfolding simply and naturally, due to the original Modernist error.

And now we bring our notice to a close, secure that Scarriet is the only sane, up-scale island left in poetry today. We are happy. We are  proud.

 

 

I KNOW HOW SHE IS BEAUTIFUL

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I know how she is beautiful,

But she doesn’t know.

I made her beautiful when I loved her.  Love gave her a glow.

But where has her beauty gone?

Today I saw her, with yet another fashion on.

And now I think I know.

My love gave her a confident glow,

Which made me love her more, increasing that glow

Until she became truly beautiful, so neither one of us could know

How she was beautiful,

Since beauty always is its own reason for what it is,

Nothing more beautiful than beauty that simply is—

So she began to resent her beauty as the reason for a kiss,

Beauty the only reason for what beauty is.

You want me, she said, but beauty is not just for you,

And I believed her. The law of beauty. What her beauty said was true.

Even though we loved, I feared, in our love, what she was about to do.

One day, for no reason, she became angry. She said angry things to me.

Perfect beauty is a tyrant, and she was now acting tyrannically,

Not knowing what she was doing, and neither did I;

Her anger was baseless; I had nothing to say. Beauty caused love to die.

She was as beautiful as ice and now came the inevitable goodbye.

I was so in love with her beauty, I was timid and afraid.

I had no moral strength. Her hate grew: this dude just wants to get laid.

Love was undone by the beauty it had made.

Now she visits the beauty shop. She attends to parts. But beauty escapes her as a whole.

She is no longer beautiful. Today I glanced at her, and the whole truth flashed upon my soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY SECRET BOOK

At the beginning of my book
Is an argument which deserves a look.

Which do I love best?
I believe it is her lips—
They sometimes received my finger tips
Shyly, as I told her how much I loved them.

Her modesty was deep, and deep would I go
In loving her, to prove
The depth and sincerity of my love
And kissing her lips was one way to prove my love.

The first thing I loved was her arms
When we were friends. It produced no alarms.
A tiny rash caught from the farms. It produced no alarms.
It was a joke almost: “I first loved your arms.”

But then—I wanted to kiss her lips,
Especially on leisurely nature trips
When lovely things were all around;
The trees, which some have called beautiful,
Or the grass, the fresh air, the reasons for the trips
Were many, for nature is lovely in sight and sound—
But my focus was on her lips
And I would kiss her by bush and pond
When the hush of nature was all around.

She amazed me, and sometimes I would stretch out in unbelief upon the ground
Trying to understand when she said
She didn’t think her lips were beautiful; she would make some ordinary movement with her head
And look almost angry, as if my praise
Were insulting, as if her lips did not haunt (I lost sleep) my red nights and days.

Or was it her breasts
That drove me, to the greatest degree, absolutely mad?
The thought of her entertaining other guests
Made me jealous beyond imagining; nothing is worse than love forced to be sad
The more it ought to be happy—
What should be swelling, and proud, and sticking out
Turns morose and sappy.
The proud lover becomes a trampled-down lout.
I would pace at home and talk to myself when we didn’t go out.

But let that go. For now I know her eyes
And their shy, happy expression are the highest prize
Among all the things about her; if anything dies
Mournfully and beautifully in my memory
Most poignantly, it is those strangely wise and beautiful eyes—
Her eyes speak what cannot be spoken;
And when nature sleeps at last and nothing natural can be woken,
Her
eyes! Oh their sweet look
Will occupy the final sentence of my book.

If interest in my book slips,
If all that talk of eyes and breasts and lips
Seems too much, let me touch her lightly on the arms.
Look at that little rash. Read of that. Or simply touch the book. That will cause no alarms.

A SMALL, HIGH CLOUD

Once love reaches a certain fever pitch,
It’s an embarrassment to everybody.
Imagination explodes in dirty jokes
And life becomes pornography with clothes on.
Banal phrases like “doing it” take over the mind
Until the only solution is icy austerity,
And the frowning and the hate
Which makes it tumble down.

Kill love! Kill sex!
Kill poetry! And please kill my sexy ex!
Give me a sex-icon who lives on the moon.
Make sex impossible. Not something that might happen soon.
Please tell romance and song to shut up.
All I need is a wooden cup.
Send me on my way.
If you love me, look for me.
I’ll return as a small, high cloud one day.

 

 

 

 

THE TENDEREST HEART

A sensitive Plant in a garden grew —Shelley

The tenderest heart
Loves the tenderest plant!

Her heart feels grief
If harm should come to the smallest leaf.
She is sensitive—beyond belief.

Isn’t this what you want she should want?
To feel and want
What has no want?

The tender plant survives in the dirt.
She stays in bed—to not get hurt.

No matter how the poet implores,
She brings the tender plant indoors.

She waters the plant every day.
With your third eye, you might want to cry this way.

 

 

BEAUTY IS WRONG

Beauty is wrong
For being rare.
How can we share
If beauties are few?

Beauty isn’t fair.

I felt terrible loving you:
You were rare, and you knew.

Beauty changes from what is
To what we do
In order to please more than a few
And then everything becomes a blur:
A piece of abstract art—
Beautiful! Wait. Is that you? Or her?

But beauty is only beauty because it is rare;

No, because I saw a million beauties there,
A million beauties drowning me in beauty,
Beauty the whole reason for my mind,
Beauty the sole reason for desire,
Beauty, the sun, with its engulfing fire,
Dwarfing our earth and its little air,
Beauty in little places found everywhere,
In the sea, with billions of beauties swimming there,
Yellow and orange fish, fins waving like mermaid hair,
In sea-light creeping down from slippery upper air,
Mixing with the blue light and the green light,
So I thought, “is it really true that beauty isn’t fair?”
Were you the thing I wanted? Were you there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

SINNING

We all do what is right
In the middle of the night,
Or in the day; we do what is right,

As we think and as we calculate;
It is right to us—even if we hate
As we feel, and with feeling, calculate.

Some perceive what we do as sin,
Some, outside, looking in…
And they could be right:
Everyone loves themselves in the middle of the night.

When we discover one we loved
Has, in secret, sinned, we feel betrayed;
Forgive them; in their hearts they were right;
And fear them not; fear the one who sins in the light,
Right in front of you—and is not afraid.

 

ROBERTO CUPUCCI: FASHION POEM NO. 2

“He [Cupucci] designs as though for an abstract woman, the woman we never meet.” –Alison Adburgham

Born in Rome, Roberto Cupucci,
More splendid than Cartier, Cardin, or Gucci.
Roberto took the dress world by storm
With warm colors and warmer form.
Roberto Cupucci, give me a kiss.
I never knew fashion could be like this.
Hold me in your arms, you designing man.
I will give you my pleats. I will give you my tan.
I will give you my secrets and the softness of my skin.
Your radiance is something I am comfortable in.

I never thought I could wear a dress like this.
But the abstract is never amiss.
Hell, there is nothing like a great perfume
When you enter a room.
I do mean great, because there is a smell
Which haunts more than memory itself can in an old mossy well.
Roberto? No. Do not let them see me, Roberto.

And later, in the garden—ah, smell that garden—what shall we do?
Roberto Capucci, come closer! I want to talk to you.
I’m thinking of sitting on this couch
, at last.
Norma Kamali was the secret to my past.
Taffeta prince, I think I can be
Loved, if I march in Rome’s army,
Loved, I know, by at least one,
Who will glimpse me under the orange sun.

WHEN I WAS YOUR SLAVE

When I was your slave, and everything was seen through you,
My needs, and my mind, I hardly knew.
I studied you, to please you, and I became you, pleasing you,
Which pleased me—
For some reason—tremendously.
I did not choose to please you,
Or choose to take pleasure in you,
And certainly it was not you
Who forced me to please you;
What was it then, which made me a slave to you?

We know others by what they do,
But ourselves, by what we crave.
I couldn’t stop craving you.
And now that we are through,
I think on those needs of mine, and that mind of mine which I hardly knew,
When I was your slave, and everything was a mist or measure of you,
And I still don’t know anything. I don’t know what to do about you.
There is still the world. Ah, there it is. A view.

J. ALFRED PRUFROCK GRADES PAPERS

Do I dare to give an “F”
To my student, Amber Luck,
Who does not give a fuck?
I’m always out of breath
When I lecture them on death,
And my eyes trail the floor
Discussing poems of amor.
Do I suggest an “Incomplete?”
Shall we privately meet
To correct the wrongs
She imposed on Song of Songs?
Do I consult the dean?
All four of them, and all green?
Who gives a fuck
About Amber Luck
Who cannot write?
And yet—when I lie in bed at night,
Letting poems run through my head
Amber is the name, instead.

Tomorrow I teach World War One,
And all the slaughtering that was done,
And how it afflicted the minds
Of brilliant poets like me,
Who pull down the blinds
And weep alone in the nursery.
The war inspired poets to write “fuck,”
And I will make it clear to Amber Luck
That her attitude belongs to history.
I don’t see her as a mystery.
I only see her as a student in my class,
Another chair and another ass,
As the dean of recruitment and enrollment says.

FASHION DESIGNERS AGONIZE OVER THESE QUESTIONS

How can we make the Mae West look fashionable again?

What’s the secret to dressing short men?

What is the perfect pair of underpants?

How can stiff clothes add to romance?

Fabric or form?

What if you love layers, but it’s far too warm?

Where is the model that will make our work?

What if the handsomest one is simply a jerk?

Where’s the collar for the fat neck?

What’s the fashion for a small, wooden deck?

Why won’t anybody wear that?

What if my smile makes my cheeks look fat?

How can we be chic and affordable?

Where’s the dress that will cure every ill?

Why do colors hate?

What if they are gone when you are fashionably late?

How much of my wrist should my sleeve show?

What about the hideousness of my elbow?

What if there are too many parties?

What if there are too many fabrics?

What if there are too many arms?

What if there is war?

What if they don’t want to wear that anymore?

What if they laugh at our bottoms?

What’s the relation between feet and hat?

Why shorts with hairy legs?

Why low sandals with cankles?

Why unshaped hair?

Why too much cologne?

When did that look ascend the throne?

 

 

 

THE BEAUTIFUL HAVE DECLARED WAR ON THE UGLY

Bartolomeo Veneto : Lady Playing a Lute   (Getty Museum)

The beautiful have declared war on the ugly.
The beautiful have been oppressed for too long;
Beauty has been kept from the beautiful.
Music has been kept from the song.

Do not pity the ugly; pity the beautiful, who, with beautiful eyes,
Lower them before the ugly; pity the beautiful, wrong
In the eyes of the ugly, terrified of the ugly and their lies.
If you are beautiful, you can do no wrong:
The truth of the poem. The truth of the song.

If you are beautiful, you please without trying.
The ugly, who plot and plan, say otherwise.
They are lying.

The beautiful are always beautiful, and the beautiful is an end in itself.
The ugly store and save and sell
Regrets. Remedies for regrets sell better. Look at them there on the shelf.

The beautiful have no regrets,
They smile sadly at the selling and the buying:
This remedy forgets
What this remedy was trying:
To make the beautiful ugly
Which happens when the ugly are buying.
The ugly cannot be beautiful; the ugly who say they are beautiful are lying.
And now the ugly laugh. But the beautiful are sighing.

The ugly are marching for rights.
Too many ugly are dying.
The ugly are ugly in earnest.
The beautiful are sighing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORE VERSES VERSUS VERSES: MAZER AND RANSOM

MAZER:

Sunlight rests like a package at the door.
Nothing sees. The rich interior is useless to persons and chronology.
Once when the spring came to our caravan I’d say the mountain streams ran in her hair.
Let these things rest without memory.

RANSOM:

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,   
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,   
Who cried in goose, Alas,
For the tireless heart within the little   
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

Now we get to see who is in the Final Four.

But how is this possible?

Look back on a few recent posts.

Michelangelo versus Teasdale: how can we declare a winner?  The very secret of Michelangelo’s soul in a newly translated sonnet. A heart-breaking lyric by the under appreciated Teasdale. How can there be a “winner?”

Oh God! Milton’s passionate paean to Virtue. Or Byron’s passionate paean to…passion. Oh God! Trembling are the knees of the judges!

Poe against Coleridge! Verses that drown the senses and tickle the smallest whiskers of the soul! How can a mortal decision be made?

Mazer, the contemporary representative! Contemporary poetry, generally, is flat, compared to great, old poetry. Ben Mazer, by a miracle, still in this tournament, among the greatest verse-makers of all time!  Against the Tennessean, Ransom, New Critic and T.S. Eliot of the American South, poet of old women and dead children.

The Final Four will appear in a cloud of tears

POE AND COLERIDGE PURSUE FINAL FOUR DREAM!

Poe:

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once fair and stately palace —
Radiant palace –reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion —
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This –all this –was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odour went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh –but smile no more.

 

Coleridge:

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
  
 The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
  
A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

TO____

The clocks are set apart
From what nature is.
Nature belongs to the clock,
Not herself: Birds sing in the cold.
The loveliest clock is a heart
Almost stopped by a kiss
Ages ago upon a rock
Before the lover and the world were old.
Our world hinges on a rhyme.
Everything resolves in time.

Nothing belongs to itself.
Time, time, time is the elf.

Time makes the distances
And the spaces, the essences
Of all colors, thoughts, and things.
Seeing is never enough;
My darling in the dark talks and sings
Of what is enough: love.

THE WINTER WE DID NOT KISS

The winter we did not kiss
Was a winter from hell.
I hoped, hoped so much more
Than I might hope to tell.
The winter we fell in love was warm.
Hidden blossoms did not mean any harm.

The winter we did not kiss
Icy silence fell.
We are taught not to tell too much.
After months, frozen by love, we say, oh what the hell,
And we confess to ourselves
All we promised to ourselves not to tell.

I hoped; hope was stronger than all
I might whisper in heaven, or shout in hell.

I hoped you and I would kiss—
Not because life is terrible, not because of this.
But because love misses love
More than anything else anything else can miss,
Whether there is snow,
Or the weather knows or does not know,
Whether the light is low in the sky,
Or the same train in the rain goes by.

A POEM IS NOT WISE WORDS

A poem is not wise words.
If you want wisdom, you would not ask the birds
Who fly from tree to tree;
Neither should you expect any wisdom from me.

Nor would it be wise to write a poem to you.
Others, not meant to read it, might see it, too.

The birds have strategies.
They fly in shade to avoid death.

The males are beauties,
But brown the female in the brown nest.

The birds feed their young,
Who fly after the song is sung
And during the singing
Cheat death’s crouch and leap
With speedy winging.

No one thinks this wisdom.
It is fear, in quick bright eyes.

Yet some might call the birds wise
Who fly above us in the skies.

MILTON AND BYRON BATTLE FOR PLACE IN FINAL FOUR!

Byron: some nerd who wrote a few poems

Milton brings it (from Comus):

Mortals that would follow me,
Love virtue, she alone is free;
She can teach you how to climb
Higher than the sphery climb;
Or if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.

Byron:

Remember you! Remember you!
Till Lethe quench life’s burning stream,
Remorse and shame shall cling to you,
And haunt you. Like a fever dream.

Remember you! Oh doubt it not.
Your husband, too, shall think of thee,
By neither shall you be forgot,
You false to him. You fiend to me.

 

TO THE FINAL FOUR: MICHELANGELO (PREMIERE TRANSLATION) VERSUS TEASDALE!

Michelangelo:

Sonnet

Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto

For Vittoria Colonna

This block of marble will not, for long, hide
My idea that seeks to destroy the inside
That keeps my idea hidden, away from the light
So you can see it and say I’ve done it right.
But I’m an ass to feel any bit of pride
For my strenuous art that carves the shape,
Or the mere idea that is my guide.
You, the model for all dress and video tape,
Stand above every block and every block broken,
Reminding me that two things matter
Hidden by pieces, paint and spatter,
World-parts seen, heard or spoken:
These two your truth: mercy and death.
Death is all I carve, in love with you, and out of breath.

Teasdale:

I am alone, in spite of love,
In spite of all I take and give—
In spite of all your tenderness,
Sometimes I am not glad to live.

I am alone, as though I stood
On the highest peak of the tired gray world,
About me only swirling snow,
Above me, endless space unfurled;

With earth hidden and heaven hidden,
And only my own spirit’s pride
To keep me from the peace of those
Who are not lonely, having died.

MICHELANGELO, TEASDALE, MAZER AND RANSOM IN THE ELITE EIGHT!!

Here are the Winners of the Sweet Sixteen Contests:

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

Wow.  The upsets continue.

Michelangelo continues his amazing run, eliminating the best lyric poet of the 20th century, Tom Eliot (and his lovely, haunting ‘sea-girls wreathed with seaweed’ passage) with a remarkable, concise meditation on stony sleep!

The placid and beautiful verse of Teasdale runs roughshod over Wordsworth!

Coleridge versus Tennyson was a clash of titans, but the author of “Kubla Khan” prevailed!

Poe had his hands full with Keats, but that rhythm!  Poe’s got rhythm!

Milton easily dispatched Ashbery.

Byron knocked off Shelley, and deserves to be here!

Mazer may be the best poet of his generation; Mazer beat Chin in a Scarriet rematch between these two American poets.

Ransom, an underestimated lyric master (“Astonishes” astonishes rhythmically) advances over an icon, Alexander Pope!

The March Madness 2015 Poetry Tourney is now down to 8 poets!

Michelangelo versus Teasdale is next. One of these Cinderella teams will have to go! So sad.

THE LIST: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100

Conceptualism Can Hardly Be Imagined!

1. KG  is talked about.
2. Vanessa Place  Conceptualism’s moment in the sun
3. Ron Silliman  Has Conceptualism fever
4. Marjorie Perloff  Wrestles with: Avant-garde = Art, not poetry
5. Amy King  “Real issue” poet leads the war against Conceptualism
6. Cate Marvin  VIDA masses breaking down the walls of Conceptualism
7. Carol Ann Duffy writes poem for reburial of Richard III
8. Benedict Cumberbatch, distant cousin, delivers it.
9. Ben Mazer publishes Complete Ransom
10. Jorie Graham  Big Environmentalism comeback?
11. Claudia Rankine  Seizing the moment?
12. James Franco  Film/gallery/poetry renaissance man or Hollywood punk?
13. David Biespiel  April Fool’s Conceptualism piece in Rumpus
14. George Bilgere  Just “good poems?”
15. Kent Johnson  “Prize List:” Brilliant or KG lite?
16. Susan Howe   Who, where, what, why?
17. Ann Lauterbach Can’t hear the baroque music
18. Corina Copp  Reproduce
19. David Lau  A permisson
20. Forrest Gander  Take a look
21. Harryette Mullen Thinking it over
22. Keston Sutherland  S’marvelous! S’alternative!
23. Evie Shockley  Electrical grass
24. Joe Luna  Pale orb that rules the night
25. Geoffrey O’Brien Library of America editor
26. Lisa Cattrone “Your mother could pull a fresh squid from a lumberjack”
27. Jennifer Tamayo  Colombian-born New  Yorker
28. Juliana Sparr Won the Hardison Poetry Prize in 2009
29. Monica de la Torre Born and raised in Mexico City
30. Caroline Knox Educated at Radcliffe, lives in Massachusetts
31. J. Michael Martinez Hispanic American poet, winner of Walt Whitman award
32. Jasper Bernes  Theorist who received his PhD in 2012
33. Mairead Byrne Discovered the internet in 1994 on a plane from Ireland
34. Ben Lerner Eyebrows haunt glasses beneath intellectual hair
35. Ron Padget  Young member of the New York School
36. Alli Warren  Born in L.A., her book is Here Come the Warm Jets
37. Sandra Simonds “And once you give up drinking, drugs and having random sex, what is left?”
38. John Wilkinson  Studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge, United Kingdom
39. Hoa Nguyen Born near Saigon in 1967
40. Will Alexander Also made Johnson’s “Prize List”
41. Sophia Le Fraga “it took me fifteen minutes and eight tries which is too many and too slow I think”
42. Joyelle McSweeney She edits Action Books!
43. Cole Swensen “for instance, the golden section mitigates between abandon and an orchestra just behind those trees”
44. Cathy Wagner Her book Nervous Device came out in 2012
45. Christian Hawkey Is a poet, activist, translator, editor, and educator. Also wears shoes.
46. Dana Ward Was a featured writer for Harriet
47. Stacy Szymaszek “then something happened and a FUCK YOU FENCE went up”
48. Rebecca Wolff “The dominant paradigm of the day: the mediocre narrative lyric.”
49. Lugwa Mutah Kidnapped in Nigeria. Made Johnson’s “Prize List”
50. Maureen Thorson “At first heartbreak made me beautiful.”
51. Sean Bonney Brought up in the North of England
52. Tan Lin Poet, novelist, filmmaker, and new media artist
53. Rob Halpern “I herded me and me and me into a room in groups of ten to twenty and stripped me and me and me naked.”
54. Charles Bernstein  Playing in Scarriet March Madness Tourney, too busy to talk right now.
55. Rob Fitterman  Postconceptual pizza
56. Matthew Dickman “All night it felt like I was in your room, the French doors opened out onto the porch”
57. Anne Carson Born in Toronto in 1950
58. Christian Bok Born in Toronto in 1966
59. Caroline Bergvall Born in Germany in 1962
60. Peter Gizzi “Beauty walks this world. It ages everything.”
61. Linh Dinh His poem “Quiz” is on the Poetry Foundation site
62. Michael Robbins “A Poem for President Drone”
63. Bill Freind “We found this on the map so it is real.”
64. Danielle Parfunda  She is the author of Manhater.
65. Daniel Tiffany “Bin Ramke has come to be known for the procedures and allusions that quicken his ongoing poetic experiment”
66. Cathy Park Hong “To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.”
67. Dodie Bellamy Sex poetry grows apace with her Cunt Norton.
68. Lucas de Lima  Wet Land is for Ana Maria
69. Rosa Alcala “English is dirty. Polyamorous. English wants me.”
70. Yedda Morrison Whites out Heart of Darkness for her book, Darkness
71. Craig Santos Perez From Guam, co-founder of Ala Press
72. Divya Victor A featured writer for Harriet last year
73. Nathaniel Mackey Teaches at Duke
74. Brenda Hillman Married to “Meditation at Lagunitas”
75. Elizabeth Willis “You don’t blame the lamp for what you cannot read”
76. Ocean Vuong Won a Lilly fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2014
77. Bhanu Kapil  British-Indian who teaches at Naropa and Goddard
78. Joshua Wilkinson A “Poetry Plus” advocate
79. Elizabeth Robinson “red blush on air makes fatality sublime”
80. Brandon Brown Charles Baudelaire the Vampire Slayer
81. Lee Ann Brown “The Question Undoes Itself/ On an organic twittering machine”
82. John Yau Educated at Brooklyn, Bard and BU
83. Lyn Hejinian The Queen of the Language Poets?
84. Erica Hunt  “She likes to organize with her bare teeth”
85. Michael Hansen Poetry editor of Chicago Review
86. John Ashbery  And he goes, and he goes
87. David Lehman What is the best?
88. Jim Behrle The clown downtown
89. Alan Cordle He ripped the veil
90. Helen Vendler  Sees Yeats in the twilight
91. Billy Collins  Free verse genius
92. Seth Abramson Have no idea what he’s talking about
93. Philip Nikolayev  Gold mine of Russian translation
94. Valerie Macon  We won’t forget
95. Joe Green  A Fulcrum poet
96. Garrison Keillor  Poetry’s Walter Cronkite?
97. Camille Paglia  Feminist-hating blah blah blah?
98. Sharon Olds  The sweet crash-and-burn of Iowa Confessionalism
99. Amber Tamblyn The actress. Her new book of poems, Dark Sparkler, is about dead actresses
100. Dan Chiasson  Au courant, staus quo reviewer

SLEEP AND DESIRE

Why do I want to sleep? Is it the dreaming?

Aren’t dreams as real as life’s dreamlike seeming

And dreams more pleasant, and more uniquely mine?

Who wouldn’t rather sleep than listen to assholes all the time?

But sleep is not desire and I miss desire, too.

You are not a dream, are you?

That hankering in the blood under the sun

For what is real, the dream and the real all one,

I very much want that, too.

I will never forget when you said yes

And allowed me to nightly press

My hardness against your softness,

My brute and blind and stupid prick

Against you, wise and politic.

Did that joy only seem

To be real, like a dream?

Yes, yes, I have to say yes;

It was a dream, because it’s gone now, and you were not the one,

And do we confess

Desire like that beneath the real sun?

THE SWEET SIXTEEN!

For T.S Eliot, the incense stained Moderinst, the road to the Elite Eight goes through Rome and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo has laid aside hammer and brush and pulled two upsets in a row in an elite English-speaking poetry tournament, the only one of its kind in the world. Rumors are the Pope will attend this contest.

Sarah Teasdale must conquer the iconic Wordsworth; so far she has aimed at the simple heart and won. How many more hearts can she break? Will Wordsworth counter with sentiment of his own? Or be cold and dignified?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Alfred Tennyson. Enough said!

Poe battles Keats!  Half these battles for the Elite Eight feature a Brit versus an American, and this is one of them.  Poe admired Keats, but he was happy to knock down perceived English superiority which existed then.

Milton, who was not known for his sense of humor, plays Ashbery, who, one could argue, is never serious.

The two friends, Byron and Shelley, tangle by a crystal lake at midnight.

Mazer and Chin have met in a previous Scarriet March Madness, with Mazer winning a big one. Chin out for revenge. She is one of two women left in the tournament.

And, in an interesting twist, Ransom, the “The T.S. Eliot of the American South,” whose collected poetry Mazer just published, continues his underdog run against Alexander Pope.

Eliot v. Michelangelo

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown. —Eliot

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

Wordsworth v. Teasdale

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose, The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare, waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair. —Wordsworth

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

Coleridge v. Tennyson

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark. —Tennyson

Poe v. Keats

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.  —Keats

Milton v. Ashbery

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

Some departure from the norm Will occur as time grows more open about it. The consensus gradually changed; nobody Lies about it any more.  —Ashbery

Byron v. Shelley

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? —Shelley

Chin v. Mazer

My cousin calls him Allah my sister calls him Jesus my brother calls him Krishna my mother calls him Gautama I call him on his cell phone But he does not answer. —Chin

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

Pope v. Ransom

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown, Thus unlamented, let me die, Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.  —Pope

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

LIFE IS A LONG ROOM

Longroom london

Life is a long room

With something happening at the other end

Which has nothing to do with you,

But which you watch, unnoticed,

Sipping your coffee, settled back in your chair,

No one, you think, paying attention to you,

Some small event

You may end up remembering more than 

These casual participants will;

Often sad to think how little people remember,

Yet this is part of the glory of memory, finally,

Is it not? What you remember, so it makes you cry?

A small crowd has gathered,

An elderly lady in a yellow coat;

They are petting and admiring a dog,

One of those handsome hunting dogs,

Noble, quick, anxious to please;

The conversation is dictated by the visible, outdoor life,

Solid animals, old houses in suburban neighborhoods at the center

Of old power and influence.  Was there music playing?

You know how much is out of reach,

How much slips away, how empty

Is your heart that knows.

TOO SHY TO TALK , HE WRITES POEMS; TOO SHY TO LIVE, SHE TALKS

In the wasteland of the winter garden,
Words on a rock remain;
Dead vines fail to cover what the flowers did,
A sentimental poem carved in a rock
Announces what the garden hid
Spring and summer and fall—
What did the poem say: did she care at all?

But this was the poem’s theme:
She did not care.
But now she does, in winter’s dream,
Death forcing love to love the cold and bare.
She made her heart hard. She talked.
The poem was right. She did not care.

POETRY IS OLD

Poetry is old, and God is old, but older still
Than even God, is institutional will,
Is professionalism perched on the shepherd’s old hill.

The professional points to the paper,
Telling artist and lover what to do.
No love here. Yes, we mean you.

It has nice clothes and a nice demeanor
But beware—there is nothing meaner.
It will send millions of souls to slaughter
As it discourses on the properties of water.

Revenge is sweet,
But even sweeter
When mingled with kisses.
She went to meet her,
She called her in.
When did professionalism begin?
It tries to cover up—but becomes—sin.

Professionalism is sexless and more powerful than sex.
Whatever is sexy, the sexless wrecks.
Love is a pitiful, awkward dance.
Against professionalism it hasn’t a chance.

There was rock music,
But what came later?
Curatorial corporate music
In a glass elevator.

Professionalism killed Mozart
And Michelangelo, too.
Eliot wore a suit
While the bombs flew.

Professionalism is clever: It precisely creates
What publicly it hates.

The priests were evil,
But universal God was good.
Professionalism’s priests
Have no God;
Professionalism is God, understood?

Michelangelo, broken by the gulag,
Modernist, paints a soul with a rag.
Soviet? Yes! So what?
What kind of art do you do?
Manage investments. Professionalism is coming after you.

SWEET SIXTEEN IN BRACKETS THREE AND FOUR

The Scarriet March Madness Poetry competition brings out the good times in everyone.

Spoiler: Results precede list of contests below.

When we judge poems we know them better than when we merely read them.

When we judge, we come face to face with the sea of meaning and are forced to entertain the following truth: meaning exists or it does not; since meaning is vast and misty to the ordinary understanding, and there is a tendency to equate poetry with mist, we assume in error that it is not this simple: but it is this simple; the poet who attempts to slyly evade meaning (like the painter who colorfully adorns and is merely abstract in an attempt to be mysterious) fails.

We either understand the poem (or a part of the poem) or we do not.

This of course does not mean that when we understand the poem, it succeeds. We may understand and reject. But to the wise judge it is easy to see when the poet is deliberately trying not to be understood in order not to be rejected. These efforts are the worst failures of all, even though they are sometimes considered successes—so do so many fear rejection.

When musical poetry supports a banality, at least we have the music—this was the 19th century view, or so it seems to us moderns, who, instead, scorn the music which sells itself to banality, and would rather put faith in unadorned speech which says something, and, even if it doesn’t really ‘say something,’ we like it anyway if it does so without condescending to musicality, which is considered the highest insult, so long was the musical error indulged in previously.

We start with music and fit in ‘saying something’ or we start with ‘saying something’ and hope it rises to music; the former is considered the 19th century way and the latter the new way, or, the currently accepted way. Then of course there is the third way, accepted today in some circles, that this ‘fit’ and ‘rise’ itself is false. And further, this third way can be even more radical and call ‘saying something’ false as a rule—in poetry, or, perhaps, altogether. And as we travel the circle towards ultimate skepticism we may end up back at pure music and the stern post-post modern conceptualist is suddenly transformed into the lisping Romantic heartsick tuneful dandy.

These considerations go into:

Pope toys with Williams, Mazer rips Rilke, Chin punishes Gluck, Ransom downs Dante, Sassoon and Ashbery in OT, Shelley nips Parker, Byron hammers Harper, and Milton murders Bernstein. The dictum, ‘it means something or it does not’ requires a focus, a narrowing, a simplicity, perhaps more than anything else. In poetry as in life, to be unduly mysterious is the sign of the pompously creepy.

BRACKET THREE

Milton: Virtue could see to do what Virtue would By her own radiant light, though sun and moon Were in the flat sea sunk. But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts Benighted walks under the mid-day sun; Himself is his own dungeon.

v.

Bernstein: What do you mean by rashes of ash? Is industry systematic work, assiduous activity, or ownership of factories? Is ripple agitate lightly? Are we tossed in tune when we write poems? And what or who emboss with gloss insignias of air?

***

Byron: She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that’s best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes; Thus mellowed to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

v.

Harper: We reconstruct lives in the intensive care unit, pieced together in a buffet dinner: two widows with cancerous breasts in their balled hands; a 30-year-old man in a three-month coma from a Buick and a brick wall; a woman who bleeds off and on from her gullet; a prominent socialite, our own nurse, shrieking for twins, “her bump gone”; the gallery of veterans, succored, awake, without valves, some lungs gone.

***

Shelley: Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert, That from Heaven, or near it, Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

v.

Parker: My love runs by like a day in June, And he makes no friends of sorrows. He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon In the pathway of the morrows. He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start, Nor could storm or wind uproot him. My own dear love, he is all my heart,—And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

***

Ashbery: The time of day or the density of the light Adhering to the face keeps it Lively and intact in a recurring wave Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.

v.

Sassoon: I lived my days apart, Dreaming fair songs for God; By the glory in my heart Covered and crowned and shod.

BRACKET FOUR

Dante: There is a gentle thought that often springs to life in me, because it speaks of you. Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true, the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.

v.

Ransom: For I could tell you a story which is true; I know a woman with a terrible tongue, Blear eyes fallen from blue, All her perfections tarnished — yet it is not long Since she was lovelier than any of you.

***

Chin: A flower and yet not a flower A dream and yet not a dream At midnight he comes to my bed At daylight he returns to the dead

v.

Gluck: Night covers the pond with its wing. Under the ringed moon I can make out your face swimming among minnows and the small echoing stars. In the night air the surface of the pond is metal.

***

Rilke: His gaze, from passing on the bars around him, has grown so weary, no more can it bear. It seems as if a thousand bars surround him. Beyond those thousand bars, there is nowhere.

v.

Mazer: I talked the universe out of my head, and you were my mirror. I was understood! The poetry we wrote was more than good, it was unreal and real. Now what we feel descends to that world which exists beyond the grave. Where no one sleeps, and language is our slave.

***

Williams: munching a plum on the street a paper bag of them in her hand They taste good to her They taste good to her They taste good to her

v.

Pope: But as the slightest Sketch, if justly trac’d, Is by ill Colouring but the more disgrac’d, So by false Learning is good Sense defac’d. Some are bewilder’d in the Maze of Schools, And some made Coxcombs Nature meant but Fools. In search of Wit these lose their common Sense, And then turn Criticks in their own Defense.

INSULTING LOVE

A stare is an insult,
Although it be filled with love,
For if the rain comes,
It has to come from above:
He has to say hello,
He has to state his case;
He can’t just make her wet
By looking into her face.

She might feel his love
And really want to play
But when you look with love,
There’s very little to say.

The body is excited,
The grass with the dew is wet.
The love shimmers.
Perhaps you’ll talk to her yet.

TEASDALE AND MICHELANGELO IN SWEET 16!

Michelangelo, the great Renaissance artist, does not belong to the English-speaking poetry canon.

Michelangelo’s success in this year’s Scarriet March Madness perhaps proves nothing—after all, this tournament features excerpted lines, not entire poems.

The experiment has nonetheless proved interesting. First, Michelangelo is an interesting discovery. His poetry is good. Even in the English translations available.

And secondly, with the assertion that “a long poem does not exist,” Edgar Poe, in the mid-19th century, ushered in a new criterion. It is really very simple, and Scarriet has followed Poe’s insight to its logical conclusion: poetry is poetry in as much as it pleases immediately, and in its smallest parts: prose can be unremarkable as it builds; poetry we define as that which is remarkable right away: it is poetry as much as it makes an impression right away—in one line, or a few.

Therefore, let’s be frank: the modern prose poem, which takes time to unfold and make its “poetic” impression on the reader, hasn’t got a chance in this tournament.

And let’s be even more frank: what is the advantage of writing poetry which is not poetry?

Or, to put it another way: is there anything wrong with the type of writing which makes a strong impression immediately?

We cannot think of any reason—touching on pleasure, usefulness, or pedagogy—why this type of writing does not deserve the highest acclaim, should not be considered an expression of the highest virtue.

And yet—who writes like this anymore:

Fate is a wind and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

Which poet today produces work like the above—to critical acclaim?

None.

And yet here is that type of writing which deserves notice—which moves, entertains, pleases on its own and also demonstrates what language itself can do.

And poetry—which is the very best at doing the most important human activity of all: expression—chooses another path, the same path which prose treads.

We find this whole state of affairs—and we love prose—just a little disconcerting.

So let us throw, a little sadly, rose petals at Sarah Teasdale, and congratulate her, with the rest.

Of course, Tennyson, won.  Is the following old, or good?  We say it may be old, but it is also very, very good—whatever else we call it.

My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; my dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

Tennyson probably asked for tea in the way any person would—and when writing poetry such as this, he was practicing to make poetry of the highest order—which it is.

It seems a little ridiculous to condemn verse such as this as “old-fashioned.”

This would be like calling the work which graces the Sistine Chapel “old-fashioned.”

The label “old-fashioned,” applied to Tennyson, and to great verse, should make a person of good taste wince, and cringe.

Here’s the Sweet Sixteen from Brackets one and two:

Michelangelo (d. Marlowe)

Teasdale (d. Dowson)

Eliot (d. Arnold)

Wordsworth (d. Merwin)

Coleridge (d. Wylie)

Poe (d. Frost)

Keats (d. Khayyam)

Tennyson (d. Marvell)

SECOND ROUND MARCH MADNESS ACTION!

BRACKET ONE

Marlowe: Was this the face that launched a thousand ships And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again. Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips.

v.

Michelangelo: Thus thy sudden kindness shown to me Amid the gloom where only sad thoughts reign, With too much rapture bringing light again, Threatens my life more than that agony.

***

Dowson: I cried for madder music and for stronger wine, But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire, Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine; And I am desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.  

v.

Teasdale: Fate is a wind, and red leaves fly before it Far apart, far away in the gusty time of year—Seldom we meet now, but when I hear you speaking, I know your secret, my dear, my dear.

***

Eliot: With the other masquerades That time resumes, One thinks of all the hands That are raising dingy shades In a thousand furnished rooms.

v.

Arnold: The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.

***

Wordsworth: She dwelt among the untrodden ways Beside the springs of Dove, Maid whom there were none to praise And very few to love.

v.

Merwin: Naturally it is night. Under the overturned lute with its One string I am going my way Which has a strange sound

 

BRACKET TWO

Coleridge: Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,’Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea!

v.

Wylie: Avoid the reeking herd, Shun the polluted flock, Live like that stoic bird, the eagle of the rock.

***

Poe: I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea, But we loved with a love that more than love—I and my Annabel Lee—

v.

Frost: Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun

***

Khayyam: Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring Your winter garment of repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.

v.

Keats: Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men Look’d at each other with a wild surmise Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

***

Marvell: Had we but world enough and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

v.

Tennyson: My heart would hear her and beat, Were it earth in an earthy bed; My dust would hear her and beat, Had I lain for a century dead; Would start and tremble under her feet, And blossom in purple and red.

 

 

CLIMB DOWN INTO THE CAVERNS OF SLEEP

Climb down into the caverns of sleep.
Kiss limbs you’ve never kissed.
Laugh at sorrow—at the comedic, weep.
Desire what you never desired,
Look for what you never missed.

What you cannot know
Creeps up on you at last.

Sleep is warm, maternal and slow,
That her children, the dreams, may be bright and fast.

When you climb down into the caverns of sleep,
Beware; this depth may be illusion
And your fate, which seems serious and profound,
Is only sleeping on the ground:
What you love is neither important nor deep.

A POEM BY V. MUTHU MANICKAM

End of the World by ahermin

Only One!

Only one who can abundantly give
Only one who can endlessly live

Only one who can love purely
Only one who can offer anything surely

Anything, only one who can, predict
Anyone, only one who can, protect

Only one who can protect anywhere
Only one who can cure everywhere

Only one is omniscient
Only one who can be omnipresent

Only one who can be ultimate
He is one! Of course, only one!!

—V. Muthu Manickam

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