SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED! WITH BEST LINES!

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Mary Oliver and Sushmita Gupta

Poetry doesn’t have a center—therefore this “hot” list is not legitimate, but is.

Good poems and poets are everywhere. These happened to hit my eyes.

The best poems are not being published by the major publishers or the glossy magazines or the Poetry Foundation, but by our Facebook friends, our girlfriends, or the guy sitting next to us at the café. The best poem in English, being written somewhere right now—right now—is probably being written in India. Comforting or not, this is the fact.

The death of Mary Oliver, and its fairly large public notice, shows poetry has a kind of shadow center, if not a real one, occasionally manifesting itself as seemingly real, only to fade into Auden’s cry, “poetry makes nothing happen.” Slowly, in obscure corners of people’s hearts, poetry does happen. It has no intellectual, philosophical, or critical identity, and its social identity is crushed by cinema and the popular song. But times change, and poetry does seem to be simmering towards something larger in the places where large things occur.

Poetry as the technical art, and poetry as it vaguely exists in the everyday efforts and reflections of the world are two different things. No poet or critic is responsible for the vastness of the latter.

In this contemporary snapshot list of poems, I intentionally made the search greater to include the best-known sources, for two reasons: “what are the most distinguished outlets doing?” and for the sake of variety.

So the poems on this list are poems I happily and locally and accidentally see, and also poems gleaned from sources which a slightly larger audience sees.

This explains why you see the poems you do.

As far as how the poems are actually ranked, the best first, and so on, again, I plead guilty to subjectivity, which never excuses authoritarian decisions—it only makes them seem more authoritarian; but the word authoritarian is overused and misused these days—whatever decisions the comfortable, fake-revolutionaries don’t like, are called, after the fact, authoritarian.

The poems are ranked by the best lines uttered in these poems.

Philip Nikolayev (on the list) has a theory that poetry lives, finally, in great lines.

It was a great Facebook discussion, and I forget what I said about it, then, which is all that matters—the Scarriet Hot 100 I introduce here is my authoritarian moment in the sun—and why I bring it up, I don’t know, because I agreed with Nikolayev, then, and now, perhaps, I don’t.

All the poems on the Hot 100 list are good—but some, as good as they are, have nothing but plain and ordinary lines, or phrases. No stand-alone piece of the poem—good when the poem is read as a whole—sounds very interesting.

In rare instances, the title of the poem, coupled with the selected mundane part of the poem, combines to be of interest, or surprising. As you judge, keep the titles in mind as you read the line.

Because the ranking here is by line (or part of a line, or lines) I should say a word or two about what makes a good line.

I believe it can be summed up: a good line is where the vision and the rhythm speak together.

Some lines are good for purely prose fiction reasons—they sound like the start of a great short story. They point, rather than being the point.

One more thing: since Scarriet has written on Indian poetry recently, many poets are from India; those designated “Scarriet” were featured on that date on this site, though found elsewhere. Please search, enjoy, and support, will you? all 100 of these poets.

 

(1) Jennifer Barber —Continuum (2018 The Charles River Journal #8) “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

(2) A.E. Stallings —Pencil (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Atlantic) “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

(3) Sushmita Gupta —Gently Please  (12/18 FB) “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

(4) William Logan —The Kiss (2017 Rift of Light Penguin) “‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

(5) Eliana Vanessa —this black rose (12/13 FB) “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

(6) Abhijit Khandkar —Bombil  (Poetry Delhi 12/1) “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

(7) Philip Nikolayev —Blame (1/4/19 FB) “within its vast domain confined”

(8) Sharanya Manivannan —Keeping the Change (12/5/18 Scarriet) “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

(9) Hoshang Merchant —Scent of Love (10/12/18 Scarriet) “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

(10) Divya Guha —Non-attendance (1/16/19 Gmail) “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

(11) Ravi Shankar —Buzzards (12/5/18 Scarriet) “What matters cannot remain.”

(12) Mary Angela Douglas —Epiphany of the White Apples (1/3/19 Scarriet) “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual Spring”

(13) N Ravi Shankar—Bamboo (12/26/17 FB) “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

(14) Aseem Sundan —The Poet Lied About The Paradise (1/12/19 Indian Poetry) “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

(15) Stephen Cole —The descriptor heart (1/18/19 FB) “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

(16) Yana Djin —Days are so slow, adoni, so slow (1/2/19 Vox Populi) “In the dusk leaves like golden suns shiver and glow”

(17) Ann Leshy Wood —Thanksgiving, For my father, 1917-2012 (11/23/16 FB) “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

(18) Shalim Hussain —Dighalipukhuri (12/5/18 Scarriet) “His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.”

(19) Linda Ashok —Tongue Tied (4/4/18 Cultural Weekly) “How deep is the universe? How many/light years will it take to reach your belly”

(20) Marilyn Chin —How I Got That Name (2018 Selected Poems, Norton) “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

(21) Diane Lockward —The Missing Wife (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

(22) Daipayan Nair —Roseate with Jyoti (Season 2) Poem VI (12/30/18 FB) “you hold my hand like possibilities”

(23) Ranjit Hoskote —Effects of Distance (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Blue is the color of air letters, of conqueror’s eyes./Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.”

(24) Nabina Das —Death and Else (9/7/18 Scarriet) “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

(25) Sridala Swami —Redacted poetry is a message in a bottle (6/9/18 Scarriet) “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

(26) Anand Thakore —Elephant Bathing (7/5/18 Scarriet) “As pale flamingoes, stripped irretrievably of their pinks,/Leap into a flight forever deferred.”

(27) Danez Smith —acknowledgments (December 2018 Poetry) “i call your mama mama”

(28) Anne Stevenson —How Poems Arrive (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “Or simply wait/Till it arrives and tells you its intention.”

(29) Jennifer Robertson —Coming Undone (4/14/18 Scarriet) “ocean after ocean after ocean”

(30) Srividya Sivakumar—Wargame (1/12/19 Scarriet) “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

(31) Medha Singh —Gravedigger (January 2019 Indian Quarterly) “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

(32) Lily Swarn —The Cobbler (1/7/19 Pentasi B World Friendship Poetry) “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

(33) Sophia Naz —Neelum (5/2/18 Scarriet) “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

(34) James Longenbach —This Little Island (November 2018 Poetry) “And when the land stops speaking/The wave flows out to sea.”

(35) Sam Sax —Prayer for the Mutilated World (September 2018 Poetry) “that you are reading this/must be enough”

(36) Raena Shirali —Daayan After A Village Feast (Anomaly #27) “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

(37) Priya Sarukkhai Chabria —She says to her girlfriend (12/5/18 Scarriet) “in the red slush/open/to flaming skies.”

(38) Nitoo Das —How To Write Erotica (10/12/18 Scarriet) “You’re allowed to be slightly long-winded.”

(39) Sukrita Kumar —The Chinese Cemetery (4/14/18 Scarriet) “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

(40) Zachary Bos —All that falls to earth (May, 2018 Locust Year—chapbook) “In a library properly sorted/ecology stands beside eulogy.”

(41) Khalypso —Women Are Easy To Love Over The Internet (Anomaly #27) “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

(42) C.P. Surendran —Prospect (10/12/18 Scarriet) “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

(43) Dan Sociu —The Hatch (Trans. Carla Bericz, National Translation Month) “the man with the tambourine went off cursing me”

(44) Nalini Priyadarshni —When You Forget How To Write a Love Poem (12/21 Chantarelle’s Notebook a poetry e-zine) “You try different places at different hours,/dipping your pen in psychedelic summer skies”

(45) June Gehringer —I Don’t Write About Race (1/16/19 Luna Luna Magazine) “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

(46) Robin Flicker —I fell asleep holding my notebook and pen (12/22 FB) “In my dream, the pen was a pair of scissors, and I had to cut out every letter of every word.”

(47) Robin Morgan —4 Powerful Poems about Parkinson’s (10/15/15 TED Talk You Tube) “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

(48) Arundhathi Subramaniam —Prayer (11/15/18 Scarriet) “when maps shall fade,/nostalgia cease/and the vigil end.”

(49) Menka Shivdasani —The Woman Who Speaks To Milk Pots (9/7/18 Scarriet) “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

(50) Ryan Alvanos —7:30 (2011 From Here—album online) “not too long and not too far/I carefully left the door ajar”

(51) Tishani Doshi —The Immigrant’s Song (3/16/18 Scarriet) “hear/your whole life fill the world/until the wind is the only word.”

(52) Semeen Ali —You Look At Me (3/16/18 Scarriet) “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

(53) Kim Gek Lin Short —Playboy Bunny Swimsuit Biker (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

(54) Lewis Jian —Mundane Life (1/9/19 World Literature Forum) “who’s wise enough to reach nirvana?”

(55) Dimitry Melnikoff —Offer Me (1/12/19 Facebook Poetry Society) “Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

(56) Kushal Poddar —This Cat, That (12/13/18 FB) “call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

(57) Ben Mazer —Divine Rights (2017 Selected Poems) “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

(58) Christopher T. Schmitz —The Poet’s Oeuvre (12/24 FB) “poems that guess/at the argot of an era to come/and ache with love/for the world he’s leaving/and couldn’t save.”

(59) Simon Armitage  —To His Lost Lover (2017 Interestingliterature) “And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,/about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.”

(60) Akhil Katyal —For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now (7/5/18 Scarriet) “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

(61) Minal Hajratwala —Operation Unicorn: Field Report (8/10/18 Scarriet) “The unicorns are a technology/we cannot yet approximate.”

(62) Jehanne Dubrow —Eros and Psyche (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “my mother might stay asleep forever, unbothered by the monument of those hands”

(63) Rochelle Potkar —Friends In Rape (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?”

(64) Merryn Juliette —Her Garden (9/21 FB) “grey as I am”

(65) Marilyn Kallet —Trespass (Plume #89) “Maybe that’s what Verlaine said,/at the end.”

(66) Meera Nair —On Some Days (12/17 FB) “on all days/Without fail/I need you”

(67) Nathan Woods —Wander, Wonder (12/26 FB) “into wands for spells to scatter the beasts”

(68) Rajiv Mohabir —Hybrid Unidentified Whale (11/15/18 Scarriet) “no others/can process its cries into music.”

(69) Dana Gioia —The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves (Video, Dana Gioia Official Site) “a crack of light beneath a darkened door.”

(70) Paige Lewis —You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm (January 2018 Poetry) “Right now, way above your head, two men”

(71) Smita Sahay —For Nameless, Faceless Women (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “change the way you tell your stories.”

(72) Sampurna Chattarji —As a Son, My Daughter (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “You fear nothing./You frighten me.”

(73) Michelina Di Martino —Original Sin (1/12/19 Intense Call of Feelings) “Let us make love. Where are we?”

(74) Jo-Ann Mort —Market Day (Plume #89) “wanting the air/ beside me to welcome you.”

(75) Sohini Basak—Laconic (1/12/19 Scarriet) “the rude dove just blinked”

(76) Carol Kner —Pieces of us Keep Breaking Off (Plume #89) “to quench the rage that lunges daily”

(77) Shikha Malaviya —September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours) (11/15/18 Scarriet) “Our hips swaying badly/to Bollywood beats”

(78) Michael Creighton —New Delhi Love Song (8/10/18 Scarriet) “all are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi.”

(78) Ranjani Murali —Singing Cancer: Ars Film-Poetica (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Anand jumps to his death from the staggering height of two feet”

(79) Jeet Thayil —Life Sentence (7/5/18 Scarriet) “your talk is of meat and money”

(80) Urvashi Bahuguna —Boy (6/9/18 Scarriet) “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/it was Boy.”

(81) Huzaifa Pandit —Buhu Sings an Elegy for Kashmir (3/16/18 Scarriet) “The beloved weeps in a hollow tongue”

(82) Nandini Dhar —Map Pointing At Dawn (2/21/18 Scarriet) “Ghost uncle is a calligrapher who cannot hold/a pen between his fingers.”

(83) Sumana Roy —Root Vegetables (2/21/18 Scarriet) “darkness drinks less water than light”

(84) Jorie Graham —Scarcely There (January 2019 Poetry) “We pass here now onto the next-on world. You stay.”

(85) Christian Wiman —The Parable of Perfect Silence (December 2018 Poetry) “Two murderers keep their minds alive/while they wait to die.”

(86) Martha Zweig —The Breakfast Nook (December 2018 Poetry) “One day it quits./The whole business quits. Imagine that.”

(87) Alex Dimitrov —1969 (September 2018 Poetry) “Then returned to continue the war.”

(88) Campbell McGrath —My Music (12/17/18 The New Yorker) “My music is way better than your music”

(89) Terrance Hayes —American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The New Yorker) “It is possible he meant that, too.”

(90) Garrison Keillor —I Grew Up In A Northern Town (1/12/19 FB) “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

(91) Dick Davis —A Personal Sonnet (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “These are the dreams that turned out to be real.”

(92) Sharon Olds —The Source (2018 All We Know of Pleasure—Poetic Erotica by Women, Shomer) “Ah, I am in him”

(93) Manjiri Indurkar —Diabetes at a Birthday Party  (1/12/19 Scarriet) “Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?/Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.”

(94) Jayanta Mahapatra —Her Hand (1/12/19 Scarriet) “The little girl’s hand is made of darkness/How will I hold it?”

(95) Rony Nair —Solarium (1/12/19 Scarriet) “some people get off on sleeping with your enemy”

(96) John Murillo —A Refusal To Mourn The Deaths By Gunfire, Of Three Men In Brooklyn (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “You strike your one good match to watch it bloom/and jook”

(97) CA Conrad —a Frank poem (12/31/18 Facebook Fraternity of Poets, DonYorty.com) “one experience is quietly/consumed by the next”

(98) Sara J. Grossman —House of Body (Anomaly #27) “weather of abundant appendages”

(99) Rupi Kaur —did you think i was a city (1/5/19 Instagram) “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

(100) Warsan Shire —The House (2017 Poetry Foundation) “Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

AHHH I’M OKAY

Hey, dude. Your lust means more than any woman.

So leave her alone, let her be.

Dude, I wouldn’t want you expressing anything like that to me.

And, really, she’s the same way.

She doesn’t want to obey nature;

She aspires to be a person like me,

Whether he is writing—or just thinking about—poetry.

I’m a dude trapped inside a dude’s body;

I’m enough. I don’t need my kind.

I’m a man comfortable in a man’s mind.

The text I spied off the woman sitting next to me

Was nothing: “Ahhh I’m OK.”

I noticed guys notice her on the train—

Everyone is quiet there. Maybe insane,

But commuting, texting. That’s just the way.

So there wasn’t a word between her and me.

I’m trained. I’m a good member of society.

But you know how I am. I analyzed the ‘nothing’ text,

And realized it was ripe with meaning.

“Oh well, I guess I’m alright” is the normal meaning.

But here’s what I think it meant:

“Ahhh” was a scream. Ahhh! No, I’m not okay!

“I’m okay” was a lie, or perhaps, she’s divided:

Part screaming, part okay.

Or—and this is probably crazy: I sighed

Aloud before she wrote it. What if the “Ahhh”

Were really a sigh, unconsciously

In response to me,

Ahhh I’m okay,

And she was “okay” with my company?

But then who am I?

Walking off in my stupid coat to either write a poem, or die?

Maybe I’m a woman, afraid the idea of a man has died,

The guy I’m afraid to be, the guy people see on the outside?

There is a woman inside a man—

And for the sake of her inside me,

I protect her from foul, male lust—

Which isn’t foul;

Really, it’s not. It only matters what you allow.

I didn’t sit next to her because I had a plan.

Experience is a layered poem. And that’s who I am.

 

 

 

 

YOU FEEL AS MUCH AS I

You feel as much as I

And we might as well confess feeling is the highest thing we can be.

So while I see you waiting there

In your coat, in line, pardon me if I stare.

It’s a poet’s stare. Nothing else is really there

But delicate feeling.

Now I’m staring at the ceiling.

You are wholly different from me,

From a different place arrived, and different places left,

So that by every possible measure my knowledge of you is bereft.

You feel as much as me.

That’s all I know, or feel, or see.

I’m stupid. That’s me.

You may be anguished at how stupid everything seems.

But nothing is, but what you feel.

Nothing else is: neither substances, nor accomplishment, nor dreams.

I see you. You’re a wall.

And my worst nightmare is that you don’t feel anything at all.

 

THOSE FORMER PLEASURES

Those former pleasures

Would only torture me now.

They seem too holy, those former pleasures,

Delicate, beautiful, but not beautiful enough, somehow.

The numerous smooth instruments were played well.

Pleasure the aim—in those times the populace lived too close to hell.

The horrifying pain of the unfortunate were drowned out

By the ecstasies of Mozart and Poe, the historians have no doubt.

But today the warmth of Mozart seems cold.

In my loneliness I think of sex in terms which are far more cunning and bold.

Cold is the source of all pain. And cold—cold is death.

So why can’t the creatures of pleasure understand this, with their warm breath?

Why can’t the creatures of pleasure, ice melting on their faces,

Leave their intricate habits for the warmer places?

Cold, cold is God, Allah, who commands

We cover the chest and ears as the end of pleasure demands.

Who are these, my neighbors, listening to Mozart in the snow?

Solemn concerts at church, where they warn against fires that grow?

Denying the heat in their hearts as they wave cheerfully to me?

You will torture me to death! You kiss me on the foot and knee.

Your whole life is a funeral. An obsolete march in the snow.

Why do you read, by the weak lamp, the ice cube poetry of Poe?

Why don’t the creatures with warm breath, who hate death,

And who desire warmth, know?

THE CEREMONY

Image result for wedding in renaissance painting

Because I love you

I want to say to you how I love you so you can be loved.

Love needs to be love before it can love—

But these preparations for love,

In a soul like mine, lag behind what I already did.

Once life is over, the person emerges,

The eyes which look at you, the sun and everything purges.

Though it now seems a dream, I loved you already,

Not in philosophical discussions with myself in bars

As other inebriated dreams sentimentalized their life in cars,

No, I loved already, past adolescence, your entire, presentable life,

The handbag, the job, the suppression, you, the responsible, real, but unloving wife.

I took you in my arms; I feasted on your eyes, I glimpsed, and then had,

I loved you in the ceremonial manner

That was halting, predominant, not good, admissible, but not bad,

Traditional, ambulatory, anticipatory, banter already occupying a cloud of desire,

Heating up Littlefield’s, the folly made of crimson, paper in and made to resemble fire,

As we joked that this would be a dream inside a dream to top all dreams,

The thing happening in various locations, our talk. But now it seems

The heated circus stunts and daring cloud of stars, now forgotten and old,

The horror of the novel lost, things erased, every detail gone cold,

I want to love you again. Nothing is old. It’s still the same.

Other things get old; not love, the cliché, not love, the flame.

But now, giving up a role to play, I’ll know what to do.

Before I loved the ceremony, not you.

 

IF URGENCY LEADS TO URGENCY

Image result for forest in renaissance painting

If urgency leads to urgency,

It’s best not to be urgent at all.

Only a calm demeanor reverses

The cause and effect of the long fall.

Remember when you panicked?

And it was nothing, later on?

The ones who got too excited

Are the ones who are gone.

They have another drink

Because they can’t think about it anymore:

The leaves were springing in spring

And she was right behind the door.

They think it pertains to them,

So their feelings begin to shout.

They think the universe is theirs,

But is that what the poem’s about?

 

 

AND THEN

Image result for office building in modern painting

She told him no. He wasn’t to do that.

She made him feel like a rat.

The wrath belonged to her. He

Was the child, rebuked; she

Was the parent; she was in command

Of the relationship. She told him

When to lift off and when to land.

She knew what she was doing,

Except when they kissed, or were screwing.

She made it clear she would dump him in a second

So that gave her the upper hand.

Administering the relationship for her

Cautious, introverted, pleasure

Was a skill she had.

So it was a little hard to understand

When she said “I like it when the man takes control.”

It was her creation. Even her own soul.

All it took was wrath. She got mad

And he would lie awake at night, sad.

He was the poet, but he only made

Poems. She wove their very light and shade.

She liked secret, upper floor offices.

She preferred the view above

From humming, quiet offices.

And then there was his love.

 

 

 

 

MY YES

Image result for throne of egypt in renaissance painting

A woman is the one who says no.

Her slightest yes is always to know

Her razor existence of no after no.

Her slightest yes is always to know

Better, better, if she had said no.

The woman, dear woman! is the one who says no.

But know that love can never say no.

No is never in love, you know.

We all know what no is for.

But love is never stopped by a door.

Beautiful, wanting love comes in

Past strong doors and discussions of sin.

If the woman says yes—but the man says no,

By her yes, triumphant, he makes her known.

The soul as a yes becomes so known

The safety and dignity of no is overthrown.

The soul would rather be alone,

The soul wants by no to be known.

The yes, in a few shadows, loftily grown

Is unspeakable,

Crowned with yes by the crowd, and known.

They heard a door, behind which a groan

Led in its ravishing pride to a throne

Bright, inviolate, tall, and alone

Which they saw in the darkness.

No one wants by yes to be known.

The yes is fated to die by the no.

No is never for love, you know.

His yes to her yes: then she will know

Possession, desire—she must not say no.

Love is not yes, and love is not no.

Love is beautiful, but nothing we know.

Ponder the no, calculate the yes,

But never say it. The slightest yes

Is not for love. Love has nothing to do with yes.

No is the door, and the heartbeat, and the dress.

No is the earth and the earth that’s here.

No was peace enjoyed last year.

Lust knows but a few things:

One song always sung, singing always, once it sings.

 

BLUES FOR BILLY COLLINS

Tell me first it’s a poem. Otherwise

I won’t know what is hitting my eyes.

You are so beautiful and I am a fool

to be in love with you

is a theme that keeps coming up

in songs and poems.

There seems to be no room for variation.

I have never heard anyone sing

I am so beautiful

and you are a fool to be in love with me.

I note Mr. Collins’ points one by one

Regarding love songs, and when he’s done,

With all his points agreeing,

He shifts to a nightclub, a singer named Johhny, a sax.

What exactly am I seeing?

Mr. Collins bravely states the facts.

For no particular reason this afternoon

I am listening to Johnny Hartman

whose dark voice can curl around

the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness

like no one else can.

It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette

someone left burning on a baby grand piano

around three o’ clock in the morning;

smoke that billows up into the bright lights

while out there in the darkness

some of the beautiful fools have gathered

around little tables to listen,

some with their eyes closed,

others leaning forward into the music

as if it were holding them up,

or twirling the loose ice in a glass,

slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

The Iowa Workshop with her beautiful fools

Revolutionizes poetry in the schools

As Mr. Collins makes us feel

The beautiful fools are beautiful and real.

Tell me first it’s a poem. Otherwise

I won’t know what is hitting my eyes.

So it’s a poem, after all, one of those

Which is, let’s face it, prose,

But it’s too late. Music is lost in the word.

Prose that wants to be a poem is absurd.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,

borne beyond midnight,

that has no desire to go home,

especially now when everyone in the room

is watching the large man with the tenor sax

that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.

He moves forward to the edge of the stage

and hands the instrument down to me

and nods that I should play.

So I put the mouthpiece to my lips

and blow into it with all my living breath.

The Iowa workshop poem sure can wail.

The beautiful fool has me, and will not fail.

The prose is blowing golden sequences that seem

The innumerable flickering sequences of a dream.

The humanities! The curricula! The school!

Mr. Collins is wise! Too wise to circumvent the fool.

We are all so foolish,

my long bebop solo begins by saying,

so damn foolish

we have become beautiful without even

knowing it.

And so the Iowa effort ends.

Midnight. All the little tables are friends.

We read prose without knowing it’s prose.

A fool picks up the tenor sax. And blows.

 

 

 

JANUARY INDIAN POETRY

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January closes this book—but not forever, just on this series—on Indian Poetry: 84 living poets associated with India, writing in English, chosen by Linda Ashok, and here, for a year, reviewed (very briefly, unfortunately) by Scarriet, starting in February 2018.

The British influence on the Indian poets born towards the middle of the last century was notable—and by “British,” I should say, Empire, because the world is run this way—the “Godless” nature poetry of Ted Hughes is evident in much modern poetry, no matter where it is written, and of course “modernism” also means the mechanical, the quotidian, war, displacement, as well as modest poems of small-life zen; modern Indian poets are like the modern British and the modern American poets—love, beauty, and the sublime make them a little uneasy; whenever they go that way, irony is necessary; the “Great Themes” belong to the 19th century, not the 20th, or the 21st, with their monumental nightmares.  Still, the best poets mix great and small—and the Indian poets do this as well as anyone.  Indian poetry is as strong as British and American poetry—I have no doubt, now.  Thank you, again, Linda Ashok.

Manjiri Indurkar writes crazy poetry which makes you shake your head, or grin, or perhaps chuckle. It’s not “crazy” because it’s crazy—it’s crazy because she writes about what is very real.

“I scratch my head and watch dandruff snowflakes fall on my keyboard.”

She fails Poe’s test for poetry; the popular poem is chiefly about Beauty, he says, and appeals most to Taste, which occupies the middle ground between Reason and Passion. The 19th century wisdom, dropping universally, like petals, or rain.

Schooled in Poe, I could vow to never read this poet, again. The dandruff-on-the-keyboard image, from “Diabetes at a Birthday Party” horrifies me, in my dignified and beautiful robes.

But I won’t keep my vow—Indurkar is endearing as hell.

And I wonder silently,
Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?
Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.

—from “Diabetes at a Birthday Party”

This is contemporary poetry in a nutshell—troubledhomely, embarrassing. The psychology is naked—Manjiri Indurkar is exactly like her mom—well-meaning, but inappropriate. But she is one step removed from her garrulous mother; because she will “wonder silently”-–in a poem.

*

Sohini Basak has a poem, “Laconic,” which could pass for a 19th century poem, which could please Poe—but it’s a poem in which the poet basically says ‘fuck you’ to a bird.

This may prove Poe right. Taste is how we say something—inappropriate, or not.

Passion belongs to all of us, no matter what kind of poet we are and no matter what kind of person we are. Passion is mostly private feelings, and remains under the radar.

We express our passions, if we ever do, in private, to a friend, or perhaps, in a poem, if we are a poet, appropriately, or inappropriately, as speech—guided by manners, or decorum.

If the police come running, or we lose our job, in 99 cases out of 100 it is because we violated, conspicuously, some norm of manners, or Taste.

Taste is not passion, or truth. Taste is how we publicly behave. Taste is precisely how we write our poems.

“Laconic,” like any poem, is fed by passion; the expression, the poem, itself, however, is determined by taste.

Here is Basak’s poem, in full—a delightful poem, in which human and bird interact, or do not interact (come to think of it, just like Poe’s famous poem):

Not everyone will respond to whistling; take the collared dove
I tried to talk to this morning while checking if my socks
were still wet on the clothesline. I said hello to which
the dove paid no notice, her speckled plumes shining
fish scales in the warm December sun. I quickly added,
how do you do, this time with a flair of a curtsey and when
that did not work, I said kemon achen (using the formal
second person subject pronoun in case some birds were
easily offended.) But the rude dove just blinked, disregarded
my speech, and shifted her attention to a bug on the juniper.
I considered waving but was embarrassed to admit that even
if I moved my limbs I did not fly. Finally, I garbled, cooed
in three different pitches, in vain barked, but the dove did not
open her beak, must be bird-brained, I said under my breath.
Then the button eye blinked and she flew away leaving me
behind with my pair of wet socks and two cold feet.
Every winter, I promise to learn something new: this time
I have decided to learn how to dovespeak, else fill my afternoons
continuing to build a tower of Babel out of the unused clothespins.

**

Mrinalini Harchandrai has a book with a very catchy title, A Bombay In My Beat. The following poem, “Making Art,” is published in The Bangalore Review.

The studio was lit
by December smog,
you’d make tea
make lunch
make breathless moans,
then you burned plastic paint
to make statements
about the environment.

The best brief poems are full of wide expanses; but the short poem, domesticated, resembling a small, well-appointed room, is good, too, and Harchandrai’s “Making Art” falls into this latter category. “breathless moans” hints the poet wants us to think ‘making love,’ when she writes Making Art. Her poem beautifully depicts the romantic, yet wretched, painter’s life: sorrowful, naughty, small, enclosed, smelly—and Harchandrai adds a searing, contemporary, eco-indictment which no doubt the intrepid artist will survive—even as burning plastic stinks up the “studio…lit by December smog.”

***

Rony Nair, also a photographer, is concerned with swirling chaos, but with a wry look. He writes “dude” poetry, and the term “dude” is meant only as a passing aesthetic description, not the label which some might consider pejorative, or sexist, breeding in their minds a chaos in which virtues which are not virtues—too wordy? too philosophical?—collide. The poems of Rony Nair resemble psychological journeys of Odysseus. They invoke crazy, but with a linguistically self-assured undercurrent of ‘don’t worry, this dude can handle it.’

“One by one they pass away/leaving you and me, apart in tether.” is how “An Actress dies At a Wedding” begins.

If that doesn’t convey what kind of poet he is, let me quote, in full, one rather brief poem of his, and it will be easy to see what I am talking about:

Solarium

some people die for Grace Kelly every night.
some people die on signboards piling tax free dreams and sons denied.
some people see failure spreading out in their shadow.
some people die careening life’s streets on their furrow.
some people fight white panoplies, red hot hate.
some people orgasm, imagining hell’s gate.
some people get off on sleeping with your enemy.
The enemy becomes Grace Kelly.
Grace Kelly becomes you.

****

Srividya Sivakumar gave a Ted talk in which she says “words complete the package” and “words are who you are.” As a bibliophile and a poet, who understands that children love words, that social media is driven by words, that plagiarism keeps us from self-discovery, she is one of those thinkers who goes so far as to say words originate the idea, and not the other way around.  The poet Shelley said thoughts are made of words—therefore poetry is thought itself.

In “Wargame,” does she use words to dive beneath them?  Not quite. Are the words diving into more words? Not really. Do her words ask for more words? Yes, this would be more accurate to say. “Wargame” resembles “wordgame,” and knowing how passionate Sivakumar is about words, we guess the resemblance is intentional—but we also see that she is not only passionate about words. She is passionate.

Here is the poem, in full.

Speak. Seek. Advance. Retreat. Say a word. A thought or two. Sing for me. You know you want to.
Canoe down the river. Climb up the waterfall. I’ll be here when you get back. Waiting to give it all.
Or maybe I’m not here. I’m deep-sea diving somewhere. I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.
You can wait for a change. It will do you good I think. Tie some reeds together. Swim sure, but don’t sink.
In due time, I shall come back to you. Or you’ll find your way to me. Our bodies will know each other. Our hearts will share the same beat.
Till then, let’s wait awhile. You at this end. Me on my side.
Let’s weave a tune for only two. Don’t call it anything.
No title will do.

*****

Gopika Jadeja writes bleak minimalist poetry, and it is a certain power which can make you severely depressed with just a few words. One might not get the references to war places that have been in the news recently—or perhaps years ago—but one still feels sad.

JAFFNA AFTERNOON

All walls, bullet riddled
All homes, ruins —Adil Mansuri, Bosnia 3

(i)

North of Jaffna
from the afternoon auto
I see a crow peck
at the carcass of a mongoose
torn into half entrails
strewn about in the middle
of the dirt road.

The air reeks
a void.

(ii)

The poet laughs.
Tells stories of war—
radios alive and kicking
on bicycle-run batteries,
a road-side snack
named after landmines.

The poet, bent —
plucks silences
from his head.

(iii)

At Point Pedro
I want to stop, take a picture
of the large white cross
against the darkening sky—

I cannot.
I am afraid to tread
where laughter is still fragile.

(iv)

Hand unsteady,
I learn to draw

again
on pock-marked walls.
To join the dots.

Srinagar. Ramallah.
Baghdad. Beirut. Khobane. Kabul.

……….Gujarat

******

Jayanta Mahapatra was born in 1928; a lecturer in physics, he did not write poetry until middle age. One of India’s most honored poets, his poems invoke real life horror, as well as moral ambiguity and struggle. And also transcendent, impossible love.

Her Hand

The little girl’s hand is made of darkness
How will I hold it?

The streetlamps hang like decapitated heads
Blood opens that terrible door between us

The wide mouth of the country is clamped in pain
while its body writhes on its bed of nails

This little girl has just her raped body
for me to reach her

The weight of my guilt is unable
to overcome my resistance to hug her

And so ends Indian Poetry, hosted by Scarriet, February 2018 to January 2019.

*******

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THE CALM

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You accept the inferior,

Not music which is sunny and kind.

To reach you I must dig deeper;

Winter is loved by the wintry mind.

You’re not curious. Therefore, God

Is hidden from you by layers of sod.

You live in an underground cave

Comfortably. Real air is what I crave.

You accept—everyone accepts—it’s winter,

And God bless you that you do!

Since here I am, in this cave with you.

And because you are calm, I am calm, too.

But my heart knows what God will do.

One day, God will break through;

From our ceiling fall air and music and light,

Lovelier and warmer than this cave of night.

And God’s music will be sunny and kind

To kiss away winter and your wintry mind.

 

 

 

ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL SORRY FOR YOU?

Are you trying to make people feel sorry for you?

Love is better than sympathy. Love is what I tried to do,

And in my spectacular failure, I found,

As my love spoke, you preferred love not to make a sound.

You love to do what you do, as long as no one says what you do.

When I tried to make a speech, a song, a crazy kiss, you would say, no.

You were made for the cedars. You liked to watch the grass grow.

I learned, too late, to be quiet around you.

Sometimes you did want a laugh, or a story.

I complied. But after a while it was clear I was forcing that glory.

If only you needed euphonious words! That’s what I had.

Words praising beauty are superfluous. You said, “shut up.” You got mad.

Love is ruined by the self-consciously grasping. My love became a duty.

Wordless, I marched up the mountain—and saw beauty.

In that far wilderness I was wordless.

Words fell away with the rains. All that was left was yes.

 

 

 

WAKE UP, POEM

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Wake up, poem, get out of bed.

Last night you were born, an immaculate love, all inside my head.

Go, poem! no more aspiring;

The fading surge of romantic night is retiring.

By evening light, we discussed evening and its philosophy

Like two lovers.  Today, you must leave me.

You were a late afternoon idea, and destined to please me in the night.

Now you must be a poem for real, and go out into the light.

Let’s see if they love you, the metaphor of the “evening tree,”

And let’s see if I am revealed in your shadowy philosophy.

Let’s see if the evening by day’s eye is fed.

Let’s see if love is the love, last night, we loved inside my head.

You must be seen and loved, you must be inspected.

Hopefully, all that was wrong last evening will never be detected.

The light will come through the window. They call it “pitiless day.”

But as they quietly look, the flaws might escape them, anyway.

I know. I seem cold. My mood has changed. I’m thinking of other things.

But I do this to all my poems. I’m mute while the poem sings.

It’s over. You are finished. Get up, please, you can’t stay.

If you remain in my head, poetry will go away.

Pray for the evening, pray for love! Pray for the evening sea!

And don’t worry, I promise if they hate you, you can still love me.

 

 

MY TEACHER, MARILYN MONROE

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I sit in the back of the class; I feel strange things

As I try my verse.

And the more my teacher likes it

The more James Jones thinks it’s worse.

My teacher, I think, likes James Jones.

She stops everything when he phones.

My teacher is beautiful. We laugh at her.

Her poetry lectures are greeted with laughter.

She says, “Put Marxism in your work!

A poet who is not Marxist will look like a jerk!”

And we laughed, “Why?

We write poems about New England! Or the sky!”

“Marxism” she said—and we knew she was a fool

By the way she said, “Marxism.” Did she belong in school?—

“Marxism is extravagant, hopeless, moralism. This

Is what poetry is!” And with her mouth she made a kiss.

Then, she secretly winked at me.

In that moment, I understood poetry.

My teacher, the Marxist, Marilyn Monroe,

Was a great teacher. She taught poetry that year.

(Later, they said James Jones was queer.)

She taught me, “Say your poems slow,

With a sigh, like slowly melting snow.”

 

 

 

THE 18 WAYS I HATE POETRY

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Reviewing the bad poetry of your friends is like being an undertaker.

Reviewing good poetry is like being a bad poet.

Saying what you like about poetry makes you sound like an ass.

Other people hate poetry.

All the good poets are dead.

The great poets died long ago, so there’s no photos or recordings.

There’s no color.

There’s no smell.

If there’s sound, it’s a mumbler’s or a bore’s.

In the poem I never know whether to rhyme, or not.

In the poem I never know whether to be obvious, or not.

It doesn’t make money.

It goes out of fashion.

My tablet quits.

I run out of ink.

I forget my idea.

I love poetry anyway.

You love me.

 

 

 

YOU ASK MY HEART TO LOVE

You ask my heart to love which is a broken heart.

You ask that war end so love may start.

You advertise peace with a beautiful whore,

But beauty isn’t peace. Beauty started the war.

You ask my heart to love which is a broken heart,

You attempt to heal with what falls apart.

You tempt me and thrill me with a beautiful whore.

You will break my broken heart once more.

Beauty is enticed and distracted by war.

War is love and life and fate.

Cure my broken heart with hate.

Pleasure is the waiting, wait! Wait!

The real is horrible! Idealism is great!

Beauty is the root of love and its flower, hate.

Once more, once more!

Kiss my face, you beautiful whore!

Kiss my face, which is the flower

Of this most glorious, sun-streaked hour.

POETRY IS A MISUNDERSTANDING

I’m domesticated and heartbroken and I don’t know what to do.

I’ve sworn off vices, so I’ll sit down and write another poem to you.

The end of love is the ex you ridicule.

You hate him so much you could love him—if he weren’t such a love struck fool.

There is a passage in Dante’s Vita Nuova, where Dante’s senses leave him

When he sees Beatrice, so that desiring to see her more than anything, he can’t.

That’s exactly how you are to me, who I want.

When you approach, with utmost excitement I see that it’s you,

But eager to really see you I can’t really see anything physical about you which is true

And this is why I need to hold you and kiss you because I want to find out that it’s you

Because I don’t know that it’s you, because it’s you.

Poetry is a misunderstanding.

I’m domesticated and heartbroken and I don’t know what to do.

All I can hope is they love my poem, the millions, when really oh God I only wrote it for you.

 

 

 

 

TO KEEP FROM GETTING HURT

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To keep from getting hurt

They fled from him, every one.

Even the ones he liked, even those he won.

They couldn’t look at him,

When he came, they held their breath.

But finally, when he couldn’t love,

When they all knew

That all of them were safe

They loved the poet; they called him true.

Your role was different;

In your heart, the knowledge.

For whatever strange reason,

He gave his heart to you.

This was all too much.

Into the crowd you sank.

You hid from Orpheus, too.

 

HOW I BEAT THE SYSTEM

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The system is a set of lures and traps,

A maze of partial knowledge and generalized maps.

Every issue you are forced to face must be loved—there is more to know,

Which usually has more to do with love of it than you’ll ever know.

Go ga-ga over the girl, but don’t be afraid

To gradually add less sugar to the lemonade.

Only trust people who can write poems like this:

Polite, who may suddenly surprise you with a kiss;

But better still to be one step ahead, by falling in love

With what they are in the form of cloud, puzzle, dove.

Suspect, at first, that there is something wrong,

Which the genius isn’t telling. The expert doesn’t understand the song;

Only the genius who writes the great song does;

The contemporary clown always forgets the way it was.

I passed on the shiny glass sparkling in the darkened restaurant.

I was selfish. I wanted so much that I didn’t want.

 

 

 

THE THING

The thing about life and poetry, is that one

Is a horror—if the other one is to be great.

Examine these poets whose war their nation won

And you’ll find the life the verse can barely indicate.

Laughter upon suffering is the greatest stupidity.

The amused are willfully ignorant, so they can be amused;

Hiding behind their joking verse, great gobs of self-pity.

Banks of wet fireworks, deferred policy, holidays defused,

In a bookstore, bored, you don’t really enjoy this poetry at all—

In the victorious country grownups leave early, protests dissolve early, birth rates fall.

Rosalinda knew this. She guessed great poetry meant loss and suffering.

Rosalinda had had enough of loss and suffering.

I once made it clear to her, “You can’t imagine

The murderous suffering this great poet suffered!”

Because I loved Rosalinda, my poetry was great.

I smiled. Rosalinda smiled. But it was too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXAMINING PICTURES

To examine the pictures, and decide

If her beauty is sufficient to become my bride.

This one shows her nose to be a little too large,

And in this one her mouth seems a little too small.

And this one? Is it the lighting?

She doesn’t seem beautiful at all.

I keep going back to this one, which seems

To depict beauty as it sometimes looks in dreams.

This pile is: marriage. This pile is: I’m not interested at all.

Further analysis will blame the photographer,

Or her moods, and this one hints she really isn’t beautiful.

I must make up my mind.

Long nights with just my eye.

Long nights of deliberation.

This bad picture makes me sigh.

Is she beautiful? It excites me, it pains me, to guess!

Is she beautiful? I asked Rosalinda. And she said yes.

 

 

 

 

 

GETTING OUT OF HERE

I told her in the language I learned, that cigarettes had stained her hands.

The viceroy, we were told, counted each brick during lunch.

Where the great oceans strip the slumbering lands

Of their pebbles, the shady, development driveways,

Shore line drives, embankments, porches, featuring

Older, but still coveted, ‘one hit wonder’ bands,

In photographed restaurants by the sea,

Each one run very professionally,

Where the Irish in the other room crooned for her and me—

“The Times They Are A Changing” was the best cover

Sung liltingly and softly for me and my temporary lover—

The oceans slowly removing the white sands

And leaving golden mud, the roaring fish,

All those feeling pain, unseen by us,

Where mists and rains soak the crumbling sands

Stretching up north to the protestant cities

Where still more scholars forcefully talk; studies

Of every variety, conducted in the depleted foreign lands,

We told each other! We found out! over drinks, all legitimate studies

Found the one who is misunderstood is not the one who misunderstands.

RELAX

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Why can’t I enjoy this joy?

She is my tree, my poem, my ploy

In the ground, a certain sound,

A pleasant, lucky love I found.

But love is never finally enjoyed.

You make each other agitated.

We did. I drank. I couldn’t sleep.

Love is beautiful, passionate, and deep.

But it’s jealous. In one second, I became a creep.

She is my swan among the swans

On the bronze lake that stretches forever

Among shadows where shadows turn into her.

But love does not go well for anyone.

Love burns. A sun inside a sun.

We must die. We must pay the tax.

And when you’re in love, you can’t relax.

 

 

 

A FEW REMARKS ON NEO-ROMANTICISM PART 2

When contrast goes, everything goes.

Romantic poetry gave way to modernist poetry, but was is it revolution—or evolution?

Critics of poetry—the few who are left—don’t care to ask; the question gives too much credit to the romantics.

The whole of poetry has its divisions—and these divisions are historical and scholarly, but scholars also study the whole, the whole which is implicit in these divisions. The divisions are “classical,” “romantic,” and “modern;” the contrast provides the textbooks published since the early 20th century their food.

But since among the critics, romantic poetry is considered dead, the divisions and the whole are, for the present moment, gone.

Romantic poetry loses value, vanishes, and therefore, the literary history of poetry vanishes.

Banish what comes before love and you banish love.

The creative writing industry—like all industries, little concerned with love—arose with modernism—the tradition and the past has vanished; the writing program poet writes in a default present; glancing at the past is still done, but hidden idiosyncratic influence on a student writer is not the same as a thriving public tradition.

The poet Keats may have appeal, but the default setting for creative writing poets is: don’t sound like Keats. Rhyme is not modern. Rhyme may sound more poetic, but the trope of modernist poetry is: ‘modern’ is more important than ‘poetry.’ Modernist poetry is an interesting scholarly division, indeed.

Modernist poetry is free to rhyme, or not to rhyme, but freedom, the ostensible revolutionary driving force, is not free—in order to advance, rhyme is eschewed. It is not forbidden, of course. The forbidden is stronger when not spoken. No modern has ever said ‘don’t rhyme.’ Eliot will call Shelley immature. The clock ticks, and modern injunctions are by the wise silently understood. We are in the present now. Hushed voices. The celebrations are over. Switch on the electric light, watch the news reels, and quietly write your résumé.

Contrast is everything. Modernist poetry exists to shed the romantic.

But as Eliot pointed out in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the future changes the past within any tradition—the tradition is not just the past. 

If modernist poetry has done two things—eclipsed romanticism and run its course as an experiment, the whole tradition will wither on its ‘future end,’ and thus will wither altogether.

Randall Jarrell, the American poet and critic, college roommate of Robert Lowell—the first Writing Program teacher-poet superstar, who studied, with Jarrell, under Modernist New Critic god John Crowe Ransom—did ask the question:

Is modernist poetry revolutionary or evolutionary?

Jarrell asked the question at exactly the right time, when America was winning the greatest war in history. Modernism is, in fact, American.

Today, romantic poetry implies an English accent, or a European accent. A real American is modernist, or romantic with a smirk.

Talk of rhyme and modernism always goes off the tracks as an argument, because modernist poetry launched in 1914, and yet there was still rhyme making headlines everywhere: Yeats, Kipling, Frost, Millay—even Eliot, the leader, rhymed, to rapturous effect.

But Kipling and Yeats died before the 1930s were out. World War One, that essentially European conflict, had actually given rise to more rhyme than ever. It was World War Two, which ushered in the American century and the Iowa Worskshop, which killed rhyme, and killed it most defiantly in college, as GI Bill students learned belatedly that rhyme was dead and Modernism, born in 1914, killed it—a complete myth created by the American University in the 50s and 60s when everyone was climbing into the van to taste the candy of free verse. Pound and Williams were resurrected, and seemed to have, by their own genius, murdered rhyme in 1922. But Pound and Williams were obscure failures as late-middle aged poets. The Writing Program (“come to Iowa! you, too, can be a poet!”) with its long runway from the 1930s to the 1980s, finally murdered rhyme. Iowa (born of the New Critics) made modernist poetry seem a wildly successful revolution which happened during the 1917 Russian one.

In his 1942 essay, “The End of the Line,” Jarrell called modernist poetry “romantic,” and so “evolutionary” is his answer.

The American World War Two behemoth of confidence, cunning and swagger is at the heart of modernist poetry.

Here’s how Jarrell’s essay begins:

“What has impressed everyone about modernist poetry is its differentness. The familiar and rather touching “I like poetry—but not modern poetry” is only another way of noticing what almost all criticism has emphasized: that modernist poetry is a revolutionary departure from the romantic poetry of the preceding century.”

Jarrell, back in 1942, is saying what no one says anymore—romantic poetry (still written in the 1930s by Yeats and Auden) is the default poetry; romantic poetry is that which the public understands as—poetry.

Modernist poetry hijacked poetry, and lured it into the van by promising poetry eclectically easy to write—stoned, hippie, free verse. Modernist poetry—though no one dared say it, so heroic did everything American seem in the 1940s—was a bullying, university-writing-workshop, American phenomenon. The New Critics’ textbook in all the schools praised Pound and Williams and kicked around Poe’s romantic rhythms in “Ulalume” by way of the futuristic novelist, essayist, (bad) poet and Englishman, Aldous Huxley—then peddling LSD—in California. America was suddenly the modernist magnet drawing everything in. The CIA was throwing money at Modern Art and Paul Engle. Communism threatened Europe. Rhyme hadn’t worked.

Here is Jarrell again, from that 1942 essay:

“Romantic once again, after almost two centuries, became a term of simple derogation; correspondingly, there grew up a rather blank cult of the “classical,” and poets like Eliot hinted that poets like Pound might be the new classicism for which all had been waiting.”

Somewhere in liberal, educated American minds, while Jarrell penned his essay in the first years of WW II, Pound and Eliot represented grandiose, over-educated, fascist, “classical” poetry which would triumph if Europe remained under Hitler’s control. Pound and Eliot both had an odd hatred of Russia—even before it became Soviet. But this does make sense. Pound’s “Imagism” piggy-backed on the world-wide Japanese art and haiku rage in 1905, due to Japan’s surprising win over Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. And Britain had been Japan’s ally in that war, the nation where Pound came to make his fortune.

The U.S.and the Soviet Union’s victory in Europe in 1945 signaled the end of Europe’s hold on American poetry forever.

World War One ruined Europe’s beautiful, romantic reputation—overnight Europe became a quaint shop for American dollars, as Hemingway and Stein lived cheaply in Paris.

But even after the romantic-destroying horrors of WW I, Europe kept on rhyming.

World War Two wrecked Europe a second time, American money was now worth even more, and this time around, romantic, rhyming finally stopped.

The old syllabus was torn up. Iowa was about to “make it new.” The 1914 Pound, who lost, (and was even humiliated by Amy Lowell) somehow, in 1945, won. This is how much the American century was turning things upside down.

Pound, and his two pals, Williams and Eliot, had made it. Rhyming was over.

Poe, who fought the British Empire in Letters a century earlier, could not have foreseen, nor would he have approved of, modernist poetry’s 1945, ruin-and-flames victory. Poe hated Britain’s might, not its poetry. Poe admired Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson; it was the British government and Britain’s clandestine designs against her former colony, which Poe called to account.

Jarrell reminds us the word “Romantic,” in poetry, was once a “term of simple derogation.” The Romantic poets once challenged the establishment, and were hated back in their day as irreverent youth—and now Eliot and Pound hated them anew. Was Modernism revolutionary or reactionary? The attack on the twenty-something Shelley’s love energy by the older, professorial Eliot is one argument for “reactionary.”

Randall Jarrell to the rescue. His solution was simple. Modernism was just an extension of Romanticism. He is correct, to some degree.

As he brilliantly observes, “all Pound’s early advice to poets could be summed up in a sentence half of which is pure Wordsworth: Write like prose, like speech—and read French poetry!”

In his essay, to prove modernism is an extension of romanticism—which can go no further, which is why he titled his essay, “End of the Line”—he lists qualities both modernism and romanticism share:

1. Experimentalism, Originality

2. Formlessness

3. Emotional, violent

4. Obscurity, inaccessibility, specialized

5. Lack of restraint or proportion

6. Emphasis on parts, not wholes

7. Preoccupation with sensation

8. Dreams, stream of consciousness, irrational

9. Irony of every type: Byronic, Laforguian, etc

10. Fauve or neo-primitive elements

11. Contemporary life condemned, patronized

12. Individualism, isolation, alienation

13. Dislike for science, industrialism, progress, preferring theological and personal

Lists are an insidious way of reasoning. Jarrell has merely complied qualities which don’t conform to classical poetry, letting the sheer number of qualities discover some over-lap between romanticism and modernism—and there are some. But even were this list completely true—perhaps it is—-qualities cannot really describe a poem. “Ode to A Nightingale” can have all sorts of qualities ascribed to it by any junior professor, and any average poem with enough detail in it can claim those qualities, as well. But do the poems have the same value?

Criticism would do better to throw out such lists and pounce on one quality, more important by far, than all the others: originality.

What is the one factor which make 99% of contemporary poetry unreadable to the educated reader, whether it is the romantic/religious poetry all over the internet, the platitudes of the political poets, or the meandering prose of workshop poets?

They lack originality.

Without originality, nothing else in a poem works.

Originality is as mysterious as the virgin birth.

How can a poet be original?

The educated, who are obsessed with valid sources and the truth of their work, are, by their very status as educated, made to copy and copy again, and nothing more.

Footnotes and citations alone make the educated real; an academic’s “poem” of a dozen lines requires a hundred footnotes if their work is to have real merit, approved by the scholars. Otherwise one is attempting to be a wit, like Oscar Wilde—who wrote how many well-known poems?

What do the amateurs, the romantics or would-be politicians of the slam bars and the world wide web do? They, too, like the educated, copy.

Instead of historical facts, the amateurs copy, over and over again, every platitude and mawkish, well-meaning sentiment which already exists, and are repellent to the educated, as lovely and earnest as they may be, for the very same reason: they parrot, they repeat, they plagiarize, they ape, they copy.

Originality is the prize which eludes them all—no matter their rank in learning, no matter what they choose to write on.

Then we have the professional musicians, who put “poetry” into their sometimes extremely popular ballads and rap songs.

The trouble with this kind of poetry is that either the video or the music gets in the way, or the lyrics are horribly bad. Occasionally a fragment, a chorus, will achieve a certain poetic beauty, and this is better than nothing, but finally a fragmentariness is the rule.

Or it becomes a parody, or a parody of a parody, like those rap songs whose topic and rhymes are so transparently over-used, ridiculous, and offensive to good taste, that Weird Al Yankovic is apparently the author. “Lick me like a lolly pop,” just to pick an appalling phrase at random—the ability to joke about sex (a topic which, on some level, everyone must take seriously at some point in their lives) is a bank with endless supplies of cash. “Lick me like a lolly pop” (and everything it rhymes with) is sexy if it’s true, but at the same time ridiculous (funny) as both linguistic construct and fiery (anti-) moral statement. It succeeds, then, in the song/poem category, for the vast audience of those who need what oddly amoral language is able to give them.

Often, with music fans, and other amateurs, it’s enough to get a taste of what something is—in this case, poetry—without having to go further—risking humiliation, distraction, or getting pulled away from the comfort of one’s shallow, yet practical, sheep-existence.

Modernist poetry’s greatest enemy is faux romantic poetry (rap, Instagram poetry, etc) such that good romantic poetry (who writes that, anymore?) is seen as the enemy, too.

The second greatest enemy for modernist poetry is itself. For two reasons. First, the modern art joke of Duchamp’s toilet-as-museum-art is a great joke—but can be only told once; it only works once. Unfortunately this does not prevent this joke from being told over and over again, whether it is “noise-as-“music,” “trash-as-art,” or “refridgerator-note-as-poem.” Most times the poet is not even aware that they are re-telling the Duchamp Joke—they convince themselves that their prose reflection is really a majestic poem, and swept up in the Program Era atmosphere, others agree.

To catch the elusive unicorn of originality, the modernist poet has his final recourse—in what Jarrell calls ” differentness.” This “differentness” is often just the retold Duchamp Joke, but sometimes it avoids even this, and with a great deal of cleverness and panache, heaping up as many fascinating broken images as possible, the modernist poet really does avoid the trite, the offensive, the clichéd, and the unoriginal.  But only to fall into the abyss of the profoundly trivial, the deeply obscure, and the sublimely inaccessible. Like visiting wintry crags in some far flung mountain range on the other side of the world, only the wildest and most insane imaginations (perhaps one in a million) go there, or care to, or can.

The poem both original and accessible is the only one worth writing.

The reason for modernism’s break from romantic poetry—if romantic poetry is assumed to be what poetry is for the general public—will permit anything in the name of that reason, including political sermons, and anything eliciting complaints of “that’s not poetry.”

Originality, however, can never be the reason for the break. The original poet is not allowed to cheat—not allowed to be original by producing something which is not considered a poem. This was already done by Duchamp. One is not allowed to do this again. Originality cannot be the reason for the shift from romantic to modernist.

The classical, romantic, modernist division consists, if valid, of original Classical, Romantic, and Modernist poems.

But true originality, the ultimate criterion, transcends historical divisions—an original poem written today cannot be an original romantic poem, or an original modernist poem—the original does not comprehend historical divisions, otherwise it would not be truly original.

Rhyme gives the poet more opportunities to produce an original poem. To say nothing of versifying harmony. Verse contains prose, and so verse is capable of being more original than free prose, not less. Verse has more possible moves on its chessboard than prose does.

If certain content is not considered romantic, and therefore not poetic, this has nothing to do with originality; barring from the poem certain kinds of content (“lick me like a lolly pop”) arises from how expectations of life informs and shapes the poem. This idea, that “life” writes the poem, is a truism for all poetry—some modernist critics have tried to own this truth exclusively for modernist poetry, since the modernist poem is more “impure,” but none of the three divisions has a monopoly on the ‘content censor.’ What cannot go in the poem sums up the content of a poem. The childish belief that ‘ here is what my poem is about and here are the details’ indulges in a false positive, and this is how any poet fails, whether romantic or modernist; for the truth is more severe—the genius excludes much more than he heaps up. There are fewer modernist geniuses for the sole reason that they are childishly “free,” and tend to put anything in.

To return to Mazer’s poem, which we quoted in Part One of “A Few Remarks.”

Mazer is not only an important poet; he is the escape.

Mazer, who is exquisitely modernist/romantic, is the ‘way out,’ (a small, trembling light, but visible,) from poetry’s 21st century crisis, the solution to Jarrell’s “end of the line” despair.

Ben Mazer, with his profound modernist/romantic originality, has scraped the bottom of poetry as it is understood as poetry in its Jungian, shadowy depths.  We sense the step upon the ancient rock, the slow, delicious, vibration in the ocean which signals the discovery of the walls of the room we know as the universe.

The holiday poem of his (a sketch, merely) which I plucked at random, quoted at the end of Part One of this essay, is illustrative of how the search for originality is hindered neither by subject nor common speech. Romantic tools (sensual, forceful, rule-based) aid poetic spirit and creative excitement.

A virgin snow remade the world that year

Is the first line which bursts upon the reader—the theme sings to us immediately; there is no prologue of pedantic delay—like a dear, familiar joke, or a winning card laid down, the effect is almost more than immediate.

Three kings had heard the rumor from afar

Continues the theme without delay—for the sake of immediacy, it’s a stock “three kings” image, with one important variation—“rumor” sounds modern. And the “r” sounds of “rumor” melt into the line’s “r” sound.

and wandered from the East by guiding star.

The third line’s iambic pentameter gives “guiding” wonderful movement. Mazer, in every one of his poems, does small things like this effortlessly. He has studied. He has read. He feels. In large measure, all.

The first three lines set up wonderfully the splendid:

The sacred place was frosted with the sheer

The “sheer” end-rhyme is perfect, after “far” and “star,” with line one’s “year,” and introduces the simple bass-line sublimity of

anticipation of a world to come.

A quick glance at these deceptively simple, first five lines is demonstration enough.

But to look at the final line. The last line makes a bold statement:

It was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been.

The pastness of the final line’s utterance is what is key. A million other poets would reject this line as untrue, or mundane, but Mazer understands one could sit around forever arguing about what is “most spectacular.” It is not meant literally—and yet it is. And herein lies the secret of the line. First, it’s in the past—the reader wasn’t there—so it can be stated as “true.” But Mazer was there, because he wrote the line, and so the self-conscious romantic individualist should say it, is forced to say it. Why? Because the god-coming-to-earth theme permits it. The idea of the divine Christ inspiring the divine poet permits it. And finally, the greatest secret of all for the line’s perfection—the last line is a divine and glorious boast: “it was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been” refers to the poem itself—even to the last line itself, which just at this moment, has slipped into the absolute and unreachable past.

Mazer, the modernist romantic—and classical, as well—has discovered the alpha and the omega.

The irreducible.

 

 

THE FEMALE WRITES A POEM

“The hostility to association of fine art with normal processes of living is a pathetic, even a tragic, commentary on life as it is ordinarily lived.”

My favorite gender was a queen

In light makeup, when her sleeves were green

And her youthful mouth crimson red

And the crown came off and she put her head next to my head.

The cameras made sure things were secure around the royal bed.

The queen and I could see two thousand years of history,

But it took a lot of reading to actually know

The significance of Greenland and Marilyn Monroe.

However, to know who was coming that day for tea,

And which rivalry was dangerous, and which jealousy was already dead

Took no education at all.

That day her DNA held me in thrall.

Put on your coat to meet the other coats and face the day.

Your father was president. That means he had a certain role to play.

Before it all happened, certain arrangements had to go a certain way.

Since everyone is born confused, only the simple needs to be explained,

But the simple keeps throwing people off.

They live out simple explanations before the longer ones

Get themselves into their souls,

So they lose sleep, and go to pot, and are continually burdened with a cough.

It’s luck. It’s inheritance.  Baudelaire, and the rest, are fools.

Yes, there will be those simplistic, effortless ones,

Who, better endowed by nature, hate man-made rules,

The womanizers who are stupid but go to the best schools;

But they are weak, they are not Renaissance artists, they can’t compete with you.

They hate the crowd, but are the crowd. That commie, John Dewey, too.

 

 

 

 

A FEW REMARKS ON POETRY, CHRISTIANITY AND NEO-ROMANTICISM— PART ONE

Image result for 3 wise men renaissance painting

The following essay is offered as nothing more than an intoxicating drink, with a few unique qualities—most of the musings here you’ve probably heard before; sometimes it’s only emphasis that matters.

Recall the scene in the Meno: Socrates proves all knowledge is recollection (which means the soul is immortal) by suggesting to an unlearned child the means to answer a difficult geometrical problem.

The Platonist poet, Shelley, agrees:

Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.

Knowledge involves a certain humility; humans, the Platonist knows, do not invent; “reason” is merely “recollection,” or, as Shelley puts it, “enumeration of qualities already known.” Qualities are not invented, imagined, or discovered; qualities are, as the (grounded!) Romantic understands, “already known.” And the “imagination,” according to Shelley, “is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole.” Imagination is the “perception of the value of those qualities.” Imagination doesn’t create, or invent; the whole process is far more mundane (says the Romantic!); “perception of value, with an eye to “separately and as a whole.”

This is not easy stuff, but easier, since the Platonist grasps how really modest and small human intelligence is—the “imagination” is the “agent” perceiving the “value of qualities already known,” by using “reason” as an “instrument.”

This intoxicating drink I offer, with a little help from the Romantics, should calm and relax you, if nothing else.  Complexity, discovery, labor, be gone.

This is what I intend to do.  Give you a whiff of poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.  You can even close your eyes and find your way.

You know this stuff.

You know it’s true.

But you’ve forgotten.

This essay, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity and Neo-Romanticism,” should not be taken any more seriously than if flowery letters stating the same should be found on the side of a bottle. When we say seriously, sometimes, what we drink, and the label embellishing it, is serious indeed, but not in the manner of truth, but only of pleasure—so drink, and become intoxicated, and see what pleasures follow; nothing found in this Scarriet essay will necessarily be true; you’ll find only random observations made by a poet for the sake of poetry.

The defense of poetry is, by now, an old practice; half-wits do it; narrowing the subject of poetry to include “Christianity and Neo-Romanticism” is nothing more, really, than an attempt to peak interest in the drink. Philosophy is my beach-reading; if “A Few Remarks” is philosophical, good—think of it as amusement in a philosophical vein.

To state the Neo-Romanticism theme simply: the first criterion of poetry is beauty, in all its particular attributes, heightened by the imagination, and everything else flows from this highest category.

Beauty is advantageous for two reasons—imagination must be present to an extraordinary degree, since imagination first began as the urgent invention to create happiness when faced with sorrow, and beauty is happiness; secondly, beauty also requires harmony, and therefore a certain order and rigor is always necessary to carry off that harmony. Beauty, then, keeps poetry enthusiastic, since happiness is the best motivator for enthusiasm, and at the same time beauty requires expertise and skill to add the necessary harmony to the imaginative attempts to be beautiful.

With Neo-Romanticism, then, beauty is the top category—for the practical reasons just given, and this stricture need not be onerous; beauty was chosen precisely because beauty is not onerous—and naturally, all other elements may of course be present (so modern irritation with the flimsy idealism and ineffectual prettiness of “beauty” does not get the upper hand), just to remember that beauty is the measure and general design which prevails, even as the frightening (with its sublime attributes), the humorous (profound, or sublime wit) and other qualities contribute, in descending order, to that harmonizing effect the Romantic poet is known for, whether it is Byron laughing, Coleridge weeping, Keats gasping, Shelley sighing, Wordsworth philosophizing, Tennyson singing, Millay regretting, Eliot whispering, or Mazer dipping his dreaming toe in the dreaming springs.

Harmony is the leading trait of beauty, and while most poetry refers to things outside of itself to win favor (the poet serving as a kind of rough, honest, social messenger) harmony demands all interest reside within the poem itself (easy political sentiments, in this case, fail) and so how the parts fit is crucial. We know instinctively, but not rationally, how the parts of a beautiful face harmonize to give us pleasure—the trick surpasses our understanding; the same nose on another face is merely a beautiful nose on an ugly face; judgment of the whole is all. The poem cannot refer; its beauty must be its own, and only harmony can achieve this, for ‘a poem’ as it exists as ‘a poem’ is not beautiful; several parts harmonizing is the poem’s only chance.

The poem as a self-enclosed entity is imprisoning—harmony must be freeing, even as it forces parts together to make them fit. Parts must dwell beside each other in interesting and freeing ways, even as they harmonize as a whole—this is the key to beauty. Eyes must be able to flash like stars and be vastly different from mouth, nose, and chin—even as these eyes live on the same beautiful face as those other features: the nose—what can it possibly have to do with the eyes? It’s all a mystery, but certainly not a trivial one, since beauty and harmony are certainly not trivial.

Yet in many respects the harmony of a face is quite simple—and almost without harmony—compared to the harmony of a piece of music, or a poem. All a pretty face needs is: pretty eyes, check, pretty nose, check, pretty chin, check. How do these harmonize? It is not so much harmony, as a mere list of pleasing attributes. More profound and mysterious by far is the notion of the face itself. What is a human face, and why does it please? Then we would need to posit material considerations which have nothing to with lofty notions of beauty and harmony, and yet, these considerations are profound nonetheless: the eyes see, the mouth speaks and tastes, etc. The face is part of a living thing thriving in the world. The beauty of an eye is a poetic idea, since the eye is an instrument for seeing, and yet the seeing action of the eye-instrument is part of its beauty—practical considerations harmonize with beauty.

Harmony is an ever-widening process, even as it belongs to the limits of its action as a harmonizing whole, with a defined beginning, middle, and end.

We must ask, therefore, what practical considerations belong to the poem, as we explore its harmony and beauty. The upper idea hiding a subordinate idea is a crucial way a poem harmonizes, just as a piece of great music allows us to hear different threads simultaneously.

This brings us to Christianity, as it pertains to practical life harmonizing with beauty.

The poet makes choices, in the imagination, to allow us to perceive the more beautiful result. The poet, like the priest, must take practical matters and somehow harmonize them with beauty for the sake of imaginative fancy.

The “virgin birth” is just such an imaginative fancy, which pleases the Christian—but not the atheist, who sneers, “Virgin birth? Bah! Impossible! this absurdity brings down, like a house of cards, your entire religion.”

But the Romantic, who might be an atheist, will, as a poet, nonetheless tell the objecting atheist, “please hold that thought.”  Is religion not a series of interconnecting ideas, rather than facts?

The “virgin birth” is not a fact, but an ideaan idea which lives in a universe of other ideas; Keats’ “negative capability” defines the poet as one who can entertain doubts, who can temporarily dwell where answers are suspended, so that fancy (imagination) has a chance to build a harmonizing aspect of things, which moves us happily forward into a better reality.

Religion is a poetic, not a factual, response, to the world.

Harmony and imagination is the religious way.

The factual world (virgin births do not occur) is not a poetic one.

Or it is, if God is a poet.

Secularism is the poet (as fact-master) attempting to be God (as fact-master).

Religion posits God as the one true poet.

For virgin births do occur in the factual world.

The universe itself was a virgin birth. No scientist knows how the universe came into existence, and we doubt whether it was made by daddy light and mama darkness, or any other myth the primitive imagination might invent.

Imagination grows and matures with monotheistic religion. The immaculate conception is a profoundly scientific concept. The one universe was born, not by evolution, but in a manner absolutely mysterious and unknown. This is the fact of existence. The religious fancy, the poem, and the scientific fact, come together, in the harmonizing imagination, as one.

The harmonizing relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, in which the new obeys, and yet miraculously fulfills, and surpasses, the old, pertains to the strategies of poetry itself, and the inner harmonizing character of poems.

The parts come from the whole, and not the other way around.

God coming to earth requires a virgin birth, since there is no immortal element on earth; there is no immortal dad to impregnate the mortal mother. One needs to hold off the objection, then, to the virgin birth, in order for the God-coming-to-earth story to proceed.

The sacred story of Christ is a great poem, and so feeds poetry, if poetry harmonizes fully, and across the board, and, if we think of the trope of everyone writing the same poem, every time a poet writes a poem, as more than mere linguistic expression, not as a mere fragment of a song or a fragment of a plaint, or a fragment of a protest, or any factual observation the would-be poet might want to indulge in, we can understand a poem as a poem coming into being.  And this exists as a cloud of mystery, not as ‘writing poems for Christ,’ or anything so obvious or silly.

A virgin birth also avoids, for aesthetic reasons, sex, the messy core of messy reality. The raw fact of sex is not condemned or avoided, for sex certainly does have its harmonizing place in the world.

But what to do about sex is not a trivial matter, and has profound practical considerations. In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews must choose whether she wants to be a nun, or not.

Her choice belongs more to religious behavior, than to religious poetry. Religion is in the world, as much as the secular is.

However, we did mention earlier that good harmony keeps its parts, to a certain extent, free from each other. Harmony, which pulls together, should also be freeing. The freedom to choose to be a nun and serve the religion that way, belongs to a profoundly harmonizing challenge.

In another major religion, all women of the religion are forced to be nuns. Here the woman is free of the agonizing moral, social and religious choice which women in the Catholic faith must choose for themselves. Julie Andrews did not know what to do. The West has such a demand for choice and freedom, the whole thing for many people can be overwhelming. But the more freedom, the greater necessity there is for harmony and poetry.

Any religiosity seems horribly quaint in the face of modern, secularist advance.  I speak a little of Christianity (of which I am ignorant) just to appease the title, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.”

Quickly, before I lose all respect, I would like to examine, for pure pleasure alone, a recent sonnet by Ben Mazer, the contemporary Neo-Romantic poet.

A virgin snow remade the world that year.
Three kings had heard the rumour from afar
and wandered from the East by guiding star.
The sacred place was frosted with the sheer
anticipation of a world to come.
The shepherds and the animals were dumb
with gazing out the windows for the far
approaching kings, the radiant Hamilcar.
The old world would be disappearing fast;
the marvels that they saw they knew would last.
The wind stood patient on the bare swept sill.
Guests stood in silence on the little hill.
The three kings from a distance could be seen.
It was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been.

The Neo-Romantic aspect of this will be quickly seen.  When, against our will, there’s no escape, and we surrender to poetry’s predicament, this is love, romance, and all the helplessness implied, as expressed by again, Shelley, in his Defense of Poetry:

Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away; so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects.

In order for this formula, which Shelley has evoked, to work: the ‘human lyre’ which “seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause,” we must first really be a lyre, and be literally ‘played’ as a passive instrument; this passivity is the secret to human joy: settling into a dark theater and allowing images to wash over us as we sit there passively—far removed from drudgery and reason and understanding and work of any kind—one is simply a passive lyre. This is why Poe, ‘the Last Romantic,’ championed poetry which aspired to beauty and music and condemned the didactic poem—for didactic poetry slides over into the realm which belongs to labor and pain, and not thoughtless, passive, joy, the surrender necessary to experience poetry in a state of true excitement.

This is not to say poetry (words) benefits from a darkened theater, but the idea of inescapable focus is the same—poetry is different from film, but their joy is based on the same thing: trusting passivity, which frees us from the irritable ‘reaching’ we normally do, in thought or action, and we think naturally here of Keats’ Negative Capability. Sensuality (sound) in poems works like the brightened screen in the cinema—the sensual, unconscious device of passive joy, used to produce the higher version of harmony which attempts to surpass itself.

If this passive, first, step of delight is not allowed to occur, the next step: “which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of sounds or motions…” cannot occur.

To intellectualize, in the common light of day, the horrors of the world, in the spirit of a utilitarian lecturer, will deprive poetry of Shelley’s cinematic mission, and will end up on the other side of Neo-Romanticism; this is why prosaic Modernism is so hostile to Romanticism—as Scarriet has demonstrated in a number of articles over the last ten years.

In Part Two, we will examine Mazer’s poem more closely as we breathe in Neo-Romanticism.

 

 

THE WITCH

Image result for witch in movies

“must be the season of the witch” —Donovan

A witch lives inside your soul, you say?

A witch, you hate, but love anyway?

The witch escaped the granite home

And rides the lurid windy foam.

The witch of office politics

Feeds a fire with different sticks.

It’s furiously cold outside.

Statistics of witches stretched and lied.

The newspaper sings a holy song:

A covered stereotype with a bomb.

This witch has no address.

Her body sways. She says no and yes.

The beautiful witch

Eats my soul. Love is homeless. Love’s an itch.

Take me into the shade.

Kiss me. I’m afraid.

Politics is the invention of the witch.

Politics is shameful and wild.

They crowd the hill to kill the child.

The last virgin to ever innocently mourn,

Succumbed to lesbians in porn,

Acting more real than any play.

Nothing stands in the witch’s way.

Strict and covered is the Muslim rule.

Life strays too much.  Make life a school.

Christ made too much of the beautiful word.

Now it’s more simple. The poor and a sword.

Our most famous film is about a witch,

The most famous play has three of them,

And the greatest poem is Dante’s Hell—

His Paradise only a pale diadem.

Dante and Beatrice—he was ten and she was nine.

Red is the poet, and red is the wine.

Wake, and get in the car by nine.

All the papers said she was in it,

The woman who inspired the poet.

But now the woman is on her own.

There’s a mixture of every crimson tone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GONE ALL THE TIME

Image result for bierstadt paintings

Gone all at once, and gone all the time,

Love feels impossible;

Love won’t stay, so it feels sublime.

Ineffable! Uncanny! Yet, there you are,

Drinking coffee, or riding in the car.

From the height of the lover

I look down on the friend,

Sublime from the great height,

Bliss on high, mixed with fright:

You might say goodbye. These beautiful cliffs could end.

I saw you from a distance, before you were gone.

How strange to recognize the tiniest example

Of what I loved in tears.

We loved each other, but you won.

You walked into the building, with your own anxiety and fears;

It could have been a moment ago, or many years.

When I saw you, it seemed, as usual, you were leaving me,

But you must go, you will go, mentioned in my poetry.

I see you going, you will go, because my poem ends,

And you put the poem aside, and said, “let’s be friends.”

But I tear up the poem; it mustn’t be nice, it must be sick.

Why is sublime love always made of this one trick?

It’s not fair that I think—but you get to go on,

As when I saw you from a distance enter that building; can I win, for once?

I want to be the one who is gone.

 

 

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THAT?

Image result for angel blowing golden horn in renaissance painting

There’s so much interest to life
When you gain a small advantage
And feel that little joy of revenge,
Even if it’s small, but it usually is small,
Since small and petty is the object of your scorn:
She sneered. Now you loudly blow the golden horn.
Because there’s so much interest to life,
Your poem will never amount to much,
Which is good. Poems triumph in death. That’s what they’re for.
But this is life. Be careful before you walk out the door.
Make it known you have more dignity
Than her—soft! let her be the one who’s small.
There’s so much interesting revenge in life.
Life is amazing! Life has it all!
She’s not going to read your poems.
But you can plot a nice little revenge right now.
Poems won’t do that. Poems don’t know how.

WHY POETRY MUST BE GOOD

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Poetry must be good—otherwise we have a robot/zombie universe under obligation to like poetry.

True admiration is as far away as possible from the obligation to like something.

Some people are very good at creating obligations.  It’s called sales.

We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

Writing poetry is good, so how dare we cast aspersions on it?

That’s the thing. We are obligated to like poetry—whether it is good, or not.

So if the poetry is not good, and we support it, and read, and write it, and say we like it—but we don’t, what does that do to the soul?

It sells it out. It sickens it.

And further, if an industry arises, if a system of promoting poetry, not because it’s good, but just because it’s poetry, advances, what will this do?

Not only will this kill poetry—never mind killing the soul—it will cultivate a climate in which we invest time, money, and ego, in an inferior product.

And what will this do?

It will create an unspoken resentment of poetry which is actually good.

Do you see the problem?

Do you see how murder of the soul begins with being nice?

Poetry must be good.  It’s not a question of it should be good.  It must be good.

But what necessitates poetry being good?  And how can something as simple as a bad poem ever be banned or suppressed?

There is no answer.

After a long silence, in laughter we face the awful truth of the death of our souls.

 

 

 

NOW THAT HE’S EARNED HIS FAME

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Now that he’s earned his fame,

Or lucked into it—who is he?—life will never be the same.

He loved you and was famous in your breast.

You loved him, but you couldn’t love the rest.

The others gradually took notice.

You only loved him the most.

But now that he’s gone—you told him goodbye,

And he actually had a tear in his eye—

You know him only through his work

And he’s beautiful, but only you know he’s an insecure jerk.

How is it that he’s getting younger?

Sometimes you regret losing him,

But there are cigarettes and devices

Invented just for you, the invention

Itself was invented for the broken heart.

Anyway, your face still entices;

He really loved you and fell apart

Before you left him and he found fame.

You love others but it will never be the same

As when his mouth was on you after he softly called your name.

 

DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE IS

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Don’t you know what love is?

It’s me talking to you right now.

Thank God the poem mediates.

Unsupervised human interaction hates

Intervention by song or poem

When not involving one they love.

The ugly singer sings his song

So beautifully. But only to the air

Which holds the shy abashed lovers

Not willing to speak, distant, there.

Distance is the measure we know

And only that. “You have to let them go.”

You’ve heard that advice. Pretend

You don’t love. Right up to the very end.

 

THIS POEM SHRINKS FROM ITS TITLE

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This poem shrinks from its title.

The clamor elicited by vulgarity

Is not that different as when sad beauty

Looks sadly away in the sight of your rival.

A poem, written by the lonely and free

Is not to be trusted, even when it’s me.

I have to check myself. I called my poem

A name so vulgar and disgusting, I took

The wise step of changing it. The book

Should never be ashamed of its author.

Things people say about my book

Should be nice. Look no further

Than this. Here she is. Take a look.

They say one shouldn’t write poems

On poems. Blame her, that now a title

Of a poem is the topic of a poem.

Look, Tom. Isn’t she beautiful?

EXAGGERATION

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You must know I’m not usually excitable,
But how long must I be calm and pleasantly glad?
I have read about love. It was sad.
The man paced outside the window. The woman
Covered her arms in folds of crimson and myrtle.
The tradition arrived every night this year.
Every woman attended. This is no exaggeration;
They crowded, they pushed ahead—even the dearest woman.
I affected learning. I thought this decision up in my own mind.
The poetry readings, seminars; failures in oak,
Scratches, graffiti, partly undressed tables, inside and outside the mind.
I affected poetry. It did no good. I was too calm;
I went on in hushed tones about my childhood;
Stood near her by the window, even laughed.
It wouldn’t do to repeat it now, even if I could.
There is a need to exaggerate, even without drama or poems,
To not flag, to make oneself happy; to pretend a woman’s figure
Will make one happy, and this is all a man needs.
Life is dull. We exaggerate. And so it proceeds.

THAT ADVICE DOES NOT PERTAIN TO ME

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That advice does not pertain to me.

I can hate and love at the same time.

I can hear in the wrong note the note that’s right.

The best thing language can do is rhyme.

Language can pun and law can be technical—

Use that, but don’t let it use you.

Let the day teach you patience in the night.

Never let minor things or second-hand things tell you what to do.

They say the best thing is to love yourself,

But that advice does not pertain to me.

My wretched lover did nothing but love herself.

God is one, stupid is two, and wisdom is three.

The popular oppositions are the ones you want to avoid.

Look for the reason. Otherwise you’ll only be annoyed.

The reason for the whole thing is both more, and the whole thing.

You can figure it out. Even love.

Look for those sad reasons, as you smile and sing.

 

 

 

NO EVIDENCE OF A CRIME IS EVIDENCE OF A COVER UP OF A CRIME

“point me to the man—I’ll find a crime.”

No evidence of a crime is evidence of a cover up of a crime.

Since you never said you hated me, this proves you hated me the whole time.

Since I suspected you of hating me, even as we kissed,

Now that you have reason to hate me, I must examine evidence I may have missed.

The poet cannot hear the deep state. Unofficially, official innocence is drowned.

Them have a mind which can read a mind to see where your betrayal is found.

You were guilty, even in the beginning, of hatred towards me,

I understand your hate, I do understand it—despite your love—retroactively.

And of course I suspect you, now, of even more crimes.

Love? Love? No. These are doubtful, suspicious times.

You don’t need a final image. Justice? I’ll show you how.

I’ve got her on the phone. Get out of my office. Now.

 

 

 

 

IN DECEMBER

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In December it is evening every day.
The horizon fog holds the sun from dream to dream,
And the dream of evening is where we stay.
Winter is for the wealthy, who go away.
The final, bending solar beam
Makes itself comfortable in the one dream,
Which we saw when night and summer welcomed in eternal day;
The glaring sunshine knew
Sorrow quickly, and things mourned were few.
I remember we rhymed December with remember.
The memory of one dark December
Is forgotten now, or I never knew.
I’d remember every December, and if I knew how, I’d remember you.
December’s dark streets and empty trees
Are lights and delights now for these.
Memory is a skill for the not so sorrowful who write:
A helpless, flaming purge against eternal night.

PERFECTION IMPERFECTLY SEEN

Image result for man reflected in store window

Perfection imperfectly seen

Might seem skinny, or fat, or in-between;

Perfection, imperfectly heard,

Might sound desperate, sweet, or absurd.

And a poem is ruined by an incorrect word.

Into the mirror goes the brave and iconic,

Convincing her to love—but it comes out as comic.

When I saw my reflection suddenly

In a city window, I knew it wasn’t me,

My slump, my visage, my mystery.

Is imperfection reality?

The imperfect tends to remind the heart

Imperfection will be at the end, if it existed at the start.

If you are paranoid when you fall in love,

Your paranoia will be greater in love.

Perfection imperfectly glimpsed

Will teach the sad to sadly convince

Himself that hope is an accident

And her love for him is not quite what she meant.

There is more trouble I never see

Than your face showed to me—

I remember how it spoke to me of my sorrow imperfectly.

 

 

 

 

INDIAN POETRY DECEMBER

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December is here, and now Scarriet has looked at 77 Indian poets who write and publish in English, with one more month and seven more poets to go—84 in all, and what an illuminating exercise this has been!

Here’s what I learned and am learning. Indian poetry in English rivals Britain and the USA.  Let’s stop ignoring India.

Thanks, again, to Linda Ashok.

Now let’s look at this month’s poets:

Sharanya Manivannan is young (born in 1985) and writes of romantic episodes with feeling; the goal is: memories enhanced by tokens traced in the poetry become the reader’s. Wordsworth did this to wonderful effect with daffodils—the highest accomplishment of lyric poetry, in which Romantic pure feeling replaces poetry’s old task—history, scripture, satire—because the yellow flowers are both the memory and the reality; Wordsworth made sure reader and poet were on the same page; nothing gets in the way of daffodil fever.

The dilemma of describing a wonderful love affair is that the more wonderful it was, the more difficult (impossible) it is to describe. The love poet labors uphill; good Romantic poetry is  impossible. Classical, 19th century, Romantic poetry does not describe real love. Romantic poetry is a paradox, which is why no Modern has been able to replicate Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, or Shelley. The Moderns somehow did not get it. Perhaps because they look to old poetry, centuries-old poetry, much older than the Romantics, which depicts wild and passionate love in all its forms, with wit and natural imagery. The difference is, the love of the 19th century Romantics belonged to imagination, not love. In successful 19th century Romantic poetry, love has to be in the poetry itself, not only remembered. The “remembered” is all poetry is—except for the occasional poetic genius. Wordsworth: “And then my heart with pleasure fills,/And dances with the daffodils.”

Manivannan is as close to the Romantics as any poet we have had the pleasure to read. Here is her poem, “Keeping the Change,” attempting to keep what is gone:

In the French Quarter I wrote you
love poems in yellow ochre,

unscrolled them like a trellis
of bougainvillea, paper
petals too intense to abandon,
too fragile to keep. How many
shots of thirty rupee citrus vodka
could we get for a ten dollar

bill? Everywhere you went you
told them to keep the change,

placing it palm-down back on
the table, so when I picked up

your hand to kiss it after, I
smelt metal on your skin.

I don’t know what you came
here looking for, but it
wasn’t in the cobblestone,
or in the rock-bordered

coastline, it wasn’t in the
prayer-dome or in anything
you filled those palms

with when I lifted those
dresses I bought on those
streets over my head,

needing you the way a vine
of thorns needs a spine.

And this much later, a
coffer in my memory still

rattles—your coins too
cheap to care for, too heavy
to carry.

But I have a weakness
for copper and weight, and

I have collected them all,
handfuls of ore and residue.
They function like paperweights,

burdening the wisps of things,
their threats to drift away.

This is a wonderful poem, even as it resembles, at moments, the slangy, breathless, love poem which has become a dreary cliche since Modernism made the informal everything.

But this is to say nothing—it is like saying 19th century masterpieces of poetry threaten to become too rhyme-y.  So what? An age has its idiosyncrasies, and it’s good to see Manivannan in her time rise above her time with this magnificent poem.

*

Priya Sarukkhai Chabria is a student of the love poem; the tanka (strong examples of medieval Japanese women’s poetry) classical Indian love poetry (explicit yet ornate, natural metaphors watching over human desire in poems bawdy or not). She tackles many old forms and stories and histories.  What I like is the attempt is Romantic—love and love beautifully remembered, whether it is considered moral, or not.

The challenge is the same. How does love live in the poem?  Perhaps the love cannot live in the poem?  Then how is the love poem interesting? What can the poor poem do, but be a lascivious peep hole of lost memory?

Sarukkhai Chabria, translator and scholar, as well as poet, has consciously tried to imitate the most passionate and witty love poetry of India’s past. She’s aware that speech, not just imagery, conveys the complexity of love in the most accessible yet intriguing sort of way:

She says to her girlfriend:

He said to me: Keep faith.
So I kept a stubborn faith in
him that grew
with every obstacle.
Swollen, taut, ready
I held this close within myself
feeling his absent presence
fill me full.

Suddenly—
this small spill,
for him a little thing.
His rapid pulling out of me
peels away my very skin.

I’m earthworm worming
in the red slush
open
to flaming skies.

Do we, the reader, want to be inside the very love of others? What do we make of her final image?  Does love poetry belong to the cheap and voyeuristic? How noble must the love be? What must we see? Not see?

These questions are answered if we return to the Romantics like Wordsworth. It isn’t about the love. It’s about the imagination. It is not a question of whether poetry should hold love at arm’s length, or not. The imagination is the filter, the authority, the judge, and the passion. This is why 19th century British Romanticism was a true renaissance of poetry—which the world neglects at its peril.

Sarukkhai Chabria is doing a good service by studying, translating and writing poems of love.

**

Ravi Shankar is a brilliant poet. If we can generalize, the best poets do five things well—1 use the language, 2 see, 3 feel, 4 think, and 5 manage the first four in a poem.

In poem after poem, the American poet Ravi Shankar, excels at all five. He prefers the loose sonnet form—four stanzas of three or four lines. He builds poems. Most poems are written. Shankar’s poems, like most we remember, are built.

No one would ever be foolhardy enough to say a poem must be this or that.

However, to reject completely the idea that a poem is something we recognize as a poem is to miss out, perhaps, on the secret.

We enter a house and recognize it as such—it is not a tunnel; it is not a field; it is not a forest. It is a house.

Shankar seems to have stumbled upon poem—and the result (of course poems and houses are infinite in their variety) is always poetry of the highest order.

“Buzzards” is a classic example—every word in the poem profits its neighbor, until the last startling phrase hugs the theme and crowns the whole.

Gregarious in hunger, a flock of twenty
turn circles like whorls of barbed wire,
no spot below flown over uncanvassed.

The closer to death the closer they come,
waiting on wings with keen impatient
perseverance, dark blades lying in wake

until age or wound has turned canter
into carcass or near enough for them
to swoop scrupulous in benediction,

land hissing, hopping, tearing, gorging,
no portion, save bone, too durable
to digest. What matters cannot remain.

“Contraction” is equally accomplished.

Honest self-scrutiny too easily mutinies,
mutates into false memories
Which find language a receptive host,
Boosted by boastful embellishments.

Self-esteem is raised on wobbly beams,
seeming seen as stuff enough
To fund the hedge of personality,
Though personally, I cannot forget

Whom I have met and somehow wronged,
wrung for a jot of fugitive juice,
Trading some ruse for a blot or two,
Labored to braid from transparent diction

Fiction, quick fix, quixotic fixation.
As the pulse of impulses
Drained through my veins, I tried to live
Twenty lives at once. Now one is plenty.

There are more Shankar poems like this: the language Shakespearean, the themes razor sharp, the expressiveness iconic.

It might as well be said. Ravi Shankar is at the top of the heap. There is no better poet living; we suspect a painful, heart-breaking, rueful quality prevents his work from being universally admired.

And another thing: we live in an age of social confusion.

The poem, in our time, which makes an impression on us like pigeons which wheel in a flock over our heads and come to a perfect rest on a church roof, is no longer the standard.

A dubious conversation of intense feeling we don’t quite understand, but puzzle over, is the model of the day.

Shankar’s poems are a product of these days, nonetheless; time will prove Shankar’s work to be excellent in every way it is possible to measure.

***

Abhay K, is like many Indian poets, an important compiler and translator, as well as a poet. He has published “100 Great Indian Poems,” most of them not originally in English.

He is also a diplomat. “Of Drugs and Drug Addicts” falls into the didactic category, but it’s an arresting and important poem, nonetheless, and is not without irony: the powerful “need help themselves” is as ironic as the very notion that the greatest addiction involves no apparent “addiction” at all. Power is a tricky concept; without power, we can’t effect good, either, yet all of us understand immediately the point which “Of Drugs and Drug Addicts” makes.

When we talk
of drugs and drug addicts,
we never talk of power,
the deadliest drug of all.

Cocaine, heroin or grass,
everyone knows,
are harmful for all,
and we have made them illegal
passing laws
but everyone craves power,
the deadliest drug of all.

Once tasted,
it surpasses the most addictive of drugs,
making a person mad,
numbing his senses
to the suffering and pain
of the millions
waiting in vain

for their deliverance
through these prophets insane,
power addicts, abusers,
who need help themselves.

****

Harnidh Kaur is in her mid-20s, and she’s what is loosely known as an “instagram poet,” with “followers,” if not “readers.” She voices concerns, which are called poems.  Enlarging the context of what poems are, and what they do, can be challenging, or so open-ended, poems no longer are.  But why should we care what poems are?  When context is “followers,” or “readers,” (the more, the better) perhaps democracy is enough to define poetry—so that we don’t need to define poetry at all.  The narrow definition of poetry by someone like Poe, for instance, can comfortably sit off to one side, and instagram poetry can do its thing. Everyone should be able to be happy.

did love seem like the scariest thing you ever did
because every time you tried to love
you made an unwanted political statement?

This is a good question.

Does it matter whether this is a poem, or not?

*****

Shalim Hussain is a political poet who hides his politics behind beautiful poetry, so that one wonders, is this poetry more beautiful because of the politics, and how can that be? We know beauty doesn’t allow her charms to be handled by others. She owns them, and will not permit their use for other ends. Politics, too, eager to be adorned by beauty, hasn’t got time for beauty, save as an adornment, for so much has to be explained. Politics is attached to history, religion, and all those things which requires scholarship and time.

Poetry which lends its voice to politics is dutiful in the extreme—it is anxious to be poetic, knowing there is too much to explain without metaphors and myths, and now there is so much work to do: myth, metaphor, politics will overwhelm and confuse, if the poet is not expert in sorting it all out.

I love the lines in this poem—“His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath” and many others are exquisite, delicate, first-rate. I love this poem—but honestly, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening—and the explanation at the end is not poetry, but an explanation.

The topic and the lines are so beautiful, however, that we’ll take it.

Witness the beauty of Hussain’s poem:

Dighalipukhuri*

One claw on a bar,
and the crow
lifts the other to his lips
and blows the day’s first puff.
His view races the smoke through the fencing,
conductors spank their buses on-
“Dighalipukhuri. Dighalipukhuri.”

Long pond.

He stares at a chirping he can never touch,
at entwined buds,
and pigeons floating together in air bubbles,
and lovebirds in love rows,
their heads under their wings.
His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.

At home his vulture
awaits him,
the spear in her hair and
a carcass in her beak.

Here he makes his day long,
sometimes swoops down and scoops up a
beakful of love from the face
Dighali.
Love the blushes of hyacinths
skimmed behind the boats.
The trees smell of Duryodhana’s incense
and Bhanumati’s anklets still tinkle beneath the paddle-boats,
her tumeric and potfuls of milk
and wedding tears
and a few thousand years of love.

He will return to blow the night’s last mists.

(*Dighalipukhuri, literally, ‘long pond,’ situated in Guwahati is an ancient pond frequented by lovers. It is connected by an underground tunnel to the river Brahmaputra and was supposedly dug for Duryodhana and Bhagadatta’s daughter Bhanumati’s wedding bath.)

******

Jerry Pinto is a novelist as well as a poet—which is often a hopeful sign to some; they cannot help but think, ‘A novelist! A good chance the poetry won’t be bullshit.’ But others may worry, ‘A novelist! Treason may be lurking! Not a real poet, perhaps!’ Neither of these positions are at all fair. Let’s thrust aside these predjudices, and read the following with an open mind.

Prayer

Lord of the linear narrative,
Show me the point at which I should begin.
Stop me when I have said as much as I should.
Regulate my voice, I boom too much
And my whispers are shrill.
Feed me words on those long, slow afternoons.
Allow me the grace of serendipity—
To find lost continents on my tongue.
Give me the gift of silence,
And then set me adrift.

*******

Seven more remarkable poets for this December installment!

We’ll see you in January!

 

WHAT IF I WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT THAT WAY

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What if I want to think about it that way?

That you said this, or that, just to see what I would say?

That you had one talent, and it was this:

You kept secrets from kiss to kiss;

You never told me what I wanted to know

Even when we were intimate. What a show.

You sold more tickets to me

Than I could buy; my frugality,

My philosophy, my gallantry,

Paced for hours outside the tent,

In agony. And then in I went.

You were the one I wanted,

Because you were the one I wanted,

And you made it like it was no big deal.

You understood perfectly

How profound the philosophy

That says knowing wants what it wants,

More than anything that is real.

 

YOU SHOULDN’T BE HAPPY

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You shouldn’t be happy,

And yet somehow you’re happier than me.

And now you hope I’ll make you happy. We’ll see.

I know the stupid are sometimes happy,

But I can’t make myself stupid. I’ve seen. I see.

This could be a huge mistake. Expecting happiness from me.

You seem to have what you want. And God! you write poetry.

Life should crush your type. And yet you’re happy.

Maybe I’m bitter—but I have the right to be.

I’m realistic. I’m not a dork who writes poetry.

Life has been a real shit show for me.

I think your luck is about to end. I see

You gave me a card and wrote me a poem. Really?

 

 

 

 

YOU CANNOT SAY WHAT YOU DIDN’T LOVE

You cannot say what you didn’t love.

When all is gone and only this poem is left,

How will it help if this, too, is bereft?

All is gone. So let this speak of love.

It was love you wanted. You know

Inquisitions always lead to lies

And fast love hates love that’s slow.

But now that you have lived, the same living dies

That made you live. If you love

A poem, that poem must speak of love.

Now let me tell this poem to do

What cannot be done. Love you.

 

SHE CHEATED ON ME

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She cheated on me. In the movie—

Not in the book—the loving pages

Lovers of literature will always preserve.

Editors and publishers’ wages

Will forever cherish our love.

Lovers of love will make our book theirs.

If you fall prey to the movie, you get what you deserve.

The producer of the film wanted the film to reflect

His soul—not a beautiful one, with all due respect.

The soundtrack was popular, and the movie sold.

Our serene love would have left audiences cold.

The Oscar award which everyone prizes,

Was pinned on the actor twisting in his surprises.

But read the book. It opens with the following:

“One day I saw a woman wearing a T-shirt

With one word in large letters—

Maybe it was stupid, or maybe it wasn’t that bad,

But why did it seem inevitable

That she—wearing a shirt with the word, SOUL—turned out to be sad?”

 

ALL WE LOVED AND THOUGHT WE LOVED

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All we loved,
And thought we loved, we did not love,
Because not one moment remained.
Save it with your poetry, they said.
We can’t have it, but at least we’ll have it explained.

All we knew,
And thought we knew, we did not know,
Because not one moment remained.
Leave it to history, they said.
Set it down, at least, though it never gets explained.

All we did,
And thought we did, we did not do,
Because not one moment remained.
Leave it to circumstance, they said.
What’s done is done, and cannot be explained.

If I loved
And thought I loved, I did love.
Can you believe it was this that remained?
Quickly, I kissed you. What else needs to be explained?

 

 

WHAT IF MY POETRY IS VANITY

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What if my poetry is vanity?

It must be. For who writes my poetry but me?

And where are you located when I write?

Does it matter? What does my poetry know of sunlight?

What does my poetry know of you and me?

Who tells me what to put in my poetry?

What pretends to be the bright day inside the cloudy night?

My poetry. That means something isn’t right.

And now what pretends? Is that not vanity?

What does my poetry really know?

Can we discuss that later? Here’s the door. Here’s the world. Let’s go.

 

BYE, POEMS, BYE

Image result for manuscripts in renaissance painting

Bye, poems, bye.

What’s the point. Some guy

Will say the same with less.

Bye, poems, bye.

I must pick you up

And read you again, after I cry?

Bye, poems, bye.

The instructions were long. I still couldn’t fly.

Bye, poems, bye.

Why did I think my

Efforts would do?

Bye, poems, bye.

They’re black ink. He’s colorful and sly.

Bye, poems, bye.

I hated. I failed. They thought I was shy.

So I wrote.

Bye, poems, bye.

These are nothing. One glance at the sky

Is more.

Bye, poems, bye.

Want to read them, and buy them? Why?

They’re less than all.

Bye, poems, bye.

She likes stratagems and torture.

She’s speechless. She’d rather die.

Bye, poems, bye.

 

 

MY DEAREST FRIEND

Image result for secret person in modern painting

Don’t believe it until you see it, and yet

You won’t believe it if you disagree with it, I bet.

Even the whole video depends on who sees it.

The world does not belong to what or why, but who.

It hinges on the lover, the judge—it doesn’t matter, really, what you do.

If I know exactly who you are,

The shadow will cover up, or not cover up, my star.

My poem is not for that creep over there.

If the Royal committee rejects my revolution, I don’t care.

I fall in love with you, unthinking.

Only me beside you keeps the whole thing from sinking.

What was done? Why was it done?  What matters is who.

It’s not the circumstance, or even the love. It’s you.

 

 

 

GRADUALLY WE HATE WHAT WE LOVED

Gradually we hate what we loved

Since love cannot be loved alone.

Every land that stretches out next to love

Is dry; nothing but dry stone.

All that sleeps and wakes next to love

Is not love. You cannot find

In the dust of the adjoining land’s dry air

One thing which resembles your mind

When you were young and loved everything in there.

Now love is only one of many things.

Just a sigh. Just something that sings.

Love still makes the same sounds,

But now it’s surrounded, not a force that surrounds.

Remember? Love loved in your sight and breast.

Love was the reason, and the reason for all the rest.

 

 

 

THE POET DOESN’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING

I am beautiful, I don’t need to sing.

I don’t need to practice notes, harmonies, or words.

I am beautiful. I exist, like the birds.

I am beautiful. I never listen to the owner of the store.

Owners aren’t necessary. The customer wants more.

It drives my lover crazy—she sees me lying around,

And I’m really not doing anything.

Maybe, in my silent mind, I’ll find a beautiful sound;

Dreaming, I’ll find an eye of fire, and, with its tip on fire, a beautiful wing.

My invention will die. She will plunge to the ground.

She doesn’t exist for any other thing.

She will fall with a beautiful sound.

A million souls find her, while I’m sleeping.

Some pay me cash. A few of them are weeping.

 

 

 

 

 

WOMEN WANT TO CONTROL MEN

Women want to control men

And men receive this benefit again and again.

As mother pleased the boy

The goddess Kali wraps the man in joy.

The man loves the female form and face

Solely, and wants its beauty all over the place.

Falling upon the woman’s breast,

The guy finds his rest of no rest;

He finds the childhood he lost,

For a manhood of infinite cost.

The sad trips which lead to death

Lead to romance and the uneasy breath

Which lingers around a tree

In the forest of infinite poetry.

Why should the man fight and die,

When bound, he can live a lullaby?

Women, afflicted, need to control

The wandering male soul.

But Shiva can’t be pinned down

In the law, in the convenience of town,

Which last night he burned down.

The man becomes a woman to escape

The woman. When he looks at her

It could be love. Friendship. Film. Rape.

The authority wants to know what the woman wants to do;

What male of exact authority has she been talking to?

The man is now a woman who is now a man.

She controls himself as best as they possibly can.

 

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