It’s 1970.


At my parents for Thanksgiving, this year, I looked around in the early morning and the only thing telling me it was 2015, not 1970, was the family cell phones and iPads charging, laying about the living room and kitchen.

That’s it.

There were trees. Cars sitting in the driveway of my parents’ Yankee Barn house, made quaint and beautiful by my dad’s woodworking, my mom’s Julia Child cooking, their Depression-era, no-nonsense good taste, their Puritan work ethic.

The newspaper delivered to the top of my parents’ driveway sat on the table: the headline? A Russian fighter plane had been shot down in Turkey. So…Russia versus NATO. Also: Race tensions. Remember the cold war? The race riots in 1970?

2015 isn’t any different.

In 1969 man walked on the moon. And what have we done since then?

Are there any new major metropolitan centers in the United States?

No. Some are better. Some are worse.

Nice neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods in ratio and location pretty much the same.

In 1970, there was a little music from 1925, but not much. There was a lot of music from 1870 (Brahms was pretty big) and 1670 (Bach was everywhere).

But in 2015, nearly all popular music, from Bruno Mars to Adelle, derives from 1970.

My point is: why has time stopped? What’s going on? We hear about the tumultuous, technological rush of “the new” every day.

But if 2015 is essentially 1970, where is this rush of “the new?”

It doesn’t exist.

Is the United States population smarter or more interesting now?


In 1970,  poetry and art were modern and ugly and moneyed and hip and we longed for the beautiful and the old.

In 2015, poetry and art is smart and modern and ugly and moneyed and…

Yup. It’s the same thing.

And does the whole world still look to America and strive to keep up?

Internationally, the truth of this is the same.

Significant change came to a halt in 1970.

1925 music in 1970 felt absolutely dated.

“Let It Be” or “American Woman,” released today, however, in 2015, would be welcomed as exciting and trendy.

In 1970, we had “Earth Day,” and environmental destruction/mass starvation was a huge issue. American imperialism was massively discussed and documented by elites and the poor, alike. The “I Have A Dream” speech was famous. Every political issue on the table today was on the radar in 1970.

Discussed. And discussed.

But what has changed?


The New World Order still calls the shots, no matter how many stories we see in the papers, or on TV, or the internet.

That’s right. Liberals, conservatives, radicals, activists, progressives, evangelicals, libertarians, conspiracy nuts: as it was in 1970, so it is in 2015.

The same straightjacket templates, created from above, still exist.

In 1970, there were spiritual preachers of various stripes calling for change on the inside. Political activists of various stripes calling for pragmatic change on the outside. In the very same ratio, with all the same ideas. Exactly the same as 2015.

What is on our computers and cell phones? The exact same stuff one would find in 1970. Unless we are talking about jokes—about how everyone is on their cell phones.

1970 would have a good laugh at that.

Since it was Thanksgiving, I was able to test my ideas on my young, whip-smart and connected nephews; I asked them if there were a car today better than the greatest car made in 1970. The progress cited, even by the one who had owned, and taken Porsches apart and put them back together, was: the electric car.

But are electric cars on the road today?

Not much, they admitted. But it’s coming!

Then, I happened to be watching a little TV that afternoon, after swimming at a fitness center—which I hear people did, every now and then, in 1970—and the televised program calmly informed me that in 1909, electric cars were on the road, and as popular as gas cars.

When does progress go backwards?

Here it was again: the pride of the now—crushed by the reality of the past.

To be educated in today is not even to be educated.

What have we earned with today’s massive debt?


We flex our “new” muscles.

Above the yawning grave.

And still more information flowed out of the TV screen: During our great-grand parents’ day, when electric cars were being manufactured and sold, the following was true:

Guys liked gas cars, for the noise, the smell, and the speed.

Women preferred the clean and quiet electric cars.

I fell down a hole today, as 2015 cried, It’s 1970!

Then I fell into another hole.

We are always falling.

Some things never change.



Is there a bass line more addictive than heroin?

Or a melody that beats all intoxication?

Is there a set of eyes

So lovely, they are food to the wise?

And I, in love, could look at them forever,

And float in ecstasy

Upon their dark and rain pelted river?

There is a melody just like your eyes

Which I heard once under the starry river

Superseding our less distinguished skies.

I heard it once, and it ended my thirst

For melody, which was not the first

Thing I loved, nor the worst.

It was only after you came by

That I knew how beautifully harmony could die,

And dying with it, objects, lights, and hope—

All that once made me stop—

And now breathes quietly in deep depths of the skies that have no sky.



Other lives matter, completely different from your own,

Who never send you music on your cell phone,

Who never develop secret crushes on you,

Who don’t do disgusting things you do,

Who never make a peep and quietly pay the fee,

Who navigate icy rivers for glory,

Who feed thousands from a golden throne.


Other lives matter who are long dead,

Who never come near you or enter your head,

Who you never discover on the internet,

Who you know for a moment and then forget,

Who die minutes from you with strange cries,

Who had the most fascinating eyes,

Who are gone forever on some strange highway fled.


Other lives matter who rose in the spring

To be loved liked summer on a summer’s day,

Where summer breezes, around tree and tree and tree, vanished, dying away.


Other lives matter that you never heard moan,

Because they sang another song, and lived on their own.

But the other life that matters most, a life never spoken, broken, or known,

Is your life, you, strangest of all lives, you, standing by your shadow, inviolate, alone.








I have never—nor would I ever—cheat on you.

You let a small suspicion take root in your mind, where it grew and grew and grew.

Christ said we cheat, if we cheat in our mind.

Outwardly pure, we can still be unkind.

There is no escape. If we were deaf, dumb, and blind,

Jealousy would still haunt our souls; and jealousy is so unkind.

I told you I would never sleep with her because she had fat arms.

And that was the end: I was unkind—in your mind, you had fat arms.

Since we broke up, a year has gone by

And I only now realized why.

How does love between the sensitive work at all?

Give me blue skies over an island. A parking lot. A wall.



Aphro herm 2

When love was voluntary,
And lakes dimmed their mirrors for the moon-lit sky,
And twisted trees were planned by twisted vines,
I could see, by your whisper, by a few poem’s lines,
Whether you were actually mine,
And my heart, by my heart, could soften,
Or be heartless—like a cruel heart with too much wine—
Whenever I wanted, and, if I wanted,
I could dissolve my whole love in one warm bath,
And it would fade, and disappear,
And slip, like a snake, away, without sorrow or wrath.

Ah! When love was voluntary,
And lakes took their time to reflect the sky,
And rivers decided when to be rivers or grass,
I could decide to decline; I could decide to pass
On your grateful face breathing on me, alas,
And clay would voluntarily soften,
Or harden in a hard din of brass;
I could remember what I wanted to remember
And never, never bring you to mind,
Whether you had broken my heart harshly,
Or kissed me and been kind.






The problem, of course, is sex.

Here’s what the Trojan war

Did: is Helen, the beautiful Greek,

Kidnap victim or whore?

This is not what peace knows or expects.

When you are too humiliated to speak,

Out come the weapons. The weapons talk, instead—

Weapons invented by the tongue-tied geek

For the brutal male, who loudly counts the dead.

Today’s War of Islam is a simple one:

Lands where the women are more beautiful than the men

Are going to get invaded again and again.

Have you seen women from the Middle East?

Heavens! Even the eyes are a feast.

The Middle East wants to hide its Helen,

Because love is a problem when the woman is a “ten.”

The West is different; its women are not pretty.

Have you seen Sarah Jessica Parker from “Sex in the City?”

The West, short on beauty, promotes sex and freedom.

Modesty? Veils? Allah? The West doesn’t need them.

If the West, which insults Islam, had its women hide all,

The West would never have sex at all.

So pity the West, and its desire;

And the world: aflame with God, and make-up, and pride, and fire.


We hesitated to publish “The Problem, Of Course, Is Sex,” because we felt it would offend—precisely because of the sex problem identified in the poem: the author of the poem is a white male, and, in a look-ist frenzy, perpetuates cruel and fraudulent stereotypes in the poem. Yes, as the author of the poem, we admit on a superficial level, the poem does this, but this is only by way of illustrating what is perhaps the chief problem in the current Muslim crisis—the aggressive Puritanism of Radical Islam—for who doubts the rapacious, misguided morality of the Taliban, in its wounded-pride, religious, purity, is not at the center of the whole, crazed, passionate terrorist grievance? It is the Greeks losing their Helen, a society’s sex-pride massing for war and revenge, and willing to sacrifice their children for it.  Is this not it?  Meanwhile, the war-like, invading, divide-and-conquer, bullying West, casually tossing off shows like “Sex In the City,” celebrates license and freedom—which insults the invaded people’s soul every day. The Islam crisis may ultimately be about oil and geo-political strategy. But we feel it is also about sex. At the very least, sex is what drives the signing up, and blowing up, for the manic, righteous, revenge-of-rape/rape-revenge cause. To reduce geo-political complexity to rape is a poetic trope; poets sometimes understand the crude and simple truth of a very complex issue is, indeed, the truth, despite the complexity of the issue, with its minefield of offenses to polite society, a polite society, in this case, which has smoothly and professionally committed massive wrongs. The insult to Western women in the poem represents more bitter fruit, a furtherance of the revenge-wound. As with the vengeful Hamlet’s madness—once a wrong begins, who knows where it will end?





We recently attended a poetry reading in Harvard Square and we had the great pleasure to hear the world’s greatest living poet, Ben Mazer, read his magnificent poem, “An After Dinner Sleep,” a poem of about 350 lines which closes his new book, The Glass Piano.  It was a cinematic experience, the sort of poem in which you get comfortable, close your eyes, and listen in a state half-way between sleep and waking.

If cinematic poetry doesn’t start a renaissance in poetry, nothing will.

Here’s the thing: and we might as well begin with Keats’ phrase: “fine excess.”  We all know that poetry is known for concision, and this is all well and good, but we must say, we fear this idea, once having got its nose in the tent, now occupies the whole of it, crowding out everything else.

For, as the wretched Pound pointed out—and many, many writers before him—prose, as much as poetry, should not waste words; poetry has no special hold on concision.

We do not mean, “If you have nothing to say, shut up.” No, if you have nothing to say, you are probably the poet we want to hear from.  But this is neither here nor there. We are speaking from a purely technical standpoint.

To say poetry is concise is like saying painting is concise—well, of course it is; it belongs to its frame, not the world. But if this truism took root, the pinnacle of art would be the fifteen-second sketch. Notwithstanding the infinite charm of the master creating a world with a few strokes, we think it time for poetry to throw off the burden of having to say little. Once and for all, let us declare that to be concise is not necessarily to be poetic.  Poe, who said, “a long poem doesn’t exist,” also said a small one doesn’t exist either: there must be sufficient pressure on the wax to create the impression.

Without having to specify length, what this means is, the poet, and the artist in general—for art has suffered from Modernist theories as much as poetry—should use all the tools in the tool box—and why not?  The thing we don’t like about abstract painting is not abstract painting; it is the fact that we once had the pleasure of pictorial representation and all the interest of color which abstract painters revel in.  The thing we don’t like about cartooning, or the vague sketch, or the Red Wheel Barrow, is not the principle which these uphold, that suggestion is perhaps the most important thing in art there is—it is.  But too much reliance on suggestion is suggestive no more.  The paltry is finally not poetic.

This essay comes to damn the poet who goes in fear of doggerel, the poet who plays it safe, who hides behind the “experimental,” a code word for “this is not what I really can do, as an artist, I’m just thinking out loud here, don’t mind me, but if you find something that’s clever here, well, I’ll take a compliment or two, why not?”

Fear of the tight rope turns into the earth-bound, fake bravery of the “avant-garde.” Clowning around on the piano and never getting down to playing a real piece has profited many a hack since 1900.

To be cinematic in poetry is difficult, for one is firmly in that temporal mode perfected by Homer and Tennyson with the added pictorial heft.  The purely discursive, or the obscure, will not do.  Cinematic poetry requires the whole art, which does not eschew the discursive or the suggestive, or any of the other tricks of the poet, by any means—no, but it requires them all.

Poetry, like the film, has motion as its medium; it pitches forward, and does so, like film, with all sorts of markers, pauses, ends, flashbacks, jump cuts, call them what you will—but you get the idea.

Every one of these temporal tricks is enhanced by meter and rhyme.

This is not some moral or bitter argument against the “avant-garde;” again, we are speaking purely from a technical point of view.

To make the poetry that does the most, that is whole and cinematic: meter and rhyme simply help drive that engine. To go in fear of the doggerel is a fear we must abandon.

The poems which win both the popular and the critical taste are cinematic poems; we love them like films, and the truly literate know they are better than films: Prufrock, Kubla Khan, The Raven, The Cloud. But we live in times of horror, in which an appreciation of classical music and great painting and beautiful poetry is fading; there are millions, even fairly intelligent and somewhat nice people—or those who can pass as such—too thick and dense to appreciate beauty in the arts. This is the greatest tragedy of our age, a violence against beautiful feelings which points to more material suffering in the future.

(Scarriet, in the last 5 years of its existence, has produced thousands of lines of original poetry, and so what if half, if 60% is doggerel? We don’t care. For what has been achieved, it is more than worth it.)

We do not recommend Mazer lightly, nor is our argument here to be taken lightly.

It may save poetry.

And everyone’s life.




True love is competition and hate.

I got tired of loving what was great

And now I love a dull and helpless fool

Who understands my rule.

I prefer a wooden post

To what others love the most.

He was so attractive, I wanted to die.

I can’t actually love that. Let others try.

There is sadness, which causes tears;

Fear this not. This is common. Beware the weeping produced by fears.

You can make it. You can retire in a few more years.

You can get out, forget love, and avoid those fearful, fearful tears.

Admire love from afar—belong to that greater world

To whom love belongs—there is no girl

Who can possibly love that man.

Want is a shadow. You want. That doesn’t mean you can.

Do you know what great poetry is? It is music for ears

Just like your own, but drowned in fearful tears.






Wounds of love are always warm,

Wounds of love will never close.

Love is not a battle or a storm—

Oh love is worse than those.


The woman is affectionate.

This is why she runs away

From true love that lives at night

And smiles during the lonely day.


Wounds from love are deeper than

Those made from the knife.

Love creates hate; wounds from love are deeper than

Wounds from life.


Uncle, you are more like my father than I am,

And they say you seem more like me than him.

They say we are just holograms of projected embarrassment.

None of this is real. I was going to write a poem

But then started to read and got distracted.

Who knows where this poem is now, uncle.

No one likes you, uncle, but I do.

You manage to embarrass everyone and I see

How we all have our pitiful illusions

And yet we can’t help what we are. Like you, uncle.

You are an uncle, and you can’t help that.

We are what the world creates of us.  You write poems

In all different styles that wreak havoc among poets

Who stick to their chosen styles and low key rhetoric

Because they don’t want to embarrass anyone!

Humiliation is suicide! Puncturing others’ illusions,

With your immense talent, uncle, you see through

What others see and do, and you do, you do, naked shoe.

But you can’t do that, you mustn’t do that, uncle.

You have children. You say things. Your poems

Make fun of poems others write, which others take seriously,

And the horror is, your poems are much, much better than theirs.

You are going to destroy the world, uncle, with your wit,

And your everything! But I’ve seen you weep, I’ve seen you suffer,

Uncle, I know how on so many levels you think further than the rest.

Now where was that poem I was going to write?

It was going to be great, like you. It was going to be the best.





A small part of Islam has made the West vexed

With bouts of terror and hatred. When Muslim pride is rubbed raw,

When Islamic pride, embarrassed by the Westerner, over-sexed,

Terrified embarrassment having nowhere to hide,

As Western invaders break Allah’s moral law,

Stealing not only oil, but soiling the essence of women and young—

(A far cry from a quaint National Geographic photograph of camel dung—)

A secret internet sharing of shame travels far and wide

Among shamed, humiliated Muslim hordes,

As British Empire surrogates, U.S. and Israel, throw fuel on the fire

For further control which an Empire affords;

And add to this, the manipulated Sunni/Shiite mire—

You have what we have, and the desire to stop it

Cannot stop what drives it—too many parties do not want to drop it.

Blame Churchill and the British Empire.

Let China and Russia put out the fire.

The U.S., with its befuddled liberalism, and sex,

And freedom, and right-wingers, will only perplex.

Westerners should just stand back.

The West made the Sunnis mad in Iraq.

Oh man. Godless Japan. Can you make Hello Kitty toys attack?



Let this poem stand in, let this ill-tempered poem be

My reaction to the tragedy.

Why ill-tempered? Because no sorrow

Lives, except that which I borrow.

A poet doesn’t put on displays,

And is true never to one occasion, but to all our yesterdays.

My nerves are bad. I will feel sad tomorrow.

I know I will. I will feel sorrow for myself whenever I die,

And that will be real sorrow.

I don’t feel sorrow now, so why should I try?

Yes, that’s right. This is honesty. Do you feel the true, lyric I?

Blame it on my muse, who hides in the real shadows,

Who, as I make my way to this poetry reading,

Might be around the corner—I might see her with someone else;

Nothing I see on the news can compete with her,

Even those I see on the news who are dead. Or crying, or bleeding.

Distant from me, the experimental poem, a flag’s color,

All that’s public: blah, blah, blah, buying and signing and selling books.

Blame ill-temper on love. I feel ill, I feel strange things where no one looks.







It is ridiculous that I am so happy.

The one who loved me, now hates me

And her vast change of heart

Has ripped my tiny world apart.

Mine is a tiny world, since it centers on me—

Is this why I am ridiculously happy?

No, the world punishes the self-obsessed.

The world has its demands, and sends us many a guest.

There are guests in my home—arrogantly

I wish them away. More demands come from me.

All it took to cure my sorrow was an understanding from you—

A stranger who lives in my vast world, and now in my tiny one, too.




Since I left the human race,

To its vanities and rude mistakes,

To its sad search for sweet good taste, and grace—

I learned what love is, and what it takes

To love—how love wants to look at a face

That has meaning and a truth to tell.

Humans are simpler dogs—a sentence has less nuance than a smell.

We are not barred from truth because of its truth

But because of the courage it takes to tell

The truth, without shame; shame knows us—and we know it well.

I loved you like a dog, and I miss your smell—

Wrong and shame are what I miss; everything I cannot tell.



Millay: Official Modernism hated her: a leftist woman who rhymed and loved.

The revolt of Modernism in poetry against Victorian decorum was complex and extensive, and featured a great deal of sex.

So why is one tale told? The one dominated by the limp, morbid barrenness of sexless, Shelley-hating, T.S. Eliot—and that dry-as-dust, boring, petals-on-a-black-bough-red-wheel-barrow poetry?

Is this why poetry today finds itself in a cul de sac, without a public, in the ruins of a Creative Writing pyramid scheme which has collapsed into piecemeal, self-promoting, illiteracy?

Modernism in the early 20th century was dominated by powerful femme fatale poets—and yet the one female poet included in the accepted Story of Modern Poetry is: the brittle, spinsterish, Marianne Moore!

The revolt against the Victorian—as the Modern Poetry history has been written, codified, and solidified is so…Victorian.

Not that we care about sex, per se; we just find it interesting how things played out.

The Victorians—which the wild, crazy and free Moderns rebelled against (one can include Emily Dickinson as a Victorian, since she wrote and lived in that era, if one wants) —were actually bolder in their poetry than the Modernist rakes and waifs (Eliot, Pound, Moore, Stevens, Williams) who successfully overcame the now largely forgotten Victorian/Romantic influence, and succeeded them. The Victorians are far more enjoyable to read (and they sold much better in their day, too).

Maybe that’s the rub: enjoyable. Sexual excess, or enjoyment of any kind, wasn’t the ticket to become canonized in the schools: the Modernist revolution had to seem safely aesthetic—a topic for professors, in order to gain a footing in academia, since despite their “rebellious nature,” legitimate inclusion was what the successful ones were after. That meant the Moderns had to be writing a “new” kind of poetry. Even though it was boring, and the public didn’t care for it.

The fussy, heavily brocaded, Victorian, Elizabeth Barrett Browning—who wrote some really exceptional poetry which has been ignored and shut away for a century—became a wife in a secret elopement to Italy.

The leader of the Modernist rebellion, T.S. Eliot, a lifelong virgin, shut away his wife forever.

Here we have two stories presented side by side:

Modern poetry is not the story of a door opening; but of a door shutting—on so much of what was pleasing about the 19th century—but also on the alternative, Dionysian, Romantic side of 20th century modernism, too.

Eliot appealed to poets who couldn’t get laid.

True, Edna St. Vincent Millay got old.

And died.

But everyone gets old and dies.

There was a whole Modernist movement which exploded right after World War One, before, during, and after the publication of the morbid “Waste Land,” a different modernist movement which frightened guys like Eliot—led by brash young women and featuring Persian love and Poe and Hindu sex. (One of these types of women even married Tom Eliot, and—are we surprised?—it was a complete disaster.)

Here is the critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Carl Van Doren, writing in Harper’s in the 1930s about America’s great moral transformation during the Age of High Modernism as WW I came to a close; he does not talk about Pound or Eliot. He talks about Edna St. Vincent Millay:

At home the old-fashioned family had broken up. The young could get into automobiles and almost at once be miles away. They could go to the movies and at once be worlds away. Dress and speech had become informal in the emergency of the War. The chaperon had disappeared. Boys leaving to be killed, it might be, had claimed the right to see their girls alone, and the sexes had drawn together in a common need and daring. After the War they were still not divided. The sexes would be comrades, they thought.

The early poems of Edna Millay are the essence of the Younger Generation.

How this genii—real Modernist poetry—was put away in its bottle is certainly a staggering historical fact, but something there is in us now that makes us want to let it out again.

To get a strong whiff from that bottle is just a google click away.

Search “Black Sun publisher Harry Crosby.”

You want real modern poetry?

Not Williams. Not Eliot. Not Stevens. Not those guys the clammy hand professors teach you in school.

You want the true modern poetry of that era? Take a swig of the drink, Harry Crosby.

The story of Modern poetry which has been sold to us: that Pound and Williams and Moore are the vital pieces, is without aesthetic merit, and its virtue is really that of a particular school program, and it exists as just that—a story—told by the critics and poets and historians who invested (and are still invested) in the Writing Program as the only viable institution of post-war pedagogy.

Government oversight of education, the publishing of textbooks, the editorship of periodical literature, the purse strings of grants and prizes and forums and money and awards, fell into the hands of the New Critics and their allies: John Crowe Ransom and T.S. Eliot both belonging to the same generation of early Modernism—and not just poetry, but art, music, fashion, government, war, the architecture/building trades, espionage, banking, international in outlook—and all the more effective because it was run by pals, a tight-knit group. Of course it is much too extensive to detail here. But very briefly then:

John Quinn, attorney, art collector, British intelligence, worked with Eliot and Pound to negotiate publication of “The Waste Land” (with pre-purchases) so Eliot would win the Dial Prize even before Pound had finished his edits—Quinn, the same individual most responsible (even getting an export bill passed in the U.S. Congress) for the Armory show, which brought Modern Art to America—Eliot wins, and meanwhile, purchase of the new art by insiders is highly, highly lucrative.  Who wouldn’t want to be in on all that phenomenal networking? Eliot and Pound certainly were. Without Quinn’s work behind the scenes, who knows if Americans would even know of Eliot, or Duchamp, or Picasso? Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom’s right-wing Southern Agrarian/New Critic associate, reviews “The Waste Land” favorably, helps start the Creative Writing program at Princeton. Paul Engle, the father of the Program Era at Iowa, is given his Yale Younger Prize for his MFA poetry book—by a judge who is a member of Ransom’s New Critic group from the early Fugitive magazine days at Vanderbilt. Robert Lowell, as Creative Writing teacher at Iowa, is the first “poet-teacher star” of the Program Era; Lowell’s psychiatrist happens to be another member of Ransom and Tate’s circle, who recommends Lowell leave Harvard to befriend Tate and Ransom, which he does. We see that all the annual Dial Magazine Prize winners in the 1920s become the canonized Modern poets: Eliot, Williams, Pound, Moore (and Cummings, who ends up running off with the Dial editor’s wife). Ford Maddox Ford, War Propaganda Minister during World War I in England, the first to meet Pound off the boat when the latter leaves America for England, will later cross the Atlantic to help start the Writing Program Era with Ramsom and Tate.

We do not present this information as some nefarious plot; the world was smaller then; we present it languidly, merely as a picture of the clever ambitions of the cleverly ambitious, who were in the right place at the right time, and who happened to possess a certain amount of talent: Eliot, in poetry, the most brilliant. John Crowe Ransom, just from his two essays which Ransom published in the 1930s, “Criticism, Inc.” and “Poets Without Laurels,”— a blueprint for universities taking up the official role of teaching the new writing, and the best explanation of amoral Modernism—was a close second.

But as we said, these were the brilliant architects who made themselves and their “new” Modern identity—an austere looseness, a dryness, a deathly cynicism—the accepted mode for the university, and it required tweedy, learned, respectability to make it happen, even as it was Shelley and Byron hating—which guys like Eliot and Tate and Ransom, with their brilliance, learning and inside track, provided.

But what of the vast majority of the Modernists, who impulsively did what true rebels do?

These “lesser” moderns crossed paths with the more successful ones, such as Pound—but they lived for the poetry, for the revolt, for the sex. These were the Moderns who wrote beautiful love poems and threw themselves off ships, as Pound and Eliot grew old and famous. What of these “lesser” moderns? Many of these “lesser” moderns, some more respectable and less feverish than others, kept writing poetry that rhymed, made sense, and repeated the great, old themes that never die. What of them? Should we continue to bury them?

And speaking of revolt, we are not simply advocating here for the resurrection of an alternative clique of poets who worked between the wars in the hectic days of the early 20th century. This is about more than that. It is about shedding narrow, modernist aesthetic bias and embracing great poems of all eras, and having the guts to call a bad poem a bad poem, even if it was written by William Carlos Williams. Look at this poem by the currently suppressed 19th century poet Elizabeth Barrett; the way she uses “revolt” is timeless, and will break your heart:

Little Mattie

Dead! Thirteen a month ago!
Short and narrow her life’s walk.
Lover’s love she could not know
Even by a dream or talk:
Too young to be glad of youth;
Missing honor, labor, rest,
And the warmth of a babe’s mouth
At the blossom of her breast.
Must you pity her for this,
And for all the loss it is—
You, her mother with wet face,
Having had all in your case?

Just so young but yesternight,
Now she is as old as death.
Meek, obedient in your sight,
Gentle to a beck or breath
Only on last Monday! yours,
Answering you like silver bells
Lightly touched! an hour matures:
You can teach her nothing else.
She has seen the mystery hid
Under Egypt’s pyramid.
By those eyelids pale and close
Now she knows what Rhamses knows.

Cross her quiet hands, and smooth
Down her patient locks of silk,
Cold and passive as in truth
You your fingers in spilt milk
Drew along a marble floor;
But her lips you can not wring
Into saying a word more,
“Yes” or “no,” or such a thing.
Though you call and beg and wreak
Half your soul out in a shriek,
She will lie there in default
And most innocent revolt.

None of Eliot’s “escape from emotion” here.

Poe said poetry was mostly mathematical—and he was correct, since rhythm is essential to expressive speech, whether metrical, or not—and mathematics is essential to quantity associated with rhythm. Eliot carried this formula further and mistranslated it to mean lack of feeling—quantity, after all, is not associated with feverish human emotion; but it is not emotion, but its expression which matters to the poet—so Eliot is only partly correct, and when his half-truth was received as a truth, it created a race of poets who turned their back on so-called “sentimental” poetry, such as this example of Elizabeth Barrett’s, a tender and beautiful poem banned by 20th century professors because of its excess “emotion” and “sentiment.” The schools are wrong. The amateurs are correct. The expression of feeling should not to be avoided in the art of poetry. More feeling isn’t better, necessarily, but it is never necessary that feeling (we mean its expression) be critically censored.

We think the best tradition for poetry is, first and foremost, the tradition of good poems—more than successful members of super-successful, networking cliques’ poorer ones.

For the truth is: Millay is a far better poet than not only Moore, but the guys, like Pound.

Certainly, “new” aesthetics can and should be studied (even if they haven’t done anyone a lick of good) but good poems written by the flesh and blood poets who lived in the same era as the better known, tweedy, experimental poets, deserve our attention, too.

Completely by chance today, as we perused old issues of Harper’s magazine, we came upon this poem by Archibald MacLeish. It is a love poem (horrors!). It was published in 1929, when Pound and Eliot were still nearly unknown, before they became famous as Axis defenders and post-WW II Modernist school subjects.

MacLeish, like the poets Frost and Millay, wrote poems people liked to read—and he was read. He was a wealthy friend of wealthy heir Harry Crosby, who—if you googled him by now—you know Crosby published MacLeish, Hart Crane, Poe, love poems, in exquisitely crafted books, a few copies at a time, and died at 29 with a young women in a suicide pact in a painter friend’s studio.

Here is a Modernist poem, the kind of poem which is now suppressed, just like Millay and Teasdale and Dorothy Parker and Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Elinor Wylie and countless other women poets are suppressed, locked away by the Moore/Williams /Pound Official Modernism professors. We close with the MacLeish poem:

To Praisers of Women

The praisers of women in their proud and beautiful poems,
Naming the grave mouth and the hair and the eyes,
Boasted those they loved should be forever remembered.
These were lies.

The words sound, but the face in the Istrian sun is forgotten.
The poet speaks, but to her dead ears no more.
The sleek throat is gone and the breast that was troubled to listen:
Shadow from door.

Therefore, I will not praise your knees and your fine walking,
Telling you men shall remember your name as long
As lips move or breath is spent or the iron of English
Rings from a tongue.

I shall say you were young and your arms straight and your mouth scarlet.
I shall say you will die, and none  will remember you;
Your arms change and none remember the swish of your garments
Nor the click of your shoe.

Not with my hands’ strength, not with difficult labor
Springing the obstinate words to the bones of your breast
And the stubborn line to your young stride and the breath to your breathing
And the beat to your haste,

Shall I prevail on the hearts of unborn men to remember.
What is a dead girl but a shadowy ghost,
Or a dead man’s voice but a distant and vain affirmation
Like dream words most?

Therefore, I will not speak of the undying glory of women.
I shall say you were young and straight and your skin fair—
And you stood in the door, and the sun was a shadow of leaves on your shoulders,
And a leaf on your hair.

I will not speak of the famous beauty of dead women.
I shall say the shape of a blown leaf lay on your hair,
Till the world ends and the sun is out and the sky broken
Look! It is there!



The leaf has fallen from the vine;

Cold winds blow. You are no longer mine.

But, in truth, all that exists is the fact of ourselves;

The other one is just an idea,

Who we are—our desires—is the only thing that’s real;

The other is just an idea.

True, we can only love ourselves in someone else;

An idea is how we love, how we lift above our corrupt desire

And find the light, and see things, beyond our fire.

But loving ourselves—through another—is not to know the other;

We love ourselves through them, but don’t know them;

We clasp ourselves; and though the other is what we hold,

We hold ourselves, no matter how bold

We peer into the other’s eye.

This is why love is lonely, and lovers, when most in love, cry.

To love you made me understand: there is only I

Loving, and knowing, some idea of you—

Which I still love! I know myself! I’ve come through!

I know the truth! Though you are gone, fair idea! I’m still loving you.

The leaf has fallen from the vine.

But fill my glass, again, with wine.



Whole milk is best,

And then there’s choice, which screams for skim,

Which demands water instead of cream;

Just to have a voice, just to have a choice.

Skim is not even healthy. And choice is only a dream.

We waste our life because we have to have this and that,

But you look great in simple clothes, and you don’t need a fancy hat.

You can choose God, or you can choose him—

And since I found you, the only face who makes me glad,

I live the best and only the best, and now I know that choice is bad.



If my Supreme Religious Leader were Howard Stern,
I could have understanding and pity;
My husband! There’s something that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down. I cannot abide forbidden love.
I am good—but sometimes I burn
For the sighing pleasures of Hades.
Every husband, who is a husband, is Khomeini
So it is better for the president to be Khomeini, too
So my heart can never be false to you.

I cannot ride the train, magically in love,
And depart from him at our separate stops—
Night after night, day after day, my heart rises and drops!
I want safety and love inside one family.
None, none, none can ever be free.
I want a smiling god of mercy and pity.
I don’t want interference. I don’t want to flee.
I want the simplest kind of privacy.
I don’t want walls between family, and friends, and everyone I know.
That was death: to hide inside the realms that sigh and cry to him don’t go.



If I had not loved before,
Today I would not know how.
I had to write the poems that failed
To write the good ones now.

To know how much I love you,
She had to make me cry;
She had to kiss my lips,
And look into my eye

With a passion nearly your own.
Then-— she had to leave me
So I would be alone—
Not caring for the rest.
Then I’d be ready for you—
You, who are the best.

You love philosophy.
You are a poet and a beauty,
And you believe in beauty.
Now when I write poems—every poem is for you
You are not only touched—you understand them, too.

She didn’t know poems! She couldn’t experience
Love. Knowing you, I haven’t thought of her since.
All thoughts of her have been deleted,
Her brown eyes, by your brown eyes, defeated.


It is a sad fact that beauty is sad—

That she, whom I love, whom everyone loves, can never be glad.

Sadness makes her beautiful;

Her beauty makes her sadness more beautiful still.

In her beautiful eyes, I see weariness, that it might rest, climbing to the darkening top of a beautiful, darkening hill.


Her sadness—some see only beauty—is the reason why

Light loves her beauty: her shoulders restful and still. Her inward looking eye.

Sadness is beautiful,

Hoping to be saved by millions of eyes,

Hoping to be drowned in light;

Hoping that if beauty loves her, the shadow of her sadness flies—

But there is no saving kiss. Her sadness never dies.


You, and he, can look at her, and she can, and so can I,

And she can say that she loves you, but that will be a lie.

Melancholy knows the love; the love that melancholy knows

Sleeps. Who will dare to wake her, and ask her to put on clothes?




In our review of Mazer’s latest book, The Glass Piano, published on the first of November, we tried not only for a review, but a Criticism, and reflecting on our words, feel a certain remorse.

In the most recent number of the Battersea Review, the critic William Logan wrote, “the critic is a Diogenes in a world where everyone is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”

How true! And no one feels this as acutely as ourselves (save perhaps Logan himself)—because we have taken to heart in our criticism the simplicity spoken simply by the honest Edgar Poe: “a criticism is simply that—a criticism.”

And one cannot, if one is a critic, escape the necessity of wounding others even if one is writing a positive review.

We loved Mazer’s book—but in our review we had to kill a great deal that was not Mazer.

Was it necessary to praise Mazer by killing what is not Mazer?


This is precisely where the heart of critical intelligence resides—to say anything worthwhile, it is necessary to contemplate everything: no value, no good, no judgment, no insight, no understanding, stands alone.

Insight does not live in a vacuum, and no poet does, either: a bad poet is bad next to a good one, a good poet is good next to a bad one—no matter how politeness, or the discursively half-baked, might say otherwise. Mazer’s worth is meaningless without asserting what Mazer destroys. The Hindu religion has a Destroyer god; all major religions feature a God who is wrathful; even in the kinder ones, such as Buddhism, there is a philosophy that counsels denial, rejection and casting out. Religion does not make us obey—the world makes all religion (and all philosophy) obey the trope of destruction, in order that the world be understood and known. There is much around the heart that must be removed, before the heart can be seen. There is much of the one world that must be lost before the one world can be embraced, loved, or known.

Addition (Actual Creation) has, in the beginning, already been done by the Deity-Past; subtraction is how mortals proceed. Man, if divine, if creative, if artistic, resembles God the Creator—in reverse. Since you are mortal, if you don’t hate and destroy, you cannot build and love.

Nonetheless, we feel bad that we had to smite the non-Mazer in order to lift Mazer up.

Any time a critical judgment of any kind is made, it offends many poets who love poetry and participate in poetry on various levels—in the spirit of Everything.

Everything, or Everything-ness, is, precisely, for all these poets and their friends, the essence of poetry.

All we have said in this essay, and all we said in our Mazer review, to winnow away the non-Mazer, is, to these poets, the poets of Everything-ness, an offense and a horror.

For them, poetry is that which embraces Everything. The critical faculty that winnows, destroys, rejects, qualifies, judges, and defines is counter to everything the Everything-ists hold dear.

The Everything-ists believe poetry is poetry so far as it is able to be everything and imply everything and insinuate everything by using everything—and rejecting nothing.

The two views—ours and the Everything-ists—are oil and water. The two views are like matter and anti-matter.

They both belong to the category “poetry,” and yet they could not be more different.

Until this duality is really understood, poetry as an understood practice will be a great confusion, with no center, and a hard exterior, bashing in skulls, wounding egos, damaging philosophy, and creating an army of polite but sore-headed hypocrites.

For the Everything-ists are wrong. Poetry may seem to be for, and about, Everything—but the claim to this is specious and inane. It doesn’t matter how many famous or semi-famous poets you name-drop.

The bad poets must die.

If Ben Mazer is to live.

This is literally a matter of life and death.

We sympathize with the Everything-ists.  We understand what a temptation it is to embrace their good will, their pluralism, their kindness, their laisse faire, their cow-munching-in-the-meadow complaisance.

Why does Scarriet defend the wolf?

Just as Everything as a poetry trope is an illusion (the Everything-ists do not actually embrace Everything: only its idea, which is quite different), so the accusation that we defend the wolf for the mere sake of destruction is also an illusion.

We want to save the Everything-ists from destruction; their position springs from good will; but in terms of poetry, it makes no sense—and therefore, in the long run, it actually hinders good will and good poetry.

To say more regarding our sorrow at offending others would be superfluous.

We have apologized too much already.

So we will hurry on to the main point.

Mazer’s poetry can safely exist in the category, Everything.

Our criticism of Mazer cannot.

Nor can any poet—even the species, everything-ist—write a poem using Everything.

So in actual practice, the Everything philosophy or aspiration is bankrupt.

All poets and all poetry already exist in the universe which defies Everything.

A poet who rhymes, for instance, reduces the pool of words available to him or her.

Any topic or theme chosen, automatically reduces the material available to write the poem, and the better the topic, the more the available material will be reduced, until the greatest topic will simply be the poem itself.

The well-read poet, to be original, has less available to say, precisely because of the voluminousness of his or her reading.

Remember what we said about “subtraction?” That it is the only avenue open to us? In every case, all poets, before they begin writing, severely and inevitably reduce and winnow, making war at every point against the only “enemy”—Everything.

And so the Everything-ists are seen for what they are, at last: nothing. They do not exist. To be non-critical, and to embrace Everything, is to embrace sand in the wind.

The Critical Faculty is not different and apart from the poetic impulse which writes the poem: they are the same.

To write a poem is to decide what you cannot say.

If you are saying whatever you want to say, you are not writing poetry.

You are not writing poetry unless you have first prepared a vessel which restricts what you can say.

The mind of the poet is not what writes the poetry, but what makes these ‘restriction’ vessels. What fills them are the random impulses of the unconscious everything-ness transformed by one of these vessels—which is the actual “poem”—a “vessel” that is not “read,” but which is, in fact, the poem, and which did, in fact, make the poem.

What makes these vessels excellent, in every case, is what they restrict, and on how many levels they limit how, as well as what, may be said. 

The Everything-ist who writes a poem of three words may exult in how much is intimated by those three words. The process we are describing—building by subtraction—may seem to them, triumphantly, exactly what they are doing. And it is proved by the fact that their poem is only three words! How subtractive is that?

But the folly of the Everything-ist can be easily seen. One does not simply subtract. This subtraction is a pitiful shortcut to glory. One must first build a unique and complex vessel of subtraction.

Every excellent poem is excellent in this way: the interest of the subtraction-vessel which generates the poem. The Everything-ist abhors the subtraction-vessel, for this involves a great deal of reading, a rhyme scheme, an effect decided upon which is original, all leading in the mind to a massive amount of reduction, discrimination and subtraction, so that several aspects of the world must be fought with and conquered—and this runs counter to the temperament of the Everything-ist, who loves agreement for its own sake, and a fairy-tale, naive belief in “the new,” which arises benevolently out of a naive love of “everything,” when, in reality, originality is possible only through destruction and subtraction, which is the only avenue open to the wise who would truly imitate God—in reverse.

The truth is, the real poem will far more likely “say” one thing with a hundred lines, rather than a hundred things with one line, or even one word! The former is always preferred, for reasons that should be apparent to the true poet at once.

Great poetry is a fanatical pursuit: it really doesn’t help to know a hundred things half-well; it is far better to know one thing well—and not know anything else.



Who walks here? Poe? Eliot? Mazer?

Just a glance at the titles of the poems in Ben Mazer’s new book, The Glass Pianoreleased Nov. 1 (Madhat Press) thrills this reviewer:

Lupe Velez with a Baedeker: Irving Thalberg with a Cigar
Autumn Magazines
My Last Dutchman
One dresses in the darkened gloom
Spread over the vast sinking town
Tonight my lover lies
Why is it some old magazine; like a wheelbarrow
The poet does his finest work in sin
Graves and waves are signified by rows

Pop culture is one thing; poetic, in the true sense of the term, is something else: the current swarm of poets in our Writing Program era often mix these two up.  Poetry can use pop culture; but amateurs aflame with various aspects of pop culture (or hipster culture) have it so that pop culture uses poetry, which is…ugh…so wrong.

In Mazer’s brief lyric, “Autumn Magazines,” poetry is using pop culture, not the other way around. It is difficult to pinpoint why, but Mazer, in his poetry, absolutely gets this distinction. In this poem, poetry asserts itself.

Autumn Magazines

The falling leaves of autumn magazines
are framed by nature. Frost said you come too.
Your gowns and sandals crown your nakedness,
Each season justifies all that you do.
The sidewalks spread out their appearances,
the towers and the gilding celebrate
the dates and calendars, commemorate
and underneath it all there’s only you.

The ending “you” is endearingly romantic and Romantic. Nearly all “serious” poets today avoid the gesture, fearing critical rebuke for its “pop song” component; such fear, however, dogs only the lesser poets, not poets like Mazer (we will be bold enough to point out Scarriet is the leading example of this style) who are in such command and control of their poetic gift that “pop” elements do not turn their poetry into “pop,” even when pop sentiments are used without irony.

The all-mighty “you” is a standard in sentimental song, sure, but this doesn’t mean the suave poet cannot borrow its mysteries and charms—charms, by the way, which belong to Dante and Petrarch (among others) and also belong to the trope no poet should do without: pronoun mystery—is the “you” the beloved, God, or the reader, etc etc?

Further, Mazer’s genius can be seen in the way he incorporates one of the greatest jazz standards, “Autumn Leaves,” into the idea of autumn magazines, (poets will be sentimental about magazine numbers, and why not Autumn?) beginning his poem as the famous song begins: “the falling leaves…” Then he introduces the idea of “framing nature,” a trope on a trope on a trope, and when he quotes Frost, another brief lyric is referenced, which references autumn leaves (“rake away…to clear a spring”) and Frost, in his lyric, also makes romantic use of “you.” Mazer’s poetic sensibility fills every bumper to the brim.

Now, the Difficult School, which we revile, rejects the immediacy of pop sensibility—but immediacy is actually what these two, pop culture and poetry, share.

This is why, in the titles of poems listed above, we can see immediately that Ben Mazer is a poet.

If one cannot see this, one should probably not try and read Ben Mazer; one will find oneself feeling like a yokel at the opera, or Ron Silliman before the throne of Poe.

If Lupe Velez with a Baedeker does not resonate with you; if you don’t feel the thousand feelings Autumn Magazines inspires; if My Last Dutchman does not bring a curious, appreciative smile to your lips, you have no business reading poetry. 

And to those who object that a a few words cannot prove mastery, we would ask, how many notes of Brahms’ first symphony does one have to hear before sublimity invades one’s soul?  Poetry is made of one thing: words—words which impress immediately if we are in the presence of the true poetic gift.  The Renaissance painters felt they were superior to the poets—they were, in as much they could depict immediately the face that the poor poet had to supply in pieces—but the poetic art has caught up with painting since the Renaissance, the poets coming to understand how a drop may intimate the sea. Of course, a fool may drown in a drop, but Mazer, who appreciates every drop, intimates oceans.

“Lupe Velez with a Baedeker: Irving Thalberg with a Cigar,” the first poem in the book, directly quotes T. S. Eliot’s “Burbank with a Baedeker, Bleistein with a Cigar” in its first two lines, and then we meet the name, Lupe Velez.

We shall not weigh down this review with references—Mazer’s poems are not weighed down with them; they float over our heads (or drift beneath our feet)—there is no need to “know” or “learn” as one reads a Mazer poem; one burns with it as one reads. Poems that weary us with their facts and their information—Mazer’s poems never do this, and not because Mazer doesn’t “know stuff;” he knows that poetry is not about that, thank God. He doesn’t let pedantry spoil his poetry—which so many otherwise brilliant poets do. He doesn’t allow the hiding of pedantry to spoil his poetry, either, which a smaller, more elite class of poets do; Mazer offers no pedantry, and this puts him almost in a class by himself. He uses what we know, or, more accurately, what we want to know, to entrance. Mazer lays the streets and paths and alleyways as if he were making a poem and then writing a poem in the one he has made—he creates the mind which reads the poem.  But he uses your mind. Many readers will find Mazer’s poetry uncanny in a familiar/strange sort of way, and this is the reason.

Why is Mazer such an important poet? Because he is a return to this impulse, the one voiced by Alexander Pope’s “what oft what thought, but ne’ver so well expressed” and the Romantic sublime, in which what we are able to feel, experiencing a world we all share, is the template, and we find our experiences to be breathtaking—thanks to the poet, who has not only done the work putting together his expression, but the work of joining his feeling to ours.

This remains true, even in the first poem in the book, if we have never heard, for instance, of Lupe Velez; the poem has much to do with her; the poem would not exist without her; no Mazer poem would exist without its unique underpinnings, and so, in that sense, the poet walks among us and is one of us; but the poem makes no effort to inform us of Lupe Velez—the poem is not made small, or trapped by this; reading The Glass Piano is not an exercise in learning, in the weary, worldly sense, but if one should gather the important facts of Lupe Velez—a Mexican actress who broke into U.S. Silent screen movies in the 1920s and successfully moved into sound—one will have learned something of Mazer’s poetic universe, not an isolated fact.  Mazer’s poetry is a symbol for a unique mind that is, itself, a symbol—one reads, literally, Mazer’s vision, of which the poems can only say so much—which is why, perhaps, he is prolific, and also why—too busy to “plan” in the ordinary sense—Mazer’s momentum builds in his longer poems, which seem to be planning themselves as they pitch forward, like life, so that suddenly turning off the main thoroughfare of patient exegesis (you are in an outdoor theater; movies are ghosts etc) you find yourself in a picturesque side path of discursive majesty, the words gaining weight as they fly, the vision really there and real. Mazer is almost like a scientist discovering his poems—and, as they are read, because one gets the idea that Mazer conceives them in the gentle heat of his brain (Mazer is gentle; he has a touch) with the same speed with which they are read, inspiration is able to feel the animal. The long poem (roughly 300 lines) which concludes the book, “An After Dinner Sleep” is immortal, and joins Mazer’s “Divine Rights” at the top of his winding stair.

Mazer chooses Lupe Velez (and Eliot) to begin his book, and says nothing about her, except in hints. (It is not necessary to read Velez’s heart-breaking suicide note.)  We quote in full the first poem of the book. Thalberg is another early figure in film, a producer of Grand Hotel (1932) and early monster/horror films. Mazer’s genius is perfectly content to feed on kitsch, populism, history, camp.

Lupe Velez with a Baedeker; Irving Thalberg with a Cigar

The smoky candle end of time
Declines. On the Rialto once.
With Lupe Velez. Prepared the crime.
But Irving’s valet was no dunce.

Had seen Tirolean dances there
before. And though she was no whore.
Perhaps was hired by the state.
Yet would not scare. And knew no fate.

Time’s thick castles ascend in piles,
The witnesses to countless mobs.
Each with intention, torches, throbs.
Bequeath the coming dawn their wiles.

Yet Irving was not meant for this.
He books the first flight to the States.
He suffers to receive Lupe’s kiss.
While all around the chorus prates.

There’s something does not love a mime.
Tirolean castles built to scale.
There was a mob. There is no crime.
These modernisms sometimes fail.

Mazer trusts the reader to “fill in” what is necessary; all great artists do this; some phrase from a favorite poet, for instance, reverberates in the mind; we recall the scene, the feeling, and yet, not all the words, and running to the book, we open it and find the passage: what? was it only these few words? Which depicted so much?  Indeed it was. Mazer has this gift: a few strokes of the brush: a world.

It is astounding how much this brief lyric conveys: we read each line like a chapter in a novel.  When was the last time we said a poem had “atmosphere?”  Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott?”  Poe’s “The Raven?”  Mazer’s poems have atmosphere (some more than others). Many poets have attempted to lay on atmosphere, but they fail, since atmosphere in poetry cannot be described or explained or accomplished with adjective—-poets are not painters; they cannot paint. The poet must find another way. Mazer finds another way. In “Lupe:” First, by using terse, yet dramatic speech. Second, referencing atmospheric templates (“Tirolean castles”). Third, finding the precise word, even as the other part of his brain is bringing the poem off in terms of beginning, middle, and end.

The narration is coolly involved in the action of the poem: the poet speaks with speech, not with emotion or personality, and this discipline is perhaps the most important “less-is-more” formula there is, and very hard to do. “These modernisms sometimes fail” comes to us from an uncanny place—there is no human, emotional, “straining after,” even though the poem as a whole is frightfully emotional.  It is as if the poem were so emotional that it could only speak without emotion.

The importance of the words is paramount; this is all the poet has, and Mazer is clever enough to know that none of the traditional tools of storytelling will make the words of the poem important: things like ‘a moral’ or ‘the story’ or ’emotion’ remove us from the importance of the words themselves; Mazer’s words seem like they are being spoken (or quoted) from some removed place—and what better way to make this impression than by a subtle, downplayed, insinuation of moral and story and emotion, so the action of the words themselves remain paramount?  And, secondly: hauling in familiar quotes and references from film and literature—the authority of feelings and experiences which belong to us, but lie beyond?  “Would not scare” echoes the ‘steely yet mournful night’ ending of Lowell’s “Skunk Hour.” “There’s something does not love a mime” intimates a “something” that wrecks walls, quoting Frost, with “mime’s” jokey alteration implying everything from silent film to the stoic reticence of Mazer himself.

To paraphrase Yeats, poems should be boldly designed, and yet appear design-less, and Mazer, who claims to compose unconsciously, his poems dictating themselves to him nearly complete, is able to revel in that inevitable surprise one (does not?) look for; one could almost say that the poetic is, by its very nature, unconscious design.

Who can argue with the unconscious, or Mazer’s stated idea in the book’s afterword interview with critic Robert Archambeau, that all composition is revision and all revision is composition?

There should be no conscious intent in poetry, according to this smooth-lake view—a view propounded by the New Critics, the ultimate Quietism of T.S.-Eliot-Learning-and-Conservatism, which defies 1. conscious Conceptualism and 2. conscious Ethnic/Ethical Poetry, these two Schools currently at war, as the School of Mazer (Romanticism, Frost, Eliot) makes its move.

Mazer eschews both the rattle of the gizmo avant-garde and the sloganeering of the ethnic/ethical.

Yet he has more to “say” than either.

Edgar Poe, the fountain of modern literature, quietly inspired T.S. Eliot, who, in the spirit of Anglo-American Modernism, publicly excoriated Poe, after he, Eliot, won the Nobel in 1948. Shelley was attacked earlier by Eliot, in the 1930s.

“These modernisms sometimes fail.”

Why not, as Mazer does in “Lupe,” rhyme like Percy Shelley, hint at Mary Shelley’s creature, and wrap it in an atmosphere of T.S. Eliot? Or Poe?

Why not force a wedding between Modernism and Romanticism?

This reconciliation is due, and Mazer, more than any living poet today, is showing the way. This may be, at the moment, his raison d’etre.

Ben Mazer, perhaps the most remarkable poet alive today, has in his bones that Poe, that poet of shadowy art, flowing into that Eliot of hedonist umber; Mazer struggling to emerge, newly, as that perfection which knows itself as such—latching onto the perfect atmosphere blindly, but perfectly blind—Mazer writing from the unconscious (the bones), not as an ‘automatic writing’ Ashbery, in the tradition of Harvard’s William James and his student Gertrude Stein, but in a tradition much less ‘laboratory,’ and more ‘organic.’ Ben Mazer—the Coleridge of Cambridge, shall we call him? Mazer inhabits the Harvard Square of Prufrock’s Eliot—not Longfellow (who lived there), or 100 years later, Ashbery (who studied there).

It’s a subtle thing, perhaps, but Mazer, who is sometimes compared to Ashbery, is far more Eliot: Eliot rejected the Romantic poets’ music reluctantly, with a frown; Ashbery did so completely, with a laugh.

The excitable, yet mathematical, purple of Poe (“organic” if nature is Platonically made of math) did flow into the tortured, beige suavity of Eliot—a fact difficult to detect not so much by the casual reader, but by the scholar—and in Mazer’s auditory onslaughts, his chaste intelligences, and his world-as-art acrobatics, Eliot’s prophetic Tradition-which-reveals-the-past-by-the-present has come true.

To demonstrate, we quote in full another poem from the new book. It is 13 lines. Most of the poems in this book, are in fact sonnets, 14 lines in length.

The title, “Spread over the vast sinking town,” (the poem’s first line) immediately puts us in mind of:

As if the towers had thrust aside
In slightly sinking, the dull tide…
Down, down that town shall settle hence…” (“The City in the Sea,” Poe)

The second line of Mazer’s poem, “Which winter makes seem half asleep” recalls Eliot’s “The winter evening settles down” from “The Preludes.” A significant word, “curled,” is found in both the Mazer and the Eliot poem.

Mazer has yanked together Eliot’s “Preludes” and Poe’s “The City in the Sea.”  Mazer’s poem begins:

Spread over the vast sinking town
Which winter makes seem half asleep

And notice, in the poem that follows, with what skill Mazer blends Poe’s melancholy spondaic/dactylic music with Eliot’s modern imagery couched in the merrier, yet ironic, iambic; initially the poem trips along in a nimble, 19th-and-20th-century mix, pausing for a moment at the precipice of what might become delicate sarcasm, before it settles into a work perhaps owing more to Poe—or is it Eliot?—but nonetheless achieving, in the end, a work poignant, uncanny, and original, even as it remains steeped in a strange, familiar, hybrid ambience.

Spread over the vast sinking town
Which winter makes seem half asleep
A bus begins its movement down
Across a bridge into the steep
Wide view of the familiar sights
The site of many rowdy nights
But now inhabitants have thinned
Discouraged by the winter wind
And one less one is in the world
Because our faith and will have curled
And folded on the mantel bare
To leave unborn without a care
One whom God’s glory wanted there.

“God’s glory…” Who, today, could invoke this, and be solemn and serious and reputable and true? Mazer may be the only one. The ticket, of course, is the music.

Mazer doesn’t always rhyme this methodically. Today it is almost considered critical suicide to rhyme, unless your name is A.E. Stallings.  As for truth: there is never a reason not to use punctuation, but there it is—occasionally poets feel the need to carve words alone in iron.

But as for rhyme: Poets do not rhyme for two simple reasons: 1. Contemporary fashion and 2. it is very difficult to do.

Mazer is steeped and skilled in the art—from both a practical and an historical perspective, both one and two do not trouble him; he is good enough not to care for contemporary fashion.

When Mazer does not rhyme, he does tend to sound like Ashbery, or a kind of Waste Land Ashbery—Old Possum is usually lurking behind the drapery.

In Glass Piano Mazer has bet heavily on rhyme.  And we are glad that he has.

Mazer’s poems are dreamy and contemplative; if there are two types of lyric, one, the conscious, busybody, Go Do Something, Mazer’s poetry fits I Am The Something; Mazer doesn’t plunder memory for the sake of finding things out, so much as drawing near to what one is wary of finding out. In the first kind of poem, morality often beats you with a stick. In Mazer’s poetry, morality is kind, and wears a cloak.

In the poem just quoted in full, whatever it is in the poem that is “folded on the mantel bare” hints at a memory of an abortion, perhaps? and oddly, other poems in the book which use the word “mantel” seem to hint at the same thing, but in a very delicate way. Mazer’s work is far too aesthetically layered to take any overt moral positions; here Mazer is like Shelley, who asked poetry to explore moral causes—not accessible, worldly, moral effects; below the surface in Mazer’s poetry there does seem to be a deep, ancient conservatism, one that is expansive in its nostalgia, an icy Weltschmerz, but one capable of skating on slippery levity; Mazer’s poetry is happy with the pluralism of existence, with its nostalgia—Mazer feels it, yes, but is not depressed or overwhelmed by it. Occasionally there is a wave of ticket-stub sentimentality, a feeling of poor old dad in his twilight study with the old-literary-magazine compendium, but Mazer never indulges in the merely rueful; there is a quickness to his melancholy.

The I Am Something poem, the one that says ‘Everything you need is here,’ does feature a passive poet—looking out windows, trapped in darkness—and, as a corollary, a passive reader, too–but we get an active poem; the Listen To Me! I Am It! Quietly! poem that, in itself, has everything we need. The passageways may be dark, but they are Mazer’s, and we travel them with trembling delight. We aren’t just reading words. We are moving in what they project.

Because of Mazer’s discursive and melancholy hyper-awareness of the fleeting struggling to cohere, those poems he knits with meter and rhyme (stitched to mingle and collide) tend to bring a happier result than his free-verse Ashbery ones.

Mazer makes quiet use of humor; we actually wish there were more of it in this book. Mazer’s subtle humor enriches the melancholy, instead of merely intruding on it.

A good example of Mazer’s sense of humor can be seen in the following poem, which we quote in full, and which exemplifies all we have been saying so far. Note the brilliant, philosophical ‘Phoenix’ joke. Jokes have designs on us.  Mazer’s genius is the receptive, unconscious kind.  His humor is quiet, and for that, all the more powerful, and brings out in him a related, yet different kind of genius, one we would like to see him pursue more often.

Meanwhile you come to me with vipers’ eyes
to ask, Is there one among us who never dies?
I look into the bottom of my pack of lies
and answer, The Phoenix, though Lord knows she sometimes tries.
You take my answer in your sort of stride,
and once again the stars align and ride
into our lives, upon the carpeted floor,
and the high mantle where you look no more
for evidence of what has gone before;
all stammers slightly,
and the evening closes up its door,
wrong or rightly; colorfully and brightly
some vestiges or trace of memory
falls on the wall; you close your eyes to see.

Mazer is obscure, but not hopelessly so, and because of the sad music, we never mind. We never feel, as we often feel with Ashbery, that there is some kind of parody going on, and Mazer is stronger for this.

All poetry, even—especially?—great poetry, has a shadow-self vulnerable to parody; “The Raven” was parodied upon its publication, immediately and often. One could say Modernism itself, in many ways, is a parody of the 19th century sublime—the spirit of Ashbery’s parody lives, partially hidden, in Eliot’s suffering heart. After all, Eliot anointed Auden and Auden, Ashbery. Is Mazer their successor?

Mazer is revolutionary, in our view, because, for the first time since Tennyson, poetry is once again allowed to be itself, to produce symphonies—with no need to parody, or feel self-consciously modern.

Mazer’s poems seem to say to us: Among all your sufferings, look! this lighted window really is for you. The couch of art, with its faint, sad music, belongs to everyone. You may all rest here.

Mazer is doing something wonderful and important. No one should resent this. Mazer is it. This review would have been better had we just copied his poetry.

We close with a passage from his magnificent poem, “An After Dinner Sleep:”

Now the two sisters have returned to London.
If one is done, the other must be undone.
You strain your eyes through columns, chance to see
the early return of the Viscount-Marquis.
Your monthly pension takes you on a spree
to Biarritz, Bretagne, Brittany,
and you will not be back till early fall,
and then again might not return at all,
the garish drainpipes climbing up the facades
all violently symbolic, and at odds
with simple pleasures countrysides bequeath
to girls with dandelions between their teeth.
There is no fiction that can firmly hold
the world afloat above the weight of gold,
but all your progress drains out to the lee
of million-fold eternal unity.


for c.s.

My morning is your evening:

I think, I worry—as your day’s cares float away.

My evening is your morning,

My dreams, your day.

When morning light blinds me

And Boston trains noisily run,

Your Calcutta sky dissolves

And whispers, There. That’s done.

You live near the warm earth’s middle;

I, near the top, on the other side, and far away.

Electric storms connect us,

The internet’s continual day.

Electric telephone,

Busy luminosity—

The world buzzes.

Am I busy, or lazy?

Let the hurricanes come

And push the warm air here

As winter darkens the crowds

Of this cold holiday year.

We celebrate in costumes

And jackets and candles and snow.

You put away your sari

And miss things which I don’t know.

The earth lies between us;

All we have is mind

Sniffing electric evidence:

Are you good? Am I kind?

My poem laughs—it has always been this way.

Always distance; always night chasing the day.

Always this! always this!

What is far, close; and the close, far away.






Why are people ugly?

Because otherwise sex would drive the human race mad.

Ugly people having sex isn’t sexy.

It isn’t sexy. It’s sad.

That’s why the truly sexy are miserable, too.

I want to be your friend. I don’t want to sleep with you.


When you told me I was sexy,

It just made me self-conscious and confused.

Sex is too serious. Are people meant to be eaten?

You were honest. But I wasn’t amused.


It always offends the ugly

To bring sex to the feast.

Everything that eats—

And gets fed on—is a beast.


Food should be beautiful—

Bathrooms and sinks, too;

And yard implements and gardens,

And everything but—God, please not you.







The Large Bathers—Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir was in his mid-forties when he devoted four years on his famous “The Large Bathers” (1887), perhaps his most ambitious painting.

Will RSAP—the “Renoir Sucks At Painting” protest group—go to Philly next?  The small group of protesters, led by Max Geller, made the news this month with two anti-Renoir protests in Boston (Museum of Fine Arts) and New York (The Metropolitan). Renoir’s ‘Bathers’ hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

According to Hyperallergic, RSAP demanded the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan take down its 19 Renoir paintings because Renoir’s work is “poorly rendered treacle.”

RSAP is right.  Renoir is candy.  Renoir practiced on Rubens when he started out, and, failing miserably at truly heroic painting, became a sugary postcard illustrator, part of the great aesthetic decline in the West since the late 19th century: Brahms replaced by Philip Glass; Tennyson replaced by William Carlos Williams; Goya replaced by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.  Corporate producers are killing music, “Creative Writing” is killing poetry, and Trash has replaced Art. The 1% not only conquers with banking and war, but with this kind of shit—turning people into sheep without taste. Poe and Shelley were correct: aesthetics, which inhabits a position, morally, between reason and passion, is vital.

To many, Renoir, seems old-fashioned and rigorous, not part of any “decline,” not guilty of painting that, in the words of RSAP, “sucks.”  Poetry sucks today, and yet those who acknowledge this will nonetheless defend William Carlos Williams as an ideal of “High Modernism,” when, in fact, William Carlos Williams does suck, despite what a guy in a textbook says.

To get back on the right track, we should go back and protest where it all went wrong; this is actually far more effective than wrangling with contemporary rot.  Once you accept the establishment of a William Carlos Williams or a Pierre-Auguste Renoir as something historically legitimate, the game is over.

Most people think RSAP is a joke; but it is actually not.

Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker has called their protest “silly,” which is how a “serious” art critic would make it known that he does not think the protest is a joke, and, even if it were a joke, it nonetheless makes him uncomfortable, and the art world uncomfortable, because of what we have just said.  And isn’t it interesting how this tiny protest, which is merely “silly,” has already gained so much traction?

The protest, in our opinion, is wonderful, and not silly—only if it gets people thinking about art again: something no one has done for a hundred years in America, given the onslaught of horrible art that we must accept if we are “cool,” and reject, if we are not.

It is the vast and clever ‘guilt scam’ (be cool or else!) of the Modern Art Salesman-Pusher, who wants to make art easy to make, easy to like, and easy to sell for big money.  It is probably the biggest scam in the history of the world.  The “art” collectors in the early 20th century hired critics and built museums to house their “collections” and became super-rich, while destroying Taste itself to seal the deal.

It began with the Salon des Refuses in 1863, a year in which America was fighting for its life in a meat-grinding Civil War which France and Great Britain, now allies, had helped to bring about. (France and Britain’s “neutrality,” which said, General Lee, kill enough Union soldiers, and we’ll recognize the Confederacy, turned what should have been a small war into a very, very big one.) The Salon des Refuses was not some kind of underground protest against the art establishment; it was mandated by the imperialist Napoleon III. The new works were greeted with howls of laughter. Exactly 50 years later, the new art was shipped to America (the Armory Art show of 1913) by John Quinn, collector of the new art and Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s attorney.  Again, the new art—Duchamp got most of the attention, not Picasso—was greeted with howls of laughter. (After all, Duchamp was a prankster.) But “critics” came to the rescue; A.C. Barnes (of the Barnes Foundation) collected; his friend, John Dewey, earnestly and seriously wrote. And fortunes were made.

Of course, Schjeldahl in the New Yorker does not defend Renoir as revolutionary or new—which is how junk like this was first ushered in by the con men: Art should not stagnate! Art should develop and be new! This new art is inevitable!

Schjeldahl is happy to defend Renoir as junk, for as he writes in the New Yorker of Renoir: “His art was from, for, and about an ascendant class. His exaggerated blush and sweetness makes sense as effusions of triumphal exuberance.”

Bad art—but somehow “ascendant” and “triumphal.”

He sounds more like a propaganda minister than an art critic.

Schjeldahl happily goes on: “Have the R.S.A.P. members ever truly looked at Renoir’s “Dance at Bougival” (1883) in the Boston M.F.A.? …”redolent of heat, music, smells, and light sweats of exertion and desire. Cigarette butts litter the floor at their feet. This is not candy-box fantasy. It is the real life of real people in a real place, glorified. Modernity is dawning. There’s a beat to it, and a glow.”

No. That’s the point. There is no “exertion and desire.” There’s no “beat.” Okay, maybe a little one.  (Can you dance to the “Mona Lisa?”)

In “Dance at Bougival”—should we call it Boogie-ville?—the young woman has a bland, cute, pin-up countenance—the faceless man of gaudy swagger, wearing blue to her white trimmed in red, points his beard into her doll face. There is no “smell.” The painting is like a macho-flavored M& M candy.

RSAP should spread their protest to Schjeldahl’s remarks—make them a target, too.

No “revolutionary” fervor is present in Schjeldahl’s defense; Renoir is merely defended as “real people.”  But doesn’t art have to push onward?  Isn’t Renoir in the way?  No, he’s not, because the Modern Art “revolution” was never about progress—it was about turning people into sheep and junk into money.

The idea that Renoir is revolutionary in any sort of timeless sense, of course, is laughable—even Schjeldahl knows this; so he can only mumble something about “real life” and “cigarette butts.”

But still, Schjeldahl—and this never gets old—gives us the inevitable, “Modernity is dawning.”

Modernity.  Ah, word of so many meanings!

What does it mean?  Well, it means everything.

It means sex and fun.

And not only that. “Modernity,” you see, is inevitable, like the sun rising. It’s a new and crazy beat, daddy-o!  And it has to happen.  And it is always happening.

The most revolutionary act possible today in the art world—perhaps in the whole world: is to declare simply and loudly: Renoir Sucks!

No one would dare talk about Renoir today as Jan Gordon did in his Modern French Painters back in the 20s:

The first quarrel with the great public on the matter of art arose with the Impressionists. The little differences which arose previously, such as that with Corot—who was accused of giving cloud banks and columns of smoke instead of trees—and that with Millet, which was chiefly founded on amour-propre, never rose to a sufficient acerbity to include the general mass of the spectators. The critics attacked Delacroix, and accused him of giving them to corpses instead of human flesh (what did they think of Crivelli or of Piero della Francesca?), but the public passed by with, perhaps, a smiling shrug.

With the Impressionists, however, it became angry almost to madness. At the time of the Salon des Refuses many a Frenchman would gladly have murdered Monet or Renoir.

Jan Gordon goes on to say that—and notice how far away from Schjeldahl this is:

The Old Masters had noted that a material in light appeared often different in colour from that of its shadows; but they had, generally, so blended these colors that the colour of the material was never in doubt. They had gradually impressed on the public a fallacious notion of a burnt umber tree which was accepted with such faith that the green tree had to fight hard for admittance into art. When, however, a blue tree was presented to it, the public revolted. Yet, as a matter of fact, trees are often blue, and are very seldom burnt umber.

How blithely Gordon, in his defense of Renoir nearly 100 years ago, makes the highly dubious accusation that the “Old Masters” were “fallacious” on something as fundamental as light and color. This kind of pro-Modern Art argument is far more interesting, even if it’s a lie; but now, with the “revolution” long over, and wildly successful, no longer necessary.

And then we have John Dewey, a few years later, attacking the Old Masters in his LSD drug trip manner:

The fatal defect of the representative theory is that it exclusively identifies the matter of a work of art with what is objective. It passes by the fact that objective material becomes the matter of art only as it is transformed by entering into relations of doing and being undergone by an individual person with all his characteristics of temperament, special manner of vision, and unique experience.

Dewey bans the “objective.” Schjeldahl, living in a different era—after the battle has been won—can discourse endlessly on “cigarette butts.”  Modern critics are objective or subjective depending on the atrociousness of the art which they are selling—uh, sorry…critically defending.  And how softened-up—uh, sorry…receptive their audience is.

So is Renoir porn?

Study the “The Large Bathers,” for yourself.  Put all the ‘art critic’ voices aside, and make up your mind.

What do you think?










“Love is an accident” —old saying

What misses us—is not—you and me.

Desire is slavery—and you and I are free.

How did this warm evening find you and I together at the entrance of the park

Where on beautiful warm evenings we once held each other in the dark?

This is a warm evening too,

But warm evenings—no—everything—is forbidden now to me and you.

You and I accidentally cross paths going home

By the same way, and I hurry on, and do not dare to look at you,

But it makes me feel things, and I’m sure it makes you feel things, too,

Having been here many times together, and now each of us alone.

It is late October and the growing darkness and the first autumn freeze

Makes tonight’s surprising mild air—and by chance, seeing you—a night I will remember,

More so than when our love was fully expressed, and your head lay gently upon my chest—remember?

Before I reach my door, still thinking of you, I linger in front of a large tree sighing in the breeze.

On high is a bright white three-quarter moon

Moving on to fullness, and I make a wish because of this, that we might be reunited soon,

Though I’m not allowed to have thoughts like this

Because desire is slavery and poison lives in a slave’s kiss.

What misses us is what kisses us—the solemn world of the outdoors, nature and her man-made park

Where we worshiped everything from dawn to dark.

Isn’t it strange, how the more we ought to remember, the more of that we ought to remember, we forget?

And here, where I glimpsed you only for an instant, here, by this poem, memory will pay its debt?

The poem’s idea: a mild breeze and thoughts of you are enough to make me glad,

As I stand in front of the moon and a tall tree rustling, and hear you speaking. Am I mad

To think the park misses us, and wonders where we are? That nature felt our love

And this is what misses our love—not reluctant you, not selfish me?

Desire is slavery—in my mind I keep seeing your dear face—and you and I are free.











I remember when my country was young;

Day-time World Series—on television sets in store windows—watched by everyone

Who shrugged off assassinations and other black-and-white news

With candlelight dinner and stereo.


Now my country is password-obsessed, corporate, and cold.

Now my country is old-person stink surrounding trivia-obsessed youth

Who are older than the old.


Art covers up everything that we would like to do.
This is your painting. And here—over here—stands you.
To acquire that skill takes a certain amount of work.
You gave up. In your soul the lazy spirits lurk.

So this is your painting. It will depict you when you are dead.
And that is the point. You—over here—just want to be fed.
You allow dress-makers and stylists to decide
Thanks to your painting, what death will never hide.

You belong to nature, and nature seeks to make another,
But not you—you want no child to grow old like your mother.
You, yourself, are the beginning and the end,
The reason for art, and nobody’s friend.



What did you do on Poetry Day?
Did you look at someone you love—and quickly look away?
Did you write a poem, and feel awkward doing so?
Awkward—because of what all bright days and all dark branches know?
Were you able to love one moment—a single moment—that flew,
A moment, like a dream, which loomed up like a rain cloud, and sighed, in front of you?
And because your moment was sad, and yet happy, you felt in your heart what that moment knew?
Did you peek in your heart, and find out what was true?

Did it tell you poetry’s secret?  That poetry is love from start to end?
That love lives secretly in perfumed paper we send?
Does love make you uncomfortable?  Well, that’s okay.
You are not a poet. The muse does not love you, anyway.



Observe, as you lounge in one place,
At some busy café—you, too, will be disgusted by the human race.

The picky ordering, customers unsatisfied;
The nerdy college couple who kiss each other’s hands with loud smacks;
The slovenly old, with old-person smell that attacks;
Severe young men whose severity is impossible to hide
By expensive haircuts. Women have more skill in appearing

Tolerable to judgment’s discerning;
Nature wants to breed, the female needs to appeal
And that appeal is always a step ahead of learning;
Still, one can see the insanity that creeps
Through young women’s brains
Who must navigate the rot of fruit and meat and grains.

A cute dog is tied up outside,
This changes nothing about the colored hair and beer-bellies inside.
The weak chins, the wide jeans, the postures indicating ruthless wills,
The faces, unpleasant, resembling various animals.

The only exception to the hideous parade
Are children, who good people, in an act of goodness, made.

These dear ones make me rise above the place
To admire the city, the world, my face.

You, with the muscles and tattoos, if only you knew how ugly you look—
I suggest you throw away your Harley and read a book.







Here at last, I make my confession:

I never cared about any of you—

I chose poetry as my profession

So nobody else could tell me what to do.


Restaurants, stadiums, fancy clubs,

Expensive cars and beautiful snubs,

Car crashes, suicides from broken loves,

All the shit of the world; getting old,

Death, I turn all this shit into gold

With a stubby pencil, a scrap of paper; I hide away

To conceive what you have to slave over every day.


“How was your weekend? The concert?” It was great!

No, it wasn’t. I’m happier and went to bed at eight.

You need to appear happy.  Social lies. I revel

In the truth. You struggle to find your level.

The concert wasn’t “great.” You lie. I know

As you run down the street, late for your show.

Writing poetry cannot be stopped

By businessmen, or time, or love that flopped.

I have a rock concert in my head—

You paid a hundred bucks to get a headache, instead.


Your actors and your infrastructure, the research you do for your book

Has no interest for me. I, the poet, enjoy every moment. Take a look.

I also experience things; I love, I love to throw a ball.

The difference is you experience things partially; I feel it all.


When I think of a line and reach for my scrap of paper and pencil number two,

I feel as much desire as your costs and burdens bring the useless desire which burdens you.




I can no longer hate and love.

No more of this casual dating.

Loving the one you hate is a prison.

There’s a beauty in simply hating.


I can no longer hate and love

Like Catullus, whose single book survived. (The world wasn’t waiting.)

Optimistic women and their rules,

Their pop culture—I find their desires grating.


Hating one you love is the worst emotion one can feel;

If there’s love, hate inevitably enters, because fear

Of losing one you love is real;

Nothing prevents the tainting of the beautiful;

Whatever is beautiful produces the horrible;

Beauty and sadness are twins; God, a golden tear.


I can no longer hate and love,

So goodbye, love, goodbye.

I had a million poems for you,

Intricate and opposite and sly.






1. Love is 90% hygiene.

2. Love was invented by poetry, because  poetry can be defined as a potential conversation in the mind and to be attracted to someone in a civilized manner is to imagine what it would be like to have a conversation with them.

3. Men love what they desire, women desire what they love.

4. Women spend their lives looking for a man who they want to have sex with and who wants to have sex with them—but not too often.

5. The idea of the child begins love, the child ends it.

6. Hate is love’s back-up plan.

7. Love takes offense; hate is not even the offense, but merely the aftermath of a misunderstanding.

8. Sentimentalism in love is a profound reaction in the man, a hidden cause in the woman.

9. In love the woman is cruel gradually, the man, all at once.

10. The broken-hearted man wants more woman, the broken-hearted woman wants less man.

11. Homosexuality is art to heterosexuality’s nature.

12. In the throes of love, the man looks in order to feel, the woman feels too much to look.

13. Abstract love is moral; love’s particulars are selfish.

14. Married women cheat in an act of retreat, married men cheat in an act of expansion.

15. Love is emotional expression wherever those emotions are forbidden, thoughtful expression wherever those thoughts are not forbidden.

16. We never end up with the one we love, for we can’t relax with the one we love.

17. When a woman looks profoundly, she hates; when a man looks profoundly, he loves.

18. The chemical reaction of love always requires some remarkable, fortuitous disagreement.

19. Love makes us think we are not allowed to have what we love.






Kindness is advertised, and I am told,
Kindness is better than desperate love, desperate and bold,
Or passionate love, inquisitive and sly.
William Butler Yeats has said that a kindness will charm
Even the mad, roving lover’s troubled eye.

Courtesy, Yeats said—his best poem quoted to me by a cautious friend—
Is how my daughter must be chiefly learned—kindness and courtesy, the shore
Where wave-crashing beauty comes to its ship-wrecked end.

We were so bold to love, and we put out on the salty sea,
A sea of confusion and tears, the sea now seems to me.
But though I lie, hurting on the beach, kindness is a what, not a who;
I do need kindness and courtesy; what Yeats says is true—
But the kindness I need must come from you.








“Einstein For Beginners” will never work.
A little information makes you look like a jerk.

Do you remember what you were doing
When you first heard of light-years?

Do you remember what you were doing
When things changed for everyone?
When you looked up and saw
The eight minutes twenty seconds old sun?

Did things change for you?
Of course they didn’t.
Poe discovered the Big Bang. Nothing is new.

Do songs originate, or soothe your fears?
Look at the light, shining on your little dears.

Songs make us love, cry; then, broken-hearted, we listen for even more tears.

Is now impossible in a very big place?

What is now to a distant star?
Already in the past. That’s what you are.

Was that a moment ago I kissed your face?
I’m thinking about love and the intricacy of careers.

I would like to do mathematics but I don’t know how.
I feel the sun on my face—
I feel in the vast universe there can be now.

A little bit of heat. A little bit of glow.
Your love for me. That’s all I know.


When love died, and they removed my heart,
I asked them, upon waking, Did you get it all?

I loved her, winter, spring, summer, and fall,
A memory for every type of love: I see them all.

The winter when we fell in love, it was warm,
Warm for winter, and not a storm.

When spring brings the first warmth creeping,
I see us among flowers, and then I start weeping.

When a summer rain hits the roof of my car,
Or the roof of the house when I lie in bed, there we are.

The warm kisses. I wish I remembered them all.
Our love was like a second summer in the beginning of the fall.

Winter’s coming.  Oh my heart! I hope they got you all.
Otherwise I will die—of cold—in the dark and cold—that grows in the fall.





The jealousy of the ugly

Forbids you and I.

The morality of the ugly

Prefers the beautiful die.


Beauty belongs to nature. Kurt Cobain—

Remember him, with his hurt and pain—

Said, “nature is a whore.”

Yes, she’s unfaithful. She wants more.


Beauty takes many tries,

But that’s what nature wants and gets.

My mother has no regrets

When she looks into my beautiful eyes.


Children. A problem that explodes.

Morality ages each day. But nature reloads.



I have a theory that you will be more difficult
If you have a difficult name.
When I kissed the two of you, whose names were the same,
Whose names were very common, I knew
Humility, not difficulty, would be the theme from both of you.
And I was right.
We took turns, and pleased each other throughout the night.
But her? With the difficult name?
She kissed me once. Once.
Now love is no longer praise, but blame.


Yone Noguchi and Joaquin Miller: How curiously they would gaze on us today!

This latest Hot 100 List is mostly comprised of very brief quotes from poems in BAP 2015—now the most collectible volume in David Lehman’s “best” anthology series, due to its Yi-Fen Chou controversy.

The “molecular” display presents fragmentary glimpses of “hot,” and we must say it is an interesting way to see the poets—can we know them by a few of their poetry molecules?

We may be living, without knowing it, in the Age of the Fragment.  The best prose-poems often produce dull fragments. That’s the bad news. The good news is that fragments from dull prose-poems may intimate genius; if future ages can only read the fragments we produce today, some lucky poets, who wrote mediocre prose poems, may be hailed as geniuses. Since the lyric of unified metrical accomplishment is really not our strength today, the Fragment may be our era’s ticket to lasting fame.

Is it the goal of the fragment to be fragmentary?  Is it ever the goal of the poem to be fragmentary?  Are there different types of fragments?  Is there not a rush to completion by every poem itself that makes even a fragment seem complete, beyond even the knowledge of the poet?

Getting to know David Lehman on Facebook…he loves rhyme, especially the rollicking sort, and we believe those sorts of poems in BAP are his selections.  Lehman is also a ‘free-speech-er;’ he sanctions the racy; the BAP poems often strive to be popular in the attention-getting sense, which I suppose is admirable—or not.

The non-poem exceptions in the Scarriet list are recent remarks by the hot Alexie, Lehman, Perloff, and Mary Karr. We are proud to include the quotation from Perloff—who chose to break her silence on the “racist Avant-garde” controversy by addressing Scarriet—on Facebook!—as she admitted her book Unoriginal Genius and its final chapter on Goldsmith’s Traffic may have had a part in bringing on the racist label. Are we not interested in my discussion of Yoko Tawada in Unoriginal Genius, Perloff asked, because she’s Asian-German, rather than Asian-American? “What xenophobia!”

The question we asked Perloff was, “Is the non-creative nearly racist by default?” The question was not meant to put Perloff on the spot; it was as much about the current race-conscious atmosphere as it was about Perloff, or the avant-garde. Were an avant-garde poet to tweet “red wheel barrow beside the white chickens” enough times, just think what might happen. And speaking of Williams (and Pound) and their Imagiste schtick: Scarriet, in its five year assault on Avant-Garde Modernism as a reactionary clique of white men, should get some credit for opening up this whole discussion.

Scarriet has written of Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) in the context of Imagism ripping off haiku, the importance of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war, and Noguchi’s important contacts: Yeats, Hardy, Symons, and John Gould Fletcher—the Arkansas poet who, along with Ford Maddox Ford, was the connecting link between Pound’s circle and the equally reactionary and highly influential circle of New Critics—the group of men who brought us the Writing Program Era—and its “difficult” Modernist flavor.

Scarriet, which trailblazes often, found the secret to the Red Wheel Barrow poem: WC Williams had a brother, Edgar, who married the woman he loved, Charlotte (Bill married her sister). “So much depended on” this: and Ed can be found in “red,” Charlotte in “chickens” and “white” symbolizes the bride.

But here we go. Controversy and hot go together; let’s get to the hot list. No mention of awards this time. Enjoy the list—and the poetry.


1. Yi-Fen Chou –“Adam should’ve said no to Eve.”

2. Derrick Michael Hudson –“Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?”

3. Sherman Alexie –“I am no expert on Chinese names…I’d assumed the name was Chinese.”

4. David Lehman –“Isn’t giving offense, provoking discussion…part of the deal?”

5. Terrance Hayes –“Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours”

6. Marjorie Perloff — “Scarriet poses the question…I have so far refrained from answering this and related questions but perhaps it is time to remind Scarriet and its readership…”

7. Amy Gerstler –“…live on there forever if heaven’s bereft of smell?”

8. Jane Hirshfield — “A common cold, we say—common, though it is infinite”

9. Mary Karr — “[John Ashbery is] the most celebrated unclothed emperor…an invention of academic critics…the most poisonous influence in American poetry”

10. Mary Oliver — “June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter.”

11. Rowan Ricardo Phillips — “It does not not get you quite wrong.”

12. Lawrence Raab — “nothing truly seen until later.”

13. Patrick Phillips — “Touched by your goodness, I am like that grand piano we found one night”

14. Dan Chiasson — “The only god is the sun, our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

15. Willie Perdomo — I go up in smoke and come down in a nod”

16. Katha Pollitt — “Truth had no past. It was wordless as water, a fall of shadow on stone.”

17. Tim Seibles — “That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger”

18. Marilyn Hacker — “You happened to me.”

19. Charles Simic — “I could have run into the street naked, confident anyone I met would understand”

20. Louise Glück — “…the night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.”

21. Laura Kasischke — “but this time I was beside you. …I was there.”

22. Michael Tyrell — “how much beauty comes from never saying no?”

23. Susan Terris — “cut corners    fit in     marry someone”

24. Cody Walker — “Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.”

25. A.E. Stallings — “the woes were words,     and the only thing left was quiet.”

26. Valerie Macon — “coats fat over lean with a bright brush”

27. Jennifer Keith — “…bound to break: One the fiction, one the soul, the fact.”

28. Ed Skoog — “Its characters are historians at the Eisenhower Library.”

29. Terence Winch — “I’m in the emergency room at Holy Cross hoping all is not lost.”

30. Chana Bloch — “the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.”

31. Natalie Diaz — “Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark”

32. LaWanda Walters — “And we—we white girls—knew nothing.”

33. Raphael Rubinstein — “Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else”

34. R.S. Gwynn — “How it shows, shows, shows. (How it shows!)”

35. Robin Coste Lewis — “how civic the slick to satisfied from man.”

36. Andrew Kozma — “What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.”

37. Melissa Barrett — “—lines from Craiglist personal ads

38. Mark Bibbins — “He’s Serbian or something, whole family wiped out”

39. Chen Chen — “i pledge allegiance to the already fallen snow”

40. Patricia Lockwood — “How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel marry Across…on a Tightrope?”

41. Ron Padgett — “Old feller, young feller, who cares?”

42. Bethany Schultz Hurst — “Then things got confusing for superheroes.”

43. Natalie Scenters-Zapico — “…apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.”

44. Sandra Simonds — “Her little girl threw fake bills into the air.”

45. Donna Masini — “Even sex is no exit.  Ah, you exist.”

46. Dora Malech — “paper mane fluttering in the breeze of a near miss, belly ballasted with…kisses”

47. David Kirby — “Pets are silly, but the only world worth living in is one that doesn’t think so.”

48. Ross Gay —  “One never knows does one how one comes to be”

49. Meredith Hasemann — “The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.”

50. Madelyn Garner — “working her garden…which is happiness—even as petal and pistil we fall.”

51. Wendy Videlock — “like a lagoon, like a canoe, like you”

52. Erica Dawson — “I knocked out Sleeping Beauty, fucking cocked her on the jaw.”

53. Hailey Leithauser — “Eager spills eel-skin, python, seal-leather, platinum and plate, all cabbage, all cheddar.”

54. Monica Youn –“the dead-eyed Christ in Pietro’s Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers”

55. Tanya Olson — “Assless Pants Prince High-Heels Boots Prince Purple Rain Prince”

56. Jericho Brown — “But nobody named Security ever believes me.”

57. Danielle DeTiberus — “In a black tank top, I can watch him talk about beams, joists…for hours”

58. Rebecca Hazelton — “My husband bearded, my husband shaved, the way my husband taps out the razor”

59. Dana Levin — “I watched them right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea while the real sea thrashed and heaved—”

60. Evie Shockley — “fern wept, let her eyes wet her tresses, her cheeks, her feet. the cheerlessness rendered her blessed”

61. Alan Michael Parker — “Rabbi, try the candied mint: it’s heaven.”

62. Aimee Nezhukumatahil — “I wonder if scientists could classify us a binary star—”

63. D. Nurske — “Neils Bohr recites in his soft rapt voice: I divide myself into two persons”

64. Afaa Michael Weaver — “inside oneness that appears when the prison frees me to know I am not it and it is not me.”

65. Marilyn Chin — “She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove”

66. Candace G. Wiley — ” My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.”

67. Joanna Valente — “Sometimes, at night, I wish for someone to break into me—”

68. Jeet Thayil — “There are no accidents.  There is only God.”

69. Kate Tempest — “It gets into your bones.”

70. Alice Notley — “To take part in you is to die is why one dies Have I said this before?”

71. Eileen Myles — “Well I’ll be a poet. What could be more foolish and obscure.”

72. Major Jackson — “When you have forgotten the meaningful bop”

73. Dawn Lundy Martin — “And Olivia, the mouth of his children from the mouth of my vagina.”

74. Kiki Petrosino — “We sense them shining in our net of nerves.”

75. Jennifer Moxley — “How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.”

76. Juliana Spahr — “There is space between the hands.”

77. Ada Limón — “just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

78. Kevin Young — “I want to be doused in cheese and fried.”

79. Dodie Bellamy — “what is it have I seen it before will it hurt me or help me”

80. Juan Felipe Herrera — “Could this be yours? Could this item belong to you? Could this ticket be what you ordered, could it?”

81. Joy Harjo — “The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits blew deer magic.”

82. Saeed Jones — “In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back”

83. Sarah Arvio — “The new news is I love you my nudist”

84. Desiree Bailey — “how will I swim to you when the day is done?”

85. Rachael Briggs — “Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny”

86. Rafael Campo — “We lie and hide from what the stethoscope will try to say”

87. Emily Kendal Frey — “How can you love people without them feeling accused?”

88. James Galvin — “Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress? What, gone?”

89. Douglas Kearney — “people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.”

90. Jamaal May — “how ruined the lovely children must be in your birdless city”

91. Claudia Rankine — “What did he just say? Did she really just say that?”

92. Donald Platt — “Someone jerks his strings. He can’t stop punching.”

93. Denise Duhamel — “it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires”

94. Jane Wong — “A planet fell out of my mouth”

95. Derrick Austin — “Will you find me without the pink and blue hydrangeas?”

96. Dexter L. Booth — “The head goes down in defeat, but lower in prayer”

97. Catherine Bowman — “From two pieces of string and oil-fattened feathers he made a father.”

98. Jessamyn Birrer — “Abracadabra: The anus. The star at the base of the human balloon.”

99. Julie Carr– “Can you smell her from here?”

100. Mary Angela Douglas — “music remains in the sifted ruins”





I always knew poetry
Was sentimentality
Which only the dearest hearts expressed.

Philosophy is cold,
But not the heart that is distressed.

It’s not that poetry sings,
Though sentiment is close to song;
Poetry sings the heart when the heart knows the world is wrong.

“But the world is not wrong,” she said.
“Is the cloud that covers the sun a lie?
The world is not wrong.”
And even as my poetry sang,
hilosophy coldly told me why.



“When I get you alone…” –old song

Love desires privacy.
I understand you less and less
The more we are intimate.
I see more of you in rumor,
Less of you in the eye.
Privacy demands more privacy.
The public becomes a spy.

How bitter to find
Love is not a picture
You bring home
But a picture-spoiling mind.

I know you less and less.
Your public beauty
Is a private guess.
I would know you,
But beauty is an intimacy that owns—
Covering to undress.






Enter picture. Exit poetry.

Enter flattery. Farewell truth.

Enter crowds. Goodbye muse.

Enter vanity. Patience, adieu!

Ugh. This poem is crap.

It was my eye, not I, who fell in love with you.









Love does not need my help;
My poems can be quiet now.
All that I asked them to do
I got through kisses, anyhow.

There’s more than enough sky
For stars— see? they gather above
In layer upon layer; what poetry finds
I found for real, later, when I was in love.

The quiet teenager feels
All that is necessary to feel,
So that’s not exactly what I want
As I admit this isn’t real.

There are many ways to love,
And quiet love is usually the best.
Love does not need my help.
Kiss. Then we’ll rest.




A.E. Stallings.  Is her poem, “Ajar,” the best rhymed poem in BAP 2015?

In our previous notice on BAP 2015, we ranked the poems from 75th to 1st (Scarriet, Sept 20, 1915). Ranking is a proper criticism and should be done by critics and reviewers more often today.

There is a belief, a very powerful and prevalent belief today, one that to seeks to inhibit overly excitable and aggressive criticism, that says if a poem fails, we should simply pass over it in silence—that neglect is the proper reward for what is inferior. If we discuss only the good, says this belief, we will 1. Promote good will and avoid giving offense 2. Make an example of what is superior 3. Promote good poetry 4. Allow bad poetry to fade away without wasting time and energy on it.

It is hard to argue with this.

But we will.

Rather than “pass over the bad poem in silence,” we would rather rank it among the others. When every poem in any given group is part of a chain, we become aware of a relationship between poems; the very idea of “good and bad’ comes organically out of the poems themselves, rather than super-imposed from above, selectively, with large gaps of understanding between our choices.

If our task is to review BAP 2015, we should review all the poems. If we only like three of the 75, and only discuss those three, what sort of “review” would that be?

And, if we review all the BAP 2015 poems, should our review be honest, or dishonest? The more honest, the more poems we look at—even “bad” ones.

Why should judgment be silent? What if critics fall into the habit of ignoring good poems—with the belief they are bad?  That would be not only poor judgment, but poor judgment which is allowed to thrive.

In a review, what actually occurs is a judgment of judgement, not poems; and therefore silence by a reviewer should offend, not the other way around.

And further, what if the critic sees bad poems promoted as good? Shouldn’t the critic say something, even if it gives offense to the erring poet and the mistaken critic?

Isn’t passing off the bad poem as good akin to encouraging people to consume poison while thinking it is healthy?

Poems do not exist in a vacuum; all poetry exists in a medium: an environment of promotion and judgment and social interaction. Should the poet who writes the poem control the poem’s environment, or should a reliable critical faculty shape a poem’s extra-poem environment? And should that critical faculty be honest or dishonest? And, if honest, how do we know it is honest unless it speak, and speak honestly? By turning its own light on its own judgment, not just on “good” poems?

Poems, when they are good, are good compared to other poems; this is a truth of all judgments. By ranking the 75 poems by order of excellence, we avoid promoting an abstract idea of good or bad, whether it be a moral or a formal judgment. We instead illustrate, with gradation, the very poems before us in the volume: and here we cannot offend as critic this way, because the offended poet will first have to blame the poet ranked just above him—and how can he do so without escaping the censure he would level at the critic?

A ranking can be neither honest nor dishonest; it is a fact; the poems exist as a group in the volume, fated to jostle against one another, and ranking the group wounds only as it illuminates. Yet the hurting and helping cannot be escaped, and here, by making hurting and helping one, we cannot but aid criticism—which never seeks to benefit anyone by hurting anyone; it is by the natural division: 75 poems, that the world begins, and is, and ends.

We have 75 poems before us. We judge them. Against one another. They live in the same world as each other and shine a critical light on each other. We don’t know what a poem is until it provides us with its particular pleasure, and when it does, it has set a standard—the poem has set the standard, not the criticism; the critic only points up this fact as a passive reporter. (The critic who “only” discusses “good” poems is actually doing much more—is actually being more intrusive and arrogant as a critic.) The poem has done something and the critic simply says, “my god, did you see that?”  If there is only one poem, the home runs hit by that one poem would have to be our measure of poetry. As soon as we have a second poem that hits a hundred more home runs than the first, civilization and romantic love begins.

Now. As for these 75 poems on Best American Poetry 2015, we wish we had liked the formalist poems more, as we prefer formalism in general—poems which exhibit metrical and musical and rhyming skill.

Rhyme and meter, however, are extremely difficult for poets today to pull off, especially in our current free verse environment—which naturally has its demands.

The serious poet today who rhymes, let’s say, lives in fear of many things.

The poet who also attempts to be a musician is naked, exposed; they are leaving the clothed comfort of talking for a naturalism of sound which can highly endear but also highly embarrass—if things are not right.

Because you can either write like Keats & Shelley/play Mozart or you can’t.  Speech is. But music demands.

Mozart is actually less man-made than speech; Mozart, and highly musical poetry, approaches the divine sensuality of nature herself.

Why have the sophisticated turned away from the beauties of meter and rhyme?

We are like a society today without orchestras, without professional musicians. Divine musical poetry is almost dead.

A. E. Stallings is a doggerelist.

The modest success of rhymed poetry we see in contemporary efforts is inevitably the lighter, less serious poem.

We said the poem leaning on sound can be highly embarrassing if “things are not right.”

When the lens of formalism is trained on poetic practice, it is natural to expect formal considerations to become the poet’s supreme point of interest. Since rhyming well requires a good ear, there hardly seems to be any need to fixate on what we are rhyming about—what should content have to do with utterances of pure sound? In nonsense poetry, not much—the wacky music carries the day. But even here, in examples of pure burlesque, content does matter. It matters more.

In pure prose, the content has it easy.

In prose, the content is the content.

In verse, the content is not the content; the content, as a separate thing, belongs to the verse, and therefore musical poetry’s content is up for greater inspection—precisely because it is attached to something else (the musical contraptions and flow).

This is why formal poetry is so difficult to pull off; it can very easily fail on two counts, not just one, as in prose. It can fail as music—too rhyme-y, too sing-song-y, too dull, too monotonous, too eccentric, not mathematically precise enough, too rigid, not flexible enough, annoying in a purely sensual, distracting, strange, alien sort of way—and then it can also fail in the same manner that prose fails, but more so, since the prose meaning is aloft on a musical pedestal for closer inspection.

The real difficulty—not the artificial “difficulty” promoted by the modernists, by which we now live in a more “modern” and “difficult” society, etc, no—the real difficulty in terms of effort and skill, in writing sublime musical poetry is the sole reason for its demise—and not because of any inevitable modernist “change.”

The would-be formalist poet is ridiculously fearful that the reader will ‘see a rhyme coming’ and so they take great pains to make the rhyme unexpected and idiosyncratic. Rhyme can’t relax. Ashamed that it is not natural speech or unobtrusive prose, rhyme, with an eye to critical acceptance, humbles itself and doesn’t fly. It solemnly clips its wings in deliberately pedantic or plain speech. It sputters hesitatingly in a tone-deaf manner in terms of mood and feeling. It orates in a deliberately measured and mannered technique—that often ends up as doggerel. When rhyme and meter are used in highly digressive and rambling types of rhetoric, in silly, acrobatic ways or not, it ends up serving humor, and never the sublime. All kinds of things can go wrong.

To demonstrate, we’ll look at a rhymed effort in BAP 2015.

The highest ranked, serious, rhymed poem in the anthology (it earned its ranking, to be honest, more from effort than accomplishment) is a brief poem by A.E. Stallings, “Ajar.”

The washing machine door broke.  We hand-washed for a week.
Left in the tub to soak,   the angers began to reek.
And sometimes when we spoke,   you said we shouldn’t speak.

Pandora was a bride;   the gods gave her a jar
But said don’t look inside.   You know how stories are—
The can of worms denied?    It’s never been so far.

Whatever the gods forbid,   it’s sure someone will do.
And so Pandora did,   And made the worst come true.
She peeked under the lid,   And out all trouble flew:

Sickness, war, and pain,   nerves frayed like fretted rope,
Every mortal bane    with which Mankind must cope.
The only thing to remain,    lodged in the mouth, was Hope.

Or so the tale asserts—    and who am I to deny it?
Yes, out like black-winged birds    the woes flew and ran riot,
But I say that the woes were words,    and the only thing left was quiet.

“Ajar” is a “math” poem—meter and rhyme are aggressively on display.

Proportion is a powerful tool, and perhaps the most important one in all the arts.

Content and meaning, prose’s virtues, even in the most rambling, off-hand manner of prose, has proportion, is expressed proportionately; in meter and rhyme, however, the virtues and potential failures increase exponentially.

Stallings escapes nothing by using rhyme and meter—she brings upon herself a thousand more potential problems. This is an obvious point, but we think not properly understood. Not only will she be judged by her sound, she will be read for her content, as well—which will matter more, not less, and further, she will be judged by how her sound—specifically proportionate sound—and her prose meaning, in every possible specific manner, commingle.

When someone is frankly talking to us, we let our guard down; we listen respectively to what they are saying.

But as soon as we hear the first rhyme, our guard goes up: we listen, almost against our will, with an extra sense, and think, “oh god is this going to be painful?”

There is much to be recommended in this poem; it is perhaps the most interesting in the whole book.

Its subject is Pandora and its ruling idea: the woes Pandora released were words, and the one thing left in the open box, was not hope, but quiet.

Stallings ends her poem with “quiet,” and the fact that “quiet” is a word is interesting in itself—and also we notice it is a feminine rhyme—lacking closure, sound-wise—so it fits in with “ajar.”

The first stanza implies a domestic argument ushering in an exasperated, compromising silence.

But then there comes three stanzas of rather pedantic recounting of the Pandora myth—and here proportionately defeats the poet, for there is too much time spent on recounting the myth; it drags the poem down.

Stallings is not fully in control of the music—there is some real doggerel here.

Lines like “nerves frayed like fretted rope” feel like filler.

When the poem says at the end, “But I say that the…” we as readers are not sure who the “I” is—is it the woman of the domestic dispute in the first stanza, or the poet?  The final stanza does echo the idea of “silence” which we got in the first stanza, but the speaker’s identity remains vague.  The poem would be stronger if we knew; but we never get a chance to know, for the majority of the lines in the poem are mere pedantry.

“The can of worms denied? It’s never been so far” is weak.

“And out all trouble flew” has a ponderous, spondaic rhythm, completely at odds with the idea conveyed: woes flying out of the jar quickly.  Or perhaps “out all trouble flew” is written intentionally that way, since the poet wants to make the action hefty and memorable.  But we don’t know.  And that’s a weakness.  If we have to stop and wonder about sound/sense, it fails, unless we are intentionally building ambiguity; but a poem will always eventually fall apart when ambiguity builds on ambiguity.

This is what we mean when we say the virtue of what Stallings is trying to do can quickly become a flaw.

And here we might mention the New Critics’ “Intentional fallacy,” and how much damage it has done.  We know how it was meant: just because you say you are going to do something, if you try and do it, and you can’t, your intention means nothing. So, the New Critics were anxious to tell us, it doesn’t matter what the poet intended to do.  This is correct, but only if we are speaking of macro-intention: I am going to move this rock.  But poems—especially this poem by Stallings—are full of micro-intentions, and if the micro-intentions are not clear, the poem fails.

To be musically serious in poetry demands the greatest skill; any pedantry or clutter quickly destroys the attempt, or it becomes humorous, as in the following excerpt, from another rhyming poem in BAP 2015, “Trades I Would Make,” by Cody Walker, a poem of non-sequiturs:

Gehrig, Unitas, Chamberlain (a bunch of dead jocks) for lunch with Redd Foxx.
A cat named Frisky for a vat of whiskey.


To live is to be in error all the time.

My poems are mistakes

Saved only by their rhyme.

You shouldn’t think I know what I am saying

In these mistakes, which surely are a mistake to write.

I write them for you, who are not mistaken.

Nor your kiss. Nor this night.



“The void is blind but has a mind.”  —old poem

This guy doesn’t have much to say.

But he’ll listen to you, even if you talk to him all day.

Stupid is smart.

The beautiful offend the ugly more each day.

Kindness pities the ugly—kindness works hard, so more ugliness will stay.

Stupid is smart.

The universal void has articulation—the something that comes from nothing, mere talk.

What really happens has nothing to do with what we say.

Consciousness of the void, of death, is painful; if you see me taking a walk

And talking to myself, that’s the poet mixing articulation with pleasure,

The hope and joy and beauty of lonely love.

Stupid is smart.

To think about truth (the void) is painful.

Consciousness as poetry is simply pleasure mixed with talk.

But pleasure made articulate is beautiful and what is beautiful offends the ugly.

The ugly conquer at last—their ally, the void.

Stupid is smart.

I was beautiful and articulate and loved you, and you dumped me.

You were beautiful but you saw ugliness closing in.

You were beautiful but you knew ugliness would win.

Stupid is smart.

That’s how you broke my heart.





Before we rank the 75, we’d like to observe a few things.

The 2015 BAP guest editor Sherman Alexie, in his personal, Foetry-influenced, “Sherman Alexie Speaks Out,” overview of his BAP selection process on the BAP blog, in the wake of the Fi-Yen Chou controversy, made a boast:

Alexie, for the job as BAP Guest Editor, had read, he thinks, “1,000 poems” last year.

But that’s only 3 poems a day.  Many of the poems in the 2015 BAP are 20 lines or less. How long does it take to read three short poems? Ten minutes? Five minutes? How long does it take to reject a short poem? If the few first few lines do nothing for you? Ten seconds?

Alexie writes, “I think BAP 2015 contains a handful of incredible poems and dozens of good to great poems.” [italics ours]

The editor, himself, admits that approximately half of the poems in BAP 2015 are less than good.

We heartily agree with the editor, but leaving aside the worth of the poems in the 2015 BAP for the moment—with increased access to all the poems published today, one cannot find, within a year, 75 good poems?—leaving this depressing thought aside for the time being:—if half the poems which made it to BAP 2015, by editor Alexie’s own admission, were less than good, we must conclude that most of the 1,000 poems he read were quite bad.

And so, Sherman Alexie couldn’t have spent more than ten minutes a day in his role as guest editor of BAP, actually reading poems.

Alexie speaks of his role of Guest Editor for Lehman’s famous series as a great honor. Why, then, so little effort?

Alexie does say that “it could have been” that he read “3,000 poems.” But again, the vast majority had to be less than good, and if we triple the number of poems looked at, we are still talking a half hour per day, total, reading poems to find the best poems for BAP 2015. Most people read FB for that amount of time before getting out of bed.

If we look at the first poem in BAP 2015, we find a poem that is so bad, it almost causes us to weep. It is difficult to imagine someone reading this, and not only not rejecting it, but liking it, and then, over time, re-reading it, judging it, and finally selecting it as one of the best poems published in 2015.

“Bodhisattva” by Sarah Arvio begins with the couplet, “The new news is I love you my nudist/the new news is I love you my buddhist” and it continues with treacly half-rhymes and sound references to ‘ring around the rosy,’ a love poem of the vaguest sort, which was chosen, we guess, for being cute, or nice, or daring to cash in on “nude” sounding like “new” and “new” sounding like “news.”

In his foreword to BAP 2015, series editor David Lehman earnestly defends Dylan Thomas, quoting these lines for especial recommendation: “Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,/Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” And, getting into his Thomas-worship, Lehman also quotes, “Though wise men at their end know dark is right,/Because  their words had forked no lightning they/Do not go gentle into that good night.”

We have a theory: since rhyme went out of fashion 50 to 100 years ago in the West, poets have forgotten why it existed in the first place, and it’s not rocket science: add definition and emphasis to both the poem’s musical flow (meter) and unfolding prose meaning.

What the forgetful poets have done, since the free verse revolution, is carry sound-correspondence back into their work, but in all sorts of silly, clumsy, cute, irrelevant and show-off-y ways. It is as if the human face were forgotten (“Though wise men at their end know dark is right,/Because their words had forked no lightning they/Do not go gentle into that good night.”) and now we adorn the torso with an eye here, a nose there:

In the BAP “Contributors’ Notes and Comments,” Arvio, who turns out to have a rather distinguished resume, pedantically lays out the sound resemblances in the poem for us, as if no one would notice them, and is simply happy to have them merely sitting there in the poem for their own sake, as if she had done some magical thing by finding the word “body” in “buddhist.” This just indicates what sort of poetic era we are living in: one of playful mannerism, lacking all seriousness.

The serious poems are almost all written in prose; stately mini-fictions: the poem by Glück, for instance.

The criteria for the best poems felt like the following: 1. Tell us something from your life. 2. Be sincere.

If this is “quietism” (Poe by way of Silliman) so be it.

One cannot simply wish that non-lyric poems be good, and have it be true.

The other criterion is apparently: 1. Pop reference. 2. Funny.

Of this criterion we do not, as we chuckle, quite know what to say. See “Trades I Would Make.”

Rhyme used for a serious purpose is very difficult to do, and especially these days, when august rhyme is viewed with great suspicion (think T.S. Eliot’s opinion of Shelley, to get an idea). Jokes are wonderful—and so is prose. If these two were not able to pass for poetry (holding a number of shared qualities) we would have practically no poetry at all today.

Judging these 75, we found ourselves forced to use the following criteria:

Was it amusing? Did it try my patience? Length-wise? Formatting-wise? Obscure-wise? Did it make any sense? Did it touch me emotionally?

The critical faculty which discerns quality poetry was largely in abeyance.

All poems in the volume appear to value most a template of idiosyncrasy, with the best of them reflecting, more so than the lesser ones, a life either felt or understood, and the very best, a life felt and understood.

We ranked the amusing poems above the pretentiously obscure poems—and the few really good poems above the amusing ones. Some were so amusing, we ranked them quite high. Can you blame us? The nature of what is published today as “poetry” made this necessary.

We see immediately, with the first poem in the volume, why Alexie could not bring himself to say that all the poems he selected were, if not great, at least good.

We cannot blame Arvio, or anyone in particular, that we now live in a time in which it is natural to use sound-correspondence for its own sake—in a manner which is goofily fanciful. The contemporary unspoken rule is this: do not consistently rhyme in a way that lends weight and power to what you are saying. If you must strive towards some semblance of poetic sublimity, always do it with tortured prose—or do it inauspiciously. Don’t be too good.

As we wrote in our now famous essay, “Why Poetry Sucks Now,” our modern era is different from any other, not because it lacks good (mostly prose) poetry, but because it actively publishes and promotes bad poetry; the public has lost faith in the poetry publishing apparatus—and has simply given up.

Here, then, are the 75 BAP poems ranked, from worst (“Stein”) to best (“Morning”)—or, more accurately: unreadable to readable but obvious/boring, to readable and interesting:

If My Late Grandmother Were Gertrude Stein

Vernacular Owl

Exhibits from the Dark Museum


There Were Only Dandelions

Relevant Details

The Chickasaw Trees

A fourteen-line poem on sex

A Scatology


Prayer at 3 a.m.

Cedars of Lebanon



The Main Event

from Citizen

There Are Birds Here

In the End, They Were Born on TV

On the Sadness of Wedding Dresses

Careful, I Just Won a Prize at the Fair

In Memory of My Parents Who Are Not Dead Yet


in the hall of the ruby-throated warbler

A Retrograde


Body & Kentucky Bourbon

Dear Black Barbie

City of Eternal Spring


Upon Hearing the News You Buried Our Dog

Candying Mint


Watching the Sea Go

My Husband

In a Black Tank Top


54 Prince

March of the Hanged Men

The Pickpocket Song

Slow-Wave Sleep with a Fairy Tale

How You Might Approach a Foal:

The Garden in August



Is Spot in Heaven?

Party Games


Similitude at Versailles

Endnotes on Ciudad Juárez

Crisis on Infinite Earths, Issues 1-12

Survivor Guilt

See a Furious Waterfall Without Water

Antebellum House Party

for I will do/undo what was done/undone to me

House Is an Enigma


WFM: Allergic to Pine-Sol, Am I the Only One

Ode to the Common Housefly

Looney Tunes

Poem Begun on a Train

A Common Cold

Goodness in Mississippi

It Was the Animals

The Joins

Subject to Change

The Macarena

Eating Walnuts

The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve


Trades I Would Make

For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike


Memo to the Former Child Prodigy

A Sharply Worded Silence

So Early in the Morning


Congratulations to Charles Simic for winning, and Glück for finishing second; of course these are unofficial, snap judgments.

No poet under 40 contributed a great poem; is this because writing a wonderful poem today requires a certain amount of maturity? If so, this would indicate, in contemporary poetry’s favor, that the whole person is involved in producing the extraordinary poem—not merely technical skill, insight, passion. Yet one suspects this may not be true, and it is only reputation (academic/publishing) that, by this or that nuanced path, places the poet in a position to receive the highest praise.





You strove to be good. And then you met me.
I measure myself by how much I can see.
I saw your hands and feet
And all your other things.
And found them sweet.

I heard there is a land where those like you
Must hide the foot within the shoe,
Where love is covered from head to toe.
Is this wisdom?  Or a desire to know?

Which tree are you in the wood?
Which singer in the choir?
I was knowing you only to know
The desire to know desire.

I love you more than what you are.
I also love what you represent.
I love your hands and feet
And also you, dressed in white, under a white tent.




Poised between her and her:

One who is here and one who is gone.

One switched me off and this one switches me on.

The one who switched me off was one I loved dearly.

The one who switches me on?  I see her a bit more clearly.

I think of the one who is gone

As a wife who wasn’t a wife.

She was a catch that wasn’t a catch,

A life that wasn’t a life.

This one here? The poet? Poetry cannot be steady.

She might leave me any day. Possibly

Today. But what is a poem? I am ready.




The muse of epic poetry’s father? Zeus.

We commonly think of sports as war by other means, and some even think of love as war, and the beleaguered, the poor, the clinically depressed among us, sadly feel life is war. And, of course, Darwinian nature is war.

Not only is war everywhere—in addition, we are faced with this sad truth: everybody is in it for themselves.

Well, here’s the good news—perhaps.

We love ourselves.

Our life, our heritage, our struggles, our beliefs, our experience, our friends, as it all connects with ourselves—we love ourselves, and even if we hate parts of ourselves, it is always the disappointment for someone we deeply love; who else, how else, do we find what we know in order to know the world, but through our own selves? We open our eyes and see the world, or close them—our eyes—and the whole world goes away. So the world, as amazing as it is, is ours in the most complete sense.  Love exists—foremost and always—for ourselves.

So why is war better for us than love?

Because of what we just said.

The depressing reality of life: everybody is in it for themselves is a reality of love. Wrap that around your brain for a moment.

Can we blame people for loving themselves over everything else? Of course we cannot. Love is involuntary, as we all know. How can we not love ourselves? The unthinking will thump their umbrella on the ground, or thump their multicultural textbook on the desk and cry out, “selfish!”

No. Involuntary self-love is not selfish. Self-love is simply the greatest love there is. It may take a moment, but cancel your righteous indignation. Wrap. Your. Brain. Around it. Self-love is the greatest love. Not because we don’t love the world. But because—we, ourselves—do. We love the world. We love the world as ourselves, loving ourselves loving the world: loving what loves—ourselves—more than anything.

So love—happy, unhappy, all kinds—is actually lonely and individual.

Who knows Mozart’s music? Who knows and loves it? Who truly loves the most beautiful things worthy of our love?

A crowd?

Ha ha ha!

No, not the crowd.

The soloist. That rare, and gifted, and self-practiced, and devoted and unique, and monk-like human being who lives with Mozart—in their brain and in their heart and in their hands.

The audience at a concert hall may love the sounds of Mozart they are hearing, but where is the love (of Mozart) truly found?

In the individual—the master soloist playing Mozart.

Love lives in the individual, not the group.

Now, you might object—I know you will, if you are like most—“Mozart? That is a rather rare and elitist example! What about…table salt that a friendly crowd, eating together, are enjoying?”

Ha! I reply this way: how egalitarian and noble of you, to imagine people enjoying the taste of salt! I bet you think you are very community-minded and down-to-earth, but your example refutes nothing I am saying.

The taste of salt is a common thing, but we experience the taste in our own mouths, on our own tongue, and lick the granules from our own lips. Take salt away from any individual at that table and we will see immediately how that individual howls in protest, and cries out, bereft of all the apparent ” community” to which, moments ago, he apparently belonged.

The most irrational and indignant types are those who champion the entirely abstract reality of tribe and community.

They are very irrational and they are very indignant. Annoying, if we must say the truth.

Because they lack love. And they lack love because they think it is found in the “unselfish” love of community, when, as we have just demonstrated, it is not found there at all. It lives alone in the individual, who in the monk-like devotion of their cell (their self) they have practiced, with their own hands, for hours and hours and hours, Mozart, in an orgy of selfish passion and love—with breaks in-between, eating salt, that temporarily sticks to their lips.

So war is better—in general, and for most instances, and for most people—than love.

Because only with war are alliances necessary.

We would be terribly lonely without war.

And by war, we mean anything which materially advances a group, short of bombing and killing—though, as we know, it sometimes will come to that.

Friendship, then, belongs to war—not to the lonely intricacies of love.

She practiced for hours and hours her Mozart, and had no friends.

Only through war do people other than ourselves even exist.

You—truly alone and inviolate—belong to love—and its terrible loneliness.

War, if you hate the burden of love’s loneliness, is your salvation—because war belongs to the group.

The wars over the silk trade, the wars over tea and coffee and cotton and tobacco and sugar…all the alliances which war enforces…war is the terrible mother of friendship and sacrifice.

War is life. Love is you.

Most don’t even exist as “you,” but merely as a reactionary part of some war machine, indignantly defending their race, their group, their clique, their empire, their plot of woolly ground, their cold, salty, whistle of sea.

The others will defy you—ah, they will—for as others they all belong to war.

Even poetry is war.

Publishing, broadcasting, and reviewing is thick with alliances and conquest.

Mozart, the one you vaguely know, is war, an expanding empire—which is the goal of all written words and written music.

The drums, marked to be played just this way, the sound of them, fill the auditorium, the void, the world—and your neighbors stamp their feet.

This very essay is marching to war. War, here, is our aim.

In my poem you would hear the same.

Perhaps you love the soloist—(it depends on so many things!) as they exit the stage?

Are you conquered and alone?

If you are, let the rest applaud; you have gone into that happy dream: loving, helpless, unreachable.








« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,386 other followers