POETRY MARCH MADNESS ELITE EIGHT!!!!!

NORTH

MAURA STANTON —WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

BEN MAZER —ALL IS URGENT, JUST BECAUSE IT GIVES, AND IN THE MIRROR, LIFE TO LIFE LIFE GIVES.

 

WEST

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS —THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

EMILY KENDAL FREY —HOW CAN YOU LOVE PEOPLE WITHOUT THEM FEELING ACCUSED?

 

EAST

LORI DESROSIERS —I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

JOIE BOSE —ISN’T THAT LOVE EVEN IF IT ANSWERS NOT TO THE HEART OR THE HEAT BUT TO THE MOMENT, TO MAKE IT COMPLETE?

 

SOUTH

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI  —DENIAL WON’T REDEEM YOU OR MAKE YOU LESS VULNERABLE.  MY UNWAVERING LOVE JUST MAY.

CHUMKI SHARMA  —AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME.

 

A great line of poetry is like fine cinema: you lose yourself in its message—which you arrive at, go into, stay in, and reluctantly but happily leave, feeling like everything outside is changed, that you know hunger and life a little better, a little more intimately, all because one poet in one line has made an entire film.  It is with the highest pleasure that we continue to present these winners, more winning in the judges’ eyes than the other winners: the lines of these elite eight are not only masterpieces of compression, one can die in them all day long.

Marla Muse: You say that very well, Tom. But just because you say it, does not make it so.

True, Marla. True.

Marla Muse: Don’t be sad, Tom. Look at the stars and the gates of poetry.  The stars shine for all, and the stars are all; in the circling heavens all will be well, and, look! it is perhaps well, even now.

AT THE END OF LOVE

At the end of love, love begins,

Love, having always loved,

Even as hate breaks hearts and grins,

Even as hate breaks hearts suddenly

Without warning. Do you remember how you did that to me?

I still loved you when you didn’t love me.

I kept my love alive. Love always wins.

At the end of love, love begins.

 

HOW CAN I NOT END MY POEM HERE

How can I not end my poem here,

Where the sentence ends, as love draws near?

The end of all ridiculous poems approaches,

The play has ended, the enormous coaches

Are pulled up in front of the grand theater

Which housed an exemplar of illusion

For an hour, dispelling the vague confusion

Which attends on us in our days without end.

The audience, I love less, of which you were not one,

Choosing instead to stay home and make fun

Of everything history has done to us

Of which historians make such a fuss

In their impotence, and expect us to make a big deal about, too.

The play is long over. But my poem is just starting to fall in love with you.

LET’S STAY HERE

Here, in the moment, here, where our eyes first met;

Here, this moment, this moment never forget;

Let’s stay here, in the liquid beauty of our looking eyes:

Ocean! Ocean—no shore, no sad-sounding bird shore cries;

The store front window, reflecting only skies;

Don’t go back into the store, into the labyrinth of lies

Where our lives exist; let’s live where you know mine and I know your eyes.

 

Make no movie, for that means so much work;

Different camera angles, other actors, the director is a jerk;

No; stay here, where the tremendous ocean sighs

With music; you have a love for clouds; clouds are imprisoned in the skies;

Skies of continuous clouds, clouds caught, appearing, going,

Clouds found nowhere else but in skies—skies which frown on their own winds blowing;

Our eyes knowing more about beauty and minds—than minds themselves are knowing.

 

Let’s stay here! In the superficial flatness of a frame,

Where many a dying lover has scrawled their forgotten name,

A space where all that wastes life, sadly and slow,

Wipes a flat life clean in an instant, erases everything we know,

But since we in the flatness live, we survive,

Where the eyes begin, always beginning, and alive;

Known, the beginning, when you looked at me and I looked at you,

The beginning of the beautiful. The beginning of the true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET SIXTEEN!!

Ben at Shays

Scarriet Poery March Madness first round winners have battled it out—and here are the final 16 contestants, the Sweet Sixteen!

These are extraordinary lines, evoking entire poems, entire books of poems.

Nicknames for this tournament have flooded in: The Mouse That Roared, Less Madness is More Madness, A Little Says It All, A Nutshell’s Unlimited Space.

The most common tropes in poetic history are all here in these magnificent microcosms: love, emotion, psychology, birds, music, fire, clouds, urgent definitions of time and space.

Marla Muse: I’m thrilled to death for all these poets!  What amazing lines!

We chose wisely.

Marla Muse: We did.

In the North

Maura Stanton: Who made me feel by feeling nothing

Ben Mazer: All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Jorie Graham: A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Molly Brodak: boundlessness secretly exists, I hear

In the West

Mary Angela Douglas: The larks cry out and not with music.

Cristina Sanchez Lopez: Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

In the East

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

In the South

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

 

 

STAY IN AND THINK ABOUT TOM

The law interns are crafting language for the next big case

That will surely destroy religion at last.

The stadium needs painting. Forget about that. It’s raining.

She was slightly surprised her neighbor’s children grew up so fast.

Now it’s raining. All that seemed rather interesting is gone.

Stay in and think about Tom.

There’s time in the bright days to laugh.

Sun makes life seem to go on and on

But the rain closes in and defines

Edges and endings. Stay in and think about Tom.

He’s tall, intelligent, brash, and slender,

Sensitive, clumsy, loves her like a dog,

Loyal, but irritatingly playful. Maddeningly tender.

Push him away in a foul mood and look he’s gone.

He wrote her too many poems. He should have stopped.

It’s raining. Stay in and think about Tom.

The finest notes of the slow movement resemble rain.

Of course she loved him, but it can never be the same.

She thinks of wind chimes. Stay in and think about Tom,

The mouth. The love that tried to make her a mom.

The pastry shop is open late. Movies can be watched

And sweet music heaves itself at her any time of day.

Stay in and think about Tom.

There will be time to do lots of things. Breathe.

She wants them but she never wants them to stay.

 

 

SNOBBERY ON THE LEFT

Alexis de Tocqueville: the French aristocrat who understood America—not!

It’s never said, but it’s an unspoken truth: the Left, not the Right, is the snobby political wing in the U.S.

If right means wealthy privilege and left means workers’ rights, how can the left be the snobby class?

As much as other countries mirror the U.S. this would be the case in those places, too, but it has its origins in America, and perhaps this counter-intuitive truth is one of the things that makes this country great, and odd, and complex, and lasting, and hard to figure out.

Who calls the United States an odd country?  No one.

But we are.

This explains us better than big, imperial, oppressive, warlike, free, democratic, great, all those epithets that get dragged out whenever this country is described.

Let any scholar describe the U.S. in historical terms, and within five minutes, Tocqueville, an ineffectual historian who made distantly bland, clichéd observations, is held aloft as the foreign genius who captured forever the American soul. What rot. Tocqueville covers up all that we really are. For the United States to be truly, or at least, partially, seen, America needs to wash Tocqueville out of its hair for good.

Tocqueville: Bor-ing! Not America!

Karl Marx, Margaret Fuller, Edgar Poe, Horace Greeley and the New York Tribune. Discuss. There. That’s better. Lafayette. Anyone. Not Tocqueville. Please!

Not that the boring, clueless, readership that eats up Tocqueville is not part of the American character.

It is.

The willfully ignorant and dull is truly one of the aspects of America’s greatness. Thickness and density is the secret to a healthy, anti-intellectual, “can-do” character.

What is too interesting carries Americans away from what they need to do: shoot guns, cut down trees. I say this without irony. One must shoot guns and cut down trees. America is the land of the shallow symbol, the no-nonsense, pragmatic “fool.” Every great country needs a certain ignorance and roughness, a purely mechanical nature. And in addition to this, plenty of dull scholars who have nothing interesting to say.

America has lots of this.

I love—but I also pity other countries, with their romantic passion and pretty scarves and almond-eyed women and beautiful churches and philosophy and poetry and fifteen kisses on the cheek.

The oafish simplicity of America has a practical, Niagara Falls energy.

If Ben Franklin had focused on poetry, his genius would have wound up in a quaint British anthology—and America would not exist.

We are too sophisticated for this image now, but the ridiculous picture of funny-looking Ben Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm is the essence of what America is—not the somber, placid beauty of the Statue of Liberty, but thank you, France.

France gave America a greater gift than even the Statue of Liberty: prose poetry.

Prose poetry provided jobs for millions of American intellectuals who were largely unemployed—having had the choice to either 1. write another picturesque nature essay or 2. produce still another parody of “The Raven.” The French rescued us just in time, arriving at our shores when America jumped into World War One—the very instant when Mr. Quinn, Pound and Eliot’s art collector/lawyer friend, got French art shipped over for the Armory Show.

As early 20th century Americans laughed at the newly arrived Cubism, a gift was created that keeps on giving: seeds to build a real intellectual class of pontificating elites. Modern art from France provided the basis, just in time, to further widen the gulf between American brawn and brains—-the secret to America’s odd vigor and contradictory energy.

America, by refusing to listen to intellectuals, made itself into a very pragmatic country. And the intellectuals of America made this easier by being so very stupid, themselves. By getting everything wrong in a Tocqueville-sort of way, America somehow made everything right.

Better a charismatic tree-chopper than a charismatic intellectual, or leader.

Lincoln mumbled for two minutes—and that was the greatest “address” America produced. Perfect!

Puritans made frowning faces in the wilderness and made the natives go away, or so says a symbol so empty, so full, so horrific, that it cannot be put on a shelf, or fathomed. It helped the rapacious Americans that our British overlords, our sworn enemies, allied with the natives, when they attempted to reconquer us in the War of 1812.

Winfield Scott was so polite when he conquered Mexico, he hung his own soldiers for spitting and swearing.

Then a few years later, Americans committed genocide against each other trying to win legitimacy in the eyes of London and Paris, bathing in blood Virginia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Very odd.

The British got Americans to come over to France and kill Germans, just two generations later, in what for some reason was called World War One.

When that war didn’t work out, Americans died killing Germans and Japanese all over the place, and after that war, the United States, her engines roaring, became rulers of the world, together with Mother England, who tucked us in every night, their royalty nearly becoming ours, as Joe Kennedy, the Irishman, played the role of ambassador to London, a prelude to Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to his son.

America’s peculiarly distant-yet-very-close relationship with older, dysfunctional, decrepit-but-still-highly-elegant, European powers is probably the chief reason why snobbery belongs to the Left in America. PBS is British-accented soap. Homegrown gun shooters and tree choppers propelled America to fantastic material success, sans subtlety or elegance. Modern art is the American counter-truth which possesses that acute combination of feelings of inferiority and superiority, which is at the heart of the complex snobbery only Americans know. Identity politics feature the same mixture of inferiority and superiority: Black (formerly despised) is Beautiful!!

The Left in Britain is defined by the Labor party.

The Left in America is defined by the progressive, witty and glossy pages of Vogue, or the New Yorker. (The American working class have no idea that the snobby New Yorker is left in its politics.) The American Left isn’t Labor. It’s comedians on TV who wear Armani suits.

Those who breed—because they breed—are considered right wing in America, and those who look down upon them belong to the Left. Liberals don’t breed.

The breeders in Britain are Left. Those who look down upon them in Britain belong to the Right.

In the U.S. it is the opposite.

There is no top class in America. There is only the aspiring class, and those who aspire in America are the snobs.

In Britain, those who go to college to improve themselves are part of the great unwashed, far below the ruling class. The British ruling class go to school, but just for show.

In America, education is the whole key to snobbery.  Where else can our snobbery come from?  Not from relentlessly ridiculed, low-brow celebrities.  And since the demise of the Kennedys, America has no ruling class—the “adult learner” single mom who takes online classes and supports Hillary Clinton manifests as much self-righteous snobbery as any duke or king. But the administrative educator (see Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty) in this adult learner’s academic department is true American royalty. Indispensable. Useless.

The American recipe for snobbery is: shop at Lord & Taylor, be in education, and don’t breed.  You will be a queen.  People will get out of your way when you walk across the parking lot.

A young woman from Brazil once told me, “American women are like men.”

America’s famous sexual freedom hardly exists, and has nothing to do with snobbery.

Snobbery may be defined in the following way: a wrong which is never spoken.

An American woman will never inform a gentleman:

“Sir, I have the right to fuck you if I want and then murder your child inside me.”

Those would never be the words she uses.

A rhetoric far more tasteful would be, “Christianity mitigates the excesses of democracy.”

This sounds like Tocqueville. Polite and plausible.

But then one might easily respond: “Democracy mitigates the excesses of Christianity.”

The sum of these two statements—both used for good or evil—is a nullity. One has said nothing. That’s the problem (and the secret social usefulness) of the polite and the plausible.

This is why the savvy, bland, respectable, intellectuals love Tocqueville.

The truly royal, the truly snobby, the truly impolite, the truly impolitic, have one rule.

They must say things in a certain way.

Some might argue that this American snobbery is not really snobbery or royalty—but something else. No. This is snobbery.

And the whole point is that America is very different from what anyone—especially foreign intellectuals—might suppose.

The symbols and platitudes of America are mostly false, and cover up a very complex nation.

But anything is better than Tocqueville.

Unless you wish to take a nap.

And when you wake up, it is guaranteed—America will be different.

 

 

 

ART AND DEMOCRACY

Art may be defined in the following way: an excellent example of excellence in the particular mode of that excellence.

Art is the example, the thing represented is the excellence.

Art is the borrower of excellence, but once that excellence is borrowed, the borrower becomes excellent, since excellence is purely excellent whether excellent in itself, or borrowed.

Because the thing is excellent, excellence exists, and therefore an excellent example must exist, whether an example par excellence is necessary, or not. Hierarchy exists, whether we want it to, or not.

The excellent example may be actual, or simply inferred as such.

For instance: The real and excellent example of a woman is excellent without any qualifications. A beautiful woman is not like a beautiful work of art; she is a beautiful work of art, given our incontrovertible definition above, and this is true without irony, and understood immediately, despite the fact that a woman par excellence shares countless physical attributes with other women.

Duchamp’s readymade art—the famous toilet, for instance, is art, also, because we infer that here is the best example of its kind—we do not know that it is the best factory-made toilet there is—but when it stands alone by itself, presented as an example, and we note a certain utilitarian beauty in its form, we give in to the general idea that here is an example par excellence—just as when we gaze, in reality, upon example la femme par excellence. Had we a real familiarity with the types of factory-made toilets, we might look at Duchamp’s piece and laugh: “That’s a poor example of a toilet! That’s not art!”

Warhol was actually spoofing Duchamp, not society, or the marketplace, or anything more profound, with his Brillo boxes and soup cans—no one could ever confuse Warhol’s ‘plain store item’ exhibit with an example par excellence—the only possible excellence is the beauty of the satire on Duchamp’s artificial trick, which featured a more mysterious, stand-alone object.

This is why Duchamp’s piece belongs to Modernism—art mocking the real—and Warhol’s to post-Modernsim: art mocking art, or more specifically, art mocking modern art that mocks.

In a democracy, we are all supposed to vote for the best people running for office. But the whole point of a democracy is that there are no “best” people; so we see the great dilemma. This is why a democracy is a necessary evil, thwarting excellence at every turn and creating art which looks like trash. In democracies, the artist makes art for the janitor—art that should be thrown out.

Duchamp (Modernist) made art of a factory piece, in which the example was inferred to be an excellent example of its (low) type. Warhol (Post-modernist) satirized this by presenting replicated examples (boxes, cans)—obviously not excellent. Post-post modernism seeks an even more iconic, primitive statement to escape this modernist chain of mockery—and so it arrives at what is essentially trash—but trash which cannot be thrown away by workers (janitors) who perform this important function within the institution. A hierarchy is established by the presentation of the lowest imaginable low (trash) which nonetheless is untouchable (janitors cannot touch it) because it “belongs” to the artist and curator, who are higher on the professional chain than the janitor. If this comes across as pathetic, it is; but let the reader attend any contemporary exhibition these days at a college or a museum, and see what is now passing as “art.” The janitors’ hands itch.

Preventing the janitor from doing his job, the “art” (trash) is displayed in a gallery and receives accolades, and no one is allowed to toss it. The Post-post artist re-positions himself outside democracy by frustrating the worker (janitor) and (symbolically) makes himself an “elite,” a person who is—excellent.

Capitalism and democracy are excellent examples of the ready-made and the throw-away, and it is easy to see this “excellence” in the culture, the politics, and art.

 

FIRST ROUND 2016 MARCH MADNESS WINNERS!

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

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

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

SUSAN WOOD AND LAWRENCE RAAB IN LAST FIRST ROUND BATTLE

Shakespeare gives his villains the best speeches—not because Shakespeare is villainous, but because he’s a good teacher.

Philosophy is the best teacher, and teaching sometimes features bad examples—in order to be good.

A good speech is always good.

Even when Iago is giving it.

No.

Because Iago is giving it.

If you are not a good philosopher, you are no poet.

In this final Scarriet Poetry March Madness First Round contest (our 32nd essay) we have two lines of an arresting philosophical nature.

Here is the first by Susan Wood:

The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

How can a line be better than a poem?

Quite easily. We sometimes see too little. But we always see too much. And for the most part, “say” can substitute for “see.”

The tantalizing aspect of this line is that yes, people do hold onto bitterness unnecessarily, so that it destroys themselves and others.

And yet, it may be a good thing for the “bitterness” to remain, for it may inspire—in those who remember it—all sorts of good—if the bitterness does not infect them.

The “simple fact” alluded to is that in either case, it is obvious to others when you “want” the bitterness to remain.

People are not as involuntary as they seem.

And yet, sometimes we can be blind for a time, and not see the obvious. Lawrence Raab:

nothing truly seen until later

But isn’t it amazing how often we do truly see at the very first moment?  And all the later complications are wrong?

But let us not argue with this line.

It will either win, or lose.

Now all of the lines in this, the 2016 Scarriet Poetry March Madness First Round, have been seen.

The final line sinks into abyss.

And we will see you later.

 

 

LES MURRAY AND JOE GREEN: FIRST ROUND BATTLE IN THE SOUTH

Language can do anything.

If you’ve read Emerson, you know how he says nature is a language, and the Poet, belonging to nature, is nature and speaks nature, and how do you like that?

Buying into this makes you either a brilliant genius or a complete fool.

If Emerson says you’re a genius, maybe that’s enough.

After all, you’re on his land, he knows Margaret Fuller, he went to the Harvard Divinity School, and he also knows T.S. Eliot’s grandfather, who founded a Unitarian church and a college in St.Louis, after he left Harvard.

Les Murray is slightly more skeptical.  He’s got a wing-ding line:

Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

What can you say to this?  You dare not say anything.  Or, you say a lot.

You can tell from this one line that Les Murray is a tough cookie, and probably wouldn’t have any problem punching Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nose, if it came to that.  (I’m not saying it would come to that.)

Joe Green is a different creature. Funny and shy.  He would apologize for being on Emerson’s land. “I’m sorry, sir. I was walking my dog and…”

Emerson would stare at him. Coldly.  For ten minutes.

Joe would be talking away.  Joe would get out his phone and ask if Emerson wanted to see pictures and stuff on the internet.

But let’s leave this scene. This is starting to get embarrassing.

Marla Muse: I don’t know why Waldo is so arrogant.

Emerson sermonized. That’s all he really did.  Here’s Joe Green’s line:

I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Joe Green is the human poet, the most human poet there is.

Marla Muse: I’m sure he will be glad you said that about him.

I can’t wait to see who wins!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRENDA HILLMAN AND LYN HEJINIAN

Poetry is most likely deemed successful if it does two things:

1. It describes what must happen.

2. It describes it as it must be described.

Most people, looking back at their lives, would say,  I could have, or should have, done it another way, sure.

Poets, however, tend to feel uneasy as poets unless they are able to say, I had to write that.

Most people might see their freedom as a certain point of pride: there’s nothing that I must do. I did that because I liked it.

But poets would almost rather say: I had to write those poems, and I had to write them as I did. I had no choice.

How else to explain the furious truth of this by Brenda Hillman:

Talking flames get rid of hell.

That had to be said. Only Brenda Hillman could have said it.

It talks of hell and how hell exists, but does not exist; it talks of how flames may or may not talk, and flames might be people or they might not be people.

It has the stamp of poetry, and there’s nothing more to say about it.

Marla Muse: What do you mean, Tom? You always have more to say.

This time I don’t.  I’m saying something which is too difficult to explain.

Marla Muse: Because Brenda Hillman said something too difficult to explain?

Yes.

Marla Muse: Tom, you are so awesome.

Thanks, Marla.

Lyn Hejinian’s line succeeds on the same principle:

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Obviously this has many meanings.

Marla Muse: Many meanings.

Marla, if you were not here to help me, I don’t know what I’d do.

Lyn Hejinian (pictured above) wants to be loved.

So does Brenda Hillman.

This tournament shows this from a certain angle.

 

 

 

RICHARD BLANCO AND CONNIE VOISINE: MORE MADNESS IN THE SOUTH

Is poetry democratic, or is it radically individual?

This argument is a good one, for both sides have a lot to say: language unites us, but what price to simply roll us all into a ball?

And yet what price obscure triviality?

Like all good arguments, to prove there really isn’t an argument at all is what the intelligent try—be accessible and unique: surely that’s possible?

Perhaps it’s not that easy.  Imagine you are at the podium in front of a crowd during the swearing-in of the president of the United States.  How can you possibly go for the surprising and the unique?

A podium in front of millions is surely where poetry goes to die.  Four years ago, Richard Blanco fought against that death with this:

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

This line marches along with a certain poetic solemnity: we like how “one sky” is echoed by “our eyes.”

And what could be more uniting than “one sky” and “tired from work?”  We can relate.

Perhaps this is all poetry is really striving for.  To speak for as many as possible, and to truly speak for as many as possible is all the poet can finally do.

What is the counter-argument?  Write a poem for this person, but not for that person.

Surely the universal is the best?

Connie Voisine, we get the feeling, did not write her line for the podium.  She was probably feeling reflective and calm.

And yet—her line may resonate just as much with the millions.  Why not?

The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.

Though we must concede that if someone knows exactly what oleanders look and smell like, they will like her line more.  Isn’t that true?

Marla Muse: Do you know what an oleander looks like, Tom?

Marla, I pass.

What’s interesting is hummingbirds are not heavy. That’s the poetry, many would say.

But as for oleanders, yes, how much does the audience know?  That matters, of course.

But does that in any way alter the formula?  Write to as many as you can?

Blanco wasn’t taking any chances: “sky,”  “eyes,” “tired,” “work.”

How safe is safe in March Madness?

Marla Muse: Not very safe.

Sky versus oleanders.  Only one can win.

 

 

 

 

 

CLAUDIA RANKINE VERSUS ROWAN RICARDO PHILLIPS IN FIRST ROUND SOUTH ACTION

Claudia Rankine wants to correct wrongs with her poetry.  She has gone about it in just the right way, and has made a name for herself (in poetry circles, at least) with her indignation.

Here’s what Edgar Allan Poe had to say about the Claudia Rankine School.

In Poe’s day, it existed in the person of William Wordsworth, an early environmentalist.  Romantic Naturalists, Early Environmentalists is a useful book on the subject: it credits Wordsworth’s influence on Emerson, and Emerson’s influence on John Muir.  Poe, too, loved nature—what Poe speaks to is any faith in poetry’s utilitarian value, a broader philosophical critique of Wordsworth and his “Lake School,” which included Coleridge and Southey—these two made plans (later aborted) to travel to America and live on a commune, similar to Brook Farm—a failed experiment of the Transcendentalists, a group Poe thought rather silly.  Nature is not the issue, but what is to be done to manage and protect it properly, and how much should poetry get involved in the process, or any utilitarian project.  Here is Poe:

As I am speaking of poetry, it will not be amiss to touch slightly upon the most singular heresy in its modern history — the heresy of what is called very foolishly, the Lake School. ***

Aristotle, with singular assurance, has declared poetry the most philosophical of all writing — but it required a Wordsworth to pronounce it the most metaphysical. He seems to think that the end of poetry is, or should be, instruction — yet it is a truism that the end of our existence is happiness; if so, the end of every separate part of our existence — every thing connected with our existence should be still happiness. Therefore the end of instruction should be happiness; and happiness is another name for pleasure; — therefore the end of instruction should be pleasure: yet we see the above mentioned opinion implies precisely the reverse.

To proceed: ceteris paribus, he who pleases, is of more importance to his fellow men than he who instructs, since utility is happiness, and pleasure is the end already obtained which instruction is merely the means of obtaining.

So, according to Poe, the utilitarians err in a very fundamental manner: they present instruction as the goal of pleasure (poetry)—which makes no sense at all, if we follow the logic.

Rankine’s line is this:

How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Her opponent is Rowan Ricard Phillips, who is more, perhaps, on the pleasing end of things, but we are not sure:

It does not not get you quite wrong.

We like the double negative. We like lines that are windows into something else, and for us, this line exemplifies the idea that anything can be anything and something can be exactly something within that anything when we are using language. Though many poets do not allow language’s slipperiness to dominate their poetry, some poets do.

We leave it at that.

The winner will be chosen by the muses and the gods.

 

THE EAST: FINAL FIRST ROUND CONTEST— TIM SEIBLES AND WILLIE PERDOMO

Poetry—because it is language—should not be able to capture lightning fast, complex, perceptual moments, should it?

But look at this by the poet Willie Perdomo:

I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

Or this, by Tim Seibles (pictured above):

That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger.

Poetry is able to do this because 1) perception is not instantaneous in the eye, but belongs to the brain 2) it involves parts.

All the poet has to do is combine intelligible parts in time to capture obscurely swift reality in remarkable ways.

Easier said than done, obviously, but we usually don’t think of poetry being able to do this.

Is language doing this as language, or as an actual recording device?

This is an exciting aspect of poetry that both these contestants display for us here.

Look fast!  The winner will be exact! And quick!

Marla Muse: Tom, you are such a tantalizing tease.  Is poetry merely speech, or a device that actually sees?

 

BEN MAZER AND WARSAN SHIRE FINISH THE FIRST ROUND IN THE NORTH

Poetry cannot resemble music—unless it reduces the wealth of words to a few musical words:

Shakespeare:

For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive.

Tennyson:

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Yeats:

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing

Why don’t the poets play this music anymore?

Is it the fear of using the same word more than once?  Remember that edict, drummed into us in school when we first learned to write good prose? Find another word. Don’t use the same word twice.

This doesn’t mean the edict, Use the same word over and over again, will necessarily work, either.

The poet Ben Mazer is fond of quoting one of his university mentors, the British critic Christopher Ricks: “There are no rules!”

But what if there is one rule: the mirror?

If there are no rules, there are no rules to break.

Some know this to be true: “There are no rules” is not a radical statement, but a conservative one.

Mirroring is done in architecture, song, painting, drama, and nature—and not long ago, in poetry.

Now the poets hardly do it at all.

The double—the reflection—the mirror—repetition—is not an artificial or old-fashioned idea..

“Dying, dying, dying” is less artificial than the most matter-of-fact prose passage in existence.

The error that has smashed the mirror is the error that has brainwashed the prose poets.

In this final first round contest in the North, Ben Mazer delivers the following:

All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Warsan Shire exploits the idea of the mirror more modestly, but powerfully:

I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

It doesn’t hurt that “mother” and “father” and “together” mirror each other, sound-wise.

The profundity of this line is as plain as the nose on one’s face—which is the best mirror there is.

 

 

 

SEAN O’BRIEN AND MELISSA GREEN KEEP THE MADNESS GOING IN NORTH BRACKET

Melissa Green studied with Derek Walcott at BU, in the same classroom Plath studied with Lowell, and was a friend of Joseph Brodsky—who considered her one of America’s best poets.

She has a challenge in going up against Sean O’Brien, who gets a rhymed couplet as his line in the tournament (though it is one sentence, one thought)—the tournament judges allowed O’Brien (short-listed for the latest T.S. Eliot Prize) to be represented this way; one of those rulings which caused some grumbling, but poetry and life are often both a grumble, and there you go.

We shall introduce O’Brien’s earnest line first, and then finish with Green’s quiet one, so she has a chance.

‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

This is the sort of verse-adding-power-to-rhetoric which we just don’t get much these days.

It is as if truth has its own emotion, one that verse finds—and we find this intoxicating—firebrand intellectual that we are.

Marla Muse:  I remember when God was a Poet.  This sounds like that.

Marla, you remember when that was so?

Marla Muse:  That was when He loved me.  Muse. And God.

Marla, your presence in this tournament is invaluable.

Marla Muse:  Well, of course. But I thank you, Tom.

When the devotees of the Muse approach you in their dreams, what do they say?

Marla Muse: It’s mist and wind. I feel them in my heart. Warm coins of praise. (She falls to the floor)

Marla! Are you OK?

Marla Muse: (Still in a swoon) I’m fine.

[Confusion in the tournament stadium. Order restored.]

Now here is Melissa Green’s line, and the best of luck to her:

They’ve mown the summer meadow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE NORTH: MAURA STANTON AND PETER GIZZI

It is what you do not say that matters most in poetry.

But how do you not say something?

If I could tell you I would let you know.

This happens to be one of W.H. Auden’s best lines.

See?

But Auden is dead, so he’s not in this tournament.

Peter Gizzi is, and Gizzi has published haunted lyrical poems for some time now, and shows he understands the trope with this line:

No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Downplaying things is the modern way in poetry.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, though, was good at it, too:

Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.
 ..
Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.
 ..
For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.

“Corridors of Time” is weak. Poe excoriated Longfellow on many occasions for things like this.

But “The Day Is Done” by Longfellow as a whole is still a magnificent poem. Longfellow doesn’t downplay rhythm in his poem. He wants to rest, but his poem doesn’t.  Longfellow was a professor at Harvard, had married into money, was very famous, and Poe was a little bit jealous.  Yet Poe tended to be correct in all his criticisms of Longfellow. Jealous does not mean wrong.

But some say, oh they do say, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Maura Stanton is Gizzi’s opponent, and her line—which is about everything because it is about nothing—is one of those lines we all wish we had written.

We didn’t, and because we didn’t, we weep that Maura Stanton did.

Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

 

 

 

 

ROBERT HASS AND TRACI BRIMHALL IN FIRST ROUND NORTH BRACKET BATTLE

The very, very small things, the mundane things, are immensely important.  The mighty know this.

But it’s one thing to take care of the small things—quite another to obsess over them.

Somewhere between the slob who does not care and the fop who does, genius lies.

To win, all you have to do is be in the middle somewhere.  Just avoid extremes.  Be energetic, but avoid the edges.

Marla Muse: Are you talking basketball, or poetry?

Both.

And chess. Chess players always say: control the middle of the board. A piece in the middle of a chessboard is potentially stronger, because it has more moves.

Getting yourself in the middle of the action (or passing to your teammates in the middle of the action) produces opportunities in a game of basketball.

And in poetry, one must be understood in a beautiful manner: looking good and being understood are middlebrow all the way.

We don’t know if Robert Hass, one of the better known American poets alive today, is a genius, but he is astute enough to know what we have outlined above.  Here is his line:

So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

How true!

Traci Brimhall, an up and coming poet, has an exquisite line which works an ordinary image: a seashell.

Many lesser poets wouldn’t dare to write about a seashell.

Lesser poets would consider a seashell to lie too far towards the middle ground of Poetry Land.

Can’t you see the avant-garde poet scratching his beard, and with a smirk, saying, No.

The avant-garde poet is wrong. The center is where you want to go. The genius instinctively knows that the uncanny and the beautiful dwell more in the feelings and objects everyone knows than anywhere else.

Here is Traci Brimhall’s line:

I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

If we have spelled her line right, we believe Traci Brimhall’s chances in the tournament are awfully good.

 

 

MORE FIRST ROUND NORTH ACTION: ANNE CARSON AND MOLLY BRODAK

Hearing is what we do when we read poetry.

Some people think we see poetry.  We don’t.

We are capable of seeing things in our minds, and some see certain things more clearly in their minds than others, but poetry is not what people see.

Some theorists—who talk a great deal about “image” in poems—will disagree.

This was the great error Modernism made.

These pedants can talk about “image” all they want.

Poetry is never seen.

This is why we are especially enamored of the two lines in this contest.

The first one, from Anne Carson, has a desperate urgency which affects us deeply:

don’t keep saying you don’t hear it too

By denying sight to poetry, we don’t want to seem merely contrary and dense, as if poetry were nothing more than trembling inside an ear.  Of course it is more.

Poetry—to be poetry—must possess a certain philosophical delicacy—it must make an impression on our being-within-the-world.

Does this sound too German?  Es tut mir leid.

The second line, from Molly Brodak (pictured above), is philosophical, yet without Carson’s urgency; it is lovely and languid, and we know Marla Muse will love it:

boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Marla Muse: Oh God. I do like it.

Marla, Marla, I hear one of these poets must win and move on.

 

 

 

BACK TO THE NORTH: MARY OLIVER VERSUS CHARLES HAYES

There are two types of nature poets: those who use nature to comfort, and those who use it to scare. Nature can do both.

Nature poets must realize that we—the humans, the poets—don’t call the shots.  Nature does.

We always think of Ted Hughes when we think of a nature poet who makes nature scary.

As far as the other kind of nature poet, we usually think of Thoreau, who has a certain poetry in his diaries, or, of course, Wordsworth.

Love nature, you silly humans, is what the typical bombastic, tedious, boring, sentimental nature poet does, and, if we equate God and nature, which we can easily do, we include the priests.

Wordsworth is duller than Byron, Shelley, and Keats, because this is what he does sometimes.

Shakespeare can’t be called a nature poet; in the Sonnets, Shakespeare says, Since I love you, respect nature.

According to Shakespeare, nature does two things: it kills and it reproduces.  Nature is not a comfort to Shakespeare, but a prod.

Nature, for the old priests, and the old poets who write of death, is a prod of God.

For nature poets like Mary Oliver, nature is God, our comfort and salvation.

Mary Oliver takes on the role for herself of what she perceives nature to be, a very kind mother, and she comforts us with these words:

You do not have to be good.

The other poet in this contest, Charles Hayes, loves nature, too; he published a book on saving the Hudson river.

But we were just looking for good lines of poetry for March Madness, and we liked this by Charles Hayes for its compression and drama:

Her sweaty driver knows his load his fair.

It has a certain chivalrous pathos that we like.

It doesn’t have a moral.

File it under, “You don’t have to be good.”

Good versus fair.

Now that’s a contest.

 

SARAH HOWE AND EMILY KENDAL FREY: FIRST ROUND WEST BRACKET ACTION

Here’s another Madness contest which splits our brains—the infinite gulf poets navigate—between imagery and speech, between showing and telling, between photograph and rhetoric, between gazing and sermonizing.

Sarah Howe, a youngster who just won the T.S. Eliot Prize, snaps, snaps, snaps with her camera:

the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze

And there the eye goes, to the juniper—with thought hurrying to catch up.

But since the eye can’t really “see” poetry, thought gains, and takes the lead, and universities are founded—where they teach Endless Reddening Haze 101.

Meanwhile, Emily Kendal Frey asks the eye to do nothing, appealing to the Muse in a completely different way:

How can you love people without them feeling accused?

This line goes to the heart of all social and romantic confusion.

And a juniper does not have to be mentioned.

Pictures unite us immediately, for every reader, whether they want to or not, see what the poet has seen, and language is precise enough that we all “see” the “razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.”

Showing is something which poetry can do.

If we watch a really good dancer, we might think to ourselves, boy they are good, without enjoying the dance itself.  We love what the dancer can do, but we don’t love the dance.  And yet, loving what the dancer can do, we will still stand around applauding with others, because of what the dancer is doing, and have a good time, united with the appreciative audience.

Telling is something poetry is.

Thought is less direct in the showing that poetry does, because first the poet has to say, I am going to show the reader this particular thing I see, in order to present a poem which…

Thought is more direct in the telling of poetry, because they are the same.  The following is a thought: How can you love people without them feeling accused?

The combination of “love” and “accuse” is what makes the thought startling and interesting.

It is a psychological truth that has a certain original force.

But does Frey’s line “unite” everyone immediately?

No, because some would say: this doesn’t make any sense. To love is not to accuse. Not in my world, anyway.

But the psychologically subtle, the psychologically astute, will understand the truth of this line—it is wise, for it contains a deep understanding of human psychology.

We apologize if all we have said so far is a truism, and nothing about poetry has really been said.

Or, perhaps poetry lives in those places where nothing about poetry can really be said.

The juniper rattles, accusing us, no matter which one of these poets wins.

CRISTINA SÁNCHEZ LÓPEZ AND DENISE DUHAMEL IN MORE FIRST ROUND WEST ACTION

We have to be careful with poetry.  It is likely to be like a looking glass in which we enter—and never return.

But of course poetry will immediately laugh, and ask, “Return?  Return to where?”

Poetry should not be laughing, because poetry can swallow us up, and bring us down to Hades—and force us to live in a world without light—it can.

The others, the non-poets, walk about in a cloud of language; language arms them, language lives inside their heads, and yet, in the sunshine, among other non-poets, among painters, and advertising executives, they are free.

Only the poets are forced to live in darkness.

In that darkness fungi grow, and with the gentle lapping of the swamp waters in the back of the poet’s brain, the poet will answer you slowly, “What? What did you say?”

In the fantasy we have just drawn, poets are different; but of course they are not.

The laughter of the poet is true.

The poet cannot be brought anywhere, or returned anywhere.  The poet breathes the fresh air of heaven. And can talk and sing and paint. Poetry just helps the poet a little bit to be in all ways more human.

As da Vinci the painter boasted, poetry means nothing to an animal, but a painter, with his depictions, can fool any bestial eye.

Poems live with humans—but are really not such a bad thing for that.  Animals, after all, are delightful for being like humans; humans are not charming who act like animals.

Denise Duhamel has fashioned a line from deep, human, sorrow. Poetry can travel, if it wishes, into dim realms of human shame:

it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Does this line make us feel sorry for the poet? Or is it beyond the person, and hinting at a secret truth: beauty and desire will always be the same, and in them, feeling and seeing are the same, and this is a torture that kills us all?

Cristina Sánchez López (pictured above) is letting her line of poetry take us upwards, towards the light, even as she gently reminds us with her line that poetry belongs more to hearing and time than to realms or regions—although we know there can be regions of pure sound:

Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

To forget occurs in time. But what do we forget?  Ourselves. Poetry is the self living in time. Poetry is faith that time will make us beautiful. Poetry belongs to this region, to this region the poets, and those who love them, constantly return.

ANDREW KOZMA, NATALIE SCENTERS-ZAPICO IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

Edgar Poe talked of two kinds of writing:

One discloses what we ourselves had thought before.

The other seems to us wholly original.

Either one gains our approval, though in the case of the former, we may remark to ourselves, “how could it be that no one has observed this before?”

So it is with this lovely line by Natalie Scenters-Zapico:

apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

One could listen to this line all day, and one can see all sorts of things in it (man vs. nature, etc) as one listens to it.

Andrew Kozma’s line is more complex because it does not have the easily recognizable, profound clarity of his opponent’s line:

what lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

This line has several parts: We have “lies” between two people, separated by love of the “living” and love of the “dead.” There is a delicious ambiguity which intoxicates us—due to a misty evocation of that border line between life and death, and the love which can attend on both.

The implication is that these are powerful lies (“what lies we tell”) and the stark contrast maintains its delightful ambiguity in the context of these two must be lovers.

Is the poet boasting that he loves the “living,” whereas his poor, sorry lover merely loves the “dead?”  This is one possible reading, and if this was all the line was saying, it would be weak.  But the ghosts of the “dead” will not be turned away from this line, and its mysteries, and this doubt makes the line very powerful.

Poor poetry must use doubts to be strong.

Be strong, Andrew.

You might still win this thing.

 

 

MORE WEST ACTION: ROSS GAY VERSUS DONNA MASINI

We at Scarriet have never really liked poetry that does not use punctuation, or uses a great deal of white space.

Written speech is not a magic island or a fancy island in a white sea; it is just an island: what the words and punctuation say is what the poem says.

We have always found Charles Olson and Ezra Pound dubious, if not offensively stupid, in their efforts to overturn the “old poetry” with “new” notions of gnosis and transformative knowledge, in which body and breath liberate us from time and space, escaping old dualisms and old habits, blah blah blah. No one defending this silly stuff has ever proved any of it, even for a second.  It exists only in the minds of the gulled. Early 20th century manifesto-ism nearly killed poetry, yet scholars still speak in hushed, reverent terms of: H.D., Imagiste.

We are confident that nothing we say on this subject will change anyone’s mind—in fact it may convert a few against us.  Psychology is the great anti-science amassed against the reasonable: it laughs at reason’s reasons.

Ross Gay has a line which skips punctuation, but we are sure what we have said will not prejudice anyone against it.

If we argue for punctuation in all instances, we may still like the following, anyway:

One never knows does one how one comes to be.

We hear does one? as a stage aside.  The lack of punctuation gives the line a dramatic turn.  The mystery involves punctuation; the limb works when it is gone.  It is like what Mozart said about music living between the notes.  But of course you still need the notes, Herr Mozart.

Some of us believe punctuation belongs to speech, but not thought—do all of us think without punctuation?  Alright go downstairs now it is probably warm out now don’t forget your jacket.

Or perhaps very intelligent people think with punctuation added.  Who knows?

If there is one notion pondered more than any other by intelligent people, it might be this one: One never knows, does one, how one comes to be. 

And perhaps this is another thing which makes Ross Gay’s line interesting:

Because it has no punctuation, it resembles a line “inside our heads,” a thought.

But the use of “does one,” makes it sound like the poet is talking to someone.

If one were writing it more as a “pure thought,” one might write it this way: How did I come to be?

Donna Masini, the poet matched up with 5th seeded Gay in this West Bracket contest, has a line which sounds a similar note of reckless resignation: a tragic resignation, and yet with a shrug, or even a smile.

Gay and Masini might be reflecting the fact that stoicism and resignation have replaced Romantic yearning since Edna Millay went out of style among highbrows as Modernism took over the academy in the 30s and 40s.  Recall how Millay, pondering death, was “not resigned?”  Poets today are more likely to say, Oh gee, fuck it, I’m trapped, gotta die.

Masini: Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Masini could be addressing this line to Millay, herself, who, it was rumored, carried on a bit in the sexual department.

Dear Edna. Even sex is no exit (from the predicament of mortality).

But then we have the wonderful,  “Ah, you exist.”  Which is just wonderful, and we are not sure exactly why it so wonderful, but we suspect it has a little to do with the fact that “exit” and “exist” are alike in sound, and the sound of the word “sex” hides in “exit” and “exist,” too.

Masini’s line uses punctuation, which recommends it.

For even if the poet is thinking this to themselves, they could think, “Even sex is no exit.”  And then walk for half an hour, and then think, “Ah, you exist.”  We like that.

Not so if it looked like this: Even sex is no exit ah you exist.

Just so you know: we like Masini’s chances.

But Gay has a good chance in poetry march madness you never know do you.

KEVIN YOUNG AND MEREDITH HASEMANN CLASH IN THE WEST

In the old romance movies, women could not make up their minds in love, and the gallant men who loved them carried on calmly until they did. Chaos was a female weakness to be overcome by male sacrifice and stoicism.

Today, we laugh at this old notion, and think more along the lines that chaos or indecision lies more with the male gender, and, secondly, all kinds of chaos in general is actually the true way of things.

Romance movies haven’t changed that much, romance being what it is.

But a lot of people will still say that chaos is life, not art.  A chaotic poem is boring, even though chaotic life may be thrilling.

The poets, however, like most intellectuals, are not really worried about chaos.  Chaos is now kind of cool. The intellectuals have accepted it.

What is not cool in the eyes of the poets and the intellectuals is modern life’s unthinking bad taste.  Intellectuals are consumed with how much society sucks.

Chaos?  Death?  Who cares about that.  The real tragedy of life?  Fast food.

We see these ideas expressed in this Round One West Bracket contest between the poets Kevin Young and Meredith Hasemann.

I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Kevin Young is having great fun here, and the line is delightful. And behind it all, we hear the criticism of the “fast food” way of life, as if a McDonald’s cheeseburger was, in fact, the end of civilization.

Hasemann complains similarly.  The ways and manners and devices of mankind encroach upon the freedom of nature:

The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

So we want the female to be free.

To eat men.

Fried in cheese.

This should be an interesting contest.

 

 

 

PATRICIA LOCKWOOD AND CANDACE WILEY IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

The poet is no different than anyone else: there is a middle ground of normalcy which they need to work in, to get along with others and be understood. It doesn’t matter how obscure the vocation—and the more obscure, the more it is understood that there is an acceptable swath of acceptable behavior required to be accepted in that niche.

Motorcycle clubs demand leather and black and if you stray from the norm you will be seen as a freak—by the other freaks. This paradox needs to be pointed out to understand what everyone is up against.

The great middle ground of acceptable behavior is much, much larger than we often realize, and to “think outside the box” has to be done in the context of the “box,” so that even to rebel is to do so in the context of normal. So, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” for instance, is a very religious song—if you look at it the right way.

Some people think that to be “poetic” is to be out of the mainstream.

No.

The “poetic” is more mainstream than the mainstream.

All radicalism comes out of the mainstream and goes back into the mainstream, in order to truly corrupt the mainstream—if it can. The mainstream wins in 99 cases out of 100, and simply drowns you: That poem? It sounds like a million others.

And in that one instance when the “mainstream” is changed or defeated, it is done by showing the mainstream itself, in a very clever way, how to be more mainstream than it was before. The “revolution” is for “the people,” right? And what is more mainstream than “the people?”

Here, then, is the mystery of radicalism and fame, beauty and fame, poetry and fame.

The mainstream hates fame.

The mainstream is the mass of people who give you completely blank looks when you read them a “famous” poem.

The mainstream wants to eat cookies on a green couch and then find a better machine to get the crumbs out of the inside of the couch.

The mainstream will never care about your poem—even if your poem is about cookie crumbs in a couch. Especially if it is about that. Or about cookies. They want to eat cookies, not hear a poem about cookies.

Poetry is not dirty, filthy, life. This may be a mainstream comment, and yes, it is a mainstream comment.

The mainstream is where you find fame, but the mainstream will do everything it can do to prevent you from being famous. The moment you pander to the mainstream, you will drown in that great swath of normalcy which is where fame goes to die. The mainstream will only be famous on its own terms—and all of us on the outside know what that’s about. And the famous? They are on the green couch giving an interview. And they are not poets.

So you are working in this niche called poetry—and within the poetry niche is a bigger swath of mainstream than in the world outside the niche of poetry. Yes, that’s right. The smaller and more specialized the niche, the more peer pressure there will be to conform to the rules—spoken or unspoken—of that niche.

If you act like a jerk in a bar, someone will let you know within two hours.

If you’re not the right fit in a sewing club, you will find out in two minutes.

If you can’t sing, and try to sing in a choir, you will find out in two seconds.

If you walk into a formal gathering wearing informal clothes, you will find out in 2/10 of a second.

But if you hang out and get along, how will you be famous? How will you be an interesting poet?

The answer?

First, belong to no clique, or club. If you are a poet, stay the hell away from all “poetry clubs.” Or, hang out in them with secret animosity and ridicule.

Second, see what the mainstream is doing, what it wants, on a very practical level, and then replicate and exaggerate what the mainstream strives to do to meet this most primitive need in the most obvious manner, and present it to the mainstream in the most efficient way possible, genre and niche be damned.  A classic example of this is Dante inventing the modern lyric by viewing the new poetry as simply a love letter to a girl who had no Latin.

Patricia Lockwood—her poem, “The Rape Joke” went viral on social media a few years ago—is currently the coolest poet living today—trust me, she is; but it is the very nature of cool to die fast—so says the mainstream. So, as her window closes, we present her line:

How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel Marry Across Niagara Falls on a Tightrope?

Candace Wiley will be immediately recognized, from her line, as a worthy opponent in the super cool department:

My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

The cool, anti-mainstream poets live in a vast forest of mainstream symbols:

Niagara Falls! Your honeymoon destination! Your place to risk your life in a barrel! Barbie! Greatest Racist Sexist Mainstream Doll of All Time!

Lockwood versus Wiley is a vast contest in a vast middle ground.

March Madness cannot contain them.

The tickets are going fast for this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.E. STALLINGS AND ADA LIMÓN MIX IT UP IN THE WEST

Sometimes we are amazed at how close poetry is to music.

Both arts tells us what to listen for in time.

Music can be explained as simply as this: here is a musical note—and now—listen to this one which follows. What is this? This thing called music? It has its own interest. It is nothing in itself and the composer can even dally behind the listener, so easily does the whole thing move forward entirely on its own.

A.E. Stallings is simply being a musician when she says:

The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Music vibrates our ears; the effect is involuntary, and poets—the good ones—play music by making the poetry as involuntary as possible.

Which means being as deliberate and definite as possible.

The poet should leave no doubt as to what the tune is; and should not be like an out-of-tune instrument—which is the most unpleasant thing it is possible to hear.

The poet should not waffle.

“The woes were words.”

The absolute equivalence makes a lovely sound. Woes, words. Got it. And now we are ready for: “and the only thing left was quiet.”

So there are no more words, Stallings says.

But wait. Quiet is a word.  A dovetailing harmony. A play on words. The operation is musical as much as it enters our mind without effort. If we are aware of effort, or contrivance, it irks us like a pun, and is a lower order of poetry for that.

This line by Ada Limón (pictured above) has a loveliness that plays the instrument of the poetic faculty effortlessly, and is all the better a line because of this.

Her word “ours”‘strikes our senses like a beautiful chord (and sung perhaps by a choir?)

just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours

To make this music, our poet must be precise, as “disorderly” as those clouds may be.

In the hush that follows, judgement, like a lizard, flicks its tongue.

We must pick a winner. But the song is barely sung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN AND LORI DESROSIERS: FIRST ROUND EAST

The best competition is love.

These two poets—Rubenstein and Desrosiers—in this Scarriet Poetry March Madness battle, could never, in their wildest imaginations, imagine this contest: their lines meeting in any manner, much less like this.

We are only imagining it now ourselves, without a clue as to the outcome. We imagined a Madness, and that’s all we really needed to do.

In the lines themselves, we see the extent of these poets’ far reaching imaginations.

Says Raphael Rubinstein:

Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

But is this imagination? Isn’t this just plain fact?  The fact that we write for others?

To answer this question, we’ll say this:

It is never a matter of something being factual—or not. It is never that simple. The fact that we write for others can be overturned in an instant—because pure solipsism is possible in writing, and perhaps even preferred, if not the actual fact, since we can be our own audience—we couldn’t write coherently, otherwise. So here we see Rubinstein’s wounded fact—“every poet thinks…” is merely something he is imagining. He imagines he has an audience, when he really doesn’t. And yet, for his line to be read and understood, he does—have an audience.

So Rubinstein, in his line, is imagining—and yet not. Factual—and yet not.

His wit is on display, and we are not sure whether he should be applauded for it, or whipped.

I think we can praise him. The greatly imaginative are always partly factual and partly not.

It is not so much that imagination loves facts—as facts love imagination. The world loves its God.

Now comes Desrosiers to add a beautiful idea to what has been said:

I wish you were just you in my dreams.

How deliciously and wonderfully ironic.

We wish and dream for what is neither wished nor dreamed.

We want the facts—in our dreams.

And we don’t want them anywhere else.

We want to wish for our facts, but not have them.

We want to dream our audience even as we know the last thing they are is a dream.

The poem becomes a fact when it hovers in the mind as a desire for a fact.

This March Madness contest may just be the strangest one so far.

And whose fault is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOO BEAUTIFUL IS BEST: AN EASTER POEM

You may know the beautiful—-
And those who aspire to be beautiful—and all the rest.
But for tears and poetry that transforms,
Too beautiful is best.

Too beautiful to have, too beautiful to rest,
Too beautiful to want—too beautiful
Is truly beautiful. Too beautiful is best.

You whisper your love to the beautiful,
In long paths, holding hands.
With the too beautiful you cannot speak
For reasons only the beautiful understands.

Lie beside the remembered, and rest;
The remembered fits inside of pictures;
Remembered is remembered as it dies, beautiful, in the west—
A boiling horizon of tamarind trees—
Remembered—a scent in the midnight breeze—
Dying, and beautiful.
But too beautiful always is.

You may know the beautiful—
And those who aspire to be beautiful—and all the rest.
The beautiful you know are beautiful.
But too beautiful is best.

 

 

 

 

 

I GOT READY FOR LOVE, NOW I GET READY FOR DEATH

I got ready for love, now I get ready for death,
With the same uncertainty, the same excited breath,
The same thrilling heartbeat, the same glad sadness,
The same restraint, the same dignity, as I hide my madness.

You saw me on the street, I smiled and said hello.
After a little conversation, I smile again. And go.

 

PHILIP NIKOLAYEV AND CHANA BLOCH IN EAST TUSSLE ON GOOD FRIDAY

We might observe on this Good Friday: we have a March Madness battle in which two poets bring lines springing up with a noticeable spiritual passion.

Philip Nikolayev wins every debate with his sword of logic, his shield of Aristotle, and his slippers sewn at Harvard University.

Nikolayev has a much better sense of humor than Waldo Emerson—and thank God Emerson remained frowning.  Had Mr. E. cracked a grin, the result would have been hideous. When Nikolayev laughs, it is all over for you: there’s nothing you can do.  Most American poets of note attended Harvard, as did Nikolayev—one listens attentively to the serious ones; the humorous ones, however, awe, and even intimidate us.  When T.S. Eliot tells a dirty joke, we are vaguely uneasy; what great poets do under the radar tends to stay under the rug, since greatness just will not be found there.

Nikolayev, now in youthful middle age (doesn’t it seem the world is getting younger?) found time a few years back to write a great “undergraduate” poem, with one part druggy danger, two parts innocence, and some sentimentality, and as we read this line on this day, it does advertise a certain spiritual largess:

I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Oh God. Beautiful.

But wait, here comes Chana Bloch, translator, professor, Judaic scholar, poet, with a line from a poem which was published in the 2105 Best American Poetry.  In the poem, the poet is observing a piece of pottery. The line soars with spiritual significance—how can you deny it?

The potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

There is some poetry that puts you in church; you can’t help but think, poetry is just another way of being religious.

Which came first, the poem or the psalm?

Who can walk into a poem and not believe in it?

What makes the pleasing scent of a poem rise up into the air?

Is religion a shadow of poetry, or is poetry the shadow?

Is is possible for the poems of pagans to infect the holy, if the holy needs the poem—so the divine might sigh?

STEPHEN STURGEON AND SUSAN TERRIS IN THE EAST

There is the sort of poetry which is shy and odd.  Here is no titanic novel, no Lord Byron of a thousand rhymes, no comedy, no tragedy, no autobiography, no song.

It is the sort of poetry that looks at you and says…yes?  Did you want something?  Were you looking for someone?

It is the poet who is so not cool, they are cool.  Or, so cool, they are not cool.  And so on.  And they secretly hate you—or love you.  You can’t tell.  They sit across from you for an evening and say nothing—with words, or otherwise.

Theirs is the sort of poetry that is a little bit funny without any effort at all, and for a moment they might have you thinking that to be a little bit funny with no effort at all is really the greatest thing it is possible to do.

In the 2016 March Madness East bracket, we have 12th seed Stephen Sturgeon, who is currently literature librarian at the University of Iowa, with this line:

City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

A line like this is unassailable.  One could never pronounce it bad or good.  Sturgeon’s line wears the magic coat of John Ashbery, protected forever from criticism.  It could mean something, or not, and because it baffles, it pleases sweetly and ephemerally, like a cigarette, or any trivial pleasure which pleases because of a certain sly, unhealthy, indefiniteness.  It is unhealthy to be indefinite all the time. And in our minds, small doses of the unhealthy will tend to feel like pleasure. One can be addicted to non-meaning, and actually find it to equal actual pleasure.  If they haven’t done a study of this, they should.

Boredom is separated from death by one thing: variety.  If differences ceased, boredom really would be death—to be bored with one thing endlessly is perhaps the one thing that is hell for the mind—the hell of pure boredom, without pain.

“City buses are crashing” is very high on the modern spectacle-of-interest scale and not being able to hear Murray Perahia makes perfect sense, and yet is so odd, especially if you are one of those people who say to yourself, Murray Perahia? I’ve heard that name, but who is he?  It is that tantalizing uncertainty: Buses crashing? Why? Are people dying?  Is the poet on the bus, or just witnessing the crash?  And so on.  It is all those questions, all those uncertainties, all those elements—which save us from the horror of boredom.   “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.”  Said Berryman.  Yes and yes.

Susan Terris, who was published in the latest Best American Poetry, is the 5th seed in the East, and her line is:

Cut corners  fit in  marry someone

It is what we do.  It sums up life.  After the buses crash. After Murray Perahia finishes. It is funny how a few words can capture a life in such a way that, even though we know there is so much more to life, there is a part of us that relents, and says, Oh God. This is it. This is life.

It almost as if we like the way language can put us in a little box and there we remain.

Someone has to come out of this box and be the winner.  Will it be Stephen?  Or Susan?

From the box come indefinable sounds.

 

 

JORIE GRAHAM AND JEET THAYIL MIX IT UP IN NORTH BRACKET MADNESS

There are times when lines collide and comment on each other wonderfully, like in this battle between American poet Jorie Graham (Iowa, Harvard) and Indian poet, novelist, and musician, Jeet Thayil.

Graham has been a force (and a controversy) in American poetry since the early 1980s—when this line was published:

A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

The line from Thayil is more recent, but do we care when a line was written?

There are no accidents. There is only God.

These two lines strike different parts of our brains, with equal pleasure.

The inner eye of our senses registers the rooster and the mist and the walls.

Our speculative faculty ponders what it means to say there are no accidents—there is only God.

The order in which elements arrive in a line of poetry make a subtle difference in how we feel about it.

Why is there a sublime feeling of distance in the Graham line?  Because we travel in the line from the rooster—to its crowing—to its crowing all day—to the mist—to outside—to outside the walls.

Graham is not a formalist; but this, her best line, is a perfect alexandrine—6 iambics, one more than in the common iambic pentameter—and this stately meter contributes to the line’s sublimity.

The sublimity of Jorie Graham’s line is no accident. 

Let’s change the sequence of the line, keeping all its parts, all its elements the same, and see what happens.

Outside the walls,
All day, from mist,
A rooster crows.

Just by changing the order, it now sounds like a haiku, with a homely, intimate, “Eastern” feel, rather than a poignant, majestic, “Western” one.  (And it’s still iambic.)

Change the order of the other line and:

There is only God. There are no accidents.

Somehow this now sounds less certain, more dubious, and almost invites the reply: what do you mean there are no accidents?

The line make more sense when God follows accidents; for accidents can seem to exist when they happen, and then only afterwards—we feel, ahh! that was meant to be.  In order for the line to have force, it must be in the order Thayil presented it—with God at the end.

And now, Marla, let us walk outside these walls and discuss which one of these lines finally ought to win at last.

Marla Muse: It is a pleasant evening. Yes, let us go.

 

MARILYN CHIN AND CHARLES SIMIC CLASH IN THE EAST

To judge a poet by their isolated lines is, of course, totally unfair.

But to look at a part helps us to understand a whole.

The speech of a poet can be compared to the paint of a painter:

We can study a painting up close so we see only the paint itself—and we don’t comprehend ‘the picture’ during these moments at all.

Or, we can stand back, and look at isolated parts of the painting, observing coherent parts of the picture: drapery, a tree, the surface of a lake.

To judge a line of poetry could be like viewing a painting at close range—and perhaps we can learn a little from this.

Have you ever looked at Byron’s poetry extremely “up close,” then T.S. Eliot’s, and compared them? It might be a helpful, even enjoyable, thing to do.

But since all the lines in this March Madness tournament were chosen for a certain isolated beauty or interest, they are more like coherent parts of a painting, where some of the picture can be “read.”

There is no way a great painting can be comprised of parts that are not also individually great. A clumsily painted face could not coexist with an excellent piece of drapery in an excellent painting. To admire the painting as an excellent whole, every part must be excellent, too.

If we search a poet’s work and have trouble finding excellent lines, our judgment of that poet must change, must diminish. We must come to the conclusion that the poet’s poetry was not as good as we previously thought.

To read a poem is not the same as knowing it.

In reading a poem, we are caught up in the forward movement of “the read.” We move through the poem to get to the end of our “read,” but do not really experience the poem as what it really is— or is not. The poem may be “good” as a “read,” to be read once. But it does not belong to a heaven of excellence, if its parts do not distinguish themselves as parts.

One doesn’t really know a person until one lives with them.  One doesn’t really know a poem unless we inspect its lines, its parts.

Charles Simic is one of the most distinguished living American poets.

But will he be smashed in this tournament, crushed by the reality we have outlined above?

His line, from one of the best poems in the 2015 BAP volume, is:

I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Empathy for this line—and this seems to be Simic’s fate—really requires the poem.

Marilyn Chin is an American poet, born in Hong Kong, and educated at Iowa.  Chin has a passionate lyricism which is apparent in parts of poems.

It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

What is sporting is not always fair.

We think we know the outcome of this one.

 

 

 

PODDAR AND KASISCHKE GO A LITTLE BIT MAD IN THE MADNESS

Kushal Poddar is in the 2016 Madness

It is becoming more and more apparent to Americans—who, for all their worldly clout and influence, have recently become fixated on their Writing Program careers—that, holy cow!, there is something happening on the other side of the globe, in India, where totally mad people prepare for bed just when they should be waking up—don’t these people know how crazy that is? Well, give them a little credit: in India right now they are writing poems in English in the great Romantic Tradition, and, despite not attending writing programs, and despite their odd sleeping habits, poets from India are, at this very moment, writing better poetry than Americans—with the exception of Ben Mazer, who is a living Romantic Tradition unto himself: pilgrimages should be made to Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA—near Harvard Square.

Philip Nikolayev, an American, Harvard-educated poet, originally from Russia, had the good sense to go to India, and, to make a long story short, social media has led Scarriet to a world of heartbreak and beauty in which poetry exists as sweetly and commonly as a scent of perfume or a right arm.

In America, poets study at Writing Programs.

These costly one-year or two-year programs essentially teach the student of poetry one thing: Do not write like Keats—sound, in your writing, as different from Keats as possible, and this will guarantee that you will sound contemporary, and sound like yourself, because, after all, you are not Keats, and this is a good thing, since Keats is in the ground! We cannot tell you how to sound, for that is too complicated, given that poetry can sound like absolutely anything, it being defined by nothing, and so we cannot teach that; all we can do is make sure you don’t sound like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Edna Millay. They are dead! Dead! Be a student of English literature if you want to sound like the dead. And, by the way, did we tell you the field of study at one time called the English Major is also dead? Good. Talk amongst yourselves, students, and commence writing! And just remember, I, with my degree from one of the most distinguished writing programs in the world, will be watching, to make sure you do not ever write like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Or anyone with three names! Horrors! Better to be known simply as Trudy. Or Billy. Or Sam. And write. poetry. like. this.

Laura Kasischke is a writing program graduate, and yet has still managed to distinguish herself as a poet of wonderful ability: she is known to write complete, comprehensible, sentences on comprehensible topics. This may be due to the fact, however, that she is also a successful novelist.

Her champion is Stephen Burt, a rising poetry critic star who teaches with Jorie Graham at Harvard; Burt broke into the big time with a damning piece in the Boston Globe on Foetry.com, Alan Cordle’s website which exposed systemic poetry contest cheating and reputation puffing in academic American poetry. It was fun, enlightening, painful (for people like Graham) depending on where you were on the map of poetry reputation. Everyone, due to Foetry.com’s influence, which was quite extensive, is sadder—but wiser. Wisdom has quietly turned to joy—and one can see it in Scarriet’s “To Sir With Love” exuberance.  Burt has edited an anthology of sonnets—the tacit assumption that sonnets were once written can be made with impunity once in a while, if a publisher is willing to suffer a material, if not a spiritual, loss.

Kasischke had one of the better poems in the latest (2015) Best American Poetry, Sherman Alexie, guest editor (The BAP Series has been edited by David Lehman since 1988) and we found her best line there:

but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Affection produced in prose language can, by its directness and homeliness, be extremely touching. Poetry can be iconic, but that doesn’t mean prose cannot occasionally outdo poetry by being more affectionate in its plainess. Prose may sometimes catch us off guard by smelling sweeter than poetry. This confuses the poets, who then proceed to drown themselves in the sea which the plain talkers successfully sail. Kasischke, we might entertain for a paranoid moment, might owe her success to this anti-poetry phenomenon.

Any language we do not understand sounds poetic to our helpless ears; as we come to understanding we come away from poetry, and by this formula the more purely prosaic we sound the more we understand and what we understand is the falsity of the one we once loved, dear poetry, the one who seduced us in a castle about 200 years ago in a frilly shirt—and now must die.

One solution to not sound prosaic and not sound 19th-century either, as a poet, is surrealism.

Kushal Poddar, from Calcutta, a self-taught genius, Kasischke’s opponent, writes very exciting poetry in a pyrotechnical inventiveness that fits the short, lyrical form to the unusual image—he never has a red wheel barrow in his poetic landscape unless that wheel barrow is fully on fire, and that is how he expresses his passions and his desires. Here is his line:

Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Poddar, like a true poet, suggests as much as he presents—the shadows produced by his mind are as lovely as the flames. We think him one of the better poets in the world writing in English, and one more reason to visit Calcutta—if you can get your head out of your résumé.

So which will win? The plain-speaking or the fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE EAST BRACKET: MICHAEL TYRELL BATTLES JOIE BOSE

Joie Bose belongs to the Calcutta New Wave of English-speaking poetry.

Romanticism, which began with Dante’s Beatrice-devotion in Florence in the 13th century—and peaked with Shelley six centuries later, is poetry which belongs to passion, not study, but is no less artful or beautiful because of that.

Some would say it is more artful and beautiful because of that.

The irritable Dante—Edgar Poe said all poets, as a rule, were “irritable”—called hazy, obscure poets foolish, and credited the “love letter” as the clarifying, accessible impetus for the new poetry of the 13th century.

The lover gives poetry to the beloved; poetry can be cooked up for other reasons, but the simple desire to impress and please in love, carries with it all that is necessary to make poetry sublime.

Love forces us to be philosophers—and poets.  The poet emerges from this universal experience.  Most of what emerges is, of course, not worth reading.

But forced to be a philosopher is always better than choosing to be one.

If love makes us poets, it does not follow that love makes us good poets—love doesn’t care about poetry.  Love would rather we do not write poetry—and love, instead.

Writing begins in sorrow and absence.   And nothing creates sorrow and absence like love’s tribulations.  So this, in a broad sense, recommends love as an engine of writing.

True, love kills poets as quickly as it creates them, for the very thing that fires up the lover burns the lover to a crisp.

It follows, then, that most love poetry will be bad, since the lover is writing—when they should be loving. The lover is writing, and that usually means writing a complaint—instead of kissing; writing—instead of applying scents and sighing.

When we find then, a poet, who has survived the fires of love, and is producing more fires of love in poetry, this is worth celebrating.

Alexander Pope: “The proper study of mankind is man.” If this is true, there is nothing like love to make us ponder another.

It is not just that love is a good subject for poetry—it is the best subject for poetry—and love is not just the best subject to write about; more importantly, it is the best condition to be in, to write poetry.  And now we see how the magic happens: the subject and the condition mutually feed each other.

Joie Bose has not been trained, like American poets these days, in a writing program.  She writes from the heart. She is writing a sequence of poems called “Love,” which has just reached 100 poems.

Here is her line selected for the tournament:

Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

This is a beautiful, moving, finely crafted line of poetry, as good as any that’s been written, and anyone who doesn’t think so has either had too little experience with poetry in English—or perhaps too much, in a fussy writing program.

The question Bose asks belongs to the Socratic philosopher—and the lover:

“Isn’t that love?”

The devotee of love seeks answers, and “love,” properly worshiped, hovers over this whole line.

“Love” in the line quickly transforms into “it,” and we hear the ‘t’ sound—“love” is distinguished in this line as the only important word which does not have a ‘t’ sound, for there follows “not,” “heart,” “heat,” “moment,” and “complete.”  The disquisition, transcending the two things we mostly associate with love, “heart” and “heat,” wings its way to “completion,”and ends in the most tragic, fragile thing imaginable: the “moment.”

And yet, if love can be complete in the “moment,” does this not recommend it?  Or not?  It is the sort of philosophy which feeds, and is fed by, love.

Michael Tyrell survived a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa to produce this wonderful line:

how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Poets, after 100 years of Modernism (dry) and Post-Modernism (jokey) find they want to talk about love and beauty again.

With this line, Tyrell does have a chance against Bose.

A beautiful battle for the ages.

 

IN THE SOUTH: CHUMKI SHARMA VERSUS TERRANCE HAYES

The philosopher Hegel said an interesting thing about language: when we say “this” we refer to something very specific—and yet nothing is more vague than the word “this.”

The poet is forever not saying something—which is the agonizing and beautiful aspect of poetry poets either die from, or love, or both.

A playwright can write a character, and that character will never say “this” and be doubted, for there, standing upon the stage, the character can tell the audience where to look.

In a poem, a “this” must remain vague, for a poem is not, like a play, “acted” or “embodied.”  The poem will always be the letter read by the actor—and must depend on no body at all.

This contest features Terrance Hayes—who feels an obligation to be exact, swimming mightily upstream against the inexpressible flow of poetry itself, and Chumki Sharma—more satisfied to let poetry take her downward to the immensity of the mysterious sea.

Terrance Hayes:

Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Hayes, who has recently won a major national award, is a black American who writes in and from this experience—this one, the one of being a black American male.

How much does a line of poetry know its author?

Can a line of poetry invoke a narrative?  And what kind?

Chumki Sharma:

After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Sharma, a woman from India, who has two Pushcart nominations, and belongs to the New Wave of Calcutta poetry, writes from what seems a thousand experiences.

We see how much one of her lines can hold, for her language is the experience itself—it is not pointing to “this” rain, or “this” place, or “this” home, and yet we feel, most acutely, rain and place and home.  The rain either did not do enough, or it produced a flood; the leaving could be voluntary, or not; the home is “called” home and therefore could be home, or not.  Chumki Sharma invokes a great deal by being exact and inexact at once.

The subjective fever becomes ours—we “catch” what she is saying, even if we do not see the rain or the place or the home.

The rhythm of the line is exquisite—trochaic: DA-da, the melancholy rhythm of Edgar Poe: AF-ter/ EVE-ry/ RAIN i/ LEAVE the/ PLACE for/ SOME-thing/ CALLED HOME.

Sharma’s “i” (self) is “obliterated” (rhythmically) by “rain,” and her line, a purely trochaic one, finally resolves in the spondaic “called home,” a delicate double meaning: home is what it is called—and someone is calling her home.

Hayes is doing something completely different; he is inviting the reader to see something specific: “the servant ordered down on all fours.” The Hayes line trades in talk, not song—the Sharma, by comparison, sounds like an aria—although this line of Hayes does have a trochaic character, and also ends with a spondee: “all fours.”

Whoever “ordered” the “servant…down on all fours” is not the poet; a certain objectivity is the goal, even as the poet tells us, “let us imagine…”

It is probably unfair for these two lines to do battle—they are so different, and yet isn’t poetic language capable of existing always as poetic language?   Otherwise, how can we even know what a poem is, or discuss poetry?

Should we walk away from this contest?

No.  Bring it on.

Which line pleases us more—as poetry?

And can this answer be cruel—or unfair?

Who should we ask, after this rain has fallen, after this tale of the servant has been told?

 

 

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI TANGLES WITH RICHARD WILBUR IN THE SOUTH

Richard Wilbur, back at the end of the 20th century, told Peter Davison, then poetry editor of the Atlantic, “I love Bill Williams’s poems but his critical opinions seem to me to be nonsense. He was forever saying that if you write a sonnet you are making a curtsey to the court of Elizabeth I–”

Well, Dick, in some ways, Bill (WC Williams) was right.

The sonnet, as a form, just has a way of sounding polite and respectful, no matter how many ‘bad words’ you toss in there.

But on the other hand, is this a bad thing?

In a nutshell, this is what went completely wrong with American poetry in the early 20th century—and we still have not recovered.

American poetry split decisively into two camps: and both were dead wrong.

And the fatal error was thinking the choice you had was only between these two.

One camp, let’s call it the WC Williams camp, said: Get rid of the sonnet!

The other camp, let’s call it the Richard Wilbur camp, said, But we can make the sonnet impolite!

The truth is: the sonnet, as a form, is polite, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this.

A form, like the sonnet, which always sounds polite, no matter how selfish and rude the author, is a wonderful invention—a gift to the world.

But it shows nothing but ignorance of form in general to then assume that all forms are like the sonnet.

Just as it is ignorant to insist that poetry should not be beautiful, or romantic, or worshipful, or respectful, if that is, indeed, what certain forms do best.  If you want to slap a person in the face, use your hand.  And yet a curtsey, depending on to whom it is made, or where, or when, can be even more devastating than a slap.

Nalini Priyadarshni, from Punjab, India, enters our 2016 March Madness Tournament with the following:

Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Poetry once appealed to sentiment and fed on sentiment and grew large and popular on sentiment and quieted crowds with sentiment and gloried in sentiment.

Until one day, poetry was demeaned and shamed with the relatively recent term (early 20th century) that’s entirely pejorative: sentimental. 

One can see Pound in the transition period using the word sentimentical.

This line of Priyadarshni’s (singing with a strong iambic/anapestic rhythm) could defeat armies.

Richard Wilbur, who is 95, and honored with the second seed in the South, very much belongs to that overly-intellectual century (the 20th) in which poetry lost its way, asserting itself in thousands of tragically over-thought strategies.

Here is Wilbur asserting himself, without sentiment, as poets in the American 20th century were wont to do, strongly, forcefully (one can almost hear the fist thumping on the desk: not, not, not!):

not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Wilbur was a formalist, and like so many formalists in the 20th century, had to apologize for it in all sorts of unconscious ways, yearning to be serious, but falling into spasms of light verse here and there, almost against his will; writing as delicately as he could with a modesty that signaled to his peers he wanted nothing to do with courts and queens and monuments.

This contest is sentiment—of the most loving and powerful kind: Priyadarshni—against whatever it was respected poets were trying to do in the 20th century: Wilbur.

Who will win?

 

 

W.S. MERWIN TAKES ON JULIE CARR

Poets should not depend on things, on pictures, on colors: that’s for painters.

All the best poets know that “no ideas but in things” is the worst possible advice for the poet.

Ideas use things in poetry, but poetry is speech.  Adding measured emphasis (metrics) is never unwise; our own experiments (too complex to write about here) show music to be a poetry too excitable for words, but still containing ideas—which live behind every good image in every good poem.

When reading essays: read what they think.

When reading poems: read what they do.

But in both cases, the essence is an idea.  Philosophical acumen is the basis of all artful communication.

The greatest poets have always warned: avoid cheap politics and avant-garde tricks, which are just excuses to be lazy and stupid.

Classical learning is the only learning.

Small beer is small beer.  Snot on the sleeve is snot on the sleeve.

There’s nothing magical out there. Daddy Ezra can’t help you. Only classical learning and your pretty face can.

William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin has been publishing poetry for 60 years; he managed to make contact with icons in his youth—guys like Pound and Robert Graves and Berryman and Blackmur and T.S. Eliot—he’s a pretty famous poet (also a translator), but unfortunately, no famous poems. Merwin abandoned punctuation in his poetry in a beat/hippie move when he was in his 40s—when he was in a bit of a crisis and leaving Europe for good and coming back to America in the late 1950s.

Merwin understands that poetry is speech, and leaving off punctuation was the earnest attempt to make ‘speech-which-is-not-speech,’ or trembling, misty poetry, and to a large extent he has succeeded in that regard.

Merwin has said that in abandoning punctuation, he was leaving the page where punctuation nails things down to embrace how people talk, which is almost the same thing, though it misses the point of punctuation, which helps talking—it does not hinder it.

But Merwin is a good poet because he plays with ideas, and came to realize Pound was dead wrong about the image, and so much else. “The intellectual coherence of Pound’s work is something that I don’t any longer believe in.”  (Paris Review interview, 1986).

you know there was never a name for that color

One can see in this one line Merwin, the poet, rejecting all the painter’s tricks—those the silly Imagists insisted poets try—and instead, exploding with iambic and anapest rhythms, raining down upon us an idea, in the implied question: what does it mean, exactly, when a color doesn’t have a name?

Merwin, first seed, will be tough to beat with this one.

Julie Carr began as a classical dancer, and to dance, you need music, and poetry is a kind of dance to music—we don’t hear the music but we see the dance, the poetry.

Julie Carr is also a mother, and still young, and as soon as she turned to poetry, she accumulated awards; reading her, one gets the feeling when it comes to the flags and banners of poetic speech, she got it, and got it quickly.

Either I loved myself or I loved you.

This line has a kind of delicious despair, a romantic power; there is an intoxicating idea in the symmetry displayed in “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

We have no doubt this contest will be a very interesting one.

 

 

 

FIRST ROUND EAST ACTION: HACKER AND COLE

 

 

 

Marilyn Hacker enjoys first seed status in the East bracket. She has a line which feels iconic and boasts an existential romanticism:

You happened to me.

What are we to say to this? If the singer Jewel, who dabbles in poetry, wrote this, what would poets and critics of high regard say?

This is not a criticism of Hacker. In the March Madness Poetry tournament, run by Marla Muse and Scarriet, there is no “criticism.”

There is only wonder.

We cannot escape the vague feeling that “You happened to me,” which is Hacker’s most famous quote, is not original.

Jim Weatherly, born in 1943—a few months after our poet, Marilyn Hacker—wrote a hit song for two different artists in the 70s (Ray Price; Gladys Knight and the Pips):

“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”

You‘re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” hides the more interesting phrase.

Weatherly, the songwriter, can be found saying the following in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits:

“I thought it was really strange that nobody’d written a song with that title — possibly somebody had, but I’d never heard it — so I just sat down and let this stream of consciousness happen.”

Just as we now have the nagging suspicion that “You happened to me” is not original, so the man credited with “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” felt the same way about his creation.

It makes one wonder if a greater poet (or songwriter), ages hence, will thrillingly, yet doubtfully, stumble upon:

You Happened.

You Happen.

Stephen Cole, the last seed in the East, counters with something a little more complex:

Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

This, in its way, is somewhat like, “you happened to me.”

But Hacker refers succinctly, if powerfully, to the past.

Cole’s is tantalizingly and deliciously about the future, and the syntax of the sentence itself propels us into a future awareness—as well as the meaning: “time…arrives before your coming.” Like the essence of the line itself, “your coming” is forever deferred, and yet here.

This might be the time to ask, since we called the Hacker an “existential romanticism,” what is romanticism in poetry, and why is it important?

As the poet Shelley said, in his A Defense of Poetry, the “secret to morals is love”; in love we go out of ourselves and identity with another.

It is as simple as this: poetry brings two together: this is love, and this is romanticism, and this is always a virtue, not only in love, but in poetry, in language itself—whose purpose is to unite people, minds, intentions, etc.

“You happened to me” affects us on this principle; we witness, through language, you happening to me, and since we are all romantics at heart, we are moved both by the primitive idea and the concise manner in which the primitive idea is expressed.

This romantic/poetic principle resembles mathematics or physics: precisely how much force or attraction is produced?

Language can do remarkable things, but the question becomes, is it only language, or is it the language itself that lives, that has gravity—the language itself that loves you and me, and brings us together.

“You happened to me” is a marvelous example of language doing a marvelous thing—but only as language.

Does concision belong to language—or to concision?  The delight we feel when a great deal is said in a few words does not belong to language’s muscle, to language’s action, but to time, and time alone.

“Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming” is a wonderful example of language itself doing a marvelous thing.

We think, then, Cole wins.

Marla Muse: Oh! I like it!

 

 

 

 

AND NOW ROUND ONE IN THE WEST: GLÜCK AND DOUGLAS!

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Mary Angela Douglas? She is what used to be called a fugitive poet, the word, “fugitive” hinting, with a shudder of mysterious delight, a poet of amateur genius, unrecognized to all but a few fellow travelers. They move past clouds of shrubbery with quiet, solemn, discernment and delight, through wooded paths, towards those broad future plains where celebrants dance in unrestrained ecstasy.

We met Mary on Scarriet, when she responded positively and enthusiastically to Scarriet’s defense of embattled North Carolina poet laureate Valerie Macon.

Mary Angela Douglas permits us to see the adventures taking place in her “eternal child” soul—there is no need for her to research a piece of poetry, to fidget and stare into dust-mote space while she thinks of “a word.” Starlight brings her words, and poetry-light beams up from her like a fountain.

Louise Glück, meanwhile, comes adorned with recognitions and medals, but no less a poet for that, since her poetry shows at times it is wiser than prizes. The muses’ shadows cover the brightest fish in the stream (that brightness is just a dream); all are equal where the green water falls with a chuckle on the green rock.

Mary Angela Douglas has nothing to fear.

This is Scarriet, where the excellence of poetry lives in the veins that sing quietly in hands.

As the first seed, Louise Glück is accorded the honor of going first. She speaks.

The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

The darknesses of this line are thrilling; we see a million shapes between our midnight and our brains. This line has muscle, like an eel waiting patiently in a cave beneath the sea.

Mary Angela Douglas approaches the podium with a flutter; her excitement is palpable. The stately Glück left profundity in her wake. Douglas stirs in the mossy stream. We see the reflection of a wren. The boughs hover.

With utterance of raindrop wings, Douglas:

The larks cry out and not with music.

This contest, between these two women—it has some strange import, we feel.

Poetry seems forever changed.

The ghost of Shelley comes to the edge of the wood.

 

 

ROUND ONE COMPETITION!!! SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2016!!

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What’s in a line of poetry?

What is a line of poetry?

The drink is determined by the drinker.

A great line of poetry is like a shot of whiskey.

A poem is like a horse race. The horses are beautiful, strong, and fast, and they make the circuit in a few minutes. The race is over quickly, but everything leads up to it. Families mass. The whole ceremony which surrounds the race is delicious and slow. The horses were once colts. On the big day, there are many flowers. The poem is a beautiful blur of beauty. The crowd leans in during those exciting moments to hear what beauty has to say.

We scan the crowd, and if we should see a beautiful face, a very, very rare one, we marvel at how it has the same features as the world, but is beautiful in the extreme, and for obvious reasons that we are yet unable to comprehend, having to do with what we see of minute proportions of common objects: nose, eye, chin; and the way the elegant body carries the head, the hair that falls over the face, a small smile—these bring joy, but it is the sight of a face’s beautiful triumph in micro-inches that expands our chest in sighs, causes us to stop in the shadow of ourselves where a beam of sun in our eye has strayed.

The vast park is silent. The crowd has passed through large boulevards—or small roads that look like any quaint suburb of any large city in the world, with spring-thickened trees, the small shops with freshly painted signs. The millions have hushed themselves to hear the first poet in the 2016 March Madness Tournament utter their treasured line:

Donald Hall, author of hundreds of books on many subjects; old, regal, bearded—we once discussed Whitman with him in a bar in Iowa City—has loved and married Jane Kenyon, has watched Jane Kenyon die—Donald Hall, poet of lyrics and laments and epics and songs, anthologist, populist, pronounces with syllables solemn and slow:

To grow old is to lose everything.

Around the park, no sound.

The tournament has begun.

Now, Jennifer Moxley, respectfully and slow, moves to the podium. All eyes are on her, noting what she is wearing, a black dress—with gold designs tastefully embroidered into the fabric—her skin pale in the bright sunshine blasting the day:

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

The guests shift slightly in their seats as the line descends into their souls.

Donald Hall smiles.

Jennifer Moxley is motionless in the sun.

And the winner is…

 

 

 

2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Sean O’Brien–‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

Warsan Shire–I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Traci Brimhall–I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

Denise Duhamel–it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Meredith Haseman–The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

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

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

Raphael Rubinstein–Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

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

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

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

Claudia Rankine–How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

 

 

 

 

 

EVERY SINGLE THING WE THINK IS REAL IS NOT

Every single thing we think is real is not.

You loved me when the summer was hot

But now that you don’t love me, that memory hurts

And so I don’t think about that memory a lot,

And no, I don’t even look now at this one who flirts.

Every single thing we think is real is not.

 

Every single movie, look, laugh, and poem is fake.

And mutability erases everything, everything—but this ache,

Which is the pain of knowing every single thing is fake.

Every moment flies, and was never real before its flight.

 

Moment! There’s an hour that wants to talk to you. Can you take

A half a moment out of your busy moment’s day

To listen to what my sad complaining hour has to say?

No? Okay, I’ll just talk to this mass of moments in the night

Of how every beautiful thing is built to break

And every single thing we think is real is fake,

And not only fake, painful, and the pain goes on and on

Even when all of the fake things, and everything, is gone.

 

 

A FACT FROM BOSTON: A POEM

“The fact,” I tell each Kolkata lady, a fact I say now with a solemn smile—

“Will you stay, just a minute, by this imaginary magnolia for awhile?—

The fact is nearly as embarrassing as its presentation.

I have one life. But elsewhere there are many.

The man usually gives birth to a few children. But. Just in case.

Biologically, the seeds he carries—each one a different face—

Are so numerous, it is a miracle of miracles, yes—

If a planet, barren but habitable, elsewhere in outer space

Had enough eggs waiting, one man, in one act, could make a whole race.

This is why men are crazy: it is because there are so many.”

And, of course, yes, so many are ugly and hateful, more would be sad and funny.

But this one, once beautiful, has not had one.

The most beautiful she was, of her particular race;

She was not from Boston, but from a wrecked and ancient place;

He loved her madly, loved her elusive, modest, beautiful face,

With a sweet, repressed, polite, poetic passion—

You would have seen Kolkata transformed into a very poetic place.

They kissed in deserted places; they lived to kiss sad, smiling expressions

That flitted across their two shy faces.

It was not easy. Boston is not a quiet place.

But now they are apart. Something happened to the heart.

He dies every hour, for his children, for his poems, in the joyous agony of many.

She sits, bored, holding her phone. Her happiness is to not have any.

Kolkata ladies, now I know you must be on your way.

Thank you. There you are. Patiently, your scent lingers in the saffron day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T PRAISE ME

Don’t praise me. I will think it’s irony.

I am so insecure these days.

You’ll hurt me the more you love me.

Your poems will make me hate you. Don’t praise.

The hundred sonnets you wrote me last week

I cannot help but feel is some kind of joke.

In thousands of lines you said you loved me so much, that you could not speak.

That’s irony, rich guy; you confuse me. Has love made you broke?

And will you give your love silently to someone new—

As you continue to “not speak” in poems to me?

Or shower poems on someone who doesn’t mean a thing to you—

Speaking, not speaking, loving, not loving in an orgy of irony?

And then what will those poems mean? Why don’t you go away.

I need to love someone else, who doesn’t have a thing to say.

 

 

A POET’S LOVE CAN LOVE

A poet’s love can love
One they have not loved yet,
One they have not kissed yet.

A poet’s love can love
One who sighs for nothing
On the other side of the planet.

A poet’s love can love
One they have never met,
One who is unlikely.
One they will not forget.

Some build a love,
But only build a tomb.
They send too many flowers
And smother love in its room.

But a poet’s love can love
A tiny bit of gloom,
A strong cup of tea,
Which tastes like that gloom
Unfailingly.

A poet’s love can love
A small, comfortable room,
A small room for eternity—
A love that weeps for doom,
And laughs for sanity.

 

 

ALONE I LOVE

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The one who loves me is alone.

Alone she loves,

Without meaning or melody or tone.

I saw her one day in a forest by a stream.

Oh shadow. Oh blue dream.

From bough to bough in my poetry

I in the world became the world and then became free.

Take a look at these. I wrote them when no light shone.

When I was the only light. When I was alone.

 

Alone I love,

Alone I know,

Alone I came, and alone I go.

Alone was how you found me.

Tomorrow, darkly,

When you see me faintly,

When your lips with mine agree,

I will know at last the reason for my poetry.

Not a meaning or a melody or a tone

Will be in them until then. I wrote them for you alone.

 

 

THE INSANE INTROVERT

Natural science has claimed victory over religion since Darwin, but philosophy is still the queen of the sciences.

Facts aside, how we live is still paramount.

Dinosaurs are real.  God is not.  So says modern science.

What do dinosaurs, however, have to do with our daily lives and our happiness?

Nothing.

What does God have to do with our daily lives and our happiness?

Everything.

So what is more important?

The fact or the symbol?

The science of dinosaurs? Or the philosophy of what does this all mean and what am I here for?

None of us can deny the truth of what is not real. Not Grayling, not Sartre, not Bentham.

We’re all religious nuts—whether we want to be, or not.

The reason why philosophy bleeds into science, and why the two were once the same is because the fact of a thing is never as important as why does this thing exist?

Socrates, the greatest philosopher of his day, was also the greatest scientist of his day.  Yea, the guy in the toga.  He was a philosopher—and a scientist—because he asked questions.

Fact-collectors are great.  But first you need to ask why. And before you know the facts, you need to guess. Only then do you know what facts to look for, and see if the facts agree with your guess.

A guess without facts is worthless, true.  And yet, the very act of guessing before the facts have arrived shows a philosophical impulse—and this is probably the most important thing of all, when it comes to happiness and knowledge.

And facts that don’t agree with a guess are equally worthless.

A fact that knocks you on the head becomes more than a fact the moment it knocks you on the head and makes you go: huh? why did that happen?  Until you start guessing, facts will only hurt you, make you frustrated and unhappy, and give you a headache.  People who only care about facts are like eyes without brains.

People who only care about facts are like an endless list of words which never becomes a poem.

To be a scientist or a poet, is to be wary of facts, not embrace them.

To the poet, jumping to conclusions is a good thing—because that’s what you have to do to be a poet.

The “jumping” part?  That’s what poetry and science and philosophy is.

Well, the “jumping” isn’t everything.  And we all know that in social situations, jumping to conclusions out loud can be social death. And poetry is worthless to the degree it is nothing but a lot of jumping to false conclusions.

But without the jumping, there is nothing.  No philosophy. No poetry. No thought.

A belief in God is a concession to the facts—the fact that we will never have all the facts we need, and that facts are not finally the answer, but only a partial guide.  Not because facts as facts are not trusted. But because there is more to science and philosophy and happiness than facts. This itself is a fact that is difficult to prove. Because facts are needed to prove something. Fact and proof are synonymous.

But facts never tell you when there is enough of them.

Something else tells us that.

If you jump to a conclusion, and are wrong, well, that will happen all the time.

But that doesn’t mean you should never jump.

To jump (to a conclusion) is to think.

When it comes to introverts, natural science, the pride of Darwin, may have made a grave error.

When it comes to the personality trait of the person who values privacy, natural—or what has come to be known as social or psychological—science may have made a terrible mistake.

Human interaction, as we all know, is crucial to happiness, and everyone is always trying to categorize and track the phenomenon formally and informally, scientifically or not.

A common method is dividing people into personality types, and two of the most common are 1) Left brain/Right brain and 2) Extrovert/Introvert.

Left brain/Right brain “science” neglects the complexity of the brain and is about as accurate as phrenology.  This “expertise” claims that left brain people are good at “math” and right brain people are good at “poetry.” Everyone knows that a good poet is good at math.

Such categories are useless, and about as scientific as horoscopes.  Everyone has a birthday—therefore everyone has a horoscope.  And “horoscope experts” can provide tons of information on anyone’s horoscope (the facts of who they are).

Astrology provides endless interest to millions, but has no scientific basis, except that it makes us aware of certain extremes—and cautions us to stay within those extremes—within a middle area of wiggle-room.  Be aggressive, but not too aggressive.  Be content, but not too content.  And so on.  ‘Golden mean’ advice is sound—but hardly qualifies as science.

Psychological types, such as Left brain/Right brain or Extrovert/Introvert, may appear scientific, but only to the credulous—for this “science” plays with the same deck of cards that astrology plays with. This includes Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and all the rest. It’s the same zero-sum card game.

Everyone has likes and dislikes, and so everyone has a personality trait—which conveniently informs a type.

Creating a scale of tendencies upon which every person “fits” (surprise!) belongs to neither philosophy nor science. Nor poetry.

Taking a lump of humanity and breaking it into various extremes of extrovert and introvert is a worthless exercise—unless we find a reason for splitting the lump into these two (normal) types.

We need to understand why extroverts and introverts exist to have any understanding of these categories.

Male and female do not simply exist; they exist for a reason, and only because of this reason are the categories, male and female, valid.

Can anyone say why extroverts and introverts, these two categories exist, or should exist?

Or, can anyone say with any certainty what percentage of extroversion a person will exhibit in various stages of life-development, or in different life situations?

If you see someone shouting, will you know, simply by observing a person shouting, whether that person is an extrovert or an introvert? Of course not. Because it always depends on the circumstances, not the “science.”

The categories are worthless—not because we cannot detect the outgoing person from the withdrawn person.  Of course we can.

If someone is constantly withdrawn, we do not come to the scientific conclusion that they are introverted.  This is about as scientific as saying a person with a fever is warm.

And this is exactly how the pretense of “science,” the “science” of normalizing a whole scale of psychological types, leads us astray.

The withdrawn person is a depressed person.  To call them an introvert is a misnomer.

And if someone is extremely outgoing in situations completely inappropriate to outgoing behavior, that person, too, has something wrong with them, and to call them an “extrovert” is completely beside the point.

One hears all the time these days how “introverts” value their “privacy” and “need space.”  The general population has taken upon itself the error of psychology’s false science—to condone all sorts of highly antisocial behavior.

This is bad for both the “introvert” who has something wrong with them, but stubbornly, and even proudly, pursues their life of “privacy,” making themselves even more miserable, and for all those who watch their introverted friend sink into greater and greater depression.

Withdrawal is a natural defense mechanism.  We are not talking about this.  We are talking about acute introverted behavior by a depressed person who prides themselves on being a socially accepted “introvert.”

Women who don’t have children and hold grudges against those who do.

People who don’t speak up.

People who don’t want to get to the bottom of anything, or get to the truth of anything, and crawl off into their  holes.

People satisfied to be shallow and surly.

And all of this accepted toxic behavior allows what?  It allows the aggressive, shallow extroverts to get their way, and make things increasingly worse—creating even more resentful, depressed introverts, as society sinks further and further into an unjust morass of quiet suffering.

A long list of pathological behaviors—which are termed normal, and which go on every day, and allow all sorts of injustices, big and small, to fester and grow—are enhanced by the false science of extrovert/introvert.

We are talking about a whole population turning into zombies, in which poor communication and timid, unfriendly behavior crushes all the best impulses of human interaction.

There is nothing wrong with introverted tendencies, and everyone—who is not insane—has them.

The truth of the whole matter is this (and all of us have observed this):

An extrovert is an introvert who feels comfortable. An introvert is an extrovert who feels uncomfortable.

The categories, then, do not exist.

The “real” introvert? The one we have created? That’s just an asshole.

 

 

 

 

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