In the old days, poets would attempt to kill each other in order that their aesthetics might win. This was barbaric, but poems worth dying for were certainly beautiful.

Then someone (a minor poet, no doubt) invented games or sport, where competition gradually meant humiliation, not death, and triumph became uneasy, recorded, fragile, unfair—since games had to stop at some previously designated, artificial point in time and luck and cheating were layered into the whole enterprise.

Betting made the gamblers rich, the players, poor—and poets walked away from this, lamenting.

Poets who once thrived in war, were eliminated from sport which replaced war—and this has been the poet’s plight ever since.

Today’s basketball star knows nothing, is passively but generously lauded; but the poet is a poet solely because they complain: a life of games is empty.

Is everything an accident? Yes. So why play the game? Wouldn’t it be better to announce which poem is best? Who knows why at any given moment a player makes the shot in the last moment of a game which must be made—or not? This will always be a mystery—and therefore winning and losing is a mystery—except to the gamblers who win by fixing the game.

Poets used to be the player, the gambler, and the fixer. Now they are not found anywhere near war, except as victims of war, and nowhere near sports—poets are on the outside, disparaging sports and its haphazard, merely physical, artificiality.

This is to be a poet today.

To be on the outside of everything.

But Scarriet seeks to return poetry as the judge of everything.

The wonder at a new poem is as real as a last-minute shot made—or not. Poetry must become a ruthless, tyrannical philosophy, or die.

Marla Muse (our relationship is…complicated) has proclaimed—with her 10,000 year experience in languages and taste—the best sex and death poems of all time.

But like a game, it’s only true once.

Marla’s judgments are more important than anything else. The low ambitions of fat or skeletal government officials, the waste and untruths of all of us—will all fade away.

MM: Why, thank you, Tom

You’re welcome, Marla.

But all kidding aside, there is no way to judge a poem correctly—accident interferes with perception and, even more so, with judgment, since judgment depends on the multiplying accidents of ongoing perception. How we feel, at any given moment, about a poem we are reading, cannot possibly correspond to any theoretical mastery of the poem, no matter how thorough and well-articulated.

We might agree with the sentiment of this poem by Petronius—but do we need a poem to say it?

65 A.D. Petronius “Doing, A Filthy Pleasure Is, And Short”

Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that onely know to doe it;
For lust will languish, and that heat decay
But thus, thus, keeping endlesse Holy-day
Let us together closely lie, and kisse,
There is no labor, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleas’d, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.

(trans. Ben Johnson)

from the Sex and Death Poetry Early Bracket 12th seed

MM: Maybe. When a ‘bad’ team beats a ‘good’ team, we rather enjoy it. But we can never get over the fact that we might be aesthetically incorrect about a poem if we take poetry seriously.


The Early Bracket

Song of Everlasting Sorrow, Po Chu-i (translator Dore J. Levy)

The International Bracket

“When Last Night Blew Down” Anonymous Korean 16th Century (translators Virginia Olsen Baron and Chung Seuk Park)

The Romantic Bracket

“I Shall Come Back” by Dorothy Parker

The Modern Bracket

“litany” Carolyn Creedon

The Championship Game


Wind last night blew down
A gardenful of peach blossoms.
A boy with a broom
Is starting to sweep them up.

Fallen flowers are flowers still.
Don’t brush them away.


The poems in the Sex and Death final could not be more different.

Imagery (which only hints at the subject) v.
Narrative (clear, human, heart-breaking)

Anonymous, 500 year old lyric from Korea v.
21st Century MFA dramatic poem from America


Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
I will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and I will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. Then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayon­naise and 
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant

Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
Yes, and I will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby

Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
Yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. I will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and fore­heads

Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s 
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
Yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. I will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. If you fall I might disappear

Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a
loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
No, but I will come inside you and you will be my daughter

Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
No, but I will lie down on your sheets and taste you. There will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then I will never forget you

Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
No, but later you can lie against me and almost touch me and when I go I will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me

Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
No, but I will sit in silence while you rage, you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. I will always be the same and you will always wait

Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
No, it will burn my fingers. No one can have the sun: it’s on loan from God.
But I will draw a picture of it and send it to you from Richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun

Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptise me with sex and cool water?
I will come back from Richmond. I will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your neck and then I will lick the salt off it. Then I will leave

Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
I have left you. That is how you will know


And the winner is “litany” by Carolyn Creedon.

Goodbye from Sri Lanka.

Thank you, Marla Muse.


For those of you who care about winners and losers: here are sex and death poems making their way through the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight, the Final Four in the four brackets, Early (ancient) International (also dependent on translation), Romantic (Eliot balked at being placed here) and Modern (the last 100 years or so).

Colombo, Sri Lanka has been a gracious host to Scarriet’s 2023 Poetry March Madness tournament.

We mentioned the Final Four in the Early Bracket in our latest post—it is between a timeless lyric from the Upanishads, two longer narrative lyric pieces from Tang Dynasty China (tragic) and 6th century Arabia (sensual), and a sex lyric by the Roman poet Catullus.

This anonymous poem from 16th century Korea has everyone amazed. A brief lyric which doesn’t mention sex or death evoking sex and death. Are you kidding me? Is it possible?


Wind last night blew down
A gardenful of peach blossoms.
A boy with a broom
Is starting to sweep them up.

Fallen flowers are flowers still.
Don’t brush them away.

(Virginia Olsen Baron, Chung Seuk Park, translators)

Der Tod und Das Madchen by Matthias Claudius, of course!

‘Pass me by, pass me by,
Go away, gruesome skeleton!
I am still young—go, dear Death,
and do not touch me.’

‘Give me your hand, lovely and tender creature;
I am your friend and do not come to punish.
Be comforted. I am not gruesome.
You will sleep gently in my arms.’

Classic! Iconic! The template of the genre—with its horrible irony.

“Lesbos” by Baudelaire.

“Dreams” by Myong’ ok —also from Korea—who knew 16th century Korean poetry was so good?

It is said that a love seen in dreams
Will prove to be an unfaithful love.
Yet I ache and moan for you, faithless
Lover, and how can I see you except in
Dreams. O love, even though it is only
In dreams that I see you,
Let me see you; let me see you always.


A strident, sarcastic 16th century Polish lyric we posted yesterday.

The Romantic Bracket? So many good ones!

“Exit” by the traveling Canadian poet Wilson MacDonald.

Swinburne almost comes closest to writing beautiful verse on love’s embrace itself:

A.C. Swinburne (1837-1909)

Kissing her hair I sat against her feet.
Wove and unwove it, wound and found it sweet;
Made fast therewith her hands, drew down her eyes,
Deep as deep flowers and dreamy like dim skies;
With her own tresses bound and found her fair,
Kissing her hair.

Sleep were no sweeter than her face to me,
Sleep of cold sea-bloom under the cold sea;
What pain could get between my face and hers?
What new sweet thing would love not relish worse?
Unless, perhaps, white death had kissed me there
Kissing her hair.

Keats, his “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”

“Oh Sleep Forever in the Latmian Cave” by Edna Millay.

“Peter Quince” by Wallace Stevens,

“Leda and the Swan” Yeats,

“Carmen” by Gautier,

“I Have A Rendezvous with Death” by Alan Seeger (uncle to the singer Pete Singer).

“To His Mistress Going To Bed” by John Donne,

“Wild Nights,” Dickinson,

a short lyric by Pushkin which nudged me into love when I was a youth,

“To His Coy Mistress,” Andrew Marvell,

“Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son” by JC Ransom,

TS Eliot’s “La Figlia Che Piange”

“Song,” EE Cummings,

“Cool Tombs” Carl Sandburg,

Byron, from Don Juan

Coleridge, “Lewti”

Thomas Campion’s translation of Propertius “When Thou Must Home To Shades Underground,” often credited as a Campion poem!

“Love’s Philosophy” by Shelley.

Modern Bracket—we like Carl Dennis and Dorothy Parker here!

Larkin’s “High Windows,”

Berryman’s “Dream Song 4,”

“To My Body” by Carl Dennis—a surprise success in the tournament! The understated, late 20th century, professor Carl Dennis! He wins without trying! Amazing!

“The Rival” by Sylvia Plath—how many know this one?

Sharon Olds. Here is her poem, “The Request.”

The Request

He lay like someone fallen from a high
place, only his eyes could swivel,
he cried out, we could hardly hear him,
we bent low, over him, his
wife and I, inches from his face,
trying to drink sip up breathe in
the sounds from his mouth. He lay with unseeing
open eyes, the fluid stood
in the back of his throat, and the voice was from there,
guttural, through unmoving lips, we could
not understand one word, he was down so
deep inside himself, we went closer, as if
leaning over the side of a well
and putting our heads down inside it.
Once—his wife was across the room, at the
sink—he started to garble some of those
physical unintelligible words,
Raas-ih-AA, rass-ih-AA, I
hovered even lower, over his open
mouth, Rassi baaa, I sank almost
into that body where my life half-began,
Frass-ih-BAA—”Frances back!”
I said, and he closed his eyes in his last
yes of exhausted acquiescence, I
said, She’s here. She came over to him,
touched him, spoke to him, and he closed his
eyes and he passed out and never
came up again, now he could move
steadily down.

Dorianne Laux’s “The ShipFitters Wife,”

“litany,” Carolyn Creedon,

Kim Addonizio, “What Do Women Want?”

“I Shall Come Back,” by Dorothy Parker,

I shall come back without fanfaronade
Of wailing wind and graveyard panoply;
But, trembling, slip from cool Eternity—
A mild and most bewildered little shade.
I shall not make sepulchral midnight raid,
But softly come where I had longed to be
In April’s twilight’s unsung melody,
And I, not you, shall be the one afraid.

Strange, that from lovely dreamings of the dead
I shall come back to you, who hurt me most.
You may not feel my hand upon your head,
I’ll be so new and inexpert a ghost.
Perhaps you will not know that I am near—
And that will break my ghostly heart, my dear.

“Love on the Farm” by DH Lawrence,

William Kulik’s “The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite”

Am I cool or an asshole?  Check this: I’m at this artsy-fartsy faculty
party wearing a mauve turtleneck, white blazer, granny glasses and a
tooled-silver peace symbol on a leather thong around my neck. Perfect
for this crowd, right? I figure I’ll test it out. So I lay some heavy eyes on
this knockout blonde, about five eight with legs up to here, and when
she giggles and whispers in her girlfriend’s ear, I read green and move
on her, tearing a can from my six-pack. “So,” I begin, popping the top,
“What do you think of the new Pei student center?” The beer foams up
over the edge of the can; I suck it swiftly, but not before some dribbles
onto my jacket. She titters, brushing a Veronica Lake curl from her
face. “O I thought it was totally awesome”—a bimbo, for sure, I think,
with pretensions—“Form following function but with a dramatic
sweep one ordinarily finds in the work of architects intending merely
to outrage the sensibilities. And, ” she adds, “without the stark serenity
of Aalto’s last works, y’ know? Like the Nordic Ski Center he did for
the Sibelius house.” She tugs at her mini, I pull a lapel aside to show
her my gut, flat and rock-hard from five workouts a week. She’s got a
foot-wide smile, best caps I’ve ever seen, skin flawless even in the glare
of the floodlights. It’s clear she’s a cute little smartass who loves repar-
tee, so I give her some: “Bet you don’t remember Ted Williams’ last
game!” I go to straighten up gain an inch look even more imposing, but
my back has gotten stiff. It’s these new shoes, I think.  And the hostess
must’ve dimmed the lights. That’s cool: more romantic. Still, she
doesn’t look as clear-skinned now and her smile’s lost maybe a little
luster. “O, I don’t?” she comes back, a slight tremor and something savage
in her voice. “He went four-for-four with a three-hundred-fifty foot homer
his last at-bat ever!” She wipes a fleck of spit from her mouth. “And I
saw every Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire movie ever made. Stood in line
the night they opened. Got the ticket stubs from each one.” Her neck’s
thrust out at me and I could swear she’s got a wattle. She’s trembling
with rage, but you know how cool I am? Even with the sudden ache in
my hands and the stiffness in my neck I manage to taunt her with
something I think will stop her cold: “I useta party with Dante!”  Is it
getting darker? And somebody turned off the heat.  Her girlfriend’s
gone and all the other guests, too. There’s just a guy sweeping up who
stops and leers at us. It pisses me off some, but I lean forward to hear
her cause there’s this buzz in my ears like a hive of bees, and I realize
she’s been yapping at me all the while. “Phaeton!” she screams, “When
he drove Apollo’s chariot across the sky and fell to earth in flames. I was
THERE!” Her teeth are yellow and crooked, she’s leaning on a stick,
her clothes are rags. Now she’s just an ectoplasmic outline, a gray halo
in the cold dark. (Do I need a new prescription?) The walls are covered
with moss. Water drips down onto the rock floor. I’m bent almost double,
I can’t see her at all, and all I hear is someone laughing. I stare at my
shivering hand.  There’s my pinky ring. I’m still cool.

“Marriage” by Gregory Corso.

Colombo, Sri Lanka


Marla Muse has told us poetry and sex are opposites—but is this true?

We know religion and academia have a civilizing role. But all attempts to civilize breed resentment.

Poetry belongs to both: civilization—and resentments and rebellions thereof.

The best poets, I’m sure Marla would say, are highly moral. Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton.

The minor poets, full of resentment, tend to be highly immoral. (And the cleverer minor poets call their immorality a “higher” morality.)

The laborer resents the rich. Freedom resents Law. And so on.

Think of the bombastic rantings of a Nietzsche or a Baudelaire, Dionysian effusions which appeal to the deformed adolescent, seeking in underground places, love and affirmation.

What happened to “sex sells?”

What about the obscenity trials which propel books to fame?

What of the Marquis de Sade?

Some are getting impatient with Marla Muse lecturing us on these ‘civilized’ forces which conspire to make poetry essentially chaste. And all in the name of what she vaguely calls “good taste.”

Marla Muse: Resentment speaks!

Marla, where did you come from?

MM: I’ve been here the whole time.

You frightened me!

MM: Ahh like your conscience.

I’m only asking questions. You seem so sure that sexuality doesn’t really exist in poetry.

MM: It was you who brought up “obscenity.”

What of it? Obscenity is only a point of view.

MM: So is poetry.

A larger one, hopefully.

MM: Bad poets hope.

Hope for what?

MM: That a dirty limerick will count as ‘a poem.’

Are you saying moralistic poetry is always superior? Shelley and Poe (whom you both admire) opposed moral poetry.

MM: They opposed the didactic—morality isn’t really the issue at all. Beauty is moral. Or not. It’s all the same—as long as it’s beautiful.


MM: Bombast.

He made the Final Four!

MM: His pretty bombast happens to hint at sex in a lush and properly histrionic manner. It appeals. That’s all poetry can do. If it tries to do anything else, it’s not poetry. Baudelaire learned this from Poe—

And how convenient! Poe is your God of Beauty and rare good Taste!

MM: Exactly. Poe was the antidote to Sade.

It’s all about chastity with you, finally!

MM: No, it just seems that way to the resenters, who fancy themselves free, earthy and virile. Which are good things, obviously. But the landscape is large. Here’s the thing: poets shouldn’t get stuck in taking sides. Poets don’t need to pick a side. Play with this so-called debate we’re having. Mock it. Transcend it.

Oh I love you Marla.

MM: I’ll say one more thing about private and public. Poetry belongs to the public sphere—but the private often needs to refresh and rejuvenate a weak or poisoned public. Private isn’t necessarily a place to which we escape; the private, thanks to the actions of the refined genius, becomes a gift to the public.

“Lesbos” by Charles Baudelaire was banned by an obscenity judge—such opinions would make Joyce notorious 50 years later, and Ginsberg famous a couple of generations after that. Here is a translation Scarriet cobbled together from different translators: William Aggeler, 1954 Roy Campbell, 1952 George Dillon, 1936 Richard Herne Shepherd 1869. This is the poem moving with the most success through the International Bracket:

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

Mother of Latin sports and Greek delights,
Where kisses languishing or pleasureful,
Warm as the suns, as the water-melons cool,
Adorn the glorious days and sleepless nights,
Mother of Latin sports and Greek delights,

Lesbos, where kisses are as waterfalls
That fearless into gulfs unfathom’d leap,
Now run with sobs, now slip with gentle brawls,
Stormy and secret, manifold and deep;
Lesbos, where kisses are as waterfalls!

Lesbos, where the sweet slaves one to another yearn,
Where there is never a glance without an echoing sign;
Even as upon Cyprus the stars upon thee burn
With praise, and Cyprus’ queen is envious of thine,
Lesbos, where the sweet slaves one to another yearn —

Lesbos, of sultry twilights and pure, infertile joy,
Where deep-eyed maidens, thoughtlessly disrobing, see
Their beauty, and are entranced before their mirrors, and toy
Fondly with the soft fruits of their nubility;
Lesbos, of sultry twilights and pure, infertile joy!

Leave, leave old Plato’s austere eye to frown;
Pardon is thine for kisses’ sweet excess,
Queen of the land of amiable renown,
And for exhaustless subtleties of bliss,
Leave, leave old Plato’s austere eye to frown.

Thy pardon has been bought with our eternal pain,
The lonely martyrdom endured in every age
By those who sigh for pleasures outlandish and insane
To ease the unearthly longing no pleasure can assuage.
Thy pardon has been bought with our eternal pain.

Who, Lesbos, of the gods would dare pronounce thy fate
And brand thy passionate white brow with infamy —
Or hope by any art or science to estimate
The tears, the tears thy streams have poured into the sea?
Who, Lesbos, of the gods would dare pronounce thy fate?

What are men’s laws to us, injurious or benign?
Proud virgins, glory of the Aegean! We know well
Love, be it most foredoomed, most desperate, is divine,
And love will always laugh at heaven and at hell!
What are men’s laws to us, injurious or benign?

For Lesbos chose me among all other poets
To sing the secret of her virgins in their bloom,
And from childhood I witnessed the dark mystery
Of unbridled laughter mingled with tears of gloom;
For Lesbos chose me among all other poets.

Since then I watch on the Leucadian height.
Like a lone sentry with a piercing view
Who sees the vessels ere they heave in sight
With forms that faintly tremble in the blue.
Since then I watch on the Leucadian height

To find if the cold wave were pitiful and good —
And someday I shall see come wandering home, I know,
To all-forgiving Lesbos upon the twilight flood
The sacred ruins of Sappho, who set forth long ago
To find if the cold wave were pitiful and good;

Of her the man-like lover-poetess,
In her sad pallor more than Venus fair!
The azure eye yields to that black eye, where
The cloudy circle tells of the distress
Of her the man-like lover-poetess!

Fairer than Venus towering on the world
And pouring down serenity like water
In the blond radiance of her tresses curled
To daze the very Ocean with her daughter,
Fairer than Venus towering on the world —

Of Sappho, who, blaspheming, died that day
When trampling on the rite and sacred creed,
She made her body fair the supreme prey
Of one whose pride punish’d the impious deed
Of Sappho, who, blaspheming, died that day.

And since that time it is that Lesbos moans,
And, spite the homage which the whole world pays,
Is drunk each night with cries of pain and groans,
Her desert shores unto the heavens do raise,
And since that time it is that Lesbos moans!

“The Song of Everlasting Sorrow” by Po Chu-i (772-846), “The Ode of Imr El-Qais” by Imr El-Qais (530), “The Golden God” from the Upanishads (800 BC), and “Lesbia Let Us Love Only For Loving” by Catullus (8-54 BC) have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the Early Bracket.

MM: As we can see from the Baudelaire poem, the best we can hope for in terms of a great ‘sex and death poem,’ is atmosphere, suggestiveness, seductive language. A description of the sex act in simple language would be sexier to 99% of readers. Poetry moralizes and enriches us in an unconscious (and therefore powerful) manner.

Here’s a short poem making a big splash in the International Bracket—Marla is not a fan, since it isn’t “suggestive,” and doesn’t use “seductive language.” It’s by the Polish poet Jan Kochanowski. Translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer.

Jan Kochanowski (1530-1584)

He discovered the age of the sun and he knows
Just why the wrong or the right wind blows.
He has looked at each nook of the ocean floor
But he doesn’t see that his wife is a whore.

MM: Not my taste. This poem doesn’t have enough meat on its bones.

Colombo, Sri Lanka


For the Modern Bracket, Scarriet found a number of sex poems in the underground anthology New American Poetry (Grove Press 1960), on its cover called an “Evergreen original”—a publication seeking to capitalize on the fame of the Beats—primarily due to the 1957 obscenity trial of “Howl” published in 1956 and the corresponding success of On The Road (1957). 1959 saw a big spread on the Beats in Life magazine. The Evergreen review, which published erotic art, as well as the writings of Bukowski, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Samuel Beckett, William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch 1959), Frank O’Hara, and Norman Mailer, was founded by the publisher of Grove Press in the late 50s.

New American Poetry was naturally intended to be a school textbook (follow the money). Grove Press chose not to make it a Beat anthology, even though Ginsberg was a consultant. Most poets (organized in the book loosely by poetry movement or geography) appearing in NAP had, until then, only self-published.

The Beats don’t appear until pg. 168—the beginning of the book is given over to obscure poetry more academic-sounding—“A Poem Beginning With A Line By Pindar” by Robert Duncan, for instance. “Variations Done For Gerald Van De Wiele” by Charles Olson. Grove Press wasn’t taking any chances. The work did become a school textbook.

Denise Levertov (d 1997)

Who’d believe me if
I said, ‘They took and

split me open from
scalp to crotch, and

still I’m alive, and
walk around pleased with

the sun and all
the world’s bounty.’ Honesty

isn’t so simple:
a simple honesty is

nothing but a lie.
Don’t the trees

hide the wind between
their leaves and

speak in whispers?
The third dimension

hides itself.
If the roadmen

crack stones, the
stones are stones:

but love
cracked me open

and I’m
alive to

tell the tale—but not

the words
change it. Let it be —

here in the sweet sun
— a fiction, while I

breathe and
change pace.

Paul Blackburn (d 1971)

The tanned blonde
in the green print sack
in the center of the subway car
though there are seats
has had it from
1 teen-age hood
1 lesbian
1 envious housewife
4 men over fifty
(& myself), in short
the contents of this half of the car

Our notations are:
long legs, long waist, high breasts (no bra), long
neck, the model slump
the handbag drape and how the skirt
cuts in under a very handsome
set of cheeks
‘stirring dull roots with spring rain’ sayeth the preacher

Only a stolid young man
with a blue business suit and the New York Times
does not know he is being assaulted

She has us and we her
all the way to downtown Brooklyn
Over the tunnel and through the bridge
to DeKalb Avenue we go
all very chummy

She stares at the number over the door
and gives no sign

yet the sign is on her

Robert Creeley (d 2005)

My love’s manners in bed
are not to be discussed by me,
as mine by her
I would not credit comment upon gracefully.

But I ride by that margin of the lake in
the wood, the castle;
and have a small boy’s notion of doing good.

Oh well, I will say here,
knowing each man,
let you find a good wife too,
and love her as hard as you can.

Allen Ginsberg (d 1997)

Bare skin is my wrinkled sack
When hot Apollo humps my back
When Jack Frost grabs me in these rags
I wrap my legs with burlap bags

My flesh is cinder my face is snow
I walk the railroad to and fro
When the city streets are black and dead
The railroad embankment is my bed

I sup my soup from old tin cans
And take my sweets from little hands
In Tiger Alley near the jail
I steal away from the garbage pail

In darkest night where none can see
Down in the bowels of the factory
I sneak barefoot upon stone
Come and hear the old man groan

I hide and wait like a naked child
Under the bridge my heart goes wild
I scream at a fire on the river bank
I give my body to an old gas tank

I dream that I have burning hair
Boiled arms that claw the air
The torso of an iron king
And on my back a broken wing

Who’ll go out whoring into the night
On the eyeless road in the skinny moonlight
Maid or dowd or athlete proud
May wanton with me in the shroud

Who’ll come lay down in the dark with me
Belly to belly and knee to knee
Who’ll look into my hooded eye
Who’ll lay down under my darkened thigh?

Here is sexuality as portrayed by the mid-20th century American poets.

Notice the furtive, reticent, clandestine approach.

The “outsider,” New American Poetry, poets are obeying a moral code—even if they don’t consider themselves very moral. They are not “spreading their wings” like Lord Byron, or John Keats, or even William Wordsworth.

Poetry is social—not free. And less free, because (and this is more germane for these 20th century poets) successful poetry is always successful (at least superficially) because it is taught in school. This is not a knock against school—merely an observation.

Levertov announces right at the beginning that what she says won’t be believed—and she never comes out and says exactly what it is she’s talking about. Is it a great poem or a boring poem? It’s hard to tell.

Blackburn’s poem is entitled “once-over,” a term meaning scrutiny or examination which is secretive, or swift—a perfect description of edgy, modern poetry; like Levertov, Blackburn is acutely aware of poetry’s limits; unlike Levertov, he’s visual and factual, but he still falls prey to what he hunts—“once-over” poetry. The “sign” at the end indicates a sad, public, mean, phobic, world. There’s no joy here. This isn’t Germanic melancholy. This is hardcore claustrophobia, depression, estrangement—during the “boom” of the freest, richest country in history. Oh the price of being an “outsider.” Or a poet who strives to reflect “once-over modernity,” a lynx-eye victim of both everything and nothing.

Creeley, too, can’t say too much: “My love’s manners in bed/are not to be discussed by me.” The final “love her as hard as you can” sounds just the right note of ‘I accept my imprisoned desperation’—ferocity which knows it will never escape, a poem too cool to say much else, a frank plea for joy in a poem otherwise joyless. The poem “wins” on a certain reticent level—the best this kind of short, confessional, ‘guy-poetry’ can do. It’s rueful and snide—or glorious, depending on how you’re feeling at the moment.

Ginsberg is active in the extreme compared to the first three poets from New American Poetry (almost a 19th century throw-back) and yet he reigns himself in—the question, “Who’ll go out whoring into the night” rather than the affirmation, makes the poem seem less adventurous. Ginsberg is finally a harmless “child,” a victim, shrouded.

Does this final stanza from Ginsberg’s poem sound like street-smart, modern poetry?

Who’ll come lay down in the dark with me
Belly to belly and knee to knee
Who’ll look into my hooded eye
Who’ll lay down under my darkened thigh?

Was Ginsberg street-smart?

Or was he just a Man of Letters who liked the Romantic poets, when all is said and done.

Marla Muse would like to add something.

MM: Mr. Scarriet, interesting, as usual. I think you’re being a little hard on these poets. They are obviously sensitive and intelligent and they meet the challenge—how to be honest about sex? The poets need to get published, so they can’t write about sex, even though they are dying to write about sex; but it’s easier when you’re a lyric poet and do not use many words—your audience may not notice you really have nothing to say about sex. I don’t mean ‘fearing to be obscene’ necessarily. One might have nothing to say that’s witty or profound on the subject. The poets looking to get into the schools were inhibited in this regard—what about pop stars from that era? I remember a story about John Lennon, the regular-guy John of the Beatles before he met Yoko and became a skinny tea-drinker; it was 1965 or 1966 at some event where Allen Ginsberg stripped naked and John objected, because women were present. “The birds, Allen!” Lennon, too, couldn’t write about sex with the Beatles. “I Am The Walrus” is obscure poetry speaking on it, maybe, who knows? and Ginsberg and Poe both make an appearance. Ginsberg is the “elementary penguin.”

I am he as you are he as you are me
And we are all together
See how they run like pigs from a gun
See how they fly
I’m crying

Sitting on a corn flake
Waiting for the van to come
Corporation T-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you’ve been a naughty boy
You let your face grow long

I am the egg man
They are the egg men
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob

Mister City policeman sitting
Pretty little policemen in a row
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky, see how they run
I’m crying, I’m crying
I’m crying, I’m crying

Yellow matter custard
Dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy, you’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down

I am the egg man
They are the egg men
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob

Sitting in an English garden
Waiting for the sun
If the sun don’t come you get a tan
From standing in the English rain

I am the egg man (now good sir)
They are the egg men (a poor man, made tame to fortune’s blows)
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob, goo goo goo g’joob (good pity)

Expert, texpert choking smokers
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you (ho ho ho, hee hee hee, hah hah hah)
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snide
I’m crying

Semolina Pilchard
Climbing up the Eiffel tower
Elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe

I am the egg man
They are the egg men
I am the walrus
Goo goo g’joob, goo goo goo g’joob
Goo goo g’joob, goo goo goo g’joob, goo
Joob, joob, jooba
Jooba, jooba, jooba
Joob, jooba
Joob, jooba

Umpa, umpa, stick it up your jumper (jooba, jooba)
Umpa, umpa, stick it up your jumper
Everybody’s got one (umpa, umpa)
Everybody’s got one (stick it up your jumper)
Everybody’s got one (umpa, umpa)
Everybody’s got one (stick it up your jumper)
Everybody’s got one (umpa, umpa)
Everybody’s got one (stick it up your jumper)
Everybody’s got one (umpa, umpa)
Everybody’s got one (stick it up your jumper)
Everybody’s got one (umpa, umpa)
Everybody’s got one (stick it up your jumper)
Everybody’s got one (umpa, umpa)

Thou hast slain me
Villain, take my purse
If I ever
Bury my body
The letters which though find’st about me
To Edmund Earl of Gloucester
Seek him out upon the British Party
O untimely death
I know thee well
A serviceable villain, as duteous to the vices of thy mistress
As badness would desire
What, is is he dead?
Sit you down, Father, rest you

March Madness

Colombo, Sri Lanka


The Scarriet Poetry March Madness has invited the best sex and death poems of all time to participate for 2023.

The challenge is that published poems are not sexy.

And for one major reason.

Poetry, as much as we like to think otherwise, belongs to public, not private expression.

What does this mean, in terms of ‘sex poetry?’

Poetry is moral, precisely because it thrives as a school subject, not as entertainment. The poetry which the educated understand and appreciate as poetry, is taught in school and published by university presses—and publishing houses who know that academia is where the money is.

Byron published sexy poetry—because he was perhaps the last poet who didn’t need to sell in school. He wrote for the public. His poetry—for a short time, anyway—was gobbled up as entertainment. It is no accident, then, that Byron, perhaps more than any other poet, has the reputation of being sexy.

Byron, if he is read at all today, is read in school—selections of his work, therefore, are fit for school. This is true of any sexy poet who wrote centuries ago, before poetry was taken over by the schools—we experience old poetry in what are essentially school books, or books published with an eye to be sold (for profit) in schools.

Poetry is shaped by this fact (as centuries ago, it was influenced by Platonism and religion).

Dirty poetry (as opposed to sexy poetry) is something else altogether. A dirty limerick, or an unseemly rhyme, will never be seen as poetry by an educated audience.

It should be no surprise to anyone, then, that the 2023 March Madness Sex and Death Poetry tournament features no dirty poetry—and very little sex poetry.

But is this such a bad thing?

If poets cannot overcome a challenge like this, who can?

Combination is the soul of art—what artist cares about only one thing? It is the mixture of the paints, not the paints, which is all.

Sex and morality, by a profound poet mixed: shouldn’t this be a source of never-ending delight?

Of course!

Here is a poem in the Modern Bracket—it came to my attention in a book published by the author in 2007 (Penguin), who 7 years earlier won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Carl Dennis was a professor at U. Buffalo from 1966—when he earned his PhD in California—until 2001. His poetry is day-dreamy, evincing few attachments, family or romantic. He tends to imagine the lives of strangers. His work is about as lonely and dry as one can get—but this is no matter, from what has just been said. In terms of what poetry actually is, as it is practiced today, the following qualifies as a ‘sex and death’ poem, an excellent one, if one reads it with the proper sensitivity:

Carl Dennis (b 1939)

If I’ve read your silence correctly,
You’ve never been sullen,
Never resentful I’ve treated you more
As a master treats a servant
Than as friend treats friend.

On the dark day when you’ll be too weak
To obey my wishes, I don’t imagine you
Feeling relieved, glad to be free
Of a partner who failed to understand you.
I suspect you’ll be troubled,
Knowing how lost I’ll be without you.

I know how lucky I am
That you’ve been so patient,
So willing to sit for hours—
Now that your shoulder has almost healed
And the pain in your back has responded to therapy—
Without complaining, motionless
Except for the hand holding the pen.

What can I do, I wonder, while you still
Can bestir yourself for my sake, to show you
I’m not ungrateful. Shall we take off a day
Together soon? Shall we stroll the streets
Or hike in the mountains?

It’s up to you, if you choose the mountains,
Whether we climb to test your limits of breath
And muscle, and embrace exhaustion,
Or linger in a thicket of nuts and berries.

And if we linger, it’s your choice whether we eat,
There and then, all that we gather,
As if that meal would be our last one,
Or save a portion so that tomorrow
Won’t seem ungenerous,
If not so generous as today.


March Madness 2023
Colombo, Sri Lanka


There is no more “modern poetry.”

A quarter of the way into 21st century, early-to-mid 20th century poetry (“Modernism”) looks closer to 19th century verse than poetry published over the last 50 years.

Make the context world poetry—20th century Modernism borrowed (stole) liberally from the old, from the East—and “modern poetry” seems even more meaningless.

There is only contemporary poetry—original, or not.

“Modernism” should never, ever, have been a thing.

Modern poetry, even when talking about the “Modernism” of Pound, Eliot and Stevens, is now a term which is merely confusing.

This seems especially true in this tournament, where its theme (sex and death), a narrow but universal one, relies on eternal, poetic strengths, not quirks and stylistic experiments.

Take this poem by E.R. Dodds, a professor of Greek, who knew Eliot and Auden, and published one volume of poetry in 1929.

E.R. Dodds (1893-1979)

When the ecstatic body grips
Its heaven, with little throbbing cries,
And lips are crushed on hot blind lips,
I read strange pity in your eyes.

For that in you which is not mine,
And that in you which I love best,
And that, which my day-thoughts divine
Masterless still, still unpossessed.

Sits in the blue eyes’ frightened stare,
A naked lonely-dwelling thing,
A frail thing from its body-lair
Drawn at my body’s summoning;

Whispering low, “O unknown man,
Whose hunger on my hunger wrought,
Body shall give what body can,
Shall give you all—save what you sought.”

Whispering, “O secret one forgive,
Forgive and be content though still
Beyond the blood’s surrender live
The darkness of the separate will.

“Enough if in the veins we know
Body’s delirium, body’s peace—
Ask not that ghost to ghost shall go,
Essence in essence merge and cease.”

But swiftly, as in sudden sleep,
That You in you is veiled or dead;
And the world’s shrunken to a heap
Of hot flesh straining on a bed.

Formally, this 20th century poem belongs to the 19th century. Everything about it, even its sexual frankness, could easily be found in Romantic poetry. An especially illuminating close reading (1999, John Simon, the drama critic) isn’t wasting time recruiting “When the Ecstatic Body Grips” into the Modern canon. The admiration is (nearly) timeless. We quote its final two paragraphs:

“Even the choice of meter attests to Dodd’s astuteness. Had he used pentameter, there would be something statelier, more formal about the poem: iambic pentameter, after all, is the stuff of English heroic and dramatic verse, although to be sure, of love sonnets as well. Still, by choosing tetrameter, a more tripping measure, Dodds acheives a fragility as well as narrative speed suited to the urgency and breathlessness with which the poem hurtles to its shocking conclusion. For shocking it is: after the woman’s soul has pleaded, seemingly successfully, for her essence, not to merge with her lover’s, and so yield up its autonomy, in stanza 6, that is precisely what happens in stanza 7, as hot flesh strains in a heap on sheets foreshadowing winding sheets.

Or is it? Might that merging be only temporary body’s delirium, transcended into body’s peace and resumption of the soul’s selfhood? Or is the delirium of flesh a permanent abdication of innermost independence? Something tragic does seem to take over when that capitalized You becomes veiled or dead. But the final answer—if such there be—is up to the individual reader. Only let him or her be warned by a splendid thought from Professor Dodd’s The Greeks and the Irrational: “We must resist the temptation to simplify what is not simple.” Caveat lector, and beware all of us when the mighty Cyprian goddess grips our ecstatic bodies.”

John Simon, The Hudson Review 1999

Let’s party (get ecstatic,) like it’s 1929. Or 1999.

Or 1799.

Here’s William Wordsworth—and it’s practically the same poem as “When the Ecstatic Body Grips,” (Wordsworth provides more pictorial genius) and Marla Muse wants us to include the final stanza which Wordsworth dropped for the 1800 publication in Lyrical Ballads:


Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.

When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.

Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.

And now we reached the orchard-plot;
And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot
Came near, and nearer still.

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!
And all the while my eye I kept
On the descending moon.

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropped.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover’s head!
“O mercy!” to myself I cried,
“If Lucy should be dead!”

I told her this: her laughter light
Is ringing in my ears:
And when I think upon that night
My eyes are dim with tears.

Or we can party with Byron (in iambic pentameter, no less! take note, John Simon):

Lord BYRON 1788 – 1824

Man being reasonable must get drunk –
The Best of Life is but Intoxication –
Glory, the Grape, Love, Gold, in these are sunk
The hopes of all men and of every Nation –
Without their Sap, how branchless were the trunk
Of Life’s strange tree – so fruitful on Occasion;
But to return – Get very drunk – and when
You wake with Headache – you shall see what then.

Ring for your Valet – bid him quickly bring
Some Hock and Soda-water – then you’ll know
A Pleasure worthy Xerxes the great King;
For not the blest Sherbet, sublimed with Snow,
Nor the first Sparkle of the Desart-Spring,
Nor Burgundy in all its Sunset Glow,
After long travel, Ennui, love or slaughter,
Vie with that draught of Hock and Soda-Water.

The Coast – I think it was the Coast – that I
Was just describing – Yes – it was the Coast –
Lay at this period quiet as the Sky,
The Sands untumbled, the blue waves untost
And all was Stillness, save the Sea-bird’s Cry,
And Dolphin’s leap, and little billow crost
By some low Rock or Shelve, that made it fret
Against the Boundary it scarcely wet. – – –

And forth they wandered, her Sire being gone,
As I have said, upon an Expedition;
And Mother, brother, guardian She had none
Save Zoe, who, although with due precision
She waited on her Lady with the Sun,
Thought daily Service was her only Mission,
Bringing warm water, wreathing her long tresses
And asking now and then for cast-off dresses. – –

It was the cooling Hour, just when the rounded
Red Sun sinks down behind the Azure Hill,
Which then seems as if the whole Earth it bounded,
Circling all Nature, hushed, and dim, and still,
With the far Mountain-Crescent half-surrounded
On one side, and the deep Sea calm and chill
Upon the other, and the rosy Sky,
With One Star sparkling through it like an Eye.

And thus they wandered forth, and hand in hand,
Over the shining pebbles and the Shells,
Glided along the smooth and hardened Sand,
And in the worn and wild receptacles
Worked by the Storms, yet worked as it were planned,
In hollow Halls, with Sparry roofs and Cells,
They turned to rest; and Each clasped by an Arm,
Yielded to the deep Twilight’s Purple Charm.

They looked up to the Sky, whose floating Glow
Spread like a rosy Ocean, vast, and bright;
They gazed upon the Glittering Sea below,
Whence the broad Moon rose circling into Sight;
They heard the Wave’s splash, and the Wind so low,
And saw each other’s dark eyes darting light
Into each other – and, beholding this
Their lips drew near and clung into a kiss;

A long, long kiss, a kiss of youth and love,
And beauty, all concentrating like rays
Into one focus, kindled from Above;
Such kisses as belong to early days,
Where heart and Soul and Sense, in concert move,
And the blood’s lava, and the Pulse a blaze,
Each kiss a Heart-quake – for a kiss’s Strength,
I think, it must be reckoned by its length.

By length I mean duration; theirs endured
Heaven know how long – no doubt they never reckoned;
And if they had, they could not have secured
The Sum of their Sensations to a Second;
They had not spoken; but they felt allured,
As if their Souls and Lips each other beckoned,
Which being joined, like swarming Bees they Clung —
Their Hearts the flowers from whence the Honey sprung.

They were alone, but not alone as they
Who shut in the chambers think it loneliness;
The silent Ocean, and the Starlight Bay,
The twilight Glow, which momently grew less,
The voiceless Sands, and dropping Caves, that lay
Around them, made them to each other press,
As if there were no Life beneath the Sky
Save theirs, and that their Life could never die. –

They feared no eyes nor ears on that lone beach,
They felt no terrors from the Night, they were
All in All to each other; though their Speech
Was broken words, they thought a language there –
And all the burning tongues the Passions teach –
Found in one Sigh the best Interpreter
Of Nature’s Oracle – first Love – that All
Which Eve has left her daughters since their fall.

Haidee Spoke not of Scruples, asked no vows,
Nor offered any; She had never heard
Of plight, and promises to be a Spouse,
Or perils by a loving Maid incurred;
She was all which pure Ignorance allows,
And flew to her young Mate like a young bird;
And, never having dreamt of falsehood, She
Had not one word to say of Constancy. – – –

Is that modern enough for you?

(Marla Muse is laughing. She knows what I’m talking about.)

And finally here’s a poem by Wilson MacDonald, a Canadian poet who died in 1967. In his maturity, he toured and recited his verse for a living.

Where does he belong? In the Modern bracket, or the Romantic one?

Wilson MacDonald (1880-1967)

Easily to the old
Opens the hard ground:
But when youth grows cold,
And red lips have no sound,
Bitterly does the earth
Open to receive
And bitterly do the grasses
In the churchyard grieve.

Cold clay knows how to hold
An aged hand;
But how to comfort youth
It does not understand.
Even the gravel rasps
In a dumb way
When youth comes homing
Before its day.

Elizabeth’s hair was made
To warm a man’s breast,
And her lips called like roses
To be caressed;
But grin the Jester
Who gave her hair to lie
On the coldest lover
Under the cold sky.

But Elizabeth never knew
Nor will learn now,
How the long wrinkle comes
On the white brow;
Nor will she ever know,
In her robes of gloom,
How chill is a dead child
From a warm womb.

O clay, so tender
When a flower is born.
Press gently as she dreams
In her bed forlorn.
They who come early
Must weary of their rest—
Lie softly, then, as light
On her dear breast.

Unflowered is her floor,
Her roof is unstarred.
Is this then the ending—
Here, shuttered and barred?
Nay, not the ending;
She will awake
Or the heart of the earth
That enfolds her will break.


Colombo, Sri Lanka


Poetry interprets sexual feelings differently than real life does, simply because there is less time within the poem.

It is impossible to hold these two ideas in our mind at once: sex in life and sex in the poem. They are two different interpretations, two different things. Marla Muse is here to explain the latter. Take it away, Marla.

“Thank you, Mr. Scarriet. By the way, before I begin, I want to let you know I spoke to Tom [Eliot] last night—we spoke well into the evening about all that he is, the mistakes he has made (including remaining friends with Pound for much too long) and he has agreed to be in the Romantic Bracket for this year’s Scarriet Sex and Death Poetry March Madness.”

That’s wonderful news, Marla!

“I knew this would please you, Mr. Scarriet. Now, here’s my quick lecture.”

Poems are not optimized for pictorial revelation (nuanced spatial art is far better)—and if they attempt to instruct, the words lack feeling.

A humorous poem could illustrate this: OK, here is how you cook rice for your spouse, step one, step two, and here is how you have sex with your spouse, step one, step two. But this is really all a poem can do, as far as sex. (Step one, take off your clothes. Step two, embrace your spouse while closing your eyes. Step three, imagine someone else who attracts you.)

Love, of course, is different. Love doesn’t need instructional steps.

Unlike love, sex doesn’t need to be beautiful; nor does sex require a beginning and an end (Aristotle’s theory of art) or a story. Sex only requires a set of instructions—which is not poetry. It can provide humor (which is not nothing!) at best, which I just illustrated above.

But when it comes to love, sex needs to be beautiful, sex does require aesthetics—love, therefore, refines sex—it is one of the things love does.

Now, of course, one could say love is an ally to sex in this manner, or one could make the argument that love makes war against sex and inhibits its freedom. Let’s leave this argument to the side for now. Or, we can accept that we may never understand the alliance of sex and love—and poetry may use this as a wonderful subject to philosophically explore, like the topic which asks, how is the physical body welcomed into heaven?

Sex, which is diminished precisely because it can be reduced to a series of steps, or actions, putting it much closer to a subject for an instruction manual than a poem, gets a reprieve if it is disguised as love—only then is sex permitted in a poem.

Sex, however, can’t participate in homely aspects of love in the poem—love is commonly depicted in a homely guise. If sex does this, especially with passionate advocating, this would be to expose sex, the intruder, like a burglar in a home.

Love is more comfortable if sex isn’t glimpsed under the garments of the poem—which is love’s, not sex’s domain.

If a man is talking to a woman and urging her “to live” and “not waste time,” and so forth, this hints at love, and even sex.

In love, no one says, “we must do this now,” without casting suspicion that sex is the motive.

“Seize the day” is a common theme in “old, wise,” canonized, poetry. I’m against trashy poetry, and happy that ancient brackets in the Sex and Death tournament are filled with poems like the following, which is a brand new translation by Mr. Scarriet. (I am teaching him well.)

Mortality (death) quickens love into an urgency which is as close to sex (in a tasteful manner) as the old, wise poets are going to get.


HORACE died 8 BC

Dear girl, don’t ask
Our fate, the gods’ task!
What’s your end, my end, the prophecy?
No, let’s live ignorantly.
You may listen to Jupiter:
“This will not be your last winter.”
Or the god’s prophecy might say politely,
“This winter, smashing cliffs along the sea
will be your last.” Take care
of your slow vineyards.
Everything is rare
as we contemplate dying.
Seize the day!
Even as you read this, time
deploys new winds
against this rhyme

Now let me mention another acceptable sex theme for poetry. I shouldn’t need to explain why. I have already told you enough.

The passing of physical beauty, and because of that, the passing of love, is one of the most common themes in the world.

Yes, this theme can be too subtle, too cloying. The best early poets attempted to reconcile sensuality and morality as delicately as possible; sophisticated poetry had not arrived yet. We can’t blame the poets. Life was still ruled by the sword.


Before I laughed with him
nightly, the slow waves beating
on his wide shore
and the palmyra
bringing forth heron-like flowers
near the waters.
My eyes were like the lotus,
my arms had the grace of the bamboo,
my forehead was mistaken for the moon.
But now

(translated, A.K. Ramanujan)

And finally, here’s a famous sex poem by an ancient Roman (in a brand new translation by Mr. Scarriet, which smoothly captures the theme of the poem like no other translation I know).

Or, instead of a sex poem, should we call it a kissing poem? Kissing in poetry can belong to both love and sex, if only by accident. This poem is the most pure sex poem there is—because it fully delights in love. And unlike so many ‘death and sex’ poems, it is not starved by separation; there is no betrayal; it spreads joy and success; the triumph on many levels of this work makes Catullus perhaps the greatest sex poet of all, deserving of his fame.


Let’s live, my Lesbia, only for loving.
A child’s penny can buy the gossip
of these sick, old men—our enemies.
Evil words and suns still rise, but night
will fall all around us. Night will let us
have this: a thousand kisses, a hundred
kisses, a thousand kisses, a hundred kisses,
a thousand kisses, a hundred kisses;
a memo from the bank says the kisses
you gave me destroyed the world economy,
the gossips cannot count your kisses,
too many kisses, the jealous cannot find them.


Colombo, Sri Lanka


Advocates of Literary Modernism are threatening to boycott the 2023 Scarriet March Madness Tournament (Sex and Death Poetry) in Colombo, Sri Lanka. They feel Marla Muse has too much influence. “She’s old.” “We don’t like her.” “Power-hungry.”

“My opponents are old, decrepit professors who can’t accept the fact that Modernism is no longer new or relevant—or that Modernism was never really that revolutionary in the first place. Get over it, fellas,” said Marla Muse yesterday, who is 10,000 years old, but still beautiful.

The sticking point is this:

The distribution of poetry in the four tournament brackets known as Early, International, Romantic, and Modern—specifically the latter two.

Ancient poems (translated) fill the Early Bracket.

International poems (translated) fill the International Bracket.

The outrage results from early 20th Century poets (High Modernism) occupying the Romantic Bracket—T.S. Eliot refuses to share the same March Madness Bracket with Percy Shelley.

“Eliot is an asshole,” Marla Muse said yesterday, as reporters mobbed her at her favorite Colombo watering hole. “T.S. can’t accept the fact that there’s been a reassessment. He’s a Romantic poet. The Tradition is no longer what it was in 1963. Sorry.”

Scarriet officials desperately attempted to placate Eliot, Nobel Prize Winner 1948, who questioned the worth of Jews and Shelley in the 1930s as a guest at Harvard—where he was escaping his first wife back in England.

A press release was quickly circulated by Robert Tonucci: “The sole reason the great literary Modernist and Nobel Prize winning poet, critic, playwright, and lecturer, Thomas Stearns Eliot, occupies the Romantic Bracket is for purely logistical reasons—there are too many recent poets—much younger than Mr. Eliot—who must occupy the fourth, or Modern Bracket.”

But Marla’s tongue may have already done too much damage.

Hopefully, poets will remain calm and somewhat united—so the whole Sex and Death tournament will not have to be postponed.

The Romantic Bracket is filled with the likes of Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Thomas Campion, Robert Herrick, Andrew Marvell, E.E.Cummings, Wallace Stevens, Swinburne, Donne, Wilfred Owen, DH Lawrence, Emily Dickinson, and the deeply offended Eliot.

The Modern Bracket is packed with poets such as Philip Larkin, Paul Blackburn, Helen Adam, Denise Levertov, Dorothy Parker, Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds, Marilyn Chin, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, William Kulik, and Carolyn Creedon, whose poem, “litany,” has been generating a lot of buzz around Colombo:

Carolyn Creedon (b 1969)

Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
I will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and I will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. Then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayon­naise and 
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant

Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
Yes, and I will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby

Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
Yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. I will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and fore­heads

Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s 
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
Yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. I will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. If you fall I might disappear

Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a
loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
No, but I will come inside you and you will be my daughter

Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
No, but I will lie down on your sheets and taste you. There will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then I will never forget you

Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
No, but later you can lie against me and almost touch me and when I go I will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me

Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
No, but I will sit in silence while you rage, you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. I will always be the same and you will always wait

Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
No, it will burn my fingers. No one can have the sun: it’s on loan from God.
But I will draw a picture of it and send it to you from Richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun

Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptise me with sex and cool water?
I will come back from Richmond. I will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your neck and then I will lick the salt off it. Then I will leave

Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
I have left you. That is how you will know


And now let us take a look at Eliot’s poem—in the Romantic Bracket. Does it belong there?

La Figlia che Piange
T.S. Eliot (b 1888)

“O quam te memorem virgo …” Virgil

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.


As of last night, still no comment on whether Tom Eliot would remain in Scarriet’s Sex and Death Poetry Tournament.

Colombo, Sri Lanka


Scarriet: Marla, how do you think this sex and poetry Scarriet 2023 March Madness is going?

M: I love Sri Lanka. I love the sex theme. I think you’ve done a good job with it, Mr. Scarriet. You’ve shown how sex can’t work in poetry and yet hints of it can work, especially combined with death.

S: You can’t be too indirect when you’re talking about sex because then it feels the poet is being too clever and stupid, and you can’t be too direct—that’s almost worse.

M: I was surveying the web and the “30 sexiest poems” lists which are out there. I’m 10,000 years old and I’ve seen it all, but I still like to sneer at what’s new! (laughter) The sexually overt poems fail simply because the moment it feels like porn, it’s not poetry, and on the other hand it’s just as embarrassing when whatever we mean by “poetry” in the phrase, “it’s not poetry,” is used as a stand-in for sex—you want sand and water and seeds and rugs and flowers to represent sex, OK, whatever, not really. (laughter) So the whole sex poetry enterprise is made to fail, but to contemplate the giant failure teaches you something along the way about sex and morality and—beauty in poetry.

S: That’s so true! Bukowski has a poem about two lovers taking a shower after they’ve had sex and he gives us “cock” and “cunt” and “soap” —and Bukowski wins the tournament.

M: Bukowski just goes for it. That’s him. And all the other poets say “Why didn’t I think of that?” And you’re right. Bukowski wins. And all the professors swooning over Sappho can just sit down. Losers. (laughter)

S: It’s impossible to write a sexy poem. The moment it’s sexy, it’s not a poem. Some will say, “But why? Why is it impossible? You’re pushing a theory and just ruining everything. Shut up.” But it really is true. Maybe it’s a “theory,” but it’s correct. A scientist and a child can both see it. There are things which are oil and water, and sex and poetry are oil and water. That lovely thing by Bukowski is not a poem.

M: Sex and poetry might be united… in a poem… about water and oil… (laughter)

S: For some, poetry might simply be this: A really sensitive guy writing porn. (laughter) But then what do the female poets write? (laughter)

M: Porn-poetry about a sensitive guy writing porn-poetry?

S: Sure, guys and gals will find a way.

M: We can approach it from many angles but the fact remains: poetry is spoiled by porn and porn is spoiled by poetry—yet there are professors, certainly, who believe that in some ideal, aesthetic, pagan world in the sky, they unite.

S: I might illustrate the dilemma this way. The best love I had, and the only love I had like it, was when I loved my lover as if she were a porn star. It was involuntary. I couldn’t help it. I never watched porn, and I had this feeling, based on what people would say occasionally, that everyone in the world watched porn but me. And I loved her madly, truly, only focused on her, no one else mattered but her, for years, and I never got tired of her, but she grew uncomfortable under my infatuation, I became too easy to mock, so she dumped me.

M: Yes, I sort of see how that might sum up the dilemma, Mr. Scarriet—and sum up why you are who you are, and why you run these stupid tournaments! (giving him a kiss).

S: (blushing). Uh yeah… Thank you, Marla.

Love’s Philosophy
Percy Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river
   And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
   With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
   All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
   Why not I with thine?—

See the mountains kiss high heaven
   And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
   If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
   And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
   If thou kiss not me?

Colombo, Sri Lanka


As Scarriet explained, the good sex poem is rare.

Ancient sex poems are mostly gasbaggy and vulgar.

Aesthetics concerns beauty.

This is not to say that exquisite words cannot tastefully embrace the erotic, but the demands of the poem are severe: not beauty alone, nor taste alone, but the beautiful and the tasteful together defines all that has to do with the muse.

The finest poetry cannot be raunchy—poetry and sex have different ends, different advertising, different careers.

Sex in a poem is either sexy—and not really a poem, or not sexy and a poem, perhaps. Love is allowed to hint at sex, just as offspring, sighs, or poems by Keats, do.

Love may be capable of uniting poetry and sex in an individual’s mind, but not in the public’s eyes. The poet, no matter what state of ecstasy happens to grip him, can never forget the eyes of the public. Humiliation is the issue, not morality. The public will smirk and condemn what even the priest will pardon.

The cult of Keats, in which the effeminate poet, dying young, creates a ‘Death and the Maiden,’ or ‘Death and the Poet’ trope, urges any poet seeking fame to express sex tastefully and symbolically in terms of death. This cult (an English flower of German Romanticism) was still all the rage in the early 20th century. I say sex, because how else to describe:

“I have been half in love with easeful death,
Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!”

The nightingale, Keats’ earthly alter-ego, feels “ecstasy” as Death is courted by the male poet (a striking reversal of the ‘Death and the Maiden’ theme in which Death courts the maiden). Keats “called him (Death) soft names.”

This Melancholy Garden Eroticism perfected by Keats (d 1821), continued with Tennyson (d 1892) :

There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, ‘She is near, she is near;’
And the white rose weeps, ‘She is late…’


She is coming, my own, my sweet,
Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
Had I lain for a century dead;
Would start and tremble under her feet,
And blossom in purple and red.

And carried on by Wilfred Owen (d 1918) :

Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.”

The cult of Keats made it possible for an English soldier writing of his fallen comrades to use the trope of erotic love: “red lips,” “stained stones kissed,” “kindness of wooed and wooer,” and “shame.” in a perfectly appropriate manner.

T S. Eliot changed poetry and ended the cult of Keats by striking out in a different (anti-heroic, almost comic) direction:

Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?

Eliot’s famous “patient etherized upon a table” image is a weird, jarring rebuke to Love, Sex, and Death Romanticism.

Whether Eliot, or poetry itself, believed the cult of Keats had run its course, Eliot’s 20th century fame actively coincided with the decline of Romanticism.

Initially searching for sex poems for the Scarriet March Madness Tournament—and pondering how the theme of sex and death (or love and death) is so powerful that it is almost the theme of poetry itself has been quite a journey.

We don’t mean to diminish the influence of Keats by calling it a “cult”—though some Moderns may have perceived Keats’ iconic hold on poetry as such. If passion is required for poetry, but only as a product of good taste, Keats should be celebrated for saving us from trendy poetry which is merely iconoclastic and obscure.

Keats was not a love poet.

Keats was not, in fact, sentimental—at least as we commonly think of that term.

Keats gave us, in the vessel of great poetry, sex which is not sex. Tasteful and honorable passion, which is the guiding star, perhaps, of poetry itself. (And here his poem “Bright Star” comes to mind.)

John Berryman (d 1972), in one of the world’s most sex-obsessed poems, Dream Song 4, runs smack into the whole dilemma of passion which society frowns upon, and which even the dallying muse forbids. Recall how the poem ends?

Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken paprika, she glanced at me twice.
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her


The slob beside her feasts … What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
—Mr. Bones: there is.

Every brilliant line of this “sex poem” acutely and despairingly advances its theme. The “four other people” are not described because the poet only cares about her (and the husband). She is “filling her…body.” Berryman’s restaurant could be in the Rome of Augustus—except the observer is fully passive (“Modern”). (“Am not prince Hamlet.”)

Berryman’s “sex poem” doesn’t depict people having sex. In fact, the mere thought of it for Beryman is against the “law.”

Moral laws coincide with poetic laws—otherwise the “sexy” poem will be an escapist fantasty, or worse, realistically vulgar.

The dilemma is not that sex is morally forbidden; it is aesthetically forbidden.

Passion must be indirectly conveyed.

Great art’s great law.

Sappho is perhaps the most beloved ancient love poet (based mostly on fragments!) because of one poem—which shows us how it is done; the dramatically indirect—the agony of separation which fuels the desire—invokes exactly the kind of passion nearly all memorable lyric poetry needs:


He seems to be a god, that man
Facing you, who leans to be close,
Smiles, and, alert and glad, listens
To your mellow voice

And quickens in love at your laughter
That stings my breasts, jolts my heart
If I dare the shock of a glance.
I cannot speak.

My tongue sticks to my dry mouth,
Thin fire spreads beneath my skin,
My eyes cannot see and my aching ears
Roar in their labyrinths.

Chill sweat glides down my back,
I shake, I turn greener than grass.
I am neither living nor dead and cry
From the narrow between.

This ancient poem by Sappho, the 19th century “Nightingale” by Keats and the modern one by Berryman all share one overriding trope: the immediacy of the (passive) speaker’s feelings; nothing really happens, nothing really needs to happen, the poem doesn’t stretch out into a story; everything lives in the present, almost a cry more than a fiction; but since thought is infinite, the delicate observations which unfold subtly in these passionate poems are all the epic story-telling one really needs. The lyric poem as the world; a feeling, one “compact and delicious” feeling—is finally the only thing our soul, and every fiction under the heavens, requires.

Marla Muse
Colombo, Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka, March Madness Sex and Death Poetry Tournament, Betting.

Remember. Defense wins championships.

Even in “sex and death” poetry tournaments.

The lower the score, the better your chance of winning. If you give up 50 points, there’s a good chance you will win. If you give up 100 points, there’s a good chance you will lose.

The short poem has less chances to mess up.

Bet on the brief.

The math, if you need it, works this way.

A team which consistently wins 60 to 50 (a 10 point margin) is scoring a whopping 20% more than its opponents.

A team which consistently wins 110 to 100 (a 10 point margin) is scoring 10% more than its opponents.

In the only stat that matters, low scoring success is twice as successful as high scoring success.

Always bet on a poem like this:


The hilltops and treetops

Now—surrounding you,
the birds in the woods are silent.

Wait; soon—
you will be
silent, too.

This short, famous lyric by Goethe, has such a good defense, opponents cannot accumulate enough points to ever put this poem at a dangerous disadvantage. What point can you make against silence? A critic will find himself surrounded, magnificent trees blocking him at every turn. Nothing tedious, long-winded, argumentative, or obscurely suggestive is here to be undermined.

The polite, philosophical, yet laughing, German poet, covered by stern, 18th century, manners, enjoying the world’s first blooming of tree-scented Romanticism, checkmates you!

After the hysterical socializing, the non-stop talking, wearies you, when the drinking and partying and vanity of the moment have nearly killed you, this poem will stare out the window with you for hours, smiling at your throbbing headache.

There is nothing other poems can do against this poem.


… a defense applied to this poem prevents it, too, from scoring. Poems which are small forts in the woods can languish within their own pure protection. The critics call them arrogant and trifling, mere sayings, mere wisps. “The hilltops and treetops” —is that a good line of poetry? No!

By a seeming miracle, the impenetrable lyric is overthrown.

The great defensive teams are vulnerable when great defenses strangle them, in turn! As the offenses of these great defensive teams crumble, their defenses begins to crack, allowing just enough points to lose!

A poem of 100, 200 lines, of which some of the lines are mediocre, if not outright questionable, swarms the short, perfect, poem aggressively, using mockery and humorous excess to tease out a confession which betrays the fortress-poem’s certainty and brevity.

“Explain yourself, poem!” is what no poetry in the March Madness Tournament wants to hear.

Betting on brackets is the most humbling experience we know.

“You, too,” will be “silent,” indeed.

Defensive poems are everywhere, and the novelty of one with a dry joke at its heart may conquer your chosen poem in the time it takes to play a basketball game. Fans practice patience. As much as scholars do!

When it comes to poems and brackets, what do we know?

The Crow

On the way out of town,
A carrion crow flies,
Right over my head, hunger
Burning in its tiny eyes.

Crow, unbelievable creature,
What are you following me for?
Do you think I’m going to fall down dead,
Like food (thrown to a pet) on the floor?

True, I’m limping and suffering,
I’m sick, and listen to me rave!
But let’s see the end of your flight.
Your life, my life! Truth going right to the grave.

Wilhelm Műller is the poet. This poem was put to music by Franz Schubert.

Any poem can vanquish a perfect one.

It doesn’t take an epic, or a lengthy ode to upset any mountain, covered by snow, in the canon.

This warning comes from Marla Muse. She was on fire last night in Sri Lanka. She was in top form. She closed all the bars in Colombo.

“Leave poetry to poets,” she was wailing. “Get out, you gamblers, you bracketology wolves!”

In deference to Marla, Scarriet would just like to pass this along.

Can we all listen to Marla Muse?

No betting on Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness, please.

Yeah, like you’ll listen to her!


The emotional pros hype themselves.

A tuxedo worn in a mud-spattered ditch.

Nothing about them is sound, degrees

on the wall, framed basketball jerseys,

professional sports stars who could sell

a hot dog or two were never doing well,

even when millions were bet

on the game. Schizophrenic, narcissistic

bettors crying, my home team will win one yet!

“You’re sick,” says the doctor.

“Pay me,” says the vet.

Little fan, bankers and different super stars,

strangers, with different motives,

corporations on the other side of mountains,

who built the stadiums, rig the game.

Pros march. Pros flutter to flutes.

Pros work the animal mascot suits.

The fake penalty call

ruined it for some. But never for all.

Democracy of separated fandom ensures

the rigged game will always look as pure

as helpless heartbreak. The other owner

smiles at us, the emotional and snared,

the customer peasants who can do nothing.

It resembles something old. Like when the King

had absolute power

over His subjects (hurray!) every single hour.

Let’s get a pizza and a beer

in a professional sports bar and forget we are here.

Sometimes the mask comes off. Amateurs,

when given a chance, throttle the pros.

Princeton beats the number two seed.

Women must be strong. The drag shows,

the baby showers. Sports results. Greed.


How wonderful this poem decided to speak,

though I am not wonderful; in fact, I’m weak.

How wonderful there is a word like won-der-ful.

Isn’t it something you sometimes admire?

The good mood itself, your nerves pleasantly on fire?

I’m in a good mood.

Like Paul McCartney introducing “Hey Jude.”

A good mood is everything. I need to praise

my good moods. Without them, all of my days

would be hell. Perhaps my poems would be better.

In a good mood, I love the spirit and pay no attention to the letter.

A good poem is always in a good mood, however,

no matter what else is said.

All I care about now is that I love you forever!

And so what if by “you” I mean sex or food?

Today I praise—what else can we praise?—the good mood.


The mess of the film (strike that, video game) that won best picture last night reflected perfectly the mess of a ceremony which annually attempts to reconcile “woke” with “I win!”

My best Oscar moment was Hugh Grant on the red carpet trying to be real with his frozen-smile interviewer—her emptiness didn’t know how to react to his real and the verdict by the press, quoting a few folks on social media was Grant “was a total a__hole.”

Hugh kept at it with the real later in the evening, as a presenter, when he compared his aging look to a “scrotum” as he joked self-effacingly that his co-presenter Andie McDowell all her life used moisturizer and he never touched the stuff. In the nervous laughter moment which followed, wrinkled Hugh Grant looked beautiful, again.

Humor as the fountain of youth.

As Oscar Wilde put it, “Only shallow people don’t judge by appearances.”

“An old guy dumps his best friend for no reason” was the best theme of all the Oscar-nominated scripts.

It was held up to a green, bucolic, light in the understated Banshees of Inisherin, a film so perfectly and poignantly miserable it had me laughing out loud (I think because I “got” this inscrutable film, and so strongly, in fact, that I don’t think I will ever trust anyone who didn’t get this film). The best film by far (even if you couldn’t accept the poetic license of the fingers bit) which, of course, didn’t win, felt like the silent, lynx-eyed, prophet of this Oscar evening—powered by the rush of ephemeral, attenuated, elitist, simplistic, identity-politics, expensive-dress, dopamine, where anyone simple, normal, a bit miserable, and real is considered a “total a__hole.”

The lead character in Banshees, unable to comprehend why his tiny-village drinking buddy no longer wants to associate with him, clumsily blurts out “Ya used to be nice!” His musician friend gives him an Oscar-worthy look (both actors were nominated), thinking: this has nothing to do with nice, and the fact that you think it is about nice is maybe the reason I don’t want to be your friend anymore. One can see how wonderfully complex this is, despite the intitial simplicity of the film’s theme.

The Hugh Grant/Ashley Graham moment, the moment of reality at the Oscars, was imitating the best film that was nominated.

The witty, worldly, Hugh Grant is having trouble expressing himself because of time constraint and shallowness and the world is reduced to exclaiming, “Hugh Grant is a total a__hole!”

Perhaps the chief problem facing us isn’t “misinformation.” It’s “miscommunication.” (Discommunication might be the better word.)

It was nice that the powerful “All Quiet On the Western Front” won some Oscars, but I couldn’t help but notice that none of those who went on stage to accept “their little awards” (to quote Ricky Gervais) mentioned, even for a moment, the novel on which the film was based, or its anti-war message. They thanked people, instead, and bathed in the light of their personal glory in winning “their little award.” They might as well have been accepting an award for a happy musical called “Top Gun.” All that seemed to matter was the award.

The poet Shelley said true poetry expands the soul with perspective and added views, not by “telling people to be good.” Far be it for me to want anti-war lectures at the Oscars, or anywhere else. It’s just that self-indulgent award ceremonies are like metals on Generals or Pulitzers on propaganda—as far away from poetry as it’s possible to get.

Top Gun success and camaraderie, sentimental dramas which make us cry, beautiful dresses, chirpy questions to Hugh Grant, a winner’s excitement and pride, none of these are bad in themselves, and if I lecture against these, I merely become what I criticize.

This Oscar essay is only an individual’s perspective. And perhaps a plea that no perspective should be shouted down.

Last evening was free of politics, for the most part. One award recipient thanked moms and then his mom and how she gave him space to be crazy. Sure, everyone agrees this is good, as long as crazy doesn’t become a cover to be harmful. But three cheers for the 2023 Oscars for not being stridently political. I think people are so done with that.

And politics is fine, as long as we remember, with Shelley, that here, too, as in film reviews or anything else—the humility of perspective is more important than lecture.

The Oscars host, Jimmy Kimmel, who did a pretty good job throughout the evening of being funny without being offensive, made an observation that was quite brilliant about film editing and January 6th. I believe he thought his joke was going one way. The beauty of it, however, was how the editing joke betrayed itself; it didn’t travel in one direction—but in all directions.


I am too drunk to remember much. But Marla Muse, before flying off to Colombo, Sri Lanka to attend Scarriet’s 2023 Sex and Death Poetry March Madness tournament, made more enemies with remarks in Lesbos at the Hotel Seahorse last night.

“Translation is nothing but plagiarism which distorts, and even mocks, the original poetry.”

The Scarriet Sex and Death Poetry Games are marred, according to Marla Muse, by its many translations, even though she admits some are brilliant. Marla is fluent in every language and is the translation director for Scarriet.

“I’m not going to stand here and lie to you and say poetry translations can ever be successful,” she said last night. Or something close. Marla and I didn’t talk. I was drunk. I thought I was recording but my phone only seemed it was.

She’s crazy. There’s no way that occasionally a translation cannot be better in its own language than the original is, in its own language.

But then she would say it’s not the same poem—but at that point, who cares, if a worthy poem in another language has been added to the world?

Marla Muse expects us to learn the original language. Not everyone can do that. She accused Pound of plagiarism. She is probably correct, but Pound was at his best when he was plagiarizing—which might be true of everyone (“Great poets steal” -Eliot) but the caveat is, too precise a translation is a disaster, as is a translation which is too loose; the language one is working in demands one hit the “sweet spot” between the two extremes, and this is true of both translation and original poetry (which is a kind of translation, too, when you think about it).

I was able to write the above only because I am sobering up. Last night I was inarticulate and the only thing I could manage to say to Marla was, “can we make love?” Which drew laughter from the assembled.

Back in my room at the Hotel Seahorse I fell asleep, a sad drunk, but apparently not before I had scribbled something on a napkin which I found this morning:

“Take a simple phrase and play with it. See how quickly it becomes profound.

It is what it is.

It per it isn’t what it is.

And one can make it increasingly complex.

It per it was how it will not be.

One sees how merely altering can lead to philosophy and poetry.”

As I look this over now, I don’t recall if Marla said this or someone I met last night told me someone else said it.

Let’s look at a translation of “The Golden God” from the Upanishads, an expected entry in the Early Bracket:

Isn’t “The Golden God” an example of pure philosophy? How difficult, really, is this to translate?


The Golden God, the Self, the immortal Swan
leaves the small nest of the body, goes where He wants,
He moves through the realm of dreams; makes numberless forms;
delights in sex; eats, drinks, laughs with His friends;
frightens Himself with scenes of heart-chilling terror.
But He is not attached to anything that He sees;
and after He has wandered in the realms of dream and awakeness,
has tasted pleasures and experienced good and evil,
He returns to the blissful state from which He began.
As a fish swims forward to one riverbank then the other,
Self alternates between awareness and dreaming.
As an eagle, weary from long flight, folds its wings,
gliding down to its nest, Self hurries to the realm
of dreamless sleep, free of desires, fear, pain.
As a man in sexual union with his beloved
is unaware of anything outside or inside,
so a man in union with Self knows nothing, wants nothing,
has found his heart’s fulfillment and is free of sorrow.
Father disappears, mother disappears, God’s
and scriptures disappear, thief disappears, murderer,
rich man, beggar disappear, world disappears,
good and evil disappear; he has passed beyond sorrow.

How is that? Sounds pretty modern. It’s from 25 centuries ago. India. Ideas stick. Time doesn’t diminish them. Stephen Mitchell is the translator. Not a famous man. If a 25 century old poem sounds modern and poets are all essentially translators, should it surprise us we poets are about as famous as Mr. Mitchell? Are we poets/translators such a big deal? No, we are not.

Anyway, no one sopped up the sentiment of this poem quite as much as the Germans, of whom Marla Muse is much enamored. Think of Goethe’s “Wanderer’s Night Song,” “All the Fruit Is Ripe” by Hölderlin, Joseph von Eichendorff’s “On My Child’s Death,” Heine’s “Death Is the Tranquil Night,””The Hymns to the Night” by Novalis, and here is one for the ages and the Romantic bracket, possibly:


Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929)

And children still grow up with longing eyes,
That know of nothing, still grow tall and perish, 
And no new traveler treads a better way;

And fruits grow ripe and delicate to cherish
And still shall fall like dead birds from the skies,
And where they fell grow rotten in a day.

And still we feel cool winds on limbs still glowing,
That shudder westward; and we turn to say
Words, and we hear words; and cool winds are blowing

Our wilted hands through autumns of unclutching.
What use is all our tampering and touching?
Why laughter, that must soon turn pale and cry?

Who quarantined our lives in separate homes?
Our souls are trapped in lofts without a skylight;
We argue with a padlock till we die

In games we never meant to play for keeps. 
And yet how much we say in saying “twilight,”
A word from which man’s grief and wisdom seeps

Like heavy honey out of swollen combs. 

The translator is Peter Viereck.

Excuse me, I have a plane to catch. The Sex and Death March Madness poetry tournament is almost ready to begin in Sri Lanka.


Scarriet is flying in new translations to the March Madness arenas for the 2023 tournament!

Rumor has it Marla Muse will be more visible than ever this year.

Swarms of visitors have invaded the swanky beach city of Colombo, (6 million!) Sri Lanka (Ceylon) anticipating the clash of great ‘sex and death’ poems.

The Greeks want more representation. They feel the Roman poets get more attention simply because their sex poems are filthier.

“Not true,” says Marla Muse. “The ancient Greeks are more racy.”

Marla Muse has been mocked in every quarter for this remark.

She shot back in Greek, the translation being roughly, “Go fuck yourself.”

But we all need to remember this tournament features death more than sex, really. And the top officials at Scarriet demand excellence and good taste over everything. Passion, sure. No prudery. But good taste above all. Poe has burrowed into the soul of the most influential on the Scarriet board. Poe said Taste (between Truth and Passion and connecting them) is, in fact, the true realm of the poem.

Please join us in celebrating this new translation in the Ancient or Early Bracket, sometimes called the Augustus Bracket, the Socrates Bracket, or the Caesar Bracket:


Never again, Orpheus
Will you lead the enchanted oaks,
Nor the rocks, nor the beasts
Independent of men and their twisted cloaks.

Never again will you sing to sleep
The roaring wind, nor the hail,
Nor the drifting snow, nor the boom
Of the sea wave, pale.

You are murdered now.
Led by your, mother, Calliope,
The Muses shed tears,
Over you, for years, their bright poetry.

What good does it do to mourn
For our sons when the immortal
Gods are powerless to save
Their children from death’s dark portal?

And this following translation, too good to be believed, of a poem by a Greek contemporary of Sappho, Alcaeus—who may have exchanged poems with her.


Heart-sick Helen
clutched her breast and wept for Paris
who set small fires to deceive.
On his boat she stole away,
leaving the bed of her child and husband.
Angry Greece can no longer grieve.

All for Helen they kill. And never again
can war punish such noble and beautiful men,
sex and war hence to these a toy.
How many brothers of Paris
lie planted in black earth
across the plains of Troy?

And here, from the Napoleon or Romantic Bracket, in English… How many know this poem?
Lewti (rhymes with beauty!) is a name invented by the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a terrific poet, if an overrated intellect. The English, according to Marla Muse, are overrated intellectually—a sexy and aggressive race. Sexy Samuel T! This is one of Coleridge’s best poems. And we suspect it’s hardly known. Haunting! And sexy! Blimey! You can almost smell the muddy boots and the opium…


At midnight by the stream I roved,
To forget the form I loved.
Image of Lewti! from my mind
Depart; for Lewti is not kind.

The Moon was high, the moonlight gleam
And the shadow of a star
Heaved upon Tamaha’s stream;
But the rock shone brighter far,
The rock half sheltered from my view
By pendent boughs of tressy yew.—
So shines my Lewti’s forehead fair,
Gleaming through her sable hair,
Image of Lewti! from my mind
Depart; for Lewti is not kind.

I saw a cloud of palest hue,
Onward to the Moon it passed;
Still brighter and more bright it grew,
With floating colours not a few,
Till it reach’d the Moon at last:
Then the cloud was wholly bright,
With a rich and amber light!
And so with many a hope I seek
And with such joy I find my Lewti;
And even so my pale wan cheek
Drinks in as deep a flush of beauty!
Nay, treacherous image! leave my mind,
If Lewti never will be kind.

The little cloud—it floats away,
Away it goes; away so soon?
Alas! it has no power to stay:
Its hues are dim, its hues are grey—
Away it passes from the Moon!
How mournfully it seems to fly,
Ever fading more and more,
To joyless regions of the sky—

As white as my poor cheek will be,
When, Lewti! on my couch I lie,
A dying man for love of thee.
Nay, treacherous image! leave my mind—
And yet, thou didst not look unkind.

I saw a vapour in the sky,
Thin, and white, and very high;
I ne’er beheld so thin a cloud:
Perhaps the breezes that can fly
Now below and now above,
Have snatched aloft the lawny shroud
Of Lady fair—that died for love.
For maids, as well as youths, have perish’d
From fruitless love too fondly cherish’d.
Nay, treacherous image! leave my mind—
For Lewti never will be kind.

Hush! my heedless feet from under
Slip the crumbling banks for ever:
Like echoes to a distant thunder,
They plunge into the gentle river.
The river-swans have heard my tread,
And startle from their reedy bed.
O beauteous Birds! methinks ye measure
Your movements to some heavenly tune!
O beauteous Birds! ’tis such a pleasure
To see you move beneath the Moon,
I would it were your true delight
To sleep by day and wake all night.
I know the place where Lewti lies
When silent night has closed her eyes—
It is a breezy jasmine-bower,
The Nightingale sings o’er her head:
Voice of the Night! had I the power
That leafy labyrinth to thread,
And creep, like thee, with soundless tread,
I then might view her bosom white
Heaving lovely to my sight,
As these two swans together heave
On the gently-swelling wave.

Oh! that she saw me in a dream,
And dreamt that I had died for care!
All pale and wasted I would seem
Yet fair withal, as spirits are!
I’d die indeed, if I might see
Her bosom heave, and heave for me!
Soothe, gentle image! soothe my mind!
To-morrow Lewti may be kind.

That’s all we have for now. The complete brackets will be released soon. Remember, all it takes is two wins (do the math) and your favorite poem is in the Sweet Sixteen!

We’re off to meet Marla Muse at her send-off party in Lesbos…


The possibility of loss

is so enormous

that every hour we brood

on loss until we finally,

in our melancholy, refuse

to think on the enormity of all we come to lose.

Stretched by loss, we stretch out our fear

(fear of loss grows more focused every year)

until the idea of loss becomes loss enough.

One loss—the loss of you—is certainly tough.

It causes the loss of everything:

the winter, the dainty spring.

The younger seem to be getting younger—

(the one who left you—damn—now looks better),

hang onto that striped sweater!

don’t let that worn, leather book

out of your sight.

The infinite losses during the day

can return to you at night.

They will be yours, in your dreams.

the ending of this poem only seems

to be the end. This poem ends in that other book.

The one you saved, Rosalinda.

Go take a look.

Read! (Will you refuse?)

And lose your ability to lose.

The trumpets, trembling, faintly blowing!

Come with us! Aren’t you going?

You don’t love anything! How

can you? Everything is going.

These ancient instruments in the mist

play the melody you can’t resist.

I can’t see what you see in your dreams.

The loss of every dream, it seems.


Being that you are limited,

in every way possible, you are wrong.

The rule is, since you don’t know all,

you don’t know anything. You can’t write a good song.

Others who are wrong may like your song

if the song comes along and trends.

The mystery of popularity never ends.

Your indomitable red will

dies on a purple windowsill.

Everything’s a guess.

Terribly wrong, your no.

Terribly wrong, your yes.

Nothing is sure. Nothing is certain.

Sleep. Laugh. Don’t look behind the curtain.

Stare at the silent moon.

Close your eyes. You’ll be behind that curtain soon.


Happy poets praise time—
and even use it in their rhyme.
Punctuation is a race car!
Measurement pants after a sinking star.
Time, it’s true, makes life unreal—
“Was it that long ago? It seems like yesterday!”
“Where did that minute go?
“Why can’t the hyacinth stay?”
But happy poets persist
In kissing simple lips already kissed.
Anything can happen
in dead quiet. Or in Manhattan.
But the bitter poets are indifferent to time.
They rattle on—forgetting to rhyme.


I had not been

In love before the moment I saw you, when

Poetry was born for me, and organized itself, by your grace, in the eyes of men.

I had not loved, nor thought of love, nor been moved,

Until that singular day. I had never been stunned like this, except once, when

I overheard women telling each other how they had loved:

According to them, the moon had to be

In a phase; their love had nothing to do with me,

But was like an animal’s, by chance heated, or cold;

An eruption; Dionysus burning forests, in those brutal tales, harrowing and old;

Passion hidden delicately in the classical domain,

But now obvious in the modern, as society is self-evidently awash in pain.

Is Romanticism naive? Should I wake up, then?

No. Had you not kissed me, I had not been.


Scarriet was going to run a Sex Poem March Madness Tournament, but we couldn’t find enough good sex poems.

The ancient Roman poets, many famous for sexual frankness, weren’t much help. To the educated reader, antique expression has its charms, but the Roman sex poems are mostly badly translated, and tend to be vulgar and gossipy.

Quickly scanning the “great poems” (in English) audiences are generally familiar with—and obscure poems published by the “great poets” audiences know and love—Scarriet tournament officials quickly realized that good “death poems” out-number good “sex poems” five hundred to one.

No doubt, with a great deal of time and effort, 64 solid sex poems might be found.

But then we stumbled upon something remarkable and realized we could have our cake and eat it.

Flipping through Richard Aldington’s rather hefty The Viking Book of English Poetry (1941) I noticed something as I perused the first 30 or 40 years of 20th century poetry—poems like Eric Robertson Dobbs’ “When the Ecstatic Body Grips,” Wilfred Owen’s “Greater Love,” Carl Sandburg’s “Cool Tombs,” Edna Millay’s “Oh Sleep Forever In the Latmian Cave,” Alan Seeger’s “I Have A Rendevous With Death,” and Rupert Brooke’s “The Hill.”

We often forget today what a towering cult icon John Keats was to English poetry for most of the 20th century. His Odes, such as the “Nightingale,” (“I have been half in love with easeful death”) self-consciously and gloriously made the poem on death a thing of beauty—such that, within the bounds of good taste, we had something which might almost be called “sex and death poetry.”

Keats: Beauty, Panting Sensuality, and Death.

This formula achieved a universality by which all poems were measured and either advanced it or did not with every poem attempted. It was put to good use by the young poets of the First World War. They weren’t dying from tuberculosis like Keats, but from war.

What I have found, then, is that in poetry, the good transcends topics—and yet there are topics “fitting to the muse” more than others.

When these immutable topics—namely, beauty, sex, and death—are combined with a highly developed sophistication of irony and taste, the result, occasionally, is nothing less than the universal pinnacle of admirable poetry.

One socially awkward and highly sensitive poet—whose poetic talent featured a commingling of a number of qualities, including a fine sense of both horror and sarcasm, did not fight in the Great War, did not suffer from tuberculosis, was scholarly, a student of philosophy at a fine school, understood poetry as a singular, evolving universal, had Poe, Keats, and Shakespeare in his bones, was a Christian, suffered from too much education and thought—this American/English poet destroyed the Keatsian standard with a single, extraordinary poem.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (J. for John Keats, Alfred for Lord Tennyson, Proof and Rock for Christian immortality) achieved effortlessly the profound and melancholy Keatsian formula while introducing a parody which made T.S. Eliot immediately famous and proved the downfall of Keats’ influence in generations to come—the “patient etherized upon a table” mocked, in a single image, the entire industry of death, beauty, and sex poetry, indulged in by English speaking poets everywhere in a stirring, panting, breathing, living achievement of universal good taste.

Keats-besotted poets in the first part of the 20th century got the idea that a sensual, tasteful, poem hinting at sex (or gasping about love) whose main topic was death, couldn’t fail.

For the most part, it couldn’t and it didn’t.

Therefore the collection of wonderful poems on death which will never die.

And now, thanks to a brilliant, cuckolded Harvard philosophy student, who suppressed his “crazy” wife—and because “people want to be free” and because revolutions in taste are inevitable, poetry today is diminished, without standards, and quite lost.

Of course, there are always traditions within the Tradition, as Eliot knew—and The Tradition is always developing in ways that must exclude too much faith in universality and finality. But can I be blamed for feeling certain that Death, Sex, and Beauty will always be poetic tropes of immense importance?

Maybe we couldn’t find enough good sex poems as we perused the historical poetic record, but it seems poems loosely characterized as “death and sex” poems are numerous—and tend to be the best poems ever written.

Successful poems invariably exhibit good taste, since as Edgar Poe described with scientific rigor, art occupies the middle ground in the vast field of human expression between shining truth on one side and sweaty passion on the other.

Taste unites the two extremes: mathematical precision and chaotic passion—poetry is informed by the two opposites on either side of it—poetry/art is life’s sweet spot, the beautiful child of two parents—one mathematical and the other sensuous.

Death unites Poe’s two poles even further, for death has an unsentimental, mathematical, finality on one hand but invokes heightened feelings on the other. It makes perfect sense, then, that the example Poe chose to illustrate his formula was “the death of a beautiful woman.”

Poe emerged out of an already strong tradition: and this will ring a bell with all readers: Death and the Maiden.

Distraught at not finding enough good sex poems, I instead found something far wider and richer: the “death, beauty and sex poem.”

The 2023 March Madness Tournament will feature poems in which death, sex, or death with a hint of sex, is lifted up to the highest standard imaginable. Poetry doesn’t imagine things and other partials, so much as it imagines, when it does its work well, whole tropes growing and changing.

The first sex poem which came to mind when this all started was Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy.”

The next was Larkin’s “High Windows.”

I also thought of Berryman’s Dream Song #4.

But then as I hefted actual anthologies and began to read, I saw sex poems alone wouldn’t do.

And the rest is (Scarriet poetry) history.

I hope you enjoy the tournament!

The four brackets are Early, International, Romantic and Modern.

We’ve included a few tournament poems below. The tournament itself is a week away.

As you can see by the inclusion of the Philip Sidney poem, iconic warnings against sex do indeed count in this tournament as sex poems.

Also included is the unveiling of a new Ovid translation by Scarriet.

Poor translations of great poems in other languages are always useful and therefore we mustn’t condemn any translation, but I really felt I wanted Ovid’s sex-mad Elegy below to sound like an actual (Latin) poem in English, so Scarriet did Ovid a favor (I hope).


Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses—Cupid paid;
He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
His mother’s doves, and team of sparrows;
Loses them too; then down he throws
The coral of his lips, the rose
Growing on’s cheeck (but none knows how);
With these, the crystal of his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin:
All these did my Campaspe win.
At last he set her both his eyes,
She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
O Love! has she done this to thee?
What shall, alas! become of me?


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


They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.


When Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs,
he forgot the copperheads and the assassin…
in the dust, in the cool tombs.

And Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men
and Wall Street, cash and collateral turned
ashes… in the dust, in the cool tombs.

Pocahontas’ body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red
haw in November or a pawpaw in May, did she
wonder? does she remember? …in the dust, in
the cool tombs?

Take any streetful of people buying clothes and
groceries, cheering a hero or throwing confetti
and blowing tin horns … tell me if the lovers
are losers … tell me if any get more than the
lovers … in the dust … in the cool tombs.


Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!

Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce love they bear
Cramps them in death’s extreme decrepitude.

Your voice sings not so soft,—
Though even as wind murmuring through raftered loft,—
Your dear voice is not dear,
Gentle, and evening clear,
As theirs whom none now hear,
Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed.

Heart, you were never hot
Nor large, nor full like hearts made great with shot;
And though your hand be pale,
Paler are all which trail
Your cross through flame and hail:
Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.

ELEGY IV -OVID translated, Scarriet editors

No, I do not defend my sad lack of morals.
I will not lie that I sometimes am lying.
This I admit—and admit it—why not?—freely.
Generally I’m bad, but let me be specific,
As I curse my faults which give me pleasure.
Pain I will amend, but pleasure I cannot!

My passions are like the pulling river flying,
Heaving me, my inferior rowboat, bouncing.
Do you know there is no lover I do not love? All these
Motives, motives, motives, a hundred motives to love!

Ignoring me, she lowers her eyes shyly
Starting a fire in me, the fire blameworthy,
The same fire which the prostitute sets burning
Luring me onto a couch. All types set me fainting,
Even the old and respectable. It’s not their fault
Nor is it mine—it’s only the fault of the female flame.

Here is a learned one and she too, has me fawning,
Her delightful poetry better than mine. Loving
My verse, this one doesn’t read, believing
Famous poets are worse than I am. She pleases
Me and I am more than willing to please her.
If there is one who attacks my verse, spitting
In my face, “You are no poet!” I’m burning
For this reason to catch her in my arms. This one walking,
Because of the way she walks, heats my blood. Patient
With all of them, here’s a nerd I will make sexy.
Here is a woman who sings beautifully, wide open
Her mouth to melodious song—and later, for my kisses.
This skillful lyre player has me hot for her fingers,
And what can I do about this one who dances?
The arm movements, the solidity of her poses?
Don’t listen to me; she could turn Hippolytus into Priapus,
The fervently chaste into a man always ready.
You, my tall beauty, almost too long for a modern bed,
And you, sweet and small—just as beautiful!

Tall or short, I love both. This one never puts on finery;
I dress her up in my mind, making her a greater beauty.
This one and her gems have already made me love her.
If they are white or tan with the sun it doesn’t matter.
The black hair of Leda wounds me—and who approaches?
That must be how Aurora looked, hair of gold making
history, the history of beauty teaching me loving
As she comes into view. I love the body, the mind in the body,
Every last beauty they rave about in Rome!
There is no lover in the world I do not love.


Salem MA


Which bullshit do you want today?

The Zen priest who tunes into jazz?

(Call him master)

or Kings and Queens—all that razzmatazz?

Or a girlfriend who loved you—and went away?

Which bullshit do you want today?

Tell everyone you like the poem—there won’t be a quiz.

Laugh at this wisdom: “It is what it is!”

Go along with the show, play your part in the play.

Then when you’re dead:

O happiness! Look! No bullshit today!


They don’t seem like poets.
They don’t read poetry or write poetry.
They don’t like poetry,
but poetry over the ages has reached into their bones.
They don’t think or describe things like poets but damn
if I don’t hear poetry in their cries and groans.


Picking up, at random, the 2023 February issue of Poetry, I perused coldly its self-conscious verses.

The iconic Poetry! Founded in the beginning of the previous century by a female poet with funds raised in the Chicago business community, it was immediately a target of Pound, who got his work into it right away.

The little magazine has not only lasted, it has turned into the Poetry Foundation, having been gifted with millions by the Lilly pharmaceutical company a generation ago.

Poetry lost its editor recently to the “cancel culture.”

Despite its fortune and the zeitgeist, it has the same look it had when Miss Harriet Monroe was accepting poems written by those born in the 19th century.

It looks like a community college literary magazine.

Unfortunately—and this might be some kind of ironic joke—it often reads like one, as well.

In the middle of the 19th century, America had about a 50/50 chance of surviving as a nation before the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. Victoria, granddaughter of the king who lost America, George III, was Queen of India. America had big problems, which Lincoln had partially solved, dying in the process; Victoria must have dreamed (perish the thought!) the United States could one day be hers.

To American patriots living in Chicago in the early 20th century, like the young, ambitious, Miss Monroe, there must have been something a bit troubling about English poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ringing verses. When she put together her new magazine, she must have been aware of the need to give it a modern, American stamp. This was the natural, if not the practical, thing to do, if her project was going to be taken seriously at all. It had nothing to do with Modernist “theory.” It must have occurred to her as a simple necessity.

Chicago in 1912 wasn’t India. It wasn’t even New England, the South, or 19th century Britain. There was no “Waste Land” yet. Poets like Tennyson (Tagore, Goethe) and poets interested in that kind of music, were not the enemy, of course, but the more provincial a poet like Tennyson’s music seemed, the greater the chance a woman from the great heartland of the United States could join the earnest chorus: “We may be full of imitators, but the United States is its own country! And worldly! With its own serious literature and poetry!”

Here we are in 2023 and Poetry is still Harriet Monroe’s child. Plain. Modern. Yes, somewhat worldly. Somewhat avant-garde. In a self-conscious, newsy, American textbook sort of way. Prosaic and true!

The 2023 February issue—

apparently has no craft—it is about as musical as someone sitting very still at the piano. The poems within contain very little which the souls of earth have, since the beginning of time, associated with song, verse, poetry.

Metrical, rhyming stanzas are not only particularly suited to poetry—they are how poetry became known as poetry. But it’s nowhere to be seen here.

In fact, the use of repetition, playful, or otherwise, is hard to find in the latest Poetry.

Poetry has no hint of traditional poetry. It runs from it.

I think it is partly because American poetry in general takes itself very seriously.

American secular intellectuals implicitly know that traditional, King James Bible, religious language in English has a dignity which eschews the playfulness of rhyme.

Since poetry is religion for the moderns, their poetry needs to be serious.

Rhyme is not serious.

For instance, one would never say “Papa, who art in Heaven…”

To English ears this sounds ridiculous.

It is due to the chime of pa-pa.

“Father, who art in Heaven…” meets the non-rhymey standard of the typical modern American poet.

The academic poets today are careful to not indulge in the excesses of sound-repetition or sound-playfulness. It’s too undignified, like pop music poets or 19th century poets—poets who often wrote against religion, but who implicitly allowed religion its top place in the dignity pecking-order. Father over Papa.

Sumana Roy recently published a lovely essay in Lithub (“Crow, Donkey, Poet,” December 2022) which demonstrates how India’s most famous poet Rabindranath Tagore—and the Bangla language in general—is full of rhyming “nicknames,” as it were (sho sho, chupi chupi, etc)—pa-pa, as opposed to fa-ther, is everywhere. In affectionate family spaces, Roy “relaxes” with her native tongue, even as she uses English to earn her living as an academic. Bangla is not as serious. As a language, Bangla is closer to poetry. And she confesses this self-consciously and almost guiltily. “I write in English and cannot write in any other language to my satisfaction, but I cannot live in it. It seems a kind of betrayal to say this, like gossiping about a grandparent.”

The Moderns are more serious, because they don’t feel comfortable playing second fiddle to religion’s more august music. The Moderns, only half in love with the rhyming Wordsworth, seek a natural religion to replace the King James religion. Any hint of rhyming—Papa—won’t do.

It’s not that modern poets have rejected craft; they have rejected the relaxed and repetitive tone of “papa” language as opposed to “father” language, finding, unfortunately, that poetry, in an act of childish revenge, has given them all the rope they need to hang themselves with earnest and alliterative prose—for a tiny, academic, audience.

Metaphor is a way of talking about something—it helps to explain—or mystify—and is not poetic, per se, since prose can make use of it exactly in the same way poetry can. Metaphor has a sub-importance when it comes to poetry, not a primary importance. (Aristotle would disagree, but then he was wrong about the fixed stars.)

Alliteration and other more subtle sound effects, such as line-break pauses, do far more work in academic poetry than rhyme and meter will probably ever do again. Perhaps one day, humanity’s ear will develop a subtlety so fine poetry will triumph in sound, alliteratively only.

But let’s move on to what is really important to modern poetry.


Edgar Poe made a host of interesting remarks on poetry in his published “Marginalia,” which have largely escaped notice. Here’s a gem, which helps illustrate exactly what I am trying to say:

“A friend of mine once read me a long poem on the planet Saturn. He was a man of genius, but his lines were a failure of course, since the realities of the planet, detailed in the most prosaic language, put to shame and quite overwhelm all the accessory fancies of the poet.”

The planet Saturn—it’s vast size, its tremendous velocity through space, its moons, the perfection of its rings—is pure sublime reality—which makes a serious poem on it silly and redundant. I like this example, because a poet today, as well as Poe in the 19th century, can detect a certain absurdity in “a long poem on the planet Saturn.”

Facts (of Saturn) speak for themselves. Sublimity is up to the poem, not its facts.

The poem is allowed, or expected, to talk about what is not special, interesting, or extraordinary.

The poem is expected to rise to the extraordinary in subtle and limitless ways.

Here’s why I used the word suspense. The suspense may be small in a poem—but it is the suspense of how the poem will manage to be interesting, when it is only describing a rainy day, for instance. Suspense is at the center of all poetry which forgoes what Poe calls the “accessory fancies” of the poet, whether this is alliteration, rhyme, meter, or stanza.

Suspense is more important in the modern poem than in any other literary form—because it is not suspense super-imposed as plot; it is suspense which makes or breaks the poem itself.

The unfolding of the humble poem qua poem—using limitless, free-ranging rhetorical and fictional strategies—is what is, in itself, suspenseful.

Nothing is really cast aside—neither the sublimity of “the planet Saturn” nor even the beauty of lines like this:

“I see the summer rooms open and dark.”

This is also from Poe’s “Marginalia,” —Poe selected the above line for praise by an anonymous author— as Poe observed, “Some richly imaginative thoughts, skillfully expressed, might be culled from this poem—which as a whole is nothing worth.”

This, too, is something Poe, the so-called 19th century “jingle man” (Emerson’s crude insult) and the modern poet can agree on, the simple and homely beauty of “I see the summer rooms open and dark.”

The first poem in the most recent volume of Poetry is by Joanna Klink.

Five published books, born in Iowa City, befriended Jorie Graham to advance her career (hello, Alan Cordle!) when the latter taught at Iowa.

The strategy of Joanna Klink’s poem is the modern one—it takes the ordinary and uses every rhetorical device it can to succeed as a good poem (what we all want, even in the 21st century).

To quote her poem from the beginning:

Rain falls across the avenues.
What can I say anymore that might be
equal to this sound, some hushed
drumming that stays past the gravelly
surge of the bus. In the apartment complex
a songbird strikes a high glass note above those
rushing to work, uneasy under umbrellas.
It is they who are meant,
is it me who is meant, my listening,
my constant struggle to live on my terms,
unexemplary, trying always to refuse
anything but the field, the wooden rowboat,
veils of wind in the pine.
Films of gold in my throat as I say out loud
the ancient words that overlay
isolation. And yet I miss stillness
when it opens, like a lamp in full sunlight.

This is the first half of the poem—17 lines of 34.

It is the poet talking—about talking—about what they see. (“What can I say…”)

There is no ostentatious repetition.

Notice the multiple alliteration, (“uneasy under umbrellas”) which gets as close to rhyme as possible without crossing into forbidden territory, especially in “gold…throat…out loud…”

Alliteration remains a dignified enterprise.

No one protests, “how do you know they are uneasy under their umbrellas?”

Or, “gold? throat? Can June/moon be far behind?”

We trust our academic poets to resist the off ramp as they ride the steady, alliterative highway. The route rhyme in 5 miles sign never tempts.

It is obvious what the new religion of today’s poets is. But we’ll say it anyway.


Does anyone else find it ironic that nature is the “new religion” for today’s academic poets across the world?

One more share from Sumana Roy’s essay.

Asking her students on the first day of creative writing class what they feel is “poetic,” Roy begins her essay by offering her own definition.

A crow, she says, flies, into the class picture at the end of the term, the photographer keeps the crow, and of all the class pictures hanging in the hall twenty years later—only one is unique and “poetic,” the one which contains the “surprise” and the “surplus” of the “crow.”

All in all, a pretty good definition of what many find nearly impossible to pin down—the “poetic.” But I find it telling that the photo bomb is by a bird, not a human being—even as Roy doesn’t mention “the natural” as having anything to do with the “poetic”—it’s just an unconscious feeling in more and more modern poets.

Back to the first half of Klink’s poem. What the poet in the poem sees is ordinary, without drama—an urban landscape—where the poet lives—invaded in the poem by a landscape wished for—one more bucolic—(“field, rowboat, wind in the pine”) even as the poet struggles to express the worship for what is plain and natural (“What can I say…equal to this sound [the rain]”).

This is pure Wordsworth, pure “I think that I will never see a poem lovely as a tree.” But embarrassing for the 21st century academic poet to see this, I know. I feel ashamed for pointing it out (though Harriet Monroe might smile).

There follows a piece of rhetoric which sounds self-consciously “poetic:”

“Films of gold in my throat as I say out loud/the ancient words that overlay/isolation.”

It is almost as if the poet wants to break free of mundane Wordsworth and hint that she can pull off the sublime if she wants: “films of gold…ancient words….”

But, alas, no. “Stillness” is more important. And the poet’s inability to notice it: “And yet I miss stillness/when it opens, like a lamp in full sunlight.” A fine metaphor.

The fast-paced use of strategy after strategy—almost as if the self-conscious use of various poetic strategies is what counts the most.

Joanna Klink self-consciously writing a failing poem because the modern poet isn’t allowed to be sublime—so what’s to be done now?

This is the attitude, the challenge, the existential dilemma, the suspense of the modern poem.

By “modern,” I mean, whatever has come after Romanticism. The modern poem is everywhere pretty much the same: to various degrees, the modern poem sheds overt ‘sound’ strategies for more subtle ones—but still belongs to the 19th century.

Joanna Klink is aiming for the beauty of “I see the summer rooms open and dark.”

A line Poe loved in the 1840s.

And of course we love now.


Or, if you were speaking Bangla?


Or, Ah-Ah.

Or, men-men.

Do we need to see the second half of Klink’s poem? As we might expect, its philosophical naturalism makes an effort at repetition, echo, and closure, but only broadly within its theme, which might be loosely stated: I think I will never attain a poem lovely as the rain.

The prosaic services of the modern poems serve old poetic themes.

There is craft—but it’s all focused on alliteration. The poem’s “rain” (which is “hazy“) travels in sound-sense alliteration to “water” to “river” to “partial” to “blur” to “dark” and then back to “rain,” the final and the first word of the poem.

As we pick up Klink’s poem at line 18:

I’m ready to sense the storm before the trees
reveal it, their leaves shuffling
in thick waves of air. I have said to myself
This too is no shelter but perhaps the pitch of quiet
is just a loose respite from heat and loss,
where despite ourselves the rain makes hazy
shapes of our bones. Despite ourselves
we fall silent—each needle of rain hits the ground.
Whoever stops to listen might hear water
folded in the disk of a spine, a river
barely move. A bird ticking on a wire.
I no longer believe in a singing that keeps
anything intact. But in the silence
after the raincall that restores, for a moment
at least, me to my most partial
self. The one content to blur
into the dark smoke of rain.



Salem, MA



If my politics offends,

remember: politics is dual—

love is singular.

We do not appear to be friends

because we are in love.

I argued with myself:

“You are not in love with her”

and kept losing.

A pity people change

and, even while changing, keep choosing.

Your truths today will be lies tomorrow.

I seek to demonstrate for her

the wider, social, causes of sorrow

in my wild political zeal.

Love, however, covers me in silence.

Only argument makes me feel.

If my politics offends,

remember: love will be the two of us

and politics singular

when all of this ends.


We can scratch and chew and stroke ourselves as we see fit;

we know our mind, every last shadow; we don’t know another’s.

The things people say about love isn’t the same as it.

There is a brawling camaraderie of furious sisters and brothers

but that’s family—the perfect love is someone you don’t fear

because deep inside you don’t really love them.

When you sit at the piano by chance

and try this, then that, quiet combination of tone,

you begin to feel you are pianist and composer

even as a simple, sad amateur.

We would rather be alone.


I ruined many poems, writing to you,

pathetically trying to win you back

with bitterness and anger, enough

to ruin my social reputation, too.

The bounty sours, excess now a lack.

I know singers have that happy era,

young, writing song after amazing song;

but the personality in the spotlight unravels,

too much becomes known, and talent dies

in the face of accusation, as wrong fails to overcome wrong.

Wrong vibrates with wrong—he tries

to capture innocence. You can’t capture innocence;

it just is. A new smile now makes us wince.

This happened to me. A poet will control

everything. The part gathers to a whole.

It only takes one line to betray

my cowardly actions today,

the sneer, the fat, rotting soul.

What happened to our love?

Was it artificial from the start? Was it never meant to be?

Did it—did it—ruin every last piece of our integrity?

Last night you let train after train pass by

remaining in a dark corner of the station to cry.

But today you are fine. You smile

at my poems, rotting in their sentiment and style.


The beast in every dream is the same—

the one we cannot talk to, the one we cannot blame.

The beast gains sympathy from everyone;

we falter, but the beast, inscrutable, goes on.

The indifferent universe is the beast

for those who don’t believe in God.

The least their intelligence can do

is to not believe what must be—but doesn’t make it through.

There is nothing that has to be, to them.

Things exist for them—which they can see partially.

Wander by yonder moon into my poetry

which was yours—even in the fog of antiquity.

Poem, there are other substances in the past,

which is why you still exist—

strange chemistry which makes you last!

It is this mist which makes others perish

and you live, yes, yes, you

breathing the finality of everything true.


Should I take the commuter rail from North Station?

Oh hell it’s too late, I’ll walk (it’s nice out) to the subway.

A green car is in the wrong lane as a group of us hurry

in the crosswalk, the walk sign counting down,

is that woman coming at me from the other way attractive—

short, long hair, parka showing some hip, slippers,

it’s an oddly warm morning for February—

and another, taller, I don’t get as good a look at her,

the answer is no, or I think, the sun is peering around

the tall Boston buildings at different angles as I move,

looking to my left a distant crane’s motionless burden stands.

What sort of construction or menace or worry might be happening there?

I dart past churches, through the supermarket alley, hardly seen.

Alone, I leave the rest standing at a red light

as I look to my left and see no cars turning.

I know by chance if I should run into you—

I would become more focused—but is this true?

Everything is old, complex, and numerous,

and Rosalinda, the truth is, nothing is fresh, or new.

Calculating is helpful but what I really like to do is stare.

They say AI robots will change everything.

Yes, yes, of course. Like my teddy bear?


The Imagist was the bass player, the lead singer,
a student of Philip Larkin. The lead guitar
was a rhyming hack. The rhythm guitarist was a prose
poet all the way, and the drummer studied Milton—
an uncanny sound was made
by combinations of light combining in a revolving shade.

Solo poets are a thing of the past!
Now they band together, determined to make poetry last—
the voices different, a harmony of slow and fast.
Why hadn’t we thought of this before?
There shouldn’t be one poet—
just as there shouldn’t be one Door.

The college academic advisor
was an overworked psychiatrist for the girlfriends of Elvis.
He never saw Elvis. Elvis, the freshman, made his job easy.
Elvis never came around his office at all.

This is the kind of material the band wrote—
but you need to see the Larkins live!
A big arena is great, but when I was young,
I caught them in a dive.


There is nothing more dull than a tall man devoting himself to poetry.
If he were smelly and small. Or French.
But no, he simply cannot forgive himself at all.
The T.S. Eliot episode is hardly worth mentioning.
A warm, red, inflamed, fall,
a dispirited trudge past the silly autumn leaves falling,
after being taunted, for no reason, at the high school.
Some take a long time to grow up. He found himself
attending to poetry during a growth spurt, before real maturity.
Shy beyond belief, an attitude crept immediately into the poetry.
Stooped over a chess board, lying on the floor in the parlor, inventing war games,
soon it became easy to conquer thoughts with verse.
At least this is how it seemed. Being bent and awkward made it worse.
Winters and summers froze and burned, but he continually lived in a dying fall.
Captivated by the infinite, he found increasing joy in making all that was unreachable small.


The root of love is not always love.

Love is not like music. Love is more complex.

Beethoven and Mozart weren’t good at it.

The musician stutters as he talks about his ex.

The music flows. Mozart is what the musician knows.

The return of the root tone

makes everyone, in the end, feel less alone,

makes melody more than what it is.

The coda, the cadenza, are certainly his.

The musician makes the claim for what he composed,

the root of the first chord returning again,

inside the hearts of those deep, passionate men

who laugh, embarrassed, when love is mentioned.

They can play music, remembering the note

which first made the right chord float

into the hearts of their listeners.

Music is easy, they say.

Easy, when lovers have gone away.

Concentrate on just a few notes,

the temperature of which is excited by a sluggish sound.

Strange hesitation by rapidity unbound.

The root of love could be a fortune waiting to be undone

by the passionate son.

The root of love could be hate.

Torture her by making her wait!

Let the lark and crow

comment on what your rivals know.

I had so many strategies

to make her love me.

D minor pianissimo worked for a while.

The A major of my vapid smile.

Her expectations will be met

with G minor seventh yet.

But I am being cute—as Mozart sometimes is with flute.

Not one of my strategies was like music—

but sloppy, helpless, weak, like love,

whose weakness may be the secret to passionate music,

but fails utterly, like everything, when all you want is love.


Two souls are never close. As we

embraced, our minds were writing poetry.

She was writing a poem called Disgrace,

which had no words, yet, and mine

was done. I described her face.

I required no metaphor—

these always make one feel one has read a poem before;

my theme was beauty and novelty combined.

I had no comparisons to make—

I needed only her. The earthquake

struck and buried our two souls alive.

Bodies depend on souls more than ever.

Our bodies had been close. The souls couldn’t be.

It has something to do with finite space

and completion belonging to neither you nor me.


To taste your own mouth and find it foul,

to look into your own eyes and see a querulous stranger’s,

to find the world either too fast or slow,

to think—knowing you will think, but never know.

No one truly likes who they are.

We are infinitely lost beneath an intemperate star.

What can possibly happen between you and me?

My self-hatred stretches to infinity.

You cannot come between me and it—

this nightmare, this pathetic fit.

Keats rejects the poet, asks for a sumptuous meal.

I hurried to this place, and now don’t know what to feel.

After writing this poem I will do

something unpleasant—the only grace is

I won’t tell you what it is.

My poem is chaste—and in the past.

It’s prior to me. Me? I’m not going to last.


When opposed by the gods and a badly built wall

laugh at the total stupidity of it all.

When fate interferes with your arrival

remember how crooked all arrival is,

how yours means less than hers or his

who cannot arrive now or ever,

a profound, inscrutable event having buried them forever.

Stupidity will let you off the hook. Chuckle

at the stupidity of hair, crotch, knuckle,

anxiety over stupidity (or nothing) felt

by numerous followers with no will—

who are going in the wrong direction—

while abusing their health—

and are hopeful of arriving still.


Our short term success

will not punish us any less

than if we sinned for eternity.

The poem is the poetry,

the climate is the weather—

whatever is true now is true forever.

We cannot put anything off—

it is here, it is here.

It is smiling because it smiled—

it was happy while it lived;

and it did live, because it was your fear.

Maybe we could get together, today?

Take a walk, have a talk,

spill secrets. And find out

I always was, it always was, this way.


When did I last kiss with my whole being?

I don’t remember.

Why don’t I remember?

I chose badly. Elaborate safety followed.

Memory is poor and vast.

My question slights the present and embarrasses the past.

My tongue was hurting. I bit it accidentally;

I don’t remember when—and I fear

it should have stopped hurting by now.

Tongue! Large in the mouth. Hidden by smiles and secrets.

Her tongue is what I thought of then.

That’s how we got here,

contemplating a heart broken

in a poem with words

which will never be spoken.


When we loved, when every minute

I waited for you was meaningful

outside the café. The night was beautiful

and our walk back toyed with anxiety

underneath our meaningless talk.

How did the Visigoths conquer Rome?

Maybe you can tell me.

When we loved. The red lights spinning,

the music showering us with memory

barely older than our lucky reverie—

which you seemed doubtful of,

even though we knew what we felt was love.

How did the Asian markets crash?

Maybe you can tell me.

The moments when every moment mattered

and we panted in the middle of our love,

what were you thinking, really?

What did you think of the kisses and the poetry?

Is the sighing really over at last?

How did Napoleon III succumb to Germany?

I know you told me. But can you tell me, again?

Must everything live in the past?


The moon. The way she loved you.

It goes away.

The colorful shops.

The bad cold.

The unstoppable. The moon—

seen since the first day.

It goes away.

Every ache and pain when you get old.

It goes away. Wish, again, with a wan smile.

The freezing dark. What you fear.

Everything you wished would stay.

It goes away.


My collection of light darkens in my hands.

The idea trying to be something else

is what wisdom, in secret, finally understands.

The poem’s words were changed

and it didn’t make any difference.

Inspiration wept, then, and was on the verge

of giving up poetry altogether.

How does life do it? Make the random and the many matter?

O bright moon! Night’s bride.

Next month we will marry—

too nervous to ever decide.


He told me he loved me physically

and turned what he loved into poetry.

Is the physical more physical

when translated as spiritual?

Should I have been afraid

when the poetry which came to his aid

worshiped me as his sole aim

and the body was never to blame?

Whenever I moved—

in that place in limb and face he loved

me in all that I physically was

and I could feel his acute despair

when he couldn’t be there.

Now that I am fifty

he doesn’t write me poetry—

I left him abruptly long ago—

the abrupt symbolizing physical

failure? Fear? I don’t know.

Now at fifty I admit I begin to sigh

thinking whether the physical can be spiritual

or is this an elaborate lie?

What is it about physical pride and men?

What can the womb and the grave buy?

What was that then?


Can one decide to love? I don’t think so.

We love involuntarily—

especially when we love madly.

And yet—haven’t I decided crazily?

What’s so reasonable that it can’t be ruined

by a calm decision?

I once decided—what, I won’t mention here.

It indicated rationality, but the craziness of it was clear.

Therefore, crazy can decide things. There is nothing about deciding

itself which is necessarily rational. We can decide

to quietly make known a feeling lingering,

a grievance that was rational

but argued with itself secretly and politely inside.

The only thing crazy was the decision.

To decide, then, is, itself, the source of crazy.

The crazy is the decision—we are betrayed

by the very rationality in which decision-making consists.

Deciding—and nothing else—is the stranger in the mist

stealing, in secret, everything, and hiding.

It really is the crazy who decide.

Deciding is crazy, crazy all deciding.

Society in the hands of decision-makers is doomed.

Avoid your rational friends. The skeptics.

The ones who decide. Avoid them!

The truly mad, who can save us, are dead.

They did things without deciding.

We thought they were passive, totally crazy. Remember?

They knew. They knew what this poem has said.


I stared at myself for an hour before work

and here at the station I stare at others.

What is mouth, chin, nose, forehead, eye?

How do they assemble themselves in destiny,

poetry which doesn’t have to try?

My features were perfect as the cutest child.

Then my chin receded. My nose went wild.

My eyes twinkle in the silliest way,

my smiling mouth is silly and weak.

Frowning is the way to handsomeness.

My father is handsome. Don’t his features peek

out at all and display themselves in mine?

Did he really love my mother? Or did they

not love? Making me, they then forgot that day?


They’re just doing what they seen someone else do.

My aunt does impressions. Everybody acts.

Anyone can set up a camera and show us this beautiful Irish island,

this old man’s handsome face, a donkey.

Any artist can DJ detached tunes for an art film soundtrack.

And those big budget films—video games with smarmy friendships.

Hey, Jimmy Stewart. “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Come back!

Was there a time when great actors were just great men?

Socialism will sweep us up again.

The sentimental will make us sacrifice again.

Movies are like politics: Again, Again, Again.

Best actor is really the dumbest category

because a film is more than the sum of its parts

and those parts, the ones we have already seen a million times,

we now see again, in what a moron

calls an Oscar worthy movie—which overshadows

in the public’s mind the films which are really good

but don’t have the money and the big producers

who sexually take control.

You cannot isolate a movie role

and judge an actor apart from its movie

but the ignorant love their celebrities

who star in bio-pics of bio-pic celebrities,

bio-pic another word for a lie-writ-large.

Oh sickening the half-truth worship of celebrities.

The macabre of the scientist we kill, Edgar Allan Poe,

is the only thing we know.

The celebrity of a celebrity puts on a show.

And we all collect them.

That’s how we bring them back to earth again.

Fans of celebrities are in a collection, too—

locked in a box under a bed. In the dark

we perish with every collection we cherish.

You watch movies and you aren’t you.

You are too smart to think of yourself as a star.

No one wants to collect you. (Except when you’re dead)

Yet you’re a stupid movie fan, (even you) that’s what you are.


I could never be clever to her directly.

In her presence I was too intimidated by her beauty.

I let her see when I was witty with them—

I loved so many women in front of her it would make your head spin.

She loved me anyway, but I needed to show

her my wit. That’s why I had these substitutes in tow.

What’s ironic is that this behavior was completely witless

and these attempts chased her away at last.

Beauty and wit do not go together—

beauty is languid and slow; wit, smiling and fast.

Love goes between them. Did I love her

or did I love love, the foolish ambassador

who sues for peace when war is brewing,

who plans—no matter what she is thinking or doing.

I remember once, when she was silent

and I was silent and our thoughts were violent.

This is what helpless contemplation of beauty does.

This is why time is littered with songs and films on helpless and ruined love.


What no one else is thinking fails to interest us, in poem or speech.

There are geniuses like stars who are simply out of reach.

What everyone is thinking, like sunlight in the day,

also condemns the poem. There is only one way

to keep the poem in the pond from sinking:

What no one else thinks about what everyone is thinking.

If you are a member of the crowd

at a sporting event. If you are loud,

sure, every poem you write will suck

the same as if you were a mournful, isolated cuck,

slinking apart from the crowd in self-pity;

oh there is a chance your poem will be strange, even pretty;

I might read your poem. But no one else will.

Readers don’t like the beautiful. They like swill.

The crowd crowds in with the crowd. It has no will.

There is only one way the crowd will like your poetry.

Observe. Observe. Notice the contestant winking at the referee…


Long films have been replaced

by short ones we can watch at home.

We’ve returned to when there were no movies—

sensual Greece or old, collapsing Rome.

It was easy for citizens to conspire behind the emperor’s back.

Today, with the internet, democratically, people attack.

Mozart on my phone

competes with every Rolling Stone.

Plato made Nietzsche act like an ass.

Socrates. What a tease.

Orthodox Russia is a gas, gas, gas.

Empires splinter, wealthy families fall.

The people amass. The popular will is all.

Take my hand. We are going to the demonstration.

Our love has just begun.

And so has our nation.

A sea monster in a crimson dress

insulted this ground

where we talk and grow

on the poem’s sound.


No one in my family is a photographer,

But there they are, at family gatherings, clicking away.

The snapshot is not who I am. I don’t look like that.

I know I’m not that ugly. My head is not that fat.

The photographer, not you, determines how you look,

As if you existed as a character

In someone else’s book.

You look wrong in every photograph,

For that is not what reality is—

A part of a moment in time

Is not real or sublime.

Can you know a song if one note is heard?

Yet, we identify people from photos—

A bad photo of ourselves is absurd.

Vanity, and lack of aesthetics, will doom

The whole enterprise. When we walk into a room

Surprised by a mirror, we could find

That person completely foreign to our mind.

Then if we, vainly, think we look good,

Where does this look exist?

Nothing about the human image is understood.

The good photographer considers everything

Apart from the subject: the lighting, the air,

The way the light lingers in late spring

As it surrounds the subject there.

The photographer can save my life

In a space so small

That I will be a stranger to my wife

And appear to be the most beautiful one of all.

This is all art ought to be:

A small, beautiful falsehood—glowing in mystery.

My daughter, the imp, crept up on me, today, saucy and bold.

She snapped a picture. And suddenly I was old.


Walking towards her or when she walks towards me

symbolizes love and poetry.

A view traveling by

represents friendship and the painter’s soft sigh.

If you look too hard you will find

the ugly. Too close too fast will make you lose your mind.

I once walked into a tree.

Nature was never so unkind.

This landscape of trees, houses, a distant church spire,

on the train into Boston resembles

a novel. Realistic fiction wants to know

why the train is now moving slow

and what are the tenants struggling with in that seedy building.

Peering closer into the curiosities of fiction

you forget the poet you were

when you dreamed in your seat,

no doubt thinking of her.


for Mather Schneider

We were walking outdoors. My friend said, “look—

do you think rhyme belongs here

or somewhere in a book?”

“Everywhere,” I said. “There’s nothing modern or wrong

but the poet will express it

in the scenery of the song.”

Him: “What do you mean by that?”

Me: “We should only write ‘verse’ in the ‘lane’

when ‘dancing jigs’ and ‘wearing a fancy hat.’

I wear a hat when I write.” We walked along

in silence, until he shouted,

“The scenery of the song?

Sounds like the name of one of your stupid poems.”

“It is,” I replied, “and you’re in it.

Like Romantic poets, we’re roaming where the poet roams,

in these, our woods and hills, is that wrong?”

Him: “Yes it is, it’s ridiculous. Sounds stupid!

The scenery of the song!”

Me: “Do you think rhyming in the woods is wrong?

I rather like my line: the scenery of the song.

It just needs to be placed in a poem

so metrically it doesn’t sound wrong.”

Him: “It will always sound wrong!

It’s inane! Just listen to it. Scenery?

The scenery of the song?” He began to laugh.

I was hurt. We left the woods and approached a perfect lawn

which stretched for miles, invitingly.

We hesitated, afraid to walk on.

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