The philosopher Benjamin Paul Blood (1832-1918) wrote the following to William James:

“Philosophy is past.  It was the long endeavor to logicize what we can only realize practically or in immediate experience.”

The experiment of March Madness has been interesting.  We have examined whether or not poetry, like the philosophy portrayed in Blood’s essay, “Pluriverse: An Essay in the Philosophy of Pluralism,” can be known best if we become profoundly self-conscious as poets and readers in a group dynamics medium in which immediate experience and practicality are pushed to their limits within that context.

20,000 fans, spilling soda and popcorn, screaming at the top of their lungs in response to a contest between, let’s say, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, a 16th seed! and “Sunday, Tarzan In His Hammock” by Lewis Buzbee, upset winner over Mary Oliver’s fifth seeded “Flare” in first round play in the West Bracket, experienced the poem in such an intense manner—however the partisanship might have expressed itself—that the delight based on the pure excitement itself propeled the imaginative response—which has always relied on a certain suspension of disbelief—to new heights, in which the suspension of disbelief was simultaneously extended and dismantled by the crowd.

The vision of this collective consciousness, at once critical, reflective and wholly reactive, is not meant to be defined here as a definitive vision, nor should the results of these contests fill anyone with either joy or dismay.  Combatants, were these none.  The riotous fans have been, and were, you and I; once a mob, now a critic, once weeping and hollering, now holding steadily the iron pen.  Let the tattooing begin.

How shall we describe Janet Bowdan’s “The Year?”  How shall we describe her victory?  How shall we describe the young fan, who, in a fit of ecstacy, nearly fell from the top of the stadium upon the heads of the throng below, this young worshiper of this terrible and haunting poem?  How to describe the look of Buzbee in defeat, Tarzan and Jane beside him, the barely comprehending Cheetah on Tarzan’s shoulder, looking wildly around?

We sought out Bowdan for an interview, but she was gone.  The crowd had carried her away.

Earlier, at the crack of dawn, with a youngish Wordsworth showered and shaved, Billy Collins advanced to the center of our beloved March Madness court, the polished wood of the court gleaming, the clever concession stands spread around, and dominated Stephen Dunn, making sure he couldn’t breathe for a second.  “John Donne, eh?  Are you done?’  The voice of the haughty no. 2 seed in the East resounded for eons after Dunn’s poem was read.  We have to go back years before we find a game that was like this, or, find any game.  The gods were, of course, anxious.  Rules, there were none.  The fans were not silent for a moment.  The rooting was astonishing.

Bernard Welt’s “I stopped writing poetry…” plied poetry long into the evening, almost as if to send Reb Livingston away, but she stood her guard, unblinking.  Some fans in the second half had a revelation and got the brilliance of Welt’s trope: the reasons he gave for not writing poetry were actually powerful incentives to write poetry, and this was the fuel of the poem itself, but the commotion in the second balcony as Livingston was shooting her free-throws was lost on the broadcasters—they  ignored it, thinking it was just the crowd being a crowd, a 190 line poem being a 190 line poem, and fans on the floor only saw it in separate parts.  Some Welt fans ran outside, but it was too late.  Livingston was stoic as Welt’s voltage melted.

William Kulik dazzled with a ferocity not seen yet in the tournament and Margaret Atwood froze with a searching look.  Kulik started to tick tick tick as soon as the contest started, the moss covered walls closed in, and no matter how hard Atwood looked, the drama of Kulik continued to drown.

“Bored” is sure of itself, as Atwood is; she was tranformed by Kulik into what went sadly down into the shadows.

The crowd implored those shadows.

Don’t trust crowds, they say.

We trusted this one.

Tom, this is Marla Muse, down at courtside…the crowd has seen four thrillers and they want more…this is how poetry should be…I’m being lifted by this crowd and that’s how I like it…I’m looking for my little notebook….have you seen it?

No, Marla, I haven’t.


  1. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 30, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    Tom, I found my little notebook, and on page 1 is this poem by Janet Bowdan!

    writing (on the walls)

    As if I could see that far into the past
    could on an overcast day the sky full
    of omens walk along looking at something else,
    window displays, hear its recognition.
    horizon gaze open-focuses, contracts to close-up
    you could almost touch minor characters
    lilliputian from a distance now brobdingnags
    as they turn major, the key’s minor,
    when the walls close in you get out, go
    for a walk. cracks not in the retaining wall,
    not the one required to hold the house up
    just a sort of curtain wall, a cosmetic, a facade.
    Back then the writing was on the wall and now
    the wall’s blank, a shell, the kind of blank that
    if you shot, you wouldn’t hurt
    me, just a powder burn, a scar, unless we were
    too close. hear the shot echoing in the past,
    someone’s shot a video, the turning again: which
    story’s etched into the wall with light? who
    read it, who looks at the whole story, who turns
    to look at something else, into the sky for omens,
    demanding signs, a boy falling out of the sky, we
    are too close: you can’t stop watching, I can’t look.
    Back to the window displays carefully dressed mannequins,
    faces painted in the reflection of the sky, the story
    of giants in miniature, you watching. the angle of

  2. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 30, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    ice 2 (on)

    Janet Bowdan

    the question is what is being kept on reserve, what are my reserves
    you could say if you had any curiosity about me
    and I will just say I am intensely curious about you
    vice versa would only be polite
    but I’m sure you have your own life you have to get on with
    your intimate concerns. And now back to me
    say that there is a part of me not used, utilized, well what part
    is that? clearly it’s not the part that works, all working parts
    in order, working non-stop it feels like, the ever-increasing speed
    of the conveyor belt, the treadmill, the grindstone the nose is to:
    do these images suggest a wearing down or out to you? do you think
    I have, indeed, gotten smaller? of course to answer that
    you have to have paid attention before. it’s all right,
    try this: does water expand or contract when it turns to ice?
    A simple experiment will provide the solution. Put a full glass of
    water into your freezer and leave it overnight or for several years
    before checking on the results. It might help to mark the level
    of water on the glass with a wax pencil, in case you are likely
    to forget where it was.

  3. March 30, 2010 at 11:52 pm


    Lewis Carroll (1832–98)

    T’was brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

    “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
    The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
    Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
    The frumious Bandersnatch!”

    He took his vorpal sword in hand:
    Long time the manxome foe he sought—
    So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
    And stood awhile in thought.

    And as in uffish thought he stood,
    The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
    Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
    And burbled as it came!

    One, two! One, two! And through and through
    The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
    He left it dead, and with its head
    He went galumphing back.

    “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
    He chortled in his joy.

    T’was brillig, and the slithy toves
    Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
    All mimsy were the borogoves,
    And the mome raths outgrabe.

  4. March 30, 2010 at 11:53 pm


    And hast thou slain the Jabberwock, my son?

  5. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 31, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Three Poems by Reb Livingston

    Lament for Origin

    From muddled clay where this Book was founded, O Sultana, the vainglum peasants who huddle your ankles, bring their flippers for your spatula, whooshing like damseled whorls before you. May the foreskinned tribes cast better wishes, make curtsy pies and cabbaged kowtow soup. In your meadow slashed to stubby-love, may this lament dwindle to your pheasant-licked toes. Like a golden pricked massage may you not be spiritless, may this mud become your broth.

    Spell for Lunching After the Death

    O Sunwurst who defined a moonmoan, O Sunwurst who sleeps rainbows, may you deem worth within the argued and past wooed, may those who are heartsick pardon your slack and paw, may the Netherwurst receive you when Damsel enters stage bereft in Apron to blank your weakish wishes in the torsos to the flinching bleats.

    Spell for Sipping Elixir and Not Being Learnt by Sunwurst

    O Spoonswirl of Sunwurst, I am wrought with snot, for I am bombswell from which the GOURD was sowed. I will be neither learnt nor scored, for I am Prophetess, eldest of the GOURD for who all the covegrunt trembles with her EYE on Tabershrillville; I am the traversed clairvoblunt when Damsel is lost in hoopskirt, my name will carry furlong and a big wick.

  6. thomasbrady said,

    March 31, 2010 at 2:25 am

    And now a poem by William Kulik, one of the Scarriet Final Four!


    In Memory of Wolfman Jack

    My name’s James, enlightenment’s my game. Comin’ at y’all with Soul
    Break, the two-minute hot spot on the hottest spot in town: station WSLF
    Millennium Radio 2000 on your dial where we know the pose of those who
    think the sword can cut itself and you out there usin Twoness to reach One-
    ness thinking you ain’t really real with a capital R til you like old Frog-in-
    Suchness—don’t know his ass from his eyeball but give you one helluva
    Chugarumph! do that jump-in-pond-sound thing y’all dig on—cause you be
    thinkin’ he got something you don’t have, which is where you wrong and why
    I’m here tryin to get in your Original Face, tell you there ain’t nothin’ here
    to realize actualize fecundize: you can’t get it cause you already got it, and
    if you could get it, it wouldn’t be it, got it? Just you lookin for the Ultimate’s
    a joke! Hell, any state you could find wouldn’t be Ultimate if you could find
    it, ain’t I right? And dig this: what you in your Twoness call the Illusion cre-
    ated by your Twoness which Illusion you are usin to reach the Oneness you
    in your Illusion think you ought to reach—all that mess is what the Man,
    Brah-Man, is already doin; and, like the man says: “Console thyself, thou
    woulds’t not seek me if thou hads’t not already found me.” Now that’s the
    truth, ain’t no illusion—but it’s all there is for now, brothers and sisters in
    the Land of Pure Delusion. Time for James to park it on his little satin pil-
    low fold hands and stare at the dot he painted on the wall. Cause I got my
    own confusion. ‘Night, y’all.

  7. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 31, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    The Lanyard

    Billy Collins

    The other day I was ricocheting slowly
    off the blue walls of this room,
    moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
    from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
    when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
    where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

    No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
    could send one into the past more suddenly—
    a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
    by a deep Adirondack lake
    learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
    into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

    I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
    or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
    but that did not keep me from crossing
    strand over strand again and again
    until I had made a boxy
    red and white lanyard for my mother.

    She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
    and I gave her a lanyard.
    She nursed me in many a sick room,
    lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
    laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
    and then led me out into the airy light

    and taught me to walk and swim,
    and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
    Here are thousands of meals, she said,
    and here is clothing and a good education.
    And here is your lanyard, I replied,
    which I made with a little help from a counselor.

    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
    strong legs, bones and teeth,
    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
    And here, I wish to say to her now,
    is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

    that you can never repay your mother,
    but the rueful admission that when she took
    the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
    I was as sure as a boy could be
    that this useless, worthless thing I wove
    out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

  8. Bob Tonucci said,

    March 31, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Tom, Marla here with another reminder that the American Poetry Review (APR) will be publishing new poetry by William Kulik in the May/June 2010 issue, on sale on 1 May at the APR website and at quality bookstores everywhere. This guy is a national treasure, Tom, and he translated Max Jacob into English to boot. At least I think that’s the same William Kulik….

  9. thomasbrady said,

    March 31, 2010 at 8:47 pm




    Billy Collins was no. 2 seed in the East, def. Paul Violi, Jorie Graham, Harry Mathews, Stephen Dunn.

    William Kulik was no. 13 seed in the North, def. Seamus Heaney, Donald Hall, Louis Simpson, Margaret Atwood.

    Janet Bowdan was no .16 seed in the West, def. Sharon Olds, Ted Kooser, Brad Leithauser, Lewis Buzbee.

    Reb Livingston was no. 10 seed in the South, def. Jack Turner, Donald Justice, Kenneth Koch, Bernard Welt.

  10. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 4, 2010 at 10:33 am


    William Kulik

    In that novel you bought at the chain, a young woman looks back on her life.
    She’s 30, a teacher married to a Harley-riding oil exec, mother of two sons.
    They have an apartment uptown, take exciting trips, but she’s bored, frozen,
    galvanized into life only during rough sex or when she pictures him dying
    on one of his drunken, lights-off rides across the Throggs Neck Bridge.
    She thinks, as you do, her dad may have abused her: dreams and flash-
    backs tell her it’s true. Meanwhile he, driven by his own demon, is made by
    the author to describe their life as “a simple story of seduction, rape and
    madness, the usual preoccupations.” Now deep in the book, you wonder if
    they’re being readied for some sinister ritual the one will create, the other
    acquiesce to. You wish they’d come to grips but it’s hopeless: he won’t give
    up his rage against a cold, demanding mother, she the hold on reality per-
    fect order gives her. When their fate is revealed, you applaud silently, a wit-
    ness to the truth of those struggles with the past that imitate your secret life
    so well you identify, are consoled. But are you liberated? Any more than if
    you’d watched the war that prompts those sounds of agony amplified by two
    huge speakers under the ring on whose sweaty canvas Killa Quadzilla meets
    Dr. Death in a world of faked falls, stomps and roars, the theatrical shame
    of the one about to be drop-kicked into the screaming crowd, the other sud-
    denly real to you in the cocky strut and powerful hairy arms, hand on the
    helpless throat, you and your brother huddled in a corner of the room hug-
    ging crying Mommy daddy please stop we love you we’re sorry

  11. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 4, 2010 at 10:41 am

    The Spirit to Adopt

    Reb Livingston

    She thought she was going to die, he never returned
    her messages, but eventually he did and by then
    she remembered he was a cowardly moral relativist
    and all she wanted was witty banter fucking.

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