I’m here at courtside with Marla Muse as we watch another poet shooting all wrong, trying to get into this March Madness tourney…

Marla—oh! two players tangled up…one fell on top of the other hard at midcourt…that had to hurt…Marla, what seems to be wrong with Michael Burkard…

MARLA MUSE:  Oh, I don’t know.  He graduated from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1973.  I suspect drugs, booze…  Can you imagine getting a creative writing degree at Iowa in 1973?  Happy hour?  Dime beers?  The 60s were still happening in 1973!  Nixon is still in office.  Can you imagine…the Iowa Writer’s Workshop?  When “Nights In White Satin” was on the radio?  I don’t think Michael Burkard has anything left.  He’s terrible.  He’ll never make the tournament.  The APR gave him 9 poems in this anthology—more than almost any of the 180 poets represented, but he’s awful.  Look:

Wait, Marla, are you going to quote the whole poem?

MARLA MUSE:   I have to.  They have to see…how bad this poem is…they won’t believe it otherwise…I have to quote the whole thing…they’re all this bad, too…every poem he’s ever written…they’re all this bad…it’s hard to believe…but you know, when you’re smoking all that dope…

Yea, it must have been a strange life…teaching at Sarah Lawrence in the 80s…I wonder if anyone ever told him his poetry sucked…or maybe that wasn’t cool back, then…in the 80s…you just didn’t do that…or bad was good, or something…

MARLA MUSE:  Yes, that could have been it…bad was good…it was the 80s…poetry was adrift…Lehman’s  BAP came along at the end of the 80s…there was no direction in poetry…the first writing workshop generation was getting old and putting together their Complete and their Selected…the next generation of workshoppers were following, directionless, in a cloud of pot smoke…they were strange times…I remember the fall of the Roman Empire…no, but even this doesn’t compare…OK, let me read this poem…just imagine it emerging from a giant cloud of weed…what else can explain its badness?  OK, here goes:

[I Have A Silence In The Rain]

I have a silence in the rain
and I have my horses.
I have my shoes and I have my name,

the beginning of the street
and the street downtown, between the canyons,
and the trees which shine my shoes.

I have a silence and an end,
an end which is not critical,
not the weight. The houses bloom

and they’ve never been mine,
but there were beings in the rooms,
there were souls to each of the houses,

each of the rooms,
and this extended to the prison of the city
and the prison of the sea, the towns

there, by that sea, and that end
which was narrow
and by itself.  It was so much itself—

that end—
that I was uneasy there, a facade
it seemed, I had a reputation

for going nowhere.
I was always elsewhere
and that was why. I extended my weight

to my shoes and the few trees
and the horses—and the old closed motel
on the thing I called the bluff, the motel

closed for years, staring in the terribly pink sunset
with its pink vases
and pink doors. And the silence which stared.

The horses were below.
The horses were weight, in the evening
they shined too.

—Michael Burkard (1986)  from The Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review

Wow.  Marla, I’m stunned.  That’s…that’s…bad.

MARLA MUSE: It’s safe to say this poet will not be joining the 64 in the March Madness tournament…but you know what that kind of poetry says…?  It says: man, I was enjoying life…I was getting high, I was teaching at Sarah Lawrence…everything I touched was profound…I didn’t even have to try…I’d just put on a wrinkled button-down shirt….and black jeans…and comfortable old brown shoes…and I had my Iowa MFA…and that’s all I needed…and I’d look out the window and scratch my head and THAT was cool…my very being WAS COOL…maybe today we can’t see it…but this kind of poetry should invoke a world of cool, relaxed, pleasure…campus breezes…campus sunsets…campus parties…

But here we are in the 21st century…March Madness…and it’s all different…March Madness, baby!



  1. Michael Burkhard said,

    February 24, 2011 at 2:25 am

    I fully agree with you about everything you say about me. Like everybody else I have ever known who was a poet, I too look back on my past with a combination of nostalgia and regret, and all your specific suppositions about what made me who I am fit in with both those feelings, including Iowa. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times, you know — and all that.

    But “bad?” Is the poem really “bad,” and is it “bad” because of how I dressed and the fact that my beers cost only a dime (which they didn’t)?

    You use the word “bad” 6 times in your article, no less, indeed it is the only critical word you use in the whole analysis of my poem. And the poem simply isn’t “bad” by any criterion but prejudice — i.e. it’s not “bad” unless you have one mighty axe to grind!

    So I’d say March madness indeed — I’d say puerile historicity, I’d say naive biographical reductionism. I’d say animus.

    And is anybody really interested in that?

  2. Noochness said,

    February 24, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Wham, bam,
    Thankee Ma’am,
    The link goes to
    A Bad Po’try Slam.


  3. Noochness said,

    February 24, 2011 at 10:27 am

    #245 from the “Bad Poetry Slam”


    Ode To the Nature of Time

    As unto the waves upon the battered beaches,
    So is time the gatekeeper among the Two Perfections.
    Endlessly rippling forth between two great systems,
    Like the ocean, the shore, those most flawless of forms:
    Chaos and Order.

    Only their shadowy reflections abound,
    Imperfect forms, they exist all around,
    A shadowy synechdoche,
    A caraciture is all we see,
    A cartoon of that perfection,
    That, merely, is what it be:
    Riotous Chaos, Saturnine Order,
    The unknown and known;
    The future, the yore.

    Flowing like a river, one to another,
    Like sexual relations between two big lovers.
    From one perfection, it passes, onto the other.
    Briefly flitting past, a chimera, a blip on our radar.
    No firmament exists, only constant motion.
    Time is merely a surf
    On the edge of the ocean.
    The gatekeeper, time, is a merely a wave.
    A pigment of our imagination
    That colors us to our graves.
    Surfing inexorably, inexorably forward,
    We surf forward enlessly
    On a juggernaut of a surfboard.
    On a self-propagating wave.
    On a wave of realignment!

    We skate on that boundary
    Among the Two Perfections.
    Never waiting, always surfing.
    For that is the connection;
    That is the key!
    In this zone of imperfection,
    Between land and ocean,
    There exists imperfect time,
    And that is where we be.

    And this place, this surfboard
    Where the rubber meets the road.
    Between two great lovers
    That is where we grow.
    That is where we grow.

  4. Noochness said,

    February 24, 2011 at 10:30 am

    #220 from the “Bad Poetry Slam”



    Your braces glint
    Like the dulcet beams of the new dawn
    Your shell-like ears
    Only slightly marred by playground dirt
    Your lovely knees are skinned and raw
    From those stupid metal roller skates
    And your tongue
    — peeking out betwixt your embrace’d teeth —
    Is slightly purpled from the bic you bit
    Too hard and ruptured earlier in the day
    Your long silky hair is brown and tied back
    And it flips when you turn your head
    That flip turns my heart
    I watch and wish you’d talk to me
    Or even notice me
    I’ll charley-horse your arm at recess
    As a token of my love

  5. Marcus Bales said,

    February 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Of course, back then to be ‘bad’ was to be good: it was the ‘sick’ of its day, so maybe all those uses of ‘bad’ are meant to be good? But no, it’s clear from the tone of the rest of it that when you say ‘bad’ you mean bad. But I have to agree, repeating the word ‘bad’ doesn’t make it bad.

    What makes it bad is that you can listen to “Nights in White Satin” and read this poem at the same time. It’s prose. The poem doesn’t challenge what’s going on around it when one is reading it, either aloud or to oneself. In this is is an exemplar of its age — almost all free verse can be read while you’re doing something else, hearing the spouse recount the day, listening to the kids playing in the next room, the tv on out there, the radio on in here. And it’s bad as an example of why such a depressingly enormous number of other free verse poems are bad.

    There’s nothing compelling about it. THAT’s why it’s bad.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm


      Interesting point you raise…how it’s very easy to scan burkard’s poem while someone else is talking to you at the same time, kids are playing in the next room, etc…but let’s examine what you mean…

      If you are reading a compelling story or poem you might ‘zone out’ and not hear anything else, even if there were distractions all around you. But if you were reading the Burkard poem, those distractions would exist for you as a reader. Since the Burkard poem is not compelling, it would ‘allow,’ so to speak, those others sounds and words to enter the reader’s consciousness. In this way, the Burkard poem does accomplish some unspoken and intangible ‘service’ by simply existing, and allowing ‘other events’ to exist simultaneously. A pink sunset is certainly beautiful, and a worthy event, but we can easily gaze on a sunset and hear sounds as we do so, exactly as the pink sunset in Burkard’s poem also allows other sound-events to exist simultaneously—so what Burkard’s poem is doing is transcending the sound-performance of a poem and embracing existence itself. The ‘bad bad’ poetry which noochness is quoting above presents concepts and images and sound-constructions which, even though ‘bad,’ are actually more ‘compelling,’ or let us say, ‘engaging’ than Burkard’s poem, for Burkard’s poem tells you as immediately as it can ‘I’m not a bad poem! I’m not trying ‘to say’ anything! Don’t work to understand me! Just let my images wash over you! Just feel what I’m saying! Don’t think too hard about it! If you wish to ponder slightly, later on, about some of my images, you may do so, but don’t make an intellectual effort to seek a ‘right’ answer to anything, that’s not what my poem is asking!’ In this way Burkard escapes all condemnation that greets ‘bad bad’ poetry, or poetry that tries too hard to be good in a correct, exclusive sort of way. Burkard’s poem gives up a lot in order to succeed, and the success of Burkard’s poem plays out in a very large space (that large space which ‘allows’ other things to enter) which it has earned by giving up all sorts of ‘normal rights’ which the poet typically thinks are his.

      So is this basically what you are saying, Marcus? If you are reading one of Keats’ Odes, you as the reader are following a thread of meter and rhyme which you don’t want interrupted—but with the Burkard poem, as you are reading, it really doesn’t matter that much if it’s interrupted, because there’s no real track or thread to the poem…?


      • Marcus Bales said,

        February 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm

        Tom wrote: “… In this way, the Burkard poem does accomplish some unspoken and intangible ‘service’ by simply existing, and allowing ‘other events’ to exist simultaneously. … —so what Burkard’s poem is doing is transcending the sound-performance of a poem and embracing existence itself.”

        Ingenious but, as usual for mere ingenuity, wrong.

        I meant that it’s prose. You can read it just as you can read prose: for its information content, without much regard for other considerations. That’s bad enough. But what makes the poem a bad poem, and not merely the standard muesli of free verse is that you don’t miss anything important or significant if you do read it as prose, without much regard for other considerations. There really isn’t much else there. Oh, yes, there is some semi-surrealist huffing and a bit of sort of absurdist puffing, but nothing you can just read past that, and you miss nothing if you do.

        But what makes your ingenuity wrong is that the poem doesn’t even provide the service you indicate – that of being background to other stuff, because anything that presents itself as a poem has to be given due consideration, even if it turns out to be a bad one. So the poem actually intrudes into and diminishes the music you’re listening to, or the events going on around you, because it turns out to be not worth the time and effort it took to read it. So, far from being a ‘service’, the poem is itself a distraction.

        Tom wrote: “So is this basically what you are saying, Marcus? If you are reading one of Keats’ Odes, you as the reader are following a thread of meter and rhyme which you don’t want interrupted—but with the Burkard poem, as you are reading, it really doesn’t matter that much if it’s interrupted, because there’s no real track or thread to the poem…?”

        I’d say I’m following a complex skein of thread, among them meter and rhyme, and don’t want to be interrupted, but the poem in question is really pretty ordinary prose, and doesn’t deserve the attention that a reading of it as poetry demands. My dismissal of it as ‘bad’ is in part anger that it’s wasted my time, and a particular kind of my time at that: attention-to-poetry time, which is harder to give, than prose-reading time.

        It’s not that there’s ‘no real track or thread’, it’s that the track or thread is the track or thread of prose. I don’t miss anything by reading it as prose, and I don’t gain enough by trying to read it as poetry to justify the expenditure of energy. All I gain, really, is a vague sense of resentment at the poet for wasting my time by lineating his prose in order to try to demand my poetry-reading time.

      • Christopher Woodman said,

        February 25, 2011 at 3:30 am

        “Real tracks” in poems include elements which are silent as well, as in this poem (not my favorite, but worthy of any reader’s attention):

        1.) what’s missing, as in music, the classical music of India in particular, the note the music is all about yet is never sounded, or if so is sounded just once, fleetingly, when least expected — hiatus, ellipse, emptiness in the highest sense (sunyata in Sanskrit — from the root word which means puffed-up, swollen, plus ta, containing nothing, hollow).

        It’s this element which allows poetry to depict things silently which can only be explained, out loud, in prose.

        2.) imagery, ditto.

        3.) fragments, deliberately decomposed as in Michael Burkard’s poem, or a product of historical decomposition as in Sappho.

        Easy to be cynical about all of the above, just as it’s easy to be cynical about a haiku, a karesansui, or white chickens. And if you make, or just think even, a lot of noise, they all equally scatter.

  6. February 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm


    I find it interesting that ‘Michael Burkhard’, who posted above, is unable to spell his own name (Burkard).

    Identity theft is not only despicable but criminal and should never be tolerated!

    • Christopher Woodman said,

      February 25, 2011 at 2:17 am

      Whoever posted the “Michael Burkhard” post was almost certainly making just that point, Gary — one which escaped the notice of Scarriet altogether during last year’s March Madness series. Indeed, in Poetry March Madness is Coming, Poetry March Madness is Coming, last week, Thomas Brady hyped the present series with the blurb:

      Scarriet came into its own with its Poetry March Madness, attracting widespread attention from published poets thrilled to finally throw an elbow at their rivals, or freeze them with a soft jumper, or drive right over them to the hoop to win with seconds remaining. Booya.

      “Published poets,” Tom bubbled. Just imagine that, Gary, Booya PUBLISHED Poets, on Scarriet!!! A Gold Star for Scarriet each visitor who could prove he’d been published, even when Thomas Brady (a) despises the whole po biz process and (b) knew that most of last year’s visits by P. P.s were as bogus as Billy Collins accompanied by my avatar and Michael Burkard spelling his name as I did!

      Bogus on bogus.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 26, 2011 at 12:05 am


      Adding letters to your name can do wonders.

      For instance: Christopher Woodman, Ph.D

      How about… Gary B. Fitzgeralde? You like?

      Obviously Burk(h)ard was following this impulse, as he was under severe attack.


  7. Noochness said,

    February 25, 2011 at 12:33 am

    #44 from the “Bad Poetry Slam”


    Watch, ladies and gentlemen, as I recite the worst poem known to man.

    “Lugubrious fascinations in a minor keyhole”

    Fuck. Where are my pants? Where am I? Is that a man? Why is he wearing lingerie and a Klan hood? Where is his other hand?


    Fuck. I shouldn’t have drank that patriotism.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    February 26, 2011 at 12:04 am


    I agree with you.

    I was writing on Burkard, the poet, as his defenders might.

    “Bad” probably works, too.


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