Hamill: No, it’s not basketball March Madness, it’s poetry March Madness…

Sam Hamill’s (10th seed, West) “What the Water Knows” is a poem Robert Bly or Gary Snyder probably wish they had written. It’s a hopeful lament set in nature, with an Eastern feel.

Stephen Dunn’s (7th seed, West) “What They Wanted” belongs to the Poignant Speech school of poetry.  Dunn is a prose poem virtuoso in the manner of Stephen Dobyns and James Tate.

Here’s Sam Hamill’s entry:

What the Water Knows

 What the mouth sings, the soul must learn to forgive.
A rat’s as moral as a monk in the eyes of the real world.
Still, the heart is a river
pouring from itself, a river that cannot be crossed.

It opens on a bay
and turns back upon itself as the tide comes in,
it carries the cry of the loon and the salts
of the unutterably human.

A distant eagle enters the mouth of a river
salmon no longer run and his wide wings glide
upstream until he disappears
into the nothing from which he came. Only the thought remains.

Lacking the eagle’s cunning or the wisdom of the sparrow,
where shall I turn, drowning in sorrow?
Who will know what the trees know, the spidery patience
of young maple or what the willows confess?

Let me be water. The heart pours out in waves.
Listen to what the water says.
Wind, be a friend.
There’s nothing I couldn’t forgive.

–Sam Hamill

Stephen Dunn had some victories last year in the BAP March Madness tournament. He’ll be a tough opponent.

What They Wanted
They wanted me to tell the truth,
so I said I’d lived among them,
a spy, for year,
but all that I wanted was love.
They said they couldn’t love a spy.
Couldn’t I tell them other truths?
I said I was emotionally bankrupt,
would turn any of them in for a kiss.
I told them how a kiss feels
when it’s especially undeserved;
I thought they’d understand.
They wanted me to say I was sorry,
so I told them I was sorry.
They didn’t like it that I laughed.
They asked what I’d seen them do,
and what I do with what I know.
I told them: find out who you are
before you die.
Tell us, they insisted, what you saw.
I saw the hawk kill a smaller bird.
I said life is one long leavetaking.
They wanted me to speak
like a journalist. I’ll try, I said.
I told them I could depict the end
of the world, and my hand wouldn’t tremble.
I said nothing’s serious except destruction.
They wanted to help me then.
They wanted me to share with them,
that was the word they used, share.
I said it’s bad taste
to want to agree with many people.
I told them I’ve tried to give
as often as I’ve betrayed.
They wanted to know my superiors,
to whom did I report?
I told them I accounted to no one,
that each of us is his own punishment.
If I love you, one of them cried out,
what would you give up?
There were others before you,
I wanted to say, and you’d be the one
before someone else.  Everything, I said.

–Stephen Dunn

MARLA MUSE:  I love both these poems.  I’m speechless. 
The John Crowe Ransom Arena, though, is full of noise.
MARLA MUSE: The Dunn poem gives me the chills.
Dunn scoring early and often…it’s Dunn over Hamill, 80-72.


jim harrison

Jim Harrison: You want a poem? I’ll give you a poem…You want a novel? I’ll give you that, too. And a movie script. You can have one of those. Now let’s go have some lunch.

Dobyns and Harrison are both known for their fiction, and each has had two films produced from their work; one of Harrison’s: “Legends of the Fall,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt.

Stephen Dobyns (7th seed in the South bracket) is a late 20th century prose poem master, using the form for limitless accessible expression (there is no end to the possibilities of accessible poetry).

Allegorical Matters

Let’s say you are a man (some of you are)
and susceptible to the charms of women
(some of you must be) and you are sitting
on a park bench. (It is a sunny afternoon
in early May and the peonies are in flower.)
A beautiful woman approaches. (Clearly,
we each have his or her own idea of beauty
but let’s say she is beautiful to all.) She smiles,
then removes her halter top, baring her breasts
which you find yourself comparing to ripe fruit.
(Let’s say y ou are an admirer of bare breasts.)
Gently she presses her breasts against your eyes
and forehead, moving them across your face.
You can’t get over your good fortune. Eagerly,
you embrace her but then you learn the horror
because while her front is is young and vital,
her back is rotting flesh which breaks away
in your fingers with a smell of decay. Here
we pause and invite in a trio of experts.
The first says, This is clearly a projection
of the author’s sexual anxieties. The second says,
Such fantasies derive from the empowerment
of women and the author’s fear of emasculation.
The third says, The author is manipulating sexual
stereotypes to acheive imaginative dominance
over the reader—basically, he must be a bully.
The author sits in front of the trio of experts.
He leans forward with his elbows on his knees.
He scratches his neck and looks at the floor.
where a fat ant is dragging a crumb. He begins
to step on the ant but then he thinks: Better not.
The cool stares of the experts make him uneasy
and he would like to be elsewhere, perhaps home
with a book or taking a walk. My idea, he says
concerned the seductive qualities of my country,
how it encourages us to engage in all fantasies,
how it lets us imagine that we are lucky to be here,
how it creates the illusion of an eternal present.
But don’t we become blind to the world around us?
Isn’t what we see as progress just a delusion?
Isn’t our country death and what it touches death?
The trio of experts begin to clear their throats.
They recross their legs and their chairs creak.
The author feels the weight of their disapproval.
But never mind, he says, Perhaps I’m mistaken;
let’s forget I spoke. The author lowers his head.
He scratches under his arm and suppresses a belch.
He considers the difficulties of communication
and the ruthless necessities of art. Once again
he looks for the ant but it’s gone. Lucky ant.
Next time he wouldn’t let it escape so easily.

—Stephen Dobyns

Jim Harrison’s poem is taken from a series of prose poems published in APR called Letters to Yesenin. (Yesenin was a Russian poet who hung himself in prison.)  Harrison (10th seed in the South) is no stranger to the prose poem, either. He wrote these poem-letters in the early 70s while living on a farm (all the poets lived on farms in those days).  He was in his early 30s at the time, but he makes it sound like he’s an old man: a litany of ills verging on acute self-pity, resembling a Richard Hugo rant. (Has Harrison had a hard life? Yes.)  Anyway, the crumbling wreck of a soft/hard, self-pitying American man was all the rage in the 70s.

#9  (Letters to Yesenin)

What if I own more paper clips than I’ll ever use in this
lifetime. My other possessions are shabby: the house half
painted, the car without a muffler, one dog with bad eyes
and the other dog a horny moron. Even the baby has a rash on
her neck but then we don’t own humans. My good books were
stolen at parties years ago and two of the barn windows are
broken and the furnace is unreliable and field mice daily
feed on the wiring. But the new foal appears healthy though
unmanageable, crawling under the fence and chased by my wife
who is stricken by the flu, not to speak of my own body which
has long suffered the ravages of drink and various nervous
disorders which made me laugh and weep and carress my shotguns.
But paperclips. Rich in paperclips to sort my writings which
fill so many cartons under my bed. When I attach them I say
it’s your job afterall to keep this whole thing together. And
I used them once with a rubberband to fire holes into the
face of the president hanging on the office wall. We have freedom.
You couldn’t do that to Breznev much less Stalin on whose
grave Mandelstam sits proudly in the form of the ultimate
crow, a peerless crow, a crow without comparison on earth.
But the paperclips are a small comfort like meeting someone
fatter than myself and we both wordlessly recognize the fact
or meeting someone my age who is more of a drunk, more savaged
and hag ridden until they are no longer human and seeing
them on the street I wonder how their heads which are only
wounds balance at the top of their bodies. A manuscript of
a novel sits in front of me held together with twenty clips.
It is the paper equivalent of a duck and a company far away
has bought the perhaps beautiful duck and my time is free again.

–Jim Harrison

MARLA MUSE: The Harrison poem sounds a bit rambling, though of course it’s charming. The Dobyns poem has more art. I rather like the Dobyns; it’s very clever.

And Dobyns proves his worth on the court, Marla.  Dobyns wins 66-54.



The unloved nerd in poetry is a tradition that only began recently: the Greek and Roman boasts, the Italian loves, the English ballad-making, poetry of wars and romances and images…love may have been crippled or mad in old poems, but T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock may have been the first to manifest what is now commonplace: the poet so estranged and miserable they create new aesthetics.

The nerd’s self-torture is an endless field for poetic creation.

The alienation of Leslie Scalapino’s narrator obviously shapes the writing:

that they were at the beach (excerpt)

Playing ball— so it’s like paradise, not because it’s in the past, we’re on a field;
we are creamed by the girls who get together on the other team.
They’re nubile, but in age they’re thirteen or so—so they’re strong.

(No one knows each other, aligning according to race as it happens, the
color of the girls, and our being creamed in the foreground—as part of
it’s being that—the net is behind us)

A microcosm, but it’s of girls—who were far down on the field, in another
situation of playing ball—so it was an instance of the main world though
they’re nubile but are in age thirteen or so.

My being creamed in the foreground—so it’s outside of that—by a girl
who runs into me, I returned to the gym.

—Leslie Scalapino

The adolescent team-sports setting is classic nerd territory: this is where we typically first comprehend that we are nerds.

The narrator lacks confidence—the vision is recorded not with clarity or gusto—but obsessively, with frequent repetition,desperately and passively: passive not only in terms of the narrator’s actions, but in the syntax itself: “my being creamed,” etc.

One gets the idea these are not aesthetic choices by Scalapino, but psychological ones.

Psychology eclipses art: this may be the key to modern art and the nerd artist.

Like pleasant melancholy discords in music, Scalapino’s poetry is deliciously self-wounding. There is something organic and cinematic about Scalapino’s work; an experiment in making poetry come alive, albeit on a fragmented, deranged, fearful, and obsessive level.

Art is not considered ill by society as it once was; brute life has been tamed by civilization and schools and art; but art, to succeed, has lost its ability to surprise, to radically differentiate itself from itself; the psychological ‘sees through’ art and life tamed by art, and the psychological vision returns life (and art) to scary sensation, to the elements of the primitive, the crazy, the longing, the way art must have seemed to the ancients when it emerged as tragedy.

Jack Spicer’s poem is nerd literature as well, from the title to the end:

A Poem Without A Single Bird In It

What can I say to you, darling,
When you ask me for help?
I do not know the future
Or even what poetry
We are going to write.
Commit suicide. Go mad. Better people
Than either of us have tried it.
I loved you once but
I do not know the future.
I only know that I love strength in my friends
And greatness
And hate the way their bodies crack when they die
And are eaten by images.
The fun’s over. The picnic’s over.
Go mad. Commit suicide. There will be nothing left
After you die or go mad
But the calmness of poetry.

–Jack Spicer

With “I don’t know the future,” Spicer invokes the first Great Nerd Poem, Prufrock’s “am no prophet.”

“Go mad. Better people than either of us have tried it” is nerdy defeatism.

MARLA MUSE: I find the Scalapino more interesting, though the Spicer has a certain Baudelaire Lite quality I like.

Scalapino is a force, and she easily defeats Spicer, creaming him, 91-66.


Reed Whittemore, no. 6 seed in the West and Heather McHugh, 11th seed in the APR March Madness tournament, both bring haunting poems to their contest, Whittemore’s poem painting a mind helpless in the body, McHugh’s a mind helpless out of it—hers surrendering a hand, his surrendering his life within a coffin; yet both somehow manage an uncanny joy within an endless sorrow.  Both poets pour genius over us; it’s an honor to contemplate these poems.

Smiling Through

Who are these figures in the street?
They are my friends.
They are wearing armbands.
They are marching along with my coffin, and smiling,
Pleased to be taking me to the boneyard,
Wishing me well and dreaming of all the brave toasts to me
That they will make when they have disposed of me.

And who are these figures in dozens of windows upon the street?
They are my strangers.
They are happy too.

Yes, everyone is happy, even I,
Smiling in my box in the new world that is mine and theirs,
Wearing my old tuxedo.
It had a dull time when I was living.
It was always hanging in closets dreaming of ballrooms.
At last it has found its niche.
Its lapels shine. It is happy.

And now they have lowered and left me.
Alone at last.
I have infinite riches in a little room.
I travel much here.
And other quotations.
Also I have my smile, I have my body, I have my body fluid.
I look at my ceiling,
Which is very low and pasted with my past.
There is my mother in a yellowing snapshot,
Wearing her blue traveling suit and beret
And standing smiling into the sun beside a lifeboat
On The Duchess of Richmond.
And there is my father beside the very same lifeboat.
He is wearing a wrinkled white suit, shading his eyes,
But where am I? Oh yes I am there too, by the lifeboat.
I am busy being sixteen,
With my hair slicked back and my sullenness showing,
Asking, Why are there people broadening me with travel?
But I am smiling also, thinly. It is de rigeur.

Yes, and my old dog Totty is there, the samoyede,
But not by the lifeboat.
He is sitting beside me, a child in a gravel driveway,
And he is grinning, ear unto ear, down the long years.

So here we are, happy. But quiet. For it is quiet.
If I were to breathe, the sound of breathing would be like the sound of waterfalls.

If I were to move, the rustling would frighten the cemetary caretaker in his ugly stone house.
If I were to speak—ah, but I am speaking.
It is a trick of mine, to speak as I speak without speaking.
Almost as good as to die as I die without dying.
So I am lying here. Why am I lying here?  What is my state?

So hard to know sometimes. And so I am smiling.

–Reed Whittemore (1919-)

After You Left

It is better to say ‘I am suffering’
Than to say ‘This landscape is ugly.’ -Simone Weil

From the piling’s kelp I drew
the five blunt fingers of a starfish.

First I thought the creature
less than handsome, less of a hand

than I expected it to be, too rigid,
with a stumpy gray asymmetry of grasp. It hadn’t

kept its grip, so maybe it was dead? It took
a while for me to look, after I claimed to see:

I turned the matter over, and beheld
its thousands of minute transparent

footlets, feelers, stems,
all waving to the quick, and then

the five large radials beginning
gradually to flail

in my slow sight
and then (in my thin air)

to drown. I’d meant
to send it, as a gift

to you who were my missing part, so far
inland. Instead

to a world the sighted have no rights to,
to the dark that’s out of mind, I made

myself resign it,
flinging the hand from my hand.

–Heather McHugh

MARLA MUSE: The economy of the McHugh poem is breathtaking.

Both of these poems are remarkable. This is one of those contests where you hate to see a winner.

Whittemore 77, McHugh 76


This is Dick. He writes poems.

Richard Hugo published letter poems in the 70s, which for the time seemed pretty clever, another victory in the war against formalism by workers who wanted to be free; the poem as a letter, just a regular letter, why not?

You can tell when a poet is writing a letter, can’t you?

Like most 20th century experiments, this paraded around arrogantly for a while, and, when no one paid any attention, sat down, red-faced, in disgrace, one more chapter in the great 20th century poetry collapse.

So here’s the APR anthologist Hugo poem:

Letter to Blessing From Missoula

Dear Dick: You know all that pissing and moaning around I’ve
been doing, feeling unloved, certain I was washed up with
romance for good. That has come to an orgiastic halt.
From nowhere came this great woman. I wasn’t looking
even when she was suddenly bang in my life. I mean
bang in all the best ways. Bang. Bang. Richard Blessing. And years
of loneliness faded into some silly past where I
stared moodily out my windows at the grammar school girls
passing each morning and fantasized being young again
but with circumstances better than the first time and with
an even newer than new morality current. To
say nothing of saying to myself over and over
“I am retired from romance. I am a failure at love.
Women don’t like me. Lecherous, treacherous, kindless klutz.
Oh, that this too too flabby flesh should grow solid. Do not
go gentle into that defeat. Let us go then, you and I
into the deserts of vast eternity.” As you can no doubt
see, things became warped, including my memory of how
certain lines go, and all for the wisest of causes:
self-pity. Do not depend on others for sympathy.
When you need sympathy, you’ll find it only in yourself.
Now, I need none but I still defend self-pity. I still
say, if this woman hurts me I’ll crawl back to my cave.
The snow doesn’t get me down. The solid gray overcast
doesn’t make me moody. I don’t get irritated by
cold clerks in the markets, or barbers who take too long
trimming my hair. This woman is statuesque and soft
and she loves me; meaning she is at my mercy. Have you
noticed when women love us how vulnerable they are?
How they almost challenge us to test them, to be bastards,
to see how much outrageous shit we can fling their way?
Maybe, that’s why we’ve been ripping them off for centuries,
I don’t blame them for bitching, turning to movements, fem lib
or whatever they call it. This time, I’m not saying prove it,
prove your love by not objecting as I steal your money,
set fire to your hair and break your toes with the boots
I took off a dead German soldier at Tobruk. I am
simply going to prove I’m worthy of her love and I feel
I am, which must mean I love her. Boy, am I becoming
tender, and am I ever certain she will not hurt me.
I’ll give her no cause. I accept maybe for the first time
love and I luxuriate in it, a glutton, a trout
who had a hard time finding the spawning ground, who swam time
after time the wrong river and turned back discouraged
to the sea, though at moments the sea was fun. Those sex crazed
sharks and those undulating anemones, can’t beat them
when you’ve had a few drinks though you wake up diseased and raw,
your gills aching and your fins stiff with remorse. That’s enough
metaphor. This morning I feel as masculine as you,
and I regard you as the C.C.Rider of poetry,
criticism and trout. This woman will curve from now on
lovely in poems and streams. Look for her in the quarterlies
and pools. I mean real pools, the ones you come to
with Lisa when you take her on picnics. And take Lisa
on picnics. Give her and her cooking my love. Your friend, Dick.

–Richard Hugo

Tess Gallagher’s poem, like Dick Hugo’s, is about affection, vulnerability, embarrassment, late 20th century luxuries in America when the greatest country on earth could afford to indulge in such luxuries, Aquarius dawning and all that—well, not living them, but self-consciously indulging in them from time to time.

These poems are period pieces and they are embarrassing, like some of the songs which became big hits in the 70s, such as “Muskrat Love.”  

Gallagher’s poem feels as if we took a Victorian platitude and fleshed it out to see what it would look like. The rigid Victorian-poet speech is gone, but something almost worse is in its place, the sentimental residing not in the speech but in the simple actions the plain speech depicts.

MARLA MUSE: The Hugo poem depicts nothing; we don’t see one detail of him or how he lives his life, we don’t see his “woman” at all; it’s just a mass of cliched phrases. It’s ghastly.

So you think Gallagher will beat him easily?


Let’s see:

The Hug

A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too,
with our arms around each other.
The poem is being read and listened to
out here in the open. Behind us
no one is entering or leaving houses.

Suddenly, a hug comes over me and I’m
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light
off to make itself comfortable, then
subsiding. I finish but keep holding
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn’t
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he
would have. He looks homeless because of how
he needs. “Can I have one of those?” he asks you,
and I feel you nod. I’m surprised,
surprised you don’t tell him how
it is — that I’m yours, only
yours, exclusive as a nose to
its face. Love — that’s what we’re talking about, love
that nabs you with “for me only” and holds on.

So I walk over to him and put my
arms around him and try to
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on
so thick I can’t feel
him past it. I’m starting the hug
and thinking, “How big a hug is this supposed to be?
How long shall I hold this hug?” Already
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my
shoulders, my hands not
meeting behind his back, he is so big!

I put my head into his chest and snuggle
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes
into him. He stands for it. This is his
and he’s starting to give it back so well I know he’s
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly
we stop having arms and I don’t know if
my lover has walked away or what, or
if the woman is still reading the poem, or the houses—
what about them? the houses. 

Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing.
But when you hug someone you want it
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button
on his coat will leave the imprint of
a planet on my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.

–Tess Gallagher

You’re right, Marla, Tess Gallagher does win, 88-69.


Anne Sexton: not in the APR tourney as a poet, but as a lover

Wine and poetry go way back. (In fact we’re afraid meds replacing wine has ruined poetry.)

Wine intoxicates the body, just as poetry intoxicates the mind, and both make us mad. Both have refinements, and since a little madness is deemed good, poetry is taught in school and wine is served in public houses.

Alan Dugan, 6th seed, brings “Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton” to the APR tourney.

Every story (memories) is a piece of a larger one; what we leave out is the key to story-telling. If we leave almost everything out, it’s a poem—or so many poets think.

Even a long story still leaves a lot out, but even a short poem is about what we put in. So are many poets mistaken in their art, thinking to write poems by leaving things out, confusing the poem with the story. Stories tease and poems infuriate—when they try to be stories.  As soon as a poem tries to be a story by leaving things out, it fails, because after we read a poem we should feel nothing has been left out. A poem is what’s there, a story is what is not there.

For this reason, I like this Dugan poem:

Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton

The first and last time I met
my ex-lover Anne Sexton was at
a protest poetry reading against
some anti-constitutional war in Asia
when some academic son of a bitch,
to test her reputation as a drunk,
gave her a beer glass full of wine
after our reading. She drank
it all down while staring at me
full in the face and then said
“I don’t care what you think,
you know” as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover
what? and just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her
“Just as I was told, your eyes,
you have one blue and one green”
and there they were, the two
beautiful poets, staring at
each others’ beautiful eyes
as I drank the lees of her wine.

–Alan Dugan

MARLA MUSE: What is the point of the story? I don’t get it.

The story?  You mean the poem?

MARLA MUSE: The poem…the story…you know what I mean…!

The point is not to be sentimental, even when drunk. To be bad-ass.

MARLA MUSE: But it has no point precisely because it’s sentimental.

When it comes to sentimentality all poems have leaky roofs; the sentimentality gets in. Isn’t it true?  The Victorians, according to the moderns, were sentimental, but isn’t it funny how looking back at modern poetry now it’s sentimental, too. Sentimentality is poetry’s coin. All poetry is sentimental.

MARLA MUSE: Sigh. I think you’re right.

Hayden Carruth is a tough old son of a gun. Here’s how he battles Dugan:

The Quality of Wine

This wine is really awful
I’ve been drinking for a year now, my
retirement. Rossi Chablis in a jug
from Oneida liquors, the best
I can afford. Awful. But at least
I can afford it. I don’t need to go out and beg
on the street like the guys
on South Warren in Syracuse, eyes
burning in their sockets like acid.
And my sweetheart rubs my back when I’m
knotted in arthritis and swollen
muscles. The five stages of death
are fear, anger, resentment, renunciation,
and—? Apparently the book doesn’t say
what the fifth stage is. And neither
does the wine. Is it happiness? That’s
what I think anyway, and I know I’ve been
through fear and anger and resentment and at least
part way through renunciation too, maybe
almost the whole way. A slow procedure,
like calling the Medicare office, on hold
for hours and then the recorded voice says, “Hang up
and dial again.” Yet the days
hasten they
go by fast enough. They fucking fly like the wind. Oh,
Sweetheart, Mrs. Manitou of the Stockbridge Valley,
my Red Head, my Absecon Lakshmi of the Marshlights,
my beautiful, beautiful Baby Doll,
let the dying be long.

–Hayden Curruth

That may not be Victorian sentimentality, but this poem is still swimming in sentimentality.

MARLA MUSE: Those Roman poets! Now they could put away the wine and still ravish me…

Let’s focus on the contest before us, Marla.

MARLA MUSE: I like the Dugan poem because it brings a scene to life: for a moment you feel you are there, in the presence of Anne Sexton herself, but the Carruth, as sweet as it is, is just talk.

Yes, the Dugan has a cinematic quality which the garrulous Carruth poem lacks, and it’s the key to the memorable poem, isn’t it, almost as if cinema pre-dates story-telling, predates looking, even. The term some poets use is ‘the camera is running’ or ‘there’s film in the camera;’ look, right here:

She drank
it all down while staring at me
full in the face and then said
“I don’t care what you think,
you know” as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover
what? and just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her

So there it is, that ‘cinematic, real time’ effect which we get from all the famous poets, from Homer to Dante to Shakespeare to Milton to “Stopping By A Woods On A Snowy Evening.”  We’re there in the scene.

MARLA MUSE: Does Dugan win, then?

Yes–Dugan wins, 72-68.



Billy Collins: hated by the Olson-ites.

Ron Silliman knows that Billy Collins does not write like this:

And I can live my life on earth
Contented to the end,
If but a few shall know my worth
And proudly call me friend.

–Edgar Guest (1881–1959)

Every poet knows Billy Collins is nothing like Edgar Guest.

Silliman’s remark is nothing but a rankle: he and his friends are not popular, and he fears they never will be popular.   How sad, then, that Ron feels it necessary to equate a witty, free-verse writer like Billy Collins with a hack doggerelist who happened to be popular for a time.

Dorothy Parker (another popular poet like Collins) wrote of Edgar Guest:

I’d rather flunk my Wasserman test
Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest

We ought to pause here and ask a simple question: what is the popular?

The answer is simple: the popular is neither good nor bad in itself, though all want it; the popular may be vain—but it is also human.

A popular poet, as instanced by Edgar Guest, may not be original or intricate or profound and it’s true that popularity and sentimentality go hand in hand.

But if Silliman and his friends are to ever have the popularity Billy Collins enjoys, and that they so obviously want, they will need to reach out to the public.  The public is sentimental—sentimentality is the stuff of which the  public’s interest in poetry is made.  There are levels of sentimentality, of course, but the trick for the poet is to be sentimental artistically, or artful sentimentally.  The sentimental is human and the human is popular and none of this can be avoided, not even in the hearts of the Language Poets. 

Did Charles Bernstein have Edgar Guest in mind when he coined the term ‘official verse culture?’ Does Bernstein feel personally oppressed by the aesthetic failure of doggerel? Is there an official culture of doggerel? 

When Gerald Stern asked Bernstein to “name names” at a 1984 poetry conference in Alabama, Bernstein was rather tongue-tied; when pressed to name names of poets who belonged to this official verse culture of Bernstein’s, he could only name one poet: T.S. Eliot. The reasons we might entertain for such a choice are obviously complex, but Bernstein has wanted critics to be included as poets; include the theoretical, not just the pretty, is the real issue, quite obviously, for Bernstein.

But sentiment, the key to the public, to popularity, can certainly co-exist with intellectuality and theory. That’s what the genius is able to do. That defines the artistic genius.  If you asked the Language Poets to point to specific elements in their poetry that cannot be popular, would they be able to point to such elements? And if they couldn’t, the question then must be asked, ‘Why aren’t they popular?’

If the public expects certain attributes in their poetry, should the Language Poets refuse them? I shouldn’t be speaking of the Language Poets as a group, since they don’t compose as a group, except to include them in that large group of poets who have no popular poems.

It will not do to pretend that sentiment can be avoided (in poetry it can’t), or to pretend sentiment cannot be avoided except when one is making jokes at its expense—one will never be popular if one persists in either of these two approaches. Sentiment is the clay, and how it is shaped makes all the difference; but when one attempts to deny the clay itself, one will inevitably be obscure. Without sentiment, you lie under sediment.

It is not that Guest or Collins are more sentimental than the poetry of the Language poets, than the poetry of Silliman and Bernstein and Armantrout; Billy Collins shapes sentiment into more interesting shapes than the Language Poets do, and thus Collins enjoys and deserves more popularity. If repeated successes in publishing and award-giving finally push the Language poets, all pushing 70 now, onto a threshold of potential popularity, the only thing that will push them over the threshold into real popularity will be a sincere appeal to the public and its sentimental nature.  There is no other way. If the other elements in the Language poetry agenda are crucial to mankind’s well-being, all the more reason for that poetry to be popular and reach as many people as possible.

No excuses, such as I am not Edgar Guest, are allowed.  

Silliman and his Language Poet friends are a self-enclosed tribe whose secret handshake is: ‘do not write like Edgar Guest.’  They learned this from their forerunners, the Modernists. Successful, these poets all, in killing the ant, Edgar Guest, but meanwhile the real dragon, Obscurity, wounds them. The Olson-ites are pleased to have killed all the villagers of Guest-town and they are looking for thanks and applause, but the villagers of Guest-town are all who might have loved them, and now they are dead.

Silliman and his friends oppose themselves to the “Quietists.”

But they are so quiet themselves.



About a quarter of the participants in the 2011 APR March Madness run by Scarriet also vied for the Best American Poetry title in Scarriet’s 2010 tourney. 

Billy Collins won the BAP championship in 2010, but he’s nowhere to be seen in the 25% APR overlap in 2011

The highest finisher in the 2010 BAP tournament who is also in APR is William Kulik. (Take note, future anthologists.)

Our next contestants, 6th seed A.R. “Archie” Ammons and 11th seed Dorianne “D-low” Laux, were both in the 2010 BAP March Madness.

Dorianne Laux’s “The Shipfitter’s Wife” was in last year’s BAP March Madness and that poem alone is sure to guarantee her immortality. Laux belongs to the Sharon Olds school of unabashed love and sexuality.

The Lovers

She is about to come. This time,
they are sitting up, joined below the belly,
feet cupped like sleek hands praying
at the base of each other’s spines.
And when something lifts within her
toward a light she’s sure, once again,
she can’t bear, she opens her eyes
and sees his face is turned away,
one arm behind him, hands splayed
palm down on the mattress, to brace himself
so he can lever his hips, touch
with the bright tip the innermost spot.
And she finds she can’t bear it—
not his beautiful neck, stretched and corded,
not his hair fallen to one side like beach grass,
not the curved wing of his ear, washed thin
with daylight, deep pink of the inner body—
what she can’t bear is that she can’t see his face,
not that she thinks this exactly—she is rocking
and breathing—it’s more her body’s though,
opening, as it is, into its own sheer truth.
So that when her hand lifts of its own violation
and slaps him, twice on the chest,
on that pad of muscled flesh just above the nipple,
slaps him twice, fast, like a nursing child
trying to get a mother’s attention,
she’s startled by the sound,
though when he turns his face to hers—
which is what her body wants, his eyes
pulled open, as if she had bitten—
she does reach out and bite him, on the shoulder,
not hard, but with the power infants have
over those who have borne them, tied as they are
to the body, and so, tied to the pleasure,
the exquisite pain of this world.
And when she lifts her face he sees
where she’s gone, knows she can’t speak,
is traveling toward something essential,
toward the core of her need, so he simply
watches, steadily, with an animal calm
as she arches and screams, watches the face that,
if she could see it, she would never let him see.

–Dorianne Laux


Ammons, on the other handis our modern Wordsworth.

Widespread Implications

How sweetly now like a boy I dawdle by ditches,
broken rocky brooks that clear streams through

the golden leaves: the light so bright from
the leaves still up, scarlet screaming vines

lining old growths high or rounding domes of
sumac: how like a sail set out from harbor

hitting the winds I flounder this way and that
for the steady dealing in the variable time:

old boys are young boys again, peeing arcs
the pleasantest use of their innocence, up

against trees or into boles, rock hollows or
into already running water! returned from

the differentiation of manhood almost back to
the woman: attached but hinge-loose, flappy,

uncalled for and uncalled, the careless way
off into nothingness: where, though, but in

nothingness can the brilliance more brightly
abide, the ripple in a brook-warp as gorgeously

blank as a galaxy: I dropped the mouse,
elegantly supersmall, from the trap out by the

back sage bush, and all day his precious little
tooth shone white, his nose barely dipped in

blood:  he lay belly up snow white in the
golden October morn, but this morning, the

next, whatever prowls the night has taken him
away, a dear morsel that meant to winter

here with us

Here is the classic battle, Marla, humans v. nature.

MARLA MUSE: I prefer humans. Because there you get nature, too.

But you automatically get the human in any poem about nature…

MARLA MUSE: Tut, tut. No you don’t.

Let’s stop philosophizing; we have millions of simple—I mean, TV viewers…

MARLA MUSE: Millions who are turning away in embarrassment from Laux’s poem…

But the human…

MARLA MUSE: Ammons has made the mouse human, which is far more charming than Laux’s rather blatant camera-work…

But isn’t Ammons being sentimental with that mouse—

MARLA MUSE: Dead mouse…

And I don’t quite see how we get from the boys peeing in the first part of the Ammons poem to the mouse in the latter part of the Ammons poem, although it is a beautiful poem…

MARLA MUSE: “The Lovers” has more unity, true, though I find it trying too hard to be profound. Anyway, that’s not how I make love…

It’s not your opinion that decides, Marla…it’s the game…the game…

Look…the sweat coming off the players…

Laux 84, Ammons 80!    Dorianne Laux advances!


LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 14:  John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Rupp Arena on February 14, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

No. 5 Stanley Kunitz (“Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation”) falls to Gregory Corso (“30th Year Dream”) in the East, 73-70.   Corso was anxious and fell behind early, but woke up and went crazy. Kunitz killed his chances with a disgusting image and his last shot: “Who can understand the ways/of the Great Worm in the sky?” fell short.  Corso dreams he is handed an address and told “Christ wants to see you,” and ends: “‘Damn/impulsive goon-faced proletariat-Shelley greaseball dopey fuck!/And cried, ‘denied…denied…denied'” Yea!  Go Corso!

Sharon Olds has no trouble with her opponent, the 12th seed in the South bracket, Robin Becker, winning 91-72.  “A History of Sexual Preferance” by Becker is about a giddy first date in historical Philadlephia and coyly references the ‘pursuit of happiness/pleasure.’  “The Request” by Olds may be one of the greatest love poems of all time, and we quote it in full:

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.

In the final 5 seed v. 12 seed matchup, over in the West, Stephanie Brown looked to upset James Schuyler with her “Interview with an Alchemist in the New Age” which begins

Someone, if you pay the price, can hypnotize you
and you can speak, from memory, oh so long ago imbedded in your soul,
about the past, and history, and your place in it, how you struggled
in the heat and the dust near the Great Pyramid of Giza,
how you gazed into the mirror of your beloved,
how you took a bow with your fellow thespians, in Greece,
how a sycophant betrayed you in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

And wouldn’t it be neat, she says.  The poem (one can see the chatty tone in the quotation above) doesn’t really say more than that, unless there’s some deep, ironic point I’m missing.  Go to the rim, Stephanie!  Make sharper passes!  (She fell behind early.)

Schuyler’s APR entry pulverizes a life into a candy roll and lays it out before us; a sample from “Red Brick and Brown Stone” :

He arises. Oriane
the lurcher wants
her walk. Out into
the freeze. Oriane
pees and shits…

…Off by cab to
Florentine palasso
racquet club: naked,
the pool, plunge, how
Many laps? Home. (Through
out the day, numerous
cigarettes. I forget
which brand. Tareytons.)
A pencil drawing of
a vase of parrot tulips.
Records: Richter:
Scriabin: Tosca:”Mario!
Mario! Mario!” “I
lived for art, I
lived for love.” Sup
per: a can of baked
beans, a cup of raspberry
yogurt. Perrier. Out?
A flick? An A.A.
meeting? Walk Oriane.
Nine p.m. Bed. A
book, V.Woolf’s let-
ters. Lights out, sleep
not quite right away.
No valium. The night
passes in black chiffon.

Shhhhh.  G’nite, James. Sleep well. You’ve advanced to the next round, beating the charming librarian from California, Stephanie Brown 71-64.  Well played!


Maura Stanton: both her parents fought in WW II; she was admitted to Iowa’s MFA program in poetry and fiction.

Anne Carson, the whizz from Canada, tries to advance out of the first round as a no. 5 seed against 12th seed Maura Stanton of Illinois, Yale Younger winner, and wife to Richard Cecil, also in this tourney, and winner in his first round play.

Both use the glass in fascinating ways.

My Religion

My religion makes no sense
and does not help me
therefore I pursue it.

When we see
how simple it would have been
we will thrash ourselves.

I had a vision
of all the people in the world
who are searching for God

massed in a room
on one side
of a petition

that looks
from the other side
(God’s side)

but we are blind.
Our gestures are blind.

Our blind gestures continue
for some time until finally
from somewhere

on the other side of the partition there we are
looking back at them.
it is far too late.

We see how brokenly
how warily
how ill

our blind gestures
what God really wanted

(some simple thing).
The thought of it
(this simple thing)

is like a creature
let loose in a room
and battering

to get out.
It batters my soul
with its rifle butt.

–Anne Carson

MARLA MUSE: Rifle butt? Ouch!

A little anti-war commentary thrown in from Carson at the last minute? It can’t hurt, I suppose.  I’m sure all our readers recognized Carson’s style.  Now let’s look at Stanton’s:

The Veiled Lady

In the 19th Century, clever mediums
Would rap a table, making the dead speak.
Ghostly hands would hover in the air,
Heads would appear, Caesar, Napolean.
Sometimes the whole immaterial body
Of someone’s beloved, dead daughter or sister
Glided through a room allowing swords
To pass though it. Once a husband rose
And tried to caress what was never there,
A Veiled lady he thought was his wife,
While others in the room almost fainted
To see him step right through her crinoline.
D.D. Home could levitate out windows
And float above a busy London street.
Imagine sitting on the horsehair sofa
Almost hysterical, watching that miracle…
But it was done with thick plate glass and lights,
A conjuror’s trick, just like the accordian
Played by a ghost in front of Robert Browing
Who shuddered when a spirit hand reached out
And put a wreath of flowers on Elizabeth
Though afterwards he called it sham, imposture.
But that’s what I am, that’s what we all are
To one another, a trick of light and glass
Projected before an audience of dupes.
Don’t you see I’m only an illusion?
You look aghast. You think I’m cynical
But when you touch me in the dark at night
You touch biology, twitchings and snores,
Wetness, jerking muscles. Wild images
Flicker across my convoluted brain
As it constructs a person out of dreams.
That woman you say you love doesn’t exist.
Look at the way our faces have appeared
On the black glass of the picture window
Now that it’s evening, and the lights are on.
There she is, standing beside you, smiling.
Go to her. Embrace her if you can.

–Maura Stanton

MARLA MUSE: Wow. That’s glorious.  Carson’s was good, but this poem…

You’re right, Marla. Stanton went Carson one better, I think, in using the glass. 

The game was tied, until, in the second half, with “But that’s what I am…” Stanton went on a 12-2 run and pulled away to win it, 78-63.

Maura Stanton, like her husband, Richard Cecil, advances to the second round in APR March Madness: Scarriet 2011.


Our last no. 4 seed first round contest (so far we’ve had three ‘Moorhead State over Louisville’ upsets) pits James Tate’s “Dream On” against “Litany” by Carolyn Creedon.  These are both relatively well-known works, but James Tate is by far the better known poet.

Tate tends to riff in an arch, detached manner on subjects accessible, gossipy, newsy, and then when the reader least expects it,  Tate shifts the detached view to an intimate one, and the reader is swallowed by the poem—expecting at first only to chuckle at it.  Much of it has to do with point of view—Tate is a wizard at not just mixing up point of view but using those changes in view to enthrall. Tate doesn’t waste energy trying to write ‘a poem.’ His prose finds the poem—often at the last minute.  Unlike other prose poets, like C.K. Williams, for example, Tate, more often than not, closes the deal—his poems finish with a jolt that makes the whole thing fall into place. With Tate, there’s no method or theory, only a ‘Jamesian intelligence’—one that gets it done much faster than that horrible fat old novelist could ever do.


Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don’t hesitate
to cut somebody’s heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets,
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don’t
forget the good deeds, the charity work,
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there’s that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn’t:
“And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
our ancestors back from the dead–”
poetrywise it’s still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven’t scribbled a syllable of it.
You’re a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day’s extravagant labor.
And yet it’s cruel to expect too much.
It’s a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream–
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.

–James Tate

MARLA MUSE: I wonder if the last line might be written ‘or so the poem says’ to make the poem even more self-reflexive.

Marla, you can’t go out there and play the games for these guys!  We watch the games!  We admire the poetry!  You can’t do that!


This poem by Tate is a tough one to beat.  Can Carolyn Creedon do it?


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 lay 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 lay 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 smoothe 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

–Carolyn Creedon

Gulp…both these poems are terrific…It’s tied…with three minutes to go…Creedon has the ball…love to loves-me-not…shoots!  Goooood!
Creedon up by two…poetry comes across the line…pass in the corner…dribbles…pass inside!…back
to the basket…hook…no good!…off the glass to…love…back up court…beautiful pass inside!…oh, but
it’s knocked away…loose ball…poetry has the ball…tied up again…possession love…time out!

Creedon up by two with two minutes left, and has the ball.  Takes it out…love, stuck in the corner…back outside…love sets a pick…driving inside…foul on the play…love to the free throw line with a minute and forty seconds to go…first shot is good…Creedon up by three, now…next shot, no good…Tate brings up the ball…passing around the perimeter…shot from three!…no good!…rebound Tate!…back up! good and fouled!!  One minute twenty five seconds…free throw is good…we’re tied…

Creedon takes it up…to love…love looks…poetry’s all over her…love passes outside…stolen by Tate!
lay-up is good…and Tate leads by two, with a minute, five seconds to go…Time out!  They talk…

Creedon with the ball…goes to love in the paint…turns…doesn’t take the shot, back outside…well-covered there…fifty seconds left…twenty on the shot clock…in the corner…now underneath…goes up!…no good!….rebound…who’s got it…love, outside for the three…no good!…ball, out of bounds…to Tate! Tate still ahead by two and we’ve got 42 seconds on the clock…time out Creedon! What a nail-biter, ladies and gentlemen!

Tate, up by two, brings it up…we’re down to 30 seconds…25 seconds…who’s going to take a shot?  We
are down to 20 seconds…fifteen…8 seconds on the shot clock…poetry drives…NO GOOD! and the
rebound comes off to love…Creedon has the ball, down by two, with 10 seconds left! Time out?  No, no time out…Quickly a pass inside…no room!…five seconds…back outside…love…takes a three…


Carolyn Creedon has upset James Tate!!  A three point shot with two seconds left on the clock!

Carolyn Creedon advances!



Field: an affair with O’Hara,  but does he have a chance against Donald Justice?

MARLA MUSE: I love Don Justice!

Donald Justice (b. 1925) is Elizabeth Bishop’s (b. 1911) melancholy son, the same modest devotion to the rueful, observant, semi-musical lyric,  proud, mild; desperation politely, cunningly submerged. He’s not really an APR poet. He’s not really a magazine poet; Justice is one of those poets whose many anthology pieces deliver, and whose books contain a great deal of poems which are a pleasure to read. He wasn’t one of the crazies. His poems are instantly likable.

MARLA MUSE: I inspired him many times.

Edward Field is an APR poet. Justice is a scene in a lake, a lyric postcard. Field is a chatty essay, a late night talkshow gabbing up somewhere near the moon reflected in the TV. Justice is a flower hung with snow. Field is a sooty neon sign. Justice is the gin after the coffee. Field is the coffee after the gin.

MARLA MUSE: So who’s going to win?

Let’s find out. Justice is the no. 4 seed:

In Memory of My Friend the Bassoonist John Lenox

One winter he was the best
Contrabassoonist south
Of Washington D.C.—
The only one. Lonely

In eminence he sat,
Like some lost island king,
High on a second-story porch
Overlooking the bay—

His blue front lawn his kingdom—
And presided over the Shakesperean
Feuds and passions of the eave-pigeons.
Who, during the missle crisis,

Had stocked his boat with booze,
Charts, and the silver flute
He taught himself to play,
Casually, one evening;

And taught himself to see,
Sailing thick glasses out blindly
Over a lilly-choked canal—
O autodidact supreme!

John, where you are now can you see?
Do the pigeons there bicker like ours?
Does the deep bassoon not moan
Or the flute sigh ever?

No one could think it was you
Slumped there on the sofa, despairing,
The hideous green sofa.
No, you are off somewhere,

Off with Gaugin and Christian
Amid hibiscus’d isles,
Red-mustached, pink-bearded
Again, as in early manhood.

It is well. Shark waters
Never did faze you half so much
As the terrible radios
And booboiseries of the neighbors.

Here, if you care, the bay
Is printed, with many boats now,
Thick as trash; that high porch is gone,
Gone up in the smoke of money, money;

The barbarians…But enough.
You are missed. Across the way,
Someone is practicing sonatas.
And the sea air smells again of good gin.

And Edward Field, the no. 13 seed:

Whatever Became Of: Freud?

Has the age of psychology really passed?
Aren’t people interested anymore
in how their toilet training shaped them?
Nowadays, nobody talks of their “analysis,” or even
the less respectable therapies that came into fashion
about the time we gave up on the couch—
encounter groups, group gropes, group games, and finally
just lying on the floor, screaming out the pain.
Or even, on the lowest level
(which we all descended to in desperation),
self-help books: How to overcome depression,
get more confidence, be popular

But usually, we were safely in the hands of Freud,
whose theories, a whole generation beyond Marx swore,
would rescue mankind from its lot,
and even, in the views of Reich, end war
when we liberated our sexuality
by working through the body’s armouring
to release our soft and loving primal selves—
war and love supposedly being incompatible—
also by sitting for hours in the orgone box to absorb
the sexual energy of the universe.

Those were the years when we were all convinced
we were “neurotic,” discussed our neuroses passionately,
analyzed our dreams with friends over coffee
and endless cigarettes—we were fiendish smokers—
talked of breakthroughs, insights, and sometimes with awe
of “graduation,”when the “neurosis”
would finally be “cured,” which meant
you had worked through your blocks, your inhibitions,
and you were no longer Acting Out Negative,
but had found your niche in society—
meaning, marriage, a career, and forgiving your parents.
We argued whether this meant the end of “creativity.”

The air is clearer since “phallic symbol”
has gone the way of “penis envy” and “Freudian slip.”
Nobody nowadays blames their failures on their neuroses,
and if you say “transferences,” everyone assumes
you’re not talking about your bank accounts.
It’s no longer news the discovery
(and Freud deserved the Nobel Prize for it)
that people’s minds are always on sex.

But with the same obsession we had with Freud,
and the same narcissism (how we beat each other
with that faded cry), people nowadays are able to simply
turn away from “problems” and wallow in their pleasures,
making a cult of health, and devote themselves
just to working on their bodies. Did I say “just”?
Even Freud was always looking for the roots
of neurosis in the body. And as Claudette Colbert said
on observing Marilyn Monroe’s buns,
“I would have had to start at thirteen.”

Sadly, true. For us old devotees of the therapies,
the cornerstone of our faith, Talk
and you can change your history,
proved to be bad Freud, and even worse, a fraud—
far more expensive than the gym and stylish joggers.
Years of talking, and nothing got solved.
Except the language of it
seemed to define the losses of a generation,
and for all its radiant promises, that was all.

MARLA MUSE: Is that even a poem?

Since when was prose not poetry?


Just enjoy the game, Marla…


Field…talking…talking some more!


Field…defining an era…! talking…defining an historical era…discussing an era’s social values…talking…defining…!

Field! talking some more!

Justice…goes for the personal!…a strict four line stanza!

Field…past tense…the ‘we’ address…!

Justice…picturesque!…Justice…the winsome detail!…Justice…getting playful! …lyrical…!

Field…touching on cultural artifacts in a clear manner…!

Field…assembling the paragraph…!

Now Justice shifts from third person to second…!

Field brings his self-reflexive thesis to a conclusion…!  Talk as failure…!

Talk! Talk! Talk!  Justice trying to establish the image…!  Talk! Talk! Talk!  The memory of his friend…!  taste…! smell…! listening to music…!  the ocean…!

Justice appealing to all the senses!  Feigns an iambic line!

Field…has something to say…!

Talk! Talk! Talk!  Field!  Field! Justice! Justice! Field! Justice! Field!

Field Wins 61-60!  Another Upset!


What a monster contest we have here, Marla, at the John Crowe Ransom arena—the Nobel Pole, Czeslaw Milosz, going face to face with Bill Kulik, who made it to last year’s Final Four, and what a poem for Milosz, a short lyric that makes the hair on the back of the neck stiffen—what a poem! It’s in the same class as “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” and “I Knew A Man” and everybody knows what poem I’m talking about, “Encounter,” a half-lit masterpiece, against “Fictions” by Bill Kulik, who brings such a combination of humor, terror, poignancy and style, whose poems take shape where it counts—in the heart; Kulik is the best poet, some say, APR has had the good fortune to consistently publish… oh and here’s the tip-off:

“We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.”

Milosz buries a three!  Rebound…Milosz brings it across…and another!  Czeslaw up 6-0 just like that!

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.”

Kulik fires from downtown…good!  Milosz takes it up…Kulik steals the ball, the lay-up is good!  And he’s fouled!  Free throw makes it 6-6!

Hold on to your seats, ladies and gentlemen, we’re in for a wild ride!

Tied at the half, 30-30!

Tied at regulation, 55-55!

Over-time!  And no one’s going home!

64-63, Kulik wins!  Kulik Upsets Czeslaw Milosz!


Marla, this is the first contest in Scarriet’s March Madness 2011 featuring two women teams.  Does Joy Harjo have the words to beat Sylvia Plath?

MARLA MUSE: Well, Tom, Plath not only has words, she has words that work well together. Ever since Plath won the John Crowe Ransom trophy in the junior league, her words have been playing intuitively, strongly, listening to each other, supporting each other.  Plath wants to win, has the will to win, and Joy Harjo will have to be very good to stop her.

Plath also has a good bench.

MARLA MUSE: That’s right, Tom.  Plath uses many words and uses them well. She’s not afraid to bring in words you might not expect her to use.

What’s her strategy against Harjo?

MARLA MUSE: Plath likes a blue-eyed strategy. No Third World politics for her.  Personal anxiety of the privileged is Plath’s strength. Plath plays hard, even nasty in the paint and on defense. Harjo, on the other hand, is all about team-play: passing well, a swarming defense… Harjo has to stay cool and maintain a friendly but determined attitude in the face of Plath’s ferocious intimidation.

“Incommunicado” for Plath speaks for itself, and Harjo’s “A Post-Colonial Tale” makes it pretty clear where she’s coming from.  Thank you, Marla. We’ll be right back with the action after this word from our sponsor!

Commercial Break: Tired of modern life? Is capitalism getting you down? Do you want relief from cynical buying and selling? ‘Language Poetry’ offers a blend of irony and exteriority. Try ‘Language Poetry.’ Today.

OK, Marla we’re back!


The groundhog on the mountain did not run
But fatly scuttled into the splayed fern
And faced me, back to a ledge of dirt, to rattle
Her sallow rodent teeth like castanets
Against my leaning down, would not exchange
For that wary clatter sound or gesture
Of love: claws braced, at bay, my currency not hers.

Such meetings never occur in marchen
Where love-met groundhogs love one in return,
Where straight talk is the rule, whether warm or hostile,
Which no gruff animal misinterprets.
From what grace am I fallen. Tongues are strange,
Signs say nothing. The falcon who spoke clear
To Canacee cries gibberish to coarsened ears.

Sylvia Plath

A Post-Colonial Tale

Everyday is a reenactment of the creation story. We emerge from dense unspeakable material, through the shimmering power of dreaming stuff.

This is the first world, and the last.

Once we abandoned ourselves for television, the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming. It was as if we were stolen, put into a bag carried on the back of a whiteman who pretends to own the earth and the sky. In the sack were all the people of the world. We fought until there was a hole in the bag.

When we fell we were not aware of falling. We were driving to work, or to the mall. The children were in school learning subtraction with guns, although they appeared to be in classes.

We found ourselves somewhere near the diminishing point of civilization, not far from the trickster’s bag of tricks.

Everything was as we imagined it. The earth and stars, every creature and leaf imagined with us.

The imagining needs praise as does any living thing. Stories and songs are evidence of this praise.

The imagination conversely illumines us, speaks with us, sings with us.

Stories and songs are like humans who when they laugh are indestructible.

No story or song will translate the full impact of falling, or the inverse power of rising up.

Of rising up.

Joy Harjo

Plath verges on ridiculous cartoon: “the groundhog…faced me…to rattle her sallow rodent teeth like castanets…” while Harjo verges on utter propaganda: “whiteman who pretends to own the earth…”

MARLA MUSE: It’s getting ugly out there!  What a battle!

Both women seem to be dreaming of better things…it’s quite touching…look at the quality of play…I’m impressed…

MARLA MUSE: Sheer terror on the court!

What a game…

MARLA MUSE: Did you see that shot…after five rebounds? Look at that scrappy play…

Oh!  I don’t believe it.  I think it’s going to be HarjoPlath has no time outs…

MARLA MUSE: Well, how do you like that, Harjo wins…

We have another upset, Marla…Plath shakes Harjo’s hand, and that’s it, she’s gone…Harjo 78, Plath 72…


Robert Bly has a prettier Jerry Garcia tie than you.

Let’s analyze this Bly/Knott  matchup:

Robert Bly has a large cheering section.

First, Bly’s Harvard friends: the post-war Harvard classmates John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara.

F.O. Matthiessen was the dominating literary force at Harvard when Bly was there.

Matthiessen’s vastly influential academic reader, “American Renaissance” (1941) once and for all took Poe out of the canon and put Whitman in.

Cheering on Bly is not only Matthiessen, but Matthiessen’s secret lover, Russell Cheney, the  first director of the Art Students League of New York, the 57th street independent school and studio from where modern artists, beginning with Jackson Pollock, rose to prominence in the 1940s.  The Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art movements owe their beginnings to the Art Students League of New York.   Modern poetry and modern art in the 20th century are linked by the same Ivy League movers, shakers—and crackpots.  The John Crowe Ransom Arena is not big enough to hold all of Bly’s friends!  Marla, they’re everywhere!

MARLA MUSE: Oh! There’s Robert Lowell, one of the literary lights who came to read at Harvard when Bly was there, and E.E. Cummings, I see him, modern painter, Harvard graduate, and quirky poet who belonged to the “Dial” clique with Pound, Williams, and Eliot, and of course there’s Gertrude Stein, modern-art collector, student of Harvard’s William James, and T.S. Eliot, also of Harvard, whose spirits reigned over Harvard when Bly attended….

Thanks for pointing them out, Marla, Thomas Brady’s eyes are not what they used to be…that’s quite a noise they’re making, so many of them in the front row…Did you know Matthiessen’s lover, Russell Cheney (his secret lover) was a member of Yale’s Skull and Bones?

MARLA MUSE: I did know that, Tom.  I’m the Muse.  But thanks for mentioning it.

We can’t forget the Iowa crowd.  After graduating from Harvard in 1950, Bly spent 1954-56 at Paul Engle’s Iowa Writer’s Workshop with poets like Snodgrass and Donald Justice, student of Yvor Winters and mentor to Jorie Graham.  That’s a huge cheering section, right there.

MARLA MUSE:  Small world.  Iowa’s such a little place.  As is the world.  It’s not poetry, it’s the people.

People?  I thought it was the poetry?

MARLA MUSE: (laughs) Oh, Tom, you are so naive!  Didn’t you learn anything from Alan Cordle?  Now wave to all of Robert Bly’s friends.

And there’s all Bly’s Vietnam War protester friends from the 60s…  Cool.  Bly has more friends than John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin put together. Almost as many friends as Allen Ginsberg!

MARLA MUSE:  The Iron John crowd.  They’re here, too.  I’ve never seen so many beards…

Poor Bill Knott.  Who’s rooting for him?

MARLA MUSE:  Not John Densmore, drummer for the Doors.  He’s healing and drumming for Bly’s Great Mother and New Father conference in Maine later this spring…

Somebody must be rooting for Bill!

MARLA MUSE: Alan Cordle?

Let’s get to the poems, shall we?

Snowbanks North of the House

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.

The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.

The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.

Robert Bly



Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
Full length nude, at halfmast the pubic flag
Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
More to the word perhaps than its image—

But predators always bite the nape first
To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
I failed to be. I went to the window:

Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

Bill Knott

yay, bill!

One is obvious in the extreme, not much more than a list of cliches, the other, a nerdy mumble.  The mumble is finally a bit more interesting, because at least you can guess at what it means.

Knott upsets Bly, 55-54!



Brother Thomas asked me to speak to the congregation today because it’s been one year since I joined the House of Scarriet….

 (“Amen”; “Thank you, Lord”)

 Now brothers and sisters, a year ago I did not even know who David Lehman was…

 (“Mmm-mm-mm”; “Lord have mercy”)

Brothers and sisters, I had not even HEARD the name of Brother Lehman…

 (“Oh Lord!”)

 But I have now seen the light….

 (“Yes he has”)

 Now I have read all the canonical books of the BAP-le — and I have come away a changed man.


 Recite with me, church, if you will, the books of the BAP by editor and date in chronological order…

 (“John Ashbery 1988”)

Very good…

 (“Donald Hall 1989”)

 Amen, keep going….

 (crowd recites up to “Richard Howard 1995”)

 Now be careful with the next one!

 (knowing laughter)

Someone want to shout it out?

 (a child’s voice: “James Tate 1997”!)

Amen.  From the mouths of babes.  That’s correct, “Adrienne Rich 1996”, along with “Harold Bloom Best of the Best”, are considered apocryphal and not accepted as canonical books. Let’s continue from there…

 (crowd recites up to “Amy Gerstler 2010”)

Amen. Brothers and sisters, in 1962, the Supreme Court banned poetry from our public schools.


 The Supreme COURT – banned the MUSE – from our SCHOOLS!

 (“Yes, it did…”)

 And the Muse said, “Alright, that’s fine — I’m going to go for a long walk where I’m appreciated” — and left us — to our own devices…

 (“Yes, She did….”)

And I don’t need to tell you, brothers and sisters — this country has gone DOWNHILL ever since!

(“Thash roit”)

 Now, don’t get me wrong, we’ve come a long way in that time….

 (“Yes, we have”)

 And yet I ask you — in your worldly glory, have you left the Muse behind?

(”Mm-mm-mm”; “Preach it”)

 In your materialist splendour — have you forgotten the Muse?  Have you said, “I will add houses to fields and then admire the work of my hands”! — and yet I tell you, you will die this very night….


This very night, then who will take your houses and your fields and your worldly glory?

(“Preach it”)

 Go to the books of the Best American Poetry, the BAP-le, brothers and sisters.  It will quench your thirst.  It will satisfy your soul. Brothers and sisters, I feel the spirit moving upon me….  I feel the gift of tongues descending upon me……  Joriegrahamfrankbidartambertamblynhallelujah….


richard cecil

Richard Cecil: he had the APR 1970s look.

March Madness Report: Hass (no.3 seed) v. Cecil (no. 14 seed) in the West.

The Hass poem, “Spring Rain,” is fresh, clear, hopeful; Cecil’s “Apology” is phantasmagoric, freezing, sad.

At the tip-off, Team Cecil plows into Hass with Jungian frenzy:

The war is fought by soldiers in machines
manufactured by their wives: steel skin,
for example, impervious to a caress.
But I am single.  I line up with conscripts.
I’m issued sleep confiscated from a civilian
in a safe country. I’m handed a photograph
of his lover to tape inside my locker.

This is manly stuff, strange, Jungian, manly stuff.  Gruff and casual (what the hell is that “for example” doing in the poem?).

Where Cecil is all Jung and confusion, Hass is all geography and clarity:

Now the rain is falling, freshly in the intervals between sunlight,

a Pacific squall started no one knows where, drawn east
as the drifts of war air make a channel;

it moves its own way, like water or the wind,

and spills this rain passing over.  The Sierras will catch
it as last snow flurries before summer, observed only by
the wakened marmots at 10,000 feet,

and we will come across it again as larkspur and penstemon
sprouting along a creekside above Sonora Pass next August.

And the snowmelt will trickle into Dead Man’s Creek and
the creek spill into the Stanislaus and the Stanislaus into
the San Joaquin and the San Joaquin into the slow salt marshes
of the day.

Soon we are in someone’s kitchen and poppies in a vase as Hass makes us feel all cozy and comfortable and human and zen.

But Cecil leads us out into the wild wilderness of a dream:

I wake beside you thousands of mornings later
when the sergeant shakes my shoulder
to ask if I want a kiss. If it seems too rough,
too desperate for one night’s separation
with only sleep between us, excuse me,
there was a war lost and almost a soldier
with it, not in the jungle with the rest,
but solitary, hunted, on the ice.

With seconds to go, Hass has the ball trailing by one!

Beauty passes to Significance, back to Nature, Nature holds it, find Diary, Diary dribbles into the corner, back to Nature, Nature a bounce-pass to Beauty who wheels into the lane, finds Significance underneath…who…oh no! the ball goes off his foot—OUT OF BOUNDS!





Rosanna Warren, poet and daughter of Robert Penn Warren, made a brief  statement to the press this morning

“Good morning.  After long reflecton, and with a heavy heart… my father is sick of the politics (wipes tear) and he told me to tell you, he’s finished…Hirschman can have his March Madness win…my dad just wants…the poetry…the poetry…to shine…like the moonlight in his poem….”

This was just moments ago, in Boston, Rosanna Warren announcing that Robert Penn Warren and his poem, “Night Walking” are withdrawing from the Scarriet APR March Madness Tournament after a conflict of interest came to light on Monday of this week.

Scarriet March Madness officials quickly declared “The Painting” by Jack Hirschman will move on to the next round of play.

The irony was not lost on March Madness fans:  Robert Penn Warren is a Quietist, and yet “quiet” led to “riot” as the protest by defenders of Jack Hirschman changed the course of March Madness history.


Hirschman’s poem “The Painting:” Progressive politics is sacred.

As APR March Madness poetry fans know, Hirschman’s poem “The Painting” fell to Robert Penn Warren’s “Night Walking” in first round play this year, but Warren’s victory is now coming under scrutiny by March Madness officials after it was pointed out that one of the contest referees was a New Critic with ties to Warren.

Hirschman bristled when asked if he intentionally courts controversy. “I court the truth!”

Robert Penn Warren may be the most honored American poet after Robert Frost, and so far there has been no comment from the poet or his camp.

Hirschman fans, however, are in take-no-prisoners mode, pointing out Warren’s membership in the far-right Southern Agrarians, the 1930s group of Southerners who eventually became the conservative New Critics who dominated the 1940s and 50s.

Animosity to the New Critics runs deep: their high-brow purity is seen as anti-democratic.  The New Critics wanted to focus on the text, and this may be a noble aim, critics concede, but New Critical purity unfortunately tends to deny the world outside the text.  Another New Critical crime: they chased music out of poetry.  In Robert Penn Warren’s influential poetry textbook, published in several editions from the 1930s to the 70s, Understanding Poetry, “The Red Wheel Barrow” is praised and “Ulalume” is condemned.

About 50 people milled around the entrance of the John Crowe Ransom Arena this morning, carrying signs that read, “The Painting” Was Robbed!”

Upsets at Scarriet’s APR March Madness—and now controversy.


Ma, I lost.

There’s been a lot of buzz since Jack Hirschman’s “The Painting” went down in defeat to New Critic icon Robert Penn Warren’s “Night Walking” in the first round of play.

Hirschman’s poem, “The Painting” considered a controversial work of art, the banned “painting of the late black heroic/mayor of Chicago/in woman’s underwear,” a work of art as controversial as anything shown in the Salon des Refuses, if not more so, and surely still as controversial today, as then.

So what is an icon, and how is it made?  What is sacred, and how is the sacred constructed, and who is the sacred for?  Does meaning itself require that there be something sacred?  Is the sacred something found in life, or does it pre-date the things of this world?

Some find Scarriet’s March Madness itself an iconoclasm—one that does not respect its subjects, or the art.  (We find this objection nonsensical.)

Can you have art without iconoclasm?

Can you have art without icons?

Eileen’s Vision

One night I was home alone
quite late past eleven
and my dog was whining and
moaning and I went over
to stroke her & pat
her & proclaim
her beauty &
then I returned
to my art review
but Rosie wouldn’t
stop. Something was
wrong. & then
I saw her.
It looked like a circle
a wooden mouth
in the upper third
of my bathtub
cover which
was standing
on its side
it is the Lady I thought
this perfect sphere
on the wooden
bathtub cover
incidentally separating
kitchen &
middle room
in my home
where I
live &
work. That is
all. I’m just
a simple
catholic girl
I had been
thinking, pondering
over my
review. That’s
why it’s
so hard
for me but the
Lady came &
she said, stay here
Eileen stay here
forever finding
the past
in the future
& the future
in the past
know that it’s
always so
going round &
it is with
you when
you write

& she didn’t
go, she
remains, a stain
on the bathtub
cover, along with
many other stains,
the dog’s leash &
half-scraped lesbian
invisibility stickers
and other less specific
but equally permanent
traces of paper &
holes  four of
thens and they
are round too
like the Lady
& I don’t have to
tell anyone.

Eileen Myles!  Has she got a chance against Frank O’Hara?

To John Ashbery on Szymanowski’s Birthday

Whitelight, keenair, someone
with a Polish accent: j’ai septembre,
et les milles-fois-retours d’Ashes,
like so many violins, from Paris.

The memory of seven sickening seconds
at the top of Carnegie Hall, where
the bow was pulled off its horse-hairs
and the insect suddenly started

humming, unwinding the silver cord
that binds the heart. That was
a concerto! simply-moving glacier
of northern sympathies, sliced banyans

wrapped in glistening green leaves,
lying in an enormous white freezing unit.
Did you practice the piano, John,
while you were gone? summoning thunder

as the delicate echoes of Slavic
nostalgia pretend to have defeated
Napoleon? and have, heaving into a
future of crystaline listening.

I am conducting you in his Symphonie
Concertante. Remember our successes
with the Weber Konzertstuck? It is no
repetition, when the marvelous

is like taking off your earmuffs
at the North Pole. I am writing to invite
you to the Polish Embassy for cocktails,
on this superb fall day, musicien americain.

Eileen Myles wins, 67-45 as her honest mysticism crushes O’Hara’s show-offy cuteness.

Marla, did you think Myles would have such an easy time with O’Hara?

MARLA MUSE: O’Hara shot clunkers all night, so I don’t know if the ‘real’ O’Hara showed up at all.  He had the moves, but the ball wasn’t going through the hoop.  O’Hara was like a comic who was on fire, but just not getting laughs.  Then he began to press…

Yes, Marla, and Myles just stayed within herself, played good defense, nothing fancy, but the result was an easy victory!


Gillian Conoley is scared.

In Scarriet’s Second Annual March Madness, with more viewers than ever, this young poet must take on an icon in the first round of play, a poet she greatly respects.  “Oh hell” was her response when she learned she had to play Creeley.

“No way.  Creeley? I love that guy.  I can’t play him!

Creeley’s poems are small, but he brings an army.

You bet she’s scared.

Here’s the Creeley APR poem that made it into the Scarriet March Madness Tourney:

Be Of Good Cheer

Go down obscurely,
seem to falter

as if walking into water
slowly. Be of good cheer

and go as if indifferent,
even if not.

There are those before you
they have told you.

knows that every one of her words will seem excessive next to that masterpiece.  There’s a world in the simple “There are those before you/they have told you.

Is this poor woman going to be skinned alive?

Is this competition business too dangerous?  Should Conoley simply forfeit?

No.  She’s gonna play. She’s going to say creeley over and over again until the word becomes absurd, to bulk up her courage.

These are only words.  Nothing can hurt me.

Her poem:


Dead cold spots in the air,
others bright and richly colored as opera,

my old dress is worn out,
torn up, dumped,

another thing the mad made.
Saddles laid out to dry,

vowels left up in the air as if something is better
left unsaid as if I could have.

And truth is music’s mute half,
a sentence broken into,

the half tone of a husband
waiting alone in a car,

so that only the sun warrants a red mane.
A figure passes quickly

in the ever-unquiet breath
of you, you, you and sometimes me.

The future made, an absolute night
troubled by how we will live up

to the day’s sequence of images in full sail,
as wind folds other things,

and ink branches and conceives.
Last night was floral,

a satin comforter fell
into violence, old

strangely beautiful voices
in the thin thread of my dreams

in the thin thread of my speech.
I was embarrassed because I wanted lines in the face

and the laughter that spills over
to bring me luck’s child.

I had a dream like seconal, sleepy rule of birth,
odor of seduction. I had only prayer, prayer

and science. On a street young girls gathered,
loud with nothing to say, as in an attempt to explain a local fire.

Gillian Conoley has done it!  The crowd is going crazy! Conoley has beaten Creeley!  Oh my God I don’t believe it!  Another upset! Scarriet March Madness, can you believe it?

Marla!  How did she do it?

MARLA MUSE:  She brought an uncanny sense of absence to her presence.  It’s almost as if she studied Creeley’s every move!  Every gesture, every image, every line was understated, suggestive in the extreme…down here at courtside…can you hear me up there, Tom?…what a scene down here…it’s bedlam…I’ve never felt such excitement…we’re trying to get in closer, so we can get a word from Conoley, but it’s just a madhouse…! I’m afraid I’m going to get swallowed up by the crowd…

Marla?  Marla, are you there?  Fans, I’ve never seen anything quite like this!  Young Conoley just gave us the thrill of a lifetime…she just beat Creeley…the final score 61-60…

The upsets just keep comin…!


East-  James Wright v. William Matthews
North- Philip Larkin v. Joseph Duemer
South- Robert Penn Warren v. Jack Hirschman
West- Donald Hall v. Douglas Crase

Poems by Wright and Matthews both rueful and poignant; Wright’s has more concentrated power, but Matthews is less self-pitying and finally has more interest.

Sleep, the most cunning weapon?  Both opponents seem to think so.

Wright’s “And Yet I Know” ends thusly:

Beside the tomb in the shade of a head of a man, a living man is lying down under a pine shrub dead drunk. It
is exactly two minutes after one o’clock in the afternoon.
Then I found later that monument is the
Funeral Kiosk of the Antinore, and beside
it the tomb of the poet Lovato de’ Lorati.
I have never read Lorati’s poems.  His name is so lovely.
I have been drunk and asleep beneath a pine shrub myself.
I wonder who the sleeper is.

And Matthews‘ “Good Company” ends like this:

The conversation luffs.  The last
bottle of wine was probably too much
but God we’re happy here.
“My husband stopped the papers
and flea-bathed the dog
before he left.” One of us has a friend
whose analyst died in mid-session,
non-directive to the end.
Now we’re drifting off to our nine lives,
and more. Melodramatic wind,
bright moon, dishes to do, a last
little puddle of brandy or not,
and the cars amble home:
the door, the stairs, the sheets
aglow with reticence and moonlight,
and the bed full to its blank brim
with the violent poise of dreams.

Matthews 68, Wright 64

In North play, Larkin and Duemer both doubt the soul lives after death: Larkin, with rhyme, his own, Duemer, with prose, another time’s.

from the beginning of Larkin’s “Aubade”:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
— The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused — nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

The end of Duemer’s: “Theory of Tragedy”

Tonight, odor of skunk hanging like a philosopher’s soul
in the air, I sit beneath a xerox copy of a photograph—one of those
Greek vases called a lekythos, this one showing a daughter of Memory,

loosely draped, feet bare, sexy, her right hand indicating
a songbird on a branch sketched near her knees.
Without a definition of tragedy, we cannot understand
the dance our words and grammar pattern intersecting
the facts of the palpable world–a maple tree’s black
branches against the amber/blue stripes of sunset,

perfume of skunk and wood smoke hanging in the air.
The old man always said his wisdom was nothing but ignorance,
and at the end of his life he couldn’t prove the soul
survives the body. Perhaps it was nothing but a feeling,
like tragedy, which is only the awkward singing
of a small bird on a flimsy branch pointing toward memory.

Larkin scores at will and it’s lights out for Duemer.

Larkin  98, Duemer 84

Over in the South, Robert Penn Warren looms under the moon, as the poet observes his son walking in the moonlight.  Warren’s opponent, Jack Hirschman, asserts that in the name of working people it’s OK to censor art—especially the art of corporate museum curators.   Warren’s “Night Walking” takes on Hirshman’s “The Painting.”

Hirshman is impressive in his bold thesis but Warren’s art finally prevails.

Warren 78, Hirschman 71

In the West, Donald Hall’s hysterical “To A Waterfowl” has no trouble with Douglas Crase’s more sober rumination, “There Is No Real Peace In the World.”

Hall 66, Crase 49

Three No. 2 Seeds advance, with one upset, as James Wright falls to 15th seed William Matthews.


no. 1 seed play

MIAMI BEACH —Howard Moss

Was Nature always a snob,
Distributing shorefronts only to the rich?
The poor have come to the right conclusion.

The car lots are dangerous, boutiques have closed
In the cleancut shopping mall whose potted palms
Stand helplessly guarding smashed flower boxes,

As slowly expensive logos drift away;
Subversively dreaming of the cold, signs crumble;
The place has the effect of a dead casino.

Yet the sea repeats its fire drill,
The waves coming in as they were meant to come,
All hailing light, beachcombers, tourists, one

Canadian spinster on her towelled maple,
A lifeguard selling products for the sun—
Still more arrive to take those heat waves in.

If you’re high up enough to witness it,
This city’s saving grace is light on water,
The bay on one side, the ocean on the other,

Collins Avenue strung out on lights—
Blue neon, the sign language of Paris—
Seen from a terrace overlooking Bal Harbour,

Though this evening’s tropical aroma
Is marred by a sad old man who stands regretting
His waistline before a Men Shop’s window,

Watching a coastline glassily reflected
Take its revenge, the tides undermining
The palmed investments of the big hotels,

Breaking through the breastwork of the dunes,
Thundering in to where they used to be,
To lap at the imported Louis Quinze

Already stricken with the plague of mold
Shifting on deer feet in draperied lounges
(So far no one has noticed the ugly

Patch of dry rot under the sofa,
Not even the Cuban trained in mildew,
Trained to pronounce the “doll” in “dollar,”

Otherwise it sounds too much like “dolor.”)
How botched is Paradise, how gone for good
Old rock and beach, this gorgeous littoral

Of palms adoring the sun, and sea grape,
Oleander, and white jasmine blooming
Under the nursing home’s blinded windows

Where the cardiacs and the sun-stroked blackouts
Wheel past the splash of a tropical fish tank
Leading a murderous life of its own.

A water hole abandoned by the young,
Either the old will take it over
Completely or South American money

Found its new capital: a kitsch Brasilia
Of pre-stressed concrete with its air-conditioned
Swiss bank branch, and a single restored

Art deco hotel for absentee landlords
Scanning the sea rehearsing endlessly
Its threatened drama never to be performed.

Bravo, Howard Moss, and Miami Beach.  But now meet New York City and Allen Ginsberg!!

THE CHARNEL GROUND   -Allen Ginsberg

“… rugged and raw situations, and having accepted them as part of your home ground, then some spark of sympathy or compassion would take place. You are not in a hurry to leave such a place immediately. You would like to face the facts, realities of that particular world …”   —Trungpa

Upstairs Jenny crashed her car & became a living corpse, Jake sold grass, the white bearded pot belly leprechaun  silent climbed their staircase
Ex-janitor John from Poland averted his eyes, cheeks flushed with vodka, wine who knew what as he left his groundfloor flat, refusing to speak to the inhabitant of Apt 24
Who’d put his boyfriend in Bellevue, calling police, while the artistic Buddhist composer on sixth floor lay spaced out feet swollen with water, dying slowly of AIDS over a year–
The Chinese teacher cleaned & cooked in Apt 23 for the homesexual poet who pined for his gymnast thighs & buttocks — Downstairs th’old hippy flower girl fell drunk over the banister, smashed her jaw–
her son despite moderate fame cheated of rocknroll money, twenty thousand people in stadiums
cheering his tattooed skinhead murderous Hare Krishna vegetarian drum lurics–
Mary born in the building rested on her cane heavy legged with heart failure on the second landing, no more able
to vacation in Caracas & Dublin — The Russian landlady’s husband from Concentration Camp disappeared again — nobody mentioned he’d died — tenants took over her building for hot water, she couldn’t add rent & pay taxes, wore a long coat hot days
alone & thin on the street carrying groceries to her crooked apartment silent–
One poet highschool teacher fell dead mysterious heart disrythmia, konked over in his mother’s Brooklyn apartment, his first baby girl a year old, wife stocial a few days–
their growling noisy little dog had to go, the baby cried–
Meanwhile the upstairs apartment meth head shot cocaine & yowled up and down
East 12th Street, kicked out of Christine’s Eatery till police cornered him, top a hot iron steamhole
near Stuyvessant Town Avenue A Telephone booth calling his deaf mother–sirens speed the way to Bellevue–
past whispering grass crack salesman jittering in circles on East 10th Street’s
southwest corner where art yuppies come out of the overpriced Japanese Sushi Bar — & they poured salt into potato soup heart failure vats at KK’s Polish restaurant —
Garbage piled up, nonbiodegradable plastic bags emptied by diabetic sidewalk jhomeless
looking for returnable bottles recycled dolls radios half eaten hamburgers–thrown away Danish–
On 13th Street notary public sat in his dingy storefront, drivers lessons & tax returnes prepared on old metal tasks–
Sunnysides crisped in butter, fries & surgary donuts passed over the luncheonette counter next door–
The Hispanic lady yelled at the rude African-American behind the Post Office window
“I waited all week my welfare check you sent me notice I was here yesterday
I want to see the supervisor bitch dont insult me refusing to look in–”
Closed eyes of Puerto Rican wino lips cracked skin red stretched out
on the pavement, naptha backdoor  open for the Korean family Dry Cleaners at the 14th Street corner Con Ed workmen drilled all year to bust electric pipes 6 feet deep in brown dirt so cars bottlenecked wait minutes to pass the M14 bus stopped mid-road, heavy dressed senior citizens step down in red rubble
with Reduced Fare program cards got from grey city Aging Department offices downtown up the second flight by elevators don’t work–
News comes on the radio, they bombed Baghdad and the Garden of Eden again?
A million starve in Sudan, mountains of eats stacked on docks, local gangs &
U.N.’s trembling bureaucrat officers sweat near the equator arguing over
Wheat pile shoved by bulldozers — Swedish doctors ran out of medicine — The pakistan taxi driver
says Salman Rushdie must die, insulting the prophet in fictions
“No that wasn’t my opinion, just a character talking like in a poem no judgement” “Not till the sun rejects you do I,” so give you a quarter by the Catholic Church 14th St you stand half drunk
waving a plastic glass, flush faced, live with your mother a wounded look on your lips, eyes quinting,
receding lower jaw sometimes you dry out in Bellevue, most days cadging dollars for sweet wine
by the corner where Plump Blindman shifts from foot to foot showing his white cane, rattling coins in a white paper cup some weeks
where girding the subway entrance construction saw-horses painted orange
guard steps underground — And across the street the bank machine cubicle door sign reads
Not in Operation as taxis bump on potholes asphalt mounded at the crossroad when red lights change green
& I’m on my way uptown to get a cat scan liver hiopsy, visit the cardiologist,
account for high blood pressure, kidneystones, diabetes, misty eyes & dysethesia–
feeling lack in feet soles, inside ankles, small of back, phallus head, anus–
Old age sickness death again come round in the wink of an eye–
High school youth the inside skin of my thighs was silken smooth tho nobody touched me there back then–
Across town the velvet poet takes Darvon N, valium nightly, sleeps all day kicking methadone
between brick walls sixth floor in a room cluttered with collages & gold dot paper scraps covered
with words: “The whole point seems to be the idea of giving away the giver.”

Allen Ginsberg, no. 1 Seed, wins, 98-75.  Ginsberg advances!  Moss is going home.

Next contest, and the final No. 1 Seed v. No. 16 Seed Matchup in the Tourney this year:

“The Experts” by Jack Myers

When the man in the window seat
flying next to me
asks me who I am
and I tell him I’m a poet,
he turns embarrassed toward the sun.
The woman on the other side of me
pipes up she’s 4’10” and is going to sue
whoever made these seats.

And so it is I’m reminded how I wish I were
one of the aesthetes
floating down double-lit canals
of quiet listening, the ones
who come to know something as
mysterious and useless
as when a tree has decided to sleep.

You would think for them
pain lights up the edges of everything,
burns right through the center of every leaf,
but I’ve seen them strolling around,
their faces glistening with the sort of peace
only sleep can polish babies with.

And so when a waitress in San Antonio
asks me what I do, and I think
how the one small thing I’ve learned
seems more complex the more I think of it,
how the joys of it have overpowered me
long after I don’t understand,

I tell her “Corned beef on rye, a side of salad,
hold the pickle, I’m a poet,” and she stops to talk
about her little son who, she says, can hurt himself
even when he’s sitting still. I tell her
there’s a poem in that, and she repeats
“Hold the pickle, I’m a poet,”
then looks at me and says, “I know.”







“An Iron Spike” by Seamus Heaney

So like a harrow-pin
I hear harness-creaks and the click
of stones in a ploughed-up field.
But it was the age of steam

at Eagle Pond, New Hampshire,
when this rusted spike I found there
was aimed and driven in
to fix a cog on the line.

It flakes like dead maple leaves
in the track of the old railway,
eaten at and weathered
like birch stumps dressed by beavers.

What guarantees things keeping
if a railway can be lifted
like a long briar out of ditch-growth?
I felt I had come on myself

in its still, grassed-over path
where I drew the iron like a thorn
or a dialect word of my own
warm from a stranger’s mouth.

And the sledge-head that drove it
with a last opaque report
deep into the creosoted
sleeper, where is that?

And its sweat-cured, polished haft?
Ask those ones on the buggy;
inaudible and upright
and sped along without shadows.


It flakes like dead maple leaves
in the track of the old railway,
eaten at and weathered
like birch stumps dressed by beavers.







Karen Kipp fans erupt as her upset of Robert Lowell becomes official.

Karen Kipp joined Lisa Lewis in making upset history as she brought down the illustrious Robert Lowell in the first round of the 2011 Scarriet March Madness Tournament, 67-66, in overtime.

Kipp and Lewis still have a long way to go, but all agree they have struck a blow for women—and underdogs—by beating the best, Robert Lowell and John Ashbery.

These poems, “Responsibility” by Lewis and “The Rat” by Kipp, can go all the way: they are both wonderful poems, 16th seed, or no.

“Responsibility” and “The Rat” are both ‘APR poems,’ the kind of poem which favors the paragraph, the striking image, the social vision, a certain unity of narrative and atmospheric effect, over effete formalism and self-conscious experimentation.  In other words, the ‘APR Poem’ represents the common-sense revolution in poetry: poems accessible and expressive in a prose medium, and the best of these poems are like good cinema, an added expressiveness growing around the dead Romantic poem sunk in the ground.

An APR poem, or a ‘paragraph poem,’ succeeds most often when a singular vision is at work, when the poet is imaginatively sincere, and rather than indulging in the freedom of the form, makes it work by fusing various aspects together and acheiving harmony, not chaos.

In this case, the two women showed the men how it’s done: Ashbery and Lowell, though strong in individual parts, could not withstand the women’s grounded harmony.

One Scarriet March Madness official confided, “The guys were great, but they were show-offs.  The women were real.”

Congratulations, Lisa Lewis and Karen Kipp!

Oh, look, Marla Muse is getting all choked up!



OK folks, let’s get right to it…In the East… 16th seed Lisa Lewis comes out strong against 1st seed Ashbery, using his own desultory style against him, but with an intensity and focus that hems in his easy-going style and throws him off his rhythm…


It did no good to think, or to stop thinking. It did no good
To think in a straight line, a starburst, or a circle.
It did no good to think driving down the highway,
Or walking alone in a park with live alligators.
It was no use thinking what had happened, or what
Was going to happen. If there’d been one image
She could’ve dreamed to make the thoughts move over,
She would’ve bowed to its significance: a fallen barn
Against empty sky. Sidewalks strewn with clippings
In a suburban neighborhood where the residents walk
After the sun goes down. The silhouette of a man
Straightening his tie. But it did no good to speak,
Or to stop speaking. It did no good to look, or to stop looking.



And one wants to know everything about everything.
Such is my decision, though I will abide by others,
that goes without saying. Still, I fell off the sandbar
walking back towards shore, and that was a time of sorrow,
even of great sorrow, for myself and many others.
No, make that a few others. Whatever I was
trying to do automatically broke the hearts
of those in the seats on either side of mine.
It was wild like weather, yet you couldn’t just live in it,
you had to drool, your facial muscles had to twitch


Ashbery is really struggling…!  He seems confused…helpless!  Lewis is more in control out there right now…the alligators…the barn…the man straightening his tie…her images are simple and effective, they don’t feel forced, while Ashbery is not passing well at all…oh! there’s another stumble and a turover by Ashbery!  Lewis is using a pressing defense to dominate the usually cool and collected John Ashbery!!


Her eyes closed when she felt sleepy, and when she woke
Nothing was different. Her eyes opened when light
Shone through the window; the light was different
From the light that stayed on in the hall at night,
But nothing else was different. If the air was cool
That was the extent of it. If the air was close and warm,
That was the extent of it. She looked at her feet that paced
The wood floor for hours, getting nowhere. She looked
At the shape of her calves, thinner, harder from walking.
She looked at her knees, disappointing knees under
A layer of skin that just got thicker. She saw she had
The legs of an animal; she saw she had the hands
Of an animal. She looked in the mirror and saw she had
The snout of an animal, two holes to breathe through.
That was something to think about; but the trouble
With thinking was it didn’t go anywhere, there was
A shape inside her head like a loaf of bread,
Pressing so things went blurry. Then she thought
It must be time she was looking at, that’s why
She couldn’t see at a distance; she took out her pencil
And made a list of questions. Her animal hand
Scratched marks on paper her animal eyes couldn’t read.
Her animal eyes closed in the darkness, she had worked
Hard without thinking about it, and nothing
Was different. There was nothing to do but wait
For time to catch up. It was going to be a long wait,
What with the moon passing through its phases,
People dying without saying goodbye, decisions made
Without asking permission, and the body still
Just the shell that keeps something alive inside.
If she hadn’t waited so long already, she might’ve learned
To stop thinking about it, but she was in a hurry,
No one else holding, as she did, the hands of time.
It was as if she’d offered to sit by the sickbed of a loved one,
But the illness was long and debilitating, and the mind
Went first; and when the patient died, she wasn’t free
To go, but had to remain by the decomposing body.
It was just an idea she had, to sit by the body; but no one
Was there to release her from her duty, and no one
Could’ve convinced her that wasn’t her proper place.

–Lisa Lewis


at least some of them. About the time the thought
of living in England occurs, and one succeeds in eating a
little asparagus and custard, the old guard revives its dug-in
positions. You knew about these. They were like lace and spring,
they went away but they never really did. They require a content
of mourning, and public relations. If a cock is being sucked
at a certain moment, it will not jiggle the seismograph, provoke regret
from one who is esteemed and dry, but rather break out disjunctedly
in another hemisphere, and people will start reasoning
from there on. The kid was only a gas-station attendant;
he couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen, yet the evening
wind begins promptly to blow, the morbid goddesses sing
that a brooch came undone and pricked one’s finger, all silently:
so much for revanchisme. “But of course.” And like it says here,
cooperation is part of the school of things, only don’t get too close
to overboard, and be burned by the musing that sets in then.
Is that why cows live in clusters, why the foxglove
covers for the hay, and all gets done in a day like it was
supposed to, only there are no more feet to bathe?
I confess I was leery
the first time she told her story
but having heard it enough I can never get enough of what it was determined
should never be shielded from the rain or its attendant wetness;
by the same token they are always with us. Once I started
to count the ways I was indebted to the elk and its house
of night, some old saw had me battling again, kicking up moss
and letting it settle, along with other debris. No
one saw me when I came here; I swear it. You can have a handle
on me now, only don’t abuse it
too much or yet. The sky popped out of the oven
like a tin of blueberry muffins, and there’s so much to say.
Only I don’t feel I’m dry enough. Yet. Take ten,
there’s a good caddy. Go do someone’s bidding,
then meet me under the larch when the storm explodes. I’ll tell you then.

–John Ashbery

And that’s it!  Lewis wins, 56-47, with a swarming D.  Ashbery did come back to tie the contest with 4 minutes left, pulling out everything he had, even sex, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.  Wtith “But of course” it looked like Ashbery was going to get into a relaxed groove and make a run, but he faltered at the end. Lewis stuck to her gameplan throughout, while Ashbery never seemed to have a gameplan—yet everyone thought Ashbery’s talent would be enough.  The third-person “she” really worked well for Lewis, while Ashbery’s second-person was flat and forced: the “you” was never really present for Ashbery.  All of John’s subtle sexual references didn’t do the trick; Lewis showed a vulnerability that felt totally sincere; she was Joe Frazier to Ashbery’s Ali and kept pummeling away, and in the end, it paid off.

Lisa Lewis advances to Round Two.

Now let’s go to Marla Muse at the Robert Lowell v. Karen Kipp contest!


I fish until the clouds turn blue.
weary of self-torture, ready to paint
lilacs or confuse a thousand leaves,
as landscapes must.

My eye returns to my double,
an ageless big white horse,
slightly discolored by dirt,
cropping the high green shelf diagonal
to the artificial troutpond—
unmoving, it shifts as I move,
and works the whole ridge in the course of a day.

Poor, measured, neurotic man,
animals are more instinctive virtuosi.

Ducks splash deceptively like fish;
fish break water with the wings of a bird to escape.

A hissing goose sways in statuary anger;
purple bluebells rise in ledges on the lake.
A single cuckoo gifted with a pregnant word
shifts like the sun from wood to wood.

All day my miscast troutfly buzzes about my ears
to empy my mind…

But nature is sundrunk with sex—
how could a man fail to notice, man
the only pornographer among the animals?
I seek coolness unimpassioned by my body,
I am too weak to strain to remember, or give
recollection the eye of a microscope. I see
horse, meadow, duck and pond,
universal, consolatory
description without significance,
transcribed verbatim by my eye.

This is not a directness that catches
everything on the run and then expires—
I would write only in response to the gods,
like Mallarme who had the good fortune
to find a style that made writing impossible.

THE RAT  —Karen Kipp

It used to be that the rat was a cynic. It used to be that the rat had trouble believing things. The other rats were ugly, especially his own young, who were pied and pink and whom he wanted to eat, if only his bitch-rat wife would have let him…Then a day came when it was different. A pudgy hand reached into his tank and stuffed the rat into its overcoat. The rat had been shoplifted. Soon he was riding the streets on the shoulder of a two-hundred and fifty pound punk with a sad-looking mohawk. Sometimes, in a dark bar, surrounded by other humans, the punk would stick the rat’s head into the beery cave of his craw. The rat thought he was supposed to be hearing something, but he never did. Eventually the rat had another idea—perhaps it was supposed to be the other way around…The rat put his pointy snout to the punk’s pierced ear. “Turn right, turn right,” whispered the rat, and the punk did. Then, “we’re out of cheese, we need to go to the Quickstop.” Sometimes the rat wanted to be with the humans. The more humans the better. “The Deadwood,” the rat would say, “let’s duck in for a beer.” In the smoky darkness, overlooking the warm mugs and the crowded ashtrays, the rat would say, “see that girl over there, you need to fuck her.” The rat was not a cynic. The rat could believe things. He had discovered his affinity for the other animals, and God, was the world glorious.

A very close contest!  Kipp recalls the art of Durer and Breugel somehow.  Her poem has a coherent narrative, atmosphere, vision.

Lowell’s poem lacks Kipp’s story, her poem’s cave-like unity, but Lowell features better individual lines, and finer observations, such as the exquisite:

“I fish until the clouds turn blue”


“…confuse a thousand leaves,/as landscapists must.”


“Ducks splash deceptively like fish;
fish break water with the wings of a bird to escape.”


“A single cuckoo gifted with a pregnant word
shifts like the sun from wood to wood.”


“But nature is sundrunk with sex—
how could a man fail to notice, man
the only pornographer among the animals?”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lowell so painterly and astute and sensual and confident in his poetry as this.

“The Rat,” though, is a dark masterpiece, and Lowell, no. 1 seed in the South, and Kipp, the 16th seed, battle to the wire…!!

Lowell has all that experience!  The training with John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate, the teaching at Iowa with Paul Engle, the friendship with Bishop, the wives, the Pulitzers…

Lowell is fighting like a madman out there!

But Kipp won’t give up…

I can’t bear to watch!

Oh!  That wasn’t a foul!!!


Lowell, covered in rat-bites, staggers to the line to shoot two free throws with no time remaining…

Lowell’s not sure which god to pray to…is he praying to William James?

Every fan, every poet, every ex-Catholic, every editor for the New York Review, every celebrity, every one of Allen Tate’s lovers, every goddamn lunatic is on their feet…!

It’s a madhouse inside John Crowe Ransom Arena!!!!

Lowell takes the first shot…



Robert Lowell, the No. 1 Seed in the South, will celebrate his birthday as he rumbles with 16th Seed Karen Kipp.

Kipp’s poem, “The Rat,” is a menacing cartoon.

Lowell’s entry, “Shifting Colors,” is gentler, the water-color version of “The Rat’s” chiaroscuro, but will have no trouble bullying “The Rat.”  You don’t push Lowell around in the paint; maybe he misses from the outside sometimes, but he more than makes up with it with his rebounding.

Both poems use animals and gods to invoke the human.  It’s stunning, really, how similar in approach these poems are.

Will the master, Robert Lowell prevail?

MARLA:  Robert Lowell is a monster.

A monster?

MARLA: That’s all I’m going to say.

Marla, do you think Lisa Lewis has a chance against Ashbery in the East?

MARLA:  Well, she is nervous.  She’s a woman, after all.

Oh, boy…

MARLA: Ashbery’s not worried.  He’s a man…

Let’s talk about the Lewis poem, “Responsibility.”

MARLA: Well, OK.

It’s a raw, painful, vulnerable meditation on existence, pretty bleak….

MARLA:  Meanwhile Ashbery’s poem is breezy, amusing…

I think an upset’s possible…and now let’s look at the other two No. 1 Seed contests!  Seamus Heaney’s “An Iron Spike” v. Jack Myers’ “The Experts” in the North.

MARLA: Iron Spike v. The Experts.  I love it!

And, finally, in the West, Allen Ginsberg’s “The Charnel Ground” v. Howard Moss’ “Miami Beach.”

MARLA: Charming matchup…two little bald men… Charnel Ground v. Miami Beach…nice!

We’ll have more analysis, and of course, show you the poems.  A lot more coming up!

Meanwhile, Marla’s trying not to root for the women.  She’s trying to remain objective…

MARLA: I am.

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