JOY HARJO V. SYLVIA PLATH

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!

Incommunicado

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…

3 Comments

  1. Noochness said,

    March 17, 2011 at 11:28 am

    A Postcolonial 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

    • Excerpt support said,

      March 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      From the fifth chapter of the novel Bullet Park by John Cheever

      [Nailles] had no way of judging his worth as a father. [Nailles and his son Tony] had quarreled. When Tony was nine. He had suddenly given up all his athletics and friendships and settled down in front of the television set. The night of the quarrel was rainy. Nailles came into the house by the kitchen door. [His wife] Nellie was cooking. Nailles kissed her on the back of the neck and raised her skirts but she demurred. “Please darling,” she said. “it makes me feel as if I were in a burlesque skit. Tony’s report card is on the table. You might want to take a look at it.” Nailles mixed a drink and read the report. The marks were all C’s and D’s. Nailles walked through the dining room, crossed the dark hall to the living room where Tony was watching a show. The tube was the only light, shifting and submarine, and with the noise of the rain outside the room seemed like some cavern in the sea.

      “Do you have any homework,” Nailles asked.

      “A little,” Tony said.

      “Well I think you’d better do it before you watch television,” Nailles said. On the tube some cartoon figures were dancing a jig.

      “I’ll just watch to the end of this show,” Tony said. “Then I’ll do my homework.”

      “I think you’d better do your homework now,” Nailles said.

      “But Mummy said I could see this show,” Tony said.

      “How long has it been,” said Nailles, “that you’ve asked permission to watch television?” He knew that in dealing with his son sarcasm would only multiply their misunderstandings but he was tired and headstrong. “You never ask permission. You come home at half past three, pull your chair up in front of the set and watch until supper. After supper you settle down in front of that damned engine and stay there until nine. If you don’t do your homework how can you expect to get passing marks in school?”

      “I learn a lot of things on television,” Tony said shyly. “I learn about geography and animals and the stars.”

      “What are you learning now?” Nailles asked.

      The cartoon figures were having a tug of war. A large bird cut the rope with his beak and all the figures fell down.

      “This is different,” Tony said. “This isn’t educational. Some of it is.”

      “Oh leave him alone, Eliot, leave him alone,” Nellie called from the kitchen. Her voice was soft and clear. Nailles wandered back into the kitchen.

      “But don’t you think,” he asked, “that from half past three to nine with a brief interlude for supper is too much time to spend in front of a television set?”

      “It is a lot of time,” Nellie said, “but it’s terribly important to him right now and I think he’ll grow out of it.”

      “I know it’s terribly important,” Nailles said. “I realize that. When I took him Christmas shopping he wasn’t interested in anything but getting back to the set. He didn’t care about buying presents for you or his cousins or his aunts and uncles. All he wanted to do was to get back to the set. He was just like an addict. I mean he had withdrawal symptoms. It was just like me at cocktail hour but I’m thirty-four years old and I try to ration my liquor and my cigarettes.”

      “He isn’t quite old enough to start rationing things,” Nellie said.

      “He won’t go coasting, he won’t play ball, he won’t do his homework, he won’t even take a walk because he might miss a program.”

      “I think he’ll grow out of it,” Nellie said.

      “But you don’t grow out of an addiction. You have to make some exertion or have someone make an exertion for you. You just don’t outgrow serious addictions.”

      He went back across the dark hall with its shifty submarine lights and outside the noise of rain. On the tube a man with a lisp, dressed in a clown suit, was urging his friends to have Mummy buy them a streamlined, battery-operated doll carriage. He turned on a light and saw how absorbed his son was in the lisping clown.

      “Now I’ve been talking with your mother,” he said, “and we’ve decided that we have to do something about your television time.” (The clown was replaced by the cartoon of an elephant and a tiger dancing the waltz.) “I think an hour a day is plenty and I’ll leave it up to you to decide which hour you want.”

      Tony had been threatened before but either his mother’s intervention or Nailles’s forgetfulness had saved him. At the thought of how barren, painful and meaningless the hours after school would be the boy began to cry.

      “Now crying isn’t going to do any good,” Nailles said. The elephant and the tiger were joined by some other animals in their waltz.

      “Skip it,” Tony said. “It isn’t your business.”

      “You’re my son,” Nailles said, “and it’s my business to see you do at least what’s expected of you. You were tutored last summer in order to get promoted and if your marks don’t improve you won’t be promoted this year. Don’t you think it’s my business to see that you get promoted? If you had your way you wouldn’t even go to school. You’d wake up in the morning, turn on the set, and watch it until bedtime.”

      “Oh please skip it, please leave me alone,” Tony said. He turned off the set, went into the hall and started to climb the stairs.

      “You come back here, Sonny,” Nailles shouted. “You come back here at once or I’ll come and get you.”

      “Oh please don’t roar at him,” Nellie asked, coming out of the kitchen. “I’m cooking veal birds and they smell nice and I was feeling good and happy that you’d come home and now everything is beginning to seem awful.”

      “I was feeling good too,” Nailles said, “But we have a problem here and we can’t evade it just because the veal birds smell good.”

      He went to the foot of the stairs and shouted: “You come down here, Sonny, you come down here this instant or you won’t have any television for a month. Do you hear me? You come down here at once or you won’t have any television for a month.”

      The boy came slowly down the stairs. “Now you come here and sit down,” Nailles said, “and we’ll talk this over. I’ve said that you can have an hour each day all you have to do is tell me which hour you want.”

      “I don’t know,” Tony said, “I like the four-o’clock show and the six-o-clock show and the seven-o’clock show…”

      “You mean you can’t confine yourself to an hour, is that it?”

      “I don’t know,” Tony said.

      “I guess you’d better make me a drink,” Nellie said. “Scotch and soda.”

      Nailles made a drink and returned to Tony. “Well if you can’t decide,” Nailles said, “I’m going to decide for you. First I’m going to make sure that you do your homework before you turn on the set.”

      “I don’t get home until half past three,” Tony said, “and sometimes the bus is late and if I do my homework I’ll miss the four-o’clock show.”

      “That’s just too bad,” Nailles said, “that’s just too bad.”

      “Oh leave him alone,” Nellie said. “Please leave him alone. He’s had enough for tonight.”

      “It isn’t tonight we’re talking about, it’s every single night in the year including Saturdays, Sunday and holidays. Since no one around here seems able to reach any sort of agreement I’m going to make a decision myself. I’m going to throw that damned thing out the back door.”

      “Oh no, Daddy, no,” Tony cried. “Please don’t do that. Please, please, please. I’ll try. I’ll try to do better.”

      “You’ve been trying for months without any success,” Nailles said. “You keep saying that you’ll try to cut down and all you do is watch more and more. Your intentions may have been good but there haven’t been any noticeable results. Out it goes.”

      “Oh please don’t, Eliot,” Nellie cried. “Please don’t. He loves his television. Can’t you see that he loves it?”

      “I know that he loves it,” Nailles said. “That’s why I’m going to throw it out the door. I love my gin and I love my cigarettes but this is the fourteenth cigarette I’ve had today and this is only my fourth drink. If I sat down to drink at half past three and drank steadily until nine I’d expect someone to give me some help.” He unplugged the television set with a yank and picked the box up in his arms. The box was heavy for his strength, and an awkward size, and in order to carry it he had to arch his back a little like a pregnant woman. With the cord trailing behind him he started for the kitchen door.

      “Oh, Daddy, Daddy,” Tony cried. “Don’t, don’t, don’t,” and he fell to his knees with his hands joined in a conventional, supplicatory position that he might have learned from watching some melodrama on the box.

      “Eliot, Eliot,” Nellie screamed. “Don’t, don’t. You’ll be sorry, Eliot. You’ll be sorry.”

      Tony ran to his mother and she took him in her arms. They were both crying.

      “I’m not doing this because I want to,” Nailles shouted. “After all I like watching football and baseball when I’m home and I paid for the damned thing. I’m not doing this because I want to. I’m doing this because I have to.”

      “Don’t look, don’t look,” Nellie said to Tony and she pressed his face into her skirts.

      The back door was shut and Nailles had to put the box on the floor to open this. The rain sounded loudly in the yard. Then, straining, he picked up the box again, kicked open the screen door and fired the television out into the dark. It landed on a cement paving and broke with the rich, glassy music of an automobile collision. Nellie led Tony up the stairs to her bedroom, where she threw herself onto the bed, sobbing. Tony joined her. Nailles closed the kitchen door on the noise of the rain and poured another drink. Fifth, he said.

      All of this was eight years ago.

  2. Noochness said,

    March 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Incommunicado

    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 märchen
    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


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