Authorship almost died in 1967.

Roland Barthes tried to kill the author with his The Death of the Author (1967)

The text certainly went through a change in 1967, too—one could easily mark this as the year when songs, media bites, and video really began to replace the text as communication in wider western consciousness.

In 1967 the Beatles as a band disappeared into their album, Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, their last hurrah before John Lennon’s heroin-and-Yoko Ono addiction and the Beatles’ final breakup a year and a half later.

The Beatles started a trend of bands “disappearing”—Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in the early 70s did not appear on their album covers; photos of band members standing in meadows were replaced by mystical art. The “concept album” replaced individuals playing mere lists of songs. Individual song writing credits were no longer prominent, compositions simply came into being as part of a process from group efforts. I remember sitting on the floor as a kid, listening to the blasting, electronic, sound-effect enhanced, swirlings of a Led Zeppelin album and thinking four guys were not making this music—something else was. My naivety was short-lived—but it was a wonderful experience.

The ego of the singer/songwriter did not go away, nor did individual identity in pop music—not by a long shot. And if one listened to a Pink Floyd album, one could still hear a definite group of individuals playing their individual instruments—the band did not go away any more than the author—or the author’s intention—did.

Media bites, songs and video did not reduce the importance of the charismatic individual—they enhanced it.

In the universities, they may have been saying Homer or Shakespeare were really many people.

But this was more a history issue (given we knew so little about Homer and Shakespeare) than fundamentally asserting authorship was plural—or didn’t exist at all.  The average poet today knows more about Eileen Myles than he knows about Homer.

Automatic writing was first given prominence by William James under the influence of nitrous oxide—James, Emerson’s godson, would later teach and influence the young Modernists at Harvard, such as Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot.

But Man’s ego was such that the author could not really be killed.

But there was something exciting about saying the author was dead, of being the author of that idea.

To say the author is dead appeals to all sorts of mass political movements who hate and fear the individual or the lone genius for all sorts of reasons—the foremost, jealousy: hating the genius author because one is not a genius author oneself; secondly, conservatism: hating the genius because the genius successfully breaks rules; thirdly, radical politics: the authorial genius is a “patriarch” to be overthrown; fourthly, New Criticism: famous for “the Intentional Fallacy;” fifthly, Linguistics: Mallarme’s “it is language which speaks;” sixthly, the Yale School of de Mann—the criminal hides where no authorial accountability exists; and seventhly, dionysians: no author in the blur of pure, nitrous oxide, sensation.

In a corrupt society, blame gets passed around and hidden: no accountability, a death of the author, and that death is the death of society.

The death of the author supposedly “liberates” the text, as if “the author” were a tyrant, and the text, an oppressed people.

It’s too late to resurrect the author in the minds of those who would kill him. What I would like to do is add a radical thought of my own: let’s kill the text, too.

The target of many ‘kill-the-author’ advocates, such as Derrida and Rorty and…well, there’s too many to count—was Plato. That’s because the divine Plato, with wonderful common sense, pointed out that a speaker is alive, but a piece of writing is dead. A speaker must convince with his whole being, and, by being alive,  has a context which dwarfs the self-created context of the text. If the text lives, it is because the author is alive in it—if we must doubt the existence of one of them, we should doubt the text.

This is not to say a living person cannot speak ill, or lie, or that a text cannot express beautiful things, but all things being equal, which is more real?  And why should we kill what is more real?

A text is created by an author not just in the time that it takes to inscribe the text, but in the time (years) it takes the author to become the author who is then able to write that text.

We all understand this truism: If the author is feeble-minded, the text will not be strong, if the author is a genius, the text will be strong.  (But introduce nitrous oxide or LSD into the equation, let both the feeble-minded and the genius take LSD, and things become a little different, a little more equal, perhaps.)

The text is the impression left not just by the author, but by the maturity and genius of the author in the context of that author’s existence.  Nor is the text merely inscribed; it is authored during the inscription process itself, as revisions, backtracks, erasures, additions, and revisions occur during the time it is inscribed. Nor does this does take into account the blueprint created by the author before the text comes into being, and again, this blueprint is the result of who the author is and what he has thought: it is not merely a moment’s impulse, even if the flash of conception occured in a moment.

Finally, when the text is read, the inscription takes place again in the reader’s mind, an impression not of the text, but of the author, for we do not say a footprint is the impression of a footprint.

A footprint is not produced by a footprint; the author produces the effect on the reader.

Nothing comes between the author’s intention and the text, for a text (never finished until it is finished) is a slave to the author’s intention.

But all sorts of things come between the text and its reception by the public, so many things, in fact, that it can be easily seen that the text is part of the author to the author, the genius and his text are practically one, whereas to the public, the text hardly exists at all.

We all know the phenomenon of people saying they have read a book when they haven’t, but what of reading a book and then forgetting most of it, even as we confidently announce, “I’ve read that book.”

We all know that most books become bestsellers because readers are reading what other people are reading—this is how empty texts sometimes have windows of popularity. The text in question is not of real concern—only that others are reading it, and no one knows really what it is they are reading and most realize part-way through they are not enjoying it at all. There was merely some aspect, unrelated to the quality of the text itself, which invoked enough curiosity to push it over that threshold of ‘people reading a book because others were reading it.’

What sort of existence does the text have in this case?

Texts that have real effects on people are often divisive books that have a positive effect on a one part of a population in exact ratio to the negative effect they have on the other.

If two contrary opinions are generated—wild praise on one hand, and sheer disgust on the other: where is the text, in that case?

Where is the text in the various reactions and differing opinions and misreadings of it?

Where is the text when eras pass away and tastes change?

Where is a text when different political factions fight to destroy it on one hand, and canonize it, on the other?

If a genius authored the book, and time passes and tastes change, what remains, then, of the book’s greatness, save the intention of the author, still able to impress the reader—despite all the changes. What essentially remains, if not the author’s blueprint and the genius of the author?

Where is the text, if it has no unity?

Where is the text, if it contains empty spaces, and weak, topical impressions, and unconnected details?  These sorts of texts tend to have random parts which take on importance depending how they are perceived by myriads of readers; where is the text, then?

Where does a text exist if it is a pile of fragments, or perceived as a pile of fragments, or if the text is too long to read at one sitting?

We may point to peeling wallpaper as a thing,  just as we can point to any writing as a thing—but the various shapes of the peeling wallpaper in any given area of the wall exist not as the wallpaper, or the wall, or the thing.

Only in the intention of the author is it possible to sort out the mysteries of the contingent universe, the universe of endlessly slippery texts and endlessly slippery perceptions.

The author never died, nor is intention ever a fallacy.

The universe of texts and perceptions is confusing, and therefore not holy.

Authorship is holy.

Textuality has interest only by the merit of an author’s intention.

This comes down to pure, physical science: no text can be discussed, because no text of any length can exist as a whole in the mind; at best we can discuss what we feel is the gist of a text, but finally it is only our faulty memory of what we believe is the gist of the text—filtered through all the imperfect influences and political opinions that others have of the text.

This is why poetry exists—to make it somehow possible, through the quantum of sequencing, aided by the mathematics of music—to hold an entire text in one’s mind.

What is the quantum of poetry?  Has anyone dared to ask?

In reality, only the author’s pure intention, which is the author’s being, which is being, itself, communicating itself one-on-one with the reader’s being— exists.

In reality, the text does not exist.

The author exists.

The book does not.



Our greatest living poet?  If you think so, please give generously at your local English Dept.

Donald Hall, no. 2 seed in the West Bracket for the APR March Madness Tourney this year, is one of America’s best poets.  He’s a Whitman and a Frost rolled into one: an accessible lyric poet who writes vividly on just about everything, in tone: mocking to elegiac, in rhythm: metered, and rhymed to free.  If Hall is not getting streets and  schools and halls named after him, postage stamps and monuments, it’s because his long career wasn’t flashy at the start and because he’s been too close to po-biz for too long (even on a farm you can be close to po-biz). Hall writes brilliantly at times, but more for fellow poets than for the people. You can’t fool the people. If this sounds odd in a discussion of a contemporary poet—well, that proves my point. The people and po-biz are far apart and have been since Frost made a name for himself almost a hundred years ago. The 60s culture flew the flag of Ginsberg for a time, but that’s almost played out. Famous American poets today? That would be Poe, Dickinson, Frost—and Billy Collins.

MARLA MUSE: I made those poets.

OK, Marla, let’s examine Hall’s entry in the APR tourney, “To A  Waterfowl,” a tongue-in-cheek title after Bryant, America’s first famous poet, and advisor to President Lincoln (no, it wasn’t Emerson or Whitman, who were largely written into the canon by 20th century academics).

In the very first lines of the poem, we can see Hall letting slip that he cares more for a brainy take on the history of poetry than he does for the people: he pokes fun at the latter (“women with hats”) while invoking the former: “…applaud you, my poems.” In his Vita Nova, Dante sometimes spoke to his own  poem as an emissary to Beatrice (giving his poem advice in his poem) and Whitman wrote self-consciously of “my poems”—Hall, however, is in the bitter, sarcastic, modern mode, waging war on the public:

Women with hats like the rear end of pink ducks
applaud you, my poems.
These are the women whose husbands I meet on airplanes,
who close their briefcases and ask, “What are you in?”
I look in their eyes, I tell them I am in poetry,

and their eyes fill with anxiety, and with little tears.
“Oh, yeah?” they say, developing an interest in clouds.
“My wife, she likes that sort of thing? Hah-hah?”
I guess maybe I’d better watch my grammar, huh?”
I leave them in airports, watching their grammar

MARLA MUSE: Women in hats!  So appropriate for the wedding over in England today!

Hall, however, “feeling superior,” does poke fun at himself, as well: “I am a sexual Thomas Alva Edison,” and “I have accepted the approbation of feathers” even as he excoriates society and its entertainments—“Godzilla Sucks Mt. Fuji”—and those businessmen with their briefcases and those ladies with their feathers and hats.

In the last stanza, Hall does confess that the male and female elements he despises are, in fact, the parents to his beloved poetry. Addressing “his poems,” he takes a mocking tone with them in the end, too:

And what about you? You, laughing? You, in the bluejeans,
laughing at your mother who wears hats, and at your father
who rides airplanes with a briefcase watching his grammar?
Will you ever be old and dumb, like your creepy parents?
Not you, not you, not you, not you, not you, not you.

So Hall ends up making fun of everything, his poetry, eternity, youth, poetry as eternal youth—is he mocking Plath and her style at the end (see “Daddy”)?—and pulls it all down around him in a glory of acerbic glee.

But Hall won’t be forgiven by his public; the insult in the first stanza drives them away for good—that’s just how the public is; Hall being cute later on in the poem won’t save things. The public will see it all for what it is: clever self-pity. Hall sets it up so the only thing that can triumph is the poet’s sarcasm—which is unpoetic and inane or deliciously brilliant, depending on your temperament.

Harjo’s “A Postcolonial Tale” is a different fish.  She begins:

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

So different from the Hall: “unspeakable,” “material,” “power,” and “stuff.” If Hall was a dog ripping and feeding on detail, Harjo is a sheep, simply in awe, without speech.

But then Hall had a kind of reach, and so does Harjo:

“This is the first world, and the last.”

Then Harjo joins Hall in a parade of didactic commentary. Hall hits the businessman, Harjo hits TV and the oppressive “whiteman.”

“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.”

But Harjo finally abandons Hall’s articulation and goes for the transcendent:

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.

Is Harjo big, and Hall, small?

It depends on your temperament.

Harjo wins on a last second three-pointer, 69-68.



The fascist, anti-Semite Pound: Born in the 19th century, he made sure the 20th was not sentimental.

Did the whole edifice of popular poetry come crashing down in the 20th century because of one word?

Sentimental is everything the Moderns and neo-Moderns despise.  It refers to the mawkish, the muddled, the old-fashioned, the old.  It is “Official Verse Culture.”  It is “Quietism.”  It is Edgar Guest.  It is Billy Collins. It is everything every self-respecting academic poet wishes to avoid.  Better to be hopelessly obscure—like John Ashbery—than be sentimental.

Sentimental is the kiss of death.

But sentimental is also a word that implies so much that is good, so much that has been trampled on in the Modernist stampede: beauty, refinement, deep feeling, sensitivity, openness, curiosity, reflectiveness, even genius evinced by Romantic and Victorian poets—and countless poets of previous eras.

A peek into the OED tells a fascinating story.

Not long ago, sentimental did mean all those things.  It was not a pejorative, but the highest praise one could give to another.

No wonder we were always confused by the terms of Schiller’s great study, Uber Naive und Sentimentalsche Dichtung, On Naive and Sentimental Poetry (1795), an important work more Wordsworth than Wordsworth, more Coleridge than Coleridge—and appearing before Lyrical Ballads.  Today sentimentality is equated with naivety, but in Schiller’s work, and in the Romantic era, and well into the 19th century, these terms were opposites.

The  meaning of sentimental changed gradually throughout the 19th century and really only came into its current usage during the Pound era.

“As for the nineteenth century,‥I think we shall look back upon it as‥a rather sentimentalistic, mannerish sort of a period.”  –Ezra Pound, 1912


Yes, it’s in the OED.  Pound did not make it up. 

There can only be one reason why Pound, the modernist, in attacking the 19th century, used ‘sentimentalisitic:’ sentimental still had some good  meaning left in it, and Pound did not want to be misunderstood.  Pound, like his partner in Crime, Eliot, hated the sentiment and beauty of the 19th century—the Romantics.

It seems the change began with Rousseau, the first Liberal, who began attacking the “sentimental classes,” those with refined feelings—in other words, the rich.

The tragic fall of sentimental was a gradual Leftist assault on a word rich with positive and complex meaning, and the Pound clique, though mainly fascist and right-wing, was all too happy to continue the assault on a word that had very recently denoted refinement, feeling, and beauty. As we all know, in the 20th century, the far left and the far right eventually meet: Futurists, Fascists, Communists, and Modernists were all happy to destroy the 19th century meaning of sentimental.

Killers of sentiment and beauty, whether it be the anti-poet WC Williams or his colleague, Pound, don’t finally care what side of the political spectrum they are on.

Sentimentalistic, indeed.


Is it good when a woman kicks a man’s ass?

Some say poetry comes down to one thing: novel juxtaposition. What is metaphor if not this? Aristotle put Metaphor at the center, and the rest of ancient theories are concerned with proper and coherent imitation of life when humans jump up on stage. Modernity has not added anything new—only a few quirks and quibbles. The important modern critics like Poe (rigorously, classically) and Eliot (bizarrely, haphazardly) recall ancient standards. The rest is vanity.  Auden puts his finger on things in a letter to Frank O’Hara in 1955: “I think you (and John [Ashbery], too, for that matter) must watch what is always the great danger with any ‘surrealistic’ style, namely of confusing authentic non-logical relations which arouse wonder with accidental ones which arouse mere surprise and in the end fatigue.”

But to return to novel juxtaposition and proper and coherent imitation: Carol Muske’s poem, “A Former Love, A Lover of Form,” has it all: vivid elements which combine in surprising ways, actual life exemplified, concision, a leisurely observation of things which finally blossoms into a forceful, epigrammatic close.

James Schuyler, in “Red Brick and Brown Stone,” is anxious to present life vividly and concisely, even if it’s a lonely, boring one of stifling routine.

There is more distress in Muske’s poem, a greater novelty of juxtaposition, and hers finally has more intellectual interest.

Muske wins easily, 82-64.

Before we say goodbye to Schuyler, we should say a word about him, because his story is a typical one in modern American poetry: just as Pound was a secretary to an iconic Brit, Yeats,  Schuyler was a secretary to Auden. Later Schuyler became associated with O’Hara, Ashbery and the Modern Art culture in New York City (The New York School)—Schuyler’s roommate from 1961 to 1973 was the painter Fairfield Porter, trained at Harvard and the Art Student’s League, a post-WW II haven for Abstract and Pop artists. Schuyler rejected Auden’s formalism.

Welcome to the Sweet Sixteen, Carol Muske!


Has the story always been about the dog?

Karen Kipp’s “The Rat,” about a punk and his rat (or a rat and his punk) is a glorious poem: putting together animal and human is the trope of modern popular and sentimental literature—Moby Dick, The Raven, or Dorothy’s adventure which begins when Toto is threatened with extinction by Mrs. Gulch (the Wicked Witch of the West). When Mrs. Gulch arrives with her legal document, Dorothy threatens to bite Mrs. Gulch there in the family living room—and we laugh nervously at this intimation of animal over human law.

As  God fades, dog takes its place. Not just us.  Toto, too.  Man used to slay dragons; now the dragon is cute and cuddly in every Disney film since Bambi.  It’s Man versus Nature—and now we root for the latter.

Contemporary poetry, however, is where all popular tropes go to die, where sentimental wishes are tossed to the fishes, where distorted, freaky sensibility is the rule, where the game is never played—only analyzed.

Still, there are contemporary poems that could be popular, that could be classics—if only given the chance. The problem is that po-biz hasn’t a clue which of its children are glorious and which are not.  Po-biz is bereft of executive wisdom.  Po-biz, when not publishing poems,  is a maggot-bucket of egos, unable to sort gems from dross—given its philosophical penchant for intellectually hating the popular.

We don’t know if “The Rat” by Karen Kipp is a poem deserving the palm, but it has elements of radical popularity.

Karen Kipp defeated Robert Lowell in Round One—it was a very close contest, but had that icon been born Robert Jones, it is a certainty none had ever heard of him.  Karen Kipp is not a name to strike fear in the hearts of anyone—but her poem, “The Rat,” should.

Sharon Olds is something of a po-biz icon.  Her popular appeal, however, is not based on animals, but rather on the helpless and vulnerable animal aspect of Man.  Olds finds our animal-in-the-human and exploits it like an MGM producer.  The human body as animal is Olds‘ forte’.  But in the battle between Man and Nature, Olds doesn’t simply root for the latter, like in a Disney movie.  I doubt she’s conscious of doing this, but finding the human is what her poetry does so well.   The  poem “The Request” depicts the last moments of a human life communicating and connecting.  Her poem ends:

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.

The family dog isn’t anywhere in sight.

Theme is not everything, of course.  There’s the body of the poem, and not since Poe has any real attention been paid to the physical attributes of the poem with method rather than pedantry.

The Olds poem has a better dramatic arc.  It has a better body.

Olds wins 78-69.

The concludes Round Two play in the South.  One bracket left: the West, and then we’ll have our Sweet Sixteen!



“Two centuries ago, in the early years of the Romantic movement, there was a hope expressed in some quarters that religion, having died as a dogma, might be reborn as art. In a notebook of about 1804 William Blake has left a vivid—if unpolished—example of this idea. He writes as one for whom the poetic imagination is a numinous world-building power that can never be supplanted or dethroned, either by the mockery of rationalist critics or by scientific theories:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau!
Mock on, mock on— ‘Tis all in vain!
You throw the sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again

And every sand becomes a gem
Reflected in the beams divine;
Blown back they blind the mocking eye,
But still in Israel’s paths they shine.

The atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

Don Cupitt, from After God (1997)

Jack Hirschman earned a controversial Round One win over Robert Penn Warren when rumors circulated that refs and judges tampered with results in a way that favored the Southern Agrarian/New Critic/Twice Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner in  both Fiction and Poetry (the only one to do so). In the firestorm which followed, Warren dropped out, and Hirschman advanced to Round Two with “The Painting.”  Here are the opening lines:

So there it is:
a painting of the late black heroic
mayor of Chicago
in woman’s underwear
in the name of artistic iconclasm
and free expression

In his poem, Hirschman argues the painting should be taken down:

We are partisan, Mr. Make-It Curator,
and you, Mr. Make-It-New-Artist,
we’re at war
with art as privilege,
with the kitsching up of soul,
with the gooning of the truth
about those who help working people see
how beautiful the reality
of their imagination as a class
in motion actually is.

Do we acclaim the removal of the painting?
Emphatically, provacatively

Stephen Dobyns has clearly got the stuff to handle Hirschman’s in-your-face play.  Here’s a passage from “Allegorical Matters:”

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 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.

Before we relate how Hirschman, like a man possessed, put in 3 point shot after 3 point shot, and took a 51-32 half-time lead, we might ask: do these two poems reflect a vital speech-making, a 20th century leap into honesty and truth-seeking, or rather a road to hell, in which mere rant becomes the norm, due to Emerson’s emphasis on “argument” as the crucial movement of the poem? If Hirschman believes the highest morality is the dignity and justice for the working class, should the poet—always paying attention to words—ask all sorts of questions of HirschmanHow do you define the ‘working class?’  Isn’t free speech a friend of the working class? etc, thus exposing the shallow message and the bankrupt reasoning of the poem, in terms of the logic of its words and phrases (never doubting Hirschman’s sincerity) or, should Hirschman’s poem be allowed to stand as it is, an opinion welcomed for just that: its opinion?  But if Hirschman’s poem does not persuade us with its message, doesn’t it fail?  How can a poem like this be allowed ‘to stand as it is?’  Either we are won over by its argument, or not, and it stands or falls based on the logic, or success, of its argument.

On the other hand, why can’t Hirschman’s argument simply exist as drama—without its success as an argument having anything to do with its success as a poem?

And yet, Hirschman’s poem explicitly denies another work of art, “The Painting” of the title, this consideration: “The Painting” of Harold Washington, the mayor of Chicago, is a bad argument, Hirschman claims, an attack on something which is more important than itself, and thus it needs to be censored.

Thus we defend the poem on a principle which the poem itself denies.

But on the other hand, if we do not defend Hirschfield’s poem; if we reject the poem, we do so violating the very principle (freedom of speech) we are supposed to defend.

If the argument were in an essay, we’d be asked to accept the argument, or not.  But because the argument is in a poem, we cannot accept or reject its argument as an argument alone: but does the poem itself argue that there is more to it than its argument?  No, the poem seems to only be about its argument.  But the argument of the poem rejects free speech in the name of art, so the argument of the poem as a poem is an argument of the poem against itself as a poem; it argues for itself as an argument, not as a poem. But if we reject its argument, does that mean we have to accept it as a poem?

Or can we accept it as a poem, but still reject it aesthetically?  Accept its right to exist, but still reject it in terms of taste?

But what does it mean to ‘accept-but-reject’ something?  Can we remove a painting if our taste rejects it?  Or can we only remove a painting if we reject its argument?  But why?  Why can we remove a painting if its message offends—if it offends argumentatively, but not if it offends aesthetically?

What if “The Painting” (of Harold Washington, mayor) which the poem rejects pleases us, only because we get a secret thrill from “The Painting’s” pure iconclasm, a rush purely because  some line is being crossed, so that it is neither aesthetics, nor argument, which is at the heart of the matter, but merely an emotional thrill? In this case, we care not whether the poem aesthetically pleases us, or whether we agree with the argument of the poem (we may get a further thrill from disagreeing with the poem)—we enjoy it beyond all that, for reasons the poet (who believes in his message) never consciously suspected.

Can we conclude, then, that argument as the external key to any poem is extremely problematic?  The very nature of an argument is that it never stands still; the artist is never really in control of an argument; it always slips out of his hands and runs away to the opposite wall; artistic control requires materials that do not slip away and run, and return and come back, and then run to the other side again.

In his poem, Stephen Dobyns seems to intuit this very theme of an argument slipping away:

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.

Will the counter-revolutionary Dobyns get the best of the revolutionary Hirschman?

If you had this feeling, your feeling was correct, dear reader.

Hirschman barely misses two three point shots at the start of the second half and doubt creeps in.

Dobyns gains confidence as Hirschman’s first-half fury turns to second half fear.  Momentum swings. Hirschman’s big lead slowly dwindles, and finally, Dobyns prevails, 99-94.

You knew this would happen, didn’t you?

You were certain that mystery– and doubt—would triumph at last.


There comes Poe, with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge,
Three fifths of him genius and two fifths sheer fudge,
Who talks like a book of iambs and pentameters,
In a way to make people of common sense damn metres,
Who has written some things quite the best of their kind,
But the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by the mind.

James Russell Lowell is known for only this—perhaps because he used up all his genius on this one piece of writing.

This is perhaps the best damn with faint praise remark of all time, and it’s quoted again and again against Poe.

It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Scarriet thought it might be fun to turn this device on others.

W.H. Auden: 3/5 Smelly, 2/5 Wrinkled.

Charles Bernstein: 3/5 Karl, 2/5 Groucho

Harold Bloom: 3/5 Fudge, 2/5 Fudge

Helen Vendler: 3/5 Wallace, 2/5 Stevens

John Ashbery: 3/5 Non Sequitur, 2/5 What?

Marjorie Perloff: 3/5 Ezra Pound, 2/5 Nice Jewish Girl

Wallace Stevens: 3/5 Wittgenstein, 2/5 Dr. Suess

T.S. Eliot: 3/5 Henry James, 2/5 Rudyard Kipling

Ezra Pound: 3/5 On the make, 2/5 Make it new

Eileen Myles: 3/5 Boston Working-class Catholic  2/5 Lesbian

Allen Ginsberg: 3/5 Hairy, 2/5 Bald

William Kulik: 3/5 Max Jacob, 2/5 Buster Keaton

Sharon Olds: 3/5 Shere Hite, 2/5 Erica Jong

Janet Bowdan:  3/5 Anna Akhmatova, 2/5 Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick: 3/5 Hebrew mystic, 2/5 New Yawka

Nooch: 3/5 Dorothy Parker, 2/5 Mad Magazine

Christopher Woodman: 3/5 Michel Foucault, 2/5 Mr. Chips

Billy Collins: 3/5 Robert Frost, 2/5 Andy Rooney

Charles Olson: 3/5 Pound, 2/5 Thornton Wilder

Camille Paglia: 3/5 New Critic, 2/5 Pole Dancer

Margaret Atwood: 3/5 Robertson Davies, 2/5 Vanessa Redgrave

Walt Whitman: 3/5 Waldo Emerson, 2/5 Florence Nightingale

Ralph Waldo Emerson: 3/5 Seneca, 2/5 Nietzsche

Dante: 3/5 Lover, 2/5 Hanging Judge

Hart Crane: 3/5 Bombast, 2/5 Fish

John Berryman: 3/5 Whiskey, 2/5 Bored

Robert Lowell: 3/5 Amy Lowell, 2/5 Allen Tate

Anne Sexton: 3/5 Elinor Wylie, 2/5 Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath: 3/5 Anne Sexton, 2/5 Sophie Tucker

Rufus Griswold: 3/5 Anthologist, 2/5 Mobster

Frank O’Hara: 3/5 Let’s Do Lunch, 2/5 Let’s Do Poem

William Carlos Williams: 3/5 Haiku, 2/5 New Jersey

Jorie Graham: 3/5 Winner, 2/5 Judge

Mark Strand: 3/5 Surreal, 2/5 Stud

Bin Ramke: 3/5 Stain, 2/5 Smudge

Jeff Levine: 3/5 Tupelo, 2/5 Dupe, yo

Hilton Kramer: 3/5 Conservative, 2/5 Modernist

F.O. Matthiessen: 3/5 Whitman, 2/5 Harvard

Paul Engle: 3/5 Creative Writing, 2/5 Industry

Ted Genoways: 3/5 Fiendish, 2/5 Grudge

Aldous Huxley: 3/5 Tea, 2/5 LSD

Melville: 3/5 Moby Dick, 2/5 Pym

Dostoevsky: 3/5 Notes from the Underground, 2/5 Tell-Tale Heart

Robert Pinsky: 3/5 Trumpet Blast, 2/5 Lisp

Matthew Dickman: 3/5 Michael Dickman, 2/5 Billy Collins

Michael Dickman: 3/5 Matthew Dickman, 2/5 Michael Dickman

Jack Spicer: 3/5 Alien Radio Broadcast, 2/5 Alcohol

Thomas Transtromer: 3/5 Swedish, 2/5 Sludge

Tony Hoagland: 3/5 Billy Collins, 2/5 Talk Radio

Philip Larkin: 3/5 Song, 2/5 Smut

Byron: 3/5 Beat, 2/5 Sinatra

Shelley: 3/5 Atheist, 2/5 God

Keats: 3/5 Garden, 2/5 Sweet shop

Edna Millay: 3/5 Shakespeare, 2/5 Socialist

Alan Cordle: 3/5 Librarian, 2/5 Dark Knight

Ron Silliman: 3/5 Video Support, 2/5 Text Support

Ford Madox Ford: 3/5 Yellow Book, 2/5 War Crook

William Logan: 3/5 Critic, 1/500 Poet

Samuel Johnson: 3/5 Tory, 2/5 Boring

John Crowe Ransom: 3/5 Suit, 2/5 Flute

Travis Nichols: 3/5 Who? 2/5 Oh.

James Tate: 3/5 Wink, 2/5 Nudge

Rupert Brooke: 3/5 English, 2/5 Trudge


Poet Bill Kulik, who went to the Final Four in last year’s Scarriet Best American Poetry March Madness Tourney, is the Rated R version of Billy Collins: more visceral, more garish, more Theatre Absurd, and he’s looking to roll to the Sweet Sixteen over Tess Gallagher, who stands in the way of Kulik’s “Fictions” with “The Hug.”

How similar these poems are!  Gallagher addresses a “you” in the scene of her poem, and Kulik, a “you” reading a novel “bought at the chain;” in Gallagher’s poem the “you” is a lover who fades into the background (almost the way “love” loses out to “hug”) as a stranger gets a deep, friendly hug. Kulik’s “you” (who is never quite identified—is it the narrator himself?) has a childhood flashback ushered in by a Killa Quadzilla v. Dr. Death Pro Wrestling grip of fury:

you and your brother huddled in a corner of the room crying Mommy daddy please stop we love you we’re sorry

Gallagher’s hug intimates a home lost forever:

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 in my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.

This is how these two gripping poems end.  They both rough up your heart.

The prominent use of “you” in lyric poetry seems a modern thing.

Who first brought “you” into lyric poetry in that modern way?

It’s not the ‘dear reader’ you, but perhaps it was a twist on that idea?  Does it have something to do with modern alienation, the divided self?  Was “Prufrock’s” “Let us go then, you and I” one of the first?  As the century went on, lyric poets really started to cash in on second person.

MARLA MUSE: Scarriet should do a top 100 greatest ‘YOU’ poems. Oh, and another great ‘hug’ themed poem is Olds’ “The Clasp,” also published in the The Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review.

Marla, remind me later of that Greatest “You” poem idea. Right now we’ve got a gripping close basketball game to watch. Look at them slamming each other under the boards.

MARLA MUSE: One of these days we need the publish a guide to watching poetry basketball for the lay person.

Strong rebounding: the poem keeps interest.

Good defense: the poem has a clear, focused theme.

Good passing: The poem has good structure, good flow, good rhythm; can indicate strong meter and rhyme elements.

Good shooting: the poem is more than just beautiful; it makes points.

The team who bombs from outside, and relies entirely on outside shooting, and has no muscle, is the didactic poem.

The clever ‘experimental’ poem is the team with the ‘ball hog’ who shoots every time they have the ball.

The pure poem passes and rebounds and defends in such a way that ‘shooting’ is almost not necessary; the perfection of form, large bodies crashing the boards, almost wills the ball into the basket through proximity alone.

The accessible poem will tend to be a shooting team; the arc of the outside shot dominates, but the accessible poem with beautiful form varies outside shots with quick passes underneath for scores.

The fashionable poem of obscurity is the whole team fouling out, plus weak free throw shooting.

A really bad poem is just someone playing H.O.R.S.E.

Can the teams run, or do they rely on a half-court game? That’s something else to consider.  Half-court teams are poems with lyric structure; running teams are your prose poems.

MARLA MUSE: Kulik and Gallagher both can rebound and shoot; there’s not a lot of defense, or passing, and both teams run.  High scoring contest, definitely.

In this contest, Kulik is shooting better, but Gallagher is hitting the boards better, getting chances at second shots.

Tess Gallagher is grabbing rebounds like a fiend!  We go into overtime… Gallagher wins on a tip-in, 92-90.




Amy Gerstler: her fate and Eileen Myles’ are forever intertwined.

We’ve never done this and don’t want to do this. Amy Gerstler and Eileen Myles have produced poems so precisely equal in worth that every simulating sports device has failed to bring us a winner. We have even gone so far as to contemplate Amy and Eileen donning basketball shorts and sneakers, with numbers on their backs, and flying (gratis, of course) our two poets to a secret basketball court location. We, for one second, entertained the idea of (shudder) asking Christopher Woodman. Such is the nature of the crisis; for what if there can be no winner? How could March Madness continue? How could the most popular poetry trope in the modern age continue to entertain and enlighten? We will not stoop to “a vote,” for how can democracy ever be allowed to enter the bedroom of the sacred muse? Perish the thought!

Myles has unrolled a meditation—“Eileen stay here/forever finding/the past/in the future”—on a vision of Our Lady on a stain on a bathtub cover, and Gerstler has heaved up a poem that breaks the heart as it ends, “Bye.” These poems have an accidental, insoucient quality which nevertheless enhances their visionary inevitability—Myles has written the best Beat poem in the world and still kept her integrity, while Gerstler has fashioned a bauble that electrifies.

We don’t want to do this, but we will.

O, Fortuna!

Are you not the ruler of all?

Is Chance not the secret to life?

We have flipped a coin.

Congratulations, Eileen Myles.

The heavens have given you a 101-98 victory!

Eileen Myles is going to The Sweet Sixteen.



1) You have been accused of not finding any value in poetry, how do you respond? Has your life been enriched in any way by your familiarity with poetry or is it just something to pass the time for you?

No value. No enrichment.

2) What, in your mind, is the point of Scarriet? Is it to improve poetry or to wallow in its failings? Is it something else entirely? Can you link to anything Tom has written that is indicative of the spirit of Scarriet as well as being substantial, based on concrete points and in some way worthwhile?

Wallow. No link is worthwhile.

3) How do you respond to charges that Tom is nothing but a common internet troll? Is such an assessment fair or unfair, and why?


4) How do you justify the hyper-reductive view of literature Tom presents here (that literature be purely sentimental and that his reviews need not be based on facts or even on having finished reading the work he is purporting to review)? Are you content merely to pass off Tom’s crude speculations as facts? Why or why not?

Crude speculations and no justification for them.

5) Tom has repeatedly attacked Bernstein’s “Official Verse Culture” and Silliman’s “School of Quietude” for being too vague but his own attacks on “incoherent” poetry are just as vague (perhaps more so). What do you think about this seeming hypocrisy?

I am quiet, incoherent—and hypocritical.

6) Where do you realistically see poetry going in the 21st century? Where would you ideally like to see poetry going in the 21st century? What has Scarriet done to help facilitate any forward movement?

Towards the 22nd century.  Nothing.

I am happy to report, however, that Scarriet visits this month, April 2011, will exceed the visits of our first 6 months, September 2009 thru February 2010.  We’re blind, but we’re headed for glory. –Thom. Brady


Bill Knott’s poem, “Monodrama,” is a bizarre sonnet whose meaning eludes even as the final couplet rings its close:


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

In round one, Knott upset Robert Bly and a cheering section at the John Crowe Ransom Arena which included a whole class of Harvard poets, Vietnam War Protestor poets and even drummer John Densmore of the Doors.

Fans will recall that Alan Dugan’s poem, “Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton,” upended Hayden Carruth’s “Quality of Wine,” a cheap-wine poem about old age.

MARLA MUSE: Dugan’s poem has cinematic allure, a doomed celebrity poet, and “beautiful” Galway Kinnell charming Sexton away from the narrator. It’s a bit pathetic, if you ask me.

And who wouldn’t want to ask the Muse?  Yes, Dugan…you loser!  Oh, gosh, did I say that?

MARLA MUSE: You did. No one deflates a poem like you do. You’re terrible.

I can’t stand that Knott poem, and I can’t figure out exactly what it’s saying, but there’s something about it that intrigues me…



A last-second shot wins it, 67-66.

That takes care of Round Two in the East and North, Conoley, Creeden, Guest, Scalapino, Knott, Larkin, Nemerov, and Stanton advancing.  Next, Round Two in the South and West…



William Butler Yeats: a distinguished member of the Ascendancy

Oscar Wilde, who did two years’ hard labor for sodomy—in a land where it was common—married a beautiful woman whom he loved, and had two beautiful children.  Before marrying Constance, Wilde courted Florence, (unsuccessfully) an even more beautiful woman—who had one child with her husband, Bram Stoker, an Irish theater manager for the prominent Shakespearean actor, Henry IrvingStoker was mild in his politics, a ‘home rule’ Irishman, a loyal servant to his ‘master,’ Irving, and, of course, most famously, the author of Dracula. Irving, the eccentric, melodramatic, charismatic actor, brought new respectability to the profession when he was knighted by the Queen of the Empire, Victoria, in 1895, the same day, as it happened, that Oscar Wilde with two successful plays running in London, was sentenced for the crime of buggery, to never see his children, forever persona non grata to the Empire, fleeing to France to become a beggar, following his prison term in sack-cloth breaking rocks, dying in 1900 at the age of 46.  Oscar Wilde’s mother was a poet and a proud, outspoken Irish Nationalist—Lady Jane Wilde was a leader of the Irish Literary Revival well before Yeats/Gregory created the British stereotypical myth of the Irish as an unchanging, eternal peasantry of savages and fairies, but Wildes‘ mother, Lady Jane was destroyed and thrown into poverty by scandal, like her son, and her work buried and forgotten.

The producer of Dracula as a play on Broadway was also the publisher of soon-to-be-Empire-citizen T.S. Eliot’s morbid The Waste Land in 1922, the year the German film Nosferatu was made, and subsequently sued successfully (and all copies ordered destroyed) by Florence, Bram Stoker’s widow.

A little over 100 years ago, when the anti-Semite writers T.S. Eliot and John Gould Fletcher were undergraduates at Harvard, (Fletcher’s future: Imagist in Pound’s circle, then Southern Agrarian in Ransom’s, Eliot’s: British citizenship, Modernist Godfather) the anti-semite Ezra Pound, a few years older than Eliot, and too naughty and ambitious for serious academic study, but somehow able to appear more well-read than anybody, went looking for Dracula’s castle.

Pound went to Europe to find eternal fame—the respectable route of moral literature (either Poe’s brand: scientific—a spoofer of magic, or Whitman’s: sentimental comradeship) didn’t interest Pound, who wanted real witchcraft, real magic. The fix Pound wanted was in Britian, the heart of the world’s greatest Empire, moral in deeply contradictory ways, murderer of Oscar Wilde, royally smug, ruler of Ireland and India, hater of cousin Hun, wary of America, proud, smart, prejudiced, and strong, this Island empire, and since they ruled ancient and exotic lands, why study these places? Pound went to the England that owned these places; those-in-the-know knew what England was: royal above, monstrous below.

Pound was bit by the occultist William Butler YeatsPound was Yeats’ secretary and married one of Yeats’ ex-lovers. Pound was introduced to John Quinn, the modern art collector and lawyer, who would become Pound and Eliot’s attorney, and help negotiate the special publishing deal for the The Waste Land. Quinn, an Irishman, was also, like Yeats, a double agent for the Empire, working against Irish independence; Yeats‘  target was Irish nationalist Maud Gonne. Quinn’s associate in British intelligence was Alesiter Crowley. Pound met all of Yeats’ associates in the Order of the Golden Dawn. Pound quickly became a chief vampire himself, bankrolled, as Eliot would be, by titled ladies, and so they all flocked to Pound: Joyce, (a Parnel-ite, like Yeats), the Futurists, the Cubists, the drug-addicted poets whom Pound (always the helpful Pound) helped with drugs, the underground avant-garde, the royal, the decadent, the idle, bored, landed rich, the sort that exported wheat during the Irish Famine.

Ford Madox Ford, seven years younger than Yeats and 12 years older than Pound, Imagist poet and War Propaganda Minister for the sacrificial slaughter of young men which would begin in 1914, met young Pound off the boat and showed him the way to Dracula’s castle.

Where, today, could a highly ambitious poet find Dracula’s castle? Where, today, can one sell one’s soul so convincingly? Where are figures like Yeats and Symons and Kipling, all born in 1865 and admired so much by T.SEliot, a proud member of the Kipling Society?  Pound was Yeats’ servant, and Eliot called Yeats “the greatest poet of the 20th century.” Yeats?  Who wrote lines such as:

We who are old, old and gay,
O so old!
Thousands of years, thousands of years,
If all were told:

After all the talk of “new” has died down, one should simply sit down and read the poetry of (in order of birth) Santayana, Yeats, Symons, Kipling, Dowson, Masters, Robinson, Binyon, Davies, Belloc, Douglas, Mew, Crane, Hodgson, Ford, De La Mare, Chesterton, Lowell, Frost, Masefield, Thomas, Sandburg, Monro, Stevens, Joyce, Wickham, Hulme, Lawrence, Pound, Sassoon, Doolittle, Jeffers, Wylie, E. Sitwell, Moore, Brooke, Seeger, Ransom, Eliot, Aiken, MacLeish, Millay, Owen, Huxley, Van Doren, Cummings, Graves, Blunden, Davison, Benet, Crane, Tate, S. Sitwell, Campbell, Lewis, Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Thomas, and Schwartz, and see how silly the whole Modernist claim to the “new” really is. Wallace Stevens sounds like the Sitwells. T.S. Eliot sounds like a petulant and subdued Byron. Pound sounds like an unmarried Victorian.

No, it wasn’t the “new” that Pound was looking for when he stopped off the boat in England.

He was looking for the very, very, very old. 

“Thousands of years, if all were told.”



Howard Nemerov is the only ‘N’ in the APR anthology, The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry From The American Poetry Review. In the volume Nemerov sits between Eileen Myles and Frank O’Hara.  Myles defeated O’Hara in Round One of the Scarriet 2011 APR March Madness.

Edward Field, who personally paid a visit to Scarriet recently after his Round One Victory over Donald Justice—a poet I met while at Iowa—had a brief affair with O’Hara in New York City as a young man.

Small world.

Like sports teams which perform poorly, or well, from one game to the next, every time a poem is read, it might knock you flat or leave you bored—you never can tell, even though it’s the same team, it’s the same poem—and it’s always you reading that poem.  Black-robed judgment: that team is this good, that poem is this good must wait on these vicissitudes.

So who knows who will win this particular contest between Edward Field and his Freud poem or Howard Nemerov and his WW II poem?  Who knows how many stars there are in the sky?  Why does anything matter?

MARLA MUSE: Tom, are you intoxicated?

I wish.  I’m sober as a judge. I’m a little hungry. I hear a dog barking somewhere. The cat is crunching its dry food. A distant motorcycle. I’m miserable.  I’m also a little thirsty.  But I’m doing what I love…

MARLA MUSE: O-kaaay…uh…let the game begin!

A very enthusiastic crowd on hand today, Marla!


(applause, cheering)

Whatever Became of Freud?

Has the age of psychology really passed?
Aren’t people interested anymore
in how their toilet training shaped them?


(applause, cheering)


Hate Hitler? No, I spared him hardly a thought,
But Corporal Irmin, first, and later on
The O.C. (Flying), Wing Commander Briggs

MARLA MUSE: Too much information. Both these poets give us too much information!

But I enjoy reading what they have to say…the popularity of Freud, WW II pilot stories…great stuff…

MARLA MUSE: Too much information.  Poetry can suffer from too much information. Gak!  Get them an editor…

Did I just hear the Muse say, “Gak?”


This is nice from Nemerov: “Hitler a moustache and a little curl/In the middle of his forehead,/whereas these/Bastards were bastards in your daily life”

MARLA MUSE: And this is nice from Nemerov: “To wait our turn in their lofty waiting-room,/And on every circuit, when we crossed the Thames,/Our gunners in the estuary below”

The Edward Field poem is a rambling mess.  How did Field beat Donald Justice?

MARLA MUSE: I don’t know, Tom.  But Field is getting spanked by Nemerov today.

Howard Nemerov Advances to the Sweet Sixteen with a 74-58 victory.


David Orr, a refreshingly smart, honest, and independent critic—and kind of sexy, too.

Scarriet’s Thomas Brady used to be Monday Love on, Alan Cordle’s poetry consumer protection site that warned poets against rigged poetry contests. came to my attention in a Boston Globe piece by Stephen Burt in 2005.  Despite Burt’s attempt to discredit Cordle’s site, I knew immediately that was something new and different, and as soon as I began reading the site, Cordle impressed with his honesty and tenacity.  Po-biz corruption obviously meant something to Cordle, and he was doing something about it by ‘naming names.’ 

A few thought it was wrong that Cordle exposed ‘foets’ anonymously—but I thought of’s anonymous nature as similar to an anonymous suggestion box in a workplace: the anonymity of was simply a method to uncover deeply entrenched wrongs: poetry contest cheating. 

Academic poetry contests were important.  Why?  Because a public for poetry no longer existed, academic ‘fame’ was the next best thing, and winning an academic poetry contest was not only the step to academic renown, but contest entry fees paid for the publication of the winning manuscript.  Judges were choosing their friends and their students.  It was easy to find this out, and it was easy to see this wasn’t fair. 

The self-righteous, indignant responses made it easy to see that a nerve had been struck.

The art of poetry was never supposed to be about private contests and academic awards.  It was supposed to be about fame and genius.  I had sent my poems to magazines and had some published, I had an advanced degree and had taught, but reading contemporary reviews, criticism and poetry and comparing it to the way poetry used to be, I knew, from a critical point of view, that something was rotten; Alan Cordle’s work—which quickly made him famous in po-biz—made sense to my whole way of thinking.  I knew there were ambitious poets who mailed out more poems to magazines than anybody else, who earned advanced degrees and got to know the right people and were shaping po-biz through personal influence. I knew that I was probably lazier than these people.  But poetry was poetry and truth was the truth.

And the truth, it seemed to me, was this:

1) Poetry was still an important academic credential.  

2) Reaching out to the public (‘selling books’ the old-fashioned way) was no longer possible. 

3) An art form once popular and prestigious was now only prestigious.

4) The game was now controlled by a relatively small number of networking academics.

When opponents of uncovered Alan Cordle’s identity, it turned out the ‘masked crusader’ was a librarian. His wife was the published, contest-winning poet (uneasy in fact, with his crusade, and not signed on to it) and this only confirmed that’s crusade was indeed a chivalrous one.

Complaints against inevitably took three forms:

1. The Witch Hunt Charge.’s investigations were mild—they used documents in the public record: who judged a contest, who went to what school,  the contents of a mass-mailed letter to potential contestants in a poetry contest.  Perhaps the guiltiest foet, Jorie Graham, didn’t lose her job at Harvard, or any prestige, really, and she probably gained a few book sales from all the excitement; Bin Ramke stepped down from a Contest Series (that was crooked) but life goes on the same for every foet. Public awareness was raised—and this was important, because of the very issue that made necessary in the first place—poetry has a small public, and so: Alan Cordle’s consciousness-raising and public shaming was huge.  The net amount of ‘pain’ was the moral humiliation of those who were guilty. If the anonymous was the Dark Knight, he was gentle, and performed a much-need service for poetry.

2. With all the wrongs in the world, why focus on pettiness in poetry?

But this question is unfair. If a wealthy, corporate criminal, for instance, gives to charity, are they the moral authority in every other sphere? If a person with little means wishes to do some small good, should this be resented?

3. Haven’t the great poets always networked and helped each other?

Not really. Byron and Shelley were companions, but neither judged the other a winner in a poetry contest, or wrote fawning notices in the press for each other—their pride would have found this abhorrent. Poe and Alexander Pope attacked puffery, mediocrity and self-serving cliques with glee.

Pound, Eliot and their friends at the Dial Magazine, however, did give each other (Cummings, Williams, Moore) annual Dial Prizes of $1,000 (equal to a year’s salary for Tom at Lloyd’s bank).

American poets Edgar Poe, Amy Lowell, and Edna Millay were attacked by the Pound clique, and naked ambition was the cause, even historical revenge, as Eliot’s New England roots trace directly back to the hatred between Poe and “English Traits” EmersonScarriet is the first to investigate this.

Scarriet has moved closer to solving Poe’s probable murder.

Scarriet is with a highly historical and critical perspective.

And Scarriet will not ban or censor or silence anyone for their views. closed down and was archived in 2007.  One day in September of 2009, without warning, Thomas Brady, Alan Cordle, Desmond Swords and Christopher Woodman were banned from making comments on Blog Harriet.  The always amusing, ‘don’t-get-mad-get-even,’ Alan Cordle set up Scarriet.

So we can’t help but celebrate the publication of Beautiful & Pointless by the NY Times Poetry Critic, David Orr.  From the Slate review (4/14):

So who are these poets, anyway? Orr says they suffer from the fact that “even if most people don’t know what poets do, the average person feels that whatever it is, it must be spectacular.” Orr cuts them down to size, an exercise that turns out to be bracing for all concerned. Poets spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in front of computers typing, or else reading, or else worrying over the fact that they can’t muster the concentration to read or write. When not writing, poets also preoccupy themselves with “sending dozens of envelopes filled with poems to literary magazines read by, at most, a few hundred people,” mostly fellow poets.

No wonder their world is what Orr calls a “chatty, schmoozy, often desperate reality.” There are, as you’d expect, the drunken book parties and the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conventions, which are more like returning to college—or is it high school?—than anyone would like to admit. And Orr reports at length on a full-blown scandal, “the Foetry eEpisode,” capitalizing on the gossip while also issuing a cautionary tale: Inbred cultures beware! Between 2004 and 2007, the Web site, run by a man named Alan Cordle, took aim at corruption in the supposedly anonymous book contests that land many poets their small and university-press-publishing contracts. Orr describes the site “stocked with outraged allegations of favor-trading, creepy insinuations about people’s personal lives, and buckets of name-calling (including my personal favorite, ‘foet,’ which referred to careerist poets).” People got hurt, at least one prize was shut down, and targeted poets like Jorie Graham basically stopped judging contests. It was ugly, often petty, and it made headlines outside of Poetryland. It was enough to make you forget that what poets really are is craftspeople: They make intricate little things out of very carefully chosen words, presumably at least in part for other readers to examine.

Alan Cordle has come a long way since he got mad and decided to do something about it. 

The art of poetry has been treated shabbily by “the  new.”  It sometimes seems the dollar has been replaced by the Pound. But we can always find some good in the new: we have the internet now, and it wasn’t all that long ago that all the news came from sources like Walter Cronkite, or Understanding Poetry by a couple of crotchety old Southern Agrarians turned New Critics.

We celebrate the new, too. 

Thanks, Al!


Scarriet 2011 March Madness. North Bracket, round Two. “Aubade” by Larkin v. “The Experts” by Jack Myers.

Reading Larkin’s “Aubade” is not like flying in an airplane. Larkin didn’t like to travel. Reading “Aubade” is to be crushed by the large rock of ‘we’re going to die’ and the art of it is: the emotion expressed in the poem fully belongs to ‘I’m going to die.’

Ironically, there would be something morbidly pedantic about Larkin’s poem if it were not about death; if it were about any other subject, its manner would offend with its certainty, but here it thrills. With the simplicity of a child reaching for a sweet, or a fly buzzing onto poo, Larkin chooses a topic that makes his rhetoric inescapable—and he triumphs. The inevitablilty of Larkin’s skillful rhymes pack the reader in ice and cart him on greased wheels away. The length of the poem is perfect, too; it presses down on us long enough so that we are dead. Had it been shorter, we would have been able to escape.

Because Larkin’s “Aubade” is not a typical loose APR poem—no grime, no spittle, no grandiosity, no hyperbole, no obscurity, no doubts, no pieces of the puzzle left lying about—its formalism gleams, a white towering wonder, a singing cloud above a chattering wood. In American company, even in the company of American poets, Larkin’s fierce,  fanatical atheism wounds with its Englishy swift directness, recalling Shakespeare and Shelley with its emotional blade, true because ruthless in the way it manages to perfect subjectivity with a philosophical picture framed by god-like sound. Larkin’s faithlessness is so pure that only divinity could have made it. Larkin pushes us to God just as the priest sometimes pushes us away.

Meanwhile Jack Myers operates on a more human level up in his plane with the indifferent, and later, on the ground with a waitress. It’s not sentimental; it’s good stuff Myers has going on here, but what happens is by making real life poetry and poetry real life, as Myers attempts to do, both disappear. There’s poetry in good hardboiled detective fiction, in landscapes, in ordinary things, but one can’t say, ‘look! here is the poetry.’ For poetry to be poetry it has to remain elusive. One cannot will poetry, although there’s will involved and it seems that of that kind of will there’s never enough.

If you chase two rabbits, you lose both. You cannot be poetic and real. Further, to make things even more difficult, there are objects which are poetic and objects which are not. Americans since 1945 don’t accept that there are some objects which are poetic and some objects which are not. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Americans did not feel the need to constantly and consciously prove this truism to be an error. If we still believed it, but just didn’t think about it so much, it wouldn’t be a problem. But we’ve got to the point where we”ve become defensive about it, like Myers in the airplane.

Larkin defeats Myers, 97-85.



 The 20th century, for all its ‘modernism,’ was 19th century-besotted, and we have yet to confront all our 19th century demons.

Both poems competing today confront absence.

How many types of absence are there?  There is metaphysical nothing, mathematical zero, subatomic nothing, and linguistic nothing.  Then there is just nothing.  So at least five.


“I do not know English. Therefore I have no way of communicating that I prefer this painting of nothing to that one of something.”

Palmer’s voice throughout his poem “I  Do Not” is detached, academic, but “does not know English.” The Language experiment in a nutshell.

Stanton’s poem is also about nothing: the ghosts at 19th century seances.


“Nor can I utter the words science, seance,  silence, language, and languish.”

Stanton has Robert Browning reject the seance trick, and then her poem does a remarkable thing:

“But it was done with thick plate glass and lights,
A conjurer’s trick, just like the accordian
Played by a ghost in front of Robert Browning
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.”

Stanton embraces the illusion of the 19th century and her poem dramatically realizes what Palmer only speaks of.

Stanton Moves Into the Sweet Sixteen With A 59-57 victory.


wilde et al.

Oscar: Did not escape the 1890s.  A pity he missed the 20th century.

The riduculous fraud known as Modernism ended poetry as a literary art by severing the flower from its roots.

The Modernists pretended that the Victorian era was a flowery era of artificial and bombastic literature which needed to be dumped. Oh, and the Romantics? Dump them, too. They could actually write good poetry!  How old-fashioned! Pope? A ridiculous, out-dated ape! And wasn’t he deformed, or something? And he had the audacity to call other poets dunces! How can poets be dunces?  The poets are a superior race, and Ezra Pound will prove it!  The rest of  humanity—picture Victorian ladies attending the theater, picture Germans playing classical music, picture arms manufacturers and dukes and earls— are responsible for ‘the Waste Land’ of civilization, those dolts who want good poetry to read—we’ll show them!  It’s 1910 and everything is different now!  Leave things to the Modern artists and we’ll make the Waste Land a Paradise again!  Just watch us…with our wretched poems…we’ll fix things!

The suicidal V. Woolf claimed life “changed around 1910” but Ms. Woolf fit the bill of the stereotypical Victorian more than a Victorian—Woolf was leisurely and aristocratic, her spirit was crushed by males, she abused her servants, and when German bombs fell on England—England? The Huns were supposed to kill Slavs! That was the plan!—she did herself in.

The England which produced Modernism was a morally bankrupt, Empire-building, war-mongering nation and Modernism reflected this, it was not some noble, aesthetic response to it. Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, Scofield Thayer, T.S. Eliot, Yeats, and Gertrude Stein were right-wing decadents, bankrolled by European aristocracy and corporate American money.

The 20th century advances of industry and science, which allowed more people than ever to live decent lives—this positive, that allowed masses of people to live longer and healthier and more enlightened lives, free of prejudice and superstition—was the one thing the Modernists deplored.  The rule of law inspired by the American Revolution in the 18th century—inspired by the Renaissance, in turn inspired by Plato’s forward-thinking Republic, the world gradually freeing itself from Aristotle’s grip, science emerging with vigor from its long Aristotelian sleep, those practical improvements in industry and science and government, marched on as the Modernists whined about their “waste lands.”

The Modernists’ Waste Land was them.

The Modernists made poetry a fetish, a calling-card of fraudulent genius.

Before Modernism, literary figures excelled in numerous fields.  Oscar Wilde, poet and wit, had two hit plays running in London when he was dragged off to prison. Poe, belittled by scores of Modernists, was a giant in many genres,  including cosmogony.   It used to be natural that poets also produced great prose.  Goethe is another example of the 19th poet who was much more than a poet.

The Romantics were more modern than the Modernists—who were really morbid Victorians inspired by haiku.  One dinner party by a few Romantic poets produced the two most popular literary tropes of the last 100 years: Frankenstein’s monster and the Vampire.  Where are the modern poets’ iconic works?

Two modern writers, both Americans who returned to Europe, tried to branch out, but Henry James, the novelist, failed miserably at the theater, and T.S. Eliot, beside his few poems, succeeded only very modestly at the theater and his essays, as they are studied more closely turn out to be very dubious indeed.  But give Eliot credit—he tried to branch out—and, there’s “Cats.”

Americans make the excuse that by “being American” they can follow the worst example of the Modernist model: Scribble only little poems.

The Republic turned to Waste Land.


Hey, Bill! Don’t look at me like that! Have you finished typing out those Sweet Sixteen invites yet?

“Responsibility” by Lisa Lewis reads like a depressing rant in plain language if one isn’t in the mood to sympathize with its message:

It was no use thinking what had happened or what
was going to happen.

But it did no good to speak,
Or to stop speaking.

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.

she wasn’t free
To go, but had to remain by the decomposing body.

–from “Responsibility,” first round March Madness winner

This poem by Lisa Lewis had a certain nobility next to the coyness of Ashbery’s APR entry (Lewis upset the famous poet in round one) but against Barbara Guest’s urbane, sophisticated, suggestive, quietly sad “Motion Pictures: 4,” it’s no contest.


Next Round Two play will be in the North, where the favorites to advance are Larkin, Dugan, Nemerov, and Maura Stanton.

Stay tuned.


Laux: cute, but did she come to lose?

East: Second Round Play: Conoley v. Laux

Conoley’s “Beckon,” which bested Creeley, has remarkable lines: “And truth is music’s mute half,/a sentence broken into,/the half tone of a husband/waiting alone in a car,” but the poem finally ducks and hides too much in the shadows of private meaning—an interesting face marred by unseeing eyes.

Laux’s “The Lovers” looks you in the eye and tells you exactly what’s happening, the yang to Conoley’s yin: The narrator is fucking and ” [what] she can’t bear [is] that she can’t see his face,” and then she slaps him on the chest to get his attention, but regrets it that he looks at her in her vulnerable state of screaming orgasm—Laux’s poem, unlike Conoley’s, is simple to paraphrase:—one is too easy, the other, impossible, to summarize. One is a Country-western Lyric with its heart on its sleeve, the other an obscure, suggestive, Indie Rock Lyric.

Conoley, 55-52.  Gillian Conoley is in the Sweet Sixteen.


Hate?  A strong word.   Do Ron Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Rae Armantrout and the rest of their friends hate Billy Collins?  In civilized, professional behavior, we keep hate hidden, but it only takes a word for it to slip out. We know it, we recognize it, we feel it; we know it’s there.  Maybe it’s not hate, exactly… we might refer to it as jealousy, disgust, dislike…but let’s just call it hate, and not beat around the bush. We prefer, most of the time, that it remain hidden, and most of us don’t like to feel hatred or be hateful or see hatred in another—that’s true…but we’d be naive if we pretended it didn’t exist in any of our hearts at all.

Scarriet had its best week ever last week (in terms of views).  Ron Silliman comparing Billy Collins to Edgar Guest (and us pointing it out) began the firestorm.

On Friday of last week, Billy Collins made the front page of  my local paper:

“A Poet Achieves Rock-Star Status. Meet the ‘phenomenon’ that is Billy Collins—a man who has made poetry popular (again). More than a million copies of his books are in print. ‘A good poem is like a pair of flannel pajamas. Comforting’–Billy Collins”  —Dorothy Robinson

Ron Silliman’s Quietist Nightmare!

As usual, Scarriet reflects wisely on the significance of it all, and pardon us as we do so, before giving you the Top Ten Hatreds In Poetry:

The matter here may be as simple as what should be kept and what junked.

Poetry isn’t a matter of life and death; no lives depend on poetic reputation, but if poetry, as a companion to thought and civilized pleasure, is important at all, then we should, at the very least, dump trash and keep the valuable (which if not done in the real world would quickly drown us in garbage and be the end of us all).  Such a task is no small matter—it is not for the Garrison Keillors and their Good Poems only; it is the most important task of all poets at all times; if we think on it, this is the only task of poetry: sorting good from bad, whether composing, publishing, or reviewing; in truth, all are critics all the time, and except for inspiration, divine and invisible—which belongs to a separate realm—this is the only business of poetry: sorting good from bad. All we mortals do is sort—honestly and truthfully—or not.

It used to be like this, at least more than it is today: universities taught and collected the best, and the collecting and the teaching were essentially the same enterprise: sorting out the heavens, sorting with our backpacks in the wilderness, sorting the lines and poets who went before.

This all changed right after WW II.  Colleges multiplied, and they changed. Professors in the Humanities no longer sorted.  Professors no longer pulled weeds.  Homer and Shakespeare and Keats were no longer used as sorting tools. Keats was no longer a living flower, but a dead one, and to be a flower was to be dead. Writers sprung up like weeds in the Creative Writing programs. The weeds were all different and marvelous in their variety—from the perspective of the weeds. But from a distance, from the public’s perspective, all the weeds looked the same—and they looked like weeds.  But the public is wrong, thought the weeds, and the Creative Writing programs assured the weeds that indeed the public was wrong and provided loans and money for their MFAs.

Modernism was the first era or school to trash preceding eras—no matter the quality of the individual poets from those preceding eras.  It would be far better if we talked of poets and not these damned eras and schools, but this was modern scholarship’s gift to the world. You can’t talk about Modernism without talking about the Modernists. With the Romantics, you can talk about individual poets, because the “Romantic” poets were not aware of themselves as Romantics—the Modernists called them this.

Byron loved Pope, Keats adored Shakespeare, Shelley loved Plato,  Poe scolded his contemporaries, but ours is the first era where all “Modernists” join in dismissing the best that went before.

True, the Romantics did play the ‘Melancholy Resignation’ card once too often; ‘We Shall Go No More A Roving’ threw its sonorous, sentimental shadow over poetry for a hundred years, and more—Archibald MacLeish, Amy Lowell, and thousands of others were doing ‘Romanticism’ well into the 20th century. (We forget that Byron was also the first Beat poet, as well, but we’ll leave that aside for now.) Japanese art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries cooled many a feverish brow with placid images; the proud West took haiku into its heart and Romantic sentimental virtuosity finally beat there no more. The icy, ‘classical’ poems of H.D. lasted hardly a day, but painting became abstract, with the Bauhaus movement, architecture turned efficient and brutal; fascism and political cruelty and genocide countered the old Sentimentality of the previous century with a ferocity few could have imagined; leaflets and bombs fell from the sky, two world wars produced sentimental poetry (WW I) and a GI Bill that produced high enrollments of sentimental poets (WW II). Western sentimentality returned in the writing programs in the universities, but not of the Byron type: it was not a sentimentality of universals, but one of dizzying variety—poetry felt it could serve the classroom and the quirks of every individual and it could, and it did—and by doing so brought on its eventual destruction—but only because it forgot to sort good from bad.  Good poetry was still being written but no one knew where to look for it. Colleges produced, but did not discriminate—or they discriminated artificially and incestuously, away from the public’s eye. The factory produced and produced and refused to throw away.

In youth soccer, some  parents yell instructions from the sidelines at their children, while other parents watching from the sidelines murmur, ‘poor kids, they already have a coach, they don’t need more coaches.’ The ‘One Coach’ theory finds it sufficient to let poets find their way without criticism or instruction from anyone else. ‘The Coach’ here represents all poetry learning that is handed down to all of us. ‘The Sillimans and the Armantrouts are playing the best they can, so leave them alone.’  This is the One Coach Theory.

The ‘Multi-Coach’ theory believes that everyone is a coach, or ought to be one; that Sillimans and Armantrouts need extra encouragement.   ‘As a parent, I care.’  The Coach can’t do everything.  Scarriet believes in the Multi-Coach Theory.

Poetry needs local passions. The invention of the atom bomb made the world ‘one village,’ but poetry doesn’t thrive in a village; poetry needs a city, a town, a wilderness to thrive—poets hate situations where everybody knows everybody and news is the same for all. One village of contemporaries loving their ways together is a nice idea, but unhealthy in practice, especially when it comes to poetry.

Silliman hates because he cares. Hate on, you poets, and don’t be ashamed of your hate.

Here then, without further ado, are the Top Ten Hatreds in Poetry:

10. Byron for Robert “Bob” Southey

9. Pound for the Russians. (He  called them “Roosh-uns” and bragged that he never read them.)

8. Samuel Johnson for the ‘Metaphysical Poets.’  Johnson coined the term, and thought they were stiffs.

7. Alexander Pope for his contemporary “dunces.”

6. Ron Silliman for the “phenomenon” that is Billy Collins.

5. Harold Bloom for Edgar Poe.  Bloom’s dismissal of Poe is either stupidity or hate; we have to assume it’s hate.

4. Rufus Griswold for Walt Whitman. In a review, Griswold called “Leaves” a ” mass of stupid filth.”

3. Charles Bernstein for T.S. Eliot—the only “name named” of the “Official Verse Culture.”

2. John Crowe Ransom for Byron.  In his essay, “Poets Without Laurels,” Ransom made it clear, once and for all, that Byron must be put on the shelf.

1. T.S. Eliot for Edgar Poe.  The bullet was “From Poe to Valery.”


If modern poetry sucks, if the fences have been moved in and the major leagues are now the minor leagues, well this is all we’ve got; Byron is dead, Edna Millay isn’t modern enough, so take it away, Leslie Scalapino.  Her oddball poetry has a certain cinematic, ‘real-time’ attraction and though Matthews’ poem “Good Company,” is swell (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.) the truly bizarre “that they were at the beach” by Leslie Scalapino with its passive narrator and her passive grammar, has to be seen as the favorite in Round Two play.



Corso: Damn impulsive goon-faced proletariat-Shelley greaseball dopey fuck.

The East:

Barbara Guest v. Lisa Lewis

Leslie Scalapino v. William Matthews

Dorianne Laux v. Gillian Conoley

Gregory Corso v. Carolyn Creedon

Let’s get right to the action, because Sweet Sixteen is waiting!

First result:

Carolyn Creedon’s haunting “litany” (“Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant”) has no trouble defeating Gregory Corso’s crazy “30th Year Dream” (“Damn impulsive goon-faced proletariat-Shelley greaseball dopey fuck!”)


Carolyn Creedon is the first to make it to Sweet Sixteen!



Let’s get this winners and losers business out of the way…

Here are the winners:


LISA LEWIS (d. John Ashbery) Responsibility
WILLIAM MATTHEWS (d. James Wright) Good Company
GILLIAN CONOLEY (d. Robert Creeley) Beckon
CAROLYN CREEDON (d. James Tate)  litany
GREGORY CORSO (d. Stanley Kunitz)  30th Year Dream
DORIANNE LAUX (d. A.R. Ammons)  The Lovers
LESLIE SCALAPINO (d. Jack Spicer)  that they were at the beach
BARBARA GUEST (d. Larry Levis) Motion Pictures: 4


KAREN KIPP (d. Robert Lowell)  The Rat
JACK HIRSCHMANN (d. Robert Penn Warren*) The Painting
EILEEN MYLES (d. Frank O’Hara)  Eileen’s Vision
WILLIAM KULIK (d. Czeslaw Milosz)  Fictions
SHARON OLDS (d. Robin Becker)  The Request
TESS GALLAGHER (d. Richard Hugo)  The Hug
STEPHEN DOBYNS (d. Jim Harrison)  Allegorical Matters
AMY GERSTLER (d. Norman Dubie)  Sinking Feeling


JACK MYERS (d. Seamus Heaney)  The Experts
PHILIP LARKIN (d. Joseph Duemer)  Aubade
BILL KNOTT (d. Robert Bly)  Monodrome
EDWARD FIELD (d. Donald Justice)  Whatever Became of Freud
MAURA STANTON (d. Anne Carson)  The Veiled Lady
ALAN DUGAN (d. Hayden Carruth)  Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton
HOWARD NEMEROV (d. David Ignatow)  IFF
MICHAEL PALMER (d. Yusef Komunyakaa)  I Do Not


ALLEN GINSBERG (d. Howard Moss) The Charnel Ground
DONALD HALL (d. Douglas Crase)  To A Waterfowl
RICHARD CECIL (d. Robert Hass)  Apology
JOY HARJO (d. Sylvia Plath)  A Post-Colonial Tale
JAMES SCHUYLER (d. Stephanie Brown)  Red Brick and Brown Stone
REED WHITTEMORE (d. Heather McHugh)  Smiling Through
STEPHEN DUNN (d. Sam Hamill)  What They Wanted
CAROL MUSKE (d. Charles Bukowski)  A Former Lover, A Lover of Form

* Robert Penn Warren resigned from the tourney

MARLA MUSE: Some of the losers I really don’t want to say goodbye to; the Milosz, the Justice, the Dubie, the McHugh…

The Bukowski…there’s something holy about his work, a wry honesty that few poets evince…I was thinking about the qualities that go into writing good poetry, both the New Critical qualities of the poem itself and those qualities the poet as a human being must have…

MARLA MUSE: The poet must say the right thing at the right time.

Or seem to.  Because in real situations in life, that’s a good quality to have: to be able to say the right thing at the right time, but for the poet, “time” can be years as they work on the poem, which distorts the meaning of that ability, the ability to say the right thing at the right time: if someone really has that ability in life, to really say the right thing at the right time, they wouldn’t need to fake it in a poem…

MARLA MUSE: Oh, you’re getting all Plato on me…life is real, poetry is fake

But isn’t it true, Marla, that ‘saying the right thing at the right time’ is not the same thing in life, as it is in poetry…poets can wait for the right time to pass, but in life, you can’t…the room is silent, and life calls for something to be said then, but to be a poet you can slink away and say something later…it doesn’t have to be at the right time

MARLA MUSE: The right time in the poem?

Yes, when you failed to say the right thing at the right time in life…

MARLA MUSE: But if we’re talking about qualities, the person who can say the right thing in a poem is probably the person who can say the right thing in life…

No, because if you can say the right thing at the right time in life, there’s no motivation to do so in a poem, for the poem is a shadow…life doesn’t let us wait years…

MARLA MUSE: But it does.  You are trying to connect life and poetry, you are trying to connect two things, and you can’t, and therefore you are saying nothing…

Am I?  So I shouldn’t have asked my original question: what qualities in life match those qualities in the poet…

MARLA MUSE: What about not fearing to go into an underground mine?  Does that help a poet?  To risk your life for somone else, does that have anything to do with being a poet?  I think we can only look at the poem.  I think the New Critics were right…

But Marla, you are beautiful!  How can you say something like that?

MARLA MUSE: Are we talking about poetry?

Thomas Brady is never talking about poetry, is he?

MARLA MUSE: Well, Tom, sometimes you do…

I’m thinking about that Bukowski poem, the car headlights, the remark by the mother, and the son’s joking, half-shameful, half-boastful response, and all the various parts in that Bukowski poem—isn’t the good poem when all those parts cohere?

MARLA MUSE: Bukowski lost! Why are you talking about him? Ah, you are recalling that debate you had…when you used the word “incoherent”…clever boy…you’re a New Critic, after all…

Yea, but the New Critics themselves were such narrow-minded, creepy—

MARLA MUSE: They hated the Romantics, that’s all, but that’s why you’re here, Tommy boy…

But right now this is not about me…congratulations, poets!



Notice how every bad poet thinks s/he’s good?

When most people notice this folly, when this phenomenon is viewed from the outside, one thinks: I’d never want to be a poet: since every bad poet thinks s/he’s good, so the art of poetry must be like a drug which deranges the senses, maddens the ego, and makes one act as if all that is bad is good.

Unfortunately, this is quite true.  Poets are vain and mad, and all bad ones are certain they are good.  No bar blocks them.  The steeds of their poetry ride higher than any obstacle; their wisdom conquers, their strategy is winning, their aim is true, their swagger impressive, their speech, whether humble or high, tricky or plain, winds its way into the best ears, their genius is… genius.  No measure says otherwise.  They are never out of tune. They are understood—by the select who ought to understand them.

The poet is the reeling drunkard of the intellect.

Very few (one in a million?) are fortunate not to fall under the intoxicting spell of poetry’s mania.  Very few can practice poetry without looking like a jackass.

I, for instance, found poetry by studying the masters first (I wrote haiku at age 12 in school but didn’t try poetry again until I was 18, when I’d fallen in love with Shakespeare).  Poetry was not a madness, or a drug, for me, but a saving grace, a clarity, an appreciation, a discernment, a joy.  Poetry can do this, can it not?  It can make one wise, or make one a complete jackass, depending on how one comes to it.

And every perfection can be parodied, so finally no poet can escape forever the  donkey ears.

But they try.

Oh, do they try.

Poets should take cheer from the fact that parodies flatter as much as they wound—as do earnest attacks from other mere jackasses.  But poets are especially paranoid about the jackass label today.  Back in the day of Pope and Poe,  the jackass label would come find you.  Even in  Jarrell’s day, it might come after you.  But today, there are simply too many poets per critic; once, no poet was safe from a Poe; today there’s safety in numbers—almost no one is called a jackass anymore, even playfully.  The honest review has been replaced by the massaging blurb. The atmosphere is one of frigid politeness. Poetry sites—such as Harriet and Silliman’s—have banned commentary—which is part of this trend. Let no unkind words come near the poets! The poets must be treated with respect: no honesty, please!  Poetry communities bend over backwards to be nice. The good is not permitted to chase out the bad, nor is real debate permitted. All the sheep must be left to graze on their little plot of grass in peace, so they might fatten, and be awarded a poetry prize by the other sheep.

Americans are uncivil drivers, even though a slight mistake may cost lives, but when it comes to poetry, when a little honesty would improve things, the academic poets who rule po-biz are bland and civil to a fault.

Poets ripping each other to shreds is good for poetry, because ripping and tearing creates new parts and shapes; it’s much better incentive to receive real criticism than to never get it; if there’s no ripping and tearing, you get that one quilt which everyone handles gingerly; the same platitudes are sewn together in a feel-good exercise, everyone thinking alike because the quilt represents everyone’s desire to get along;  being polite is the only way to keep the group-quilt-thing going.

For example, take a look at the big, fluffy quilt being put together over on Blog Harriet right now: lots of poets are contributing little essays and growing the quilt, a nice, big fluffy one.  Here are some of the pieces of the quilt:

“Marjorie Perloff has claimed that a poet’s career is rarely made on one book, rather it’s the long and slow accrual of publications, activities, community service, and so forth that firmly establish one’s reputation. A perfect example of this would be the career trajectory of Charles Bernstein. While it’s hard to name Bernstein’s “best” or “iconic” book, it’s the decades-long tireless life in poetry which has made him one of our most important and beloved poets. His activities in support of poetry — be it his pedagogy, his work on cross-cultural poetics, his many volumes of criticism & essays, the founding of both the Electronic Poetry Center and PennSound, his tireless advocacy for poets, in addition to his own poetic output — all add up to a remarkably solid career.”  —Kenneth Goldsmith (4/6)

Cookies, anyone?

“Several complain about the fact that so-and-so is so popular and has received so much recognition and prizes because his/her mate is editor of one of the most influential magazines in the business. Others carp about the unfair influence of a long-surviving New England periodical that looks about as readable as mold on bread. Another group riles against that fang-burger who declared, in a major newspaper, that reviewing poetry was a waste of good printer’s ink and paper.” Wanda Coleman (4/6)

Careful to offend no one, the author mentions no one by name.

“The business of trying to write timeless poems reminds me of Langston Hughes’ declaration in a 1926 essay that a black poet who wants to be just a poet, not a black poet really wants to be white. Hughes makes the issue about the poet, and maybe unfairly distracts us by that gambit. But the really question has to do with the poem. That is what he is asking. He is asking how does one write a poem that is simply a poem and not a black poem? He has his own answers. For him, anyone who attempts to write a poem that is not black and that is simply a poem is unaware of the racial superstructure of American society in which “American Standardization” is essentially white.”  Kwame Dawes (4/6)

Standardized, milk & water rhetoric washes over prickly politics. 

“In response to this one’s continuous muttering of exhausted inane yap punctuated by some light bitching about being too currently pastly and futurely dumb to write any public speak, my three-week old daughter June put down her copy of Melmoth the Wanderer for a minute, though keeping on her headphones which were feeding her a shuffle of songs including, I think, if I’ve been accurately identifying what’s creeping into the air, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, the Eric B. and Rakim number “I Ain’t No Joke,” the Townes Van Zandt version of “Poncho and Lefty”, “If You Don’t Cry” by Magnetic Fields…” Anselm Berrigan (4/6)

Does anyone else find this self-indulgent?

“Gillian asks about the line in the 22nd century, what will it look like and do. It’s a question that helps me get at another question that has been hounding me of late, one that concerns a certain strand of thinking that tends toward protecting poetry as if it’s an endangered species. This tendency seems to manifest itself in a concern for content, tone, or accessibility, but mostly it’s around the shape of the single poem; that short squirt, usually of formal verse, that many see as the primary, or originary shape of poetry, everything else being pale imitations or strange mutations or defacements of the latter.

Perhaps this is partly why my visceral response to your question, Gillian, is dismay. Not that I’m not curious as well, but because I wonder why we are so concerned with controlling poetry? Why, to such an extent that we want to worry about what the line will be like in the 22nd Century. Are we that afraid that if we let poetry run its course we won’t understand it in a hundred years? That poetry might evolve into something indiscernible to the Romantic soul?”  Sina Queyras (4/6)

“something indiscernible”—like this essay of Sina’s—such a brave  attempt to break Lord Byron’s heart…

So there you have it. These Harriet entries are boring and trite

Now a reader’s first impulse might be to think: this is bad.  “Boring and trite?”  These Harriet bloggers are accomplished writers and good people; why upset them, and make yourself look unfriendly?

But I am not these writers’ parents, siblings, or friends. I am a reviewer.

Imagine a society which, by law, has no reviewers and no critics.

You see?

Thomas Brady isn’t bad.

He’s good.

For a moment, you fell under the spell of the poet’s mania, there, didn’t you?

Do you see how easily it happens?  How easily poetry makes you think the bad is good, and the good, bad?



Before we congratulate the 32 winners of the first round of the 2011 Scarriet March Madness Tournament (APR poems) we thought we might throw more bait to the sharks for our further amusement.

The following essay was penned on a swiftly moving train this morning, somewhere between Chelsea and Boston.  The essay took only a few minutes to write, and I want to first thank those who contributed to my pleasant trip this morning: the train personnel, etc.  Also, all those Scarriet comments, which are so inspiring, and which inspired the following piece:

A hamburger with cake frosting would be difficult to eat—
Though reasons abound for making hamburger sweet.
But this is not how we like poems—or meat.

What brilliant gentlemen, even as brilliant as Charles Bernstein, unfortunately do not always understand is that just because you can insert amusing, unusual, or even insightful elements into poetry does not mean readers will be impressed—the nature of anything is defined by what it is, and not by elements randomly sprinkled throughout it.

As soon as the parts of anything cease to function in unison towards the reason for that object’s existence, that object ceases to exist.  One can think of numerous examples of this, but I’ll offer just one, since North Station is approaching:

If utter forgetfulness of who wins a point attends two players playing tennis, it is no longer a game of tennis, but two people practicing tennis. A glimpse of the activity would cause us to remark: two people are playing tennis, just as when we glance superficially at numerous “poems,” we call them poems; yet, on closer inspection, based on evidence accumulated over time, we note the distinction: these two are not playing a game of tennis; they are practicing tennis—just as Bernstein’s poetry is not poetry, just Bernstein practicing poetry—stringing together clever elements of poetry which do not, finally, become poetry, and which thus has no public, since the public always responds to real things, the public and reality chiefly being the same thing for us, whether we are genius or dunce.

Here’s a sample of Bernstein’s work.   I wouldn’t say this is more difficult than Billy Collins’ work, by any definition of that term.  It is merely less interesting—because it is silly and stupid.

If it becomes necessary for the public to be alerted to some insight, why would anyone hide it in a “difficult” poem that no one reads?  Bernstein needs to let his light shine, and cool his fury towards the public, a fury on display to much embarrassment to himself in the splenetic  “Against National Poetry Month As Such.” We wish he were kidding. But like a bad pun, Bernstein’s kidding is so difficult to enjoy.


Charles Bukowski is one of those poets like Edna Millay or Billy Collins which academia doesn’t know what to do with.  He’s popular.  His books sell.  Readers actually enjoy the poetry.  It speaks to them. The New Critic clique (which included Eliot, Pound and friends, as well as the New Critics proper) was in the right place at the right time and benefited most from the rise of the Creative Writing University which blossomed in the 30s and 40s and is now fully established as a U.S. model.

The difficult poets (really, the impossible poets) reign in the university—the place where difficulty is overcome in order to produce doctors, lawyers, engineers, and poetasters.  Doctors and lawyers fix people, engineers fix things and poetasters are in a fix, because what are they supposed to do?  There’s always more people and things to fix—these kinds of jobs are endless—but there’s no more room in the Canon, even for the most difficult of poets. Demand exists in the real world, but the Canon is not a demand, but a resting place for glory, and resting places for glory can’t fit the hundreds of thousands of poetasters which the University Creative Writing Model has produced. So the poetasters mostly teach English to students who cannot read and write, much less understand a difficult poem: which is the very coin of the university—justifying its existence by saying: Ezra Pound good, Charles Bukowski, bad.

But let the professors in the Creative Writing Industry tell us why Pound is good and Bukowski is bad. Let them point precisely to those virtues of Pound (considered a master) which are far beyond those of Charles Bukowski (a mere people’s poet).  They cannot.   The division between academia and the street is an unspoken one for the professors.  It just is.

The division has been real but unspoken for many years—until Scarriet ripped aside the veil.

The answer is simple, and we’ll speak it.  There’s only so much room in the Canon, and the university makes the Canon, and the current university model which came into existence about 75 years ago was ushered in by a handful of poets with their New Critical/Creative Writing blueprints and hand-picked successors.  Being “in” or “out” is based on personal connections alone (with a willingness to go along with the “difficulty” model.) T.S. Eliot and Pound are the godfathers, of course, with  W.C. Williams the “American” henchman.  Behind Eliot and Pound stand William James and Ford Madox Ford, and flowing out from Pound and Eliot are Allen Tate, Paul Engle, Yvor Winters, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Lowell, and then the Beat/Black Mountain “raw” counter to Lowell’s “cooked,” the Beat/Black Mountain strain merely an off-shoot of the original core of Pound and Williams.  Add the Writing students of Lowell and Winters and Ransom and Tate and you’ve got the next wave of Hall, Justice, Hass, and then, their successors, Jorie Graham, etc. but now the pickings are very thin, indeed; the Canon which now includes Eliot/Pound/Williams/Lowell/Bishop  is ‘full up’ and there’s very little room left.  That’s what happens with pyramid schemes: those who come later find they’ve been defrauded by the “greater.”  The Canon is not an unchanging receptacle, of course. Pound and Williams’ presence there has changed it forever, but then the Canon does have a tendency, over time, to reject poetasters who don’t deserve to be there.  But meanwhile, there’s this numbers problem, with so many difficult poets competing with each other.

But anyway, here’s a poem by a poet who still sells; Charles Bukowski:

not much singing

I have it, looking to my left, the cars of this
night coming down the freeway toward
me, they never stop, it’s a consistency
which is rather miraculous, and now a
night bird unseen in a tree outside
sings to me, he’s up late and I am too.
my mother, poor thing, used to say,
“Henry, you’re a night owl!”
little did she know, poor poor thing,
that I would close 3,000 bars…
now I drink alone on a second floor,
watching freeway car headlights,
listening to crazy night birds.
I get lucky after midnight, the gods
talk to me then.
they don’t say very much but they
do say enough to take some of the
edge off of the day.
the mail has been bad, dozens of
letters, most of them stating,
“I know you won’t answer this, but…”
they’re right: the answers for myself
must come first
I have suffered and still suffer  many
of the things they complain
there’s only one cure for life.
now the night bird sings no more.
but I still have my freeway
and these hands
receiving thoughts from my alcohol-
damaged brain.

the pleasure of unseen
climbs these walls,
this night of gentle quiet and
a not very good poem
about it.

–Charles Bukowski

MARLA MUSE: The honesty and self-deprecation is so refreshing.

Bukowski gives you B.  But with poetry, academia demands one travel from A to B, even if A is a silly idea and B gives us no profit once we reach it.  We can understand the sciences and history wanting to make a journey from A to B, for this is how we understand B.  The pedants confuse poetry with science. For a poem is more profitable when it offers B and skips the necessity of traveling to it from A. Escaping necessity is the very point of poetry.  Carol Muske will demonstrate:

A Former Love, a Lover of Form

When they kiss,
She feels a certain revulsion,
and as they continue to kiss

she enters her own memory
carrying a wicker basket
of laundry: as the wind lifts,

the clothes wrap themselves
around her: damp sleeves
around her neck, stockings

in her hair. Gone her schoolgirl’s
uniform, the pale braids and body
that weren’t anywhere anonymously.

Her glasses f all forward on her nose,
her mouth opens: all around
are objects that desire, suddenly, her.

Not just clothes, but open doorways,
love seats, Mother’s bright red
espadrilles kicked off in the damp grass.

If she puts on lipstick, she’ll lie
forever. But she’s too nearsighted,
you see, she doesn’t spot the wind

approaching in a peach leisure suit—
or the sheer black nightie swaying
from a branch. Is she seducer or seduced?

And which is worse,
a dull lover’s kiss or the embrace
of his terrible laundry?

She’d rather have the book
he wrote than him.

–Carol Muske

MARLA MUSE: Oh, that’s so delightful!

Carol Muske edges Charles Bukowski 59-58.  And with that, we come to the end of Round One.

32 poets remain from the original 64.


Norman Dubie: His poem “Sanctuary” has everything.  Can it lose?

That Sinking Feeling

One feels like an animal
pacing its filthy cave.
Bits of bone litter the floor.
The rusty smell of turning meat
festoons the stagnant air.
One begins to think all action
leads to grief. Joints stiffen.
Arthritis prefigures rigor mortis.
The light is silver this late
in the year, razorlike, expedient,
on the verge of turning,
like that meat mentioned earlier.
Animals are happy on days like today.
Blessings meltdown upon post-modern
heads, copious as flocks
of white-winged religious tracts
fluttering south for the winter,
illustrated with watercolors
of adults, children and dogs greeting
dead friends in the afterlife.
How could anybody be glum
in this superlative weather? Well,
I’ll tell you. The day is a young
bubble, with a tiny fire at its core.
My four brothers and I were accidentally
shrunk to the size of ants this afternoon
by our bumbling garage-inventor daddy.
Now we’re trapped inside the bubble
as it rises, weaving on dad’s breaths
and mischevious breezes, floating towards
that open window. Bye.

–Amy Gerstler


My sister got me the script. I couldn’t
Believe it. To work for Charles Barzon.
He was doing a film of Therese Raquin.
Zola’s novel. The wife is in love
With her sickly husband’s best friend;
They are on an outing—an accident is staged
On the river. They drown
The husband. The river takes him.
Then begin
The visits to the Paris morgue:
Each day from a balcony
They look down at a flat, turning wheel;
Eight naked corpses, unclaimed,
Revolving on a copper and oak bed.
A fine mist
Freshening the bodies. I was
To be one of them. I almost said no.

But Barzon’s a genius. He took us aside,
One at a time. He gave us
Secret lives, even though we were the dead.
I was Pauline,
A sculptor’s model of the period.
I would have to shave my groin,
Armpits, and legs.
Hairless, Pauline was a strange euphemism.
What is the scripture,
The putting on of nakedness?

“You’ll be like marble,” Barzon said.

I felt a little sick
With the slow revolutions and lights.
The cold mist raised my nipples.
My hair was ratted and too tight.
Between takes, we shared from boredom
Our secret lives:
To my right was a ploughman, kicked
In the chest by a horse. He staggered,
Barzon had told him, out of the field
Into the millrace.
To my left, a thief who had been knifed
In a Paris street. We were spread-eagled,
Cold and hungry. I looked over to the thief
Who was, to my surprise, uncircumcised…
I said, “Verily, this day, you will be
With me in Paradise.” For a moment the dead
In their places writhed—
Barzon was so upset saliva flew from his lips.

The dream occured that night. And every
Night since.
Three weeks now, the same dream:
One of the carpenters from the set
Is on a high beam way above us.
I don’t know how I see him past the lights.
But there he is, his pants unzipped.
I scream. Barzon looks up from a camera
And says, “Get that son-of-a-bitch.”
The workman slips
Just as a floodlight touches him.
Before he hits the floor, I’m awake.
The first thing I realize
Is that I’m not a corpse, not dead,
Then, in horror,
I see I am still naked and Therese Raquin’s
Drowned husband
Is sitting accusingly at the foot of my bed.

–Norman Dubie

MARLA MUSE: Both of these poems are like movies!  I wonder if this issue has ever been explored? The cinematic poem?

In the Dubie poem, Barzon symbolizes both the poet and Dubie’s own tyrannical ego; the poet is subsumed by his own poem and yet all the strategies are finally Dubie’s the poet, so what is being subsumed by what?  If the poem really was a dream of Dubie’s, then the poem is writing the poet in this case; it’s marvelously complex, and that guilty revelation at the end—what is that all about? 

MARLA MUSE: And that strange religious reference in the middle of the poem…the movie director, the dream, and then “Christ raising the dead”…most bizarre, most delightful…

Gerstler’s effort reminds me of the film, “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids,” unfortunately, typical Hollywood schlock, but we shouldn’t hold that against this poem.

MARLA MUSE: No, we shouldn’t, and I think I like Gerstler’s better than Dubie’s because the Gerstler poem has an easy levity and poignancy which almost makes the Dubie seem a ponderous charade by comparison.

This is one of those games where you hate to see either team lose.  But Gerstler wins in OT, 68-67!


Schwartz: easy target?

In the North Bracket, Scarriet March Madness continues as Michael Palmer and Yusef Komunyakaa clash.

I Do Not

I do not know English, and therefore I can have nothing to
say about this latest war, flowering through a night-
scope in the evening sky.

I do not know English, and therefore, when hungry, can do no
more than repeatedly point to my mouth.

Yet such a gesture may be taken to mean a number of

I do not know English, and therefore cannot seek the requisite
permissions, as outlined in the recent protocol.

Such as: May I utter a term of endearment; may I now proceed
to put my arm or arms around you and apply gentle
pressure; may I now kiss you directly on the lips; now
on the left tendon of the neck; now on the nipple of
each breast? And so on.

Would not in any case be able to decipher her response.

I do not know English. Therefore I have no way of
communicating that I prefer this painting of nothing to
that one of something.

No way to speak of my past or my hopes for the future, of my
glasses mysteriously shattered in Rotterdam, the statue
of Eros and Psyche in the Summer Garden, the sudden,
shrill cries in the streets of Sao Paulo, a watch
abruptly stopping in Paris.

No way to tell the joke about the rabbi and the parrot, the
bartender and the duck, the Pope and the porte-cochere.

You will understand why you have received no letters from me
and why yours have gone unread.

Those, that is, where you write so precisely of the
confluence of the visible universe with the invisible,
and the lens of dark matter.

No way to differentiate the hall of mirrors from the meadow
of mullein, the beetlebung from the pinkeltink, the
kettlehole from the ventifact.

Nor can I utter the words science, seance, silence, language
and languish.

Nor can I tell of the arboreal shadows elongated and shifting
along the wall as the sun’s angle approaches maximum
hibernal declination.

Cannot tell of the almond-eyed face that peered from the
well, the ship of stone whose sail was a tongue.

And I cannot report that this rose has twenty-four petals,
one slightly cankered.

Cannot tell how I dismantled it myself at this desk.

Cannot ask the name of this rose.

I cannot repeat the words of the Recording Angel or those of
the Angel of Erasure.

Can speak neither of things abounding nor of things

Still the games continue. A muscular man waves a stick at a
ball. A woman in white, arms outstretched, carves a true
circle in space. A village turns to dust in the chalk

Because I do not know English I have variously been called
Mr. Twisted, The One Undone, The Nonrespondent, The
Truly Lost Boy, and Laughed-At-By-Horses.

The war is declared ended, almost before it has begun.

They have named it The Ultimate Combat Between Nearness and

I do not know English.

–Michael Palmer

MARLA MUSE: Nice. This works on more than one level.

Indeed it does, Marla.  Now let’s take a look at the Komunyakaa entry:

Forgive and Live

Ralph Ellison didn’t
have his right hand
on her left breast

& they weren’t kissing
in the doorway of Blackmur’s
kitchen. But Delmore

Schwartz tried to slap
his wife, Elizabeth,
at the Christmas party

anyway. When he pulled
her into a side bedroom
the house swelled into a big

white amp for Caliban’s
blues. Maybe their fight
began one evening about sex

years earlier, not enough
money for food & gasoline.
But she’d only been leaning

against Ellison’s shoulder
to let him light her cigarette,
just a lull in the conversation

about Duke Ellington’s
“Creole Love Call”
& the New Critics.

That night, the falling
snow through the windows
was a white spotlight

on his dark face
a perfect backdrop
for Delmore’s rehearsal

for the women
who would pass
through his life

like stunned llamas,
for the drunken stars
exploding in his head,

like the taxicabs
taken from Cambridge
to Greenwich Village, the fear

of death, the Dexedrine
clouds & poison-pen letters
floating back to earth,

for the notes in margins
of Rilke’s Duino
Elegies & his love-hate

of T.S. Eliot,
for Chunley’s Bar,
those days of grey

boxcars flickering past
as he paced Washington
Square Park, impulsive

bouquets stolen from gardens
& given to lovers with dirt
clinging to the roots,

for his fascination
with Marilyn Monroe,
the Dreyfus case, Kafka

quoting Flaubert, the day
after JFK’s assassination
spent wandering the streets

in unbuckled galoshes,
for Cavanaugh’s Irish Bar
in Chelsea & the Egyptian

Gardens on West Twenty-ninth,
Dixie’s Plantation Lounge,
for his last night on earth,

stumbling from a forest
of crumpled girlie magazines,
as he takes the garbage

down to the lobby,
singing about lovers
in the Duchess’s red shoes.

–Yusef Komunyakaa

MARLA MUSE: I don’t know.  Delmore Schwartz seems too easy a target; I’m not sure I see the point.

Not many points for Komunyakaa in this one, Marla. 

Palmer wins, 62-48.


Barbara Guest and Larry Levis begin the final contests of Round One—which brings us from 64 down to 32 poets in the Scarriet March Madness Tourney, as the no. 8 and no.9 seeds pair off. 

This Guest-Levis match-up completes the first round of East play; Michael Palmer v. Yusef Komunyakaa is the final first round contest in the North, Dubie v. Gerstler in the South, and finally, Carol Muske takes on Bukowski in the West; and then we begin Round Two to get down to the Sweet Sixteen.

Here is Barbara Guest taking the floor:

Motion Pictures: 4

At first he had felt the scrape of a little murmur, his own throat struggling
with speech. Now seated in the car next to this Japanese film director began
the dry hacking sounds. He feared they would continue each day while
projections for The Cough were considered.
 “Allergy,” said Nagao with confidence, “allergy to our film.” On Nagao’s
clear unwrinkled skin were little ribbons of smile.
  At the intersection of the road in Nagasaki where in Japanese films a
short dark woman usually squats, Wilhelm pointed out a break between two
buildings where light creeps through like an oyster. He said he would like
to do a ‘take’ there. “Cliche’,” said Nagao.
   Wilhelm observed Nagao in his “work clothes” of dark blue denim, he
wondered whether their film should be called Dark Blue Denim or The
Oyster. He would like the noise of an oyster to get into the film. Nagao com-
pared the oyster noise to the noise the eye makes when it blinks. “Pachi
pachi in Japanese.”
   Wilhelm suggested the sound wood makes when it creaks for when the
film begins to roll towards the climax of two people lost in the garden. “Pachi
pachi better,” Nagao said, “more subtle.”
   Wilhelm believed the action of the film had slowed and he desired a
more violent crescendo as when the body fell down the cellar stairs he
wanted another body to fall on top of it. “Rain, maybe,” said Nagao.
  Wilhelm was feeling as usual when a film got off the ground that some-
one was chasing him. When he directed those shots up in the sky with two
planes flying parallel to each other he also was in the sky chase. In this film
there were sky petals of flowers growing on the wings of the plane.
  “Liquid soap on the stairs,” suggested Nagao. Liquid soap sold well in
Tokyo and it might be a title for one of the diary sequences. Wilhelm felt
the soap go down his throat. He was ready to suggest that tomorrow he
should return to his home for awhile and the scenarist could work on her
own. She might put a little of her own story into the script, about how she
was hired for the picture. There was probably something going on between
her and Nagao that could go into the picture.
   He thought of his home as a possible sequence and Home started to roll
past with short camera views. Home also needed editing, especially the
scene with his analyst when they discussed his cough that was like another
room in the movie. His cough alone and the door opening with a creak.
   Nagao said there didn’t have to be explanations it slowed the movie and
he agreed this one was too slow. It was old-fashioned to explain why gang-
sters upset the fish cart.
   “Like Utamaro,” said Wilhelm who believed in a capsule of real life. He
thought of a new title, Dreams of Real Life.
   “Allegory is dead as little fishes, better Cough, said Nagao, both eyes

–Barbara Guest

MARLA MUSE: What a strange poem. I think I like it.

You think you like it?

MARLA MUSE: Thinking is involved in liking.  Didn’t you know that?

I never thought about that.

MARLA MUSE: I thought you had.

Let’s look at Larry Levis:

1974: My Story In a Late Style of Fire

Whenever I listen to Billie Holiday, I am reminded
That I, too, was once banished from New York City.
Not because of drugs or because I was interesting enough
For any wan, overworked patrolman to worry about—
His expression usually a great, gauzy spiderweb of bewilderment
Over his face—I was banished from New York City by a woman.
Sometimes, after we had stopped laughing, I would look
At her & and see a cold note of sorrow or puzzlement go
Over her face as if someone else were there, behind it,
Not laughing at all. We were, I think, “in love.” No, I’m sure.
If my house burned down tomorrow morning, & if I & my wife
And son stood looking on at the flames, & if, then
Someone stepped out of the crowd of bystanders
And said to me: “Didn’t you once know. . . ?” No. But if
One of the flames, rising up in the scherzo of fire, turned
All the windows blank with light, & if that flame could speak,
And if it said to me: “You loved her, didn’t you?” I’d answer,
Hands in my pockets, “Yes.” And then I’d let fire & misfortune
Overwhelm my life. Sometimes, remembering those days,
I watch a warm, dry wind bothering a whole line of elms
And maples along a street in this neighborhood until
They’re all moving at once, until I feel just like them,
Trembling & in unison. None of this matters now,
But I never felt alone all that year, & if I had sorrows,
I also had laughter, the affliction of angels & children.
Which can set a whole house on fire if you’d let it. And even then
You might still laugh to see all of your belongings set you free
In one long choiring of flames that sang only to you—
Either because no one else could hear them, or because
No one else wanted to. And, mostly, because they know.
They know such music cannot last, & that it would
Tear them apart if they listened. In those days,
I was, in fact, already married, just as I am now,
Although to another woman. And that day I could have stayed
In New York. I had friends there. I could have strayed
Up Lexington Avenue, or down to Third, & caught a faint
Glistening of the sea between the buildings. But all I wanted
Was to hold her all morning, until her body was, again,
A bright field, or until we both reached some thicket
As if at the end of a lane, or at the end of all desire,
And where we could, therefore, be alone again, & make
Some dignity out of loneliness. As, mostly, people cannot do.
Billie Holiday, whose life was shorter & more humiliating
Than my own, would have understood all this, if only
Because even in her late addiction & her bloodstream’s
Hallelujahs, she, too, sang often of some affair, or someone
Gone, & therefore permanent. And sometimes she sang for
Nothing, even then, & it isn’t anyone’s business, if she did.
That morning, when she asked me to leave, wearing only
The apricot tinted, fraying chemise, I wanted to stay.
But I also wanted to go, to lose her suddenly, almost
For no reason, & certainly without any explanation.
I remember looking down at a pair of singular tracks
Made in a light snow the night before, at how they were
Gradually effacing themselves beneath the tires
Of the morning traffic, & thinking that my only other choice
Was fire, ashes, abandonment, solitude. All of which happened
Anyway, & soon after, & by divorce. I know this isn’t much.
But I wanted to explain this life to you, even if
I had to become, over the years, someone else to do it.
You have to think of me what you think of me. I had
To live my life, even its late, florid style. Before
You judge this, think of her. Then think of fire,
Its laughter, the music of splintering beams & glass,
The flames reaching through the second story of a house
Almost as if to—mistakenly—rescue someone who
Left you years ago. It is so American, fire. So like us.
Its desolation. And its eventual, brief triumph. 

–Larry Levis

MARLA MUSE: I do like the Levis poem.  I feel that compared to the Guest, however, Levis is just a little too pleased with himself…Billy Holliday would have understood me, etc

I grant your point, Marla.

MARLA MUSE: Does Barbara Guest win, then?

Barbara Guest edges Larry Levis, 66-63.


Where are the WW II poems?

WW II engulfed the world but how many great poems did it produce?

Maybe WW II killed poetry.

After the large-scale horror of WW II, poetry at last seemed trivial.

The Trojan War?

Epic Poems!

The War of the Roses?


The Holy wars?


Napoleonic Wars?


War of 1812?

Ballads galore.

Civil War?

Poems, ballads, verses by the score.


Poems! O, Poems! Poems whether wounded or sore.


Hey, what happened? University Poetry Workshops Subsidized by the GI Bill.

Ballads, verses, where art thou?

Howard Nemerov in the Scarriet March Madness APR 2011 Tournament brings the one  WW II poem to the competition:


[Identification Friend Or Foe]

Hate Hitler? No, I spared him hardly a thought.
But Corporal Irmin, first, and later on
The O.C. (Flying), Wing Commander Briggs,
And the station C.O. Group Captain Ormery—
Now there were men were objects fit to hate,
Hitler a moustache and a little curl
In the middle of his forehead, whereas those
Bastards were bastards in your daily life,
With power in their pleasure, smile or frown.

Not to forget my navigator Bert,
Who shyly explained to me that the Jews
Were ruining England and Hitler might be wrong
But he had the right idea…We were a crew,
And went on so, the one pair left alive
Of a dozen tha chose each other flipping coins
At the OTU, but spoke no civil word
Thereafter, beyond the words that had to do
With the drill for going out and getting back.

One night, with a dozen squadrons coming home
To Manston, the tower gave us orbit and height
To wait our turn in their lofty waiting-room,
And on every circuit, when we crossed the Thames,
Our gunners in the estuary below
Loosed off a couple of dozen rounds on spec,
Defending the Commonwealth as detailed to do,
Their lazy lights so slow, then whipping past.
All the above were friends. And then the foe.

–Howard Nemerov

David Ignatow’s poem is about a different kind of war:

Each Day

Cynthia Matz, with my finger in your cunt
and you sliding back and forth on it,
protesting at the late hour and tiredness
and me with kidneys straining to capacity
with piss I had no chance to release
all night, we got up from the park bench
and walked you home. I left you
at the door, you said something
dispiriting about taking a chance
and settling on me. I had left Janette
to chase after you running out
of the ice cream parlor where the three
of us had sat—I had felt so sorry
and so guilty to have had you find me
with her in the street. You and I
had gone to shows together,
you needed me to talk to and I was glad.
The talk always was about him
Whom you still loved and he had jilted
you for someone else. I’m sorry, Cynthia,
that it had to end this way between us too.
I did not return the next day,
after leaving you at the door.
I did not return the following day either.
I went with Janette in whom I felt nothing
standing in the way, while with you
it would have been each day
to listen to your sadness
at having been betrayed by him.
I was not to be trusted either.
I too wanted love pure and simple.

–David Ignatow

MARLA MUSE: The Ignatow poem began with such promise (boy did it ever!) but ended with a whimper.

The Nemerov poem is packed with life few have lived. Not that this ever makes a poem good by itself—but it doesn’t hurt.

MARLA MUSE: So the WW II poem wins?

Easily.  Nemerov over Ignatow, 91-80.

%d bloggers like this: