In the East Bracket, four relatively unknown poets emerged victorious from competition with John Ashbery, James Wright, Robert Creeley, James Tate, Stanley Kunitz, A.R. Ammons, and Jack Spicer.

Poetry tournaments are richer and more exciting with upsets than other types of competitions, and this is because reputations of clique-poets tend to be artificially inflated.  But kiss-ass and in-crowd behavior don’t help when you’re under the net and playing for a win in front of crowds!

Poems matter when it comes to winning, not poets. 

We’ve all dreamed of writing that one great poem that will ensure our place in eternity.

Poets’ names travel faster than poems, and poems these days don’t travel very fast at all.  Editors, publishers and critics need to identify the best poems; but what usually happens is poets—who are more ambitious than poems, as it turns out—fight to the top and occupy mouths and ears and anthologies.  A poet’s name is sung and the poems follow, even in the wake of the famous poet, obediently and hardly read.

Poets’ names should come attached to poems; instead we get poems meekly following poets’ names.

It give us great pleasure then, to present sixteen poems which have tangled and tussled and proven themselves.

We are proud of the poets, too, but you can be sure their place in the sun is deserved.

The 2010 March Madness Tournament used the BAP volumes (David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series) from 1988 (its founding) to 2009.  Billy Collins’ “Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey” won that tournament.

These 2011 March Madness poems are from one anthology, the best of APR, (the American Poetry Review) from its founding in 1972 to 2000, and produced by the editors of APR, Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Arthur Vogelsang.  So these poems are seen through that lens—the editors did not include Billy Collins—but it’s an important lens, and shows basically what American poetry was doing in those years.

Two big names have survived so far: Larkin (one of a few Brits in the collection) and GinsbergSharon Olds is well-known, and Stephen Dobyns has some renown.

The poems will be examined, because they have to win more to get to the top: Elite Eight, Final Four, and the Championship.

Thanks for watching!


  1. Aaron Asphar said,

    May 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    rock my world whiteboy

  2. Nooch said,

    May 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I realize a premium
    Is placed on your time,
    But to not list the names
    Of the poems is a crime.

  3. Bill said,

    May 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Would it make sense to pit poets against poets, instead of poems against poems? It is a little anticlimactic to see the same poems again, especially if they are not that great. The sportswriter is in the position of having to tell a new story about a poem he has already reported on. What does Marla say? Not that not I’m excited about watching the semi-quarterfinals!

  4. Aaron Asphar said,

    May 6, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Only posh whiteboys still like competition: everyone else produces black sick over it.

  5. "Sweet 16" support said,

    May 7, 2011 at 9:50 am

    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. “Cliché,” 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 compared 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 someone 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 gangsters 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 blinking.

    Barbara Guest

  6. Bill said,

    May 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Oops, meant, “not that I’m NOT excited.” Edit function?

    • Nooch said,

      May 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      Your criticism’s valid, Bill,
      A worthy point of view—
      Let’s hope that Marla soon
      Can do a Barb Guest interview.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      Yea, let me look into that…

      • thomasbrady said,

        May 7, 2011 at 9:44 pm

        on the other hand, every game is different, even if it’s the same poem…

  7. Aaron Asphar said,

    May 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    torture jesus of a skull ma swarms off frames thaw slung in a belly head vacuum anthrax corpse name stinking on the inside cleaning prison with a head stump floor frame dead star real in a pig fuck fuck real real in a horseshoe window jesus in a tug of real real in a fat fat free in a horseslave
    jesus pig in a paglia torture real real real real real as a window p q widow k real as a white meat window k k k real in a pitchfork window media horseframes pig shit bitch glass mouthwhore window broom fuck horseshoe
    fuck fuck carpet time window over you we can slaughterhouse jesus fuck fuck broken mars secret worm hole fuck fuck fuck a horseframe jupitor fuck on a fuck fuck jesus mars bar fuck fuck mars in fuck a horseframe jesus

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      Asphar is really psyched for the contest.

    • May 8, 2011 at 1:49 am

      Well, isn’t that a fantastic fucking poem? An amazing fucking feat, don’t you fucking think. Fuck, it doesn’t get any fucking better than this. Holy fuck! Thank you very fucking much, Aaron. Now give us a fucking break, will ya?

  8. Marla Muse support said,

    May 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Let’s go down to the floor where Barbara Guest’s team is practicing for their upcoming match against Gillian Conoley for admission into the Scarriet APR Mar— er, May Madness Elite Eight. Marla?

    Marla Muse (MM): Thanks Tom, I’m here with Barbara Guest, whose poem “Motion Pictures: 4” defeated Lisa Lewis’s poem “Responsibility” to gain entry into the Sweet 16. Barbara, how does it feel to be in the Sweet 16?

    Barbara Guest (BG): It feels great, Marla.

    MM: I love your poem, Barb, because it brings together the worlds of poetry and filmmaking, both of which I inspire—not to mention basketball! It’s interesting, because one of our other Sweet Sixteeners is Carol Muske-Dukes, who wrote a book about her experiences in Hollywood called Married to the Icepick Killer: A Poet in Hollywood.

    BG: I know, everyone should buy it!

    MM: Absolutely! Barb, your team has been unable to agree on a nickname for your squad. The Celtics have “The Old Big Three,” Miami has “The New Big Three” — but your team is having a hard time settling on a nickname.

    BG: Yes, Marla, they can’t agree on whether to call themselves ‘The Cough,’ ‘Dark Blue Denim,’ ‘The Oyster,’ ‘Home’ or ‘Dreams of Real Life.’

    MM: Huh. I suppose those are more evocative than, say, ‘The Big Two.’

    BG: The team is very creative.

    MM: Now, I say ‘The Big Two’ because your two superstars are Nagao and Wilhelm, and they concoct most of your offenses.

    BG: Correct.

    MM: Your other players are almost anonymous by comparison. For example, you have one player who goes by ‘short dark woman.’

    BG: She likes to keep a low profile.

    MM: She’s not humble under the boards though. Where’d you acquire her?

    BG: Believe it or not, we found her ‘At the intersection of the road in Nagasaki where in Japanese films a short dark woman usually squats…’

    MM: So I figured — that’s a fertile recruiting ground known for its player development. And you have another low profile player who just goes by ‘scenarist.’ Seems kind of sexist, doesn’t it? The two male stars get names and the two women are anonymous?

    BG: I didn’t make the world, Marla, I just write poems in it.

    MM: Now Barb, who is the leader on this squad? Is it Wilhelm or is it Nagao?

    BG: It’s a joint collaboration. They both contribute.

    MM: And vie for control?

    BG: Well—

    MM: It’s interesting that you have these two world-class players, each known for placing his personal stamp both on a film and on the court, and yet here they are collaborating. Does the clash of egos produce any problems?

    BG: There is some one-upmanship involved.

    MM: Barb, Nagao is of course the Japanese helmsman known both for classic offense and classic films. He’s quite a colorful figure, a legendary filmmaker who can also perform in the paint. He reminds me of Kurosawa, is he Nagao’s role model?

    BG: Well, Marla—

    MM: He’s known for improvising offenses, such as the ‘pachi-pachi,’ in which the swish of the ball passing through the net is compared to the ‘noise of an oyster.’

    BG: Yes, and ‘Nagao compared the oyster noise to the noise the eye makes when it blinks.’

    MM: Which is, of course, ‘Pachi pachi in Japanese.’

    BG: Yes.

    MM: Now here we get into the vying for control that makes this team so interesting. While Nagao is running the pachi-pachi offense, Wilhelm may be trying to run ‘the sound wood makes when it creaks for when the film begins to roll toward the climax of two people lost in the garden.’ Wow, I can barely say it, never mind play it.

    BG: That’s why he’s out there on the floor, Marla.

    MM: You said it, Barb. Now Wilhelm, is he German? Based on Wim Wenders maybe? Or Rainer Werner Fassbinder?

    BG: Well, Marla—

    MM: Or maybe Billy Wilder! Or Mike Nichols! Both of them were born in Germany, you know.

    BG: Well, Wilder was born in Austria-Hungary, but yeah, OK.

    MM: Of Wilhelm, I gotta say this: ‘When he directed those shots up in the sky with two planes flying parallel to each other he also was in the sky chase.’

    BG: Oh yes.

    MM: And during this play ‘there were sky petals of flowers growing on the wings of the plane.’ I gotta tell you, these guys achieve a dream-like effect out there on the floor. And there is obvious teamwork going on — for example, when Nagao suggested ‘Liquid soap on the stairs’, ‘Wilhelm felt the soap go down his throat.’ Now that’s what you call being on the same page of music!

    BG: Or a mind-meld.

    MM: And Wilhelm also makes a reference to Utamaro, who I’m gonna assume is the Japanese printmaker and painter Kitagawa Utamaro, who lived ca. 1753 to 1806. So Wilhelm is very tuned-in to Japanese culture.

    BG: Absolutely.

    MM: Barb, thanks so much for your time, your poem is a dream, I mean that in several senses of the word, best of luck in your upcoming match.

    BG: Thanks, Marla.

    MM: Now let’s go to the news booth for a special report on the latest shipjacking off the coast of Somalia….

  9. Bill said,

    May 7, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    NOW will you exercise your editorial powers?

  10. Bill said,

    May 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Great interview. “Exercising editorial powers” addressed to the Asphar posts.

    • Duncan said,

      May 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm

      Wow, editorial powers! The man has editorial powers. I can’t believe it. Real, genuine editorial powers. Wow!

  11. Aaron Asphar said,

    May 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm


  12. Marla Muse support said,

    May 9, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Now let’s go down to the floor where Marla Muse is speaking to Philip Larkin, who’s been shooting free throws in preparation for his upcoming match against Bill Knott, Marla?

    Marla Muse (MM): Thanks Tom, I’m here with Philip Larkin whose poem “Aubade” is slated to go up against Bill Knott’s poem “Monodrama” for entry into the Elite Eight. Thanks for talking with me, Philip, I know your time is limited.

    Philip Larkin (PL): Yes, I would like to get home and enjoy my evening.

    MM: You mean “get half drunk at night”?

    PL: If I can ever get out of here!

    MM: Hah! Philip, let’s talk a bit about your style of play in “Aubade”. It looks to me that one of the most effective elements of your offense is the intimidation factor. This poem just seems to spook the opposition!

    PL: Perhaps so.

    MM: No p’rhaps about it, I’ve seen basketball gods reduced to muttering introspection, as if they were contemplating “The good not done, the love not given, time/Torn off unused”. And it’s a double shocker to them, because when they look at you before the start of regulation play, they see a mild-mannered librarian in his Keds and tennis whites, and they think it’s gonna be a cakewalk! Yet once the clock starts running, you “become Death, the destroyer of worlds”!

    PL: Actually, I’v read that Oppenheimer apparently mistranslated or misquoted the original, which should read, “I am Time, destroyer of worlds.”

    MM: Nonetheless, I’ve seen some of the most battle-hardened champions go wide-eyed with horror as you go to the basket with “Unresting death, a whole day nearer now…”

    PL: (mumbling and glancing at watch) Getting to be a whole evening nearer too.

    MM: I’m sorry, what?

    PL: Nothing, Marla.

    MM: Philip, it’s as if you make for your opponents “all thought impossible but how/And where and when” they shall themselves—not only lose matches—but die. The great 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson has said you instill into opponents a spirit of “Arid interrogation”—any response to that?

    PL: It’s hard to put a ball in a basket when you’re preoccupied with dying.

    MM: Now Philip, I’ve noticed that some of the more outspokenly religious African-American players seem impervious to your style of intimidation. For example, Dwyane Wade, who built his mother her own church, has said, “Larkin can call religion ‘That vast moth-eaten musical brocade/Created to pretend we never die’, but that’s not how I was brought up.” Any response to that?

    PL: Dwyane’s team is doing well in the playoffs now, and his team may eliminate mine, which would be fine with me, because I’d get to spend more evenings at home.

    MM: The NBA commissioner has also had a problem with one of your quotes, it’s up on the screen for viewers to read: “This is what we fear—no sight, no sound,/No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,/Nothing to love or link with,/The anaesthetic from which none come round.” The commissioner has publicly stated, “Philip Larkin’s poetry does not speak for the NBA.” Any comment?

    PL: The commissioner can speak for the NBA and I’ll speak for myself. I think we all know whose words will be longer remembered.

    MM: Philip, you have a way of catching your opponents unawares, of being “on the edge of vision/A small unfocused blur”, then making moves that generate in them “a standing chill/That slows each impulse down to indecision.” And then “realisation of it rages out/In furnace-fear…”, and—

    PL: (sighs audibly and looks around for the nearest exit)

    MM: Alright Philip, one of your most spectacular plays has been, “Courage is no good:/It means not scaring others.” I’ve seen opposing players gape open mouthed at that move. Comment?

    PL: It’s effective, as courage is often not.

    MM: Philip, you move like a god of the sport through our “uncaring/Intricate rented world”, and one thing’s for sure: at the end of your upcoming match with Bill Knott, “One side will have to go.” Thanks for taking time out to speak with me.

    PL: You’re welcome.

    MM: And coming up: the photos everyone wants to see — could they be the latest surprise from Wikileaks? Bryan Dorgan will tell you all about it — right after this word from our sponsors….


  13. Langston Hughes support said,

    May 9, 2011 at 11:52 pm


    I don’t have to work.
    I don’t have to do nothing
    but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
    This little old furnished room’s
    so small I can’t whip a cat
    without getting fur in my mouth
    and my landlady’s so old
    her features is all run together
    and God knows she sure can overcharge—
    Which is why I reckon I does
    have to work after all.

    Langston Hughes

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