“GET OUT OF MY CASTLE” MAZER UPSETS ASHBERY!!!!!

“Divine Rights,” a little-known poem by Ben Mazer, has shocked the poetry world with 102-101, triple overtime victory over “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” by John Ashbery.  The literary lion, gracious in defeat, took questions after the contest.

“Convex Mirror, how did a poem like that lose?”

Ashbery: It didn’t win.

Did you expect Mazer to shoot like he did in the second half?

Ashbery:  We knew he could shoot.

Before the final shot, did you think about a double-team?

Ashbery:  No.

Can Mazer go all the way?

Ashbery: What do you think?

*****

Let’s look at some of the replays.  Here’s when Mazer really caught fire.  Look at the quickness!

Herb Hillman
Karen Penn
The Holy Experiment
The Sword in the Stone.
Arthur.
Murphy the Irish King?

This is the subject of my poetry.
The Prodigal
The Return
Eliot is sympathetic
What is he to me?
An English prince
and friend to the Welsh king?
Prince Charles
is not the true prince
Was there a son?
Was he the son of Baumgarten?
So then who is Sylvia?
Get out of my castle.
I must go to Wales.
The Faerie Queene is probably
a political commentary on
the lineage of the kings.

When I was five years old
my father
the ward of the king
took me to see
the sword of the lake
splitting the mountain
in an old storm.
la la

They told me
when I was a child
but I didn’t listen
That’s what my
poetry is about
warmest verse

Look at the insouciant, devil-may-care turns in the rhetoric!  Is there a more clever brag from a poet than this: “when I was a child…I didn’t listen”… “That’s what my poetry is about warmest verse”?   This surpasses analysis.  It’s pure charm  It’s happy.  It’s one of those things that comes out of a poet’s mouth and you don’t know how.   I didn’t listen.  warmest verse.

Next to this quicksilver, this feels like lead (the opening lines of the Ashbery):

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
In a movement supporting the face, which swims
Toward and away like the hand
Except that it is in repose. It is what is
Sequestered. Vasari says, “Francesco one day set himself
To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose
In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers . . .
He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made
By a turner, and having divided it in half and
Brought it to the size of the mirror, he set himself
With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,”
Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection once removed.

What tedium!  How can this (the Ashbery) keep up with that (the Mazer)?

But as you know, Ashbery has perhaps the strongest bench in the game, and he played a monster second half.  Mazer stayed in the game only from miraculous outside shooting.  Here’s a highlight of Ashbery early in the second half.  Look at the sustained meditative will at work:

Today has that special, lapidary
Todayness that the sunlight reproduces
Faithfully in casting twig-shadows on blithe
Sidewalks. No previous day would have been like this.
I used to think they were all alike,
That the present always looked the same to everybody
But this confusion drains away as one
Is always cresting into one’s present.
Yet the “poetic,” straw-colored space
Of the long corridor that leads back to the painting,
Its darkening opposite–is this
Some figment of “art,” not to be imagined
As real, let alone special? Hasn’t it too its lair
In the present we are always escaping from
And falling back into, as the waterwheel of days
Pursues its uneventful, even serene course?
I think it is trying to say it is today
And we must get out of it even as the public
Is pushing through the museum now so as to
Be out by closing time. You can’t live there.

But Mazer’s play made the listless confidence of Ashbery seem like existential pap.

As we see from the following footage, Ashbery’s full-court-press defense towards the end of the second half almost takes Mazer right out of the game.  This is vintage Ashbery: it’s impossible to get a handle on life; it’s impossible for any point of view to be valid; others can’t help me, so I’m going to politely ignore them; and look! after the reference to “sex,” we get Ashbery at his most Ashbery, a naturalistic gesture, replete with oblivion, vagueness…Is Ashbery the most puritanical poet ever?

But as the principle of each individual thing is
Hostile to, exists at the expense of all the others
As philosophers have often pointed out, at least
This thing, the mute, undivided present,
Has the justification of logic, which
In this instance isn’t a bad thing
Or wouldn’t be, if the way of telling
Didn’t somehow intrude, twisting the end result
Into a caricature of itself. This always
Happens, as in the game where
A whispered phrase passed around the room
Ends up as something completely different.
It is the principle that makes works of art so unlike
What the artist intended. Often he finds
He has omitted the thing he started out to say
In the first place. Seduced by flowers,
Explicit pleasures, he blames himself (though
Secretly satisfied with the result), imagining
He had a say in the matter and exercised
An option of which he was hardly conscious,
Unaware that necessity circumvents such resolutions.
So as to create something new
For itself, that there is no other way,
That the history of creation proceeds according to
Stringent laws, and that things
Do get done in this way, but never the things
We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately
To see come into being. Parmigianino
Must have realized this as he worked at his
Life-obstructing task. One is forced to read
The perfectly plausible accomplishment of a purpose
Into the smooth, perhaps even bland (but so
Enigmatic) finish. Is there anything
To be serious about beyond this otherness
That gets included in the most ordinary
Forms of daily activity, changing everything
Slightly and profoundly, and tearing the matter
Of creation, any creation, not just artistic creation
Out of our hands, to install it on some monstrous, near
Peak, too close to ignore, too far
For one to intervene? This otherness, this
“Not-being-us” is all there is to look at
In the mirror, though no one can say
How it came to be this way. A ship
Flying unknown colors has entered the harbor.
You are allowing extraneous matters
To break up your day, cloud the focus
Of the crystal ball. Its scene drifts away
Like vapor scattered on the wind. The fertile
Thought-associations that until now came
So easily, appear no more, or rarely. Their
Colorings are less intense, washed out
By autumn rains and winds, spoiled, muddied,
Given back to you because they are worthless.
Yet we are such creatures of habit that their
Implications are still around en permanence, confusing
Issues. To be serious only about sex
Is perhaps one way, but the sands are hissing
As they approach the beginning of the big slide
Into what happened. This past
Is now here: the painter’s
Reflected face, in which we linger, receiving
Dreams and inspirations on an unassigned
Frequency, but the hues have turned metallic,
The curves and edges are not so rich. Each person
Has one big theory to explain the universe
But it doesn’t tell the whole story
And in the end it is what is outside him
That matters, to him and especially to us
Who have been given no help whatever
In decoding our own man-size quotient and must rely
On second-hand knowledge. Yet I know
That no one else’s taste is going to be
Any help, and might as well be ignored.

Now, for the last time, let’s look again at Mazer’s winning shot:

Look where her room
retains the look
of the room of a stranger,
now in the east. Where we began.
I named you then
the Hyacinth girl.
Words that were meant for no other,
as has long been known in the land.

Separating at night.
Ten years in arms.
Talked of as if it happened yesterday.
Cried the ladies,
the vegetables that name themselves.

Mother then
I am your son
the King.

Marla Muse:  It’s bedlam down here at courtside!   Mazer fans don’t want to leave the building!  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Congratuations, Ben Mazer!

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