Slam poet Patricia Smith was not included in Dove’s anthology

Mark Doty is the no. 3 Seed in the Midwest/South and has to be favored to win this contest.  He is in Dove’s anthology and Patricia Smith is not.

Here is Doty’s poem (from the Dove anthology):


Maggie’s taking care of a man
who’s dying; he’s attended to everything,
said goodbye to his parents,

paid off his credit card.
She says Why don’t you just
run it up to the limit?

but he wants everything
squared away, no balance owed,
though he misses the pets

he’s already found a home for
— he can’t be around dogs or cats,
too much risk. He says,

I can’t have anything.
She says, A bowl of goldfish?
He says he doesn’t want to start

with anything and then describes
the kind he’d maybe like,
how their tails would fan

to a gold flaring. They talk
about hot jewel tones,
gold lacquer, say maybe

they’ll go pick some out
though he can’t go much of anywhere and then
abruptly he says I can’t love

anything I can’t finish.
He says it like he’s had enough
of the whole scintillant world,

though what he means is
he’ll never be satisfied and therefore
has established this discipline,

a kind of severe rehearsal.
That’s where they leave it,
him looking out the window,

her knitting as she does because
she needs to do something.
Later he leaves a message:

Yes to the bowl of goldfish.
Meaning: let me go, if I have to,
in brilliance. In a story I read,

a Zen master who’d perfected
his detachment from the things of the world
remembered, at the moment of dying,

a deer he used to feed in the park,
and wondered who might care for it,
and at that instant was reborn

in the stunned flesh of a fawn.
So, Maggie’s friend?
Is he going out

Into the last loved object
Of his attention?
Fanning the veined translucence

Of an opulent tail,
Undulant in some uncapturable curve
Is he bronze chrysanthemums,

Copper leaf, hurried darting,
Doubloons, icon-colored fins
Troubling the water?

What do you think, Marla?

Marla Muse:  It reminds me of his sister’s work: finding the beauty in real people’s suffering.

Sharon Olds could have written this poem, I suppose.

Marla Muse:  Where is Smith’s poem?

Glad you asked.  Let the battle be joined:

 Hip-Hop Ghazal
Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.
As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.
Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.
Engines grinding, rotating, smokin’, gotta pull back some.
Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.
Gotta love us girls, just struttin’ down Manhattan streets
killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.
Crying ’bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.
 Why is “Maggie” in Doty’s poem?  Is the dying man going to name the goldfish “Maggie?”  Maggie’s role in the poem feels very odd and removed.  She almost eclipses the dying man.  It’s strange.
Marla Muse:  The dying man changes his mind about the goldfish and we learn this on her answering machine.  Maggie is the sounding board for the dying man…
But the reader and the poet—where are they?  The poet apotheosizes the beauty of the goldfish for the reader.  The poet is Maggie, the reader is the dying man.  Is that why reading this poem is so depressing?
Marla Muse:  With the Smith poem we get pure sensuality, and a celebration of the human, because what is the most sensual experience in the universe, but being human?
True.  Doty’s goldfish is finally cold and cerebral—it’s not redeeming or life-giving, though “troubling the water” is beautiful and almost rescues the poem.  But the brooding fact of the poem is the goldfish owner’s impending death, and this too-obvious fact troubles the poem into pain.  The Zen anecdote, for instance, doesn’t feel fully incorporated—it feels too sudden; and too little, too late. Doty isn’t able to rescue what he is trying to rescue.
Marla Muse:  I agree.  Smith’s “Ghazal” is joyful, playful, and unified.  By comparison, in terms of technique, Doty’s poem is a trail of dead ends.
If we think of Schiller’s On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, it is, as we might not expect, the Doty poem which is naive, and the Smith poem which is sentimental—for the former is actually more childish (and child-like) than the latter.
Patricia Smith 80, Doty 69


  1. noochinator said,

    March 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    Doty’s poem doth celebrate life,
    Through death and its attendant duties—
    Smith’s poem, though, doth celebrate life
    By commanding, “Yo now, shake your bootys!”

    Doty’s poem makes me wish
    That someone would give him a noogie—
    Smith’s poem makes me want to dance
    “The Bertha Butt Boogie.”

  2. Yoko Urn said,

    March 27, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    The Smith poem is brilliant,
    and should have been included.
    All too often we think brilliance
    Is but the pedant’s tortured music.

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