Marilyn Chin, a shy kid who went to the University of Iowa, has three poems in Rita Dove’s Penguin anthology of 20th century poetry. She has a chance to advance to the Elite Eight in Scarriet’s third annual March Madness Poetry Tournament, which started with 64 of the best living English-speaking poets in the world. Here’s that third Chin poem from the Dove anthology:
Don’t tap your chopsticks against your bowl.
Don’t throw your teacup against the wall in anger.
Don’t suck on your long black braid and weep.
Don’t tarry around the big red sign that says “danger!”
All the tempests will render still; seas will calm,
horses will retreat, voices to surrender.
That you have bloomed this way and not that,
that your skin is yellow, not white, not black,
that you were born not a boychild but a girl,
that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well.
Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or most clever;
merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest.
And you shall have to relinquish that title before long.
The wry humor here is sweet. Chin has what most poets lack—profound yet unostentatious wit.
McHugh has two poems in the Dove. Her “What He Thought” is one of the great little-known poems of the 20th century and it gave her a victory over Kay Ryan in Round Two. McHugh, too, is witty:
After Su Tung P’o
ON THE BIRTH OF A SON
When a child is born, the parents say
they hope it’s healthy and intelligent. But as for me—
well, vigor and intelligence have wrecked my life. I pray
this baby we are seeing walloped, wiped and winningly anointed,
turns out dumb as oakum—and more sinister. That way
he can crown a tranquil life by being
appointed a cabinet minister.
Heather McHugh belongs to that tribe of poets who want poetry to be socially interesting and make us laugh. Witty poems make us cry and laugh at the same time, as do Chin and McHugh with their poems here.
Chin manages to be more sweeping.
Chin 69 McHugh 65
So here is the Elite Eight—and the matchups for the Final Four!
North: Franz Wright v. Ben Mazer
South/Midwest: Derek Walcott v. W.S. Merwin
North: Louise Gluck v. Stephen Dunn
West: Sharon Olds v. Marilyn Chin
Big names have fallen: John Ashbery, Richard Wilbur, Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Kay Ryan, Mary Oliver, but you had to be there for those contests to see it happen.
Marla Muse: They happened.