THE ONE I LOVE IS THE ONE WHO DOES NOT MOVE

 

The one I love is the one who does not move.
This lovely statue does not need to walk.
Death came and now I know the meaning of love.
This face is lovely. What use for it to talk?
A long, long time love is in the tomb.
Love has been dead a long, long time.
Love needs nothing but a small room.
There is no sincerity. There is only rhyme.
I will be honest with you about what is here.
Once this is read, the silence begins.
Hell is not pleasant—it’s the place where no one sins.

 

 

HEY LAO TZU, WHAT THE FUCK IS PHILOSOPHY?

We want to talk about philosophy from a practical standpoint, as a useful way of living, which people personally adopt without being able to talk about it.

When it comes to wisdom, there are three approaches:

First, there is the academic approach, where you have to write a paper and support your argument and defend your thesis with approved and authorized arguments which have been approved and authorized by someone else. The teacher, or professor, exists merely to make sure that authorization gets its due; the process is finally one in which the argument defended is not the student’s argument, but someone else’s argument, an argument which has already been approved. The game is: approving what has already been approved; and the result is: very little thinking takes place at all.

The academic approach is nearly always unsatisfying; it exists for teachers, not students, and the rigor involved only serves to frustrate those looking for a philosophy which is lived, and not just talked about. Paper-writing in school almost always chases people away to search for other avenues of wisdom.

The philosophy involved here may not be called religion, but this is what practical philosophy, even philosophy which explicitly rejects authoritarian religion, is. Philosophy exists, and it exists for 99 people out of a 100, as religion, as a way to behave for maximum advantage. Academics, naturally feeling themselves scientifically superior to anything merely practical (or, God forbid, “religious!”) in a common sort of way, demand a certain authority and rigor which kills the whole spirit of philosophy (and all its religious guises), ruining the process from the very start.

The second approach is the highly practical, or hedonist approach, the “religion” mostly taken up by the young, unattached male, which is no-philosophy or no-religion, a highly efficient approach that allows them to temporarily “believe” in whatever religion or ancient Chinese philosophy may be deeply or superficially held by the current female they are trying to seduce. This second approach has no authority or rigor at all, but more than makes up for this lack by being infinitely more practical than the first (academic) approach. Having been to college, or currently in college, academic “wisdom” may be quoted here and there to impress, but this is all simply part of the hedonistic goal of the second approach, which merely uses whatever is available to get what it wants from the female, who most likely has rejected the first ( academic) approach, as well, as being much too impractical. (And even the female who received an ‘A’ in philosophy did so only to please the professor.)

And this leads us to the third approach, mostly chosen by the earnest young female, searching for a “good philosophy” which shows them, hopefully with just a few quotes from Lao Tzu, to behave for maximum advantage in a world full of persistent, no-philosophy, male seducers, odious authoritarian religions, and corporate, Nature-destroying, cynicism.

The first approach, academic philosophy, has no practical use for anyone (except for those earning a living in academia) and can be fairly said not to exist at all. The second approach, the no-philosophy approach, has, by its very description, no real philosophical or religious existence, either—though its impact on the real world is significant and profound, and helps create the necessity of the third approach.

The third approach, then, is where philosophy, by default, really exists and is really practiced. This philosophy exists under the radar; it is not taken seriously, perhaps, because it is believed and lived most strenuously by women in an almost secretive and informal manner, manifested most intensely to lovers and potential partners. The third approach has been around long enough—since about the time when Christianity began to lose its pervasive hold on American morals—so that its philosophy has informed the last few generations: children learn it from their mothers, and, increasingly, from their fathers, and we can see it in Disney movies most visibly, films which feature talking animals and children who love animals, films which heroically attack Nature-destroying corporate cynicism, love of animals being a chief attribute of this pervasive, third-approach philosophy.

Whether it is Ayn Rand or Lao Tzu, every young woman who is not a cheerleader, and thinks for herself just a little bit, arms herself with a practical, anti-authoritarian philosophy, to fend off mean parents, mainstream religion, and no-philosophy, ravenous guys, and also to give herself a certain intellectual dignity in the face of the ravenous guy who affects a certain intelligence about philosophical matters.

This is a good thing; a young woman (or a young man, too; there are exceptions) should have a practical philosophy to navigate the perils of a cynical world.

But the good thing is almost a bad thing if the third approach philosophy is merely pragmatic. Fake wisdom is often worse than no wisdom at all, for nothing deceives quite like fake wisdom.

Here is the problem with the pragmatic: we have already seen how pragmatic the second approach is; the most pragmatic philosophy is the no-philosophy of the second approach, which can be any philosophy it wants, depending on its victim. The pragmatic philosophy of the third approach will always lose out, in terms of pragmatism, to the second approach. This will inevitably cause a great deal of emotional and mental and spiritual distress in the follower of the third approach; their “wisdom” only works for them up to a certain point, and they will find themselves constantly betraying their principles to a point where they begin to doubt they have a philosophy or set of beliefs at all, even as they tenaciously cling to their philosophy in a vague, self-doubting sort of manner.

We will look specifically at the most common principles of the third approach, a philosophy, which we have already pointed out, exists as an antidote to the super-cynical second approach in order to protect the person and the dignity and the sanity of the young woman making her way in the world. It will quickly be seen, however, that no “practical wisdom” can defend itself against the super-cynical Second Approach of “no-wisdom,” for the “no-wisdom”of the seducing guy is the ultimate pragmatism. And the young woman who chooses the Third Approach is vaguely aware of this, but finally succumbs to cynicism herself.

The Socratic philosophy is the only true antidote to the second approach, for Socrates recommends argument, not a set of wise quotations, as defense: the only true philosophy reacts to world-seductions by making the seductions themselves the true content of its philosophy as it carefully analyzes these seductions and gives them their due, and ascertains what they ultimately entail, without embracing or rejecting them at first. In this sense, the Socratic philosophy is like the second approach, keeping itself free to adapt in real time to whatever comes its way, and not trapping itself in a set of “wise sayings,” which can always be turned inside out and upside down by anyone who is moderately clever.

Here, for instance, is the “wisdom” of Lao Tzu, which millions learn in the form of “wise sayings” and which millions of women religiously use to keep themselves safe from the ravenous horrors of the cynical and selfish world:

Silence is a source of Great Strength.

Stop thinking and end your problems.

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.

Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others.

Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need approval.

Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.

There is a common thread to all these quotes, and their “wisdom” is such that one can see why those who desperately need to resist the seductive no-philosophy of the Second Approach would find this attractive. As we can see, it is precisely this kind of philosophy which we mentioned above: a way to behave for maximum advantage, a philosophy which is closer to a practical religion: but recall what we said about a philosophy that is practical—it will always be defeated pragmatically by the Second Approach, which is free to be as practical as it needs to be, which holds all the free-ranging, pragmatic cards, since it invests in no preconceived, fixed wisdom at all.

What we notice about the “wisdom” of Lao Tzu is that it encourages its followers to be silent, to invest in no argument at all; that is, this philosophy argues for a kind of no-philosophy (just like the seductive Second Approach!) Lao Tzu, in speaking to the woman who needs to protect herself against the take-no-prisoners, say-anything-to-win, super-pragmatic Second Approach, counsels that one should just shut up, keep silent, don’t argue, don’t think, don’t try to convince, don’t seek approval—in other words, it resembles the myth of the maiden who flees Apollo and turns into a tree. Protect yourself from the false seducer by becoming a rock.

But is this bit of pragmatism possible? Can one really survive in this world by not caring what others think? By not seeking anyone’s approval? By not thinking? Is this good advice? It is perhaps good advice when facing down an enemy with sugared words, but even here, will shutting one’s ears and closing off one’s thoughts really work?

Lao Tzu is counseling the woman (or the man) to avoid argument altogether. Lao Tzu is saying: use ignorance as your fortress. Make people think you are smart by never uttering a word. Roll yourself up into a ball and shut out the world. This may work at times, but always? Is this “wisdom,” then? No, it is fake wisdom. It is foolishness, really, and it only appeals because it partially mimics the no-philosophy of the second approach seducer. Lao Tzu’s “wisdom” fails, for only the courageously free Socratic argument can determine the good from the bad, when it comes to speech and its entire nexus of motivations. Non-verbal judgment and ‘thinking without thinking’ are valid approaches, but with Lao Tzu and the wisdom of the Tao, we see a complete withdrawal from social activity and argument recommended—and this cannot possibly help anyone as a philosophical lifestyle. The wu wei of Lao Tzu is a counter-intuitive, anti-philosophical attempt to mimic second approach wisdom—which will always be the ultimate rebellion against the (academic) first approach.

Here is more “wisdom” from Lao Tzu lest we be accused of being unfair:

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes— don’t resist them. Let things flow naturally forward.”

So all change should be accepted? Even bad changes? What does this mean exactly: “Let things flow…?” If this “flow” is natural in the sense that it is fundamental to the universe and inevitable, then one couldn’t stop it even if one wanted to, and if the “flow” can be stopped for some reason, wouldn’t one want to stop a “flow” that does harm? And if it does no harm, who would want to stop it, anyway? Is Lao Tzu saying that we should not act to change our environment at all? Is this practical? And if he is not saying this, what is he saying?

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

Again, this is basically saying the same thing: accept everything. Be “simple” is fine advice, but it is much easier to say “be simple” than to actually “return to the source of being,” which may or may not be “simple” for us, depending on how we experience “being” when we are with our kids at the shopping mall. “Be patient,” says the wise philosopher, with your “enemies,” even, we presume, as they are killing your friends. “Compassion” towards oneself is a good thing, we assume, and the same as being compassionate towards others, except those who are not compassionate towards us—our enemies, to whom, just like our friends, we show “patience,” and not “compassion.” It all gets very confusing after a while, when trying to piece together the nice qualities of wisdom.

Is it good to be reminded to be nice to oneself? No doubt it is. Or, to be told to show your enemies a certain amount of patience?  Or to be reminded to keep things simple? Of course it is. But aren’t these truisms, platitudes which grow on trees? And do they apply at all times? Can one really use ‘sayings’ such as these to figure out practical problems? I’m going to be “compassionate” towards myself and have this piece of cake. Wait. Or should I be “compassionate” towards myself by not having this piece of cake. Which is it? Wisdom that can mean anything is, in fact, nothing.

Lao Tzu is no-wisdom. It is the second approach. We may as well admit it. It is nothing but a Trojan Horse, a “philosophy” of the fox for use by the chickens.

There. We’ve said it. The horrible truth is revealed.  A “simple truth,” and “compassionate,” and we don’t care what anyone thinks, and we think nothing of it, and we give no thought to anything at all, as we move, like immense wisdom always does, with its accompanying shadows, into silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I SAW YOU LOOK AWAY


 

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
Even as we erotically kiss,
We whisper the dear name of someone who we miss.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
We kiss the flower and stem,
We cry to the root—yet we are thinking of them.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
We are never unholy or sad—
Our thoughts are good-–though the world is bad.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
The flowers are flowers, indeed!
Vines are dreams and we, merely the seed.

Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts!
Why, I wonder, did you look away?
Death lasted a moment; now must it last all day?

 

PUBLIC, PRIVATE, PRIVATE, PUBLIC

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The famous Thomas Brady of Scarriet in a private moment

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Who wouldn’t choose private over public?

One would have to be insane to prefer the public.

Monday morning is public.  Friday night is private.

The public is what finds us out and makes us do things.  In private, we do whatever we want. 

We are forced to act a certain way in public.  In private we can be ourselves.

Here is what is so dreary and ugly about poetry: poetry is all about making something public.

Why in the world would we want to do this?  Why would we want to take Friday night and move it over to Monday morning?

Poetry makes the private public—but for what reason?  To spend all that time and effort getting published?  What kind of fool would do this?

The public is the necessary place where work gets done. To “make a living,” we go to the public, but we go to the public wearily, warily, unhappily.

Even those who win the public’s affection “just want to be alone.”  Fall into the clutches of the public, lose your privacy, and watch what happens.  You go insane, is what happens.  The public is where we go to die.

Those who “want to be liked” take the first foolhardy steps towards their doom. Because “being liked” is usually achieved in the public eye.

Even famous poets rejoice in privacy.  As W.H. Auden put it in his well-known introduction to the Signet Classic edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:

All of us like to discover the secrets of our neighbors, particularly the ugly ones.  What today passes for scholarly research is an activity no different from that of reading somebody’s private correspondence when he is out of the room.  Most genuine artists would prefer that no biography be written. Shakespeare is in the singularly fortunate position of being, to all intents and purposes, anonymous.

Even the joy of knowing “ugly secrets” is a private affair.

And yet it’s the public judgment which deems them “ugly.”  Privacy enjoys things in a completely judgment-free zone.

The trick is to protect the private space with a good public wall, or fence.

Auden’s poetry did not reveal his private feelings at all.  The poet, Auden, because he was a good poet, was simply making a public display to keep the public happy and out of his life.

Without further ado, let us ask: Does the public give us any joy at all?

If so much happens in public, if so much matters in public, can we really say it is a miserable, unhappy realm?

How can the infinitely important and consequential (public actions and responses) cause so much unhappiness?

Let us try and find some things which are public and also good.

First, we should ask the obvious: is one possible without the other?

We mentioned Auden, celebrating the private, yet known as a public figure by his public poetry.

Do we all need a public edifice in order to enjoy our private space?

And what is it, exactly that we do, and who exactly are we, in that private place behind our public wall?

We are not just saying you can’t have Friday night without Monday morning—that’s pretty obvious; we are asking more than that: we are asking: what is this privacy that we seek, exactly? And is this privacy something we seek, or something we are?

Can we have a private bedroom without first having a public house on a public street in a public city? Can we build a place to hide (a house) without work done in public to earn that house? Okay, more obvious stuff: we all have to pay the (public) piper; get dirty to enjoy our cleanliness. An interesting reversal of metaphor here? For isn’t private dirty and public clean?

But this apparent metaphoric reversal points to the very thing we are trying to do: fight through the obvious truth, the platitude, the truism, of the private space hiding behind the public wall, to ask: what exactly are these things? Public? Private?

So far we established without much effort, that private is good, public, bad; the private pleasurable, the public, odious, the private, true and genuine, the public, false and tedious.

But let us ask a few more questions and see if this is the actual state of things.

Is the beauty of the sky public or private? Public, certainly; we would not enjoy the beauty of a sunset if the sunset existed privately. The sky, then, is public. Yet all all of us experience the sky in whatever way we choose. We all experience the sky—this very public thing—privately.

Now this is interesting. For all of us to experience the sky privately it is necessary for the sky to be public.

Now what if we were to insist that all private experiences belong to this category: the public experienced privately?

What if we made this radical assertion: What we think is private is really public.

The private is merely a piece of the public—the public is the actual; the private is nothing more than a piece broken off?

The public is the whole thing (the whole sky, the whole universe) or, in terms of time, the eternal—what lasts is the only thing that is true, according to The Big Boys: Socrates, Shakespeare, etc. And thus the private, which we just got done lauding, is only a crumb, a morsel of what is true.

For a small (mortal) mouth, a morsel is perfectly suitable, but here’s the startling truth which is now insinuating itself into this essay: the private is nothing in itself—it is only the public cut down to a practical size.

We flee to our room to dwell in a private place, but we seek that privacy in vain. We cannot escape the eye of God—and another name for God is—the public.

The room we seek is our tomb, the privacy we seek, nothing.

We run to the public restroom for a little privacy; but how much more privacy if we were home in our own bathroom! If we had a thousand bathrooms, would we have more privacy? No! We just need one! Privacy cannot be quantified— it is like the point in geometry. A thousand bathrooms is a public fact, not a private one. (There is no private fact. Privacy is an infinite number of ideal, immaterial points, geometrically speaking.)

Privacy cannot be physically measured—meanwhile ‘the public’ is measurement itself—since privacy has no material existence; privacy is the One Person in the One Private Place—an Ideal, an impossibility, a part torn off from the One Public in vain, for Reality in its true state will not be torn off or broken.

We would have more privacy in our bathroom at home than in a public one; but perhaps not—what if our husband were home and knocked on the bathroom door, and wanted to come in? Or what if we had no husband and lived alone? Alone is the ultimate private existence, and yet the one state we all fear the most: for to be truly alone is to be buried alive; privacy in its true state is death.

The idea of the private is just that: an idea, and has no real existence: every thought coursing through that head of yours belongs to the public; your body is public, your whole existence is public in a manner you can barely comprehend, and so far as you don’t comprehend, you are absolutely ignorant—and this ignorance is nothing more than your pitiful (because nonexistent) privacy.

You have remained too long in the darkness.

Party like it’s Monday morning.

You have nothing to hide, because the hidden is nothing.

Not speaking, you speak.

LOVE IS CURIOSITY

We desire to know the truth about love:
The plans made below, the nebula above,
The intricate windings of our lover’s heart,
The way to make it last, the way to make it start,
The life and the lust and the looseness of love.
But there’s nothing to know and nothing to see:
Love is only curiosity.

Lost, uncertain, and full of care,
Beauty caused you to stop there,
And now you ponder what might be here—
Somehow beautiful, somehow austere,
Somehow fearful, but a beautiful fear,
And you stop. Wonder. Lust. Stare.
But there’s nothing to ponder. There’s nothing to see.
Love is only curiosity.

Beauty, and the passion for it,
Is not the lover’s destiny,
The artist will feel it and adore it,
And cover it in poetry,
And looking at a sunset, or the most beautiful things,
Or hearing a song, or smelling the vine which clings
Gives us calm and happiness; beauty is ours
Simply when we look at flowers or stars.
No, love is when we can’t let it be.
And this is from curiosity.

Routine kills the madness of love.
Routine doesn’t kill the beauty above,
For stars never lose their beauty for me,
But love! Love needs curiosity.

Did she really love you?
I thought she was furious!
Oh she was angry, but she was also—curious.

NOW BE QUIET

Aduska, who has long hair on her arms,
And a face, intricate and fine,
Has vindicated the poet in me,
But I cannot write a line.

I want to love Aduska,
To kiss the soul in her face,
To kiss sweet Aduska in a sweet and hidden place.

I want to love Aduska, but things interfere—
Things which have nothing to do with love, but are here!

I want to love Aduska, but she’s gone to other things—
Love willingly waits; and when love is waiting, sings,
Or waits without a sound—
If that’s what Aduska wants—
As I sometimes found.

POETRY TOOK MY SONG AWAY

I always loved my song,
I always let it play.
Then rumination came along.
Poetry took my song away.

I walked along, singing,
I sang because I knew how.
Then one day you came along.
I watch my song in silence now.

I wasn’t one to mind
That my song had one thing to say.
Now I wander from point to point to point.
Poetry took my song away.

Poetry has a passion
For songs and more than song.
The singer’s but a picture, now
And the picture seems wrong.

I always loved my song.
My song had only this to say:
Songs without love are wrong.
Poetry took my song away.

BEN MAZER READING AT THE GROLIER

Ben Mazer: Neo-Romantic genius.  When will he be critic-anointed?

The previous evening we had caught Sir Christopher Ricks at Boston University.

We enjoyed Ben Mazer reading his poems at the Grolier Bookstore in Harvard Square more. (9/26/14)

Ricks presented a talk on T.S. Eliot and World War One—fine topic! Corrupt, war-mongering Modernism, blood dripping everywhere.

But Ricks wrapped himself in the mummy cloths of New Criticism: we got trivial close-readings of a few obscure poems and the snoring of undergraduates.

History was put in an eye-dropper: “a poem,” Ricks opined, is not necessarily about a major event, like World War One; the War could be about the poem.

Now this was rather nice, actually, but this was not Ricks’ main thesis; it was served up nonchalantly during the questions at the end, to make the dogs run after meat, perhaps so Ricks could slip more easily away, and leave us amazed and wanting more.  The idea wasn’t meant to be analyzed—perhaps because on real inspection it simply falls apart?  Perfect, this idea, for the New Critics and the Moderns: look away from their odious views, look away from their hideous lives, read their poems as the reality.  Oh brother.

But Mazer did his doctoral study with Ricks, and Mazer is a poet (not a seedy Modern; an innocent Romantic playing with the Modern) who can make the world seem to be about his poem.  As a philosophy, the fact of this may fail, but in the hands of Mazer’s seeming, it works.

So Ricks and Mazer seem (who really can tell?) to have been a good fit; no pressure for Mazer to get rid of New Criticism’s fog: Mr. Mazer is now one of the best poets in the country—perhaps the best—at the type of poem which pins you to the ground with its language and yet can comfort you with its mesmerizing, suggestive, hazy, uncanny, poignant, sweet, expansive anxiety. Mazer achieves that ‘stupefying intelligence,’ that pleasant drowning quality in his poetry—it disarms the sternest intellectuals and burns novices to the core. He is a Quietist with tricks.

The first poem Mazer read (“Cirque D’etoiles” defeated Derek Walcott in a by now famous Scarriet March Madness Tournament) quickly established for the audience at the Grolier that here was a living Romantic.  In the 1960s, there were pop singers like Robin Gibb and Donovan who made us think of the Romantic poets; but poetry has never managed to unearth the uncanny magic of a Keats, a Shelley, a Coleridge, a Byron.  Poetry that conveys intense emotion—naked, unguarded emotion, in addition to an almost witty, 18th century poetic swagger, awash in a certain atmospheric excess, unashamed of its emotion because it owns a certain quasi-original something else:

CIRQUE D’ETOILES

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

Is this really clever illusion or is it real?  Ben Mazer’s lasting poetic reputation will depend on how much he is able, in the coming years, to convince us it is real—as he struggles towards a new Formalism—a hateful term which we use here only for a momentary and crude illustration.

On this evening at the Grolier, Mazer also read some of his sonnets from “The King,” and then new poems (which we can’t reproduce here, unfortunately), one of which featured a lovely refrain, but still in the mad swirl of Mazer’s style; and yet it seemed to us a new oldness was there; a poem really striving to stick in the mind as poems used to do, and comfortable, as well, in its metaphysical aspirations. We asked him to read it again, during the questions, and he graciously complied.

Mazer fielded questions from the audience afterwards profoundly; it stirred the audience; it even caused awe.

The elders in the audience asked about the rhymes; Mazer blew them away when he said simply of his poetry, “It all rhymes. It’s all rhyme.”  He said this as a poet, not a critic, and after hearing him read his poetry, and hearing his remark—an off-the-cuff, almost exasperated tone, with a certain happy irritation—we (the whole audience, I think) got it.  It’s all rhyme.  And he added, “A great critic told me, there are no rules.”

Another question: can you…explain…for us…please….the “mystery” of the “tension” which vibrates in your poetry?  Where lies this “tension?” the gentleman asked.

Mazer, reluctantly, it seemed, came up with this on the spot: “The tension is the meaning of the poet/poem versus the meaning of the world.”

We liked it.

If Christopher Ricks has helped to create this monster, this Mazer, who can make us wonder, (a younger Mazer studied with the late Seamus Heaney) it recommends Sir Ricks to us more than anything else Ricks may have done.

SEX, SEX, SEX!

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We do not intend to annoy our readers in exploiting the topic of sex: this is not a cute attempt to get attention, nor an indulgence in bad taste, or worst, plain lust.

Perhaps we could have written, “Gender! Gender! Gender!” or “Gay! Gay! Gay!” but sex, with all due respect, is the issue, and the issue here is how we pretend sex is not the issue.

Take Gay Marriage, for instance.  What is the difference between a gay person and straight person?

There is no difference—except one: how they have sex.

Gay issues, then, are sex issues.  Sex is not a component of gay issues; gay issues are 100% sex issues. For there is no other difference between straight and gay, and to imply any other difference would be to prejudice the gay person.  (And also, prejudice the straight person.  But we can leave this aside.  Or perhaps we can’t?)

We need not indulge in speculation such as: is a person of a certain sexual orientation that sexual orientation when they are not being sexual? We need not ask this question, for the axiom remains, and it remains untouched: the one difference between gay and straight, as these terms are universally defined in a non-prejudicial manner, is: how each type has sex.

Give me the right to have sex the way I want to have sex.

This is the formula (there is no other) for all matters pertaining to gay rights.

We have no right to imply anything else, for anything else would automatically prejudice the gay person as being different in other ways—the very definition of prejudice.

We have no right, for instance, to imply that one of the criteria is love, for this would open the door to prejudice: anything but sex differences as a reason given for the difference between gay and straight is not permitted, if we are to avoid prejudicial judgment.

We would never want to stigmatize the gay person as someone incapable of loving people of another gender or of another sexual orientation.

Gay is sex, not love, for the axiom is plain: the difference between gay and straight is how they have sex, not how they love, for if we came anywhere near this formula, this would be to equate sex and love, and further, to equate sex and love in the behavior of the gay person, which would be highly prejudicial against the gay person.

This is precisely the same mechanism as the following: it would be highly insulting to insist that any man and woman who are married are only married for one reason, and one reason alone: the sex. Imagine the countless middle-aged and elderly married couples who were seen as being in a married relationship for this sole reason.  Cries of indignation and shame would come from all quarters, and rightfully so.

Love, and all the shades of affection which make people wish to be with each other, or to do good for each other, is not, in any one’s mind, tied to sex alone, or even tied to sex at all.  Anyone attempting this definition would be laughed out of town.  How, then, can we take the previously established sole difference, by non-prejudicial definition, between a gay and a straight person: how they have sex, and add love into the definition of that definitional difference between gay and straight, in which sex becomes how we define love?  We cannot.

All gay issues, then, are about sex, and come down to the following, which we repeat from above: Give me the right to have sex the way I want to have sex.

All social freedoms come with the caveat that our freedom does not take away another’s…”the pursuit of happiness,” for instance, does not mean: “take away another’s happiness.”

So, Give me the right to have sex the way I want to have sex implies mutual and not coercive sex.

Matching up gays, by definition, has one criterion, and one criterion only: matching up sex partners. If this sounds crude, it is only because we have backward and old-fashioned and prejudicial notions of gays and sex.

Here some might argue that once we have established the group, “gay,” matching up now involves qualities non-sexual; love and friendship, for instance. Yet if we see an old rich person and a young beautiful person in a marriage, the marriage still exists only for the established definition of the group in question: in this case, “gay.” Wealth and beauty are in the mix—but they do not change the sole definition of the group, which is “gay,” for beauty and wealth exist entirely independently of “gay.”

Rights are either universal—“happiness”—or they pertain to a group—“gay marriage.”

Since we have defined this particular group—which we must do, if we are to give the group rights, in a non-prejudicial way, ‘gay marriage’ is really ‘sex marriage’—marriage for sex.

By definition, it cannot be anything else.

And if ‘gay marriage’ is ‘sex marriage,’ it follows that ‘straight marriage’ is ‘sex marriage,’ too.

In a free society, sex rights make perfect sense.

Yet now we are back to offending all those married couples!

Is it true that social offense flies in the face of logic?

What can we do about that?

Shouldn’t it make sense that if a wife, or a husband, wants to have sex with someone other than their spouse, this should be a right, in exactly the same way that gay or straight marriage is a right?

The whole issue is ‘sex rights’ and nothing else.  To introduce anything else: property, money, love, or morality is to introduce old-fashioned considerations which distort the truth of the matter.

If this outrages our sense of decorum, it is only because of prejudice and backwards thinking.

If we sentimentalize the issue, we introduce prejudice and distortion not only to gay rights—which are solely about sex—but to marriage between gays or marriage between straights, so defined: the two terms, gay and straight creating, by definition, the existence of the other, since to choose a gay partner must involve not choosing a straight partner.

But if the issue is sex, as we have established, and ‘sex rights’ the natural outcome of the whole matter, what does this say about the ‘sanctity’ of marriage?  Is there a sanctity of marriage, and if there is not, what is marriage? If marriage is a sex contract, but sex rights transcend staying with one person, don’t we have to rethink everything?  Doesn’t everything fall apart?

We have attempted to show—to articulate in words—the underlying logic which drives certain unspoken prejudices—expressed, or felt, or manifested, as squeamishness or disgust: feelings—manifested by social offense flying in the face of logic—which have far more lasting impact on society than words.

In this brief Scarriet essay, we have exploded the meaning of significant terms: Sex, marriage, gay, and we don’t think any related issue can be looked at quite the same way, again.

Is it any wonder that Scarriet is swiftly becoming the most important cultural site of its kind?

POETRY WITHOUT BEAUTY IS VANITY

The first thing a rapper always does
Is tell you he uses all these words because
Words are full of shit and it is “ME
Who is the power and the glory.
And the next thing you know he is on Hannity.
Poetry Without Beauty is Vanity.

Now you have these poets with their MFAs
Who mix John Donne with their Willie Mays
And scoff at wearing the poet’s crown
As they do cocaine at a bar downtown
And pretty feminists toy with their sanity.
Poetry Without Beauty is Vanity.

The avant-gardes are ugly and old,
Modernists, yet not modernists, I am told.
They write poems on the kitchen sink
Without irony, or ironically, or so they think.
They race to trendiness ahead of me.
Poetry Without Beauty is Vanity.

 

 

THE BEGINNING OF A POEM IS A SONG

I only had to look at you,
I didn’t need to look very long.
There isn’t much love has to do.
The beginning of a poem is a song.

Make a list of things
A song must do before it sings
If you need to be precise,
Or maybe we could kiss;
That, too, would be nice.

I could write some poems
Astute, verbose and dense,
Or maybe write a song
Because emotion is immense.

Because love is always going
And life isn’t very long,
I’m almost afraid to speak.
The beginning of a poem is a song.

THE ONE HUNDRED GREATEST JAZZ VOCAL STANDARDS THAT WORK AS POEMS

When poetry was killed off in the first half of the 20th century by the tendentious artlessness of Modernism, did it go somewhere?

Yes. It went into popular music.

It went here:

Somewhere there’s music.
How faint the tune.
Somewhere there’s heaven.
How high the moon.

Somewhere there’s music.
It’s where you are.
Somewhere there’s heaven.
How near, how far.

The darkest night will shine,
If you come to me soon.
Until you will, how still my heart—
How high the moon.

Lyrics by Nancy Hamilton

The sultry romance of poetry, sentimental as it might be, just happens to be a significant template for poetry, the art.

Let us admit, at once, that this kind of poetry is perhaps the worst kind of poetry possible, whenever it fails, and it fails often.

This is perhaps why many conclude—in error—that poetry of romance is of a lesser quality than other kinds of poetry, an error which has been perpetuated by a certain tribe of academics.

The error comes from not examining the reason for this kind of poetry’s rather vast failure, which is twofold:

First, since sentimental love poetry is by far the most well-known and practiced of the templates, there will inevitably be a great number of failures, providing countless wretched examples for those looking to dismiss this kind of poetry as poetry.

Second, it is easy to fail in rather spectacular and embarrassing fashion when writing love poetry precisely because of the significance of the template itself.  The template lives in a place where all poetry lives—skill at meter, versification, sentiment, irony, universality, unity, richness, and originality will naturally aid the poet attempting love poetry, and, it also lives where we all live; because it lives close to the heart, to the social embarrassment, and drama, and ubiquitous nature of love and romance, writing this kind of poetry will have a greater risk of failure, since readers are passionately familiar with the tropes involved.

This does not mean, however, that this kind of poetry is inferior in any way to other types of poetry, and it may be superior, in fact, no matter what academics may say, and which is why, perhaps, it tends to be more popular—which should never be a strike against anything good.

Take a song like “Autumn Leaves.” One could almost say it’s inevitable that a song like this exist in the ‘jazz standard’ category, given the mood, subject and sentiment of the ‘jazz standard’ love song. Now the critic must ask: should such inevitability be held against “Autumn Leaves?” Or should we honor it for the very reason that its existence seems destined? We must know the category intimately to appreciate the example. The category is a simple one (not inferior for that reason) and consists of six sub-categories.

1. The Beloved Receives Heavenly Praise —All The Things You Are

2. Praise Without Quality (ironic, indirect) —My Funny Valentine

3. Love Gone Wrong (Revenge) —Cry Me A River

4. Love Gone Wrong (Resigned) —Autumn Leaves

5. Introspective (Narrator talks with their heart) —My Foolish Heart

6. Love Against the World (Time, Fortune, Necessity) —When Sunny Gets Blue

The whole category of the jazz standard is simple, but already we see some complexity. “Autumn Leaves” invokes, with its natural fact, the fourth sub-category—sad resignation of lost love—as we might expect; the leaves of “red and gold” falling past the window of the bereaved lover join other things in the mind: “summer kisses, the sunburnt hands I used to hold” and the dying leaves are then used with the idea of time, already invoked by “summer” (before the leaves fell) with: “but I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.” This is rather brilliant. It is one thing to come up with autumn leaves as an image for the sad resignation of lost love, another to use the image economically and in a way that feels inevitable. The drawback to these songs working as poetry: extreme brevity within a simple and well understood context—is precisely that which allows us to see the challenge overcome if we are alive to both the challenge and the traditional actuality of the love lyric itself, so that instead of dismissing it for that reason, we instead appreciate what is, in fact, a poetic challenge, an extremely difficult one, to be poetically met and overcome.

The brevity of the effect in these songs is such that the title practically writes the song. The immediate is almost everything.

The jazz song usually has a lot of minor keys and notes (brilliantly used to multiple effects of course) with the general tendency to heaviness, intricate mellowness, and melancholy, so we would expect a lot of ‘love gone wrong’ and sad songs, and that’s what we do indeed have. This musical fact will of course impact the lyric. This general sadness is probably why jazz is not nearly as popular as other genres—but its poetry, as we attempt to isolate it, has its own, and under-appreciated, excellence, and the sad also happens to be a richer field for poetic loveliness.

As for jazz’s “sophisticated” reputation; the term is empty; there is nothing smarter about jazz; the ‘maudlin refined into beauty’ perhaps best sums it up; it cannot substitute long for the best of classical music, and the worst of it is horribly chained and pretentious.

Its reputation for being “sophisticated” may be due to the fact that jazz contains very little story-telling, and here is where jazz distinguishes itself from Folk and Country, its hayseed cousins. Frank Sinatra self-consciously introduced the slight exception, “It Was A Very Good Year,” which almost tells a story, as a “pretty folk song.” One can’t imagine Sinatra singing one of those endless folk ballads like “Frankie and  Johnny”—even though this song is on some ‘jazz standard’ lists. ‘True art’ has a certain reticence; the jazz femme fatale doesn’t say very much; as “Yesterday” puts it: “Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.” The best heartaches are beyond analysis.

In fact, anyone who makes a list like this one has probably had their heart broken, has it associated with a song, which, for that reason, will not be on the list, the ultimate reticence of heart-broken cool. So if you notice a song you think should be on the list below and it is not, be comforted. The song is playing somewhere—and breaking a heart.

 

1. SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW “That’s where you’ll find me.” Poignantly ideal.

2. YESTERDAY Formally perfect.

3. SMILE Best and saddest advice.

4. AUTUMN LEAVES  “I see your lips, the summer kisses, but I miss you most of all when…”

5. STORMY MONDAY “Tuesday’s just as bad.”

6. MOON RIVER “waiting round the bend”

7. ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE “when all the things you are, are mine.”

8. THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU “Your eyes in stars above…my love.”

9. MY FUNNY VALENTINE “Your looks are laughable, unphotographable”

10. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME “stars fading but I linger on”

11. DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE “couldn’t bear it without you…”

12. MOONGLOW “way up in the blue…”

13. IT HAD TO BE YOU “even be glad, just to be sad, thinking of you.”

14. ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL “half a love never appealed to me”

15. WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE “and the difference is you.”

16. SPEAK LOW “speak love to me and soon”

17. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN ” be sure your umbrella is upside down”

18. AS TIME GOES BY “hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate”

19. SUMMERTIME  beautiful impressionism.

20. I’LL NEVER SMILE AGAIN “until I smile at you.”

21. STARS FELL ON ALABAMA “we lived our little drama, we kissed in a field of white…”

22. I’M A FOOL TO WANT YOU “to want a love that can’t be true…”

23. HOW HIGH THE MOON “somewhere there’s music…”

24. CONQUEST “the hunter became the huntress”

25. SINGING IN THE RAIN “I’m laughing at clouds”

26. I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO “little trolley cars climb halfway to the stars”

27. PRELUDE TO A KISS “that was my heart trying to compose a prelude…”

28. STRANGER IN PARADISE “if I stand starry-eyed…”

29. ALL OF ME “you took the part that once was my heart so why not take all of me?”

30. AINT MISBEHAVING “I’m home about eight, just me and my radio”

31. THE NEARNESS OF YOU “it’s not the moon that excites me…it’s just the nearness of you…”

32. UNFORGETTABLE “That’s why, darling, it’s incredible…”

33. THE MAN I LOVE “One day he’ll come along”

34. IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR “soft summer nights, we’d hide from the lights on the village green…”

35. QUIET NIGHTS AND QUIET STARS  “quiet thoughts and quiet dreams, quiet walks by quiet streams…”

36. WHO’S SORRY NOW? “Who’s heart is aching for breaking each vow”

37. I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU Well of course not if that’s your attitude!

38. THE LADY IS A TRAMP A unique way to admire.

39. THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA “she looks straight ahead not at me”

40. WHAT KIND OF FOOL AM I? “Who never fell in love” Sammy Davis Jr. nailed this.

41. WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR “makes no difference who you are…”

42. SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, remember…”

43. ALFIE “what’s it all about?”

44. MONA LISA “they just lie there and they die there…”

45. HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS “a shining star upon the highest bow…”

46. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FOOL “a sad and a long lonely day…”

47. STARDUST “You wander down the lane and far away…”

48. WHEN I FALL IN LOVE “the moment I can feel that you feel that way, too…”

49. SEPTEMBER SONG “When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame…”

50. FOOLS RUSH IN “but wise men never fall in love, so how are they to know?”

51. YOU’D BETTER GO NOW “I like you much, too much…”

52. JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings…”

53. BLUE MOON “I saw you standing alone…”

54. YOU BELONG TO ME “Fly the ocean in a silver plane, see the jungle when it’s wet with rain…”

55. I GOT IT BAD “and that ain’t good.”

56. IF I HAD YOU “I could start my life anew”

57. A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON “my imagination will thrive upon that kiss…”

58. WALK ON BY “and I start to cry…”

59. I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU “every stop that we made…And when I pulled down the shade…”

60. WHEN SUNNY GETS BLUE “Hurry new love, hurry here…”

61. THE GOOD LIFE “kiss the good life goodbye.”

62. IS THAT ALL THERE IS? “I remember when I was a little girl…”

63. STORMY WEATHER “Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky…”

64. TWILIGHT TIME “heavenly shades of night are falling…”

65. I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN “I have tried so not to give in…”

66. EMBRACEABLE YOU  “you irreplaceable you…”

67. NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT “won’t you tell me how?”

68. HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY “Where is that worn out wish that I threw aside…”

69. GEORGIA ON MY MIND “No peace I find, just an old sweet song…”

70. FOR ALL WE KNOW “Tomorrow may never come…”

71. MACK THE KNIFE “and he keeps it out of sight…”

72. I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING “I can make the rain go…”

73. CRY ME A RIVER “I cried a river over you.”

74. IF YOU GO AWAY  If you go away on this summer day…”

75. WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE? “East and west of your life…”

76. MY FOOLISH HEART “it’s love this time, it’s love, my foolish heart.”

77. ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE “What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in, why it’s almost…”

78. LET’S DO IT  “even educated fleas do it…”

79. AINT SHE SWEET  “now I ask you very confidentially…”

80. LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF  “potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto…”

81. FLY ME TO THE MOON “let me find out what love is like on Jupiter and Mars…”

82. TILL THERE WAS YOU “There were bells on a hill, but I never heard them ringing…”

83. A STRANGER ON EARTH “The day’s gonna come when I prove my worth and I won’t be a stranger…”

84. I’LL BE SEEING YOU “I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seeing you”

85. TROUBLE IN MIND “the sun’s going to shine through my back door one day”

86. ROMANCE IN THE DARK “we’ll find romance in the dark…”

87. SOMETHING Sinatra said this Beatle (Harrison) song was the best.

88. ON A CLEAR DAY “rise and look around you…”

89. THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY Made for Judy Garland.

90. IT’S ALL IN THE GAME “Many a tear has to fall…”

91. WHY SHOULD I CARE  “Will she wake up knowing you’re still there? And why should I care?”

92. LOVE IS HERE TO STAY “the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay…”

93. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU “Don’t count stars or you might stumble…”

94. I SURRENDER DEAR “We played the game of stay away…”

95. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS “Until you’ve faced each dawn with sleepless eyes…”

96. COME RAIN OR COME SHINE “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you”

97. LAURA “The laugh that floats on a summer night…”

98. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS “And I know what time it is now”

99. DO NOTHING TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME “if you should take the word of others you’ve heard”

100. THEY CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME “the way we danced till 3”

 

 

 

I STILL DO (NEW SCARRIET POEM)

Is that all you have?
A selfish soul unable to love?
Is that all you’ve got?
Indignantly making me into something I’m not?

Romance can be made,
Like writing a poem or a play:
Come sit with me beneath this shade,
Kiss me, and tell me what you did today.

Romance can be made of lies,
Or romance can be true;
I don’t know what you’re feeling,
But I really did love you.
And because I love to write romance,
I still do.

IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR…POETRY’S HOT 100!!!!!

hot 100.jpg

1. Valerie Macon—Credentialing 1, Poetry 0

2. Patricia Lockwood—“Rape Joke” first viral-era poem to go viral?

3. Paul Lewis—Poe scholar brings Poe statue to Boston: The Jingle Man Returneth

4. Marjorie Perloff—Every era needs its Uber-Critic

5. Charles Wright—New Poet Laureate

6. Camille Paglia—Zeitgeist, Firebrand, Sexual Ethics, Gadfly.

7. James Franco—Can Hollywood make poetry cool again?

8. David LehmanBest American Poetry best anthology gathering-place.

9. Richard Blanco—interviewed in Vogue

10. Garrison Keillor—King of Quietism

11. Kenny Goldsmith—We understand some people take him seriously

12. Marilyn Chin—New book, Hard Love Province (Norton)

13. Amy King—Lesbians trying to take over the world!

14. Charles Bernstein—Papers going to Yale

15. Tao Lin—Alt-Lit unravels

16. William Logan—Every era needs the Kick ass Review

17. George Bilgere—Imperial is new; only poet who can out-Collins Collins.

18. Stephen Burt—Harvard’s frenzy of sweet political correctness.

19. Josh Baines—rips apart Alt-Lit on Vice.com

20. Don Share—Steering Poetry Foundation Mother Ship

21. Ron Silliman—Guiding Avant-garde ships through Quietism’s shallows

22. Ben Mazer—Neo-Romantic publishes Collected Ransom, the South’s T.S. Eliot

23. Frank Bidart—Punk Rock Robert Lowell

24. Paul Muldoon—Drives the New Yorker

25. Philip Nikolayev—Bringing back Fulcrum

26. Vanessa Place—Museum performer

27. Casey Rocheteau —Wins a home in Detroit for being a poet!

28. Natasha Trethewey—Bids farewell to the Laureateship

29. Billy Collins—Ashbery with meaning

30. Terrence Hayes—Wins MacArthur

31. Harold Bloom—Anxiety of Flatulence?

32. Mary Oliver—Nature poetry sells?

33. David OrrNew York Times Book Review column

34. Adam Kirsch-New Republic critic

35. Susan Wheeler—“narrative glamour” -John Ashbery

36. Andrew Motion—President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England

37. Khaled Matawa—2014 MacArthur Winner

38. Richard Howard—James Merrill lives!

39. John Ashbery—Old Man Obscurity.

40. Eileen Myles—“always hungry”

41. Mark Doty—Brother of Sharon Olds

42. Rae Armantrout—Silliman is a fan

43. Al Filreis—MOOCS!

44. Anne Carson—“inscrutable brilliance” –NY Times

45. Michael Robbins—The Second Sex (Penguin)

46. C.D. Wright—from the Ozarks

47. Lisa RobertsonChicago Review gave her a special issue

48. Claudia Rankine—Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

49. CAConradPhilip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) is his new book

50. Ariana Reines—“To be a memory to men”

51. Kim Adonizzio—“I want that red dress bad”

52. Frederick Seidel—Nominated for Pulitzer in Poetry

53. Kay Ryan—U.S. Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010

54. Edward HirschThe Living Fire, new and selected

55. Christian Wiman–ex-Poetry editor

56. Cornelius Eady—Nominated for a Pulitzer in Drama

57. Bin Ramke—Georgia Foetry Scandal

58. Jorie Graham—Collected Poems coming this winter

59. Erin Belieu—VIDA vision

60. Forrest Gander—anthropological

61. Amjad Nasser—run in w/Homeland Security

62. Ann Lauterbach—her poetry “goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time” -John Ashbery

63. Rita Dove—editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

64. Sharon Olds—Mark Doty’s sister

65.  Carol Ann Duffy—High powered, story-telling, Brit

66. Robert Archambeau—Rhyme is returning

67. Monica Handme and Nina, Alice James Books

68. Margo Berdeshersky—“understands how eros is a form of intelligence” -Sven Birkerts

69. Shelagh Patterson—“succeeds in forcing students to become critical thinkers” from Rate My Professors

70. Jennifer Bartlett—“this will all be over soon”

71. Lynne Thompson—“Vivaldi versus Jay-Z”

72. Allison Hedge Coke—Editor of Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas

73. Dan Chiasson—Poet and critic who teaches at Wellesley

74. Martin Espada—Teaches poetry at Amherst

75. Gina Myers—“Love Poem To Someone I Do Not Love”

76. Jen Bervin—Poet and visual artist

77. Mary RuefleTrances of the Blast, latest book

78. Mary Hickman—“This is for Ida who doesn’t like poetry but likes this poem”

79. Catherine Wagner—professor of English at Miami University in Ohio

80. Victoria Chang—PEN winner

81. Matthew KlaneYes! Poetry & Performance Series

82. Adam Golaski-Film Forum Press

83. Mathea Harvey—Contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB

84. Amanda Ackerman—UNFO

85. James Tate—Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, 1967

86. Jenny BoullyThe Book of Beginnings and Endings

87. Joyelle McSweeney—professor at Notre Dame

88. William Kulik—the lively prose poem

89. Tamiko Beyer—Raised in Tokyo, lives in Cambridge, MA

90. Julia Bloch-–teaches creative writing at Penn

91. Brent Cunningham—co-founded Hooke Press

92. Richard Wilbur—Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 & 1989

93. Patrick James DunaganRumpus reviewer

94. Matthew Zapruder—Wave Editor

95. David Kirby—“The Kirb” teaches in Florida, uses humor in poetry

96. Alan Cordle—Foetry.com founder

97. Lyn HejinianThe Book of a Thousand Eyes

98. Cole Swensen—Translates from the French

99. Aaron Kunin—Teaches Milton at Pomona

100. Dana WardThis Can’t Be Life

VALERIE MACON!! A SCARRIET EXCLUSIVE

Valerie Macon is the best poet from North Carolina.

Let us look at the poems, shall we?  (Valerie Macon’s poems are below.)

The haughty indignation of the Credentialing Complex speaks well for itself, we suppose, and why shouldn’t those obsessed with credentials be haughty? It’s the wine that grape makes. And the naturally intoxicated poets should pity them, if nothing else, and wish them well. After all, the Credentialing Complex does so much work which has nothing to do with poetry, slaving in the world of academic adornments, perfecting the art of pleasing in a personal manner under the guidance of nuanced rules of conduct, stapling, taking out staples, tapping out, early and late, their e-calendars! All so the solid infrastructure of poetry might live! And not “melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.” Shouldn’t Credentialing holler if the ripe, hidden fruit is too easily plucked? Why of course. Credentialing, weary and wise from its labor, is subtle enough to know that the poetry of poetry is not the real point. Subtle masters of haughtiness! In the North Carolina case, Credentialing only had to speak: action was swiftly taken.

Oh but let us look at the poems, shall we?

It will do us good for once.

We shall not hound the good people of North Carolina with tales of poetic martyrdom, or rebuke North Carolinians for allowing one of their own, a poet—a poet of the people, no less—to be hounded from office by what must have been good intentions.

Just for curiosity’s sake, let us look at the poems.

It shouldn’t hurt a bit.

We hope all will forgive, as well, the intrusion of the Critical Faculty into the affair, as much as we revere and respect the good work done by the Credentialing Complex. The Critical Faculty will be excused, we hope, even by the haughty of North Carolina, for making the poems of Valerie Macon its business. We hope the Credentialing Complex will not be offended.

Valerie Macon—pardon us as we speak of her poems—trusts the image to tell the story; the significant detail is at the heart of what is significantly said, and this practice is a significant part of poetry; and Macon, casting her “cold eye” on objects and events, succeeds on this level to such an extent, that we would go so far as to say that it places Valerie Macon in a position of not insignificant excellence on this point, enabling us to assert, with confidence, our very favorable opinion of her.

Her poem, “That’s Good Eatin,” is visceral, literally, and we, as readers, become the squeamish audience—thanks to Macon’s sure description—to an earthy, 12 year old character, drawn as well as anything in Wordsworth; for this portrait alone Macon has made herself immortal. Anyone who reads poetry, or struggles to write it, will appreciate Macon’s command of lucid, economical description. The final image in this poem—“neat stack of pink filets”—is a little too pat—she trusts the image (and the statement it makes) a little too much, and yet, given the image, perhaps this is her point; yet the “point” fails for us precisely because it is too boldly made; but this is really a minor fault, given the overall skill of Macon’s cold eye.

That’s Good Eatin’

He seizes the gasping catfish,
stabs a screwdriver between its glazed eyes,
impales it to a tree stump.

He’s twelve, dusted with dirt,
baked bronze, cutoffs crusted
with stink bait and worm blood.

I’ve already skinned five foxes,
two deer, and a field of rabbits!

A circle of wide-eyed disciples
squat around him.
He starts to strip off the skin—
but the silver jacket hangs tough,
and the fish thrashes under his blade.
The cohorts cower.

It’s dead, that’s just its nerves,

he lectures; wipes his brow
with a gut-slicked hand.

Shimmering entrails gush out.
But for the sake of the squeamish
he crams them back in;
then the lungs blow a big milky bubble.

Boy and catfish struggle fist and knife
until at last the fish surrenders its flesh
into a neat stack of pink filets.

We see, in her other poems below, her reliance on the cold fact paying even greater and more subtle dividends.

Take “Morning News” and the effectiveness of “But flames…” with the list of personal items, and then “No immediate word on what caused the blaze the reporter tags.”

Or “Taking Up Serpents” and its powerful ending: “relieving him of his earthly ministry.”

Or “Soup Kitchen,” with its drama sympathetically rendered, finishing with the understated “I try to concentrate on my beef stew.”

Or “Blank Canvas Arts 210 8 AM” and the marvelously spondaic last line, “coats fat over lean with a bright brush.”

We challenge anyone to find better poetry, that which succeeds as well at the type of poetry it is attempting to perfect, as that which we see here from Valerie Macon, who was briefly, too briefly, the legitimate Poet Laureate of North Carolina—the best, we believe, it has ever had.

Morning News

A family displaced after fire broke out
in their Horsetooth Holler home overnight
a reporter chants.

In video clip, neighbors plucked
from dreams stand in bunches, mumble
into microphones how they’ll pull together
for this decent family, see them through.

But flames already licked up
the mouse-and-cheese platter
fresh from yesterday’s flea market;
bread and butter pickles,
tomatoes and jams put up,
labeled and lined in the pantry;
the finished cross quilt, colors
like the fall garden out back;
photos of Zack his first day of school,
Ben in his lucky fishing hat
stuck on the refrigerator;
the Lego tower waiting its next story;
the miniature rose in the yard
that struggled to continue
after the first hard frost.

No immediate word on what caused the blaze
the reporter tags.

———————

Soup Kitchen

Just the smell of hot food begins to thaw
the cold that’s creeped into my bones.
The dinin’ room only holds twenty; the rest
of us stand in the waitin’ area where
some Sundays there’s church donuts.

Bein’ a small woman, I keep to myself ‘cause
a lot of the regulars are kind’a rough.
One day this big guy they call Leroy was walkin’
‘round tellin’ everyone how hungry he was,
complainin’ the line wasn’t movin’ fast enough.
He made the mistake of rummagin’ through
the bags of this bent old lady with a blank stare.
Stole her candy bar. She caught ‘im, flipped out.
Bit ‘im hard on the hand, drew blood.

In the dinin’ room, manners ‘r in short supply.
Me, I never rest my elbows on the table, always
put my napkin on my lap, chew with my mouth shut,
and mind my own business. But this skinny guy
with a comb-over called Gus uses an ungodly
amount of dressin’, makes his salad look like soup;
puts hot sauce on his oatmeal cookie.
I try to concentrate on my beef stew.

————————

Staying Clean

You’ll spot them in a supermarket,
the homeless, bowed over
a scummy sink, wiping down
with hand wash and paper
towel course as cow’s tongue;
or stealing a hose shower
behind a moonlit garden shed.
Tonight, under a kinship of stars,
a fallen fellow squats
in the fountain at Lemon Park,
face in a lather. Humming,
he tugs his razor over bristled
cheeks, bends his chin to the blade,
splashes his face with the plumes
of water that dance around him.
Nearby, his clothes wait
stretched across a park bench,
washed up and wrung out.

——————————–

Taking up Serpents

His dad and his grandpa before him

handled snakes—timber rattlers,

copperheads, cottonmouths, adders—

survived vicious bites, no doctor.

Preacher, himself, had nine previous

bites, then, the tenth, his finger fell off.

Suffered through it with not so much as

an aspirin, instead let it rot hard and black

as a piece of coal, expose bone before it broke off.

Wife still keeps the stub in a glass jar.

She says handling a serpent is the best

feeling she’s ever had, higher than any high,

unexplainable happiness, joy in your soul.

This night in a remote church building,

Preacher stomps and bellows a fiery rant,

band pumps up the fever, congregation shouts,

dances, spins with collective adrenaline.

He reaches into a box takes up a rattler

drapes it around his neck, swings it tenderly

back and forth above his head, his face ecstasy.

Hallelujahs rise, cymbals rattle.

Viper bobs and weaves, coils in the reverend’s

grip then strikes like the snap of a whip,

bleeds death into the meat of his hand,

this time, relieving him of his earthly ministry.

——————–

Soul Food

There’s something spiritual
in symmetry—
Row after row
of verdant sprouts
grow in one accord,
pulsing with new life
like saints planted
on Sunday morning pews,
crops in ruler-straight lines
stitched on chiseled ridges
of fragrant brown earth,
like the handiwork
of a Baptist quilting circle.

Soon, poking and pushing
up with the rhythm
of a needle through
the underside of a frame,
the beggar weed
and the bittercress;
as prolific as the
small uniform stitches
in a finished work,
the stink bug
and the armyworm.

At the edge of the field
the farmer swings his plow
in an arc, precise
as a slice of harvest moon
worked into a new quilt.

————————–

Blank Canvas
Arts 210, 8 AM

Professor arrives,
tumbled-out-of-bed hair gray
nappy paint-flecked sweater
he calls his old friend, whiffs
of liniment and turpentine.

You are the boss of your canvas,

he counsels, sketches the basics
of human anatomy—egg head,
two-cone torso, legs half the figure.

Love the white expanse before you,

strokes the linen with burnt sienna
thinned to melted butter.
Oil is a forgiving medium.
It allows time and layers
to figure it out,

defines the hard edges, darkens
the shadows, lightens the lights.

So paint boldly my friends!

coats fat over lean with a bright brush.

——————————-

After Valentines Day

On a polished walnut vanity a dozen
roses stand on firm long stems,
bunched in pear-shaped crystal
adorned in glossy foliage,
cheeks flushed fresh pink,
perfume sweeter than
dark chocolate truffles.

Too soon—
it seems like only days pass—
huddled in Waterford Irish lace
they slump over canes,
bow their wizened heads
form dowager’s humps.
Additives depleted, their water
turns foam and sour milk.

ELEGY: TO _____

“Pity the World” —Shakespeare

“Love interprets and conveys messages to the gods from us and to us from the gods, preventing the universe from falling into two separate halves.”
—Plato

 

I

Take me with you, Melissa,
To that place you went—
Heaven is not an accident;
Heaven is where the angels belong
In light everlasting and song.

Take me with you, Melissa,
To that place you go—
We know what we hate,
Do we love what we know?
Do we love the place we all shall go?

Do we know, Melissa, that God has more worth
Than hate and all that crawls on the earth?
Do we know the love that resides with you—
Gone, gone, but still true?

Do I know where I am
If I don’t know where you are?
I love, but I get no nearer to the star.
Where are you, Melissa? Are you near or far?

I ask these questions, in ignorance, on earth.
I don’t know God, or God’s worth.
I am sad and limited and ignorant.
Take me with you, Melissa,
To the place you went—
Everything but love is an accident.

II

She is working late again.
The stars hang over the office,
Kind in their distance.

She is working late this evening
On an email that came from far.
We will carouse and we will drowse
But she is working late again
On an email that was written in a car,
In haste, on a cell phone.

Sometimes work brings us together
And sometimes we work alone
She is working late, in the company of a star,
On an email written on a phone
By a student’s parent in a car.

A credit was earned in another state
And that is why she is working late.
There is a freedom in working late
When the stars don’t see you home
But settle down beside you in the quiet of the evening
Where the computer glows
And the clock, broken by love, hardly goes.
Why does the lady work late?
For God and country and love?
Is it for the firm, for the education found
On the football field, on the cement ground?

You are working late this evening, lady!
Home is calling you.
The children and the grandchildren, too.
Everyone is worried now, and the cell phone
And the emails have that urgent tone
That we have known all our lives
When we lie awake at night and no matter who is there, we feel alone.
Work late, work late, my lady, work late, work late, my lady,
There was an email written from a cell phone
To you. She needed something. A flame beside her.

The committee has decided she will work late this evening,
That she will work for free
That she will work tonight on what pertains to you and me.

The director approves whatever loves;
Whoever loves, loves the lady,
Who now wears her love in regions shady
In regions known only by a star,
Dim star of God!
In the shadows we see our dearest lady.

III

When I am weary
And the world seems weary, too,
I think of the loveliness and lastingness of you.
You bring me the wisdom to love all things, even death.

When my days are weary
And the world is weary, and no happiness is able to stir,
And all things seem far away, and nothing seems able to last—
I think of the beauty and lastingness of her—
Who is here—not in the past.

The loving and the beautiful will last.
Forever is forever, and conquers the past.

The lady lives. For she was giving.
The lady is—continually living.

IV

In the Italy in heaven where the lady now goes
Each river and stream with our tears flows—
Each of our tears, heavy with sorrow, drops,
On the Italian mountaintops
And freshens the Italian valleys.

The mountains, the sunlight and the greenery
Delight the lady in heaven, for our tears feed the scenery.

We are weeping.
She hears us not: Look! She thinks, This path needs sweeping.
We sit in darkness, our eyes, red.
She walks an Italian street, enchanted.
Then, when heaven opens for us (at last,)
She will thank us for each tear we shed in the past.

On her little street, surrounded by flowers,
Where after she first left us, she stood for hours,
By a tiny stream in her Italian heaven,
The lady will announce to us, with a smile like the sun:
Come to me! My friends! The tears are done!

 

 

 

WILDE AND BAUDELAIRE TANGLE FOR THE LAST FINAL FOUR SPOT!

 

WILDE:

All art is immoral. For emotion for the sake of emotion is the aim of art, and emotion for the sake of action is the aim of life, and of that practical organization of life that we call society. Society, which is the beginning and basis of morals, exists simply for the concentration of human energy, and in order to ensure its own continuance and healthy stability it demands, and no doubt rightly demands, of each of its citizens that she should contribute some form of productive labor to the common weal, and toil and travail that the day’s work must be done. Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer. The beautiful sterile emotions that art excites in us are hateful in its eyes, and so completely are people dominated by the tyranny of this dreadful social ideal that they are always coming shamelessly up to one at Private Views and other places that are open to the general public, and saying in a loud, stentorian voice, “What are you doing?” whereas “What are you thinking?” is the only question that any single civilized being should ever be allowed to whisper to another. They mean well, no doubt, these honest, beaming folk. Perhaps that is the reason why they are so excessively tedious. But someone should teach them that while, in the opinion of society, contemplation is the gravest sin of which any citizen can be guilty, in the opinion of the highest culture it is the proper occupation of man.

It is far more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it. Let me say to you now that to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual. To Plato, with his passion for wisdom, this was the noblest form of energy. To Aristotle, with his passion for knowledge, this was the noblest form of energy, also. It was to this that the passion for holiness led the saint and the mystic of the medieval days.

It is to do nothing that the elect exist. Action is limited and relative. Unlimited and absolute is the vision of him who sits and ease and watches, who walks in loneliness and dreams.

BAUDELAIRE:

If I speak of love in connection with dandyism, this is because love is the natural occupation of the idle. The dandy does not, however, regard love as a special target to be aimed at. If I have spoken of money, this is because money is indispensable to those who make a cult of their emotions; but the dandy does not aspire to money as to something essential; this crude passion he leaves to vulgar mortals; he would be perfectly content with a limitless credit at the bank. Dandyism does not even consist, as many thoughtless people seem to believe, in an immoderate taste for the toilet and material elegance. For the perfect dandy these things are no more than symbols of his aristocratic superiority of mind. Furthermore to his eyes, which are in love with distinction above all things, the perfection of his toilet will consist in absolute simplicity, which is the best way, in fact, of achieving the desired quality. What then is this passion, which, becoming doctrine, has produced such a school of tyrants? what this unofficial institution which has formed so haughty and exclusive a sect? It is first and foremost the burning need to create for oneself a personal originality, bounded only by the limits of the properties. It is a kind of cult of the self which can nevertheless survive the pursuit of a happiness to be found in someone else—in woman, for example; which can even survive all that goes by in the name of illusions. It is the joy of astonishing others, and the proud satisfaction of never oneself being astonished. A dandy may be blasé, he may even suffer; but in this case, he will smile like the Spartan boy under the fox’s tooth.

Dandyism is the last spark of heroism amid decadence; and the type of dandy discovered by our traveler in North America does nothing to invalidate this idea; for how can we be sure that those tribes which we call ‘savage’ may not in fact be the disjecta membra of great extinct civilizations? Dandyism is a sunset; like the declining daystar, it is glorious, without heat and full of melancholy. But alas, the rising tide of democracy, which invades and levels everything, is daily overwhelming these last representatives of human pride and pouring floods of oblivion upon the footprints of these stupendous warriors.

Wilde and Baudelaire!  Connoisseurs of the decadent! Pronounce the sweet success of the manque!  Hold in your hands the flower of bad poetry!

The Modern flips the Classical: all that is holy, energetic and good for the latter is sterile and stiff and empty for the former.

The flip is all that matters.  The elements themselves do not matter. The new mood is all.

I once loved all that you were. Time passed. I became bored. Now I hate all that you were. Ah, the history of art!

The Modern bracket had to come to this. Wilde. Baudelaire. My twin!  My double! — Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!

You are me.  And I hate you.  For the dandy must resent not only “the rising tide of democracy” but the rival dandy, as well.  Easy to identify, as Baudelaire does, a tribesman across the sea as a dandy: no chance they will rival you.

Wilde and Baudelaire both define the dandy beautifully—and of course the dandy is timeless, not merely modern—but we finally trust Wilde a little more.  Baudelaire slips, we believe, with his dying-ember praise of “warriors.”  Wilde wins by simply refusing to stir.

 

WINNER: WILDE

 

 

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