Image result for yone noguchi

Yone Noguchi and Joaquin Miller: How curiously they would gaze on us today!

This latest Hot 100 List is mostly comprised of very brief quotes from poems in BAP 2015—now the most collectible volume in David Lehman’s “best” anthology series, due to its Yi-Fen Chou controversy.

The “molecular” display presents fragmentary glimpses of “hot,” and we must say it is an interesting way to see the poets—can we know them by a few of their poetry molecules?

We may be living, without knowing it, in the Age of the Fragment.  The best prose-poems often produce dull fragments. That’s the bad news. The good news is that fragments from dull prose-poems may intimate genius; if future ages can only read the fragments we produce today, some lucky poets, who wrote mediocre prose poems, may be hailed as geniuses. Since the lyric of unified metrical accomplishment is really not our strength today, the Fragment may be our era’s ticket to lasting fame.

Is it the goal of the fragment to be fragmentary?  Is it ever the goal of the poem to be fragmentary?  Are there different types of fragments?  Is there not a rush to completion by every poem itself that makes even a fragment seem complete, beyond even the knowledge of the poet?

Getting to know David Lehman on Facebook…he loves rhyme, especially the rollicking sort, and we believe those sorts of poems in BAP are his selections.  Lehman is also a ‘free-speech-er;’ he sanctions the racy; the BAP poems often strive to be popular in the attention-getting sense, which I suppose is admirable—or not.

The non-poem exceptions in the Scarriet list are recent remarks by the hot Alexie, Lehman, Perloff, and Mary Karr. We are proud to include the quotation from Perloff—who chose to break her silence on the “racist Avant-garde” controversy by addressing Scarriet—on Facebook!—as she admitted her book Unoriginal Genius and its final chapter on Goldsmith’s Traffic may have had a part in bringing on the racist label. Are we not interested in my discussion of Yoko Tawada in Unoriginal Genius, Perloff asked, because she’s Asian-German, rather than Asian-American? “What xenophobia!”

The question we asked Perloff was, “Is the non-creative nearly racist by default?” The question was not meant to put Perloff on the spot; it was as much about the current race-conscious atmosphere as it was about Perloff, or the avant-garde. Were an avant-garde poet to tweet “red wheel barrow beside the white chickens” enough times, just think what might happen. And speaking of Williams (and Pound) and their Imagiste schtick: Scarriet, in its five year assault on Avant-Garde Modernism as a reactionary clique of white men, should get some credit for opening up this whole discussion.

Scarriet has written of Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) in the context of Imagism ripping off haiku, the importance of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war, and Noguchi’s important contacts: Yeats, Hardy, Symons, and John Gould Fletcher—the Arkansas poet who, along with Ford Maddox Ford, was the connecting link between Pound’s circle and the equally reactionary and highly influential circle of New Critics—the group of men who brought us the Writing Program Era—and its “difficult” Modernist flavor.

Scarriet, which trailblazes often, found the secret to the Red Wheel Barrow poem: WC Williams had a brother, Edgar, who married the woman he loved, Charlotte (Bill married her sister). “So much depended on” this: and Ed can be found in “red,” Charlotte in “chickens” and “white” symbolizes the bride.

But here we go. Controversy and hot go together; let’s get to the hot list. No mention of awards this time. Enjoy the list—and the poetry.

1. Yi-Fen Chou –“Adam should’ve said no to Eve.”

2. Derrick Michael Hudson –“Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?”

3. Sherman Alexie –“I am no expert on Chinese names…I’d assumed the name was Chinese.”

4. David Lehman –“Isn’t giving offense, provoking discussion…part of the deal?”

5. Terrance Hayes –“Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours”

6. Marjorie Perloff — “Scarriet poses the question…I have so far refrained from answering this and related questions but perhaps it is time to remind Scarriet and its readership…”

7. Amy Gerstler –“…live on there forever if heaven’s bereft of smell?”

8. Jane Hirshfield — “A common cold, we say—common, though it is infinite”

9. Mary Karr — “[John Ashbery is] the most celebrated unclothed emperor…an invention of academic critics…the most poisonous influence in American poetry”

10. Mary Oliver — “June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter.”

11. Rowan Ricardo Phillips — “It does not not get you quite wrong.”

12. Lawrence Raab — “nothing truly seen until later.”

13. Patrick Phillips — “Touched by your goodness, I am like that grand piano we found one night”

14. Dan Chiasson — “The only god is the sun, our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

15. Willie Perdomo — I go up in smoke and come down in a nod”

16. Katha Pollitt — “Truth had no past. It was wordless as water, a fall of shadow on stone.”

17. Tim Seibles — “That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger”

18. Marilyn Hacker — “You happened to me.”

19. Charles Simic — “I could have run into the street naked, confident anyone I met would understand”

20. Louise Glück — “…the night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.”

21. Laura Kasischke — “but this time I was beside you. …I was there.”

22. Michael Tyrell — “how much beauty comes from never saying no?”

23. Susan Terris — “cut corners    fit in     marry someone”

24. Cody Walker — “Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.”

25. A.E. Stallings — “the woes were words,     and the only thing left was quiet.”

26. Valerie Macon — “coats fat over lean with a bright brush”

27. Jennifer Keith — “…bound to break: One the fiction, one the soul, the fact.”

28. Ed Skoog — “Its characters are historians at the Eisenhower Library.”

29. Terence Winch — “I’m in the emergency room at Holy Cross hoping all is not lost.”

30. Chana Bloch — “the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.”

31. Natalie Diaz — “Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark”

32. LaWanda Walters — “And we—we white girls—knew nothing.”

33. Raphael Rubinstein — “Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else”

34. R.S. Gwynn — “How it shows, shows, shows. (How it shows!)”

35. Robin Coste Lewis — “how civic the slick to satisfied from man.”

36. Andrew Kozma — “What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.”

37. Melissa Barrett — “—lines from Craiglist personal ads

38. Mark Bibbins — “He’s Serbian or something, whole family wiped out”

39. Chen Chen — “i pledge allegiance to the already fallen snow”

40. Patricia Lockwood — “How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel marry Across…on a Tightrope?”

41. Ron Padgett — “Old feller, young feller, who cares?”

42. Bethany Schultz Hurst — “Then things got confusing for superheroes.”

43. Natalie Scenters-Zapico — “…apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.”

44. Sandra Simonds — “Her little girl threw fake bills into the air.”

45. Donna Masini — “Even sex is no exit.  Ah, you exist.”

46. Dora Malech — “paper mane fluttering in the breeze of a near miss, belly ballasted with…kisses”

47. David Kirby — “Pets are silly, but the only world worth living in is one that doesn’t think so.”

48. Ross Gay —  “One never knows does one how one comes to be”

49. Meredith Hasemann — “The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.”

50. Madelyn Garner — “working her garden…which is happiness—even as petal and pistil we fall.”

51. Wendy Videlock — “like a lagoon, like a canoe, like you”

52. Erica Dawson — “I knocked out Sleeping Beauty, fucking cocked her on the jaw.”

53. Hailey Leithauser — “Eager spills eel-skin, python, seal-leather, platinum and plate, all cabbage, all cheddar.”

54. Monica Youn –“the dead-eyed Christ in Pietro’s Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers”

55. Tanya Olson — “Assless Pants Prince High-Heels Boots Prince Purple Rain Prince”

56. Jericho Brown — “But nobody named Security ever believes me.”

57. Danielle DeTiberus — “In a black tank top, I can watch him talk about beams, joists…for hours”

58. Rebecca Hazelton — “My husband bearded, my husband shaved, the way my husband taps out the razor”

59. Dana Levin — “I watched them right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea while the real sea thrashed and heaved—”

60. Evie Shockley — “fern wept, let her eyes wet her tresses, her cheeks, her feet. the cheerlessness rendered her blessed”

61. Alan Michael Parker — “Rabbi, try the candied mint: it’s heaven.”

62. Aimee Nezhukumatahil — “I wonder if scientists could classify us a binary star—”

63. D. Nurske — “Neils Bohr recites in his soft rapt voice: I divide myself into two persons”

64. Afaa Michael Weaver — “inside oneness that appears when the prison frees me to know I am not it and it is not me.”

65. Marilyn Chin — “She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove”

66. Candace G. Wiley — ” My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.”

67. Joanna Valente — “Sometimes, at night, I wish for someone to break into me—”

68. Jeet Thayil — “There are no accidents.  There is only God.”

69. Kate Tempest — “It gets into your bones.”

70. Alice Notley — “To take part in you is to die is why one dies Have I said this before?”

71. Eileen Myles — “Well I’ll be a poet. What could be more foolish and obscure.”

72. Major Jackson — “When you have forgotten the meaningful bop”

73. Dawn Lundy Martin — “And Olivia, the mouth of his children from the mouth of my vagina.”

74. Kiki Petrosino — “We sense them shining in our net of nerves.”

75. Jennifer Moxley — “How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.”

76. Juliana Spahr — “There is space between the hands.”

77. Ada Limón — “just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

78. Kevin Young — “I want to be doused in cheese and fried.”

79. Dodie Bellamy — “what is it have I seen it before will it hurt me or help me”

80. Juan Felipe Herrera — “Could this be yours? Could this item belong to you? Could this ticket be what you ordered, could it?”

81. Joy Harjo — “The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits blew deer magic.”

82. Saeed Jones — “In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back”

83. Sarah Arvio — “The new news is I love you my nudist”

84. Desiree Bailey — “how will I swim to you when the day is done?”

85. Rachael Briggs — “Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny”

86. Rafael Campo — “We lie and hide from what the stethoscope will try to say”

87. Emily Kendal Frey — “How can you love people without them feeling accused?”

88. James Galvin — “Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress? What, gone?”

89. Douglas Kearney — “people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.”

90. Jamaal May — “how ruined the lovely children must be in your birdless city”

91. Claudia Rankine — “What did he just say? Did she really just say that?”

92. Donald Platt — “Someone jerks his strings. He can’t stop punching.”

93. Denise Duhamel — “it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires”

94. Jane Wong — “A planet fell out of my mouth”

95. Derrick Austin — “Will you find me without the pink and blue hydrangeas?”

96. Dexter L. Booth — “The head goes down in defeat, but lower in prayer”

97. Catherine Bowman — “From two pieces of string and oil-fattened feathers he made a father.”

98. Jessamyn Birrer — “Abracadabra: The anus. The star at the base of the human balloon.”

99. Julie Carr– “Can you smell her from here?”

100. Mary Angela Douglas — “music remains in the sifted ruins”



I always knew poetry
Was sentimentality
Which only the dearest hearts expressed.

Philosophy is cold,
But not the heart that is distressed.

It’s not that poetry sings,
Though sentiment is close to song;
Poetry sings the heart when the heart knows the world is wrong.

“But the world is not wrong,” she said.
“Is the cloud that covers the sun a lie?
The world is not wrong.”
And even as my poetry sang,
hilosophy coldly told me why.



“When I get you alone…” –old song

Love desires privacy.
I understand you less and less
The more we are intimate.
I see more of you in rumor,
Less of you in the eye.
Privacy demands more privacy.
The public becomes a spy.

How bitter to find
Love is not a picture
You bring home
But a picture-spoiling mind.

I know you less and less.
Your public beauty
Is a private guess.
I would know you,
But beauty is an intimacy that owns—
Covering to undress.






Enter picture. Exit poetry.

Enter flattery. Farewell truth.

Enter crowds. Goodbye muse.

Enter vanity. Patience, adieu!

Ugh. This poem is crap.

It was my eye, not I, who fell in love with you.









Love does not need my help;
My poems can be quiet now.
All that I asked them to do
I got through kisses, anyhow.

There’s more than enough sky
For stars— see? they gather above
In layer upon layer; what poetry finds
I found for real, later, when I was in love.

The quiet teenager feels
All that is necessary to feel,
So that’s not exactly what I want
As I admit this isn’t real.

There are many ways to love,
And quiet love is usually the best.
Love does not need my help.
Kiss. Then we’ll rest.




A.E. Stallings.  Is her poem, “Ajar,” the best rhymed poem in BAP 2015?

In our previous notice on BAP 2015, we ranked the poems from 75th to 1st (Scarriet, Sept 20, 1915). Ranking is a proper criticism and should be done by critics and reviewers more often today.

There is a belief, a very powerful and prevalent belief today, one that to seeks to inhibit overly excitable and aggressive criticism, that says if a poem fails, we should simply pass over it in silence—that neglect is the proper reward for what is inferior. If we discuss only the good, says this belief, we will 1. Promote good will and avoid giving offense 2. Make an example of what is superior 3. Promote good poetry 4. Allow bad poetry to fade away without wasting time and energy on it.

It is hard to argue with this.

But we will.

Rather than “pass over the bad poem in silence,” we would rather rank it among the others. When every poem in any given group is part of a chain, we become aware of a relationship between poems; the very idea of “good and bad’ comes organically out of the poems themselves, rather than super-imposed from above, selectively, with large gaps of understanding between our choices.

If our task is to review BAP 2015, we should review all the poems. If we only like three of the 75, and only discuss those three, what sort of “review” would that be?

And, if we review all the BAP 2015 poems, should our review be honest, or dishonest? The more honest, the more poems we look at—even “bad” ones.

Why should judgment be silent? What if critics fall into the habit of ignoring good poems—with the belief they are bad?  That would be not only poor judgment, but poor judgment which is allowed to thrive.

In a review, what actually occurs is a judgment of judgement, not poems; and therefore silence by a reviewer should offend, not the other way around.

And further, what if the critic sees bad poems promoted as good? Shouldn’t the critic say something, even if it gives offense to the erring poet and the mistaken critic?

Isn’t passing off the bad poem as good akin to encouraging people to consume poison while thinking it is healthy?

Poems do not exist in a vacuum; all poetry exists in a medium: an environment of promotion and judgment and social interaction. Should the poet who writes the poem control the poem’s environment, or should a reliable critical faculty shape a poem’s extra-poem environment? And should that critical faculty be honest or dishonest? And, if honest, how do we know it is honest unless it speak, and speak honestly? By turning its own light on its own judgment, not just on “good” poems?

Poems, when they are good, are good compared to other poems; this is a truth of all judgments. By ranking the 75 poems by order of excellence, we avoid promoting an abstract idea of good or bad, whether it be a moral or a formal judgment. We instead illustrate, with gradation, the very poems before us in the volume: and here we cannot offend as critic this way, because the offended poet will first have to blame the poet ranked just above him—and how can he do so without escaping the censure he would level at the critic?

A ranking can be neither honest nor dishonest; it is a fact; the poems exist as a group in the volume, fated to jostle against one another, and ranking the group wounds only as it illuminates. Yet the hurting and helping cannot be escaped, and here, by making hurting and helping one, we cannot but aid criticism—which never seeks to benefit anyone by hurting anyone; it is by the natural division: 75 poems, that the world begins, and is, and ends.

We have 75 poems before us. We judge them. Against one another. They live in the same world as each other and shine a critical light on each other. We don’t know what a poem is until it provides us with its particular pleasure, and when it does, it has set a standard—the poem has set the standard, not the criticism; the critic only points up this fact as a passive reporter. (The critic who “only” discusses “good” poems is actually doing much more—is actually being more intrusive and arrogant as a critic.) The poem has done something and the critic simply says, “my god, did you see that?”  If there is only one poem, the home runs hit by that one poem would have to be our measure of poetry. As soon as we have a second poem that hits a hundred more home runs than the first, civilization and romantic love begins.

Now. As for these 75 poems on Best American Poetry 2015, we wish we had liked the formalist poems more, as we prefer formalism in general—poems which exhibit metrical and musical and rhyming skill.

Rhyme and meter, however, are extremely difficult for poets today to pull off, especially in our current free verse environment—which naturally has its demands.

The serious poet today who rhymes, let’s say, lives in fear of many things.

The poet who also attempts to be a musician is naked, exposed; they are leaving the clothed comfort of talking for a naturalism of sound which can highly endear but also highly embarrass—if things are not right.

Because you can either write like Keats & Shelley/play Mozart or you can’t.  Speech is. But music demands.

Mozart is actually less man-made than speech; Mozart, and highly musical poetry, approaches the divine sensuality of nature herself.

Why have the sophisticated turned away from the beauties of meter and rhyme?

We are like a society today without orchestras, without professional musicians. Divine musical poetry is almost dead.

A. E. Stallings is a doggerelist.

The modest success of rhymed poetry we see in contemporary efforts is inevitably the lighter, less serious poem.

We said the poem leaning on sound can be highly embarrassing if “things are not right.”

When the lens of formalism is trained on poetic practice, it is natural to expect formal considerations to become the poet’s supreme point of interest. Since rhyming well requires a good ear, there hardly seems to be any need to fixate on what we are rhyming about—what should content have to do with utterances of pure sound? In nonsense poetry, not much—the wacky music carries the day. But even here, in examples of pure burlesque, content does matter. It matters more.

In pure prose, the content has it easy.

In prose, the content is the content.

In verse, the content is not the content; the content, as a separate thing, belongs to the verse, and therefore musical poetry’s content is up for greater inspection—precisely because it is attached to something else (the musical contraptions and flow).

This is why formal poetry is so difficult to pull off; it can very easily fail on two counts, not just one, as in prose. It can fail as music—too rhyme-y, too sing-song-y, too dull, too monotonous, too eccentric, not mathematically precise enough, too rigid, not flexible enough, annoying in a purely sensual, distracting, strange, alien sort of way—and then it can also fail in the same manner that prose fails, but more so, since the prose meaning is aloft on a musical pedestal for closer inspection.

The real difficulty—not the artificial “difficulty” promoted by the modernists, by which we now live in a more “modern” and “difficult” society, etc, no—the real difficulty in terms of effort and skill, in writing sublime musical poetry is the sole reason for its demise—and not because of any inevitable modernist “change.”

The would-be formalist poet is ridiculously fearful that the reader will ‘see a rhyme coming’ and so they take great pains to make the rhyme unexpected and idiosyncratic. Rhyme can’t relax. Ashamed that it is not natural speech or unobtrusive prose, rhyme, with an eye to critical acceptance, humbles itself and doesn’t fly. It solemnly clips its wings in deliberately pedantic or plain speech. It sputters hesitatingly in a tone-deaf manner in terms of mood and feeling. It orates in a deliberately measured and mannered technique—that often ends up as doggerel. When rhyme and meter are used in highly digressive and rambling types of rhetoric, in silly, acrobatic ways or not, it ends up serving humor, and never the sublime. All kinds of things can go wrong.

To demonstrate, we’ll look at a rhymed effort in BAP 2015.

The highest ranked, serious, rhymed poem in the anthology (it earned its ranking, to be honest, more from effort than accomplishment) is a brief poem by A.E. Stallings, “Ajar.”

The washing machine door broke.  We hand-washed for a week.
Left in the tub to soak,   the angers began to reek.
And sometimes when we spoke,   you said we shouldn’t speak.

Pandora was a bride;   the gods gave her a jar
But said don’t look inside.   You know how stories are—
The can of worms denied?    It’s never been so far.

Whatever the gods forbid,   it’s sure someone will do.
And so Pandora did,   And made the worst come true.
She peeked under the lid,   And out all trouble flew:

Sickness, war, and pain,   nerves frayed like fretted rope,
Every mortal bane    with which Mankind must cope.
The only thing to remain,    lodged in the mouth, was Hope.

Or so the tale asserts—    and who am I to deny it?
Yes, out like black-winged birds    the woes flew and ran riot,
But I say that the woes were words,    and the only thing left was quiet.

“Ajar” is a “math” poem—meter and rhyme are aggressively on display.

Proportion is a powerful tool, and perhaps the most important one in all the arts.

Content and meaning, prose’s virtues, even in the most rambling, off-hand manner of prose, has proportion, is expressed proportionately; in meter and rhyme, however, the virtues and potential failures increase exponentially.

Stallings escapes nothing by using rhyme and meter—she brings upon herself a thousand more potential problems. This is an obvious point, but we think not properly understood. Not only will she be judged by her sound, she will be read for her content, as well—which will matter more, not less, and further, she will be judged by how her sound—specifically proportionate sound—and her prose meaning, in every possible specific manner, commingle.

When someone is frankly talking to us, we let our guard down; we listen respectively to what they are saying.

But as soon as we hear the first rhyme, our guard goes up: we listen, almost against our will, with an extra sense, and think, “oh god is this going to be painful?”

There is much to be recommended in this poem; it is perhaps the most interesting in the whole book.

Its subject is Pandora and its ruling idea: the woes Pandora released were words, and the one thing left in the open box, was not hope, but quiet.

Stallings ends her poem with “quiet,” and the fact that “quiet” is a word is interesting in itself—and also we notice it is a feminine rhyme—lacking closure, sound-wise—so it fits in with “ajar.”

The first stanza implies a domestic argument ushering in an exasperated, compromising silence.

But then there comes three stanzas of rather pedantic recounting of the Pandora myth—and here proportionately defeats the poet, for there is too much time spent on recounting the myth; it drags the poem down.

Stallings is not fully in control of the music—there is some real doggerel here.

Lines like “nerves frayed like fretted rope” feel like filler.

When the poem says at the end, “But I say that the…” we as readers are not sure who the “I” is—is it the woman of the domestic dispute in the first stanza, or the poet?  The final stanza does echo the idea of “silence” which we got in the first stanza, but the speaker’s identity remains vague.  The poem would be stronger if we knew; but we never get a chance to know, for the majority of the lines in the poem are mere pedantry.

“The can of worms denied? It’s never been so far” is weak.

“And out all trouble flew” has a ponderous, spondaic rhythm, completely at odds with the idea conveyed: woes flying out of the jar quickly.  Or perhaps “out all trouble flew” is written intentionally that way, since the poet wants to make the action hefty and memorable.  But we don’t know.  And that’s a weakness.  If we have to stop and wonder about sound/sense, it fails, unless we are intentionally building ambiguity; but a poem will always eventually fall apart when ambiguity builds on ambiguity.

This is what we mean when we say the virtue of what Stallings is trying to do can quickly become a flaw.

And here we might mention the New Critics’ “Intentional fallacy,” and how much damage it has done.  We know how it was meant: just because you say you are going to do something, if you try and do it, and you can’t, your intention means nothing. So, the New Critics were anxious to tell us, it doesn’t matter what the poet intended to do.  This is correct, but only if we are speaking of macro-intention: I am going to move this rock.  But poems—especially this poem by Stallings—are full of micro-intentions, and if the micro-intentions are not clear, the poem fails.

To be musically serious in poetry demands the greatest skill; any pedantry or clutter quickly destroys the attempt, or it becomes humorous, as in the following excerpt, from another rhyming poem in BAP 2015, “Trades I Would Make,” by Cody Walker, a poem of non-sequiturs:

Gehrig, Unitas, Chamberlain (a bunch of dead jocks) for lunch with Redd Foxx.
A cat named Frisky for a vat of whiskey.


To live is to be in error all the time.

My poems are mistakes

Saved only by their rhyme.

You shouldn’t think I know what I am saying

In these mistakes, which surely are a mistake to write.

I write them for you, who are not mistaken.

Nor your kiss. Nor this night.



“The void is blind but has a mind.”  —old poem

This guy doesn’t have much to say.

But he’ll listen to you, even if you talk to him all day.

Stupid is smart.

The beautiful offend the ugly more each day.

Kindness pities the ugly—kindness works hard, so more ugliness will stay.

Stupid is smart.

The universal void has articulation—the something that comes from nothing, mere talk.

What really happens has nothing to do with what we say.

Consciousness of the void, of death, is painful; if you see me taking a walk

And talking to myself, that’s the poet mixing articulation with pleasure,

The hope and joy and beauty of lonely love.

Stupid is smart.

To think about truth (the void) is painful.

Consciousness as poetry is simply pleasure mixed with talk.

But pleasure made articulate is beautiful and what is beautiful offends the ugly.

The ugly conquer at last—their ally, the void.

Stupid is smart.

I was beautiful and articulate and loved you, and you dumped me.

You were beautiful but you saw ugliness closing in.

You were beautiful but you knew ugliness would win.

Stupid is smart.

That’s how you broke my heart.





Before we rank the 75, we’d like to observe a few things.

The 2015 BAP guest editor Sherman Alexie, in his personal, Foetry-influenced, “Sherman Alexie Speaks Out,” overview of his BAP selection process on the BAP blog, in the wake of the Fi-Yen Chou controversy, made a boast:

Alexie, for the job as BAP Guest Editor, had read, he thinks, “1,000 poems” last year.

But that’s only 3 poems a day.  Many of the poems in the 2015 BAP are 20 lines or less. How long does it take to read three short poems? Ten minutes? Five minutes? How long does it take to reject a short poem? If the few first few lines do nothing for you? Ten seconds?

Alexie writes, “I think BAP 2015 contains a handful of incredible poems and dozens of good to great poems.” [italics ours]

The editor, himself, admits that approximately half of the poems in BAP 2015 are less than good.

We heartily agree with the editor, but leaving aside the worth of the poems in the 2015 BAP for the moment—with increased access to all the poems published today, one cannot find, within a year, 75 good poems?—leaving this depressing thought aside for the time being:—if half the poems which made it to BAP 2015, by editor Alexie’s own admission, were less than good, we must conclude that most of the 1,000 poems he read were quite bad.

And so, Sherman Alexie couldn’t have spent more than ten minutes a day in his role as guest editor of BAP, actually reading poems.

Alexie speaks of his role of Guest Editor for Lehman’s famous series as a great honor. Why, then, so little effort?

Alexie does say that “it could have been” that he read “3,000 poems.” But again, the vast majority had to be less than good, and if we triple the number of poems looked at, we are still talking a half hour per day, total, reading poems to find the best poems for BAP 2015. Most people read FB for that amount of time before getting out of bed.

If we look at the first poem in BAP 2015, we find a poem that is so bad, it almost causes us to weep. It is difficult to imagine someone reading this, and not only not rejecting it, but liking it, and then, over time, re-reading it, judging it, and finally selecting it as one of the best poems published in 2015.

“Bodhisattva” by Sarah Arvio begins with the couplet, “The new news is I love you my nudist/the new news is I love you my buddhist” and it continues with treacly half-rhymes and sound references to ‘ring around the rosy,’ a love poem of the vaguest sort, which was chosen, we guess, for being cute, or nice, or daring to cash in on “nude” sounding like “new” and “new” sounding like “news.”

In his foreword to BAP 2015, series editor David Lehman earnestly defends Dylan Thomas, quoting these lines for especial recommendation: “Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,/Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” And, getting into his Thomas-worship, Lehman also quotes, “Though wise men at their end know dark is right,/Because  their words had forked no lightning they/Do not go gentle into that good night.”

We have a theory: since rhyme went out of fashion 50 to 100 years ago in the West, poets have forgotten why it existed in the first place, and it’s not rocket science: add definition and emphasis to both the poem’s musical flow (meter) and unfolding prose meaning.

What the forgetful poets have done, since the free verse revolution, is carry sound-correspondence back into their work, but in all sorts of silly, clumsy, cute, irrelevant and show-off-y ways. It is as if the human face were forgotten (“Though wise men at their end know dark is right,/Because their words had forked no lightning they/Do not go gentle into that good night.”) and now we adorn the torso with an eye here, a nose there:

In the BAP “Contributors’ Notes and Comments,” Arvio, who turns out to have a rather distinguished resume, pedantically lays out the sound resemblances in the poem for us, as if no one would notice them, and is simply happy to have them merely sitting there in the poem for their own sake, as if she had done some magical thing by finding the word “body” in “buddhist.” This just indicates what sort of poetic era we are living in: one of playful mannerism, lacking all seriousness.

The serious poems are almost all written in prose; stately mini-fictions: the poem by Glück, for instance.

The criteria for the best poems felt like the following: 1. Tell us something from your life. 2. Be sincere.

If this is “quietism” (Poe by way of Silliman) so be it.

One cannot simply wish that non-lyric poems be good, and have it be true.

The other criterion is apparently: 1. Pop reference. 2. Funny.

Of this criterion we do not, as we chuckle, quite know what to say. See “Trades I Would Make.”

Rhyme used for a serious purpose is very difficult to do, and especially these days, when august rhyme is viewed with great suspicion (think T.S. Eliot’s opinion of Shelley, to get an idea). Jokes are wonderful—and so is prose. If these two were not able to pass for poetry (holding a number of shared qualities) we would have practically no poetry at all today.

Judging these 75, we found ourselves forced to use the following criteria:

Was it amusing? Did it try my patience? Length-wise? Formatting-wise? Obscure-wise? Did it make any sense? Did it touch me emotionally?

The critical faculty which discerns quality poetry was largely in abeyance.

All poems in the volume appear to value most a template of idiosyncrasy, with the best of them reflecting, more so than the lesser ones, a life either felt or understood, and the very best, a life felt and understood.

We ranked the amusing poems above the pretentiously obscure poems—and the few really good poems above the amusing ones. Some were so amusing, we ranked them quite high. Can you blame us? The nature of what is published today as “poetry” made this necessary.

We see immediately, with the first poem in the volume, why Alexie could not bring himself to say that all the poems he selected were, if not great, at least good.

We cannot blame Arvio, or anyone in particular, that we now live in a time in which it is natural to use sound-correspondence for its own sake—in a manner which is goofily fanciful. The contemporary unspoken rule is this: do not consistently rhyme in a way that lends weight and power to what you are saying. If you must strive towards some semblance of poetic sublimity, always do it with tortured prose—or do it inauspiciously. Don’t be too good.

As we wrote in our now famous essay, “Why Poetry Sucks Now,” our modern era is different from any other, not because it lacks good (mostly prose) poetry, but because it actively publishes and promotes bad poetry; the public has lost faith in the poetry publishing apparatus—and has simply given up.

Here, then, are the 75 BAP poems ranked, from worst (“Stein”) to best (“Morning”)—or, more accurately: unreadable to readable but obvious/boring, to readable and interesting:

If My Late Grandmother Were Gertrude Stein

Vernacular Owl

Exhibits from the Dark Museum


There Were Only Dandelions

Relevant Details

The Chickasaw Trees

A fourteen-line poem on sex

A Scatology


Prayer at 3 a.m.

Cedars of Lebanon



The Main Event

from Citizen

There Are Birds Here

In the End, They Were Born on TV

On the Sadness of Wedding Dresses

Careful, I Just Won a Prize at the Fair

In Memory of My Parents Who Are Not Dead Yet


in the hall of the ruby-throated warbler

A Retrograde


Body & Kentucky Bourbon

Dear Black Barbie

City of Eternal Spring


Upon Hearing the News You Buried Our Dog

Candying Mint


Watching the Sea Go

My Husband

In a Black Tank Top


54 Prince

March of the Hanged Men

The Pickpocket Song

Slow-Wave Sleep with a Fairy Tale

How You Might Approach a Foal:

The Garden in August



Is Spot in Heaven?

Party Games


Similitude at Versailles

Endnotes on Ciudad Juárez

Crisis on Infinite Earths, Issues 1-12

Survivor Guilt

See a Furious Waterfall Without Water

Antebellum House Party

for I will do/undo what was done/undone to me

House Is an Enigma


WFM: Allergic to Pine-Sol, Am I the Only One

Ode to the Common Housefly

Looney Tunes

Poem Begun on a Train

A Common Cold

Goodness in Mississippi

It Was the Animals

The Joins

Subject to Change

The Macarena

Eating Walnuts

The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve


Trades I Would Make

For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike


Memo to the Former Child Prodigy

A Sharply Worded Silence

So Early in the Morning


Congratulations to Charles Simic for winning, and Glück for finishing second; of course these are unofficial, snap judgments.

No poet under 40 contributed a great poem; is this because writing a wonderful poem today requires a certain amount of maturity? If so, this would indicate, in contemporary poetry’s favor, that the whole person is involved in producing the extraordinary poem—not merely technical skill, insight, passion. Yet one suspects this may not be true, and it is only reputation (academic/publishing) that, by this or that nuanced path, places the poet in a position to receive the highest praise.





You strove to be good. And then you met me.
I measure myself by how much I can see.
I saw your hands and feet
And all your other things.
And found them sweet.

I heard there is a land where those like you
Must hide the foot within the shoe,
Where love is covered from head to toe.
Is this wisdom?  Or a desire to know?

Which tree are you in the wood?
Which singer in the choir?
I was knowing you only to know
The desire to know desire.

I love you more than what you are.
I also love what you represent.
I love your hands and feet
And also you, dressed in white, under a white tent.




Poised between her and her:

One who is here and one who is gone.

One switched me off and this one switches me on.

The one who switched me off was one I loved dearly.

The one who switches me on?  I see her a bit more clearly.

I think of the one who is gone

As a wife who wasn’t a wife.

She was a catch that wasn’t a catch,

A life that wasn’t a life.

This one here? The poet? Poetry cannot be steady.

She might leave me any day. Possibly

Today. But what is a poem? I am ready.




The muse of epic poetry’s father? Zeus.

We commonly think of sports as war by other means, and some even think of love as war, and the beleaguered, the poor, the clinically depressed among us, sadly feel life is war. And, of course, Darwinian nature is war.

Not only is war everywhere—in addition, we are faced with this sad truth: everybody is in it for themselves.

Well, here’s the good news—perhaps.

We love ourselves.

Our life, our heritage, our struggles, our beliefs, our experience, our friends, as it all connects with ourselves—we love ourselves, and even if we hate parts of ourselves, it is always the disappointment for someone we deeply love; who else, how else, do we find what we know in order to know the world, but through our own selves? We open our eyes and see the world, or close them—our eyes—and the whole world goes away. So the world, as amazing as it is, is ours in the most complete sense.  Love exists—foremost and always—for ourselves.

So why is war better for us than love?

Because of what we just said.

The depressing reality of life: everybody is in it for themselves is a reality of love. Wrap that around your brain for a moment.

Can we blame people for loving themselves over everything else? Of course we cannot. Love is involuntary, as we all know. How can we not love ourselves? The unthinking will thump their umbrella on the ground, or thump their multicultural textbook on the desk and cry out, “selfish!”

No. Involuntary self-love is not selfish. Self-love is simply the greatest love there is. It may take a moment, but cancel your righteous indignation. Wrap. Your. Brain. Around it. Self-love is the greatest love. Not because we don’t love the world. But because—we, ourselves—do. We love the world. We love the world as ourselves, loving ourselves loving the world: loving what loves—ourselves—more than anything.

So love—happy, unhappy, all kinds—is actually lonely and individual.

Who knows Mozart’s music? Who knows and loves it? Who truly loves the most beautiful things worthy of our love?

A crowd?

Ha ha ha!

No, not the crowd.

The soloist. That rare, and gifted, and self-practiced, and devoted and unique, and monk-like human being who lives with Mozart—in their brain and in their heart and in their hands.

The audience at a concert hall may love the sounds of Mozart they are hearing, but where is the love (of Mozart) truly found?

In the individual—the master soloist playing Mozart.

Love lives in the individual, not the group.

Now, you might object—I know you will, if you are like most—“Mozart? That is a rather rare and elitist example! What about…table salt that a friendly crowd, eating together, are enjoying?”

Ha! I reply this way: how egalitarian and noble of you, to imagine people enjoying the taste of salt! I bet you think you are very community-minded and down-to-earth, but your example refutes nothing I am saying.

The taste of salt is a common thing, but we experience the taste in our own mouths, on our own tongue, and lick the granules from our own lips. Take salt away from any individual at that table and we will see immediately how that individual howls in protest, and cries out, bereft of all the apparent ” community” to which, moments ago, he apparently belonged.

The most irrational and indignant types are those who champion the entirely abstract reality of tribe and community.

They are very irrational and they are very indignant. Annoying, if we must say the truth.

Because they lack love. And they lack love because they think it is found in the “unselfish” love of community, when, as we have just demonstrated, it is not found there at all. It lives alone in the individual, who in the monk-like devotion of their cell (their self) they have practiced, with their own hands, for hours and hours and hours, Mozart, in an orgy of selfish passion and love—with breaks in-between, eating salt, that temporarily sticks to their lips.

So war is better—in general, and for most instances, and for most people—than love.

Because only with war are alliances necessary.

We would be terribly lonely without war.

And by war, we mean anything which materially advances a group, short of bombing and killing—though, as we know, it sometimes will come to that.

Friendship, then, belongs to war—not to the lonely intricacies of love.

She practiced for hours and hours her Mozart, and had no friends.

Only through war do people other than ourselves even exist.

You—truly alone and inviolate—belong to love—and its terrible loneliness.

War, if you hate the burden of love’s loneliness, is your salvation—because war belongs to the group.

The wars over the silk trade, the wars over tea and coffee and cotton and tobacco and sugar…all the alliances which war enforces…war is the terrible mother of friendship and sacrifice.

War is life. Love is you.

Most don’t even exist as “you,” but merely as a reactionary part of some war machine, indignantly defending their race, their group, their clique, their empire, their plot of woolly ground, their cold, salty, whistle of sea.

The others will defy you—ah, they will—for as others they all belong to war.

Even poetry is war.

Publishing, broadcasting, and reviewing is thick with alliances and conquest.

Mozart, the one you vaguely know, is war, an expanding empire—which is the goal of all written words and written music.

The drums, marked to be played just this way, the sound of them, fill the auditorium, the void, the world—and your neighbors stamp their feet.

This very essay is marching to war. War, here, is our aim.

In my poem you would hear the same.

Perhaps you love the soloist—(it depends on so many things!) as they exit the stage?

Are you conquered and alone?

If you are, let the rest applaud; you have gone into that happy dream: loving, helpless, unreachable.











The design of the vine.

The light on the girl.

The ancient, ancient, ancient, world.

Some need to drop their clothes.

They don’t have one of those:

A lovely face with a lovely nose.

Some need to expose

Their sad, angry vanity.

They lose their clothes—and their sanity.

But this one has a face

More beautiful than disgrace.

This one has a face lovelier than

Things others might do to a man.

This one has a body, too—

Which plays sad music.

Maybe she will play for you.



In our vista, love argues with nature.

The long look begins with you.

Everything that belongs to a view

Begins with your eyes—a looking which love longs to look at, too.

Love begins with a looking heart,

And if the view expands, and love gets as far as art,

Love resembles those paintings which fulfill

Every standard of beauty, they are so beautiful.


To be caught in paintings,

Framed by the foreground’s overhanging leaves,

Green and brown undulant hills in the background—

Would you like to be in a Van Gogh painting?

Is a love a love which always has to be?

Always spies the eye which this vista found?

Even as identity is a sameness which grieves?


If love must be love, which always must be,

So the lover can always know you—

Half-way between here and there,

He will always be late as he comes past each door.

And there: far in the distance are smudges: the poor

Who live poorly, and do not love anymore.




The author and the soul of Scarriet.

As we scanned the internet recently, devouring the recent controversy gossip bubbling up from the bowels of the morally outraged by collisions of race-consciousness with the niceties of polite literature, we were struck by a passing anecdote that blew our minds. We are still laughing with philosophical joy at it, for it has opened up one of those passages of human inquiry as interesting as it is unseen. No one, in all this group-think mania, sees this open door. But we do. We’re super-excited.

Oxygen has invaded the room; fires of race-outrage are everywhere. Indignant POC (people of color), living embodiments of centuries of wrong, are roaring. Burned are even astute, politically correct, leftist elders like Vanessa Place and Ron Silliman.

Amy King, the smart and brilliantly cool, the current Robespierre of the revolution, merely links or makes a few remarks—and terrific shame follows.

Never before has a poet been published in the BAP (best American poetry) and immediately felt like Donnie Moore.

History really is being made in Letters RIGHT NOW.

Poetry is finally realizing what the internet can do for it.

The Washington Post is talking about Jim Behrle, for God’s sake.

As for the anecdote. While perusing a mass frenzy of indignation on the web about Carol Muske-Dukes’ defense of Red Hen publisher Kate Gale’s joke about cowboys and indians, in which politically correct Gale attempted an ‘oh come on, the director of the AWP isn’t racist,’ (big mistake!) we came upon the following (in a Facebook thread):

In observations related, yet not, Gale was rebuked for being a “30% dabbler” in terms of being a lesbian—in the context of an incident in which a 100% gay student wept in a counselor’s office. We asked for clarification on the FB thread: none ensued; perhaps my question was looking to take the whole thing in a different direction. Gale was further a villain, I asked, because a 30% can have more lovers and be more carefree than a 100%?

It was the numbers—and the fascinating combination of love with politics—that woke my scientific and poetic curiosity. The Edgar Poe in me, for the moment putting aside the easily observable moral outrage, was alerted to something even deeper and crazier.

Gale’s fatal mistake had been to intentionally downplay An Issue Which Cannot Be Downplayed, Especially In A Gently Humorous Manner.

We now intend—without humor, without downplaying—to look at the issue of homosexuality, leaving race behind. We are white. Interesting to others, perhaps, but boring to us. (We have that luxury.) Sexually, we are boring, too. But we find the latter far more personally and philosophically interesting—for reasons which should require no explanation.

We find homosexuality more philosophically and scientifically exciting than the primitive views commonly held, for instance, by advocates of “gay rights,” by the squeamish and hateful, or by the beautiful woman, the target of so much undue attention, who simply feels more relaxed around a “gay” man.

We plan to pursue the question, “what is gay,” in the most rigorous and philosophical manner possible. We are scientifically curious that way. Or we are just crazy-curious. Who is to say?

First, how is someone 100% gay? Can we even say that? That would imply that one is sexually attracted to 100% of those of the same gender.

Don’t we need two numbers? And the key number in this case would be: the percentage of opposite gender attraction? Which would be zero?

As we contemplate this, we’ll pursue the subject in a more rambling, discursive manner:

Let us start with the transgender: a “man” who, to various degrees, becomes a “woman.” It is a curious fact that when an individual changes in this way, they cannot help becoming more aware of the two genders—far beyond nature’s simple “breeding agenda.”

The truly “genderless” person—if such a thing exists—would not embrace transgender change, for such a change cannot help but embrace gender and its idea, while being “genderless” entails a kind of simple acceptance of whatever gender one happens to be born into.

Let us admit, at once, that we consider ourselves to be this type of consistently “genderless” individual: your author is a “heterosexual male,” I am as straight as straight can be, and, since puberty, have never doubted this, or regretted it, or been troubled by this fact. (I have that luxury.) I am not particularly macho, and it isn’t troubling to me to admit that my very gentle and intellectual demeanor has led some to perhaps wonder: is he gay?

No, I am not.

But I am a poet and a philosopher, a philosopher who perhaps foolishly exults in the truth, and has no trouble imaginatively identifying with others.

So is gay about the exclusion of one of the genders?

Sexually, at least?

Can the whole issue be isolated in this way?  Certainly the surface definition we commonly use reflects this reality.

Some may object: Embracing X is not about rejecting Y, but let us put this objection aside, granting it is impossible to solve this dilemma within the dual context of the whole reality itself.

The logic is irrefutable, even if it is troubling, and the philosopher has no choice but to affirm it: lack of desire for a person of a certain gender is a positive indication of sexual identity.

Interesting question: Is “genderless,” as we defined it above, the merely “naive” straight person, or, is it the gay person, who excludes a gender, and by this fact becomes essentially non-gendered, or “genderless,” too?  How can ” genderless” refer to both straight and gay? How is this possible?  It is actually quite simple: straights do not desire a certain gender; gays, also do not desire a certain gender.

Lack of attraction is the common trait in the straight/gay duality.

Lack of attraction—this is key.

Desire—and lack of it—for actual individuals—cannot be escaped as the criterion for the whole phenomenon itself. Purists may object—but in terms of logic, they object in vain.

But here is why the transgender individual is particularly interesting.  Two genders are involved, even as one is sought over another. One gender “existing inside another” is philosophically powerful, to say the least.

If a man, seeking satisfaction with men, seeks to become a woman in doing so, here we have a “gay” phenomenon which brings both genders to the table—a “gay” behaving in the opposite manner of how “gay” is traditionally defined.

The philosophical lynx eye seeks logical and legitimate social examples of  the “gay which is not gay.”

So, the fearless philosopher continues to ask, even if it seems naive or crude: what is gay?

I would be remiss if I did not use myself as a means to scientifically wonder.

Pondering the man-becoming-a-woman question, of which I, personally, have not the least practical desire to attempt, I nonetheless imaginatively think: if I could snap my fingers and turn myself into an exact duplicate of the sexy woman I love and desire and make love to her—as her—the breasts I love, in duplicate, pressing against each other, as I (as her) make love to her, I, as a straight male—who deeply desires this woman—I would be happy to enact becoming her, and making love to her, “for kicks,” as it were, or out of “complete love,” and, in this act—would I not be “gay” (leaving out a gender) in body, even as “I, myself,” am “straight?”

Would I not, if I could do this, enjoy myself to such an extent, that I might be eventually unwilling to return to my “own body,” since it is her body I desire, and not my own? In this frenzy of desire enacted for the female body I desire, might I eventually become so acclimated to this “ideal” love, that disgust would set in that I use my own body—which I do not desire—as a tool in making love to the one I love, and would eventually come to vastly prefer being her—whom I love?

It might be opined that she would not be interested in “making love to herself”—most likely not—but since when has sexual identity depended upon whether the other desires you, or not?

But in as much as I would prefer to remain in my own body—and make love to her as my straight male self, am I not, in identifying with my own male body next to hers—am I not, to a certain degree, “gay,” in that celebration? Is this not proof of a certain crude and unspoken degree of gay within straight?

Our mind experiment—in which we uncover the existence of “gay but not gay” in a philosophical manner is all part of the wonder which exults in pure philosophical speculation, even as it flies in the face of “people’s feelings.”

There is a certain type of person who needs to think of gay and straight as certain. They are not philosophers. They probably dislike Socrates. I defend Socrates.

I, too, appreciate social certainties; obviously they are extremely useful.

But when the philosopher quietly steps into the next room to practice his speculation, I will always champion that practice.

Now we are ready to make our final speculative grievance. The true philosopher does not expect any topic he may encounter in the world to necessarily “make sense;” the philosopher (and some may find this arrogant) is confident that the philosophical argument is the only thing that need “make sense,” not any “fact” or tradition found in the contingent, rough-and-tumble world.

I, as a straight male, experience constantly and consciously, the following: feeling no attraction whatsoever for numerous women, even women who my straight male friends may have crushes on. At these moments, am I “gay?”

From what has been said so far in this article: Absolutely. In these moments, according to how “gay” actually exists, and is defined in the real world, I am “gay.”

Do males exist who are attracted to 10% of all females and 1% of all males, and would it be safe to say these males are “straight?”  Or “gay,” depending how “things fall out?”

I am 1% and 0%, which makes me straight, even though I am attracted to 1% of females, not 10%. Perhaps it is lower than 1%. Perhaps it is .001%. I am discriminatory. Or idealist?

The 0% (nothing) is the key to the positive existence of sexual identity. The first number merely has to be more than zero, even by a very, very small amount.

Ideally, perhaps, this number should refer to only one: the beloved.

Heterosexual attraction, based on the greatest hyper-selectivity possible—is this, in the eyes of nature, in the eyes of heaven, even in the eyes of hell, the ideal story?

If we do not admit Time to this ideal? Or if we do? And when we do, does not this take us all away?

Does a 30% gay person have an advantage, in terms of love and dalliance, in breaking the heart of someone who is %100 gay?

Can the heart be characterized this way?  Does a 30% have less heart? Are they less sincere?

Here’s another inquiry worth pursuing, and we feel all these questions clarify even as they confuse:

Are straight women really gay men within? And straight men lesbians within?

In other words, is a straight person straight because they love what is opposite?

Or do they love the gender—of which they are the secret example within?

Is love better realized in loving what is not itself, or what is?

Is my attempt at deconstructing what is socially understood as gay in this essay merely a whim?

Is it scientific?

Is it perverse, or wrong?

Is there always a way to undermine whatever is established, and is it part of reality that whatever is established exists to be overthrown, and is this the dynamic at play here, and not any articulated truth about this subject?

Am I hopelessly intellectual?

And why am I not gay?

And why am I attracted to you?

Even as I radically question everything?













If I’m in a really good mood, and feeling super confident,

I look at everything which other people worship and adore

And say, “Are you kidding me? Who needs that?”

And without getting into the details of what I ridicule—

Every authority, every cherished belief—

I think you’ll agree with me that it’s easy—you’ve done it, too!


But now I’m going to take this cynical detachment and aim it at you.

You’re a selfish fraud. You lie constantly to yourself and others about many things.

See? You and I know how easy this is, and we both know it’s true.


But hyper-cynicism is the most useful state of mind,

Much better than being obsequious, agreeable, cliquish, or kind,

Because it allows you quickly to get to the heart of the matter.

You can be ignorant about something for years when you fawn and flatter.

When you stand in ignorant awe of something, you never know,

In your worship, what it really is; but when you ridicule beauty and genius,

Your malicious mockery falls into passionate imitation-–the key to knowing it,

And soon, you are playing Mozart, or you are beautiful, and then you are ripe

For fresh ridicule, which is the secret, you realize, of all knowledge.

Love grows (it does!) as you go deeply, unashamed, into your own vanity.

It allows you to love another’s vanity. Hate. Love. Imitate. Make fun of me.

I said I was amazingly confident, and this is true.

When you are depressed and self-loathing, you despise everything, too.

But this is different. This is not illness, where you push food away;

This is the best love, the best poem. Love like glue.







The only thing worse than no attention

Is too much attention.

And love is that perfect compromise

Where all the attention that would be too much

Lives only in the lover’s eyes.


Yes, you had a certain flair.

But now the only compromise

Is when you watch TV,

Giving it attention while knowing your attention doesn’t matter.

Was it more difficult with me?



The truth about beautiful and accomplished metrical poetry is lost and hidden because the most important truth of it has nothing to do with its form: the secret lies with its content.

Of course we should talk of iambs and rhyme and all that is formal, but the entire discussion always trails off into impotent, hollow rhetoric that leaves even the most enthusiastic and diehard formalist deeply unsatisfied—like one of those New Formalist poems one thinks one ought to perhaps like as one dully admires it.

And why?

Because the formalist element of a poem—and it is accurate to say element, not elements—should always be that poem’s effect, not its cause. And if the cause is ignored, what kind of effect do we have? A meaningless one.

It takes a certain amount of genius to foreground a cause which seems wholly unrelated to its effect, but this is what has to happen if we are to have any meaningful understanding of formalist poetry.

The whole problem with free verse (the choice now in sophisticated and influential circles) is that we have a cause without an effect; we have the sun sans heat and light; we have a picture of the sun, but not the sun; we have a picture of poetry, but not poetry. We read a picture, but we do not hear a picture, and poetry should be heard.

Reading a picture is a highly complex act, just as writing and reading free verse is a highly complex act.

This highly complex act, however, this highly complex set of circumstances—interpreting a complex set of visual signs—is not poetry, because absent from the act of interpreting a complex set of visual signs is the crucial “cause and effect” reality mentioned above—a mysterious one, in which “what the poem says” is the poem’s cause and “the formalist element” of the poem, its effect.

For too long this simple truth has fallen on deaf ears.

All “saying” has formalist qualities, and free verse, as well as poetry, exploits this fact. Agreed.

But real poetry exploits the formalist aspect of “saying” in a more radical manner—by turning these complex elements into one element—the singular and unified effect which exists only because of the poem’s cause—what the poem “says.”

The strait-jacket aspect of a limerick unsettles the scholarly and serious poet; it does so because of the strictly burlesque and humorous illustration of—not the limerick itself—but the all-too-obvious truth we are attempting—right now–to convey. The limerick’s formalist achievement is singularly successful, and its success is based on the very principle turned on its head: the formalist template of the limerick is the cause—and what it “says” (bawdy humor), the effect.

For there is a relationship, and the more inevitable that relationship, and the more the effect is the formalist aspect, rather than the content of the poem, the closer we are to true poetry.

Poetry that is obviously bad, we say, is when formalist properties force the poet to say something in a certain way. The lady is from Spain because Spain is going to rhyme with something, we think, as we experience the limerick (the non-serious poem).

But something else is going on: what really matters to the limerick reader is not whether the lady is from Spain, or where she is from; what matters is that we are going to find out very quickly something highly embarrassing about this lady, and that is the true delight, the true reason for the popularity of, the limerick. What the limerick “says” about the Spanish lady is the primary fact: the “saying” is the effect, not the cause.

But in the poetry that we truly admire, poetry without outrageous humor, the “saying” is properly the cause, and the singular, unified, accomplished aspect of the poem’s formal existence, its effect.

And the truly accomplished poem will never be about Spain—only a limerick would be that bold; the truly accomplished poem will convey an idea expressed (and experienced) as nearly as possible by a unified formal effect (like the limerick, singular and formally self-contained, but far more original and unique).

The key here is idea—and now we hit at the crucial point; the “saying” should be a passionate idea, and not facts about Spain, or the king of France, or crossing a busy street on a snowy Sunday with one’s sweetheart, or any of those subjects the New Formalists express with misguided confidence regarding formalist elements, in which what they “say” gets draped in the fabric of various formalities.

If one is not careful with what one “says” in a poem, formalist or not—the poem will fail.

The New Formalist poet understands the error of making the form the cause—which is the degrading aspect of the humorous limerick—but does not understand how to transform what is properly the cause—the “saying”—into the formalist effect.

And here is where Poe in his “Philosophy of Composition” was correct (and sorely misunderstood). The content of the poem should not be factual, should not be what we might “say” about something: Spain, or the lady from Spain—the content should be an idea, or what Poe called “an effect,” in other words, a design on the reader, which, for our present purposes, we can call an idea. The idea of the death of a beautiful woman is just that, an idea, and how this idea is conveyed by the poem’s formalist element (not elements, but a unified element) is all we expect of the poet, once the idea (the cause) is chosen.

Importantly, the idea should already contain, in itself, the feelings which the dry, clinical workings of the formalist element shall embody.

And to return to the limerick once more, for here is the crucial thing we are trying to say: it is commonly thought that the limerick is all about its form—its rhyme scheme—but, in truth, the chief character of the limerick is “what it says,” because the form causes “what it says” to jump out at us.

This is what all burlesque, or poorly realized, or prosaic attempts at poetry do: “what is said” jumps out at us—its content is its effect. But in real poetry, the content should only be its (hidden!) cause.

The poem which meets the criterion of fine art does the opposite of the limerick, and other types of failed poetry: what it “says” does not “jump out at us,” as the poem’s effect; what the truly beautiful poem “says” is hidden—the cause behind the poem’s formalist effect. The great poem “says” something, but in an entirely different manner from the limerick—and the free verse poem.

The public, which knows very well what a limerick is, also instinctively knows what this other kind of formalist poem is, hungers for it, unconsciously, but does not get it—since free verse has become the sophisticated choice of “real poets.”

A poem, with the highest possible achievement of its poetic formalist effect, demands for this effect a proper cause—which is an idea fitting this “highest possible achievement” in terms which the greatest poets implicitly and imaginatively understand. The idea is nearly everything. And the idea’s transformation into a singular formalist effect demands not just formalist skill, but a radical idea—which is sufficiently august for a poet’s all-important skill at things like meter, rhyme, stanza, and refrain.




1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.







I think that woman is the most profound

Of all the creatures.


Hers, the love my heart found

The more I examined her rural features

As she was examining mine—

In sweetest, cunning secrecy,

With careless, smiling modesty.


How can my description convince the wise

No beauty equals hers—the beauty of her love for me in a beautiful woman’s eyes?

How do I describe her passionate fire

Without describing my desire,

And her desire, which makes her eyes unique,

So that my desire describing her desire cannot possibly speak?


Tell me what I am supposed to say.

She talks. She is beautiful. She walks away.


There is no woman, no star,

Whose light cannot reach me.

The universe is made of something

Which is nothing, which is far,

And whose light is the light

Which shows me a small light in the darkness of a car.








Do bees sleep and forget their hive?

You stroked one’s fur until slumber

Woke in him what dreams remember.

I do not forget you. A bee’s purpose is alive.

In their humming there is no tune.

Oh! But there is a violin! There will be one soon.

You and I enjoyed a music as only one

Sound could be enjoyed, as two

Could be folded into one. It is fled.

We listened in the hush of a midnight bed.

Your kisses were tender. It was then I knew.

I think it’s possible this bee’s dream is you.

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