KEVIN YOUNG AND MEREDITH HASEMANN CLASH IN THE WEST

In the old romance movies, women could not make up their minds in love, and the gallant men who loved them carried on calmly until they did. Chaos was a female weakness to be overcome by male sacrifice and stoicism.

Today, we laugh at this old notion, and think more along the lines that chaos or indecision lies more with the male gender, and, secondly, all kinds of chaos in general is actually the true way of things.

Romance movies haven’t changed that much, romance being what it is.

But a lot of people will still say that chaos is life, not art.  A chaotic poem is boring, even though chaotic life may be thrilling.

The poets, however, like most intellectuals, are not really worried about chaos.  Chaos is now kind of cool. The intellectuals have accepted it.

What is not cool in the eyes of the poets and the intellectuals is modern life’s unthinking bad taste.  Intellectuals are consumed with how much society sucks.

Chaos?  Death?  Who cares about that.  The real tragedy of life?  Fast food.

We see these ideas expressed in this Round One West Bracket contest between the poets Kevin Young and Meredith Hasemann.

I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Kevin Young is having great fun here, and the line is delightful. And behind it all, we hear the criticism of the “fast food” way of life, as if a McDonald’s cheeseburger was, in fact, the end of civilization.

Hasemann complains similarly.  The ways and manners and devices of mankind encroach upon the freedom of nature:

The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

So we want the female to be free.

To eat men.

Fried in cheese.

This should be an interesting contest.

 

 

 

PATRICIA LOCKWOOD AND CANDACE WILEY IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

The poet is no different than anyone else: there is a middle ground of normalcy which they need to work in, to get along with others and be understood. It doesn’t matter how obscure the vocation—and the more obscure, the more it is understood that there is an acceptable swath of acceptable behavior required to be accepted in that niche.

Motorcycle clubs demand leather and black and if you stray from the norm you will be seen as a freak—by the other freaks. This paradox needs to be pointed out to understand what everyone is up against.

The great middle ground of acceptable behavior is much, much larger than we often realize, and to “think outside the box” has to be done in the context of the “box,” so that even to rebel is to do so in the context of normal. So, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” for instance, is a very religious song—if you look at it the right way.

Some people think that to be “poetic” is to be out of the mainstream.

No.

The “poetic” is more mainstream than the mainstream.

All radicalism comes out of the mainstream and goes back into the mainstream, in order to truly corrupt the mainstream—if it can. The mainstream wins in 99 cases out of 100, and simply drowns you: That poem? It sounds like a million others.

And in that one instance when the “mainstream” is changed or defeated, it is done by showing the mainstream itself, in a very clever way, how to be more mainstream than it was before. The “revolution” is for “the people,” right? And what is more mainstream than “the people?”

Here, then, is the mystery of radicalism and fame, beauty and fame, poetry and fame.

The mainstream hates fame.

The mainstream is the mass of people who give you completely blank looks when you read them a “famous” poem.

The mainstream wants to eat cookies on a green couch and then find a better machine to get the crumbs out of the inside of the couch.

The mainstream will never care about your poem—even if your poem is about cookie crumbs in a couch. Especially if it is about that. Or about cookies. They want to eat cookies, not hear a poem about cookies.

Poetry is not dirty, filthy, life. This may be a mainstream comment, and yes, it is a mainstream comment.

The mainstream is where you find fame, but the mainstream will do everything it can do to prevent you from being famous. The moment you pander to the mainstream, you will drown in that great swath of normalcy which is where fame goes to die. The mainstream will only be famous on its own terms—and all of us on the outside know what that’s about. And the famous? They are on the green couch giving an interview. And they are not poets.

So you are working in this niche called poetry—and within the poetry niche is a bigger swath of mainstream than in the world outside the niche of poetry. Yes, that’s right. The smaller and more specialized the niche, the more peer pressure there will be to conform to the rules—spoken or unspoken—of that niche.

If you act like a jerk in a bar, someone will let you know within two hours.

If you’re not the right fit in a sewing club, you will find out in two minutes.

If you can’t sing, and try to sing in a choir, you will find out in two seconds.

If you walk into a formal gathering wearing informal clothes, you will find out in 2/10 of a second.

But if you hang out and get along, how will you be famous? How will you be an interesting poet?

The answer?

First, belong to no clique, or club. If you are a poet, stay the hell away from all “poetry clubs.” Or, hang out in them with secret animosity and ridicule.

Second, see what the mainstream is doing, what it wants, on a very practical level, and then replicate and exaggerate what the mainstream strives to do to meet this most primitive need in the most obvious manner, and present it to the mainstream in the most efficient way possible, genre and niche be damned.  A classic example of this is Dante inventing the modern lyric by viewing the new poetry as simply a love letter to a girl who had no Latin.

Patricia Lockwood—her poem, “The Rape Joke” went viral on social media a few years ago—is currently the coolest poet living today—trust me, she is; but it is the very nature of cool to die fast—so says the mainstream. So, as her window closes, we present her line:

How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel Marry Across Niagara Falls on a Tightrope?

Candace Wiley will be immediately recognized, from her line, as a worthy opponent in the super cool department:

My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

The cool, anti-mainstream poets live in a vast forest of mainstream symbols:

Niagara Falls! Your honeymoon destination! Your place to risk your life in a barrel! Barbie! Greatest Racist Sexist Mainstream Doll of All Time!

Lockwood versus Wiley is a vast contest in a vast middle ground.

March Madness cannot contain them.

The tickets are going fast for this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A.E. STALLINGS AND ADA LIMÓN MIX IT UP IN THE WEST

Sometimes we are amazed at how close poetry is to music.

Both arts tells us what to listen for in time.

Music can be explained as simply as this: here is a musical note—and now—listen to this one which follows. What is this? This thing called music? It has its own interest. It is nothing in itself and the composer can even dally behind the listener, so easily does the whole thing move forward entirely on its own.

A.E. Stallings is simply being a musician when she says:

The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Music vibrates our ears; the effect is involuntary, and poets—the good ones—play music by making the poetry as involuntary as possible.

Which means being as deliberate and definite as possible.

The poet should leave no doubt as to what the tune is; and should not be like an out-of-tune instrument—which is the most unpleasant thing it is possible to hear.

The poet should not waffle.

“The woes were words.”

The absolute equivalence makes a lovely sound. Woes, words. Got it. And now we are ready for: “and the only thing left was quiet.”

So there are no more words, Stallings says.

But wait. Quiet is a word.  A dovetailing harmony. A play on words. The operation is musical as much as it enters our mind without effort. If we are aware of effort, or contrivance, it irks us like a pun, and is a lower order of poetry for that.

This line by Ada Limón (pictured above) has a loveliness that plays the instrument of the poetic faculty effortlessly, and is all the better a line because of this.

Her word “ours”‘strikes our senses like a beautiful chord (and sung perhaps by a choir?)

just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours

To make this music, our poet must be precise, as “disorderly” as those clouds may be.

In the hush that follows, judgement, like a lizard, flicks its tongue.

We must pick a winner. But the song is barely sung.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAPHAEL RUBINSTEIN AND LORI DESROSIERS: FIRST ROUND EAST

The best competition is love.

These two poets—Rubenstein and Desrosiers—in this Scarriet Poetry March Madness battle, could never, in their wildest imaginations, imagine this contest: their lines meeting in any manner, much less like this.

We are only imagining it now ourselves, without a clue as to the outcome. We imagined a Madness, and that’s all we really needed to do.

In the lines themselves, we see the extent of these poets’ far reaching imaginations.

Says Raphael Rubinstein:

Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

But is this imagination? Isn’t this just plain fact?  The fact that we write for others?

To answer this question, we’ll say this:

It is never a matter of something being factual—or not. It is never that simple. The fact that we write for others can be overturned in an instant—because pure solipsism is possible in writing, and perhaps even preferred, if not the actual fact, since we can be our own audience—we couldn’t write coherently, otherwise. So here we see Rubinstein’s wounded fact—“every poet thinks…” is merely something he is imagining. He imagines he has an audience, when he really doesn’t. And yet, for his line to be read and understood, he does—have an audience.

So Rubinstein, in his line, is imagining—and yet not. Factual—and yet not.

His wit is on display, and we are not sure whether he should be applauded for it, or whipped.

I think we can praise him. The greatly imaginative are always partly factual and partly not.

It is not so much that imagination loves facts—as facts love imagination. The world loves its God.

Now comes Desrosiers to add a beautiful idea to what has been said:

I wish you were just you in my dreams.

How deliciously and wonderfully ironic.

We wish and dream for what is neither wished nor dreamed.

We want the facts—in our dreams.

And we don’t want them anywhere else.

We want to wish for our facts, but not have them.

We want to dream our audience even as we know the last thing they are is a dream.

The poem becomes a fact when it hovers in the mind as a desire for a fact.

This March Madness contest may just be the strangest one so far.

And whose fault is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOO BEAUTIFUL IS BEST: AN EASTER POEM

You may know the beautiful—-
And those who aspire to be beautiful—and all the rest.
But for tears and poetry that transforms,
Too beautiful is best.

Too beautiful to have, too beautiful to rest,
Too beautiful to want—too beautiful
Is truly beautiful. Too beautiful is best.

You whisper your love to the beautiful,
In long paths, holding hands.
With the too beautiful you cannot speak
For reasons only the beautiful understands.

Lie beside the remembered, and rest;
The remembered fits inside of pictures;
Remembered is remembered as it dies, beautiful, in the west—
A boiling horizon of tamarind trees—
Remembered—a scent in the midnight breeze—
Dying, and beautiful.
But too beautiful always is.

You may know the beautiful—
And those who aspire to be beautiful—and all the rest.
The beautiful you know are beautiful.
But too beautiful is best.

 

 

 

 

 

I GOT READY FOR LOVE, NOW I GET READY FOR DEATH

I got ready for love, now I get ready for death,
With the same uncertainty, the same excited breath,
The same thrilling heartbeat, the same glad sadness,
The same restraint, the same dignity, as I hide my madness.

You saw me on the street, I smiled and said hello.
After a little conversation, I smile again. And go.

 

PHILIP NIKOLAYEV AND CHANA BLOCH IN EAST TUSSLE ON GOOD FRIDAY

We might observe on this Good Friday: we have a March Madness battle in which two poets bring lines springing up with a noticeable spiritual passion.

Philip Nikolayev wins every debate with his sword of logic, his shield of Aristotle, and his slippers sewn at Harvard University.

Nikolayev has a much better sense of humor than Waldo Emerson—and thank God Emerson remained frowning.  Had Mr. E. cracked a grin, the result would have been hideous. When Nikolayev laughs, it is all over for you: there’s nothing you can do.  Most American poets of note attended Harvard, as did Nikolayev—one listens attentively to the serious ones; the humorous ones, however, awe, and even intimidate us.  When T.S. Eliot tells a dirty joke, we are vaguely uneasy; what great poets do under the radar tends to stay under the rug, since greatness just will not be found there.

Nikolayev, now in youthful middle age (doesn’t it seem the world is getting younger?) found time a few years back to write a great “undergraduate” poem, with one part druggy danger, two parts innocence, and some sentimentality, and as we read this line on this day, it does advertise a certain spiritual largess:

I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Oh God. Beautiful.

But wait, here comes Chana Bloch, translator, professor, Judaic scholar, poet, with a line from a poem which was published in the 2105 Best American Poetry.  In the poem, the poet is observing a piece of pottery. The line soars with spiritual significance—how can you deny it?

The potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

There is some poetry that puts you in church; you can’t help but think, poetry is just another way of being religious.

Which came first, the poem or the psalm?

Who can walk into a poem and not believe in it?

What makes the pleasing scent of a poem rise up into the air?

Is religion a shadow of poetry, or is poetry the shadow?

Is is possible for the poems of pagans to infect the holy, if the holy needs the poem—so the divine might sigh?

STEPHEN STURGEON AND SUSAN TERRIS IN THE EAST

There is the sort of poetry which is shy and odd.  Here is no titanic novel, no Lord Byron of a thousand rhymes, no comedy, no tragedy, no autobiography, no song.

It is the sort of poetry that looks at you and says…yes?  Did you want something?  Were you looking for someone?

It is the poet who is so not cool, they are cool.  Or, so cool, they are not cool.  And so on.  And they secretly hate you—or love you.  You can’t tell.  They sit across from you for an evening and say nothing—with words, or otherwise.

Theirs is the sort of poetry that is a little bit funny without any effort at all, and for a moment they might have you thinking that to be a little bit funny with no effort at all is really the greatest thing it is possible to do.

In the 2016 March Madness East bracket, we have 12th seed Stephen Sturgeon, who is currently literature librarian at the University of Iowa, with this line:

City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

A line like this is unassailable.  One could never pronounce it bad or good.  Sturgeon’s line wears the magic coat of John Ashbery, protected forever from criticism.  It could mean something, or not, and because it baffles, it pleases sweetly and ephemerally, like a cigarette, or any trivial pleasure which pleases because of a certain sly, unhealthy, indefiniteness.  It is unhealthy to be indefinite all the time. And in our minds, small doses of the unhealthy will tend to feel like pleasure. One can be addicted to non-meaning, and actually find it to equal actual pleasure.  If they haven’t done a study of this, they should.

Boredom is separated from death by one thing: variety.  If differences ceased, boredom really would be death—to be bored with one thing endlessly is perhaps the one thing that is hell for the mind—the hell of pure boredom, without pain.

“City buses are crashing” is very high on the modern spectacle-of-interest scale and not being able to hear Murray Perahia makes perfect sense, and yet is so odd, especially if you are one of those people who say to yourself, Murray Perahia? I’ve heard that name, but who is he?  It is that tantalizing uncertainty: Buses crashing? Why? Are people dying?  Is the poet on the bus, or just witnessing the crash?  And so on.  It is all those questions, all those uncertainties, all those elements—which save us from the horror of boredom.   “Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.”  Said Berryman.  Yes and yes.

Susan Terris, who was published in the latest Best American Poetry, is the 5th seed in the East, and her line is:

Cut corners  fit in  marry someone

It is what we do.  It sums up life.  After the buses crash. After Murray Perahia finishes. It is funny how a few words can capture a life in such a way that, even though we know there is so much more to life, there is a part of us that relents, and says, Oh God. This is it. This is life.

It almost as if we like the way language can put us in a little box and there we remain.

Someone has to come out of this box and be the winner.  Will it be Stephen?  Or Susan?

From the box come indefinable sounds.

 

 

JORIE GRAHAM AND JEET THAYIL MIX IT UP IN NORTH BRACKET MADNESS

There are times when lines collide and comment on each other wonderfully, like in this battle between American poet Jorie Graham (Iowa, Harvard) and Indian poet, novelist, and musician, Jeet Thayil.

Graham has been a force (and a controversy) in American poetry since the early 1980s—when this line was published:

A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

The line from Thayil is more recent, but do we care when a line was written?

There are no accidents. There is only God.

These two lines strike different parts of our brains, with equal pleasure.

The inner eye of our senses registers the rooster and the mist and the walls.

Our speculative faculty ponders what it means to say there are no accidents—there is only God.

The order in which elements arrive in a line of poetry make a subtle difference in how we feel about it.

Why is there a sublime feeling of distance in the Graham line?  Because we travel in the line from the rooster—to its crowing—to its crowing all day—to the mist—to outside—to outside the walls.

Graham is not a formalist; but this, her best line, is a perfect alexandrine—6 iambics, one more than in the common iambic pentameter—and this stately meter contributes to the line’s sublimity.

The sublimity of Jorie Graham’s line is no accident. 

Let’s change the sequence of the line, keeping all its parts, all its elements the same, and see what happens.

Outside the walls,
All day, from mist,
A rooster crows.

Just by changing the order, it now sounds like a haiku, with a homely, intimate, “Eastern” feel, rather than a poignant, majestic, “Western” one.  (And it’s still iambic.)

Change the order of the other line and:

There is only God. There are no accidents.

Somehow this now sounds less certain, more dubious, and almost invites the reply: what do you mean there are no accidents?

The line make more sense when God follows accidents; for accidents can seem to exist when they happen, and then only afterwards—we feel, ahh! that was meant to be.  In order for the line to have force, it must be in the order Thayil presented it—with God at the end.

And now, Marla, let us walk outside these walls and discuss which one of these lines finally ought to win at last.

Marla Muse: It is a pleasant evening. Yes, let us go.

 

MARILYN CHIN AND CHARLES SIMIC CLASH IN THE EAST

To judge a poet by their isolated lines is, of course, totally unfair.

But to look at a part helps us to understand a whole.

The speech of a poet can be compared to the paint of a painter:

We can study a painting up close so we see only the paint itself—and we don’t comprehend ‘the picture’ during these moments at all.

Or, we can stand back, and look at isolated parts of the painting, observing coherent parts of the picture: drapery, a tree, the surface of a lake.

To judge a line of poetry could be like viewing a painting at close range—and perhaps we can learn a little from this.

Have you ever looked at Byron’s poetry extremely “up close,” then T.S. Eliot’s, and compared them? It might be a helpful, even enjoyable, thing to do.

But since all the lines in this March Madness tournament were chosen for a certain isolated beauty or interest, they are more like coherent parts of a painting, where some of the picture can be “read.”

There is no way a great painting can be comprised of parts that are not also individually great. A clumsily painted face could not coexist with an excellent piece of drapery in an excellent painting. To admire the painting as an excellent whole, every part must be excellent, too.

If we search a poet’s work and have trouble finding excellent lines, our judgment of that poet must change, must diminish. We must come to the conclusion that the poet’s poetry was not as good as we previously thought.

To read a poem is not the same as knowing it.

In reading a poem, we are caught up in the forward movement of “the read.” We move through the poem to get to the end of our “read,” but do not really experience the poem as what it really is— or is not. The poem may be “good” as a “read,” to be read once. But it does not belong to a heaven of excellence, if its parts do not distinguish themselves as parts.

One doesn’t really know a person until one lives with them.  One doesn’t really know a poem unless we inspect its lines, its parts.

Charles Simic is one of the most distinguished living American poets.

But will he be smashed in this tournament, crushed by the reality we have outlined above?

His line, from one of the best poems in the 2015 BAP volume, is:

I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Empathy for this line—and this seems to be Simic’s fate—really requires the poem.

Marilyn Chin is an American poet, born in Hong Kong, and educated at Iowa.  Chin has a passionate lyricism which is apparent in parts of poems.

It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

What is sporting is not always fair.

We think we know the outcome of this one.

 

 

 

PODDAR AND KASISCHKE GO A LITTLE BIT MAD IN THE MADNESS

Kushal Poddar is in the 2016 Madness

It is becoming more and more apparent to Americans—who, for all their worldly clout and influence, have recently become fixated on their Writing Program careers—that, holy cow!, there is something happening on the other side of the globe, in India, where totally mad people prepare for bed just when they should be waking up—don’t these people know how crazy that is? Well, give them a little credit: in India right now they are writing poems in English in the great Romantic Tradition, and, despite not attending writing programs, and despite their odd sleeping habits, poets from India are, at this very moment, writing better poetry than Americans—with the exception of Ben Mazer, who is a living Romantic Tradition unto himself: pilgrimages should be made to Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA—near Harvard Square.

Philip Nikolayev, an American, Harvard-educated poet, originally from Russia, had the good sense to go to India, and, to make a long story short, social media has led Scarriet to a world of heartbreak and beauty in which poetry exists as sweetly and commonly as a scent of perfume or a right arm.

In America, poets study at Writing Programs.

These costly one-year or two-year programs essentially teach the student of poetry one thing: Do not write like Keats—sound, in your writing, as different from Keats as possible, and this will guarantee that you will sound contemporary, and sound like yourself, because, after all, you are not Keats, and this is a good thing, since Keats is in the ground! We cannot tell you how to sound, for that is too complicated, given that poetry can sound like absolutely anything, it being defined by nothing, and so we cannot teach that; all we can do is make sure you don’t sound like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Edna Millay. They are dead! Dead! Be a student of English literature if you want to sound like the dead. And, by the way, did we tell you the field of study at one time called the English Major is also dead? Good. Talk amongst yourselves, students, and commence writing! And just remember, I, with my degree from one of the most distinguished writing programs in the world, will be watching, to make sure you do not ever write like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Or anyone with three names! Horrors! Better to be known simply as Trudy. Or Billy. Or Sam. And write. poetry. like. this.

Laura Kasischke is a writing program graduate, and yet has still managed to distinguish herself as a poet of wonderful ability: she is known to write complete, comprehensible, sentences on comprehensible topics. This may be due to the fact, however, that she is also a successful novelist.

Her champion is Stephen Burt, a rising poetry critic star who teaches with Jorie Graham at Harvard; Burt broke into the big time with a damning piece in the Boston Globe on Foetry.com, Alan Cordle’s website which exposed systemic poetry contest cheating and reputation puffing in academic American poetry. It was fun, enlightening, painful (for people like Graham) depending on where you were on the map of poetry reputation. Everyone, due to Foetry.com’s influence, which was quite extensive, is sadder—but wiser. Wisdom has quietly turned to joy—and one can see it in Scarriet’s “To Sir With Love” exuberance.  Burt has edited an anthology of sonnets—the tacit assumption that sonnets were once written can be made with impunity once in a while, if a publisher is willing to suffer a material, if not a spiritual, loss.

Kasischke had one of the better poems in the latest (2015) Best American Poetry, Sherman Alexie, guest editor (The BAP Series has been edited by David Lehman since 1988) and we found her best line there:

but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Affection produced in prose language can, by its directness and homeliness, be extremely touching. Poetry can be iconic, but that doesn’t mean prose cannot occasionally outdo poetry by being more affectionate in its plainess. Prose may sometimes catch us off guard by smelling sweeter than poetry. This confuses the poets, who then proceed to drown themselves in the sea which the plain talkers successfully sail. Kasischke, we might entertain for a paranoid moment, might owe her success to this anti-poetry phenomenon.

Any language we do not understand sounds poetic to our helpless ears; as we come to understanding we come away from poetry, and by this formula the more purely prosaic we sound the more we understand and what we understand is the falsity of the one we once loved, dear poetry, the one who seduced us in a castle about 200 years ago in a frilly shirt—and now must die.

One solution to not sound prosaic and not sound 19th-century either, as a poet, is surrealism.

Kushal Poddar, from Calcutta, a self-taught genius, Kasischke’s opponent, writes very exciting poetry in a pyrotechnical inventiveness that fits the short, lyrical form to the unusual image—he never has a red wheel barrow in his poetic landscape unless that wheel barrow is fully on fire, and that is how he expresses his passions and his desires. Here is his line:

Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Poddar, like a true poet, suggests as much as he presents—the shadows produced by his mind are as lovely as the flames. We think him one of the better poets in the world writing in English, and one more reason to visit Calcutta—if you can get your head out of your résumé.

So which will win? The plain-speaking or the fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE EAST BRACKET: MICHAEL TYRELL BATTLES JOIE BOSE

Joie Bose belongs to the Calcutta New Wave of English-speaking poetry.

Romanticism, which began with Dante’s Beatrice-devotion in Florence in the 13th century—and peaked with Shelley six centuries later, is poetry which belongs to passion, not study, but is no less artful or beautiful because of that.

Some would say it is more artful and beautiful because of that.

The irritable Dante—Edgar Poe said all poets, as a rule, were “irritable”—called hazy, obscure poets foolish, and credited the “love letter” as the clarifying, accessible impetus for the new poetry of the 13th century.

The lover gives poetry to the beloved; poetry can be cooked up for other reasons, but the simple desire to impress and please in love, carries with it all that is necessary to make poetry sublime.

Love forces us to be philosophers—and poets.  The poet emerges from this universal experience.  Most of what emerges is, of course, not worth reading.

But forced to be a philosopher is always better than choosing to be one.

If love makes us poets, it does not follow that love makes us good poets—love doesn’t care about poetry.  Love would rather we do not write poetry—and love, instead.

Writing begins in sorrow and absence.   And nothing creates sorrow and absence like love’s tribulations.  So this, in a broad sense, recommends love as an engine of writing.

True, love kills poets as quickly as it creates them, for the very thing that fires up the lover burns the lover to a crisp.

It follows, then, that most love poetry will be bad, since the lover is writing—when they should be loving. The lover is writing, and that usually means writing a complaint—instead of kissing; writing—instead of applying scents and sighing.

When we find then, a poet, who has survived the fires of love, and is producing more fires of love in poetry, this is worth celebrating.

Alexander Pope: “The proper study of mankind is man.” If this is true, there is nothing like love to make us ponder another.

It is not just that love is a good subject for poetry—it is the best subject for poetry—and love is not just the best subject to write about; more importantly, it is the best condition to be in, to write poetry.  And now we see how the magic happens: the subject and the condition mutually feed each other.

Joie Bose has not been trained, like American poets these days, in a writing program.  She writes from the heart. She is writing a sequence of poems called “Love,” which has just reached 100 poems.

Here is her line selected for the tournament:

Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

This is a beautiful, moving, finely crafted line of poetry, as good as any that’s been written, and anyone who doesn’t think so has either had too little experience with poetry in English—or perhaps too much, in a fussy writing program.

The question Bose asks belongs to the Socratic philosopher—and the lover:

“Isn’t that love?”

The devotee of love seeks answers, and “love,” properly worshiped, hovers over this whole line.

“Love” in the line quickly transforms into “it,” and we hear the ‘t’ sound—“love” is distinguished in this line as the only important word which does not have a ‘t’ sound, for there follows “not,” “heart,” “heat,” “moment,” and “complete.”  The disquisition, transcending the two things we mostly associate with love, “heart” and “heat,” wings its way to “completion,”and ends in the most tragic, fragile thing imaginable: the “moment.”

And yet, if love can be complete in the “moment,” does this not recommend it?  Or not?  It is the sort of philosophy which feeds, and is fed by, love.

Michael Tyrell survived a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa to produce this wonderful line:

how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Poets, after 100 years of Modernism (dry) and Post-Modernism (jokey) find they want to talk about love and beauty again.

With this line, Tyrell does have a chance against Bose.

A beautiful battle for the ages.

 

IN THE SOUTH: CHUMKI SHARMA VERSUS TERRANCE HAYES

The philosopher Hegel said an interesting thing about language: when we say “this” we refer to something very specific—and yet nothing is more vague than the word “this.”

The poet is forever not saying something—which is the agonizing and beautiful aspect of poetry poets either die from, or love, or both.

A playwright can write a character, and that character will never say “this” and be doubted, for there, standing upon the stage, the character can tell the audience where to look.

In a poem, a “this” must remain vague, for a poem is not, like a play, “acted” or “embodied.”  The poem will always be the letter read by the actor—and must depend on no body at all.

This contest features Terrance Hayes—who feels an obligation to be exact, swimming mightily upstream against the inexpressible flow of poetry itself, and Chumki Sharma—more satisfied to let poetry take her downward to the immensity of the mysterious sea.

Terrance Hayes:

Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Hayes, who has recently won a major national award, is a black American who writes in and from this experience—this one, the one of being a black American male.

How much does a line of poetry know its author?

Can a line of poetry invoke a narrative?  And what kind?

Chumki Sharma:

After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Sharma, a woman from India, who has two Pushcart nominations, and belongs to the New Wave of Calcutta poetry, writes from what seems a thousand experiences.

We see how much one of her lines can hold, for her language is the experience itself—it is not pointing to “this” rain, or “this” place, or “this” home, and yet we feel, most acutely, rain and place and home.  The rain either did not do enough, or it produced a flood; the leaving could be voluntary, or not; the home is “called” home and therefore could be home, or not.  Chumki Sharma invokes a great deal by being exact and inexact at once.

The subjective fever becomes ours—we “catch” what she is saying, even if we do not see the rain or the place or the home.

The rhythm of the line is exquisite—trochaic: DA-da, the melancholy rhythm of Edgar Poe: AF-ter/ EVE-ry/ RAIN i/ LEAVE the/ PLACE for/ SOME-thing/ CALLED HOME.

Sharma’s “i” (self) is “obliterated” (rhythmically) by “rain,” and her line, a purely trochaic one, finally resolves in the spondaic “called home,” a delicate double meaning: home is what it is called—and someone is calling her home.

Hayes is doing something completely different; he is inviting the reader to see something specific: “the servant ordered down on all fours.” The Hayes line trades in talk, not song—the Sharma, by comparison, sounds like an aria—although this line of Hayes does have a trochaic character, and also ends with a spondee: “all fours.”

Whoever “ordered” the “servant…down on all fours” is not the poet; a certain objectivity is the goal, even as the poet tells us, “let us imagine…”

It is probably unfair for these two lines to do battle—they are so different, and yet isn’t poetic language capable of existing always as poetic language?   Otherwise, how can we even know what a poem is, or discuss poetry?

Should we walk away from this contest?

No.  Bring it on.

Which line pleases us more—as poetry?

And can this answer be cruel—or unfair?

Who should we ask, after this rain has fallen, after this tale of the servant has been told?

 

 

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI TANGLES WITH RICHARD WILBUR IN THE SOUTH

Richard Wilbur, back at the end of the 20th century, told Peter Davison, then poetry editor of the Atlantic, “I love Bill Williams’s poems but his critical opinions seem to me to be nonsense. He was forever saying that if you write a sonnet you are making a curtsey to the court of Elizabeth I–”

Well, Dick, in some ways, Bill (WC Williams) was right.

The sonnet, as a form, just has a way of sounding polite and respectful, no matter how many ‘bad words’ you toss in there.

But on the other hand, is this a bad thing?

In a nutshell, this is what went completely wrong with American poetry in the early 20th century—and we still have not recovered.

American poetry split decisively into two camps: and both were dead wrong.

And the fatal error was thinking the choice you had was only between these two.

One camp, let’s call it the WC Williams camp, said: Get rid of the sonnet!

The other camp, let’s call it the Richard Wilbur camp, said, But we can make the sonnet impolite!

The truth is: the sonnet, as a form, is polite, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this.

A form, like the sonnet, which always sounds polite, no matter how selfish and rude the author, is a wonderful invention—a gift to the world.

But it shows nothing but ignorance of form in general to then assume that all forms are like the sonnet.

Just as it is ignorant to insist that poetry should not be beautiful, or romantic, or worshipful, or respectful, if that is, indeed, what certain forms do best.  If you want to slap a person in the face, use your hand.  And yet a curtsey, depending on to whom it is made, or where, or when, can be even more devastating than a slap.

Nalini Priyadarshni, from Punjab, India, enters our 2016 March Madness Tournament with the following:

Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Poetry once appealed to sentiment and fed on sentiment and grew large and popular on sentiment and quieted crowds with sentiment and gloried in sentiment.

Until one day, poetry was demeaned and shamed with the relatively recent term (early 20th century) that’s entirely pejorative: sentimental. 

One can see Pound in the transition period using the word sentimentical.

This line of Priyadarshni’s (singing with a strong iambic/anapestic rhythm) could defeat armies.

Richard Wilbur, who is 95, and honored with the second seed in the South, very much belongs to that overly-intellectual century (the 20th) in which poetry lost its way, asserting itself in thousands of tragically over-thought strategies.

Here is Wilbur asserting himself, without sentiment, as poets in the American 20th century were wont to do, strongly, forcefully (one can almost hear the fist thumping on the desk: not, not, not!):

not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Wilbur was a formalist, and like so many formalists in the 20th century, had to apologize for it in all sorts of unconscious ways, yearning to be serious, but falling into spasms of light verse here and there, almost against his will; writing as delicately as he could with a modesty that signaled to his peers he wanted nothing to do with courts and queens and monuments.

This contest is sentiment—of the most loving and powerful kind: Priyadarshni—against whatever it was respected poets were trying to do in the 20th century: Wilbur.

Who will win?

 

 

W.S. MERWIN TAKES ON JULIE CARR

Poets should not depend on things, on pictures, on colors: that’s for painters.

All the best poets know that “no ideas but in things” is the worst possible advice for the poet.

Ideas use things in poetry, but poetry is speech.  Adding measured emphasis (metrics) is never unwise; our own experiments (too complex to write about here) show music to be a poetry too excitable for words, but still containing ideas—which live behind every good image in every good poem.

When reading essays: read what they think.

When reading poems: read what they do.

But in both cases, the essence is an idea.  Philosophical acumen is the basis of all artful communication.

The greatest poets have always warned: avoid cheap politics and avant-garde tricks, which are just excuses to be lazy and stupid.

Classical learning is the only learning.

Small beer is small beer.  Snot on the sleeve is snot on the sleeve.

There’s nothing magical out there. Daddy Ezra can’t help you. Only classical learning and your pretty face can.

William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin has been publishing poetry for 60 years; he managed to make contact with icons in his youth—guys like Pound and Robert Graves and Berryman and Blackmur and T.S. Eliot—he’s a pretty famous poet (also a translator), but unfortunately, no famous poems. Merwin abandoned punctuation in his poetry in a beat/hippie move when he was in his 40s—when he was in a bit of a crisis and leaving Europe for good and coming back to America in the late 1950s.

Merwin understands that poetry is speech, and leaving off punctuation was the earnest attempt to make ‘speech-which-is-not-speech,’ or trembling, misty poetry, and to a large extent he has succeeded in that regard.

Merwin has said that in abandoning punctuation, he was leaving the page where punctuation nails things down to embrace how people talk, which is almost the same thing, though it misses the point of punctuation, which helps talking—it does not hinder it.

But Merwin is a good poet because he plays with ideas, and came to realize Pound was dead wrong about the image, and so much else. “The intellectual coherence of Pound’s work is something that I don’t any longer believe in.”  (Paris Review interview, 1986).

you know there was never a name for that color

One can see in this one line Merwin, the poet, rejecting all the painter’s tricks—those the silly Imagists insisted poets try—and instead, exploding with iambic and anapest rhythms, raining down upon us an idea, in the implied question: what does it mean, exactly, when a color doesn’t have a name?

Merwin, first seed, will be tough to beat with this one.

Julie Carr began as a classical dancer, and to dance, you need music, and poetry is a kind of dance to music—we don’t hear the music but we see the dance, the poetry.

Julie Carr is also a mother, and still young, and as soon as she turned to poetry, she accumulated awards; reading her, one gets the feeling when it comes to the flags and banners of poetic speech, she got it, and got it quickly.

Either I loved myself or I loved you.

This line has a kind of delicious despair, a romantic power; there is an intoxicating idea in the symmetry displayed in “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

We have no doubt this contest will be a very interesting one.

 

 

 

FIRST ROUND EAST ACTION: HACKER AND COLE

 

 

 

Marilyn Hacker enjoys first seed status in the East bracket. She has a line which feels iconic and boasts an existential romanticism:

You happened to me.

What are we to say to this? If the singer Jewel, who dabbles in poetry, wrote this, what would poets and critics of high regard say?

This is not a criticism of Hacker. In the March Madness Poetry tournament, run by Marla Muse and Scarriet, there is no “criticism.”

There is only wonder.

We cannot escape the vague feeling that “You happened to me,” which is Hacker’s most famous quote, is not original.

Jim Weatherly, born in 1943—a few months after our poet, Marilyn Hacker—wrote a hit song for two different artists in the 70s (Ray Price; Gladys Knight and the Pips):

“You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”

You‘re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” hides the more interesting phrase.

Weatherly, the songwriter, can be found saying the following in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits:

“I thought it was really strange that nobody’d written a song with that title — possibly somebody had, but I’d never heard it — so I just sat down and let this stream of consciousness happen.”

Just as we now have the nagging suspicion that “You happened to me” is not original, so the man credited with “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” felt the same way about his creation.

It makes one wonder if a greater poet (or songwriter), ages hence, will thrillingly, yet doubtfully, stumble upon:

You Happened.

You Happen.

Stephen Cole, the last seed in the East, counters with something a little more complex:

Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

This, in its way, is somewhat like, “you happened to me.”

But Hacker refers succinctly, if powerfully, to the past.

Cole’s is tantalizingly and deliciously about the future, and the syntax of the sentence itself propels us into a future awareness—as well as the meaning: “time…arrives before your coming.” Like the essence of the line itself, “your coming” is forever deferred, and yet here.

This might be the time to ask, since we called the Hacker an “existential romanticism,” what is romanticism in poetry, and why is it important?

As the poet Shelley said, in his A Defense of Poetry, the “secret to morals is love”; in love we go out of ourselves and identity with another.

It is as simple as this: poetry brings two together: this is love, and this is romanticism, and this is always a virtue, not only in love, but in poetry, in language itself—whose purpose is to unite people, minds, intentions, etc.

“You happened to me” affects us on this principle; we witness, through language, you happening to me, and since we are all romantics at heart, we are moved both by the primitive idea and the concise manner in which the primitive idea is expressed.

This romantic/poetic principle resembles mathematics or physics: precisely how much force or attraction is produced?

Language can do remarkable things, but the question becomes, is it only language, or is it the language itself that lives, that has gravity—the language itself that loves you and me, and brings us together.

“You happened to me” is a marvelous example of language doing a marvelous thing—but only as language.

Does concision belong to language—or to concision?  The delight we feel when a great deal is said in a few words does not belong to language’s muscle, to language’s action, but to time, and time alone.

“Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming” is a wonderful example of language itself doing a marvelous thing.

We think, then, Cole wins.

Marla Muse: Oh! I like it!

 

 

 

 

AND NOW ROUND ONE IN THE WEST: GLÜCK AND DOUGLAS!

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Mary Angela Douglas? She is what used to be called a fugitive poet, the word, “fugitive” hinting, with a shudder of mysterious delight, a poet of amateur genius, unrecognized to all but a few fellow travelers. They move past clouds of shrubbery with quiet, solemn, discernment and delight, through wooded paths, towards those broad future plains where celebrants dance in unrestrained ecstasy.

We met Mary on Scarriet, when she responded positively and enthusiastically to Scarriet’s defense of embattled North Carolina poet laureate Valerie Macon.

Mary Angela Douglas permits us to see the adventures taking place in her “eternal child” soul—there is no need for her to research a piece of poetry, to fidget and stare into dust-mote space while she thinks of “a word.” Starlight brings her words, and poetry-light beams up from her like a fountain.

Louise Glück, meanwhile, comes adorned with recognitions and medals, but no less a poet for that, since her poetry shows at times it is wiser than prizes. The muses’ shadows cover the brightest fish in the stream (that brightness is just a dream); all are equal where the green water falls with a chuckle on the green rock.

Mary Angela Douglas has nothing to fear.

This is Scarriet, where the excellence of poetry lives in the veins that sing quietly in hands.

As the first seed, Louise Glück is accorded the honor of going first. She speaks.

The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

The darknesses of this line are thrilling; we see a million shapes between our midnight and our brains. This line has muscle, like an eel waiting patiently in a cave beneath the sea.

Mary Angela Douglas approaches the podium with a flutter; her excitement is palpable. The stately Glück left profundity in her wake. Douglas stirs in the mossy stream. We see the reflection of a wren. The boughs hover.

With utterance of raindrop wings, Douglas:

The larks cry out and not with music.

This contest, between these two women—it has some strange import, we feel.

Poetry seems forever changed.

The ghost of Shelley comes to the edge of the wood.

 

 

ROUND ONE COMPETITION!!! SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2016!!

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What’s in a line of poetry?

What is a line of poetry?

The drink is determined by the drinker.

A great line of poetry is like a shot of whiskey.

A poem is like a horse race. The horses are beautiful, strong, and fast, and they make the circuit in a few minutes. The race is over quickly, but everything leads up to it. Families mass. The whole ceremony which surrounds the race is delicious and slow. The horses were once colts. On the big day, there are many flowers. The poem is a beautiful blur of beauty. The crowd leans in during those exciting moments to hear what beauty has to say.

We scan the crowd, and if we should see a beautiful face, a very, very rare one, we marvel at how it has the same features as the world, but is beautiful in the extreme, and for obvious reasons that we are yet unable to comprehend, having to do with what we see of minute proportions of common objects: nose, eye, chin; and the way the elegant body carries the head, the hair that falls over the face, a small smile—these bring joy, but it is the sight of a face’s beautiful triumph in micro-inches that expands our chest in sighs, causes us to stop in the shadow of ourselves where a beam of sun in our eye has strayed.

The vast park is silent. The crowd has passed through large boulevards—or small roads that look like any quaint suburb of any large city in the world, with spring-thickened trees, the small shops with freshly painted signs. The millions have hushed themselves to hear the first poet in the 2016 March Madness Tournament utter their treasured line:

Donald Hall, author of hundreds of books on many subjects; old, regal, bearded—we once discussed Whitman with him in a bar in Iowa City—has loved and married Jane Kenyon, has watched Jane Kenyon die—Donald Hall, poet of lyrics and laments and epics and songs, anthologist, populist, pronounces with syllables solemn and slow:

To grow old is to lose everything.

Around the park, no sound.

The tournament has begun.

Now, Jennifer Moxley, respectfully and slow, moves to the podium. All eyes are on her, noting what she is wearing, a black dress—with gold designs tastefully embroidered into the fabric—her skin pale in the bright sunshine blasting the day:

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

The guests shift slightly in their seats as the line descends into their souls.

Donald Hall smiles.

Jennifer Moxley is motionless in the sun.

And the winner is…

 

 

 

2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Sean O’Brien–‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

Warsan Shire–I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Traci Brimhall–I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

Denise Duhamel–it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Meredith Haseman–The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

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

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

Raphael Rubinstein–Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

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

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

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

Claudia Rankine–How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

 

 

 

 

 

EVERY SINGLE THING WE THINK IS REAL IS NOT

Every single thing we think is real is not.

You loved me when the summer was hot

But now that you don’t love me, that memory hurts

And so I don’t think about that memory a lot,

And no, I don’t even look now at this one who flirts.

Every single thing we think is real is not.

 

Every single movie, look, laugh, and poem is fake.

And mutability erases everything, everything—but this ache,

Which is the pain of knowing every single thing is fake.

Every moment flies, and was never real before its flight.

 

Moment! There’s an hour that wants to talk to you. Can you take

A half a moment out of your busy moment’s day

To listen to what my sad complaining hour has to say?

No? Okay, I’ll just talk to this mass of moments in the night

Of how every beautiful thing is built to break

And every single thing we think is real is fake,

And not only fake, painful, and the pain goes on and on

Even when all of the fake things, and everything, is gone.

 

 

A FACT FROM BOSTON: A POEM

“The fact,” I tell each Kolkata lady, a fact I say now with a solemn smile—

“Will you stay, just a minute, by this imaginary magnolia for awhile?—

The fact is nearly as embarrassing as its presentation.

I have one life. But elsewhere there are many.

The man usually gives birth to a few children. But. Just in case.

Biologically, the seeds he carries—each one a different face—

Are so numerous, it is a miracle of miracles, yes—

If a planet, barren but habitable, elsewhere in outer space

Had enough eggs waiting, one man, in one act, could make a whole race.

This is why men are crazy: it is because there are so many.”

And, of course, yes, so many are ugly and hateful, more would be sad and funny.

But this one, once beautiful, has not had one.

The most beautiful she was, of her particular race;

She was not from Boston, but from a wrecked and ancient place;

He loved her madly, loved her elusive, modest, beautiful face,

With a sweet, repressed, polite, poetic passion—

You would have seen Kolkata transformed into a very poetic place.

They kissed in deserted places; they lived to kiss sad, smiling expressions

That flitted across their two shy faces.

It was not easy. Boston is not a quiet place.

But now they are apart. Something happened to the heart.

He dies every hour, for his children, for his poems, in the joyous agony of many.

She sits, bored, holding her phone. Her happiness is to not have any.

Kolkata ladies, now I know you must be on your way.

Thank you. There you are. Patiently, your scent lingers in the saffron day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T PRAISE ME

Don’t praise me. I will think it’s irony.

I am so insecure these days.

You’ll hurt me the more you love me.

Your poems will make me hate you. Don’t praise.

The hundred sonnets you wrote me last week

I cannot help but feel is some kind of joke.

In thousands of lines you said you loved me so much, that you could not speak.

That’s irony, rich guy; you confuse me. Has love made you broke?

And will you give your love silently to someone new—

As you continue to “not speak” in poems to me?

Or shower poems on someone who doesn’t mean a thing to you—

Speaking, not speaking, loving, not loving in an orgy of irony?

And then what will those poems mean? Why don’t you go away.

I need to love someone else, who doesn’t have a thing to say.

 

 

A POET’S LOVE CAN LOVE

A poet’s love can love
One they have not loved yet,
One they have not kissed yet.

A poet’s love can love
One who sighs for nothing
On the other side of the planet.

A poet’s love can love
One they have never met,
One who is unlikely.
One they will not forget.

Some build a love,
But only build a tomb.
They send too many flowers
And smother love in its room.

But a poet’s love can love
A tiny bit of gloom,
A strong cup of tea,
Which tastes like that gloom
Unfailingly.

A poet’s love can love
A small, comfortable room,
A small room for eternity—
A love that weeps for doom,
And laughs for sanity.

 

 

ALONE I LOVE

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The one who loves me is alone.

Alone she loves,

Without meaning or melody or tone.

I saw her one day in a forest by a stream.

Oh shadow. Oh blue dream.

From bough to bough in my poetry

I in the world became the world and then became free.

Take a look at these. I wrote them when no light shone.

When I was the only light. When I was alone.

 

Alone I love,

Alone I know,

Alone I came, and alone I go.

Alone was how you found me.

Tomorrow, darkly,

When you see me faintly,

When your lips with mine agree,

I will know at last the reason for my poetry.

Not a meaning or a melody or a tone

Will be in them until then. I wrote them for you alone.

 

 

THE INSANE INTROVERT

Natural science has claimed victory over religion since Darwin, but philosophy is still the queen of the sciences.

Facts aside, how we live is still paramount.

Dinosaurs are real.  God is not.  So says modern science.

What do dinosaurs, however, have to do with our daily lives and our happiness?

Nothing.

What does God have to do with our daily lives and our happiness?

Everything.

So what is more important?

The fact or the symbol?

The science of dinosaurs? Or the philosophy of what does this all mean and what am I here for?

None of us can deny the truth of what is not real. Not Grayling, not Sartre, not Bentham.

We’re all religious nuts—whether we want to be, or not.

The reason why philosophy bleeds into science, and why the two were once the same is because the fact of a thing is never as important as why does this thing exist?

Socrates, the greatest philosopher of his day, was also the greatest scientist of his day.  Yea, the guy in the toga.  He was a philosopher—and a scientist—because he asked questions.

Fact-collectors are great.  But first you need to ask why. And before you know the facts, you need to guess. Only then do you know what facts to look for, and see if the facts agree with your guess.

A guess without facts is worthless, true.  And yet, the very act of guessing before the facts have arrived shows a philosophical impulse—and this is probably the most important thing of all, when it comes to happiness and knowledge.

And facts that don’t agree with a guess are equally worthless.

A fact that knocks you on the head becomes more than a fact the moment it knocks you on the head and makes you go: huh? why did that happen?  Until you start guessing, facts will only hurt you, make you frustrated and unhappy, and give you a headache.  People who only care about facts are like eyes without brains.

People who only care about facts are like an endless list of words which never becomes a poem.

To be a scientist or a poet, is to be wary of facts, not embrace them.

To the poet, jumping to conclusions is a good thing—because that’s what you have to do to be a poet.

The “jumping” part?  That’s what poetry and science and philosophy is.

Well, the “jumping” isn’t everything.  And we all know that in social situations, jumping to conclusions out loud can be social death. And poetry is worthless to the degree it is nothing but a lot of jumping to false conclusions.

But without the jumping, there is nothing.  No philosophy. No poetry. No thought.

A belief in God is a concession to the facts—the fact that we will never have all the facts we need, and that facts are not finally the answer, but only a partial guide.  Not because facts as facts are not trusted. But because there is more to science and philosophy and happiness than facts. This itself is a fact that is difficult to prove. Because facts are needed to prove something. Fact and proof are synonymous.

But facts never tell you when there is enough of them.

Something else tells us that.

If you jump to a conclusion, and are wrong, well, that will happen all the time.

But that doesn’t mean you should never jump.

To jump (to a conclusion) is to think.

When it comes to introverts, natural science, the pride of Darwin, may have made a grave error.

When it comes to the personality trait of the person who values privacy, natural—or what has come to be known as social or psychological—science may have made a terrible mistake.

Human interaction, as we all know, is crucial to happiness, and everyone is always trying to categorize and track the phenomenon formally and informally, scientifically or not.

A common method is dividing people into personality types, and two of the most common are 1) Left brain/Right brain and 2) Extrovert/Introvert.

Left brain/Right brain “science” neglects the complexity of the brain and is about as accurate as phrenology.  This “expertise” claims that left brain people are good at “math” and right brain people are good at “poetry.” Everyone knows that a good poet is good at math.

Such categories are useless, and about as scientific as horoscopes.  Everyone has a birthday—therefore everyone has a horoscope.  And “horoscope experts” can provide tons of information on anyone’s horoscope (the facts of who they are).

Astrology provides endless interest to millions, but has no scientific basis, except that it makes us aware of certain extremes—and cautions us to stay within those extremes—within a middle area of wiggle-room.  Be aggressive, but not too aggressive.  Be content, but not too content.  And so on.  ‘Golden mean’ advice is sound—but hardly qualifies as science.

Psychological types, such as Left brain/Right brain or Extrovert/Introvert, may appear scientific, but only to the credulous—for this “science” plays with the same deck of cards that astrology plays with. This includes Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and all the rest. It’s the same zero-sum card game.

Everyone has likes and dislikes, and so everyone has a personality trait—which conveniently informs a type.

Creating a scale of tendencies upon which every person “fits” (surprise!) belongs to neither philosophy nor science. Nor poetry.

Taking a lump of humanity and breaking it into various extremes of extrovert and introvert is a worthless exercise—unless we find a reason for splitting the lump into these two (normal) types.

We need to understand why extroverts and introverts exist to have any understanding of these categories.

Male and female do not simply exist; they exist for a reason, and only because of this reason are the categories, male and female, valid.

Can anyone say why extroverts and introverts, these two categories exist, or should exist?

Or, can anyone say with any certainty what percentage of extroversion a person will exhibit in various stages of life-development, or in different life situations?

If you see someone shouting, will you know, simply by observing a person shouting, whether that person is an extrovert or an introvert? Of course not. Because it always depends on the circumstances, not the “science.”

The categories are worthless—not because we cannot detect the outgoing person from the withdrawn person.  Of course we can.

If someone is constantly withdrawn, we do not come to the scientific conclusion that they are introverted.  This is about as scientific as saying a person with a fever is warm.

And this is exactly how the pretense of “science,” the “science” of normalizing a whole scale of psychological types, leads us astray.

The withdrawn person is a depressed person.  To call them an introvert is a misnomer.

And if someone is extremely outgoing in situations completely inappropriate to outgoing behavior, that person, too, has something wrong with them, and to call them an “extrovert” is completely beside the point.

One hears all the time these days how “introverts” value their “privacy” and “need space.”  The general population has taken upon itself the error of psychology’s false science—to condone all sorts of highly antisocial behavior.

This is bad for both the “introvert” who has something wrong with them, but stubbornly, and even proudly, pursues their life of “privacy,” making themselves even more miserable, and for all those who watch their introverted friend sink into greater and greater depression.

Withdrawal is a natural defense mechanism.  We are not talking about this.  We are talking about acute introverted behavior by a depressed person who prides themselves on being a socially accepted “introvert.”

Women who don’t have children and hold grudges against those who do.

People who don’t speak up.

People who don’t want to get to the bottom of anything, or get to the truth of anything, and crawl off into their  holes.

People satisfied to be shallow and surly.

And all of this accepted toxic behavior allows what?  It allows the aggressive, shallow extroverts to get their way, and make things increasingly worse—creating even more resentful, depressed introverts, as society sinks further and further into an unjust morass of quiet suffering.

A long list of pathological behaviors—which are termed normal, and which go on every day, and allow all sorts of injustices, big and small, to fester and grow—are enhanced by the false science of extrovert/introvert.

We are talking about a whole population turning into zombies, in which poor communication and timid, unfriendly behavior crushes all the best impulses of human interaction.

There is nothing wrong with introverted tendencies, and everyone—who is not insane—has them.

The truth of the whole matter is this (and all of us have observed this):

An extrovert is an introvert who feels comfortable. An introvert is an extrovert who feels uncomfortable.

The categories, then, do not exist.

The “real” introvert? The one we have created? That’s just an asshole.

 

 

 

 

WHY POETRY SUCKS NOW PART TWO: IMAGINE THERE’S NO IMAGE

Scarriet’s wildly successful essay, Why Poetry Sucks Now, [May 16, 2013] published almost 3 years ago and with more readers every day, is due for a sequel.

Not because of anything in the news. Poetry still sucks.

The Modernist revolution which destroyed poetry was about one thing: the image.

The modernist poetry movement, “imagism,” got the ball rolling.

The modern art scam overlapped clique-wise, with the poets.

Gertrude Stein (poet and art collector with her brother, Leo) studied with William James.

Poets Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s lawyer was John Quinn, a modern art collector who made the 1913 Armory Show (introduce the European modern painting to America) happen.

John Dewey was part of the early 20th century buy-low-sell-high modern art scam, explicitly elevating abstract art over representational art in his series of Harvard lectures, Art As Experience, dedicated and written for his friend A.C. Barnes, wealthy modern art collector.

Duchamp arrived in America to party with Walter Arensberg, wealthy modern art collector whose friends included poet W.C. Williams of Red Wheel Barrow fame.

Painting, keeper of the image, destroyed it.

Poetry, the temporal art, embraced it.

The con was two-sided and weirdly related.

Money (gold) versus Wisdom.  And who won?

Art critics and ‘buy low-sell high’ collectors teamed up and built modern art museums to validate the scam.

Modern Poets and modern poetry critics (known as the New Critics—the tweedy, respectable-seeming wing of the revolution) wrote one highly influential textbook, Understanding Poetry.

These poets and critics also began the Writing Program era, which took the study of literature away from literature as literature and put it into the hands of “new” writers teaching “new” writing.

When we despair today at how much poetry sucks, we should turn our eyes to the image, for that one small idea hoodwinked everyone.

Modern poetry began its journey into pretentious mediocrity with an idea:

Poetry which centers on the image is an advance over the old poetry which does not.

What is unbelievable about the influence of this modernist movement (similar to a bowel movement, in that many were pushing it) is the following:

First, the idea is bankrupt.  Old poets didn’t use images?  Really??

Second, it was introduced by a few cranks who put out a few issues of wretched little early 20th century modernist magazines no one read.

This, of course, was Pound, and a few of his friends, in London, leading up to World War One, borrowing from haiku (a recent rage due to the 1905 Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war) and giving their coterie a French moniker: Imagistes.

The whole thing would be laughable.  But it is not.  Because it caught on, far, far beyond what it actually was.  The hoodwinked hoodwinked others and the hoodwinking accelerated, and took on a life of its own.

None will deny the mundane truth of what we are blandly asserting.

The first step in destroying poetry was Pound’s Imagiste circle before WW I.  Then his school chum’s “Red Wheel Barrow,” then a poetry textbook (Understanding Poetry) that was taught in all the schools starting in the 30s, put together by their friends the New Critics, and then Paul Engle (Engle’s Yale Younger was awarded to him by a member of the New Critic circle) began the Writing Program at Iowa– Robert Lowell, the first star Program teacher at Iowa was sent to study with New Critics, Tate and Ransom, by Lowell’s psychiatrist, and—you guessed it—this psychiatrist of the family Lowell was part of the New Critics. It couldn’t be any more bizarre. And successful. The New Critics were good at exploiting academic and federal education ‘money and influence’ connections.

If you look at any educated discussion of poetry today, whatever issues might pertain to it, its history, its practice, its appeal—and we are talking about all poetry—the name Ezra Pound, the term Modernism, the idea of the “image” as something “new” which left behind the “old” poetry of Victorian temporality and rhyme, will either be directly referenced or be the unspoken, underlying trope in 99 cases out of a hundred.

Another mundane point of fact: the New Critic authored textbook Understanding Poetry singles out for high praise Pound’s Petals on a wet black bough imagist poem, his friend WC Williams’ Red Wheel Barrow imagist poem, and uses an Aldous Huxley essay to ridicule the popular poetic rhythm of Edgar Poe. 

Who, and what, Pound and his small circle of friends really were, and what their so-called “idea” actually was, is perhaps 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times less meaningful than what its subsequent influence has become, an influence that has created mass psychosis in poetry.  It is one of those things in human history that cannot be fully comprehended.

But there you have it.

The image, in poetry, has beaten meter (the temporal, rhythmic aspect of old poetry) into submission.

True, there’s been a revolt against the small, tame, “imagist” poem—one thinks of something like “Howl,” the sort of blah blah blah poem which is far more common today than any poem which makes imagery its god.

But the point here is that in the 20th century imagery was the cudgel that crushed all the beauties of sound which once belonged to poems.

And to make your language sound good, you have to be really good at that language.  It goes along with a truly good education.

The ubiquitous charge against the bad, “sing-songy” poem is legitimate.  Writing poems of exquisite rhythm is very difficult to do.  But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Or that we should pretend banal prose has rhythm.

Today one can still hear every learned, respected, inside academic poet and critic talking about how important the image is, how the image is figuratively and literally, the thing, the only thing that really matters. Because the image (and recall the Writing Program and Imagist advocates are the same) “shows instead of tells.”  That’s the Writing Program mantra: Show Don’t Tell. (Like abstract painting: don’t depict, like the old historical painters; just show us shape and color.)

The Modernist, Imagist, Poetry/Modern Art P. R. Machine, for practical, money, power-grab reasons, effectively destroyed, in a couple of years in the 20th century, the wisdom and practice of two millennia—centered on this once-upon-a-time, common-sense notion—one which must seem very strange to the currently brainwashed “poets” and “artists”—Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music.

We’ll say it one more time: Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music. This is the old truth that has been overturned.

Painting is now conceptualist propaganda, as drawing and perspective are dying out, just like great poetry.

Poetry has come to mean bad, chopped-up, prose, and has no real public.

Reality has been flipped: Painting is blah blah blah.  And poetry can’t write a memorable sentence.

Poetry’s latest foray (see Kenneth Goldsmith) is towards conceptualist propaganda (see painting).

Painting’s beauty and truth is spatial in nature, and depicts a moment of reality, using all the wonders and advantages which belong to the eye. Poetry’s beauty and truth is temporal in nature, and depicts moments which unfold, using all the wonders and advantages of the ear.

The tone-deaf, scheming Modernists took one look at the common sense of two millennia and said, “Nah.”

And you wonder why poetry sucks now?

 

 

 

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