LOVE DOES NOT EXIST

Love does not exist, and I know this to be true.
I am not sitting on the train with you.
I have made observances as the scientists do.
Love does not exist as I knew love with you.

When do you see lovers who cannot stand to be apart?
Speaking scientifically,
Though I defend myself poetically,
Science sees the secret avenues of the heart,
Science sees the secret movement of the eye
Following the beautiful lover’s eye carefully.
Science may even be poetry.
If there is a better experiment than I,
It is perhaps these trains
Which time hearts and carry brains.
What is this great big oil stain?
What did you do? Who did you see on the train?
How many do you see on the morning commute
Writing the poem and hearing the flute?
Love does not exist, and I know this to be true.
I am not sitting on the train with you.

POETRY MARCH MADNESS ELITE EIGHT!!!!!

NORTH

MAURA STANTON —WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

BEN MAZER —ALL IS URGENT, JUST BECAUSE IT GIVES, AND IN THE MIRROR, LIFE TO LIFE LIFE GIVES.

 

WEST

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS —THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

EMILY KENDAL FREY —HOW CAN YOU LOVE PEOPLE WITHOUT THEM FEELING ACCUSED?

 

EAST

LORI DESROSIERS —I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

JOIE BOSE —ISN’T THAT LOVE EVEN IF IT ANSWERS NOT TO THE HEART OR THE HEAT BUT TO THE MOMENT, TO MAKE IT COMPLETE?

 

SOUTH

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI  —DENIAL WON’T REDEEM YOU OR MAKE YOU LESS VULNERABLE.  MY UNWAVERING LOVE JUST MAY.

CHUMKI SHARMA  —AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME.

 

A great line of poetry is like fine cinema: you lose yourself in its message—which you arrive at, go into, stay in, and reluctantly but happily leave, feeling like everything outside is changed, that you know hunger and life a little better, a little more intimately, all because one poet in one line has made an entire film.  It is with the highest pleasure that we continue to present these winners, more winning in the judges’ eyes than the other winners: the lines of these elite eight are not only masterpieces of compression, one can die in them all day long.

Marla Muse: You say that very well, Tom. But just because you say it, does not make it so.

True, Marla. True.

Marla Muse: Don’t be sad, Tom. Look at the stars and the gates of poetry.  The stars shine for all, and the stars are all; in the circling heavens all will be well, and, look! it is perhaps well, even now.

AT THE END OF LOVE

At the end of love, love begins,

Love, having always loved,

Even as hate breaks hearts and grins,

Even as hate breaks hearts suddenly

Without warning. Do you remember how you did that to me?

I still loved you when you didn’t love me.

I kept my love alive. Love always wins.

At the end of love, love begins.

 

HOW CAN I NOT END MY POEM HERE

How can I not end my poem here,

Where the sentence ends, as love draws near?

The end of all ridiculous poems approaches,

The play has ended, the enormous coaches

Are pulled up in front of the grand theater

Which housed an exemplar of illusion

For an hour, dispelling the vague confusion

Which attends on us in our days without end.

The audience, I love less, of which you were not one,

Choosing instead to stay home and make fun

Of everything history has done to us

Of which historians make such a fuss

In their impotence, and expect us to make a big deal about, too.

The play is long over. But my poem is just starting to fall in love with you.

LET’S STAY HERE

Here, in the moment, here, where our eyes first met;

Here, this moment, this moment never forget;

Let’s stay here, in the liquid beauty of our looking eyes:

Ocean! Ocean—no shore, no sad-sounding bird shore cries;

The store front window, reflecting only skies;

Don’t go back into the store, into the labyrinth of lies

Where our lives exist; let’s live where you know mine and I know your eyes.

 

Make no movie, for that means so much work;

Different camera angles, other actors, the director is a jerk;

No; stay here, where the tremendous ocean sighs

With music; you have a love for clouds; clouds are imprisoned in the skies;

Skies of continuous clouds, clouds caught, appearing, going,

Clouds found nowhere else but in skies—skies which frown on their own winds blowing;

Our eyes knowing more about beauty and minds—than minds themselves are knowing.

 

Let’s stay here! In the superficial flatness of a frame,

Where many a dying lover has scrawled their forgotten name,

A space where all that wastes life, sadly and slow,

Wipes a flat life clean in an instant, erases everything we know,

But since we in the flatness live, we survive,

Where the eyes begin, always beginning, and alive;

Known, the beginning, when you looked at me and I looked at you,

The beginning of the beautiful. The beginning of the true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET SIXTEEN!!

Ben at Shays

Scarriet Poery March Madness first round winners have battled it out—and here are the final 16 contestants, the Sweet Sixteen!

These are extraordinary lines, evoking entire poems, entire books of poems.

Nicknames for this tournament have flooded in: The Mouse That Roared, Less Madness is More Madness, A Little Says It All, A Nutshell’s Unlimited Space.

The most common tropes in poetic history are all here in these magnificent microcosms: love, emotion, psychology, birds, music, fire, clouds, urgent definitions of time and space.

Marla Muse: I’m thrilled to death for all these poets!  What amazing lines!

We chose wisely.

Marla Muse: We did.

In the North

Maura Stanton: Who made me feel by feeling nothing

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

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

Molly Brodak: boundlessness secretly exists, I hear

In the West

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

Cristina Sanchez Lopez: Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

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

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

In the East

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

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.

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

In the South

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

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

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

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

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

 

 

STAY IN AND THINK ABOUT TOM

The law interns are crafting language for the next big case

That will surely destroy religion at last.

The stadium needs painting. Forget about that. It’s raining.

She was slightly surprised her neighbor’s children grew up so fast.

Now it’s raining. All that seemed rather interesting is gone.

Stay in and think about Tom.

There’s time in the bright days to laugh.

Sun makes life seem to go on and on

But the rain closes in and defines

Edges and endings. Stay in and think about Tom.

He’s tall, intelligent, brash, and slender,

Sensitive, clumsy, loves her like a dog,

Loyal, but irritatingly playful. Maddeningly tender.

Push him away in a foul mood and look he’s gone.

He wrote her too many poems. He should have stopped.

It’s raining. Stay in and think about Tom.

The finest notes of the slow movement resemble rain.

Of course she loved him, but it can never be the same.

She thinks of wind chimes. Stay in and think about Tom,

The mouth. The love that tried to make her a mom.

The pastry shop is open late. Movies can be watched

And sweet music heaves itself at her any time of day.

Stay in and think about Tom.

There will be time to do lots of things. Breathe.

She wants them but she never wants them to stay.

 

 

SNOBBERY ON THE LEFT

Alexis de Tocqueville: the French aristocrat who understood America—not!

It’s never said, but it’s an unspoken truth: the Left, not the Right, is the snobby political wing in the U.S.

If right means wealthy privilege and left means workers’ rights, how can the left be the snobby class?

As much as other countries mirror the U.S. this would be the case in those places, too, but it has its origins in America, and perhaps this counter-intuitive truth is one of the things that makes this country great, and odd, and complex, and lasting, and hard to figure out.

Who calls the United States an odd country?  No one.

But we are.

This explains us better than big, imperial, oppressive, warlike, free, democratic, great, all those epithets that get dragged out whenever this country is described.

Let any scholar describe the U.S. in historical terms, and within five minutes, Tocqueville, an ineffectual historian who made distantly bland, clichéd observations, is held aloft as the foreign genius who captured forever the American soul. What rot. Tocqueville covers up all that we really are. For the United States to be truly, or at least, partially, seen, America needs to wash Tocqueville out of its hair for good.

Tocqueville: Bor-ing! Not America!

Karl Marx, Margaret Fuller, Edgar Poe, Horace Greeley and the New York Tribune. Discuss. There. That’s better. Lafayette. Anyone. Not Tocqueville. Please!

Not that the boring, clueless, readership that eats up Tocqueville is not part of the American character.

It is.

The willfully ignorant and dull is truly one of the aspects of America’s greatness. Thickness and density is the secret to a healthy, anti-intellectual, “can-do” character.

What is too interesting carries Americans away from what they need to do: shoot guns, cut down trees. I say this without irony. One must shoot guns and cut down trees. America is the land of the shallow symbol, the no-nonsense, pragmatic “fool.” Every great country needs a certain ignorance and roughness, a purely mechanical nature. And in addition to this, plenty of dull scholars who have nothing interesting to say.

America has lots of this.

I love—but I also pity other countries, with their romantic passion and pretty scarves and almond-eyed women and beautiful churches and philosophy and poetry and fifteen kisses on the cheek.

The oafish simplicity of America has a practical, Niagara Falls energy.

If Ben Franklin had focused on poetry, his genius would have wound up in a quaint British anthology—and America would not exist.

We are too sophisticated for this image now, but the ridiculous picture of funny-looking Ben Franklin flying a kite in a thunderstorm is the essence of what America is—not the somber, placid beauty of the Statue of Liberty, but thank you, France.

France gave America a greater gift than even the Statue of Liberty: prose poetry.

Prose poetry provided jobs for millions of American intellectuals who were largely unemployed—having had the choice to either 1. write another picturesque nature essay or 2. produce still another parody of “The Raven.” The French rescued us just in time, arriving at our shores when America jumped into World War One—the very instant when Mr. Quinn, Pound and Eliot’s art collector/lawyer friend, got French art shipped over for the Armory Show.

As early 20th century Americans laughed at the newly arrived Cubism, a gift was created that keeps on giving: seeds to build a real intellectual class of pontificating elites. Modern art from France provided the basis, just in time, to further widen the gulf between American brawn and brains—-the secret to America’s odd vigor and contradictory energy.

America, by refusing to listen to intellectuals, made itself into a very pragmatic country. And the intellectuals of America made this easier by being so very stupid, themselves. By getting everything wrong in a Tocqueville-sort of way, America somehow made everything right.

Better a charismatic tree-chopper than a charismatic intellectual, or leader.

Lincoln mumbled for two minutes—and that was the greatest “address” America produced. Perfect!

Puritans made frowning faces in the wilderness and made the natives go away, or so says a symbol so empty, so full, so horrific, that it cannot be put on a shelf, or fathomed. It helped the rapacious Americans that our British overlords, our sworn enemies, allied with the natives, when they attempted to reconquer us in the War of 1812.

Winfield Scott was so polite when he conquered Mexico, he hung his own soldiers for spitting and swearing.

Then a few years later, Americans committed genocide against each other trying to win legitimacy in the eyes of London and Paris, bathing in blood Virginia, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. Very odd.

The British got Americans to come over to France and kill Germans, just two generations later, in what for some reason was called World War One.

When that war didn’t work out, Americans died killing Germans and Japanese all over the place, and after that war, the United States, her engines roaring, became rulers of the world, together with Mother England, who tucked us in every night, their royalty nearly becoming ours, as Joe Kennedy, the Irishman, played the role of ambassador to London, a prelude to Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to his son.

America’s peculiarly distant-yet-very-close relationship with older, dysfunctional, decrepit-but-still-highly-elegant, European powers is probably the chief reason why snobbery belongs to the Left in America. PBS is British-accented soap. Homegrown gun shooters and tree choppers propelled America to fantastic material success, sans subtlety or elegance. Modern art is the American counter-truth which possesses that acute combination of feelings of inferiority and superiority, which is at the heart of the complex snobbery only Americans know. Identity politics feature the same mixture of inferiority and superiority: Black (formerly despised) is Beautiful!!

The Left in Britain is defined by the Labor party.

The Left in America is defined by the progressive, witty and glossy pages of Vogue, or the New Yorker. (The American working class have no idea that the snobby New Yorker is left in its politics.) The American Left isn’t Labor. It’s comedians on TV who wear Armani suits.

Those who breed—because they breed—are considered right wing in America, and those who look down upon them belong to the Left. Liberals don’t breed.

The breeders in Britain are Left. Those who look down upon them in Britain belong to the Right.

In the U.S. it is the opposite.

There is no top class in America. There is only the aspiring class, and those who aspire in America are the snobs.

In Britain, those who go to college to improve themselves are part of the great unwashed, far below the ruling class. The British ruling class go to school, but just for show.

In America, education is the whole key to snobbery.  Where else can our snobbery come from?  Not from relentlessly ridiculed, low-brow celebrities.  And since the demise of the Kennedys, America has no ruling class—the “adult learner” single mom who takes online classes and supports Hillary Clinton manifests as much self-righteous snobbery as any duke or king. But the administrative educator (see Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty) in this adult learner’s academic department is true American royalty. Indispensable. Useless.

The American recipe for snobbery is: shop at Lord & Taylor, be in education, and don’t breed.  You will be a queen.  People will get out of your way when you walk across the parking lot.

A young woman from Brazil once told me, “American women are like men.”

America’s famous sexual freedom hardly exists, and has nothing to do with snobbery.

Snobbery may be defined in the following way: a wrong which is never spoken.

An American woman will never inform a gentleman:

“Sir, I have the right to fuck you if I want and then murder your child inside me.”

Those would never be the words she uses.

A rhetoric far more tasteful would be, “Christianity mitigates the excesses of democracy.”

This sounds like Tocqueville. Polite and plausible.

But then one might easily respond: “Democracy mitigates the excesses of Christianity.”

The sum of these two statements—both used for good or evil—is a nullity. One has said nothing. That’s the problem (and the secret social usefulness) of the polite and the plausible.

This is why the savvy, bland, respectable, intellectuals love Tocqueville.

The truly royal, the truly snobby, the truly impolite, the truly impolitic, have one rule.

They must say things in a certain way.

Some might argue that this American snobbery is not really snobbery or royalty—but something else. No. This is snobbery.

And the whole point is that America is very different from what anyone—especially foreign intellectuals—might suppose.

The symbols and platitudes of America are mostly false, and cover up a very complex nation.

But anything is better than Tocqueville.

Unless you wish to take a nap.

And when you wake up, it is guaranteed—America will be different.

 

 

 

ART AND DEMOCRACY

Art may be defined in the following way: an excellent example of excellence in the particular mode of that excellence.

Art is the example, the thing represented is the excellence.

Art is the borrower of excellence, but once that excellence is borrowed, the borrower becomes excellent, since excellence is purely excellent whether excellent in itself, or borrowed.

Because the thing is excellent, excellence exists, and therefore an excellent example must exist, whether an example par excellence is necessary, or not. Hierarchy exists, whether we want it to, or not.

The excellent example may be actual, or simply inferred as such.

For instance: The real and excellent example of a woman is excellent without any qualifications. A beautiful woman is not like a beautiful work of art; she is a beautiful work of art, given our incontrovertible definition above, and this is true without irony, and understood immediately, despite the fact that a woman par excellence shares countless physical attributes with other women.

Duchamp’s readymade art—the famous toilet, for instance, is art, also, because we infer that here is the best example of its kind—we do not know that it is the best factory-made toilet there is—but when it stands alone by itself, presented as an example, and we note a certain utilitarian beauty in its form, we give in to the general idea that here is an example par excellence—just as when we gaze, in reality, upon example la femme par excellence. Had we a real familiarity with the types of factory-made toilets, we might look at Duchamp’s piece and laugh: “That’s a poor example of a toilet! That’s not art!”

Warhol was actually spoofing Duchamp, not society, or the marketplace, or anything more profound, with his Brillo boxes and soup cans—no one could ever confuse Warhol’s ‘plain store item’ exhibit with an example par excellence—the only possible excellence is the beauty of the satire on Duchamp’s artificial trick, which featured a more mysterious, stand-alone object.

This is why Duchamp’s piece belongs to Modernism—art mocking the real—and Warhol’s to post-Modernsim: art mocking art, or more specifically, art mocking modern art that mocks.

In a democracy, we are all supposed to vote for the best people running for office. But the whole point of a democracy is that there are no “best” people; so we see the great dilemma. This is why a democracy is a necessary evil, thwarting excellence at every turn and creating art which looks like trash. In democracies, the artist makes art for the janitor—art that should be thrown out.

Duchamp (Modernist) made art of a factory piece, in which the example was inferred to be an excellent example of its (low) type. Warhol (Post-modernist) satirized this by presenting replicated examples (boxes, cans)—obviously not excellent. Post-post modernism seeks an even more iconic, primitive statement to escape this modernist chain of mockery—and so it arrives at what is essentially trash—but trash which cannot be thrown away by workers (janitors) who perform this important function within the institution. A hierarchy is established by the presentation of the lowest imaginable low (trash) which nonetheless is untouchable (janitors cannot touch it) because it “belongs” to the artist and curator, who are higher on the professional chain than the janitor. If this comes across as pathetic, it is; but let the reader attend any contemporary exhibition these days at a college or a museum, and see what is now passing as “art.” The janitors’ hands itch.

Preventing the janitor from doing his job, the “art” (trash) is displayed in a gallery and receives accolades, and no one is allowed to toss it. The Post-post artist re-positions himself outside democracy by frustrating the worker (janitor) and (symbolically) makes himself an “elite,” a person who is—excellent.

Capitalism and democracy are excellent examples of the ready-made and the throw-away, and it is easy to see this “excellence” in the culture, the politics, and art.

 

FIRST ROUND 2016 MARCH MADNESS WINNERS!

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

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

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

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

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.

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

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

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

SUSAN WOOD AND LAWRENCE RAAB IN LAST FIRST ROUND BATTLE

Shakespeare gives his villains the best speeches—not because Shakespeare is villainous, but because he’s a good teacher.

Philosophy is the best teacher, and teaching sometimes features bad examples—in order to be good.

A good speech is always good.

Even when Iago is giving it.

No.

Because Iago is giving it.

If you are not a good philosopher, you are no poet.

In this final Scarriet Poetry March Madness First Round contest (our 32nd essay) we have two lines of an arresting philosophical nature.

Here is the first by Susan Wood:

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

How can a line be better than a poem?

Quite easily. We sometimes see too little. But we always see too much. And for the most part, “say” can substitute for “see.”

The tantalizing aspect of this line is that yes, people do hold onto bitterness unnecessarily, so that it destroys themselves and others.

And yet, it may be a good thing for the “bitterness” to remain, for it may inspire—in those who remember it—all sorts of good—if the bitterness does not infect them.

The “simple fact” alluded to is that in either case, it is obvious to others when you “want” the bitterness to remain.

People are not as involuntary as they seem.

And yet, sometimes we can be blind for a time, and not see the obvious. Lawrence Raab:

nothing truly seen until later

But isn’t it amazing how often we do truly see at the very first moment?  And all the later complications are wrong?

But let us not argue with this line.

It will either win, or lose.

Now all of the lines in this, the 2016 Scarriet Poetry March Madness First Round, have been seen.

The final line sinks into abyss.

And we will see you later.

 

 

LES MURRAY AND JOE GREEN: FIRST ROUND BATTLE IN THE SOUTH

Language can do anything.

If you’ve read Emerson, you know how he says nature is a language, and the Poet, belonging to nature, is nature and speaks nature, and how do you like that?

Buying into this makes you either a brilliant genius or a complete fool.

If Emerson says you’re a genius, maybe that’s enough.

After all, you’re on his land, he knows Margaret Fuller, he went to the Harvard Divinity School, and he also knows T.S. Eliot’s grandfather, who founded a Unitarian church and a college in St.Louis, after he left Harvard.

Les Murray is slightly more skeptical.  He’s got a wing-ding line:

Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

What can you say to this?  You dare not say anything.  Or, you say a lot.

You can tell from this one line that Les Murray is a tough cookie, and probably wouldn’t have any problem punching Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nose, if it came to that.  (I’m not saying it would come to that.)

Joe Green is a different creature. Funny and shy.  He would apologize for being on Emerson’s land. “I’m sorry, sir. I was walking my dog and…”

Emerson would stare at him. Coldly.  For ten minutes.

Joe would be talking away.  Joe would get out his phone and ask if Emerson wanted to see pictures and stuff on the internet.

But let’s leave this scene. This is starting to get embarrassing.

Marla Muse: I don’t know why Waldo is so arrogant.

Emerson sermonized. That’s all he really did.  Here’s Joe Green’s line:

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

Joe Green is the human poet, the most human poet there is.

Marla Muse: I’m sure he will be glad you said that about him.

I can’t wait to see who wins!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BRENDA HILLMAN AND LYN HEJINIAN

Poetry is most likely deemed successful if it does two things:

1. It describes what must happen.

2. It describes it as it must be described.

Most people, looking back at their lives, would say,  I could have, or should have, done it another way, sure.

Poets, however, tend to feel uneasy as poets unless they are able to say, I had to write that.

Most people might see their freedom as a certain point of pride: there’s nothing that I must do. I did that because I liked it.

But poets would almost rather say: I had to write those poems, and I had to write them as I did. I had no choice.

How else to explain the furious truth of this by Brenda Hillman:

Talking flames get rid of hell.

That had to be said. Only Brenda Hillman could have said it.

It talks of hell and how hell exists, but does not exist; it talks of how flames may or may not talk, and flames might be people or they might not be people.

It has the stamp of poetry, and there’s nothing more to say about it.

Marla Muse: What do you mean, Tom? You always have more to say.

This time I don’t.  I’m saying something which is too difficult to explain.

Marla Muse: Because Brenda Hillman said something too difficult to explain?

Yes.

Marla Muse: Tom, you are so awesome.

Thanks, Marla.

Lyn Hejinian’s line succeeds on the same principle:

You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Obviously this has many meanings.

Marla Muse: Many meanings.

Marla, if you were not here to help me, I don’t know what I’d do.

Lyn Hejinian (pictured above) wants to be loved.

So does Brenda Hillman.

This tournament shows this from a certain angle.

 

 

 

RICHARD BLANCO AND CONNIE VOISINE: MORE MADNESS IN THE SOUTH

Is poetry democratic, or is it radically individual?

This argument is a good one, for both sides have a lot to say: language unites us, but what price to simply roll us all into a ball?

And yet what price obscure triviality?

Like all good arguments, to prove there really isn’t an argument at all is what the intelligent try—be accessible and unique: surely that’s possible?

Perhaps it’s not that easy.  Imagine you are at the podium in front of a crowd during the swearing-in of the president of the United States.  How can you possibly go for the surprising and the unique?

A podium in front of millions is surely where poetry goes to die.  Four years ago, Richard Blanco fought against that death with this:

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

This line marches along with a certain poetic solemnity: we like how “one sky” is echoed by “our eyes.”

And what could be more uniting than “one sky” and “tired from work?”  We can relate.

Perhaps this is all poetry is really striving for.  To speak for as many as possible, and to truly speak for as many as possible is all the poet can finally do.

What is the counter-argument?  Write a poem for this person, but not for that person.

Surely the universal is the best?

Connie Voisine, we get the feeling, did not write her line for the podium.  She was probably feeling reflective and calm.

And yet—her line may resonate just as much with the millions.  Why not?

The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.

Though we must concede that if someone knows exactly what oleanders look and smell like, they will like her line more.  Isn’t that true?

Marla Muse: Do you know what an oleander looks like, Tom?

Marla, I pass.

What’s interesting is hummingbirds are not heavy. That’s the poetry, many would say.

But as for oleanders, yes, how much does the audience know?  That matters, of course.

But does that in any way alter the formula?  Write to as many as you can?

Blanco wasn’t taking any chances: “sky,”  “eyes,” “tired,” “work.”

How safe is safe in March Madness?

Marla Muse: Not very safe.

Sky versus oleanders.  Only one can win.

 

 

 

 

 

CLAUDIA RANKINE VERSUS ROWAN RICARDO PHILLIPS IN FIRST ROUND SOUTH ACTION

Claudia Rankine wants to correct wrongs with her poetry.  She has gone about it in just the right way, and has made a name for herself (in poetry circles, at least) with her indignation.

Here’s what Edgar Allan Poe had to say about the Claudia Rankine School.

In Poe’s day, it existed in the person of William Wordsworth, an early environmentalist.  Romantic Naturalists, Early Environmentalists is a useful book on the subject: it credits Wordsworth’s influence on Emerson, and Emerson’s influence on John Muir.  Poe, too, loved nature—what Poe speaks to is any faith in poetry’s utilitarian value, a broader philosophical critique of Wordsworth and his “Lake School,” which included Coleridge and Southey—these two made plans (later aborted) to travel to America and live on a commune, similar to Brook Farm—a failed experiment of the Transcendentalists, a group Poe thought rather silly.  Nature is not the issue, but what is to be done to manage and protect it properly, and how much should poetry get involved in the process, or any utilitarian project.  Here is Poe:

As I am speaking of poetry, it will not be amiss to touch slightly upon the most singular heresy in its modern history — the heresy of what is called very foolishly, the Lake School. ***

Aristotle, with singular assurance, has declared poetry the most philosophical of all writing — but it required a Wordsworth to pronounce it the most metaphysical. He seems to think that the end of poetry is, or should be, instruction — yet it is a truism that the end of our existence is happiness; if so, the end of every separate part of our existence — every thing connected with our existence should be still happiness. Therefore the end of instruction should be happiness; and happiness is another name for pleasure; — therefore the end of instruction should be pleasure: yet we see the above mentioned opinion implies precisely the reverse.

To proceed: ceteris paribus, he who pleases, is of more importance to his fellow men than he who instructs, since utility is happiness, and pleasure is the end already obtained which instruction is merely the means of obtaining.

So, according to Poe, the utilitarians err in a very fundamental manner: they present instruction as the goal of pleasure (poetry)—which makes no sense at all, if we follow the logic.

Rankine’s line is this:

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

Her opponent is Rowan Ricard Phillips, who is more, perhaps, on the pleasing end of things, but we are not sure:

It does not not get you quite wrong.

We like the double negative. We like lines that are windows into something else, and for us, this line exemplifies the idea that anything can be anything and something can be exactly something within that anything when we are using language. Though many poets do not allow language’s slipperiness to dominate their poetry, some poets do.

We leave it at that.

The winner will be chosen by the muses and the gods.

 

THE EAST: FINAL FIRST ROUND CONTEST— TIM SEIBLES AND WILLIE PERDOMO

Poetry—because it is language—should not be able to capture lightning fast, complex, perceptual moments, should it?

But look at this by the poet Willie Perdomo:

I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

Or this, by Tim Seibles (pictured above):

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

Poetry is able to do this because 1) perception is not instantaneous in the eye, but belongs to the brain 2) it involves parts.

All the poet has to do is combine intelligible parts in time to capture obscurely swift reality in remarkable ways.

Easier said than done, obviously, but we usually don’t think of poetry being able to do this.

Is language doing this as language, or as an actual recording device?

This is an exciting aspect of poetry that both these contestants display for us here.

Look fast!  The winner will be exact! And quick!

Marla Muse: Tom, you are such a tantalizing tease.  Is poetry merely speech, or a device that actually sees?

 

BEN MAZER AND WARSAN SHIRE FINISH THE FIRST ROUND IN THE NORTH

Poetry cannot resemble music—unless it reduces the wealth of words to a few musical words:

Shakespeare:

For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive.

Tennyson:

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Yeats:

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing

Why don’t the poets play this music anymore?

Is it the fear of using the same word more than once?  Remember that edict, drummed into us in school when we first learned to write good prose? Find another word. Don’t use the same word twice.

This doesn’t mean the edict, Use the same word over and over again, will necessarily work, either.

The poet Ben Mazer is fond of quoting one of his university mentors, the British critic Christopher Ricks: “There are no rules!”

But what if there is one rule: the mirror?

If there are no rules, there are no rules to break.

Some know this to be true: “There are no rules” is not a radical statement, but a conservative one.

Mirroring is done in architecture, song, painting, drama, and nature—and not long ago, in poetry.

Now the poets hardly do it at all.

The double—the reflection—the mirror—repetition—is not an artificial or old-fashioned idea..

“Dying, dying, dying” is less artificial than the most matter-of-fact prose passage in existence.

The error that has smashed the mirror is the error that has brainwashed the prose poets.

In this final first round contest in the North, Ben Mazer delivers the following:

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

Warsan Shire exploits the idea of the mirror more modestly, but powerfully:

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

It doesn’t hurt that “mother” and “father” and “together” mirror each other, sound-wise.

The profundity of this line is as plain as the nose on one’s face—which is the best mirror there is.

 

 

 

SEAN O’BRIEN AND MELISSA GREEN KEEP THE MADNESS GOING IN NORTH BRACKET

Melissa Green studied with Derek Walcott at BU, in the same classroom Plath studied with Lowell, and was a friend of Joseph Brodsky—who considered her one of America’s best poets.

She has a challenge in going up against Sean O’Brien, who gets a rhymed couplet as his line in the tournament (though it is one sentence, one thought)—the tournament judges allowed O’Brien (short-listed for the latest T.S. Eliot Prize) to be represented this way; one of those rulings which caused some grumbling, but poetry and life are often both a grumble, and there you go.

We shall introduce O’Brien’s earnest line first, and then finish with Green’s quiet one, so she has a chance.

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

This is the sort of verse-adding-power-to-rhetoric which we just don’t get much these days.

It is as if truth has its own emotion, one that verse finds—and we find this intoxicating—firebrand intellectual that we are.

Marla Muse:  I remember when God was a Poet.  This sounds like that.

Marla, you remember when that was so?

Marla Muse:  That was when He loved me.  Muse. And God.

Marla, your presence in this tournament is invaluable.

Marla Muse:  Well, of course. But I thank you, Tom.

When the devotees of the Muse approach you in their dreams, what do they say?

Marla Muse: It’s mist and wind. I feel them in my heart. Warm coins of praise. (She falls to the floor)

Marla! Are you OK?

Marla Muse: (Still in a swoon) I’m fine.

[Confusion in the tournament stadium. Order restored.]

Now here is Melissa Green’s line, and the best of luck to her:

They’ve mown the summer meadow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE NORTH: MAURA STANTON AND PETER GIZZI

It is what you do not say that matters most in poetry.

But how do you not say something?

If I could tell you I would let you know.

This happens to be one of W.H. Auden’s best lines.

See?

But Auden is dead, so he’s not in this tournament.

Peter Gizzi is, and Gizzi has published haunted lyrical poems for some time now, and shows he understands the trope with this line:

No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Downplaying things is the modern way in poetry.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, though, was good at it, too:

Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.
 ..
Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.
 ..
For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.

“Corridors of Time” is weak. Poe excoriated Longfellow on many occasions for things like this.

But “The Day Is Done” by Longfellow as a whole is still a magnificent poem. Longfellow doesn’t downplay rhythm in his poem. He wants to rest, but his poem doesn’t.  Longfellow was a professor at Harvard, had married into money, was very famous, and Poe was a little bit jealous.  Yet Poe tended to be correct in all his criticisms of Longfellow. Jealous does not mean wrong.

But some say, oh they do say, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Maura Stanton is Gizzi’s opponent, and her line—which is about everything because it is about nothing—is one of those lines we all wish we had written.

We didn’t, and because we didn’t, we weep that Maura Stanton did.

Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

 

 

 

 

ROBERT HASS AND TRACI BRIMHALL IN FIRST ROUND NORTH BRACKET BATTLE

The very, very small things, the mundane things, are immensely important.  The mighty know this.

But it’s one thing to take care of the small things—quite another to obsess over them.

Somewhere between the slob who does not care and the fop who does, genius lies.

To win, all you have to do is be in the middle somewhere.  Just avoid extremes.  Be energetic, but avoid the edges.

Marla Muse: Are you talking basketball, or poetry?

Both.

And chess. Chess players always say: control the middle of the board. A piece in the middle of a chessboard is potentially stronger, because it has more moves.

Getting yourself in the middle of the action (or passing to your teammates in the middle of the action) produces opportunities in a game of basketball.

And in poetry, one must be understood in a beautiful manner: looking good and being understood are middlebrow all the way.

We don’t know if Robert Hass, one of the better known American poets alive today, is a genius, but he is astute enough to know what we have outlined above.  Here is his line:

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

How true!

Traci Brimhall, an up and coming poet, has an exquisite line which works an ordinary image: a seashell.

Many lesser poets wouldn’t dare to write about a seashell.

Lesser poets would consider a seashell to lie too far towards the middle ground of Poetry Land.

Can’t you see the avant-garde poet scratching his beard, and with a smirk, saying, No.

The avant-garde poet is wrong. The center is where you want to go. The genius instinctively knows that the uncanny and the beautiful dwell more in the feelings and objects everyone knows than anywhere else.

Here is Traci Brimhall’s line:

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

If we have spelled her line right, we believe Traci Brimhall’s chances in the tournament are awfully good.

 

 

MORE FIRST ROUND NORTH ACTION: ANNE CARSON AND MOLLY BRODAK

Hearing is what we do when we read poetry.

Some people think we see poetry.  We don’t.

We are capable of seeing things in our minds, and some see certain things more clearly in their minds than others, but poetry is not what people see.

Some theorists—who talk a great deal about “image” in poems—will disagree.

This was the great error Modernism made.

These pedants can talk about “image” all they want.

Poetry is never seen.

This is why we are especially enamored of the two lines in this contest.

The first one, from Anne Carson, has a desperate urgency which affects us deeply:

don’t keep saying you don’t hear it too

By denying sight to poetry, we don’t want to seem merely contrary and dense, as if poetry were nothing more than trembling inside an ear.  Of course it is more.

Poetry—to be poetry—must possess a certain philosophical delicacy—it must make an impression on our being-within-the-world.

Does this sound too German?  Es tut mir leid.

The second line, from Molly Brodak (pictured above), is philosophical, yet without Carson’s urgency; it is lovely and languid, and we know Marla Muse will love it:

boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Marla Muse: Oh God. I do like it.

Marla, Marla, I hear one of these poets must win and move on.

 

 

 

BACK TO THE NORTH: MARY OLIVER VERSUS CHARLES HAYES

There are two types of nature poets: those who use nature to comfort, and those who use it to scare. Nature can do both.

Nature poets must realize that we—the humans, the poets—don’t call the shots.  Nature does.

We always think of Ted Hughes when we think of a nature poet who makes nature scary.

As far as the other kind of nature poet, we usually think of Thoreau, who has a certain poetry in his diaries, or, of course, Wordsworth.

Love nature, you silly humans, is what the typical bombastic, tedious, boring, sentimental nature poet does, and, if we equate God and nature, which we can easily do, we include the priests.

Wordsworth is duller than Byron, Shelley, and Keats, because this is what he does sometimes.

Shakespeare can’t be called a nature poet; in the Sonnets, Shakespeare says, Since I love you, respect nature.

According to Shakespeare, nature does two things: it kills and it reproduces.  Nature is not a comfort to Shakespeare, but a prod.

Nature, for the old priests, and the old poets who write of death, is a prod of God.

For nature poets like Mary Oliver, nature is God, our comfort and salvation.

Mary Oliver takes on the role for herself of what she perceives nature to be, a very kind mother, and she comforts us with these words:

You do not have to be good.

The other poet in this contest, Charles Hayes, loves nature, too; he published a book on saving the Hudson river.

But we were just looking for good lines of poetry for March Madness, and we liked this by Charles Hayes for its compression and drama:

Her sweaty driver knows his load his fair.

It has a certain chivalrous pathos that we like.

It doesn’t have a moral.

File it under, “You don’t have to be good.”

Good versus fair.

Now that’s a contest.

 

SARAH HOWE AND EMILY KENDAL FREY: FIRST ROUND WEST BRACKET ACTION

Here’s another Madness contest which splits our brains—the infinite gulf poets navigate—between imagery and speech, between showing and telling, between photograph and rhetoric, between gazing and sermonizing.

Sarah Howe, a youngster who just won the T.S. Eliot Prize, snaps, snaps, snaps with her camera:

the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze

And there the eye goes, to the juniper—with thought hurrying to catch up.

But since the eye can’t really “see” poetry, thought gains, and takes the lead, and universities are founded—where they teach Endless Reddening Haze 101.

Meanwhile, Emily Kendal Frey asks the eye to do nothing, appealing to the Muse in a completely different way:

How can you love people without them feeling accused?

This line goes to the heart of all social and romantic confusion.

And a juniper does not have to be mentioned.

Pictures unite us immediately, for every reader, whether they want to or not, see what the poet has seen, and language is precise enough that we all “see” the “razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.”

Showing is something which poetry can do.

If we watch a really good dancer, we might think to ourselves, boy they are good, without enjoying the dance itself.  We love what the dancer can do, but we don’t love the dance.  And yet, loving what the dancer can do, we will still stand around applauding with others, because of what the dancer is doing, and have a good time, united with the appreciative audience.

Telling is something poetry is.

Thought is less direct in the showing that poetry does, because first the poet has to say, I am going to show the reader this particular thing I see, in order to present a poem which…

Thought is more direct in the telling of poetry, because they are the same.  The following is a thought: How can you love people without them feeling accused?

The combination of “love” and “accuse” is what makes the thought startling and interesting.

It is a psychological truth that has a certain original force.

But does Frey’s line “unite” everyone immediately?

No, because some would say: this doesn’t make any sense. To love is not to accuse. Not in my world, anyway.

But the psychologically subtle, the psychologically astute, will understand the truth of this line—it is wise, for it contains a deep understanding of human psychology.

We apologize if all we have said so far is a truism, and nothing about poetry has really been said.

Or, perhaps poetry lives in those places where nothing about poetry can really be said.

The juniper rattles, accusing us, no matter which one of these poets wins.

CRISTINA SÁNCHEZ LÓPEZ AND DENISE DUHAMEL IN MORE FIRST ROUND WEST ACTION

We have to be careful with poetry.  It is likely to be like a looking glass in which we enter—and never return.

But of course poetry will immediately laugh, and ask, “Return?  Return to where?”

Poetry should not be laughing, because poetry can swallow us up, and bring us down to Hades—and force us to live in a world without light—it can.

The others, the non-poets, walk about in a cloud of language; language arms them, language lives inside their heads, and yet, in the sunshine, among other non-poets, among painters, and advertising executives, they are free.

Only the poets are forced to live in darkness.

In that darkness fungi grow, and with the gentle lapping of the swamp waters in the back of the poet’s brain, the poet will answer you slowly, “What? What did you say?”

In the fantasy we have just drawn, poets are different; but of course they are not.

The laughter of the poet is true.

The poet cannot be brought anywhere, or returned anywhere.  The poet breathes the fresh air of heaven. And can talk and sing and paint. Poetry just helps the poet a little bit to be in all ways more human.

As da Vinci the painter boasted, poetry means nothing to an animal, but a painter, with his depictions, can fool any bestial eye.

Poems live with humans—but are really not such a bad thing for that.  Animals, after all, are delightful for being like humans; humans are not charming who act like animals.

Denise Duhamel has fashioned a line from deep, human, sorrow. Poetry can travel, if it wishes, into dim realms of human shame:

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

Does this line make us feel sorry for the poet? Or is it beyond the person, and hinting at a secret truth: beauty and desire will always be the same, and in them, feeling and seeing are the same, and this is a torture that kills us all?

Cristina Sánchez López (pictured above) is letting her line of poetry take us upwards, towards the light, even as she gently reminds us with her line that poetry belongs more to hearing and time than to realms or regions—although we know there can be regions of pure sound:

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

To forget occurs in time. But what do we forget?  Ourselves. Poetry is the self living in time. Poetry is faith that time will make us beautiful. Poetry belongs to this region, to this region the poets, and those who love them, constantly return.

ANDREW KOZMA, NATALIE SCENTERS-ZAPICO IN WEST BRACKET BATTLE

Edgar Poe talked of two kinds of writing:

One discloses what we ourselves had thought before.

The other seems to us wholly original.

Either one gains our approval, though in the case of the former, we may remark to ourselves, “how could it be that no one has observed this before?”

So it is with this lovely line by Natalie Scenters-Zapico:

apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

One could listen to this line all day, and one can see all sorts of things in it (man vs. nature, etc) as one listens to it.

Andrew Kozma’s line is more complex because it does not have the easily recognizable, profound clarity of his opponent’s line:

what lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

This line has several parts: We have “lies” between two people, separated by love of the “living” and love of the “dead.” There is a delicious ambiguity which intoxicates us—due to a misty evocation of that border line between life and death, and the love which can attend on both.

The implication is that these are powerful lies (“what lies we tell”) and the stark contrast maintains its delightful ambiguity in the context of these two must be lovers.

Is the poet boasting that he loves the “living,” whereas his poor, sorry lover merely loves the “dead?”  This is one possible reading, and if this was all the line was saying, it would be weak.  But the ghosts of the “dead” will not be turned away from this line, and its mysteries, and this doubt makes the line very powerful.

Poor poetry must use doubts to be strong.

Be strong, Andrew.

You might still win this thing.

 

 

MORE WEST ACTION: ROSS GAY VERSUS DONNA MASINI

We at Scarriet have never really liked poetry that does not use punctuation, or uses a great deal of white space.

Written speech is not a magic island or a fancy island in a white sea; it is just an island: what the words and punctuation say is what the poem says.

We have always found Charles Olson and Ezra Pound dubious, if not offensively stupid, in their efforts to overturn the “old poetry” with “new” notions of gnosis and transformative knowledge, in which body and breath liberate us from time and space, escaping old dualisms and old habits, blah blah blah. No one defending this silly stuff has ever proved any of it, even for a second.  It exists only in the minds of the gulled. Early 20th century manifesto-ism nearly killed poetry, yet scholars still speak in hushed, reverent terms of: H.D., Imagiste.

We are confident that nothing we say on this subject will change anyone’s mind—in fact it may convert a few against us.  Psychology is the great anti-science amassed against the reasonable: it laughs at reason’s reasons.

Ross Gay has a line which skips punctuation, but we are sure what we have said will not prejudice anyone against it.

If we argue for punctuation in all instances, we may still like the following, anyway:

One never knows does one how one comes to be.

We hear does one? as a stage aside.  The lack of punctuation gives the line a dramatic turn.  The mystery involves punctuation; the limb works when it is gone.  It is like what Mozart said about music living between the notes.  But of course you still need the notes, Herr Mozart.

Some of us believe punctuation belongs to speech, but not thought—do all of us think without punctuation?  Alright go downstairs now it is probably warm out now don’t forget your jacket.

Or perhaps very intelligent people think with punctuation added.  Who knows?

If there is one notion pondered more than any other by intelligent people, it might be this one: One never knows, does one, how one comes to be. 

And perhaps this is another thing which makes Ross Gay’s line interesting:

Because it has no punctuation, it resembles a line “inside our heads,” a thought.

But the use of “does one,” makes it sound like the poet is talking to someone.

If one were writing it more as a “pure thought,” one might write it this way: How did I come to be?

Donna Masini, the poet matched up with 5th seeded Gay in this West Bracket contest, has a line which sounds a similar note of reckless resignation: a tragic resignation, and yet with a shrug, or even a smile.

Gay and Masini might be reflecting the fact that stoicism and resignation have replaced Romantic yearning since Edna Millay went out of style among highbrows as Modernism took over the academy in the 30s and 40s.  Recall how Millay, pondering death, was “not resigned?”  Poets today are more likely to say, Oh gee, fuck it, I’m trapped, gotta die.

Masini: Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Masini could be addressing this line to Millay, herself, who, it was rumored, carried on a bit in the sexual department.

Dear Edna. Even sex is no exit (from the predicament of mortality).

But then we have the wonderful,  “Ah, you exist.”  Which is just wonderful, and we are not sure exactly why it so wonderful, but we suspect it has a little to do with the fact that “exit” and “exist” are alike in sound, and the sound of the word “sex” hides in “exit” and “exist,” too.

Masini’s line uses punctuation, which recommends it.

For even if the poet is thinking this to themselves, they could think, “Even sex is no exit.”  And then walk for half an hour, and then think, “Ah, you exist.”  We like that.

Not so if it looked like this: Even sex is no exit ah you exist.

Just so you know: we like Masini’s chances.

But Gay has a good chance in poetry march madness you never know do you.

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