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.

 

 

 

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15 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 12, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    I would say the one rule that matters was planted in the heart of man by God the original gardener and the Word itself is this: the imperative of Beauty, which in this age, as in those preceding, despite a handful of brave singers, has been trampled under foot as if no one is supposed to notice or mention it, so that people keep calling the name of whatever is made, Poetry, when in fact, it is not.

    THIS IS MY CONFESSION TO THE ROSES

    this is my confession to the roses.
    I have never forgotten you since childhood’s breathless sighting
    impressed you on the pink and cream of my mind;

    in each succeeding year and cherished just the same

    though your petals
    have blown far, far from these demesnes
    of fear, of dying for our daily bread

    of wondering, wandering inside my head:

    what has the world to do with you
    that still your fragrance holds
    your colours and the beauty of your opening

    onto wars; within, without and everywhere
    hidden behind faux doors of gold, the merciless.
    if I forget you, kingdom of the rose

    how will my soul know how to
    blossom into death?
    or recognize

    the breath of God
    on waking again.

    mary angela douglas 12 april 2016

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    It is wonderful to notice, as you do, the repetition of the word gold in the lines you cited;it brings to mind and emotion illuminated manuscripts, or suddenly I was thinking of the joy that children often have in repeating a word over and over and don’t tire of it and the grown poet should have that freedom too. Well, there is also the Golden Rule and I would say it would be a good thing not to throw that out and regarding poets who try from their heart, soul, and mind to create someting even if they fail there should be at least respect. Instead we have often an atmosphere of needling criticism waiting in the wings and vultures circling implicit in the process. I do think Ben Mazer was capable on his own of writing his own poetry without Mr. Ricks but then mentorship is in vogue since Forever and how else they think, whoever they happens to be, can the torch be passed.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 12, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      THE KINGDOM OF LEFT BEHIND

      the kingdom of left behind grows on its own,
      stone turning into flowers;
      ferns skipping a step, forget the coal

      and diamond shine and gradually the seas decline
      and a home appears with sheer curtains,
      lilacs on the winds

      that blow the let’s be dours away and all the
      nickering clouds have come to stay in a blue
      silk sky-corral

      and you wear pastels so that that cannot say
      to you any longer- those who happen by-

      with any real clarity:

      sunrise, sunset; which it is then
      the end or the beginning?

      mary angela douglas 12 april 2016

  3. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 13, 2016 at 5:12 am

    I wonder when the simple idea of being helped along by your teachers became somehow not enough and we had to start using the word mentors. I was raised to esteem and would have on my own I think those teachers (irregardless of whether they were grade school teachers or college professors) who helped me to understand something outside my frame of reference or reading or who directed or suggested to me to to read certain books for example, or other works of art for inspiration that I might not have except that they mentioned it.

    I also looked and still look on my own as do many people still I hope and it all feels part of the same joy of learning but the word mentor to me is so iron clad and kind of strange as well as the word protege. Svengali somehow doesn’t seem compatible with natural freedom and discovery or coincidence of synchronicity, dreams, visions even that can come to a person with a sincere and unwavering focus on as the Russian fairytale says, the inner directive to “go I know not where;find I know not what” and yet you do go and you do find and who can say where or how, it just happens.

    The mentor/protege way of regarding all this seems to take the mystery out of it, the naturalness out of it.. You didn’t imply this in the essay but the statement about Mr. Rickman saying there are no rules and all of that just seemed to lead me into thinking about this problem, or at least, it seems a problem to me. Maybe for Ben Mazer it really was a revelatory thing. I guess to use your metaphor, I think of the mirror being within. the soul, a certain intuition. something in you knows: go there, do this, ask that question, don’t believe this, believe that and you find your way.

  4. Andrew said,

    April 13, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I LIKE Scarriet. I LIKE poetry.
    Don’t get me wrong. I want you to reflect on what i post.
    I want to respond to what you say.
    I LOVE the Tom and Mary show.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 13, 2016 at 5:38 pm

      Andrew,

      Mary is amazing.

      The Joan of Arc of Beauty in Poetry.

      A living Emily Dickinson.

      I’m the star—but she’s the star’s ray, it’s light.

      I play a note into the valley and the echoes come thronging back with new and delicious music.

      A enchanted, forest and Mary whispering in the trees.

      “how will my soul know how to blossom into death?” !!!!

      • Andrew said,

        April 13, 2016 at 6:10 pm

        You both ROCK.
        Poetry will never be the same.

  5. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 13, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    I am very happy if the poems I write or even one phrase or even one word makes anyone else happy to any degree. I’m also happy just to read poems, to be connected to poetry in all its incredible, manifold manifestations throughout Time; this is a blessing too large to even really think about but for which I am grateful to God, to my family and to so many teachers for allowing me to even enter to the same room with Poetry.

    I was very surprised when that line about blossomiing into death popped into my everyday mind just from thinking about the way i felt abour roses when I was a little girl. I still live in that. I still remember the small patch in our backyard where my Grandfather grew roses and how I felt being there then and how I was amazed at how they smelled, the colours, the velvety petals and then found out much later that poets through the ages loved the Rose, that it was in some legends even an emblem of Christi (“Lo, how a rose e’re blooming”) and I took so seriously the custom that my Grandmother explained to me about Mother’s day that if your mother is alive your wear a rose that’s red, and if she is dead, passed on to her reward as they say, you wear a rose that’s white. This went beyond the language of flowers to me, it seemed something irrevocably true and right.

    I’m writing all this to say that I think dawns burst upon us when we are writing because we are thinking of Beauty itself (and for me, implicit in that always without hammering the point home and to smithereens is God.) Beauty is the shell;God is the Pearl. And the Rose. And the Star.

    Somebody made the rose. It wasn’t a human being. No wonder that Dante chose it as the eternal emblem of Paradise.

    I’m nobody’s Beatrice and of course I completely realize no one is saying I am, but I understand Beatrice I think as Dante finally came to understand her as a symbol, or metaphor pointing to something beyond herself, beyond the beloved, to the Ultimate,

    I understood when I read Ciardi’s translation of the Paradiso in a paperback bought at my college bookstore in 1971 that the point of Beatrice is not really love per se as far as her own personhood goes, the point of Beatrice is that she understands our essence is to REFLECT the glory and the light and the tremendous love, love itself that IS God. And from this, all beauty flows forever whether we acknowledge it or not.

    The One who made the Rose made it to indicate how (amid other things) to blossom into eternal life eventually AND NEVER TO BE AFRAID. I didn’t “think this through”. This has nothing to do with theology. It is not something I ever thought of before or read anywhere before finding it in the poem as IT blossomed. I just remembered to the point of tears the feelings I had as a child when looking endlessly at roses and the Rose itself revealed its secret to me.

    Thank you for your extravagant words, Tom. I’m just plain me. But I do hope Poetry with a capital “P” can flourish again in the world because without it, our way is dim.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 13, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Sorry for so many typos. I do also understand not every poem has to be “high flown’ but poems should not have their growth stunted because certain schools of thought or else just self serving people in charge decide to throw out everything with moonlight in it. I’m glad that poetry is wider now in many respects because in that way a lot more can be expressed. But Tom in Scarriet to my way of thinking so rightly points out and in varied, intricate and often astonishing detail the way some of our best past poets have been railroaded, sent up the river or whatever folkloric expression you can find to explain or describe such a betrayal of language and of human beings. We need the FULL KEYBOARD of Poetry. We need to feel like we have the right and the freedom to access THE WHOLE KEYBOARD which means THERE ARE NO DEAD POETS. There are however some scamming poets and some who disfigure poetry entirely, talk down to the children about it and jingo the Muse into oblivion. or at least, exile.

  6. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 13, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    TO CHRISTOPHER MORLEY IN HEAVEN AT THE FEASTS

    Dear Mr. Morley Wherever You Are Now
    thanks to the scrumptiousness of your prose
    I have ordered your Mince Pie and Plum Pudding

    instead of mere groceries.
    Indeed, because of you I almost grow thinner
    except that this never happens no matter

    what diet I don’t go on.
    which proves to me that words are indeed fattening
    or how else can my face still be pumpkin

    round, glowing even.
    I am glad you don’t seem to have written
    any other books such as perhaps Chocolate Fudge Cake

    With Raspberry Sauce;

    Asparagus Drowned in Creamery Butter
    or Receipts of the Lost, The Dessert Filled Kingdoms
    say of New York or the tram bright neighborhoods

    of Philadelphia.
    Cream Cheese?, your muses ask, a little beseechingly
    as I write on…Mint Jelly?

    mary angela douglas 13 april 2016

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 13, 2016 at 9:14 pm

      A very funny thing just happened. Two or three seconds after I posted the Christopher Morley poem mentioning his books Plum Pudding and Mince Pie which I ordered yesterday, I got an email from Amazon saying: “Your Order of Plum Pudding Has Been Canceled”. I wonder if Christopher Morley had it canceled horrified that someone was malnourished due to buying his books instead of decent groceries. Very odd and hilarious timing anyway. One of those used bookstores with creative inventory accounting thought they had the book, but really didn’t and perhaps never did.

  7. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 13, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    ALLERGIC TO COFFEE, NOT ON THE SCENE

    you can never be the Bride of your time
    I said to my soul waiting for no sugar to show
    when you’re adorned with faerie lights

    at the drop of the morning paper on the mat.
    and Soul poured the coffee down the sink
    a little perturbed we can’t drink that anymore

    because we just can’t.
    we might as well go back to drafty castles
    moldy tapestries on the walls

    and all that.she mistily stormed.
    who’s in a mood now I said
    but she never listens to me

    when I’m right
    but just goes off in her own light
    like some kind of Tinkerbell.in a rainbow funk.

    and this children, is called a sollioquy
    (look it up) or it used to be
    before we only got the potato parings

    instead of Real Poetry
    with the moonlight left in.

    mary angela douglas 13 april 2016

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 13, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      uhoh children don’t learn spelling from me. solliloquy. But I do know how to spell; I just can’t type anymore said the Soul.

  8. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 14, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Going Home

    I remember the rosebud stories coming into view
    when the mists cleared; the falling away of wings
    (this, they called snows);

    the cabbages and kings; the children’s garden
    and the feelings of these things first learned
    and penny saved is a penny earned and

    pennies themselves, the copper glow when they
    were new seeming to me like small suns in
    my shoes; the penny loafer mornings and

    the bus ride when you are too small to ring
    the bell to get off.
    then you do not know that the frost in the air

    signals anything but Christmas weather
    and are simply glad when parties are at school
    before the holidays because it means

    closer to home and closer to home is
    always better than anything.
    now you feel the same in the waning days:

    the wish for home is best; the stars gathering in
    the West and twilight itself seems like a dream
    that folded into the long ago,

    the roses blowing on the evening wind;
    their scents the nearest to what you would say
    if you could find the way.

    and this is all I know
    what I knew then, and rest from distress from
    the long unwinding of the road back;

    the red and gold swept from the Falls,
    the appled journeys and the turning
    into the old lanes welcoming you again

    and this is best and most beautiful of all.

    mary angela douglas 14 april 2016

  9. J. said,

    April 25, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    Greetings, Scarriet!

    I’ve been lurking for a long time, and finally feel emboldened to comment. The discusion of repetition was very interesting for me, and timely. The Great Ones weren’t afraid to repeat a word, and they weren’t afraid of the occasional slightly thin line. A reader needs to take a breath now and then, aye? It’s can’t all be breathless excitement.
    So, when I returned to my labors, I kept this thought in mind, and I was pretty happy with the results. And since our gracious host has said he doesn’t mind if others post their own work here, I decided to share..
    First, though—huge, huge thanks to Thomas and Co. It means so much to me!

    Our Love Is Not All Told

    We weren’t made of paper, stone, or glass—back then, when words grew hard.
    Someone stood in songs’ good reach so much like me:—a soul ill-starred
    in common sight, but brighter than the light of day once day’s lain down.
    All too many mornings turned to eves that burn: She wore a crown,

    the one we both lay wide awake and watched for. She shone through the air
    wherever it made liquid waves remind our eyes that love most fair
    was born beneath a watered sky, and still requires soft clouds to bloom—
    above her head and marriage-bed within our next true-storied room.

    Every night, within my fingers’ reach, thick old hard doors slam to,
    and nearly excise all I have to hold you with. I’ll breathe the dew
    of dawning with an aching throat, perhaps from under water. Will
    you wait for me as patiently as I have suffered? Will love kill

    its messenger, deep down inside the heart of one who hears, and pains.?
    Walk abroad all night alone, if soul should ask; who there remains
    who stood beside you when the first glad morning shed its dawn of tears?
    Never, ever once without companion-song, though mortal years

    stretch out like empty, hateful plains of empty pages, soul-unwrit.
    We weren’t made of paper; we were souls who made huge use of it,
    then shared it out like drops of rain, or dew on webs come dawn’s first light.
    You might fall a little bit in love, so—Where’d you spend last night?

    Little pages trading little places, hand-in-hand, and then—
    a miracle of incandescence, knowing we’re the awen-men
    who reached toward us severally, then so resolved—Your one soul’s hand
    has reached its limit, dreamt too long, then lain down where I’m under-manned:

    We weren’t made of anything but music, songs live visions brought
    to bear between the lovers who will suffer all—this time—has wrought
    its magic through a vale of tears and tender sighs sweet night on night.
    You grew most—unusual—song’s inverse-paper’s inverse-blight.

    Walk with me outside the framing pane and raise your head to know
    the stars are flying, calling out—They want the both of us to show
    their beauty to a fallen world long after they lie dead and cold.
    Walk with me amongst the graves we’ve always known: Love’s not all told.

    Viva Scarriet!

    J Griffis


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