ROUND ONE POETRY MADNESS CONTINUES—DICKINSON VS. READ

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Who has heard of the poet Thomas Buchanan Read?

None, is our guess.

Poe called Read “the echo of an echo,” a “copyist of Longfellow.”  “His sin is imitativeness.”

We love this line, however:

As if the star which made her forehead bright
Had burst and filled the lake with light.

Poe also called Thomas Read, “one of our truest poets,” and praised his “fancy,” “tenderness” and “subdued passion.”

But Poe, always on the look out for plagiarism, felt Read may have seen this by James Russell Lowell: “As if a star had burst within his brain.”

The lovely effect of Read’s couplet is a simple matter of what poetry does best: it lays movement over meaning.

The word “burst,” because the ‘r’ and the ‘s’ and the ‘t’ are all pronounced, stops the progress of our reading with an “explosion.”  The result of the explosion is replicated in the steady iambic rhythmic of: “and filled the lake with light.”  The ‘l’ sound of “lake” and “light” makes for beauty, just as “bright” and “burst” do—it is the brightness of the star which is bursting and creating the image of a lake filled with light—rhyming with bright. 

Anyone who doesn’t appreciate this, and who does not believe this belongs to the highest aspiration of poetry, is not human.

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just ourselves—
And immortality.

Dickinson, in her famous line, is doing the same thing: Because I could not STOP (same iambic rhythm, same pause—instead of Read’s “burst,” we get Dickinson’s “stop.”  And the charm is when Dickinson repeats the word in the line: Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.  And “stopped,” pronounced on our lips, is literally more of a stopping than the word, “stop,” since with “stopped,” we have to pronounce more letters—which is appropriate, for we are dealing with the stop, absolutely—death.

Dickinson’s line continues, “the carriage held but just ourselves—and immortality.”  This is brilliant, because who wants to be immortal inside a carriage (coffin)?  It reminds one of Hamlet’s line, “I could live in a nutshell and be a king of infinite space…”  Immortality inside a coffin, infinity inside a coffin—a crucial difference.  Or perhaps not. How would it be, if there are two lovers, in love forever? Inside a coffin?  A common theme: Love and death.  But the Madness 2017 features words, not whole poems, so let’s not get distracted.

Personifying death is artificial and labor-intensive, although it awakens a certain primitive thrill, this courting scene which Dickinson (like the old German artists) sets up.

Read’s “star” is finally more purely thrillling than Dickinson’s “death.”

Read—narrowly—upsets Dickinson.

 

 

 

 

 

FILM, ROUND ONE, MADNESS 2017

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The film bracket consists of famous one-liners heard from the movies.

Memorable poetry was murdered by Modernism in the early 20th century; but it remained alive in America in popular song and popular film. Keats was taught in American colleges until the English professor was gradually replaced, from the middle to the late 20th century, by the Creative Writing professor.

Poetry isn’t poetry if it isn’t memorable.

By this definition, a line from a film, a line which everyone knows, is poetry in the consciousness of a nation.

So here we go with round one action:

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn versus. Elementary, my dear Watson

“What seems to be the problem?” “Death.” versus Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.

I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse. versus To be or not to be, that is the question.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown versus I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk? versus You’re gonna need a bigger boat.

Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore versus Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.

I coulda been a contender versus I want to be alone.

Bond. James Bond versus Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.

 

Here’s 8 contests—the greatest movie lines of all time.

Is objective judgment possible here?

Is there too much associative baggage, too much context in each line, for any true objective aesthetic judgment to be made?

There are many who say no objective aesthetic judgment can ever be made.

However, one does not have to read Plato or Kant to understand that truth is not understood by something outside itself—the truth of something is how it presents itself to us from the inside out.  Measurement, for instance, is a thing’s extension, or an event’s duration—and length or brightness or size can be, but is not, subjective; however, we don’t need “inches” or “seconds” to make something “true.”  The truth is already in the measurement-potential.  And the thing determines how it is measured, not the other way around. The thing in this case is a movie line—which has a real existence in the real world and makes an impact on the real world as much as any solid object we might want to “measure.”

So objectivity is possible—we just need to ascertain how this is to be measured.

First, poetry’s success is largely determined by its rhythm.   If all else is equal, the more interesting rhythm must prevail in terms of movie lines, as well.

Second, movie lines—with their context—can evoke more or less, depending on the lucidity, interest, and focus of the ‘film scene’ they are from—the imagery, drama, or character of the movie line itself should be considered.

And third, we have language. Language can move inward towards specific definition and outward towards general truth—and speech which does both of these at the same time in a coherent manner, is certainly a sought-after quality.

And this pretty much covers it.  This is how we “measure” the aesthetic excellence of move lines.

“Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By” has a more interesting rhythm than “Bond. James Bond,” though both are strong.  Everything else is pretty much equal.  “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By” evokes more of a specific scene, too.

But why does this movie line get misquoted all the time as “Play it again, Sam?”

How can so many people hear something incorrectly into popularity?

How is there “room for error” when we are talking about a very short phrase in the minds of millions?

Does this automatically call into question the popularity, or the aesthetic quality of “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By?”

It could, but we don’t think a popular line should be punished because it is misquoted.  The original phrase, as spoken in the film, is still responsible for launching the success.

Sam beats James.

 

 

 

WHEN YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF LIKE THIS

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When you express yourself like this,

What can you say to me?

I guess all I can do is kiss

You and hug you and let you sleep.

Everyone reads your poetry.

Looks at your paintings divine.

You make men pause and women, weep.

There is no bottle that holds such a wine.

There is no city that contains

A gift I could give you. I go outside. It rains.

I march around between ten and two

And maybe some people wonder what I do,

Or wonder if there is a moon in the sky

That’s also a sun, and can I explain why

The revolution in the mountains

Has not spread to the sea.

When you express yourself in art,

What can you say to me?

 

 

 

 

 

THE MADNESS CONTINUES! AUDEN BATTLES WELBY!

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Here’s another classic poetry battle between the 19th and 20th centuries in the Poetry Bracket, Round One:

W.H. Auden, the well-connected, gay, British poet, became American in 1940.

T.S. Eliot, who helped Auden first get published in 1930, went from American to British in 1927.

Auden traveled to Iceland, Germany, and China (with Christopher Isherwood, who ended up, like Aldous Huxley, in California); Auden rather famously called the 1930s that “low, dishonest decade.”

Auden also wrote a well-known elegy on Yeats—who died at the end of that decade.

Auden knew Stephen Spender—who secretly got CIA funding for his literary magazine, Encounter.

Auden taught at Michigan, gave John Ashbery the Yale Younger Prize, and spent most of his life as an American in New York City; he was a chain-smoker, and it was said of the Jungian W.H. Auden that he “smelled like shit.” Actual shit.

Auden wrote rollicking poetry ballads, similar to Kipling (whom Eliot loved) and Auden converted to Christianity (he knew C.S. Lewis at Oxford) around the time he crossed over to America; Auden also edited an anthology of Light Verse, wrote somewhat admiringly on Poe, and had a few interesting, but ultimately misguided things to say about Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

He’ll be remembered for a few poems.

Auden’s entry is from a later poem of his:

“Let the more loving one be me.”

This sums up his personality: a witty, somewhat cynical, romantic, puppy dog.

Auden’s line sounds very 20th century, in its hippie pleading in the face of that era’s spectacular wreckage of hatred and violence.

Amelia Welby is a 19th century poet, another one of those women poets championed by Poe—whom the 20th century, fueled by the insanity of Ezra Pound, forgot.  The moderns were even contemptuous of Edna Millay; 20th century women poets like Dorothy Parker, Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, and Eleanor Wyley were overshadowed by the brittle Marianne Moore—because Moore, not the others, belonged to the 1920s Dial clique of Pound, Williams, and Eliot.

Welby’s line has music, not morals:

“And birds and streams with liquid lull Have made the stillness beautiful”

But Welby’s beauty is moral.  A idea which, unfortunately, completely disappeared in 20th poetry.

Twilight At Sea

The twilight hours, like birds, flew by,
As lightly and as free,
Ten thousand stars were in the sky,
Ten thousand on the sea;
For every wave, with dimpled face,
That leaped upon the air,
Had caught a star in its embrace,
And held it trembling there.

Welby (1819-1852)

Most moderns read a poem like this and sneer at its pretty sentimentality.

But it’s not sentimental at all.  There’s no expression of morality in Welby’s poem.  It’s sensual only.

“Let the more loving one be me” is sentimental, and a little egotistical, too.

It’s the august beauty of “Twilight At Sea” which scares moderns away—because words that bend to beauty seem to them to give up way too much.  They want words to do more.  Which they can, in prose.  But, the moderns want poems, too, to sound like prose; the moderns don’t want the meal (prose) and desert (poetry) to be separate. Ever.  Table manners in the 20th century suffered a blow.

The “lull” in Welby’s line is not the noun, meaning a break in activity, but the verb, which means soothe with sound.

Sound echoes sense in the Welby.  The “stillness” is the unified dignity of the line, describing natural beauty—whose natural beauty invades itself in the line’s insouciant “lull.”

Auden’s line is a good one, too.  Psychologically, people tend to believe that in every love relationship, imbalance or inequality inevitably appears, grows, and ruptures the bliss—and Auden insists on being the lover, “the more loving one,” even if the beloved, like a silent star, is indifferent to human love.

We like this contest.  We like both sides.

Welby, the more loved “stillness,” wins.

PROSE ROUND ONE MADNESS: NABOKOV, MARTIN LUTHER KING, LOLITA VS. I HAVE A DREAM

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JFK, Lincoln, Lennon, MLK, all murdered in America, suddenly, in a public manner. Reagan, almost killed in the same way. Poe, most likely assassinated, too, found on the streets in Baltimore, where newly president-elect Lincoln, 11 years later, was disguised as an old women by Pinkerton’s police on route to the U.S. capitol to be sworn in.

Why do those who improve the United States, who give it unity and hope, in a grand, profound, public manner, die in America in the public square—murdered by those lurking in the shadows?

Because the United States thwarted a world Empire—deep-state-on-a-global-scale—on the verge of  world conquest in the late 18th century—a world conquest based on war, law-bending, subterfuge, royalty, monetary manipulation, criminality, free trade, immorality, opium; the British Empire—a far-reaching, press-controlled, business-as-usual, divide-and-conquer globalism.

There are Romes within Rome.

Rome hates nothing more than the springing up within it of a greater and grander and freer Rome.

To the Rome that was the British Empire, America became a Greece, and floated away.

From the ruins of the American Civil War (Russian fleets in SF, NY harbors reminding superpowers France and Britain not to invade the U.S. on behalf of the Confederacy), the 1860-65 bloodbath, the U.S. gradually became the world’s Rome, the announcement made fully with the loud bombs dropped on Japan—Britain’s former ally and brutal Chinese invader. The savagery of the 20th century was the ferocious, big-tech-driven, reaction of London bridge massively falling down.

President LBJ, whose window of fame was between the JFK assassination in 1963 and the MLK assassination in 1968, was a U.S. Southern Democrat, repairing the image of the Democratic party’s historic racism, as he bombed the hell out of Vietnam—a cynical, 1960s, consolidation of that “deep-state, Ivy League, uni-party” which ruled the U.S. from the summer of 1850 until November, 2016.

Martin Luther King was, like everyone else who goes into politics, a political pawn, but he gave a really good speech in which he said what should matter in Plato’s Republic is character, not the color of one’s skin.

Vladimir Nabokov, who spoke French, English and Russian in a privileged childhood in Russia, first fled the Soviets and later in Paris, the Nazis. His Jewish Russian wife prevented him from burning the manuscript of Lolita—written while he was teaching literature at Cornell and collecting butterflies. One of Nabokov’s siblings knew Ayn Rand. As a professor in the U.S., Nabokov, known as a sexist, disliked the American left.

Plato’s Republic would have banned Lolita. Good literature is about sin.

Color of skin, sin, and character.

It’s the complex middle term above—sin—which makes the other two impossible to reconcile; although it should be easy, right? Character. Yes. Skin color. No.

Nabokov wins.

 

 

 

 

 

FEBRUARY POEMS BY BEN MAZER, REVIEWED

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As the shadows lengthen on American poetry in the 21st century, one is naturally prepared to think there was a noisy, sunny noon of poetry with noisy, popular poets.

But there never was such a thing.

We had, in our early days, the British imitators: William Cullen Bryant, (friend to Lincoln) with his “Thanatopsis”; the splendid, dark Poe; dashing in his prose but solemn and brief in his poetry; Emerson and Thoreau asserting nature, not poetry, in due obeisance to the arrogant British idea that her late colony was still a wilderness; Whitman secretly reviewing his own poems, waving a private Emerson letter in the public’s face as way of validation, but Whitman was almost as obscure as Dickinson—no, America has had no sunny noon of poetry; Ben Franklin, the diplomat-scientist-founding father, representing our mighty nation of pragmatists, had little use for the muse.

To put things in historical perspective:

Emily Dickinson caught on with modern critics as a force to be reckoned with in the 1930s.

Billy Collins was born in 1941.

A few years after Billy Collins was born, Ezra Pound—friend to both anglophilic “Waste Land” and haiku-like “Wheel Barrow”—caused a brief stir as a traitor in an Allied cage. The New Critics liked Eliot, Pound, and Williams and gave them critical support, some notice. Otherwise they had probably died. And the canon would be ruled instead by the wild sonneteer, Edna Millay, the Imagist, Amy Lowell, perhaps the cute scribbler E.E. Cummings.

The New Critics, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the Creative Writing Program Era, all began to flower in the late 1930s/early 1940s, around the time Collins was born—and, a few years earlier, you had Frost (discovered in England, not New England, right before the First World War, as Harriet Monroe was starting Poetry with money from Chicago businessmen—and help from foreign editor Ezra Pound) and then another generation back, you have the end of Whitman’s obscure career. And then a couple generations further back, the often disliked, and controversial, Poe, who mocked the somewhat obscure Transcendentalists—including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Unitarian friend, William Greenleaf Eliot,  founder of Washington University in St. Louis, T.S. Eliot’s grandfather.

So not only is there no noisy noon of American poetry, no period when gigantic dinosaurs of American Verse ruled the earth, one could almost argue that we are still in the early morning of our country’s poetic history, way before noon—the noon has not even happened yet, as much as we often posit that American poetry is an abandoned field at sundown, where the 21st century MFA mice are playing.

Even if good poetry abounds in America today, it has no center, no fame, no visible love; Billy Collins, who sells a few books, was a teen when Allen Ginsberg, son of poet Louis Ginsberg, who knew WC Williams, achieved a bit of rock star fame through an obscenity trial. Allen Ginsberg has been dead for 20 years.

What of poets born after 1950?

Who knows them?

Where are the biographies and critical studies?

How can the greatest country on earth have no poets anyone really knows, for two whole generations?

Who is a young poet that we know?

Is the thread broken?  Is the bowl shattered? Will the sun never shine on this doorway again? What has happened to American poetry?

This sobering preface of mine (some might call it too sweeping and hysterical) is written by one who is proud to announce his critical study of the poet Ben Mazer is soon to be published by the noteworthy Pen and Anvil Press.

Who is Ben Mazer?

Born in 1964, he is the best pure poet writing in English today.

We use the word “pure” knowing the term is sometimes abused—Robert Penn Warren ripped Poe and Shelley to pieces in a modern frenzy of “purity” hating: sublime and beautiful may also, complexly, mean “pure.”  The heart has its reasons for loving purity—which all the Robert Penn Warren essays in the world can never understand (the essay we have in mind by Warren is “Pure and Impure Poetry,” Kenyon Review, ed. John Crowe Ransom, 1943—when Billy Collins was two years old).  If “beautiful and sublime” seem too old-fashioned, too “pure” for one’s taste, I assert “purity” as it pertains to Mazer means 1. accessible 2. smooth 3. not tortured.

Mazer has published numerous books of poems.

Mazer is also the editor of a number of important books, including the Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom (a neglected, but extremely influential figure)—Mazer’s large book reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYR last year.

February Poems is Mazer’s latest book of poems, following hard upon December Poems. The two are a pair—marking the sudden unraveling of an ideal marriage.

The first poem in “February Poems” goes like this:

The sun burns beauty; spins the world away,
though now you sleep in bed, another day
brisk on the sidewalk, in your camel coat,
in another city, wave goodbye from the boat,
or study in an archival library,
like Beethoven, and thought is prodigy.
Do not consume, like the flowers, time and air
or worm-soil, plantings buried in the spring,
presume over morning coffee I don’t care,
neglect the ethereal life to life you bring.
O I would have you now, in all your glory,
the million-citied, Atlantic liner story
of what we were, would time come to forget
being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.

This poem falls from the first word to the last with a temporal perfection not seen since Milton. One may recognize Robert Lowell, too, who was somewhat besotted with Milton—Mazer’s better than Robert Lowell—who, as a poet and a man, was seldom sane or honest, and was, frankly, a creep. Mazer, I know, will gladly accept the Lowell comparison; but as his critic, I assert Mazer is a more genuine person, and is quite a bit better as a poet.

Look at how in “The Sun Burns Beauty,” every line is packed with sublimity discretely spoken, none the less sublime for the discretion:

“The sun burns beauty.”  Lovely double meaning. Consumes beauty, but also is beautiful. “Burns” quickly gives way to “spins,” as the poem, like a heavenly orb, picks up weighty speed: “another day, brisk on the sidewalk…wave goodbye…” the stunning plea: “Do not consume…presume I don’t care…neglect the ethereal life to life you bring…” and the conclusion, worthy of a sun which is burning beauty: “O I would have you now…of what we were, would time come to forget being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.”  Magnificent.  How long have we waited for poetry like this?   It’s truly timeless in the tradition—a word we can use without any qualification or irony.

We mentioned purity above; another way of getting across what I mean is Mazer’s use of Eliot’s Objective Correlative.

Eliot’s Objective Correlative is not a blackboard term for Mazer; it lives in his poetry. Eliot asked that the poem’s emotion match the object. Eliot’s request is a simple one: the reader doubts the poem’s veracity if the poet is unduly excited by a mundane object.

The poet’s emotions tell him what to say; and it is with our emotions we read the poem.

Much is made in poetry (naturally) of the skill in using words—Mazer clearly has a wonderful vocabulary and all that; yet also, in Mazer’s poetry, fact does match feeling; it’s not a word-game—Mazer’s trajectory isn’t words.  Mazer understands the Objective Correlative.

T.S. Eliot represents the Modernist counter to the perceived hyperbolic imbalance of the Romantics: Wordsworth getting terribly excited by a flower, Byron yawning at the end of the world—it cuts both ways.

Eliot’s objective critical dictum was a correction—and Mazer, who, in many ways, is Romanticism redux, instinctively, now, well into the 21st century, obeys Eliot’s dictum—but flexibly.

We’ve got Wordsworth and his famous dictum from “Lyrical Ballads:” poetry helps us to see the mundane as extraordinary, using plain speech, which goes against Eliot’s rule—and Mazer is not only a Robert Lowell, an Eliot, but a Wordsworth.

Mazer sounds Modern.

As he revives Romanticism.

And, I dare to say, the Enlightenment—when the Metaphysicals provided poetry heft and light.

Revival is always open to the charge of retrograde.

But how many layers of post-modern experimentation are there?

Before the public gets bored?

Oh, yes, that happened about 75 years ago.  When Billy Collins was born. And critics were rising to an appreciation of Emily Dickinson.

John Ashbery, born in 1927, had a head start on Mazer—Ashbery added Romantic verbosity to Modern dryness, irony, archness, in a painterly, foggy mix of not quite making sense. Mazer, if it must be said plainly, is a little better than Ashbery. Mazer does make sense.

The poems in Mazer’s February Poems do not, for the most part, have titles—to the worshiper who would carry around this book of love, like a holy book of some sorts, the page numbers will suffice to identify the great passages within.

These lines which begin the poem on page 7 speak out plainly and passionately but with the greatest mystery:

All grand emotions, balls, and breakfasts,
make little sense, if nothing lasts,
if you should leave the one you love,
inexplicable as Mozart’s star above

This passage at the top of page 8, a new poem, may be a statement for the ages:

The living are angels, if we are the dead in life
and immaculate beauty requires discerning eyes
and to ask incessantly who you are
is both our strength and doubt in faith, to know
what we must appear within ourselves to know:
that we do love each other, that we know who each other is
by putting ourselves in the hands and the eyes of the other,
never questioning the danger that rides on words
if they should misstep and alter a logical truth,
or if they should signify more than they appear to,
whether dull, indifferent, passionate, deeply committed
or merely the embodiment of a passing mood,
some lack of faith in ourselves we attempt to realize
through the other who remains steadfast in all the flexibility of love.

This is stuff which could be read at weddings on top of mountains around the world.

The poem which resides at page 15 goes like this, (and observe how “love” in the first line both is invaded, and invades, the “fiercest passion”—as Mazer has crafted the syntax):

The fiercest passion, uncommon in love,
yearns to be understood, do incalculable good;
must penetrate the beloved’s eyes, give rise
to beauty unmatched anywhere above.

Note the lovely internal rhyming: “understood and good” in line 2, “eyes” and “rise” in line 3, are but two examples.

We’ll continue with the whole poem, “The fiercest passion, uncommon in love:”

Infinite stasis exploring tenderness,
substantially is the basis of all bliss,

“Infinite stasis exploring tenderness” !!

although ethereal, indelible,
not subject to the chronologic fall.
And yet vicissitudes will upset this,
and forces will keep true lovers apart
too many years, breaking the sensitive heart,
that pours its passion in undying letters,
while hope’s alive to break the social fetters,
incalculable agonies poured into great art.
Bribes the organist, locks the door,
unwilling to suffer any more,
must make his grand statement to the world,
all his grief, anger, and love hurled
back at the gods which all his genius spited;
his biography says love was unrequited.
We live in the shadow of his despair,
grief so great, where there is nothing there.

And here it ends. This is not egotistical…”We live in the shadow of his despair” refers to the “shadow” of the poem itself (its inky visage) living to the readers as they read, and the “grief” of the poet is “so great,” the poem disappears (“nothing there”)—the very opposite of egotistical; it is grief conveyed powerfully.

The entire book—February Poems—contains lines such as these—which belong to an expression of love poetry rarely seen.

The poems range from greatest bliss:

The moonlight is incomprehensible.
My lover’s lips are soft and rosy pink.
Who could understand love which transfigures night,
when night itself does the transfiguring?
She sleeps. Awake, I hold her in my arms,
so soft and warm, and night is beautiful.

…In sleep she moans and shifts, embracing me.
I can’t budge from where I lie, but am content.

(excerpt from poem on pg. 16)

To acute despair, not merely told, explained, but in the poetry itself, lived:

The vanishing country roads have vanished.
There, the steep descent into the new, different town.
We are together, and we look around.
What are these flags and trees that grasp and clutch
the infinite progress of our former selves,
of love so great that it must be put away,
not where we left it, but where we can’t reach;
why should eternity itself miss you so much?
The music of a thousand kinds of weather
seep into the trees, sweep into the leaves that brush
your shoulder lightly where I left my heart,
once, long ago, when we first made our start
to drive so many miles to here together.
But where is here? The place we are apart.

(poem, “Vanishing country roads,” pg 64)

To pure sublimity and beauty and joy:

The greatest joy known to mortal man,
shall live beyond us in eternity.
Catching you ice-skating in mid-motion,
cheeks flush, winter pristine in our hearts,
ineffable, permanent, nothing can abolish,
when the deep forest, buried in snow’s white
holds the soul’s eternal solitude,
when, melting coming in, each particular
that stirs the senses, is the flight of man
to unspoken urgencies, garrulous desire
continually fulfilled, the captured stances
that drift like music in the light-laced night,
shared words in murmurs soft as downy sky,
the stars observe with their immortal eye.
Furious, presto-forte homecoming
races into the eyes and fingertips,
confirming and commemorating bells
resounding with our vulnerable desire
in momentary triumph that’s eternal.
Life passes on to life the raging stars,
resonances of undying light.
All years are pressed together in their light.

(“The greatest joy known to mortal man” pg 17)

We wish for a whole generation of young readers to spring up, profoundly and happily in love—following in the footsteps of Mazer, in his growing fame, in his mourning—clinging fast to their torn and re-smoothed copies of February Poems.

 

 

POE VERSUS TRUMP: PROSE— ROUND ONE—MADNESS

This contest should evoke much amazement and laughter, as it pits the greatest writer to ever perform in English—Edgar Allan Poe—against Donald Trump, in Scarriet’s 8th annual March Madness Tournament, in which the playing is performed by Great Historic Words—which are what? The words themselves? Or the vast realities behind them?

This is not a play on words. We are playing with words. For high stakes. Like playing with fire, almost.

“Make America great again” does contain great meaning. America was once a David, a hero who conquered the British Empire—of which it was a part—and now America, run by an emotionally fed, corrupt, uni-party, “Deep State,” is in danger of becoming another British Empire itself, a mischief-making giant dragging after it misery, chaos, and pain.

Poe (1809-1849) belonged to the fiercely cunning and pragmatic America—mesmerizing poetry was only one part of Poe’s weaponry. Poe defied the British—the world’s superpower, then, and not always friendly to America—circles in Great Britain had secret designs to destroy her upstart colony.  Poe helped create both science fiction and detective fiction—thought, curiosity, cunning, for the masses. Poe, in all he wrote, was the Ben Franklin of American Letters.

Franklin wrote, “Write with the learned. Pronounce with the vulgar.”

Poe wrote: “I will not be sure that men at present think more profoundly than half a century ago, but beyond question they think with more rapidity, with more skill, with more tact, with more of method, and less of excrescence in the thought. Besides all this, they have a vast increase in the thinking material; they have more facts, more to think about. For this reason, they are disposed to put the greatest amount of thought in the smallest compass and disperse it with the utmost attainable rapidity.”

Yes. Get to the point.

Now, more than ever.

Good advice.

“Watch how I get to the point” is reserved for Mozarts, for really good poets. Maybe for an Oscar Wilde giving an after-dinner speech. The rest of us should just get to the point. Quickly.

Poetry is occupied for its beautiful effects in its paying attention to the sweet immediacies of rhythm—the short story, on the other hand, has truth as its goal, by the very ratio in which artificial, formal, beautiful, and mathematical considerations are abandoned. This was Poe’s chief decree.

And yet. Just as Plato banned poetry from his Republic—in itself, a poem, to those who can read the great philosopher in the original Greek—so Poe’s prose nonetheless has a kind of beauty:

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.” Poe (1839)

In a way, this famous prose passage of Poe’s does “get to the point.” The narrator of “The House of Usher” arrives at that house in the first sentence. Lesser authors would spend a page, or two, describing the countryside, the horse, the rider, the rider’s thoughts, the previous day’s journey, and so on.

Poe, with the long sentence, gives us a sense of length, duration—since the tone is melancholy, length is proper; brevity would give us a completely different mood: “So there I was. Riding to Usher.”

But the genius of Poe gives us seeming length—in one sentence—for Poe has also, in getting right to the point, brought the reader, in a sad and drugged, melancholy state, to the House of Usher—by the end of the very first sentence of his tale.

We don’t know about women in pink hats, but we think Poe himself would admire “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, as a political slogan, as it says a lot in a few words—the brevity itself adding urgency to the plea.

“Make”

Making is better than talking. Manufacturing is better than blather.

“America”

Nice. You’re running for president of ___.

“Great”

Sound-wise, it chimes with “make” and “America.” Meaning-wise, it signals a go-for-broke, dominating, expansive, winning attitude. Great has just the right ultra-confident vibe; after all, America is often called the “greatest nation on earth.”

“Again.”

Recalls history, tradition, destiny, while implying “America is tarnished and requires a certain amount of urgent restoration.”

Should Poe win, who was being read in Russia before he was being read in France?

Should Poe win, who was a maverick, and thumbed his nose at MSM?

Should Poe win, who is an MFA Writing Program all to himself?

Should Poe win, the last real literary genius, who was a scientist, as well?

Poe wins.

Make America great again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINAL ROUND ONE BATTLE IN SONG BRACKET

Image result for sometimes i feel like a motherless child

Sad to think we have already come to the end of the 2017 Scarriet March Madness first round in the Song bracket with this contest.

How fleeting life is!

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home…”

There isn’t a sadder lyric than this in all of song.

Except, perhaps, from “A Horse With No Name:”  “After two years in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red.  After three years in the desert sun, I was standing by a river bed. And the story it told of a river that flowed made me sad to think it was dead.”  Well, no, actually.  “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” is much sadder.

It goes up against another anonymous folk/spiritual lyric: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,” which is one of the happiest. Exuberant, one might say.

Both involve parenthood.

We wonder how many, who really don’t have a mother, could sing “Motherless Child” without collapsing in tears?  Are the song’s words for the sad, but not the truly afflicted? Melancholy we can tolerate. Depression we cannot.

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” rolls off the tongue very nicely—a great example of alliteration and assonance.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” is dominated by that lone long “e” sound in feel.

Why do folk songs depict sorrow and pain of the most realistic kind?  Family sorrow. Murder. Tragedy.

And why is the popular, by contrast, so fluffy and romantic and escapist?

Both folk music and popular music are for “the people.”

So why are they so different?

Opera, which is highbrow, is also concerned with great tragedy.

Therefore folk music, with its sorrow, is closer to high culture—yet “folk songs” are as close to the earth as you can get.

In the middle realm are the smiling musicians, well-presented, jingling and jangling their pretty songs of effusive romance.  Melancholy, these songs may be, but they go down easy.

The highbrow is salt, not sugar. (Though genius often mixes the salt and the sweet.)

Who wins this contest?  The sorrowful “Motherless Child” or the joyful “This Little Light of Mine?”

Who can possibly say?

These two poles—the sad and happy child—stretch outward to infinity.

AMAZING GRACE VERSUS I’M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY

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The song “Amazing Grace,” perhaps the most popular spiritual in the West, makes its song-like point explicitly—“how sweet the sound which saved a wretch like me.” It is the song itself, the very sound of the song itself, which “saves” the wretched listener—a fully secular message—that even an atheist can understand—as well as a profoundly religious one. Religion’s going to convert you—with a secular trick, with a song. Is a singing a religious thing? Does it matter? When is a partnership an invasion?

Finally, what does poetry have to say about all this? And the poetry critic—which is finally what Scarriet represents?

“Amazing Grace” makes us think of singing, not poetry. Poetry and song belong to each other, and yet song will more easily go off and serve religion. Poetry isn’t sure.

Music makes me lose my mind. Poetry finds it, again.

If the “sound” saves the wretch, the good songwriter exactly matches the sound with the words, and if both sound and words are necessary, the narrower sound logically should call the shots, since the smaller set always commands the larger one, in any successful endeavor.

If the army told the general what to do, the war would be lost, not because the general is smarter than the army, but because the general is one, and the army is many.

Words will always be the army, since words and their multiple combinations and denotations are a vast universe; music is a simple hurdy-gurdy moan by comparison. Acrobatic words are a circus, a city, a world. Music is the lone troll hiding under the hill.

The music is the lesser, so the music is the commander of the words.

Especially, and this defines poetry—in that war, that mission, that conflict, which we call poetry.

The sound saves the wretch. The sound, not the words, is the general, the God.

You are saved by the troll hiding under the hill.

The genius of Hank Williams, like all great songwriters (and poets) is that the words, taught and led and infected by the music, become a kind of music in themselves, which in turn, re-infects the sound, until music is poetry and poetry is music, and the army is God and the army is commanding itself, and religion and belief and secularism and nature and humans and music and words and sorrow and escape-from-sorrow are one.

Hear that lonesome whippoorwill? He sounds too sad to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.

To analyze this would be to damage it. The beauty of it should be apparent without explanation. We trust, with the faith of a believer, that it is.

We only might remark that an educated voice might object that Hank Williams, the poet, sentimentally imposes a human quality—“lonesome” on the bird; but “lonesome” can mean simply “lone” or “one,” and yet, who does not believe that beasts can feel lonely—if not inanimate objects like trains? When the poet boldly and ingeniously uses the word a second time, it does slide over into the more human—and into our hearts.

Williams wins.

 

LEONARD COHEN AND THE ROLLING STONES: MORE MADNESS 2017

Image result for rolling stones two thousand light years from home

These two acts, Leonard Cohen and the Stones, facing off in a Round One contest in the Song bracket, represent that era in popular Western music when singers with poor singing voices became immensely successful because of catchy melodies and beats, but also because of good poetry.

This is where poetry went—into music—when it was killed off by the Writing Programs in the mid-century, disappearing on the “any scribble can be poetry” prose-train of William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Robert Lowell-teaching-and-drinking-at-Iowa. Poetry, ever resourceful, escaped into popular music and flourished on the lips of Frank Sinatra, Syd Barrett, Arthur Lee, Donovan Leitch and Marc Bolan.

Leonard Cohen, a small, tone deaf man with a two note singing range, became one of the greatest and respected pop singers of all time. He was a poet above all else.

As with Bob Dylan, female singers with lovely voices, like Judy Collins and Joan Baez, swooped in to create sweetness out of Cohen’s songs and words. Poetry transcends musical sweetness, however, for poetry is the music itself. Shhh. Don’t tell this to the modern “poets.”

Bob Dylan was a gigantic influence in the mid-60s—that wonderful window of intellectual and poetic ferment, extolled today by Camille Paglia, pitiful dinosaur! But it’s true, the 60’s was an amazing time for poetry, such that Dionysian, phenomenally successful, rhythm and blues acts like the Beatles and Stones chucked their blues for invention, jumping on the cool bandwagon of Dylan’s poetry.

Ironically, Dylan wasn’t really that great as a poet—far more facile than great, but definitely good—but he absorbed folk and protest poetry in a highly authentic and skilled manner, and pushed it into the rock mainstream in a manic, overdone, hyperbolic, LSD, sort of way in 1965, just when the zeitgeist was waiting for this to happen, apparently, and poetry sprung up everywhere in the music business, as amateur poets, often better than Dylan himself, began to infuse poetry unapologetically into the immediacy of their extremely popular music, which already had a boomer audience of millions hanging on their every word.

So this battle represents that: one of the lyrics is from the 1967 Rolling Stones, when these English white boys, exploiting “black” music, returned to their own “roots” of “white” English “poetry.”

“Two Thousand Light Years From Home” by the Rolling Stones  is the first great “lonely outer space” symphonic rock song, which no doubt influenced what is arguably the best songs ever produced by David Bowie and Elton John—“Space Oddity” and “Rocket Man.”

“Bound for a star by an ocean” is beautiful poetry—by the Rolling Stones! Sure, why not. Their large audience at that time, not yet fully crushed by corporate, dumbed down, entertainment, wanted and expected poetry. It was the 60’s, remember. Poetry’s revenge.

Leonard Cohen’s entry is from a later composition, “Anthem,” (from the 90s, from Leonard Cohen as a wise old man—Cohen established himself in the 60s as a romantic Dylan and Donovan type singer-songwriter).

Bells are cracked, and everything is broken, and that’s how the light gets in.

Cohen’s lyric is too clever, too precious, too abstractly sentimental in its—yes—scientific profundity—breakage is the key to progress and spirituality—Cohen would absolutely win if scientific wisdom were the sole criterion.

But “you’re two hundred light years from home” is more fully poetic, as true poets will understand.

The Rolling Stones advance.

T.S ELIOT AND ELIZABETH BARRETT—POETRY ROUND ONE IN THE MADNESS

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We know there’s something magical about Scarriet March Madness tournaments—the pairings so often feature uncanny resemblances without any conscious intent by those putting together the brackets.

Look at this one:

Two of the most famous lines in poetry.

Elizabeth Barrett’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

T.S. Eliot’s “I measure out my life with coffee spoons.”

There’s counting, or measurement, in each offering.

Poetry, of course, the poetry people love (we don’t know about that formless modern stuff) involves counting—the measurement of beats—what the professors call meter.

We might note here that Plato said “art” and “measurement” were exactly the same thing.  And even here in 2017, we kind of see what he means.

Anyway, is it any accident, then, that two of the most famous lines in poetry, one from 19th century England, and the other from 20th century America, involve counting?

T.S. Eliot’s family traces back to Massachusetts and a Unitarian grandfather who knew Emerson—Emerson and Poe were enemies, and Eliot excoriated Poe in “From Poe to Valery.”

Poe and Barrett were correspondents before Browning famously entered Barrett’s life, and Poe dedicated his Poems, 1845 to Barrett.

Do these facts “count,” when we study the poetry?

Barrett’s sentiment is an expansion of a singular love: how do I love thee? Let me count the ways is a glorious movement outward from the one.

True love is geometry.

Eliot’s moves in the opposite manner—Life (his life) is chopped up, subtracted, despairingly made smaller, even as there is an adding, a counting of the ways: coffee spoonful after coffee spoonful.

Fascinating, really, how two similar tropes work in completely opposite directions: the optimistic 19th century, the pessimistic 20th century.

We may as well throw in this quote from Eliot right here:

The essential advantage for a poet is not to have a beautiful world with which to deal; it is to be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory.

 We should allow Barrett to have her turn, too. She wrote the following:

If you desire faith, then you have faith enough.

Elizabeth Barrett is like a large, comfortable Victorian pillow.

T.S. Eliot is like a black-and-white horror film.

Eliot wins—only because the zeitgeist forces us to choose him.

ELLIOTT SMITH AND FRANK SINATRA BATTLE IN SONG ROUND ONE

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Who could be more different—different people, different music, different eras, different sensibilities: Frank Sinatra and Elliott Smith?

A world war two era mensch against a grunge era diffident.

And yet, like a chemical reaction, these two in meeting each other, explode, and a third is created—the product being an insight into poetry itself.

Many have no interest in poetry, profess not to “get” poetry, are intimidated by poetry, hate poetry, but nonetheless adore songs.

What the hell is up with that?

Doesn’t this prove that people don’t really know what they think, or what they like?

You cannot take the poetry away from “Will you miss me, Miss Misery?” and still have the song artist, Elliott Smith, and in the exact same way, the poetry of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the moon and let me sing among the stars I want to see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars” relies on poetry—which millions of Frank Sinatra fans “don’t like.”

And we need to say that by “poetry,” we refer to poetry in the absolute definition of it—we’re not using the term in some ironic “popular culture” sense; no, we mean poetry.

And the more poetry you get, the more misery; this is what lyricism is—it’s sadness, the only emotion truly worthy of art and religion.  We turn the light up to see.  We start a fire to warm ourselves.  But the minor light of sadness is art: this is the realm it occupies, at an exact number of lumens.

An impractical amount of lumens is art.

Smith crams every syllable with sound-resemblance in “miss me, Miss Misery.” The line is depressed into an even more minor key because it’s a question “will you miss me, Miss Misery?,” and the ‘zzz’ sound drag on the more fluid ‘sss’ sound, in the word “misery” adds even more melancholy.

This is poetry working.  This is what poetry does.

Frank Sinatra isn’t quite the wreck Elliott Smith is, so he won’t be caught asking such a pitiful question; instead he’s making demands: “fly me to the moon.” But the poetic lyricism, despite inhabiting the solar system, occupies a box nearly as small as Smith’s: the impossible “stars” and “Mars,” together with “sing” and “spring” trap the lyric impulse in poetic sound-resemblance, the enclosed space holding but a little light, and less heat: spring on Jupiter.

Both songs are pitiful pleas for true love—and sound-resemblance is poetry’s truth.

It’s pathetic, really.

Song, poetry.

Poetry, song.

In true pathetic fashion, Elliott Smith wins.

IF YOU VISIT ME

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If you visit me, I will kiss you with music and compliments;

Not real kisses, for those belong

To her, nor can I give you actual song,

For I am no Mozart mathematician,

Or his modern variation, Beethoven,

Who can build and smoothly confer

Pleasure—as pleasing as kisses from her.

But you will get compliments from me,

On your learning and your beauty,

In the form of the kindest poetry

If you visit me.

I will compliment your beauty

Which only compliments like mine,

As they remove all doubts, affirm

Thoughts which will otherwise die.

If you visit me

Poetry will come, without even having to try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE IS THE MADNESS OF YESTERDAY?

Image result for paul simon and paul mccartney

Another first round battle in the Song Bracket features a fated match.

Paul versus Paul.

“Yesterday” versus “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?”

As the poet Shelley said, “our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Paul McCartney and Paul Simon wrote some of the sweetest, most unforgettable tunes ever—and they both know that in song, sadness catches the sweet.

What’s sadder than a bright, but fading yesterday? Death isn’t sad. Getting old is sad.  Yesterday is sad.

Sweetness surrounds the dying to ease the pain.

With Paul and Paul into the pain we go, and ripen, and feel the sweetness flow.

So who wins this contest?   It comes down to “I’m sad now because I was happy” versus “We (a nation) are sad now, because we were happy.”

Paul McCartney wins—because he took a word—Yesterday—and made it a song almost by itself.

By comparison, the Paul Simon song is a history lesson of some kind.

The song, “Yesterday,” is quicker poison.

Yesterday advances, it’s giant shadow covering Joe DiMaggio.

 

ROUND ONE IN POETRY: KEATS VERSUS BYRON

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Byron

It is fitting somehow, that Lord Bryon faces off against Keats in Scarriet’s Poetry Madness—these are the two greatest poets, in English, perhaps, and their vast differences bespeak of Man’s two extreme personalities: One, manly and mercurial, the other feminine and consistent.

Here is Byron reacting rather egotistically, and coldly, to Keats’ death, remarking that Keats was killed by a bad review, but he (Byron) wasn’t:

Is it true, what Shelley writes me, that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review? I am very sorry for it, though I think he took the wrong line as a poet, and was spoilt by Cockneyfying, and Suburbing, and versifying Tooke’s Pantheon and Lempriere’s Dictionary. I know, by experience, that a savage review is Hemlock to a sucking author; and the one on me (which produced the English Bards, etc.) knocked me down — but I got up again. Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of Claret, and began an answer, finding that there was nothing in the Article for which I could lawfully knock Jeffrey on the head, in an honourable way.

Byron was cruel and sentimental, cold and warm, by turns, a man of the world, who loved and hated, risked and lost, ranted and wept; where Keats, perhaps the slightly higher genius, was satisfied to live in a cottage and love the maiden next door; Keats was never sentimental, never cruel—but burned with a glow, everlasting.

This is not quite true.  Even Keats had his anger and his petulance.

Any good poet—as Poe pointed out—is irritable; reaching after perfection, one will naturally be annoyed at times.

And yet Keats’ bad moods must have resembled the bad moods of a flower.

The aesthetically critical mind can be argumentative, and still gentle.

Look at this sneering sonnet Keats wrote (he sounds like Byron!):

The House of Mourning written by Mr Scott,
A sermon at the Magdalen, a tear
Dropped on a greasy novel, want of cheer
After a walk uphill to a friend’s cot,
Tea with a maiden lady, a cursed lot
Of worthy poems with the author near,
A patron lord, a drunkenness from beer,
Haydon’s great picture, a cold coffee pot
At midnight when the Muse is ripe for labour,
The voice of Mr Coleridge, a French bonnet
Before you in the pit, a pipe and tabour,
A damned inseparable flute and neighbour —
All these are vile, but viler Wordsworth’s sonnet
On Dover. Dover! — who could write upon it?

It sneers, yes.  But it’s a sonnet.

It is one of the more interesting poems by Keats—because it reveals so much about him.  He liked coffee, etc.

“The House of Mourning” is not a well-known poem.

Nor is this line of Keats’s well-known either, “Soft went the music the soft air along.”

Connoisseurs of poetry will recognize instantly the genius and beauty of this line—chosen for the 2017 Madness.

“Soft went the music the soft air along” has no sentiment.  The line has beauty only.

The famous Byron line is beautiful—and also sentimental.

“So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.”

Keats wins.

MADNESS GLAM IN THE FIRST ROUND!

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David Bowie (real name Jones) went on to be a world famous superstar of glam rock—but Marc Bolan (of the band T. Rex), who was killed at 29 in a driving accident, his wife at the wheel (her name was Jones) originated the genre.

What was the genre glam rock?  It was basically blues rock with more feminine flamboyance, camp, and glitter, a natural outcome of “hippie music,” a natural extension of something a little looser on top of a pronounced beat.

The evolution of all music follows this path—expanding rhythmic, harmonic, vocal, melodic, intangible and lyrical interest; there is nothing particularly outrageous or rebellious here, as we look back on it.

Let the psychologists and the sociologist wax on the gender and moral questions, but the theatricality of glam rock was simply jumping on what was already done in the psychedelic mid-60s, which also was just adding, in minor ways, to rather simple ‘rock and roll’ templates.

Theatricality is how all music evolves—towards it, or away from it.

Crescendo is a key element in music—another word for climax—and music which is sexy in an unapologetic manner, such as glam rock often is, when it’s not coarse or disgusting or boring, is naturally very appealing.  Those chased away by the amoral elements may miss out on some truly good music.

Space Oddity is a great song—Bowie’s masterpiece, with the famous “Can you hear me, Major Tom” (around this time the Who would release “Tommy Can You Hear Me?) continues what the Rolling Stones did in the studio with “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” the mellotron, an electronic keyboard instrument first built in 1963, allowing bands to sound like Richard Wagner.

The combination of transcendent strings with rock beats was a godsend for popular music. Space Oddity is not sexy, per se, but makes great use of a rocket launching into space, with the same melancholy mood inspired by the Stones “Two Thousand Light Years From Home,” and, in addition, we get the fortuitous blending of the song’s theme of technological alienation with the electronic instrumentation of the song itself.

Cosmic Dancer by T. Rex also blends rock instrumentation, melancholy, and a lush and swelling string sound.

The strummed guitar, the jolting percussion, the unsentimental banging, when combined with sustained, sentimental strings can be a real delight.

The Marc Bolan lyric is strange, but perfect, “I was dancing since I was eight. Is it wrong to dance so late?”  It’s fanciful, making no sense, really—and yet evokes a self-conscious feeling of indefinite delight.

The Bowie lyric refers to the heroic, lost astronaut at the heart of his wonderful, tragic song: “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.”

Does it matter who wins this—how can we choose?

We have a soft spot for Marc Bolan, who died tragically at 29.

Cosmic Dancer advances.

THE MADNESS EXPLODES: ROUND ONE

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We love it—who doesn’t?—when a few words express a great deal.  Who has time for novels?  Let’s extract wisdom from words in a minute, and live.

In Scarriet March Madness Round One in the Song bracket, we have this great piece of work from the Doors:

Send my credentials to the house of detention.

Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the band, who passed away at 27 in Paris, is no doubt their author, though the group often gave “The Doors” songwriting credits.

But how perfect is this!

“Send…”  I’m too lazy to do it myself.

“Credentials.” The key to societal advancement.

“House of detention.”  Send my credentials there.

No wonder Morrison died early.  The work the Doors produced in their brief life made Jim Morrison immortal.  He is still as popular fifty years later. He knew it.  There was nothing left to do.  Credentials were no longer needed.  There was no longer any need to be detained.

The Doors lived in an age of increasing license, where being loose and dirty was not yet completely acceptable—the truly thrilling vector they were on was the breaking open of everything.  Morrison couldn’t turn back and simply delight in the joys of Alabama, for instance.  The Alabama Song by Brecht/Weil, yes.  The Doors covered that song.  (“O show me the way to the next whiskey bar/pretty girl”)

But not this one.

We kissed in a field of white. And stars fell on Alabama. Last night.

In 2002, “Stars fell on Alabama” was put on Alabama license plates.  There was an actual meteor shower in 1833 which inspired the lyrics.

“Last night” is a concept beyond Morrison.  For him, and the Baudelaire 60s, everything was now.

Last night someone sent my credentials to the house of detention.

That doesn’t work.  This does:

Send my credentials to the house of detention.

The Doors advance.

A smattering of stoned applause.

DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE MADNESS: ROUND ONE

Image result for arranged marriage in painting

We attribute to every sporting contest a rivalry which may, or may not, exist.

We think we see love.  Which may not exist.

Most opponents are paired up by chance. The rivalry isn’t real.

In an arranged marriage, where love is the object, a thousand considerations and judgments will arise, as two people, forced into a relationship of love, are forced to overcome a potential horde of disgusts and dislikes, in order to love.

If one isn’t feeling the love, it isn’t going to happen; if a heavily romantic atmosphere is not artificially created, with a certain genius for love-design, given that most human beings are not exactly gods and goddesses, love of mutually strong attractiveness is, in fact, an extremely rare thing.

In combat, however, the randomly matched will have no problem working themselves up into a feverish madness to win; a great egoistic desire to vanquish the other, as if an overwhelming rivalry had existed for a lifetime, is easily attained.

The competitive conquers love—the hated is instantly fashioned; combat can be had for nothing. True love belongs to only the most miraculously fortunate.

The first thing we do when we land on the site of this year’s Scarriet March Madness tourney is wash ourselves in the simple outdoor shower, the rich jungle of the tropical isle stretching out from us in all directions.

The opening ceremony’s camaraderie is helped by symbols (mostly edible) and drink, and also the music from the loudspeakers—composed long ago by the early founders of the Madness.

This year we have songwriters, bands, poets, filmmakers, actors, and writers.

There are four brackets: song, film, poetry, and prose. The greatest words, expressing every aspect of human history: love, war, beauty, history, and rivalry.

Reproduction is not love; animals pair up, and reproduce, and yet—human love is mysteriously tied up with animal reproduction—this idea is wittily and breezily celebrated by Cole Porter in his famous song Let’s Do It—Let’s Fall In Love.

The Star Spangled Banner has an equally vital and universal theme: the landscape of a country, the bravery of its defense, the patriotic celebration of its freedom—no embarrassing love material in this song!

Is it ironic that the first team mentioned in our first contest features a song about “pairing up?”

Will Cole Porter win, or lose, against star spangled patriotism—a pairing of citizen and country?

These two songs. They don’t write them like this anymore. They don’t.

The Star Spangled Banner wins.

“Let’s do it” has met its match.

In the sunshine of this year’s Madness isle.

Where crowds of visitors gather in large numbers for the thrill.

Rivalry behind every tree.  Love on the top of every hill.

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS 2017: GREATEST WORDS OF ALL TIME

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SONG

1 Even little cuckoos in their clocks, do it. Let’s fall in love. –Cole Porter

2 We kissed in a field of white and stars fell on Alabama, last night. –Mitchell Parish

3  Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.  –McCartney

4  I was dancin’ since I was eight. Is it wrong to dance so late? –T. Rex

5  Will you miss me, Miss Misery? –Elliott Smith

6  Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in  –Cohen

7  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.   –Newton

8  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  –anonymous

9  This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.   –anonymous

10  Hear that lonesome whipporwill? He sounds too sad to fly. The midnight train is whining low. I’m so lonesome I could cry.  –Hank Williams

11 Bound for a star by an ocean, you’re so very lonely, you’re two thousand light years from home.  –Rolling Stones

12 Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.  –Sinatra

13 Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.  –Bowie

14 Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  –Paul Simon

15  Send my credentials to the house of detention.  –The Doors

16 O say does that star spangled banner yet wave—o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?  –F. Scott Key

POETRY

1  Soft went the music the soft air along –Keats

2  For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons; I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.  –Eliot

3  Let the more loving one be me.  –Auden

4  Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.  –Dickinson

5  Death, be not proud  –Donne

6  I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow –Roethke

7  He who mocks the infant’s faith Shall be mocked in age & death –Blake

8  There’s nothing worse than too late  –Bukowski

9  Two road diverged in a wood and I—took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  –Frost

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

11 Green dells that into silence stretch away  –C. Matthews

12 She spoke not—but, so richly fraught with language are her glance and smile, that when the curtain fell, I thought She had been talking all the while. –Fanny Osgood

13 As if the star which made her forehead bright Had burst and filled the lake with light –Read

14 And birds and streams with liquid lull Have made the stillness beautiful –Amelia Welby

15 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  –Barrett

16 So we’ll go no more a roving, So late into the night, Though the heart be still as loving, And the moon be still as bright.  –Byron

FILM

1  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” –Gone with the Wind

2  “What seems to be the problem? Death.” –Blade Runner

3  “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” –Godfather

4  “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” –Chinatown

5  “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?” –Sudden Impact

6  “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” –Wizard of Oz

7  “I coulda been a contender.”  –On The Waterfront

8  “Bond. James Bond.”  –Dr. No

9  “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.”  –Casablanca

10 “I want to be alone.”  –Grand Hotel

11  “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” –Dracula

12  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”   –Jaws

13  “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  –Streetcar Named Desire

14  “To be, or not to be, that is the question.” –Hamlet

15  “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”  –King Kong

16  “Elementary, my dear Watson!”  –Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

PROSE

1 During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing along on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. –Poe

2  Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  –Nabokov

3  It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. –Orwell

4  And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.  –F.Scott Fitzgerald

5  In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.  –Hemingway

6  Justice?—You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.  –Gaddis

7  The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.  –S. Crane

8  She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.  –Hawthorne

9  A loving heart is the truest wisdom.  –Dickens

10  He kissed her, and she quivered as if she were being destroyed, shattered.  –D.H. Lawrence

11  When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.  –Swift

12 The loss of one eye does not destroy the vision. The deafness of one ear does not wholly deprive us of hearing. In the same manner Tiedman reports the case of a madman, whose disease was confined to one side of his head, the patient having the power to perceive his own malady, with the unimpaired faculties of the other side. –Mrs. L. Miles

13 Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much. –Oscar Wilde

14 A dinner party is the last triumph of civilization over barbarism. Conversation depends on how much you take for granted. Vulgar chess-players have to play their games out; nothing short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies their dull apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble game! White stands well enough, so far as you see; but Red says, Mate in six moves;—White looks, —nods;—the game is over. –Oliver Wendell Holmes

15 I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  –M. L. King

16 Make America great again. –Donald Trump

 

Scarriet is proud to unveil another annual (is it our eighth one already?) March Madness Poetry Tournament—in the past, we have used Best American Poetry poems, contemporary poets’ lines, aesthetic philosophy, and now we have seized the populist moment by presenting what we call a “Greatest Words” contest.  Popular speech has its own reason for existing, and the poetry (and wit) is in the brevity, obviously, but also we note that words are so adept at pointing to other things; for instance, “Make America Great Again,” (too controversial?) has worlds of meaning within it—we can ask, “What is America?” and “what does it mean to make America great, and “great again?” etc etc  One does not have to see this as a ‘pro-Trump’ entry—though an entry, nonetheless.

Let the games begin!

WRITE HER POEMS

Image result for lost in the woods in renaissance painting

The woman is offended, and the man cannot come near.

The man remains alone to cry his unmanly tear.

The woman is offended and must remain apart

As the man penetrates in sorrow the caves of his sorrowful heart.

The woman is offended, and would be offended more

If the man wept, ashamed, a little distance from her door.

The man must never show his repentant, weeping face.

The loving man fades—and the lawyer takes his place.

Understanding tears will not water the garden again.

The profit of the lawyer needs women—to hate men.

The gardens of love, with their flowers divine,

Are watered by love, but a lawyer draws the line:

The woman is offended, and the man cannot come near.

The man remains alone and cries his unmanly tear.

Love—wise but fragile, life’s glory—is easily ended.

It ends. In pain, she remains—forever offended.

Innocent heart. Write her poems. Make them good.

Young lover! Worship her! But walk carefully in this wood.

 

 

 

 

WHY DON’T YOU?

Image result for a strong woman in painting

The filthy meaning of woman’s love

Ostracizes me. When I was a boy, a boy a boy could shove;

I never touched a girl—as evil as the male, maybe more,

Kissing, not kissing—provoking men to war.

The weak is what we love:

Tender. Delicate. Wayward. A cooing dove.

When you have children, you see

A girl is not really dainty.

That’s the illusion which the illusion is permitted, as an illusion, to mock.

But nothing is soft, only moving; every single heart is shale, granite, rock.

Child mortality makes females strong.

Women are practical. It’s the man who sings the heartbroken song.

The greatest strategy of the strong is to appear weak.

She will produce children, poetry—and the strong are unable to speak.

In the weak position, the offended take revenge.

Her poetry has vanished. Out of the mist, Stonehenge.

Here is the religion which washes up on the shore,

Asking for submission. And more. And more.

Tell me I am weak, because I write verse,

And I will write verses even more.

I’ll write a thousand poems and send them off to war.

 

 

 

 

 

THE LOST CHILD

Image result for underworld in renaissance painting

Because you are gone, lost to love and all,
And not even your shadow remains,
I must talk to everyone when I talk to you, little one.
You and I both belong to remembrance:
You, remembered, I, the one who remembers,
The saddest thing the living do,
The mourner walks in a sorrowful trance towards you.
Your little grave is larger than a star
Which holds me, and our planet, and all we are
In its starry burning;
Time, the world turning,
And that motion
The thing that started things, not time.
Because you do not move I must move towards you in my rhyme.
You no longer die. I do.
I am false unless I die towards you.
Down into the unfathomable, I ride,
Like the ancient heroes who swam in hell’s tide,
The shadowy undersea light of Hades
With wavering shadows of dead souls on every side.
Strange valley that waves under the sea
Under the growth of death which cries
Like the crying of cries in luminosity.
But you are not there.
Only the seaweed which waves like softly drifting hair.
Only the darkness which runs
Like fish running, a million underwater suns.
Only a fear
Which is merely a tear.
Only the folly
Of falling citizens who are still jolly.
Only the partially gone
Who wander on.
Only the listening ear
Of a little one forced to hear my song,
Who is not here.

 

THE BUSINESS PROFESSOR

Image result for silly professor

The business professor has been talking of things

Understood by the businessman in the pit.

Government money flows freely.

Only after the student graduated, did he get it.

Now you see him hanging around the school.

He has an investment strategy designed for the fool.

The working class pays for liberal arts at the college,

Liberalism distorting debt and knowledge.

Psychology courses are embarrassing, private, thin.

Admissions wants you. Later you’ll understand why you got in.

The deans are worried. They need more deans.

The plan is for more money.  Soon you’ll see what that means.

 

 

 

THE BEAUTIES ARE ASLEEP

Image result for beauties sleeping in painting

The beauties are asleep; lone, tired,

Having, at length, succumbed to love,

In some late, moonlit hour, when sweet defense

Fell. The early part of the evening was tense.

Old loves were argued and renewed half-heartedly

As if they could live again, but always the past is mired,

Always the old waves look documented and strange,

Once looking fresh and new, the sea

A painting now, quiet, unsure of its range.

But here in the café at eight in the morning I remember something new

And confident because of that, the moments

Moving into each other. Or, isn’t that you?

That was you; gravity, yes, but something else is changing you.

This one always looks the same, and yet, by slow degrees

Love creeps on, but this one renews her look ingeniously,

Until, when she looks her best, I fall utterly.

But these are passing observations. Why can’t I say

What is literary and meaningful? I can spend an entire day

Irritated with others, needing to work on my poetry alone;

Solitude is especially attractive after the hunt,

When the environment was controlled by a river breeze,

The attractive types smiling in the early evening

Before the onslaught of quiet disappointment, more grief

Than the giddy ones were prepared to feel

When the facts of the littered park stood out in contrast

To the drunk’s swelling, failed, embittered, belief

That it really is okay, it is okay,

ah, intoxication! But now it’s another day,

And the swarms of highly unattractive and loud

Women are ordering breakfast, the café

Is ruined, old men with silly hats have so much to say.

But the beauties are asleep, except this waitress,

Dressed simply in black; she is awake,

Patient and beautiful, for everyone’s sake.

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