IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER

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Are you willing to love me?

Why must you compare yourself to another?

Love. You’ll find out what it’s for

In one form or another.

Spies want you, a spy told me,

And watch out, that poet isn’t your brother.

He’s also a critic.

But all of us are spies

In one form or another.

Experts dispute the need for love,

Love that murders, if it doesn’t smother.

The child wriggles to its end

With philosophy

In one form or another.

Did you want education, or a mother?

The educated want to teach me,

But they can’t teach my mother.

I’ve heard it all before

In one form or another.

 

FRIENDLY AND FILTHY

 

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I can’t decide

Whether you are friendly or filthy.

I think I better hide

Behind my religion and my hijab.

Your thoughts are free, but filthy.

You need to be a friend. Not an intellectual slob.

I see you are a poet, but I also see

You drowned in fake creativity.

You say, “love the dog. The dog has dreams.”

The dog has fleas. Fleas on dogs have dreams.

Brown rivers work. You float on crystal streams.

Do not throw away my veil, these rules

Are God’s. The warship. The submarine.

Morality is guided by filthy versus clean.

One is clean and not always nice,

Or friendly and filthy. I am moral, twice.

First, I’m friendly. Second, I’m clean.

The political parties are divided so:

One cuts the grass. One allows the grass to grow.

But one still follows rules in the shadow.

The hijab hates filth. That’s because

When you are poor, filth stains what you love.

So the poor hate love; too much love

Brings too much filth, and too much filth

Teaches the poor to be clean.

Rich people are the most disgusting people I have ever seen.

They falsify filth. Rich people say, “Let the grass grow!

Friendliness is filthy!” But the proud, religious, middle class says: “No,

Filth is fleas and crime. You don’t know

Our suffering. You are arrogance, immured in dreams.”

“Oh learn to love the earth,” say the rich, “and her crystal streams.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FINAL FOUR!!

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The poetry world has been riveted this month by another Scarriet Poetry March Madness.

Why shouldn’t poets compete, just like those wearing jerseys and sneakers? Why should only those in sneakers get to play, have fun, and even get rich?

Poets compete secretly—judges read their work behind closed doors, and then some prize is announced: Bor-ing.

What’s more interesting?

A poem?

A ball thrown towards a hoop?

The answer, of course, is that it completely depends on the cameras, the lights, the rules, the coverage—the context.

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Here’s the Final Four contests:

In the Bold Bracket—–

Daipayan Nair “I RUN, RUN, RUN AND RUN/STILL I DON’T REACH MY BIRTH/DON’T CROSS MY DEATH”

Eliana Vanessa “I’D RATHER BE OUTSIDE, WITH HIM,/TURNING STONES IN THE RAIN,/THAN HERE,/LISTENING TO THE HUM/OF SO MANY SKULLS, ALONE.”

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In the Mysterious Bracket—–

Jennifer Barber “SURE, IT WAS A DREAM, BUT EVEN SO/YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE SO SOUNDLESSLY”

Michelina Di Martino “LET US MAKE LOVE. WHERE ARE WE?”

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In the Life Bracket—–

Divya Guha “THE SHAVER MISSING, YOUR GREEDY LAPTOP: GONE TOO, HIDING YOU.”

N Ravi Shankar “YOU ARE NUDE, SWEET MOTHER,/SO AM I/AS THE BAMBOOS CREAK A LULLABY”

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In the Beautiful Bracket—–

Medha Singh “YOU’VE/ REMEMBERED HOW THE WINTER WENT/AS IT WENT ON”

Sushmita Gupta “EVERYTHING HURTS,/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE.”

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In the Bold Bracket contest, we have some of the transcript of the radio broadcast of this thrilling contest…

…Daipayan likes to run and run and run…a drive…a layup…and it’s good!…these horses like to run, Bob, yes they do…Eliana playing a zone, applying a press to contain Daipayan and keep this a half-court game…oh! lost it out of bounds! and it’s…Eliana’s ball! Pass inside…blocked! oh what a defensive play!…Daipayan going back the other way…bringing it up the court quickly…pass into the corner…for three…oh! in and out!…here comes Eliana back the other way…a jumper from outside…no good…but Eliana gets the rebound…back up…good…and fouled! Eliana goes to the line to complete the three point play! Tie game! And five minutes on the clock…run, run…I still don’t reach…run…so many skulls…run…alone…run…turning stones…in the rain…the hum of so many skulls…my birth…my death…outside with the jumper…no good…rebound…shot…rejected…back outside…the shot..no good…rebound…stolen at mid-court!…Eliana steals….two on one break…goooood!!!

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Mysterious Bracket action…

SURE, IT WAS A DREAM…LET US MAKE LOVE, WHERE ARE WE?…LET US MAKE LOVE…LET US MAKE LOVE..WHERE ARE WE, WHERE ARE WE?…BUT EVEN SO…EVEN SO…YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE…YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE…LET US MAKE LOVE…WHERE ARE WE?…YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE…SURE, IT WAS A DREAM…SO SOUNDLESSLY…BANK SHOT…GOOD!…BACK THE OTHER WAY…THREE ON TWO…LAYUP…REJECTED!…REBOUND…UP AGAIN…BLOCKED!…THREE SECONDS ON THE SHOT CLOCK…FROM OUTSIDE…GOOD!!

THE DREAM…THE DREAM…SURE, IT WAS A DREAM…OFFENSIVE FOUL!…ANOTHER TURNOVER…FULL COURT PRESS…PASS…INTERCEPTED!!

WHERE ARE WE? LET’S MAKE LOVE.

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Over in the Life Bracket

The shaver…the laptop…you are nude…mother…your greedy laptop…creaking…gone too…a lullaby…sweet mother…the bamboos creak…you are nude, so am I…the shaver missing…the shaver missing…your greedy laptop gone too…a lullaby…mother…you are nude…

Where’s the laptop?…where are you…you are nude…gone, too…your greedy laptop gone too…the shaver missing…you are nude, sweet mother…sweet mother, you are nude…the bamboos creak a lullaby…outside…the jumper…no good…out of bounds…no!…saved…pass up court…reach-in foul…going to the line…in foul trouble…nude…missing…gone…so am I…the bamboos creak a lullaby…the shaver missing…gone too, hiding you…

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And finally in the Beautiful Bracket...

Medha brings it up court…you’ve remembered…you’ve remembered…the play…isolate…pivot…cross court pass…dribble back…drive…stop…fake…back outside…the shot…everything hurts…even that…do you remember how the winter went on…everything hurts…as it went on…the shot…missed…rebound…loose ball…whose got it…a tangle…who has it…time out…seconds left…which seems like love…

which seems like love…even that…everything hurts…winter, as it went on…you’ve remembered…you’ve remembered…even that…like love…back outside…three point shot…no good…

THE WINNERS!! CONGRATULATIONS ON REACHING THE FINAL FOUR!!

DAIPAYAN NAIR -I RUN, RUN, RUN AND RUN/STILL I DON’T REACH MY BIRTH/DON’T CROSS MY DEATH

JENNIFER BARBER -SURE, IT WAS A DREAM, BUT EVEN SO/YOU PUT DOWN THE PHONE SO SOUNDLESSLY

DIVYA GUHA -THE SHAVER MISSING, YOUR GREEDY LAPTOP: GONE TOO, HIDING YOU

SUSHMITA GUPTA -EVERYTHING HURTS,/EVEN THAT/WHICH SEEMS LIKE LOVE.

 

THE ELITE EIGHT!! POETRY MARCH MADNESS ’19

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Scarriet came into existence in September of 2009, quite by accident—from a silly quarrel with Blog Harriet, the Poetry Foundation site.

As we approach Scarriet’s 10th anniversary—after nearly one original post per day, and a million visits—we offer thanks to everyone who has ever looked at Scarriet—or contributed in some way to its pages.

Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness began in 2010.

Congratulations to the poets who have made it to 2019 Sweet Sixteen!

BOLD bracket

Diane Lockward “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”
Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red? How do I make everyone read it?”
Eliana Vanessa “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”
Daipayan Nair “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

MYSTERIOUS bracket

Jennifer Barber “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”
Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”
Michelina Di Martino “Let us make love. Where are we?”
Kushal Poddar “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

LIFE bracket

William Logan “’I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’”/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”
Alec Solomita “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”
Divya Guha “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”
N Ravi Shankar “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

BEAUTIFUL bracket

Mary Angela Douglas “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”
Medha Singh “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”
Jennifer Robertson “ocean after ocean after ocean”
Sushmita Gupta “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

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AND NOW…

Reaching the Elite Eight!!

Daipayan Nair defeats Diane Lockward.  The wife and dog are finally caught! The winner’s line was a little more thrilling.
Eliana Vanessa defeats Aseem Sundan. The “hum of so many skulls, alone” was finally too much for the blood red paper.

Jennifer Barber defeats Kushal Poddar. “All Summer” was not quite enough to vanquish “even so you put down the phone so soundlessly.”
Michelina Di Martino defeats Merryn Juliette. “Let us make love. Where are we?” is a poem in itself.  We hate to see “grey as I am” go.

N Ravi Shankar defeats William Logan. The nude mother overcomes the “ghost of a caress.”
Divya Guha defeats Alec Solomita.  The jet like a dime way up high is so delightful, but “greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you” is victorious.

Sushmita Gupta defeats Mary Angela Douglas.  How can one of these perfections lose?  The mortal eye will have to accept this decision.
Medha Singh defeats Jennifer Robertson.  The oceans surrender to the winter.

Congratulations to the surviving poets!

 

BEFORE HE READ THE POEM HE EXPLAINED THE POEM

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Before he read the poem he explained the poem,

It had to be explained, first; it was a complicated poem;

It was contextualized by his tragic life,

By the encouragement of his lover, by the objection of his wife.

He nervously joked, and made the audience smile;

He hadn’t read his poem aloud in a while,

And the thought of it failing made him freak;

The poem hung back; the poet had to speak.

He brought them anecdotes from his tragic life;

He hinted at his lover, he joked about his wife;

She was in the audience; he never knew

She had a lover, who was a critic, too.

The judgment would come later in the Brag Street Review.

But for now the poem waited, as the poet spoke.

His best friend in the lobby, desperate for a smoke,

Wasn’t sure, now, if he should go in;

His friend was speaking, with that nervous grin;

Oh go on, read the poem, he thought;

What difference does it make? He was caught

Between worlds; everyone was:

Aftermaths, preludes, critiques, loves.

THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET PLAYS FOR SWEET SIXTEEN

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To say, with Edgar Poe, that poetry should be beautiful, is the most rigorous, scientific thing one can say about poetry.

Why is the idea misunderstood, dismissed, or even ridiculed, then?

Because the talkers stop talking when beauty enters the room.

Poetry wants nothing to do with beauty, we think, because beauty is an argument without words.

It is not the beauty poetry rejects, it is the wordless way beauty makes itself felt, which is the poetic problem.

Or so most poets think.

Beauty, it is true, is not poetry—but poetry can imitate beauty, which makes them the same, since all art is first and foremost, imitation.

Beauty does not mean merely “pretty.”

Beauty’s ability to argue without words is a faculty no poet should be without—because what is a poet most of all?

A poet is swift—they use far less words to make an impression than writers of prose.

Poetry, then, imitates beauty’s ability to make its point instantaneously.

In the time it takes to read a single line of poetry, we could never say we have taken the time to read a novel, an essay, or a short story.

But if in that brief moment in which we read that line of poetry, we feel we are reading poetry, then we are reading poetry, and beauty has been the midwife to the poetry—and, if we don’t feel we are reading poetry, hasn’t the poetry failed already, since poetry (like beauty) should be recognized immediately? And if the first line doesn’t seem to be poetry, what of the second line?  And should we really be waiting around for the poetry? Isn’t the whole point to be poetry right away?  Otherwise we might as well say we are writing a short story or an essay.  An essay needs time to argue, to explain.  And poetry, because it is poetry, does not.

It is not precisely beauty which poetry invokes—it is the swiftness in which something is communicated, and that something exists in a mysterious sweet spot between argument, which needs time, and beauty, which does not—and this is what poetry is, and how it comes closest to being beautiful, in fact.

March Madness contests require time. But quickness will triumph. Upsets are few where there is one factor—a towering center, a diminutive guard; it makes no difference, for quick on the ball, quick to defend, quick to shoot, quick to rebound, quick to pass, quick to get in position, is all. There is no division of labor. The blur of intention and action is the essence of physical sport. Poetry is almost the same.

Poetry conveys image, idea, feeling, originality, and rhythm in as few words as possible. This wins. Beauty of the eye? No poem can compete. Argument of the mind? No poem can compete, or would compete, since the rationale of poetry is different—it invokes what we think is beauty, what we think is argument, but which is actually a hybrid blur of the two.

Mobile, graceful, accurate, and swift is a summation of all we describe as the beautiful, either ideally in the mind or materially in nature. The excellence of which the poem is the owner is excellent in ratio to how quickly the reader grasps it.

With this in mind, we proceed to the matchups themselves:

Mary Angela Douglas “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

This is a great example of irresistible swiftness. This is not 30% poetry and 70% prose, as most poems are, but 100% poetry: “one. candle. grown. lilac. in. a. perpetual. spring.”

Sharanya Manivannan “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

This is not quite as pure—the action is less focused, specific, forceful.

Mary Angela Douglas advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

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Ann Leshy Wood “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

We may think we are seeing what Ann Leshy Wood has “painted,” but the aural quality is in fact fooling the eye into thinking it perceives beauty—the “o” sound is doing all the work: “groves, oranges, rot, somber, heron.” Just as poetry is a mysterious hybrid of argument and beauty, so the best poetry entices our eyes with its sound.

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

This is splendid. And why? It is simple and repetitive. Why is this better than a million far more detailed paragraphs? For the reasons we have just outlined. This is like a jump shot looking exactly the same three times in a row with the shooter hitting all three shots. No sports fan could want anything more.

Jennifer Robertson has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

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Medha Singh “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

This is one of the most remarkable poetic utterances a poet ever thought to make. “You’ve,” a rather clumsy-sounding word lumbers out of the starting gate, and “remembered,” another slow and awkward word embraces it—the fat ground is prepared; we have almost a novel already—swift, but slow. The phrase “you’ve remembered” has the weight of someone else’s memory thrown back onto, and into, the past—not “you remember” or “I’ve remembered,” but “you’ve remembered.” The next phrase, “how the winter went” continues the funereal rhythm of the trochaic, HOW the/ WIN-ter /WENT as / and introduces winter (a funereal season) as “how it went,” which introduces memory’s movement into the remembering—which is then repeated: “it went on, so we have “went” repeated, the “w” sound mingling with the “w” of winter, overwhelming the memory with remembering how winter “went on” (continued and continued) even as it “went”!!

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

This is also a remarkable group of lines, but compared to Medha Singh’s lines, which have the heft of a 19th century Russian novel, this is only an extremely clever description of a train coming out of a tunnel. “Window by window regained vision” is a brilliant way to cap “a train, blindfolded by a tunnel.”

The winner: Medha Singh. She’s going to the Sweet Sixteen.

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Sushmita Gupta “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

There is nothing here which is not morally ingenious. All great art requires not only the moral, but the morally ingenious. The complaint is not shy: “Everything hurts.” Too often even the great love poets complain of a heart that aches, but Sushmita Gupta knows love the best:”Everything hurts.”

She then moves quickly from heavy complaint to winged, ironic wit: “even that which seems like love.”  And after the heavy (“everything hurts”) and the light (“even that which seems like”) the balance of both is exemplified by the last word: “love.” It is a dazzling, yet a sober and sad and wise performance. “Love” and “seems” never seemed so attractive and hateful at the same time.

Raena Shirali “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

There is transformation and action in Reana Shirali’s two short lines, enough for an entire Greek or Roman or Hindu myth.  The excitement is memorable, but it is more like an action movie than a performance which is morally ingenious.

Sushmita Gupta wins. Welcome to the Sweet Sixteen!

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MORE LIFE BRACKET ACTION, SECOND ROUND

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Danez Smith goes for Sweet 16

In so many fields of study, categories matter.

It is a curious thing how little categories matter in the study of poetry.

We don’t seem to know what to say about poetry (we don’t even know what it is) so in order to support the art as we review it, critics fall into raptures about who the poet is, where they are from, and make only passing remarks on the subject matter, if it happens to matter.

But what of the poetry itself?

The New Critics spent most of the 20th century rejecting the biographical emphasis of Romanticism. But little has changed. Instead of young Keats coughing up blood there is the MFA, the gender, or the latest prize. What the poetry is actually doing barely registers. All we know is that it is most likely going to be about suffering.

But look at this matchup:

Danez Smith “I call your mama mama”

versus

Alec Solomita “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Even with a few words, nothing could be more different than these two poetry opponents.

One is speech: “I call your mama mama.”

One is visual: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

What makes us call these two very different things poetry?

Even if that question can never be answered, the game still must be played.

Mach Madness must go on.

It is almost April.

Danez Smith is more concise, and the two most important words of the five are identical: mama, a rather universal word of immense importance. If poetry cannot define this by Danez Smith, then this by Danez Smith defines poetry.

But “I call your mama mama” is something people might say every day.

Surely, as a construct, as an expressive thing, the following is infinitely more unique: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high” —Surely this is one in a million—to compare a jet high in the sky to a dime—and it causes us to see it, the metaphor being wonderfully true.

On the other hand, doesn’t “like a diamond in the sky” come immediately to mind?

And it could be said that the uniqueness is based on an obscure fact of no real consequence—a far away jet looking like a dime.

But the metaphor of jet-as-dime also contributes to “All of the sky is silent.” The distant jet not only shines like a dime, it is the same size as a dime, and silent like a dime, too, and so there’s two working parts, the “silent sky,” and the jet-as-a-dime metaphor, and they work nicely together.

Mama and mama also work well together, and the dramatic brevity of “I call your mama mama” is understated and arresting. The “I” carries interest; without it, the line falls apart, and so in a natural sort of way this is lyricism of the highest order.

But let us return (as we must, in the back and forth of the game) to “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Both Solomita’s silent sky and far away, silent jet, achieves a melancholy effect, based on factual description alone, a skill we attach to poetry.

This part: “the jet shining like a dime way up high” sounds like the poet is saying the “dime” is “way up high”—but in fact it’s the “jet” which is “shining (like a dime) way up high.” This confusion actually helps the metaphor.

Alec Solomita edges out Danez Smith! Alec Solomita has made it to the Sweet Sixteen!

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This second round contest in the Life bracket also features objects which elicit emotion.

Is this an admirable human trait? Do only poets have emotional responses to objects? When is this response nothing more than superstition and weakness? Is it poetry’s job to encourage these responses?

Divya Guha is taking advantage of the trope. “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

But the poet will protest: It is not the shaver, the laptop; it is the fact that they are gone that matters.

Ah, wonderful trick—mention a thing gone and it works twice as hard—as a thing and as a missing thing.

And then to exploit the whole idea further—one, the laptop; two, the missing laptop; and three, the “greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.” The object is “hiding you” almost as if the missing person introduced as “you” at the very end of the line were still there, hiding in the room—but the real message (a message we may find on the laptop itself if we only look hard enough) is that the person the poet cared about was in some ways always gone, swallowed by the greediness of impersonal laptop technology.

The poet uses “greedy” to describe both the laptop and “you,” who, it is assumed, was selfishly inclined to bury themselves in the internet. So a whole bunch of things are missing. Ten of the saddest and most poignant words ever written.

Stephen Cole uses a similar strategy with his objects—they are missing, or away from him, but  we see and hear them through the poet, doing a whole lot:

“I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

A poet names objects to bring them back.

But Stephen Cole knows his poem’s objects will not come back—they are chasing themselves, indifferent to him. He can “feel” the “wind-tides” which belong to a mountain he has named; he can “hear” the action of things, “brakes” which belong to other things (vehicles) attached to an “incline” of a “Pass,” also named by the poet. The effect is so powerful and melancholy and strange that some say we almost don’t need the “suicide” of the “brakes” or the “sad” of the “incline,” the whole thing works so well.

Is this poetry? The second naming of things after Adam, things which are never quite defined and never quite stay?

Excuse the melancholy impulse. The March Madness arena is roaring—the fans want their conclusion.

These collections of objects, which make their poets sad, smash into each other.

The laptop. Fremont’s Pass.

The game—this crying thing—must end.

The “greedy laptop” wins.

Divya Guha advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

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The advantage of speech is that objects are always either contained or implied in it, whereas poet who don’t speak, but attempt to objectively paint scenes like a painter, are removed from speech, so remain painters solely. Speech can also describe.

These two final contestants in round two of the Life bracket utilize what might be called high speech—an utterance which does not sound entirely natural; it belongs more to oratory or opera.

The first, by N Ravi Shankar, is sweet and bizarre:

“You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

The second, by Sam Sax, affects a humble wisdom:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

The object for Sax is “this,” which “you” are reading, so the poetry is the object itself, a delight which ought to be enough.

The “lullaby” of the bamboos creaking substitutes for the mother’s voice, who is “nude” with the poet—and we are not sure why. How can we seriously judge this? Well, that’s the point. Our judgment falters, and in the moment that it does, the nudity of mother and son and the creaking of the bamboo branches invade us with a calm which erases understanding. Objects can be felt, but not understood. They don’t have to be understood in poems.

“that you are reading this” completely understands “this,” for the “reading” of it “must be enough.” There is an urgency and a clarity and an abstractness here, utterly beyond objects and utterly at odds with the “bamboo lullaby.”

To such an effect, produced by the bamboo lullaby, we almost have to laugh.

N Ravi Shankar has won round two! He’s off to Sweet Sixteen!

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LIFE BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

Modernism attempted to shrug off traditions.

It failed. Or did it?

What it produced were two things:  little magazines which no one read, and Ezra Pound, their leader, in a cage (captured for treason as WW II ended).

Modernism’s goal in literature was to make things which no one could read. Ulysses and Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. The Cantos by Pound. The Red Wheel Barrow by W.C. Williams, which no one read because unlike Ulysses and The Cantos which were too long, The Red Wheel Barrow was too short—so it wasn’t read; it was only looked at.

If a few traditional works were admired by the Modernists, in every case they were works also unreadable, like Moby Dick, a long novel with alternate chapters on whaling techniques.

Modernism succeeded modestly in one area, however. The schools, which tell you what to read, thought it proper to embrace works no one wants to read. So literary modernism has done pretty well there.

If you add in the Creative Writing Programs (you too! can be a Red Wheel Barrow poet! You too! can write books no one really likes but which highbrows say one ought to like!) we can almost say Modernism from the 1930s to our present day has been nearly triumphant.

The poetry traditions have been mostly shrugged off, what with all these academically credentialed poets supporting each other with awards and prizes, teaching one another, publishing one another, so that even one of their own number occasionally mourn there’s too many poets. Are these countless poet good? No, they are bad, and even intentionally so, since they are the children of Modernism, whose reason for being is to create unreadable works. It is all part of demolishing all the traditions. Reading. Democracy. Nations. Marriage. Religion. Hard work. After 1930, or so, to be a poet meant you had to hate all these things. Well, Mr. Wheel Barrow, how else are you expected to be understood as a respectable poet? No one is expected to read you, much less enjoy reading you, so you need to make it clear you are a good Modernist in some other way. You hate marriage and have no time for children. You hate your country and you hate hard work and you hate all the traditions. As long as this is clear, and your poems cannot be understood, and do not sound like poems at all, you will be a recognized as a poet today, just as you were in 1922.

Unlike literature professors, working class people cannot afford to see traditions as trends. Traditions keep working class people sane, safe, and fed.

One of the oldest traditions is sports.

“Casey At The Bat” is not a modernist poem.

It seemed an impossible task to get hard working sports fans to show up for a contemporary poetry contest.

The 2019 March Madness poetry tourney does not feature sports poems.

So the Scarriet March Madness committee came up with a brilliant compromise.

The Scarriet March Madness 2019 tournament would use small pieces of poems. Too small to look ancient or modern in style, a timeless quality is evinced. A small piece of a poem, judged on its own limited merits, fails or succeeds as poetry in the cosmic sense, not as a trendy, modernist, tradition-smashing work.

In the spirit of ancient Athens, which gave birth to democracy, tragedy, and playwright contests, sports fans began acting like poets, choosing their favorite words to follow and poets began acting like sports fans, picking their favorite words to win.

William Logan, the no.1 seed in the Life bracket, is known more as a critic than a poet, and his criticism resembles a gladiator arena, where poets are regularly and mercilessly cut to pieces, to the joy of his readers. It isn’t just about liking poetry, it’s about seeing bad poets get justice, too. Any worthy judgment of a poem furthers poetry. To judge poetry is to love poetry. Poetry is a tradition. Loving, judging, and protecting it is a tradition, too.

Logan writes two kinds of poems—formalist poems for the ages and modernist, “difficult” poems for his brainwashed peers. Logan has chosen a brilliant, three-part, career strategy: 1. write poems the academics expect, 2. write a small amount of perfected formalist poems, and 3. write brilliant critical takedowns of your peers.

Logan hopes to be a champion in 2019 with this, from one his formalist poems:

“I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.”/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.

The ambiguity of desire is spoken by the conversational “guess,” and then the speech is echoed in the rhyme and rhythm of the body language of “ghost of a caress.” Nothing too fancy here, but the execution is admirable. What else do we want from poetry qua poetry, anyway? An act of legislation? A history lesson? A campfire tale? A menu? A contract? A marriage proposal? A scientific discovery? Food advice? What?

Logan hopes to overcome Kim Gek Lin Short, the 12th seed, and

If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.

This seems like the wonderful start of a novel in blank verse. We love the rhythm which hits on the important monosyllabic “t” words:

If TRUTH be told, the THEFT began a TIME before

with the additional “th” movement from “truTH” to “THeft”

and staying with the iambic all the way, her sequence ends on a word with a “d” sound, more definite by exactly half than the similar “t” sound:

that SUM-mer DAY.

Almost enough to make you weep, it’s so beautiful.

But still Logan wins.

Willam Logan has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

MYSTERIOUS BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

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What are we doing when we read poetry?

To use a sports metaphor, since this is March Madness—it is an advantage to know your opponent (your poem).

Just to take an example in baseball: The second time through the lineup, when the hitters have already had a turn at bat, and they have seen “what the pitcher can do,” the pitcher in that game, facing the hitters a second time, will find it more difficult in getting the batters out. To “know” your opponent, in sports, means they become less of an opponent—to know is to diminish the other’s effect on you.

Is this true in poetry?  When we get to know a poem, does it then become less of a poem to us?  Less interesting to us? When the novelty wears off, do we no longer admire some poems?

Are we reading poetry to know it and “defeat” it, or do we desire it to defeat us—and therefore we are not reading poems to “know” them?

Is the poem good—like an opponent is good—when it defeats us?  Does knowing the poem, therefore, make it less enjoyable?

And if this is true, how does the poet keep us from knowing about the poem?

As we examine the 8 poets vying for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen, let’s look at this

Jennifer Barber, who is seeded no. 1 in the Mystery (or Mysterious) bracket, offers up what looks like an easy pitch to hit:

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

The reader is expected to bite on, “Sure, it was a dream,” and we do bite, because dreams are ubiquitous; we feel at times that life is a dream. “Sure, it was dream” is much better than, “It was a dream,” which would make us slightly uneasy;” It was a dream” sounds a little foreboding. Or a little boring. Either one.

So right away the poet has set us up beautifully. “Sure, it was a dream…”

Here’s the rest: “but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

The “but even so” disarms us further: Sure it was… But even so.

Then, in a few words, Jennifer Barber gives us the strange, the intimate, and the mundane all at once: “you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

Imagine the difficulty of describing the thousand sounds of a battle.  Here the poet triumphs in terms of delivery by describing something mysterious which needs almost no describing: “you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

The experts in the March Madness Poetry tourney all say Jennifer Barber is one of the contestants to watch.

Can you see why?

It sets us up. And delivers.

Srividya Sivakumar describes for us what she’s doing:

“I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

The movement of this line features objects of a search (coral and abalone) which are not found, but may be found, in the danger of the line’s end: lair.

It’s wonderfully done.

We love this line.

But Jennifer Barber wins.

****

Merryn Juliette “grey as I am” and Aakriti Kuntal “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.” go toe to toe.

This may be the most interesting match so far—grey versus red.

All art has a frame—do we save our admiration for how much can be put into the frame?

Why shouldn’t we wander away from the frame, and be free?  Why do we care for what happens to be inside an artificial frame?

Life is ours, and can never live inside a frame.  We should resent all frames, and with the famous Greek philosopher, hate poetry.  What is wrong with us?

A poem’s length is its frame—“grey as I am” is a miniature.  Its duration, its frame, its existence, is but a model of all life.  If we worship anything, anything at all, a person, or an animal, or a flower, or a thought, why shouldn’t we kneel in holy rapture and affection before, “grey as I am?”

What should we make of Aakriti Kuntal’s strange command?

“Close your eyes then.” All life is but a blocking out.  One sensation, one exit, one entrance, replaced by another.

And then another strange command: “Imagine the word on the tip of the your tongue.”

Those who carry words on the tips of their tongue tend to be shallow deceivers.  Is this what the poet means?  The name of someone dear to you lives in your heart, not on the tip of your tongue.

And then comes the joke: “The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Could it be the poet is commanding their enemy to close their eyes and contemplate how silly and shallow they are?

You are but a tongue!

This is speculation by March Madness experts on Kuntal’s fascinating line. It has just the right amount of mystery, don’t you think?

But the whole spirit of “grey as I am” is entirely different. We don’t have commands. We have a reticent humility.

In a close contest, “grey as I am” wins.

****

Michelina Di Martino has one of the most unusual lines in the tournament, consisting of a two pieces of speech, one of them a question. It is bizarre but does not strain after the bizarre. It is utterly charming.

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sridala Swami counters with a difficulty which is almost mathematical.

“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

The line suggests set theory.

Here is all words.  Here is this book with a certain amount of words. And your one chance is speaking with the words in the book.  By the time one speaks, has one already been spoken for?

With one line, Sridala Swami suggests the whole psychology of poetry.  It is a powerful line, indeed.

It is power versus charm.

“Let us make love. Where are we?” prevails at last.

****

Nabina Das has given us a real mystery with “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar provides the flip side of a mystery—something closer to a reverie.  The joy of a reverie participates in the feeling of mystery, but one which is pleasant, and not necessary to solve.

“Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

There’s something in us, however, which wants to solve every mystery, even those reveries, even those moments when we quietly forget.  “What was that?” we ask.  “What should I be doing now?”

In the battle of the uncomfortable versus the comfortable,  Kushal Poddar, with his “All Winter. All Summer,” wins.

****

ON TO SWEET SIXTEEN!

Image result for the wife and the dog planned their escape

The Bold Bracket

How can poetry be bold?  Only by going against the grain of what we expect poetry to be.

All art is trapped in its traditions.

Even the experimental exists within the bounds of what the polite audience has come to expect.

So poetry can never be bold in actuality, and, if so, it is not poetry.

This may sadden the impolite and the avant-garde, but we’re afraid it’s true.

The spectrum might look something like this: Beautiful on one end, and disgusting, on the other.

Art swims in one direction, towards the beautiful. If it partakes of the bold, it may get away with a certain amount of disgust, or shame.

The gradations are extremely fine.  Poetry may travel through the embarrassing, or an excess of emotion, to get near the beautiful, for human feelings are always of interest—even if it is a recognition of no interest.

But the only way for a poem to be shocking is to be somewhere on the disgusting scale.

The poet who says they are against war will never shock, never stun, never surprise, since this sentiment is so common among poets, and lacks originality, and also the idea itself is not necessarily beautiful.

But a poet who says they are in favor of war may shock enough to triumph—in terms of the other end of the spectrum.

A pro-war poem would be considered shameful and disgusting.

As these 8 poets in the Bold Bracket of the 2019 Scarriet Poetry March Madness attempt to advance, we might add to our pleasure, as we view the competition, if we keep this in mind.  Where are the poets on the scale of the beautiful versus the disgusting?  And is there any irony in how they manipulate this scale?

Diane Lockward, the no. 1 seed in the Bold Bracket, attempts to get by Linda Ashok, a poet and editor from India.

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is Lockward’s line and when two of the noblest creatures in the universe, a “wife” and a “dog” are planning an “escape” we are in the middle of a thrilling and moral adventure, even if we don’t know the underlying situation. Our hearts are moved purely: “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”  This is way up on the Beautiful side of the scale.

Linda Ashok offers, “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

This is far up on the Beautiful scale, too. And why? Because it is speech. It talks to you. It is not in the third person, like “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”

The poet who is speaking is making an offer to another person to escape—all of us are trapped, and we rarely “have a day,” and now another person wants to meet you and “bury” the day—this could mean anything; is it to forget? Or be with a person? Or bury the day for later use?  The phrase is intriguing, but it also sounds like an idiom people use every day, which has its dangers when the goal is to make original poetry.  When Paul McCartney dreamed “Yesterday” and first wrote it down he was afraid it was stolen, and was not original. This bedevils every poet—poetry’s coin is the word, which people use all day every day. Poetry is the “escape” from the common place; we want to “bury” the common day, the common word.

When writing in the third person, we tend to operate within the realm of the incomplete: “The wife and the dog planned their escape” sounds like the beginning of a story.  It is nowhere near complete, and this is its charm: “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”

When writing in the first person, as in speech, “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it,” the operative condition is completeness.  There’s more finality when someone utters something, and this surely fits the bill: “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”  This is the plan: “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it;” we are not talking about someone talking about a plan: “The wife and the dog planned their escape.”  The third person is farther away, in every sense, and this is why the third person tends to exist in the wide, long views of novels and fiction, that expansiveness the introverted poet in his cave, who likes things to happen immediately, does not envy.

Still, the long view of “The wife and the dog planned their escape” still works in a poem.  The poet can be extroverted. The poet can say more things than fiction can.  The success of a poem obeys no rules.

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” by Diane Lockward advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Aseem Sundan tangles with Robin Richardson, who lives in Canada and edits an all women review.

Aseem Sundan’s “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” is bold—but also helpless and desperate.  Since poetry can never really be bold, it helps when the bold turns in on itself as it does here: “How do I? How do I?”

Robin Richardson pleads in a very similar manner, “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Aseem Sundan makes a bolder, more particular, and more universal statement, to our ears.

Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” has made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

Eliana Vanessa, a young poet from New Orleans clashes with Khalypso, a very young poet from Sacramento, California.

Vanessa: “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.” This conjures up all we have seen so far in this bracket: first person speech, finality, pleading and, of course, the bold.

Khalypso has given us what feels more like the beginning of a story, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

The “poem” (closed) versus “the story”(open) can produce great tension in poetry; and every device imaginable—point of view, rhythm, syntax, character, mystery, clarity—contributes.  The risk of closing the opening too quickly or being too open in a closed manner may find the writing to be obscure.  We always need to know certain things.

In a close contest, Eliana Vanessa wins.

****

Edgar Poe will only advance to the Sweet Sixteen if he defeats Daipayan Nair.

Edgar Poe “boldly rides” with “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Daipayan Nair is an urgent, prolific poet.

Poets who achieve anything tend to be one of two types: massively prolific or eerily precise.  Some poets work and work on each poem and each poem is a gem. The prolific poet is like a garden run wild; from the massive output, a few gems drop.  The sum total of great poems in each case tends to be the same.

Poe was a master of haunting precision who did not spend a lot of time writing poems.  The vast majority of his output was prose.

Poe’s opponent in the 2019 March Madness, Daipayan Nair, is prolific, but since his best poems tend to be brief, Nair has many properties of the poets who modestly court, with a serious face, the exact. Daipayan doesn’t orate like Whitman, or shout like Ginsberg. (Okay, maybe sometimes!) He etches delicately on glass the roaring furnace of his feelings.

“I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” by Daipayan Nair is similar in spirit to Poe’s lines.

The Poe, as one might think, is fanatical in its simplicity—over the mountains, and down the valley, I go.

Daipayan Nair’s is divided: “I run, I run, I don’t, I don’t.”  We should note the verbs: “reach” my birth and “cross” my death.  Is to reach one, to cross the other? A marvelous terror is implied. Running never seemed so desperate and sad.

The moon looks down on Poe’s followers, who cannot believe the result.

Diapayan Nair has reached the Sweet Sixteen!

****

Still to come:

The Mysterious Bracket

Jennifer Barber mixes it up with Sridala Swami.

Srividya Sivakumar takes on Nabina Das.

Aakriti Kuntal has to deal with Kushal Poddar

Merryn Juliette and Michelina Di Martino go toe to toe.

****

The Life Bracket

William Logan, the poet and critic, squares off against Sam Sax.

Danez Smith attempts to defeat Stephen Cole.

Divya Guha with take on Alec Solomita

N Ravi Shankar will play Kim Gek Lin Short

****

The Beautiful Bracket

Mary Angela Douglas has her hands full with Sharanya Manivannan.

Ann Leshy Wood must duel Jennifer Robertson.

Medha Singh will take on Raena Shiraldi.

Sushmita Gupta goes up against C.P. Surendran.

****

 

 

 

 

THE HUG

Image result for ancient sculpture of a woman

When we finally hug I know

It will hurt you, even as you love

In the forgiveness of the hug,

Because, to forgive, you were so slow.

Maybe there will be no hug,

Since friendship and forgiveness are as irrational as love.

Maybe we waited too long;

Now we are weak in ratio to how much our love was strong.

You miss my friendship. I know

You miss my friendship, the hug

Will be that; our passionate love

Hid the friendship, so the hug

Will be a feeling and a symbol of that,

Yet who knows that friendship and sex are not exactly the same

When, after years, you hug the one who broke your heart, and call them by their name.

 

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—THE END OF ROUND ONE

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Sushmita Gupta is the sixth seed in the Beautiful Bracket:

“Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

The artist turns pain into beauty, and this transformation makes it possible to live.

Art has a life of its own, whether we are happy, or not. The poet’s poems are personal, but to us, they are just poems—which don’t care about us.  Why should they?  They are just poems, and true audiences exist only when the readers don’t know the poets personally.

There is nothing we can say about poems. The poem is the “saying” itself.  A poem is not a friend telling us something; so why do we care at all when Sushmita Gupta expresses hurt?

We (audiences) don’t. We (audiences) only care about the beauty of the poem. We (audiences) only care when someone is able to transform pain into beauty. This is the miracle.

Does this mean that we are perfectly heartless when we admire poems?

Yes.

Because obviously, people are moved to sympathy and pity by each other—imagine if this were only possible with the help of poems. Then we would be in real trouble.

So, yes, we are heartless when we admire the sentimental beauty of poems.

“Sentimental beauty.”  Endowing beauty with sentiment and sentiment with beauty is the cool, impersonal work of poems.

To overcome sorrow as either a poet or a person, we can have nothing to do with sorrow, and not feeling sorrow, we cannot feel pity, and so yes, poems and poets have no heart, and neither does beauty, and this instructs us as individuals to be strong, and not weak.

Art is the public expression of individual resourcefulness. Beauty and sentiment, which are opposites, are forced by art to be one.

Sushmita Gupta’s opponent is Dimitry Melnikoff, whose beautiful line is:

“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Beauty loves the uncanny and the uncanny loves the beautiful. When we sense this beauty is inevitable—that this beauty had to be beautiful in this way only—it produces the effect of the uncanny.  The ‘o’ sounds of “Offer” and “glow” and the ‘g’ sounds of “gulp” and “glow” make the visual and the action of the line feel inevitable, and so the beauty of the line feels uncanny—which is better than beauty alone.

The Scarriet March Madness arena is swaying with small globes of light.

The rhythm of “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” finds the pain, the “minor” chord, of the dactlyic/trochaic, EV-‘ry-thing/ HURTS, ev-/ giving way to the more hopeful, “major key” iambic, -en THAT/which SEEMS/like LOVE.

The entire sequence turns on “seems,” for what seems to hurt, hurts; seeming has to do with the senses; but also “seems” implies a mistake; so there is a hidden optimism: “love” which only “seems,” hurts, but what if love were true, and not seeming? Perhaps then the hurt of everything will be transcended. A lesser poet would not have put the stress on SEEMS; Sushmita makes sure the rhythm and the (hidden) meaning work as one.

Sushmita Gupta wins.

****

How would William Shakespeare do in this tournament?  Let’s find out.  The Fragment Handicap is a challenge to all.  Can we feel Shakespeare’s greatness in brief?

“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

No matter how great the poet, they are only allowed one volley, one swipe at the ball, and the opponent gets to hit it briefly back.  The volley is not a 150-mile-per-hour shot, but a few words.

C.P. Surendran tackles the pearls with this:

“A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Both Shakespeare and Surendran picture blindness in a beautiful way: Eyes as pearls.  A train in a tunnel—window by window—regaining sight.

If poetry is finally speech, Shakespeare is a great lesson. In this instance, the odd, “Those were pearls that were his eyes,” still sounds like something someone would say.

“A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision,” not so much.

But must a poem sound like speech? Surely that is open for debate, but I have a feeling it helps.

The division between reading a line of verse, and hearing it spoken by a person, must give us pause.

Reading poetry is much like a train going over a track.

What is a train’s vision? How does a train see, window by window? There is a sweet, teasing, entrancement in contemplating this.

It’s really impossible the immortal Shakespeare would lose, isn’t it?

The crowd goes wild.

C.P. Surendran has won!

****

And now the final contest in the First Round.

A.E. Housman, who published in the late 19th century, but died in 1936—not that long ago—often contemplates grief in the English countryside, and when the British Empire encircled the world from icy sea to tropical pool, it was from their own meadows and garden plots English poetry most sweetly poured. Soldiers left Britain and conquered, but when the poets left Britain they died. As a proud and strict professor of Latin, Housman was said to bring women to tears with his scolding manner. He also had trouble remembering their names. It is said he made frequent trips to France, because they had dirty books which were banned in Britain.  Housman’s tournament entry:

“The rose-lipped girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

In poetry, one can never go wrong by repetition: the rose-lipped girls…where roses fade.

Raena Shirali is not as famous as Housman, but google will yet tell you a thing, or two. Her book of poems, GILT, has been widely reviewed, and the Chicago Review of Books says, “Shirali, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has written a collection that dissects experiences against a white Southern background and begs the question: “What does America demand of my brown body?”

In her battle with Housman, she is quicker, by far:

“we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

There isn’t the music of “The rose-lipped girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

In Housman’s time, there were heavy leather books of poems in every home, and quotation books with iambic lines on roses.

Shelley died with a book by Keats in his pocket.

Today, poets carry an electronic universe.

“we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

Raena Shirali, nearly invisible, in a close game, wins.

****

Here are the 32 winners of Round One

The Bold Bracket

Diane Lockward (d. Aaron Poochigian)

Aseem Sundan (d. Hoshang Merchant)

Linda Ashok (d. Menka Shivdasani)

Edgar Poe (d. John Milton)

Daipayan Nair (d. Philip Larkin)

Eliana Vanessa (d. Joie Bose)

Robin Richardson (d. Robin Morgan)

Khalypso (d. Walter Savage Landor)

**

The Mysterious Bracket

Jennifer Barber (d. Sophia Naz)

Srividya Sivakumar (d. Percy Shelley)

Aakriti Kuntal (d. A.E. Stallings)

Merryn Juliette (d. Ranjit Hoskote)

Michelina Di Martino (d. Meera Nair)

Kushal Poddar (d. Sukrita Kumar)

Nabina Das (d. Ben Mazer)

Sridala Swami (d. Richard Wilbur)

**

The Life Bracket

William Logan (d. Garrison Keillor)

Danez Smith (d. Akhil Katyal)

Divya Guha (d. Semeen Ali)

N Ravi Shankar (d. Lily Swarn)

Kim Gek Lin Short (d. Rupi Kaur)

Alec Solomita (d. June Gehringer)

Stephen Cole (d. Marilyn Chin)

Sam Sax (d. Dylan Thomas)

**

The Beautiful Bracket

Mary Angela Douglas (d. Abhijit Khandkar)

Ann Leshy Wood (d. Ravi Shankar)

Medha Singh (d. Philip Nikolayev)

Sharanya Manivannan (d. Yana Djin)

Jennifer Robertson (d. John Keats)

Sushmita Gupta (d. Dimitry Melnikoff)

C.P Surendran (d. William Shakespeare)

Raena Shirali (d. A.E. Housman)

****

 

 

MORE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET FIRST ROUND ACTION

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Yana Djin and Sharanya Manivannan are the 4th seed v. 13th seed contest in Bracket Beautiful.

Their lines have a wonderful delicacy, an overlooked quality in these paranoid, swaggering days of “hard knocks” political poetry and hoarse voices calling out from the real human to the real human in the avalanche of the continuing Modern-Against-Victorian backlash.

Edgar Poe, a poet more familiar with the “hard knocks” of life than most, opined that “delicacy” was poetry’s “eldorado.”

It is not that poetry is unable to do other things—but if you’ve studied your Aristotle and your logic, never mind your Plato, you understand that you want to do in poetry what poetry is able to do better than anything else.

If delicacy means keen-eared and sensitive, traits which are desirable in society, no matter what political party you swear to—and poetry as society’s glue spotlights delicacy better than any other intellectual activity—bring it on.

“Morning dew will dress each stem” by Yana Djin is as delicate as you’re likely to find, and this by Sharanya Manivannan is, too:

“burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

What is it that we mean by delicacy, exactly?  Is it possible to depict an indelicate act in sensitive writing?

Slugging it out on the floor
In the middle of the bar next door.

This, of course, has the advantage of “floor/door” pow! pow!

What about this?  “The delicate fist flew into his face.”

This only goes to show, perhaps, that delicacy is at the bottom of all attractive language—and it’s a hybrid quality; it can usefully combine with all sorts of things all day.

“Morning dew will dress each stem” has uses no person of Letters can deny—the delicacy of observing dew upon a stem is manifest in the delicacy of the speech of the poetry itself, which manifests rigor, and not merely “weakness,” as the delicate, could, in some instances, be described.

Scholars like to assign art to a century, and then say, you cannot do this anymore.  But originality is in every time period the same, breaking through every fence a mere scholar might erect.

This reminds me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but what of that?

“burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

In a very close contest, Sharanya Manivannan wins.

****

John Keats would find himself in this contemporary contest, this March Madness tournament, like waking briefly from a strange dream to a stranger one. We imagine him on a small hill with leaves all around him, hearing this spoken by a voice not his own:

“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

The 12th seeded poet unfortunate enough to be matched with Keats in the Beautiful Bracket is Jennifer Robertson, but there is no shame in her line,

“ocean after ocean after ocean”

Fate will have been kind to her, to match her against Keats, if she wins.  Some, I suppose, will want to travel to this tournament’s end, suffering the indignity of poetry playing against itself, fans yelling in the poet’s ears, in a setting of critical artificiality.

Fate is kind to Jennifer Robertson.

“ocean after ocean after ocean” wins.

Keats can go back to sleep.

****

BEAUTIFUL BRACKET—MORE FIRST ROUND ACTION

Image result for a painting of tropical bay with herons and oranges

A painting can evoke a thousand poems. A line of poetry can evoke a painting.

Ann Leshy Wood, the second seed in the Beautiful Bracket, demonstrates this:

“where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

Ravi Shankar “What matters cannot remain.”

It is a lot to ask a poem to perform as part of itself. This is, of course, impossible, but competition of every kind is fraught with the same doubt.

As soon as we block off time, artificiality reigns, and all of us, in competition or not, are stuck forever in these tyrannies which either we, or time itself, makes. The natural deadlines wound as much as deadlines artificial and planned: every poem, every judgment, every look, every affectionate effort must end. Ann Wood’s herons will be called away from the bay. Ravi Shankar’s line will look for support before and after, in vain. These will not remain. But the oranges will rot forever. Rot is forever. Some things will remain.

A strange scent, of oranges, fills the arena.

Ann Leshy Wood wins.

****

Medha Singh brings a stunning line to the competition:

“you’ve remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

The insouciance and naturalness of the line nonetheless carries with it a rhythm the rhyming Romantic poets—even the best of them—would admire. This is the future of poetry, right here; it is natural speech which a Wordsworth or a Williams would cry out for, yet has a music a Yeats or Poe would envy. The fans of Medha Singh make a great, confident noise in the arena; they know she will be nearly impossible to beat, even though the Beautiful Bracket is full of great poets and lines.

Her opponent is a magnificent mind and poet, Philip Nikolayev, so Medha’s fans feel that stirring of anxiety fans feel before the starting whistle, even as they clamor and laugh in their boisterous exuberance. A certain quiet invades their numbers as they glance nervously at this:

“within its vast domain confined”

Truly we are confined. The sights and smells of the arena keep us here. Here there is no transcendence. Our fellow fans cannot help us. We are alone. We love being part of the friendly crowd, part of a vast domain confined, but we know at any moment we can be led away to ourselves, where doubts cry in us, alone. The arena becomes silent; every ceremony accounts, in a strange moment, for the individual in us all. Like syllables stepping through a line of verse, every member of the crowd reads:

“you’ve remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

We rise, stunned, from our seats. Programs and tickets flutter to the floor. Are we no longer confined? Outside, winter waits.

Medha Singh has won.

 

FROM THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET ROUND ONE

A terrible error occurred in American culture in the early 20th century: a profound turning away from the sentimental in aesthetics and life. The great poets blend the unsentimental and the sentimental—this is the whole of the tension which creates the dramatic. Significant art and sublime dramatic tension is the mixture of sentimental weeping and cruel, unsentimental revenge; of warmth, love, coldness, mistakes—comedic or tragic.

The poetry is good or bad; but necessary sentimentality, itself, cannot be bad. It was the Modernist error to cast away all of sentimentality as bad. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson, Dickinson, Yeats, Teasdale, Millay, and the best of Eliot, are sentimental as hell, even as they are true and sublime. It isn’t sentimentality that is ever the problem; the absence of it informs that bad educated poetry (smart but frozen) ubiquitous since the 1930s, academically or politically respected, which we are obligated to like—wet petals on a wheel barrow, poetry unable, like the best of Yeats, to hold back emotion, because it has no emotion at all. Emotion may be implied, but there is no structural emotion—it’s chatter, not art.

If so much amateur rubbish outside the Academy seems sentimental, it is only a trick that this is somehow the fault of sentimentality; the sentimental is the default which hangs on in much well-meaning verse that is simply, for reasons other than sentimentality, just plain simplistic and bad.

If you don’t believe me, check the progress of “sentimental” in the OED—in the early 20th century that which was necessary for all art and life of high feeling morphed into a negative. It is no wonder the 20th century fell into immense crimes of cruelty.  All fanatics share this: they are touchy and defensive and overly serious and, in hidden ways, sentimental—to the point of not being so. Fanaticism is where the sentimental goes to hide and die. And imagine the dangers of fanaticism where all respectable, aesthetic, high brow society frowns on the sentimental.

All would agree we live in an angry, fanatical world now. The first step to fix things is extremely simple, because the great error which haunts us is simple, and therefore, great, and fiercely egregious, and blind. Bring the sentimental back into the fine arts.

This is not to say that all works should become overtly sentimental; it is only that sentimentality should never be isolated as bad, and destroyed. We feel happy, and this sentiment is all human life needs. The road to feeling happy is never sentimental all the time, but it would be silly to lose sight of the goal, or to take such long side routes that we completely lose sight of the goal, or reject whatever sentimental teaching joys we do meet on the road. John Lennon was both sentimentally loving in art and life—as well as cruel and sarcastic. The great artist is both. Lennon was more sentimental than Dylan—who was known for political protest and unsentimental lines like “it ain’t me, babe, it ain’t me you’re looking for, babe!” Yet Lennon sarcastically mocked Dylan (never mind Paul) to great effect. The sentimental never precludes its opposite. The deeply sentimental combined with sarcastic unsentimentally in appropriate ways lies at the center of wisdom in art and life.

Here is the Beautiful Bracket’s First Round action:

The no. 1 seed is Mary Angela Douglas, and her “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring,” is beautiful and sublime.

Her opponent is “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

Abhijit Khandkar brings to this contest the same powerful mingling of burning and nature; the “sea” is burning up the poem—the sacred (or secular?) offering—by “feeding” on it. In a transaction similar, but traveling in the opposite direction, the “one candle” burns (or grows) into “lilac in a perpetual spring.”

A lovely battle.

The Douglas is miraculous, optimistic, and moving; the Khandkar is pessimistic, naturalistic, and moving. Both lift with the same sort of religious awe. The “one candle” versus the “sea.” The “perpetual” versus the “ravenous.” Growing versus feeding.

Abhijit Khandkar is more in the poet’s skin, acting in a clear manner: “So I write this poem and feed it to…”

Mary Angela Douglas is the poet witnessing no action: “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

The sublime is the equivalency of great feeling with the great. What is “the great?” We are not sure until the sublime poem makes us feel, even as we are given to understand that the frozen alps, the horrible battle, the wide misty sea, the merciless winter, have no feelings for us at all. “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.” We, who have feelings, worship what does not. The sublime accuses us in divine, sentimental torture—we know, but do not know. We cry out—to what will never cry.

At last, in fearful meditation, we will ourselves to become one with the beautiful.

“One candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

The torture past, we achieve peace in the modest and the beautiful.

Mary Angela Douglas wins.

****

The rest of the Beautiful Bracket to come:

Ann Leshy Wood — “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

Medha Singh — “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

Yana Djin — “Morning dew will dress each stem.”

John Keats —“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

Sushmita Gupta — “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

William Shakespeare —“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

A.E. Housman —“The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

Raena Shirali — “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Dimitry Melnikoff —“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

Sharanya Manivannan — “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

 

MORE FIRST ROUND LIFE BRACKET PLAY

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Marilyn Chin

When it comes to poetry, lying is either good, or it isn’t.

There are several ways we can approach lying and poetry.

Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was very clever in his Defense of Poetry: poetry does not claim to tell the truth, so it “cannot lie.”

Plato, the social critic who condemned poetry, went to great lengths not to allow what would become Sidney’s excuse to wind its way into society. Plato said: no, poetry does lie, even if it does so unintentionally, and furthermore, careless or ignorant lying is worse than intentional lying—which may be a puzzling thing for Plato to say, until you realize: who would trust a pilot who can’t fly but thinks he can?  To trust ignorance in any matter of importance leads to our doom, whereas cunning, selfish, deception at least participates in knowing; unlike ignorance—a hijacker, to save himself, might save us.

The third approach, as an increasing number of contemporary poets might put it: we can forget about lying and poetry. Poetry is truth and my poetry tells the truth.

June Gehringer: “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

Gehringer’s opponent in the Life Bracket is:

Alec Solomita: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

We could see the modern day Plato perhaps objecting to the poetry of June Gehringer—but not necessarily because it lies. Isn’t June Gehringer telling the truth? Ultimately, Plato wanted to protect his idea of the Republic.  Both lies and truth, in their own way, can serve the long term good. Plato wanted the role-model gods in poetry to be depicted as brave, and not cowardly.  Since cowardice has more emotion than bravery, in Plato’s view, emotion was bad, and therefore emotional poetry was bad.

Is this emotional? “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

One can hear this spoken with no emotion at all.

Yet there does seem to be emotion in the expression itself—in the poetry.

Gehringer’s truth is an emotional, dramatic truth—of which Plato was wary.

We cannot believe Plato would be afraid of “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high.”

We have no idea whether if one of these wins, it will be a victory for a certain kind of philosophy.  There is a quiet charm in that “jet shining.”

We don’t know if this means the Republic will survive, but Alec Solomita wins.

****

Marilyn Chin is the author of the iconic, late 20th century poem, “How I Got That Name,” and she finished second to Ben Mazer in the 2012 Scarriet March Madness Tournament. She brings to this 2019 March Madness, the tourney made of fragments, this one which closes her famous poem:

“by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

Scarriet discovered Stephen Cole on Facebook. It’s a pity more don’t know his work.

“I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

This is a classic battle between classic architecture: “all that was/all that was” v. “I feel the/I hear the”

“Lavished” and “taken” packs a real punch, and the “wind-tides” and “cry of suicide brakes” sure is haunting.

This is too close to call.

Stephen Cole, in a puff of smoke lingering over Fremont’s Pass, wins.

***

Sam Sax has that drinking, slam poet vibe, and maybe he’s this century’s Dylan Thomas, we don’t know. His opponent is Dylan Thomas, in a twist of fate. Do not go gently into that March Madness. The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ is known for those rueful, end-of-the-line truths.  Sam Sax brings it with:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

Hits it out of the park, doesn’t it?

The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ sometimes sinks into hyperbole and sentimentality.  They either hit a home run, or fall down, striking out.

And, to speak for the Dylan Thomas poet is Dylan Thomas:

“After the first death, there is no other.”

We all know what he means.

Sax and Thomas lean on each other, exhausted, after 15 rounds of fighting:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

“After the first death, there is no other.”

Sam Sax has just enough!  Sam Sax advances!

****

Next up, the fourth and last bracket of play, the Beautiful Bracket—first round.

Then we’ll be down to 32 poets,and heading for the Sweet 16…

 

 

 

MORE ROUND ONE ACTION IN THE LIFE BRACKET

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The final play of the Life Bracket in round one features the Insta-poet Rupi Kaur, who has taken poetry to best-selling heights no one thought possible. Billy Collins sold well for a poet but Rupi Kaur sells millions of books.  The Insta-poets, those poets who write very short poems on social media, account for about half of poetry book sales today.

But are epigrams, or little, cute, wise sayings, poetry?

Well, yes.

Because once High Modernism was allowed to say what poetry is, the game is over, and there are no more rules.

“The Red Wheel Barrow” by W.C. Williams, was critically praised (along with Pound’s haiku-like “In the Station at the Metro”) by the respected, highbrow, academic New Critics, in their much-used textbook, Understanding Poetry (several editions kept it current from the late 1930s to the mid-1970s) and not one academic that I’m aware of ever objected to that piece of Insta-crap.  Williams belonged to the Modernist clique of Pound, Eliot, and Moore, so “The Red Wheel Barrow” was good.

And if the “The Red Wheel Barrow” is good, why isn’t Rupi Kaur good?

Lots of academics say Rupi Kaur is “shallow,” and perhaps she is, but why doesn’t anyone think “The Red Wheel Barrow” is shallow?

The pundits stand around in speechless awe before any thing (one thinks of that silly “plums” poem) by William Carlos Williams, and yet, Rupi Kaur, the academics are certain, is “shallow.”

There is a difference, of course, between, an “imagist” poem like The Red Wheel Barrow, which doesn’t “say” anything, and an Instagram poem which does “say something”—and therefore can easily be measured as “shallow.”

The secret to saying nothing, is that no one can say you are “shallow,” and the highbrows in academia may even embrace you.

But then why doesn’t everyone write Red Wheel Barrow poems all the time which say absolutely nothing?

Is it because it’s a joke, like Duchamp’s toilet, that only works once? 

But then why does William Carlos Williams get to tell it?

Did William Carlos Williams invent “not saying anything?”

Didn’t haiku come first?

As any dunce knows, the best poetry exists in that middle realm between saying absolutely nothing (with a wheel barrow) and saying everything, in that fully and absolutely neat way an epigram does.

This is why poems need to be a certain length.   They should be neither too short, nor too long; they should not say nothing, but they should not say too much.  To be quite simple about it.

This March Madness tournament is based on brevity—for philosophical reasons, and by which these philosophical dispatches by Scarriet exist.  We do hope you are enjoying the play.

Anyway, if you don’t like Rupi Kaur, blame High Modernism.  If the “The Red Wheel Barrow,” which says nothing, is allowed, then why shouldn’t a poem just as brief, which says a little more than nothing, be allowed?

Rupi Kaur’s “i am not street meat i am homemade jam” faces off against this by Kim Gek Lin Short, from a poem published by The American Poetry Review, called “Playboy Bunny Swimsuit Biker:”

“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

The child of the Wheel Barrow v. a playboy bunny swimsuit on a bike.

We understand immediately what Rupi is saying: She’s “homemade jam”—she’s authentic and organic. She’s not “street meat”—crassly selling herself.  Which is a great thing to boast about, after all.

We know what Kim Gek is saying, though we don’t know exactly what she is saying, but we do love the perfect iambic rhythm.

Kim Gek Lin Short wins.

****

Next in the Life Bracket Round One Play:

June Gehringer — “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

vs.

Alec Solomita — “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

 

LIFE BRACKET ROUND ONE PLAY

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Semeen Ali competes in the Life Bracket with 15 other poets

William Logan is known for fierce criticism.

His poetry is nicer.

His poetry is where his scholar smiles, that aging tour guide, who gently waves his hand. He has published a lot of poems, but the criticism is what he is known for.  His critical lash has stung. His poems? Not a mark.

His criticism is the offense, his poetry, the defense. His poems are thick walls to cover himself.  His critical reviews score big. His educated poetry defends against the long pass. As a poet, he belongs to the Difficult School, that briar patch established by Sir Geoffrey Hill, admired, but rarely entered, and when you get into it, you will die by scratches unless you exit with great difficulty—this is why Poe’s gardens were razed; to bad poets, everything is difficult, (even writing poetry), and therefore difficulty easily becomes a banner of the academic realm. The frowning briars are tenacious, like pride, and they are all that’s needed to keep the million flowers and their scents away.

Logan is not a bad poet, however; just one who is always looking over his shoulder. What if some offended poet intends a criticism as a form of revenge?  Logan’s poems dare not make a mistake; the dictionary is carefully consulted.

Because he is a good critic—agree, or not with him, he’s good—the law of aesthetics says Logan must be a good poet; poetry is what the critic in us writes. He seems to have decided contemporary poetry is mostly bad because it offends High Modernism; but where Pound was a critical crackpot, Logan is a critical lion; his defense of High Modernism has surpassed by great lengths what it ostensibly defends; he has forgot himself, gone into his humor and become a Poe (who, if read correctly, is funny; wit is criticism’s best weapon) or a Pope, or a Byron, and thank goodness he has! How dreary poetry would be today, without the prune and dance of William Logan.

Just as he escapes overrated High Modernism in his heated criticism, Logan occasionally escapes High Modernism in his poetry; but why he soars in criticism, and not in poetry, it is difficult to say. Perhaps his poetry is the diffident, abashed Dr. Jekyll to the criticism of his Mr. Hyde.  The split in Logan is artificial, since the natural split which once existed, between prose and verse, has closed up; the poets write in prose, too.  A hint of this truth is that when Logan writes formalist poetry, he’s much better.  He doesn’t want to sing so much in poetry, perhaps, because he doesn’t want to seem doubly odd: a Poe-like critic and a Poe-like poet.  He wants a little respectability, at least.

Logan is the no. 1 seed in the Life Bracket (the brackets are somewhat randomly named) and the line is from one of his formalist poems:

“‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with a ghost of a caress.”

(It almost needs a comma after “then;” it is the pause right there that creates glory.)

It just so happens his opponent is Garrison Keillor. We found this by Keillor on FB:

“Starved for love, obsessed with sin, /Sunlight almost did us in.”

There’s a greater aesthetic distance possible between two formalist lines than between any two lines of prose.  Have you noticed that?  The Keillor is delightful.  Starved for love, obsessed with sin, Sunlight almost did us in.

But Logan wins.

****

Danez Smith, the no. 2 seed in the Life Bracket, is a contemporary poet getting a lot of attention lately. His poetry doesn’t need verse. It has so much attitude.

“I call your mama mama”

Akhil Kaytal is also a contemporary poet who throws into poetry the best and funniest of what he finds.

“How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Attitude is really not about attitude. It’s about fact. “I call your mama mama” is a fact.  It’s not speculative.  The speculation naturally follows after. The speculation, the thinking, and the poetry, is implied. And this, really, sums up the respectable, contemporary, academic, vers libre view.

Is it really love when you call your lover’s mama mama? And when your imagination takes you far into the future, from where you ask one you loved if a little graffiti you made on a marble step is still there, you naturally want to know: How long did India and Pakistan last?

Danez Smith advances.

****

Divya Guha breaks our heart in ten seconds.

No, in ten words:

“The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

It doesn’t cry about the leaving—it discovers the leaving, which is better.

The contrast between the shaver (a device belonging to the body) and the laptop (a device belonging to a great deal else) is complex and effective. The “shaver missing” is the real blow; because of the sequence of things, we assume this is the first thing the poet notices that is gone, a device which is mundane—but intimates the domestic and the intimate—which makes the “gone too” poignant, if only because the “greedy” laptop can “hide” much more of a person, and whether it (or he) is gone, or not.

Guha, the third seed, tangles with Semeen Ali’s broader observation—also a discovery, and also poignant on a small scale:

“for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Semeen Ali is the author, and we love the box-within-a-box-within-a-box aspect of her contribution. We think to ourselves, “how is it possible, really, that one minute contains a life?”  But the poet is very sly, because, after all, it is only “for a minute” this miraculous “minute” occurs.

Nine words by Semeen Ali against ten by Divya Guha.

We love both, but there is a little more happening with “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

Divya Guah will advance to the second round.

****

The sentiment expressed by the fourth seed, N Ravi Shankar, is overwhelming:

“You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

Who would write something like this, but someone very comfortable in their own skin?  Writing lovely poetry may only take one thing, and one thing, alone: don’t be uptight.

The pleasure evinced is such that it almost seems like wisdom.  Why is that?  When does the sensual become philosophy?  The great secret to this seems to hover within Shankar’s fond and rapturous lines.

Lily Swarn, another poet from India, counters with:

“The stink of poverty cowered in fear!”

This, too, has an uncanny strangeness about it.  It strikes us as marvelously original, as if the force of a personality, or the primitive cleverness of a god, were uttering divine poetry in a half-dreaming, prophetic trance.

The insouciant rhyme of “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby” gives it the edge.

R Ravi Shankar wins.

A lullaby roared by fans fills the arena.

****

Next:

Rupi Kaur v. Kim Gek Lin Short.

June Gehringer v. Alec Solomita

Marilyn Chin v. Stephen Cole

Sam Sax v. Dylan Thomas

 

CONCLUDING MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET FIRST ROUND PLAY

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Meer Nair plays in the Mystery Bracket

Poetry charms us just as any other kind of speech does.  This should give us pause.  What is poetry, then?  How do we know we’re reading poetry?

In the First Round contest in the Mystery Bracket we have this, which is infinitely charming, though we are not really sure why:

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Michelina Di Martino is the poet.

Di Martino’s fans and supporters and followers resemble the followers of dionysus, which is to be expected. We cannot think of a more delirious meme than “Let us make love. Where are we?”  Frenzied acolytes make for a loud and enthusiastic fan base, which has to make Di Martino the favorite in this contest.

Her opponent is Meera Nair, who is a mother, a poet, and a movie actress.

Her is: “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

It is supremely beautiful—we could ponder this line for hours in a sweet fit of melancholy; the lake, as we will believe, will be drawn to the sea, and landscapes with both lake and sea invoke all the peace and longing we might expect when contemplating robust and watery nature as she lies upon the land.

If Di Martino thrills, as we contemplate unburdening ourselves in smoky, far off hills, Nair allows us to reflect in our rooms, with a window open to the air.  We consider things broad and wide, or trivial perhaps, concerning a lake, and gentle hills leading the watery confinement gurgling down to the sea.  We know Meera Nair’s fragment is poetry. We cannot be sure Michelina Di Martino’s is.  It is perhaps because the packed March Madness arena is filled with noise and confusion, and the warm, heart-rending screams of the crowd, that “Let us make love. Where are we?” wins.

****

Sukrita Kumar’s “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown” burns us with its mysterious wisdom.

What is known more acutely than fire? And what burns?  The unknown.  Everything is unknown to leaping flames. Unknown, the cavernous space filled with sparks, dark and cool above the conflagration which desperately attempts to warm and light our lives.

In stark contrast, Kushal Poddar’s: “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

What could be more different from “Flames are messengers,” a loud pronouncement from the god Vulcan, perhaps, words belonging to the center of the earth, roaring to us from the metal doors of old time? “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer” is the essence of affectionate, domestic tranquility, the lean cat eluding its kind master in the cooling shadows.

How to decide between these two states?

There is no time decide.  Only the impetuous result beneath the lights and clock in the old trembling arena of March Madness.

We smile when we read Kushal Poddar’s offering.  It warms our heart, and this warmth douses the flames.

Poddar will advance to the second round.

****

Ben Mazer is another demonstration that poetry’s force often lies away from whatever we commonly think of as poetry.  Mazer is the champion of a previous Scarriet March Madness, perhaps the greatest prize a poet today can claim.  Nobel? Pulitzer?  Everyone knows these prizes are political.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is the line the Mazer crowd wildly cheers from the rooftops of the Madness arena.

What is this poetic force that Mazer has?

There are so many ways for poetry to excel. But to excel, to stand out, to be regarded with awe, one must evince a quality, a mysterious quality, a strange combination of qualities, which teases the soul of the reader so they surrender almost immediately to the spell.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is all Mazer.  It is mesmerizing, but why?

We would venture to say that Mazer succeeds through the most profound introversion it is possible to evince.

The profound secret to Mazer’s success is simple.  The success is not simple, but the secret is.  And the secret is that Mazer proffers introversion to such an extreme degree, that the reader is disarmed, the reader’s blood pressure is reduced to near-zero, and in the resulting trance, the sweet poison is easily administered, and the spell effortlessly cast.

The great poet cannot be measured by rhymes, words, subject.  Or perhaps they can.  Anything can be quantified before the lynx eye.  But in this instance, as we contemplate the mystery that is the wonder of Mazer, we venture to say it is this: he is greater than nearly all of his peers in poetry (and any extreme in the realm of good taste can succeed in poetry) because his poetry is marked more by introversion than anyone else’s.

This is not to say that Mazer’s poetry cannot say bold or extroverted things.  It is the introverted life from which it comes which conquers.

One can see at once the advantage of introversion in poetry: the hush, the mystery, the unruffled beauty, the calm, the deep breathing, the concentration, the privacy, the reverie, the reverential, the quiet tension, the tender, abashed sinking into the unknown.

Mazer’s opponent is Nabina Das.  She has produced the for this bracket the one entry which might be intimates an actual mystery:

“under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

The future is blisteringly manifest: “where she later dangled.”  Or perhaps the dangling is done in fun?

We doubt it, for there is a menacing finality about the whole thing: “the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

The ambiguity would be more of a problem if the line were not so much fun in itself:

“Under the same” locks nicely into “ceiling fan from where” and the line travels straight up into the thin atmosphere of “she later dangled.”

It’s the kind of line which resembles a surfing wave—it belongs to nature almost as much as it belongs to ink:

“under the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

It is not introverted, by any means.  Not like this, anyway:

“her room retains the look of the room of a stranger”

Both lines could almost be from the same poem.  It is almost as if fate matched these lines in March Madness.

Both are neatly divided in two:

her room retains the look—of the room of a stranger.

under the same ceiling fan—from where she later dangled.

Both are masterpieces of aural architecture:

“room” and “look” and “room” from a group, as do “retains” and “stranger.”

“under” and “where she later” form a group, as do “same ceiling fan” and “dangled.”

It is too close to call.

Nabina Das defeats Ben Mazer!

Fans in the rooms are going crazy.

****

In the final, Mystery Bracket Round One contest, we have Richard Wilbur, and his famous “The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Richard Wilbur’s (1921-2017) opponent is Sridala Swami:

“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Richard Wilbur was a leading 20th century formalist, and we can see this in the exuberance of all those “a’s:” air, all, awash, angels. Not to mention the iambic pentameter: The MOR-ning AIR is ALL a-WASH with AN-gels.

Sridala is trying to do something quite different.

There are no angels. There is no morning air.

“There is only this book” and we are already post-modern, or is the a reference to what Dante, in his Vita Nuova, says is his “book of memory,” which creates the smaller book of his Vita Nuova?

Sridala’s line begins with three anapests: There is ON-ly this BOOK, and your ONE

And the caesura in the middle of the line is the spondee, ONE CHANCE—which is the perfect place to make a dramatic pause: you’ve got one chance, bub.

of SPEAK-ing to the WORLD is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

A long anapest: -ing to the WORLD, and then three iambs ends it: is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

If we read both lines aloud, we find both scan, the Wilbur with more concentrated force, but hers is equally strong, and more subtle.

Hers is speech within speech.  One chance.

His is the singularity of something supernatural, or perhaps merely descriptive, we see in, and around, the morning air.

Wilbur’s is more fanciful, but there is something beautifully somber and philosophically contemplative in Sridala Swami’s “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Sridala Swami wins.

 

Next up:  The Life and Beautiful Brackets.

MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET PLAY CONTINUES

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Often the most delightful mysteries occur when we find ourselves contemplating deeply what has always been there, in plain sight.

Hidden, it is off our radar, and has no chance to even be a mystery.

Mysteries intrigue and startle us most when we notice what previously escaped us, and was always in front of our nose.

As Shelley said, mystery can be “dear” to us, a source of delight, and even humor.

We usually associate mystery with a killer in the midnight, London, fog.

Mystery, however, may be our destiny and delight; the reason for the reason is the mystery.

A.E. Stallings, the no. 3 seed, a distinguished, formalist American poet who lives in Greece, presents a puzzle, a mystery indeed:

“Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

Plato equated the truly true with eternity—if it lasts, it’s true, and this seems to have influenced our March Madness no. 3 seed poet: “Perfection…could not be undone.”  This is why it’s “perfection”—nothing can remove it. But the joke, is “perfection” is a “blot.”  One thinks of a stain one cannot get out. (Lady Macbeth?)  Is Stallings hinting at moral justice?  The blot, or plot, that cannot be undone?  But the larger point is: perfection is equated with a blot.  Perfection, stays, but is imperfect.

The notion of perfection as a blot is funny—as well as profound. Didn’t we say mystery and humor are related?

Aakriti Kuntal, a young poet, is Stallings’ opponent in the Round One Mystery Bracket.

Kuntal is being funny, too, as she contemplates the nature of imagination.

To imagine is to see against our will—do we read imaginative works for what the writer has intended to imagine, or what they cannot help but imagine?

A genius could be involuntary—imagining what they do not want to imagine—and no one would think any less of their genius.

Kuntal directs the action:

“Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

The imagination of the poet “imagines the word,” and the word to the poet is that perfect blot—in this case, “jelly” and “mass.”

The complexity of Kuntal’s line is breathtaking. It makes you say to yourself: how could someone write this? It resembles a lecture on the physics of the poetic imagination.

First, deprive yourself of sight—a good advice for poets, for the poet is not a painter.

Second, imagine the word. More excellent counsel. Without sight, which the poet doesn’t need, the imagination succeeds poetically when it imagines not the world, but the word.

Third, since the first two steps are sufficient advice, having reached the limits of poetic imagination, self-consciousness begins; the poet is thrown back on herself, and naturally, as we “imagine the word,” we are stopped by a figure of speech—“the word is on the tip of my tongue.”

To get beyond a figure of speech, which blocks creative and original speech, the poet fastens on the word on the tip of the tongue—that is, speech itself, which the tongue represents.  To get past “imagine the word,” that is, turning the word into an image, which the word already is, in the poet’s imagination, we get over the hump of unoriginal speech (a figure of speech) and enter speech itself, the engine of poetic imagination.  There is no escape. Poetry, no matter how imaginative, is speech, and the tongue described is the tongue speaking.

Kuntal’s joke is even better than Stallings’ joke: “perfection” as a “blot.”

The word on the tip of the tongue—is the tongue!

“The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Poetry is a “mass” of words.  Poetry is that point when quivering words reach a critical “mass.”

Kuntal’s advice, or tip—“close your eyes and imagine the word” is “the red tip” of all the speech which follows.

Aakriti Kuntal wins, and advances to Round Two.

***

The fourth contest in the Mystery Bracket is the following:

Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”

Ranjit Hoskote “The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage.”

The eye cannot help but see the fragment of a poem as a poem.

But what should the eye have to do with a poem?   Surely an eye’s illusion cannot touch the poem.

If we could have a shorter poem, we would—it concentrates our delight, and the secret of delight itself (as opposed to how long the delight lasts) is concentration of a bodily feeling. Even a slightly long poem does not exist.

A mystery cannot be nothing.  A mystery comes to be such just at that moment when nothing is left behind.

“grey as I am” transfixes us.

“The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage” impresses us.

Spring fated to be the nightingale’s cage is wonderful.

But “grey as I am” wins.

The fragmentary context of the examination proper to Madness competition absolutely favors “grey as I am” in a manner which would go against the whole spirit of the fragment to explain.

It takes tremendous skill to be poetic for any length of time.  This is the law which actually benefits “grey as I am.”

Who knows that “grey as I am,” in the future, when all art is abstract art, and art only intrigues us as such, will not be considered by itself a great poem? Painting, so rich and engaging—think of the masterpieces of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries!—became Abstract Painting, and who knows the same thing will not happen, when all useless chatter ceases, to poetry?  And what finer example than “grey as I am?”

Merryn Juliette advances.

****

Coming up next in the Mystery Bracket:

Michelina Di Martino — “Let us make love. Where are we?”

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Meera Nair — “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

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Sukrita Kumar — “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

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Kushal Poddar — “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

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Ben Mazer — “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

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Nabina Das — “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

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Richard Wilbur —“The morning air is all awash with angels.”

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Sridala Swami —“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

THE MYSTERY BRACKET ROUND ONE, MADNESS ’19

Image result for ganges river in india

Jennifer Barber is a poet we know nothing about. How many poets across the Internet and the bookstores and the universities today clamor for our attention? How much are we expected to know about them? How much do we know about Sappho? Shakespeare? Homer? Only what scholars speculate. The very name of the poet could be made up. Homer? Shakespeare? They could be other people, their very names wrong. The ignorance which crawls towards us is vast.

Curiosity is rude. Jennifer Barber is the no. 1 seed in the Mysterious (or the Mystery) Bracket. Here’s her game:

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”

When a poet wants to tell a truth, the hard work begins—the truth, being true, is not poetic; the poetic is only the dye which allows us to see the truth. The poet does not arrive at the truth; the poet only arrives at the poetic—arrives at “the dye” before they even know “the truth” they are tracking. This is why poetry is impossible; the dye must be exquisite enough to please, but it tracks a truth accidentally, since truth can’t be tracked; it’s already there, already understood by the non-poet; the poet can only fashion a dye—and hope it stains or covers properly what doesn’t need tracking. The experiment fails before it begins, because the truth is not what the experiment is after; the experiment is what the experiment is after. Most dyes hide the truth, the truth we already possess and don’t need; the poet qua poet pretends a useless dye may be emotionally akin to a useless truth: “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.”  This haunting line by Jennifer Barber is the best case scenario. 99.9% of poems are experiments which crumble before they begin, never mind finding a truth. Foolish rhetoric, the type of rhetoric which seeks to demolish another because they are not a Marxist or an atheist, or they don’t love you, actually has a better chance of success in producing a passable poem than one which attempts to pour a dye on a truth—any dye, any truth—as the poet “lets herself go,” far from newspapers and newspaper kinds of truths, composing her detached poem in a detached trance, or waking dream: this, more often than not, produces dye upon dye, a confusing, obscure, mess, or, just as bad, a naked truth, not poetic—precisely because of its nakedness, for no naked truth is poetic, even a truth offered while in the middle of a dream.

Why is Barber’s verse haunting? Because it successfully colors a truth—we experience, not the truth, but the dyed truth, so the experimental tracking of a truth has a chance of succeeding. We are haunted by an apparent truth which flees invisibly—except it is miraculously caught by the dye which Barber has added; we can wonder all we want which came first, the truth of the scene of a dream of a phone being put down soundlessly by a person who is important to us, or the lines themselves (the dye) but since truth is already present to all of us (making it the truth) we know the lines, not the truth, must have been what Barber discovered first, whether she thinks this is true, or not. And this is why poetry is impossible—why it is always an accident of words, an accident of a dye which through pure luck captures a truth. Finding a truth and then dressing up that truth with words, is, by the soundest logic, what the poet does. But we doubt this ever really happens. When we read, “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly,” we have no choice but to think that these particular words in their particular order made their entrance before the truth could even be said to exist, since truth does not care for such words; truth does not need to be dyed.

But this impossibility is resolved—where the poet is more than an accident-machine spitting out words—by speech.

If Barber speaks as a poet might speak, the stream of her speech might be cut and pasted to produce the desired poetic effect. That’s why the “Sure” is vital—(“Sure, it was a dream…”) Barber is speaking, not merely “using words,” and it is speech which is the bridge between mere accident and truth. Poetry is a highly evolved insanity—a conversation between two people in one individual. Speech blocks out truth—one cannot speak and apply dye to a truth—speech resolves the impossibility of poetry by ceasing to think truthfully, so that the dye is the speech, the message is the poetic itself, which does away with truth altogether. But the truth still exists, by default, in speech—in the logical connectedness of speech itself; just not as something being tracked. It is already there, and the speech is how the dye travels—the reader of poetry does not see a dye, but how the dye is infused into the colorless truth. Speech is further removed in order to resolve the impossibility of actually seeing the dyed truth; we only see the dye administered. Barber’s words please by their administration; the naked truth is not the real interest, nor is the “naked” dye—it is the movement of the dye (speech) which captures our attention.

The worst kind of poetry needs the metaphoric to seem poetic: a rain of tears, a horse of passion, a hotel of sorrow. The hotel is dyed with sorrow and the sorrow is dyed with hotel, and the “truth” of the poem—the sorrowful hotel—is the stained dye seen, but the dye works overtime in the presence of nothing. There is no poetic experience. There is only a double staining.

“Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly.” has no metaphor; a poetic experience is sprayed into our consciousness by speech.

Barber’s worthy opponent in the first round of play is this by Sophia Naz:

“Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

Again, there is no metaphor—the “deviants and dervishes” joining with the river is accomplished through natural speech—a metaphor would imply a joining, but speech is more accurate; they “lie down the length of her,” which is different from joining—metaphor clumsily fuses, or joins, exactly as the dye fuses to an object, but the compromise of speech is better: “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her,” has but one, slight, metaphoric gesture: it is seen in calling the river “her” (the implied metaphor is ‘she is the river’) but this metaphoric gesture stops at the banks of the river—the rhyme of “river” with “her” and the line “deviants and dervishes of the river” create a poetic experience; the deviants and dervishes are close to the river, and they may feel the river is their mother, perhaps, but nothing so equivalently or metaphorically banal is forced upon the reader. Like Jennifer Barber, Sophia Naz has produced the highest order of poetry.

In a close contest, Barber advances.

In the second contest, Srividya Sivakumar has the unfortunate role of facing the no. 2 seed in the Mystery Bracket, Percy Shelley:

“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

This is one of the greatest lines of poetry ever written.

Here is Srividya:

“I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

This is a beautiful line of poetry—note the ‘r’ sound inhabiting the first foot of both trochaic words “searching” and “coral” before the run of “and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair,” with the ‘r’ sound appearing again at the line’s close, in ” lair,” as well as “dragon.”  Don’t you love it?

Srividya defeats Shelley!

Anything can happen in March Madness!

Next Up:

A.E. Stallings “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

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Aakriti Kuntal “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

POETRY MARCH MADNESS 2019 ROUND ONE ACTION

One of the contestants in the Bold Bracket—Kolkata’s great poet, Joie Bose

In the Bold Bracket, first round play has been prefaced by some wild fans’ marches—the “Fan March” is a tradition in Scarriet’s March Madness Tournament.

The crowds for Diane Lockward’s “The wife and the dog planned their escape” is a woman’s march for the ages—thousands of women dressed as canines, carrying signs “Woman’s Best Friend,” topless women with signs, “Topple the Patriarchy!” We have never seen anything like it. “Bold First Seed, Woman is the First Seed! Go Diane!” scream many placards.

Diane’s opponent is sixteenth seeded Aaron Poochigian, a Classics professor who translates from Ancient Greek, and writes narrative verse—which sounds like contemporary prose—we don’t know how some poets manage this, but they do, rhyming only for themselves, not for me and you. But into the Madness comes this, beating its Homeric drums: “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.” Unfortunately, Homer did not write in English—attempting to write like this, Byron should be the model; if one is to jangle and jingle in a narrative, one must go about it self-consciously, and make a whimsical pact with the reader. This type of poetry will never work if you boss the reader around with Miltonic airs; Poochigian tells the reader to “hear” a “squeaking,”  a “squeaking” which sounds “like hinges,” while simultaneously telling the reader to “hear the Sirens calling,” a feminine rhyme (they are Sirens, after all) echoing “spalling.” The tone is pedantic, which is unfortunate, because the meter is really good—note all the wonderful trochees: “spalling, margin, squeaking, hinges, hear the, Sirens, calling.” He has a good ear; now Poochigian needs to let his hair down and have fun; drop the pretense and study Byron.

The Diane Lockward fans are relentless, mocking the use of the word, “spalling;” they feel Diane has nothing to fear from Poochigian’s nerdy and pretentious versifying—“The wife and the dog planned their escape” is accessible, thrilling, and nuanced—delightful as we imagine how a dog and a wife, as animal and human, might “plan” in secret to escape the husband.

Diane’s fans are right. She wins easily against  “hinges squeaking” “beyond the round world’s spalling margin.”

“The wife and the dog planned their escape” advances to the second round of play.

Also in the Bold bracket, No. 2 seed Aseem Sundan “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?” clashes with Hoshang Merchant “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing.” The delight is the sweet resignation conveyed, even as “wild” is the adjective—a truly great line of poetry. But Sundan’s “red” has produced an uncanny originality and force; a transcendent urgency emboldens his red shirted followers into a frenzy; near-riots occur throughout the day outside the arena—the Riot Muse Police are called. Inside the arena, Aseem Sundan confidently wins.

In the third Bold Bracket contest, it is Menka Shivdasani “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.” versus Linda Ashok “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Both contestants evince the quotidian: Menka is cooking (dangerously?) and Linda is suggesting an appointment (dangerously?)  In both cases, women are daring us not to see them as ordinary; the strange or the threatening within a common circumstance threatens to happen, or merely happens to threaten. Do not take the woman, or any chore, or her day, or any action she might be doing, for granted. Linda Ashok’s is more interactive; it is less boastful, and more potentially thrilling—a sexual encounter which neither party will remember, or regret, is implied, but it could be any number of things the poet wants. Linda cools her opponent—and with cool concision, makes an appointment with victory. Linda Ashok moves onto the second round of play.

In our fourth Bold bracket game, It’s John Milton versus Edgar Poe.

Milton’s “Paradise Regained” excerpt is a paean to glory:

“Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

Poe used Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as his example when Poe issued his famous “a long poem does not exist” formula; Poe felt no fear in puncturing poets of reputation; and elsewhere he found fault with Milton’s abstractions and angels. Is this contest a chance for Milton to get his revenge?

The robed followers of Milton file into the March Madness library where they chant, while dreaming. They even sing Milton’s glory in vestibules. Some are dressed as angels, with play wooden swords. One sign says, “Long Poems Do Exist!”

Poe’s march is large and ebony-endowed. No zombies, vampires, or werewolves, because Poe did not actually write about such things. Good taste was everything to Poe. “Poe was murdered!” reads one placard. “Poe Has Been Slandered by the Literary Establishment as a Drunk and a Drug Addict!” Some hand out copies of Poe’s lovely and sober handwriting to repair the genius’s distorted reputation.

The game should be amazing. A few fights break out between Baltimore Ravens jerseys with a sign “Poe was Murdered in Baltimore! Re-open the Case!” and robed rebel angels. A beautiful woman dressed as Satan is arrested.

Poe: “Over the mountains/of the moon./Down the valley of the shadow”

Milton: “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame.”

“Glory,” Milton says, is the only “reward” which “excites to high attempts” the “flame,” and “flame,” we assume, stands for “glory.” So “glory” is the only thing which “excites” “glory” to “glory?” Or is “flame” the human soul, or is it human aspiration? The whole thing does sound “glorious,” if a bit abstract. Milton’s iambic line defends the trochaic “glory” in terms of rhythm quite nicely.

Poe’s Bold bracket entry has an immediate, haunting quality, pure and soundless, despite its cry. Yet Milton’s bold flame and rhythm are also silently and scarily glorious.

Poe is more visually pleasing than Milton—“Glory” in the abstract cannot quite compete with mountains and shadow—and Poe’s rhythm is snakily titanic, as well.

Poe, as hell erupts, wins.

Daipayan Nair is matched up against Philip Larkin’s “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” one of the boldest and best known lines in all of poetry.

Daipayan Nair is bold as well: “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Mr. Larkin states a pessimistic fact. Daipayan is not stating a fact, but it is true what he says; life is a long search in which we find neither our birth nor our death, though we always have a feeling we will. “I run, run, run, and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death” says this beautifully.

Daipayan Nair wins. Larkin’s followers throw papers about in the library in protest.

Joie Bose and Eliana Vanessa tangle with evocations which vibrate the throat and tickle the brain:

“I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love.”

“I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

This is a clash in a singing cave. Criticism, to go and judge these women poets, must be sinning and brave.

Magic beauty from New Orleans (Eliana) and Kolkata (Joie) seethe in epic dimensions; color whips up in darkness.

Both of these make us wonder—love as fable, treasure, and darkness. The choice between “turning stones in the rain” and “listening to the hum of…skulls” is intriguing; there is no choice in “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love;” there is fable, treasure, and darkness, and the inevitable blending of the three. Is this more fantastic than the “hum of skulls” and “turning stones in the rain?” Criticism can hardly decide. Intoxicating odors linger from candles. The atmosphere is heavy. Fans can hardly see. They feel the contest on their skin. They doubt from start to finish. The game proceeds in waves.

Both Kolkata and New Orleans suggest the strange and the ambiguous, but “the fable” of Joie Bose finally has more coherence—and yet there is something about those wet stones and humming skulls.

Vanessa drowns Bose at the singing end, and moves to the second round. Scarves and weeping.

Robin Morgan is suffering from illness, and with a tenacity which puts fear in her opponents, she brings to the loud arena, “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Robin Richardson, her opponent in the First Round Bold Bracket, looks around to find what she is playing: it is both large and small.

Robin counters Robin with, “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Ambiguity versus ambiguity. One is very powerful. One is more hesitant, and says please.

Robin Richardson, in a wink, manages to destroy and create. She wins.

The final contest in the Bold Bracket features one name versus three, a living poet living out the ambiguity of her time against one certain, in the grave:

Walter Savage Landor thunders from the tomb, “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife” and Khalypso, doubtfully, “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

And, doubtfully, since all Madness must be so, Khalypso, in a flurry of gasps, wins.

 

DID GEORGE BREAK UP THE BEATLES?

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“To love that well which thou must leave ere long” —Shakespeare

It was Yoko. It was John. It was Paul. George, the “quiet Beatle,” cared about the music, and sat on the sidelines.

No, it was George.

George Harrison broke up the Beatles.

George, who grew up working class with John and Paul, was only 20 when the Beatles became world famous on February 7th, 1964.

For George, and the Beatles—though Ringo was more laid back about it—we need to understand the following: 1. How fast everything was happening. 2. How easily the lads thought it could end. 3. How much they obsessed on keeping the miracle afloat.

To understand how fast it was happening:

The Beatles made it big with their trip to America in early 1964—because they were cute, tuneful white boys with new, trendy haircuts, playing American black music. Their first albums featured many 1950s style rock n’ roll covers.

By the end of 1965, George—a mere 22 years old—had received the Order of the British Empire, starred in a major motion picture, witnessed Paul (with his solo hit “Yesterday”) and John moving apart, experienced Paul’s bossiness, and introduced the sitar on Rubber Soul—the acclaimed sophisticated album released at the end of 1965, in which the Beatles “grew up.”

In 1966, John effectively ended the innocence of the Beatles by bragging in public that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus; the story went nowhere in Britain, but when America discovered the news, Beatle records were burned. The Beatles barely escaped the Philippines after riots erupted, when the Beatles turned down a meeting with Imelda Marcos. The Beatles’ 32 year old manager, vital to their success, died in August 1967, while the Beatles were in Wales meeting George’s Indian guru—a video shows 26 year old John Lennon in shock after receiving the news, with 23 year old George by his side, looking far more relaxed, as George chats to the interviewer about the wisdom of the maharishi.

By the end of 1966, George is more interested in Indian music and Indian religion, than the Beatles.  Revolver (with three George songs) is released in the middle of 1966, and the recording of Sgt Peppers is under way—George’s track on Pepper features George, not with the Beatles, but with Indian musicians, and profoundly inward-looking lyrics.

In September, 1967, George and John appear on the David Frost show with some western experts on meditation and other assorted intellectuals in the audience, one who accuses George and John of mystical selfishness. John, rather abashed and listless, weakly defends himself (“you only meditate for 20 minutes in the morning…”) George, on the other hand, comes across as a religious zealot, and hints that he’s convinced there’s a yogi who has been alive since Christ, by mastering the secret laws of the universe. In a few months, George will record an entire record with respected Indian musicians in Bombay.

As one watches the 1967 Frost program, several things are apparent:

George, not John, comes across as the intellectual leader of the two, passionate, articulate—albeit fanatical and headstrong bordering on lunacy. That’s the first thing.

Secondly, where is the famous humor of the Beatles? It’s gone. George comes across as caustic and defensive, as does John, though a little less so. John wavers, politely holding back his usual sarcasm for the sake of his mate, who in terms of mystical religion, has gone all in. George is almost snarling as he rebuts a gentleman for calling him “mystical.”

And thirdly, not once, even though Sgt Peppers and “All You Need Is Love” have been released, do John or George point to their music, point to a Beatles composition, as an example of their mission or their meaning—are they afraid of being laughed at?

The Beatles are on top of the world, music-wise, money-wise, and yet John and George are telling the world “money is not the answer and now they want meaning,” and instead of discussing their music, they are brow-beaten by older British intellectuals—at one point a gentleman says “let me finish!” when George tries to interrupt him—on the subject of Eastern Mysticism.

The death, in 1967, of the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein—ending the early, performance-oriented career of the Beatles, coincided with the Beatles meeting the maharishi—at the behest of George. Thanks to George, mystical sounds by 1966 defined the Beatles, though few fans noticed—due to Paul’s songwriting skills. Sir Paul, the Pop Chairman, worked overtime to save the “Pop Chart Beatles” against George’s foreign “invasion.”

By 1965, with “Yesterday,” Paul emerged as the band’s leader, too good for Ringo, too good for George, and almost (but not nearly) too good for John. George and John both mocked Paul (on stage!) when Paul performed “Yesterday.” The dynamic, one year into the Beatles’ great success, was Paul on one side, John and George on the other (with Ringo, neutral, on drums—even as the other three Beatles begin to write songs which didn’t need drums.)

Paul was committed to the Beatles, and just happened to like all kinds of music, and could write—and perform—all kinds of music; Paul had that kind of talent and background; he filled out the Beatles’ choice of sounds.  John, married with a kid, living in the suburbs, but who went to art school as a lost juvenile delinquent type, delivered to the Beatles their frantic, melancholy edge; John and Paul both expanded the quality of the lyrics moving forward. George had input even on songs he didn’t write, and though he was songwriter no. 3 in the band, by using the Indian influence, and just by being a good musician with a critical ear, as the lead guitarist, he added a great deal to the Beatles’ sound from the very beginning.

George also had the most to prove. By 1969, with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” he would finally equal Paul and John as the no. 1 songwriter, but in 1965, with Paul contributing “Yesterday,” and John, “Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” (though co-written with Paul) George is hungrier.  He’s 3 years younger than John, 2 years younger than Paul.

Paul picked on George, treating him badly in the studio; when the rift opened up between Paul and John, George sided with John.

But George also began to reach out to other musicians, much more than Paul or John. George released the first solo album when the Beatles were still together, in 1968. George befriended musicians like Dylan and Clapton. George brought in the Indian influence.  It was George who visited Haight Ashbury and checked out the West Coast rock scene in America in 1967. By comparison, Paul and John were almost stay-at-homes. For all of John’s “leadership” qualities, he was basically a person who liked to laze about drawing, creating, and doodling, with Aunt Mimi making him soup.

Paul, as everyone knows, wanted to keep the Beatles together. Paul thought the Beatles were the grownup thing to do. In Paul’s mind, the Beatles were a lifetime ticket to glory, fame, and security; he thought John and George were too easily distracted by ego-driven projects. Paul did write songs for other artists; he had his projects, too, but his main priority was always The Beatles.

Look at what Paul is doing today as an old man: still happily touring and playing Beatles songs.  He probably admires that the Rolling Stones are still together. (And is sure the Beatles are the better band, thanks to him).

John and George, however, felt the Beatles were a kid’s a thing, a childhood fantasy which needed to be left behind.

So John and George stood in stark contrast to Paul.

But John and George were very different, too. George befriended Dylan. John ridiculed Dylan. In this sense, John was closer to Paul—the Beatles were closed off, and in John and Paul’s heart, the best.

But this is clear: before the arrival of Yoko, the uneasy division between Paul and George/John threatened to break up the band.

George, however, had found two things to escape the Beatles—playing with other famous musicians, and defining himself with Indian music and religion.  Even many John songs in the Beatles had an Indian sound.

Paul was the driving force behind Sgt. Peppers, and by 1967, he’s the clear leader of the Beatles. George had found Indian religion, and we see from the David Frost show in September, 1967, that John is in the shadows, lacking direction; Lennon wants to leave the Beatles, but he doesn’t know how. He’s with George on the show, defending meditation, but you can tell this is George’s thing; the humorous, acerbic John is kept in check—he wants to bond with George (against Paul) so he bites his tongue; otherwise he would be mocking George’s religion–and of course this is what the future will shortly reveal. John’s most famous composition post-1967 is “Imagine”—“Imagine no religion.”

Yoko was John’s ticket out of the Beatles; at first she was a “project,” just as Paul had his Beatles and Apple records projects, and George had his projects—the first Apple Record in 1968 was a soundtrack album by George.  John mentions Yoko as a “project” explicitly on a 1969 David Frost show; he says before he and Yoko were a couple, he agreed to produce a record of hers. Only after they sleep together, does John join her on the record, Two Virgins.

John was following George’s lead.

John did not want to be outdone by George, who, in breaking away from Paul’s Beatles, was using his worldly and sophisticated Indian vibe to do so.

John, realizing how artistically ambitious and crazy Yoko was, in 1969 was finally ready to strike out on his own.

In January of 1969, George did quit the Beatles for two weeks. John, holding fast to Yoko, followed George to the exits.

Paul had made a grave miscalculation by treating George shabbily in the early days.

George, like Paul, was sick of Yoko, and just as George and John could not agree over religion, George and Paul could not repair the damage Paul had made pushing around George, starting in 1965.

Paul made it official, leaving the Beatles in April of 1970, when he realized both John and George were making fun of him behind his back.  George, as much as John, was the mocking, caustic Beatle. And George had much more reason to lash out at Paul, because Paul had insulted him as a man and a musician, just by being Paul; Paul and John had a deep, respectful bond that went way back—their songwriting together made the Beatles.  But John was in George’s orbit; John knew George had what it took to leave the Beatles, and John didn’t want to be left out. It’s hard to say what John would have done had Yoko not come along.  He probably would have begged George to stay with the Beatles on behalf of Paul.
*
George’s personality was based on male friendship.
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Patti Boyd, George’s first wife, says she once carefully cooked George an Indian meal—and his response was to hire a chef from India: George, the sexist perfectionist. His male bond with Clapton was such that he let Clapton have his wife. “Something” and “Layla” were written for the same woman. For all of his spirituality, earthly George was headstrong and common. Male friendship was George’s guiding star, and George’s ability to bond with males certainly must have contributed to the chemistry and success of the Beatles—but the seed of creation is often the seed of destruction. Paul violated George’s sacred bond and treated George like a junior, and this is what ultimately broke up the Beatles. We often lose sight of the personal in mystical abstraction.  George’s Indian mysticism was an unconscious manifestation of his hatred of Paul.  When George sings on “Within You, Without You,” to Indian music backing, “Try to realize you’re very small and life flows on within you and without you,” he is singing to Paul: ‘You may think you’re a great success, big shot, but you’re nothing.’ Wise philosophy is used to soothe and speak for the wounded. George is repressed, and all the more beautiful and civilized for it; our most abstract dreams and missions finally come from the small and personal.
*
John’s identity was based on being pampered by women.
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John and George both had children by non-Anglo-American women.
*
George, the priest, and John, the political activist, advertised idealism, but were deeply flawed, earthy, sarcastic and vengeful, and finally defined themselves in opposition to Paul, the insufferably successful and happy businessman.
*
Paul’s identity was fidelity to the family unit; loyalty to the Beatles and the family defined Paul, whose practicality contrasted with John and George’s self-destructiveness, and George, embittered by Paul, led the way: John and Yoko, on a very profound level, were created by George, the rebel angel, who sought to punish Paul—the workaholic Pop Machine.
*
There you go, Beatles fans.
*
It was George.

THE THEATER IS DARK

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The theater is dark. Darkness makes us wary.

Why not be theater which plays the scary?

Aesthetically, it’s best to bring the lights down;

Unfortunately for jester, romancer and clown,

Unfortunately for joy, melting in tears,

Darkness is best for terror and fears.

The lecture coughs, and is too slow.

Genius bleeds the anxiety of Poe.

The golden idea and the silver speech

Need separate parts to connect and teach—

But we—in the dark, the audience, here—

Are one. Fantasy is atmosphere.

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

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It’s here once again.  Poetry March Madness!!

Previously, Scarriet has used Best American Poetry Series poems, Speeches by Aesthetic Philosophers, and poems of, and inspired by, Romanticism

This year, our tenth!—and we’ve done this once before—lines of poetry compete. 

The great majority of these poets are living contemporaries, but we have thrown in some of the famous dead, just to mix things up.

The line is the unit of poetry for ancients and moderns alike—moderns have argued for other units: the sentence, the breath—but to keep it simple, here we have fragments, or parts, of poems.

Is the poem better when the poetic dwells in all parts, as well as the whole?  I don’t see how we could say otherwise.

What makes part of a poem good?

Is it the same qualities which makes the whole poem good?

A poem’s excellent and consistent rhythm, by necessity, makes itself felt both throughout the poem and in its parts.

A poem’s excellent rhetoric can be strong as a whole, but weaker in its parts—since the whole understanding is not necessarily seen in pieces.

This is why, perhaps, the older, formalist poets, are better in their quotations and fragments than poets are today.

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

Perhaps rhythm should become important, again, since rhetoric and rhythm do not have to be at war—rhythm enhances rhetoric, in fact.

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

No matter the quality under examination, however, any part of a poem can charm as a poem—with every quality a poem might possess.

Before we get to the brackets, let’s look at three examples in the 2019 tournament:

Milton’s “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame” is powerfully rhythmic in a manner the moderns no longer evince. It is like a goddess before which we kneel.

Sushmita Guptas “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love” also has rhythm, but this is not a goddess, but a flesh and blood woman, before which we kneel and adore.

Medha Singh’s “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on” is so different from Milton, it almost seems like a different art form; here is the sad and homely, with which we fall madly in love.

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

Diane Lockward — “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

Aseem Sundan — “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

Menka Shivdasani — “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

John Milton — “Glory, the reward/That sole excites to high attempts the flame”

Philip Larkin —“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

Eliana Vanessa — “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

Robin Richardson — “Please let me be a blaze. I will destroy,/I mean create again this place.”

Khalypso — “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

Walter Savage Landor —“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife”

Robin Morgan — “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

Joie Bose — “I am a fable, a sea bed treasure trove/I am your darkness, I am Love.”

Daipayan Nair — “I run, run, run and run/Still I don’t reach my birth/I don’t cross my death”

Edgar Poe — “Over the mountains/of the moon,/Down the valley of the shadow”

Linda Ashok — “When you have a day, let’s meet and bury it.”

Hoshang Merchant — “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

Aaron Poochigian — “beyond the round world’s spalling/margin, hear Odysseus’s ghosts/squeaking like hinges, hear the Sirens calling.”

****

II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

Jennifer Barber — “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

Percy Shelley —“Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.”

A.E. Stallings — “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

Michelina Di Martino — “Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sukrita Kumar — “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

Ben Mazer — “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

Richard Wilbur —“The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Sridala Swami —“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Nabina Das — “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

Kushal Poddar — “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

Meera Nair — “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

Ranjit Hoskote — “The nightingale doesn’t blame the gardener or the hunter:/Fate had decided spring would be its cage.”

Aakriti Kuntal — “Close your eyes then. Imagine the word on the tip of your tongue. The warm jelly, the red tip of the quivering mass.”

Srividya Sivakumar— “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

Sophia Naz — “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

William Logan —‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

Divya Guha — “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

N Ravi Shankar—“You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

Rupi Kaur — “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

June Gehringer — “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

Marilyn Chin — “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

Sam Sax — “that you are reading this/must be enough”

Dylan Thomas —“After the first death, there is no other.”

Stephen Cole — “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

Alec Solomita — “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Kim Gek Lin Short —“If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

Lily Swarn — “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

Semeen Ali — “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

Akhil Katyal — “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

Garrison Keillor — “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

Mary Angela Douglas — “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”

Ann Leshy Wood — “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

Medha Singh — “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

Yana Djin — “Morning dew will dress each stem.”

John Keats —“Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”

Sushmita Gupta — “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

William Shakespeare —“Those were pearls that were his eyes”

A.E. Housman —“The rose-lipt girls are sleeping/In fields where roses fade.”

Raena Shirali — “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

C.P. Surendran — “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

Dimitry Melnikoff —“Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

Sharanya Manivannan — “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

Abhijit Khandkar — “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHERE THERE IS HEAVEN AND EARTH

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Where there is heaven and earth,

Heaven is cold—we measure its worth

By snow on churches melting in April.

Ice covered branches are beautiful.

The hope is the ice will be gone soon.

Where there is earth, there is only June

And summer’s false, sunny promise of green:

Death. In summer, heaven is no longer seen.

In the autumn, mortal earth rebels;

The liquid ripening of curling husks and shells

Fills up hunger with eternity.

We eat duplication ravenously.

Now snow falls on the churches again.

In spring, between earth and heaven,

Heaven gives us the bad news. We know

Heaven, too, is false. Like earth. Like snow.

 

 

 

WHAT YOU SAY YOU CANNOT SEE

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What you say, you cannot see,

Trapped in the sound of your poetry.

No matter how much I want

To know, my thinking is ignorant.

Something beyond us loves—

This is what religion proves,

When truth, as beauty, makes us feel

Partial things we see are real—

Beauty, which we sometimes see,

Is translated into poetry,

The milky all and the watery all

In a star beside a waterfall.

Beauty, in a second beauty, consists,

In the same way truth in beauty exists,

When beauty drops dreamily into sound.

When I tried to see beauty, I found

Nothing in this poetry, proving it weak

And ignorant. Truth doesn’t speak.

I drag her statue to the ground,

In obedience to my poem’s sound;

I look, up close, at the beautiful head,

Resembling a wrinkled cry, instead.

My poem, I heard, is ignorant and weak,

Ending the moment it started to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAVE ME, BACH, OR MUSIC

Save me from this vanity.

This vanity is such an oddity,

Given to me by Jim Morrison and the Doors.

This marketplace of ideas, lovely ideas from distant shores,

Giving me everything,

Giving me in poetry what poetry adores.

Which. Which. Which.

Which now, centrally,

In the proud center of myself, inside the proud me,

In the center of myself, is the secret of insanity.

A mirror looks at itself. The great D minor concerto in G

Called out to me for the longest time,

As if it couldn’t. As if the “long time” were itself a crime.

I listened. I ignored others for a long time.

I asked no one if I could be excused. I made a motion to leave

And retracting that, I did.

It is important these things, in my poems, that I hid—

Because these things dare to occupy my time—

Even in my poems, they did—

Introversion among objects the greatest crime—

Important you get to know these things now;

They are not mine, but I am going to show them to you, anyhow.

Franz Joseph Hayden!

Send in, without further ado, your 100th symphony.

Joe! I hear from the fat yellow sun you prefer a major key.

Or, the forceful minor.

Polite, we had Jim Morrison over for dinner.

We heard the fine clatter of geese far away.

 

WE PUT OLDER CIVILIZATIONS INSIDE OURS

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Strong houses are history. There’s no mourning or loss.

Small yards of vines, shrubbery, moss,

Offer dignity. The wide, green lawn

Seems wrong here. Crawling nature keeps crawling on.

History camps here. It’s not gone.

These homes, handsome, quiet, shutters painted black,

May not take us in, but they take us back.

In books we read of the calm, deliberate start

Of cold people and boxes. The precise seventeenth century heart.

The English who ruled the seas

And India, and befriended Muslims, are now the miniatures of these.

We use the same mathematical phrases

As old empires’ indominatable phases.

Chinese fans and vases

Decorate New England houses.

We put older civilizations inside ours.

A disciplined dome attracts a million stars.

A dark, deepening, New England, chill

Invades frozen April.

They said the south would win. They lied.

Last winter, I spied

Koi beneath the ice—I couldn’t believe they hadn’t died.

Icy living is icy law.

Melting brings trouble. Passionate love, the painful thaw.

Cold soul! Dearest love! I’ve never seen you cry.

If warmth comes here, the things we love will die.

 

 

 

A DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL LOVES A DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL

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A department official loves a department official.

The department known to be the most beautiful

Has noticed something unofficial.

Filled with beautiful officials, this department

Gives every other department what they want:

Forms to investigate lawyers, or weaponize a taunt,

Dreams among the blue forms that court you,

Poems on red paper for officials who report you.

This beautiful official will give you whatever you want.

When the beautiful department noticed an official

Writing words that were unofficial

To a beautiful lower official,

They had to decide: was it beautiful?

They asked every official

If it was beautiful enough

To be unofficial. Or official. Was it love?

The beautiful officials must decide.

“Be kind to me!” the lowly official cried.

“First, fill out this form for love. Then, fill out this form for pride.

And last, fill out this form for beauty. For beauty has died.”

 

 

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