DEREK WALCOTT, STEPHEN COLE, PHILIP NIKOLAYEV, CAMILLE RANKINE, AS MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES!

italian renaissance landscape painting | Norge, Mørk, Søk

Poems can be anything.  The crowd milling outside the March Madness arena tucked between mountains on the island know this.  From the Classical “I’m going to tell you a story, children, listen!” to the Romantic, “I am the story!” to the Modern “look at that story” to the Post-Modern “Story? We don’t need no story,” it’s finally a lullaby to all.

How do we sort out poems?  One way is by reticence; some poets are non-talkers and want to pour images. Some poets are talking in your ear all the time.

Some poets, if you say something to them, will look at you keenly, in silence.  Others, will respond, “Well, what I think…” and never stop talking.

These are the two types of persons, and the two types of poems.  The first kind you fall in love with, the other, you marry.  One is mysterious and doesn’t talk enough.  The other talks too much.

In these two Madness contests, we have three reticent types and one talker.

Fifth-seeded Derek Walcott, in his “This Page,” is not conversing with anyone; he is drawing back a curtain, and we don’t see any people. It reminds us of Wordsworth.

This page is a cloud between whose fraying edges
a headland with mountains appears brokenly
then is hidden again until what emerges
from the now cloudless blue is the grooved sea
and the whole self-naming island, its ochre verges,
its shadow-plunged valleys and a coiled road
threading the fishing villages, the white, silent surges
of combers along the coast, where a line of gulls has arrowed
into the widening harbour of a town with no noise,
its streets growing closer like print you can now read,
two cruise ships, schooners, a tug, ancestral canoes,
as a cloud slowly covers the page and it goes
white again and the book comes to a close.

Walcott’s opponent, Stephen Cole, (12th seed) is also showing something to us—and not revealing the common movements of people. (Cole calls his poem, “Unreal City Philosophy Breakdown):

Keep the knives in the decider box
Where you make your choices.
Rattle the caustic chambers pots
At eye level
In the high mystical arch
Where the pigeons blur.
Reality is the paragon of confusion.

The surface cave is painted
In primary colors
On a mountain wall
But the snow is real.

It bares repeating
The fake cementing
On fracas light goes on
Piecing itself together
Over the top of a barren dream scape.
How reliable after all
Are dreams in dreams?

It goes just that far
And no further.
At this point
the universe turns back on itself.
The content is thrown back into eye
For the regulated comfort.
If some nefarious spirit
Changes the channel:
You’re gone.

Both Cole and Walcott are addressing a “you” in their poems—but neither one is really having a chat with us. They give us a glimpse of an entire world; the Walcott is framed more simply, Cole’s is more intricate and bizarre, and takes a menacing turn at the end. We had to include the world-renowned Walcott in this Sublime tournament; he has been called Homeric.  Cole is merely a fantastic poet we found toiling away on Facebook.

The poems are lovely, but one is more interesting.

Stephen Cole advances.

~~~~~~~~

Philip Nikolayev, the sixth seed, talks non-stop in his “Litmus Test,” and we think it is one of the greatest poems in English; it is his future. It needs no comment, much less hype.  Here it is:

Didn’t want to go to the damn party in the first place,
needed to “catch a lecture” the next morning
on Renaissance Florence, one of those stupid 9-a.m.-on-Saturday
events, but my buddy insisted sangria, perfect chance to chat
up Jessica and Jake, so we went
at midnight. Sangria my ass. I mean it tasted extra nice,
bootilicious, but they’d run out of ice
and Jessica and Jake had already left. Half an hour later
three spluttering purple volcanoes
of indeterminate size, but perfectly harmless and hospitable,
spun winking out of the texture of the tabletop,
pouring forth an interminable wordlist full of words
into pulsating Buddha-faced saucers. My armchair
floated in the breeze over the seaweed-infested carpet
dead to rights. I was chary of wading through its Dead Sea
waters, though I needed to pee. My buddy goes man,
I think we just drank some acid, should’ve
poured the stuff that’s on the table but I wanted it cold
from the fridge cuz they’ve no ice
so anyway we can always and later too you know
all that, now best stay where you are, best to just to hang in look
I know you have to pee “like ouch” but listen
I’ve been thinking this week all week every day
for three years now, it’s driving me nuts I’ve always
wanted to talk you up about how you know sometimes
that feeling that we call sublime or subliminal whichever
you can also feel it right that wholesome feeling
a bird tipping from branch to branch to branch in luminous light
a bee crawling from bract to bract a strange kind of lyric feeling
the inexpressible what we felt in childhood
is really what we’re all about like they’re cluing you in on it now
gluing suing slewing you in on it. Spack,
a strange music turned itself on and wouldn’t quit,
that bizarre non-quitter music. Anyway when they sang
happy birthday dear Humphrey
at 2 a.m. I needed to pee especially badly
and trudged off through the interminable apartment
though my buddy hadn’t yet finalized his discourse.
I’d never been in a non-finite apartment before,
after 27 rooms I stopped counting
because I almost wet my pants before finding the bathroom
plus had to wait another ten minutes
while someone was getting sick in there.
And finally when I felt I was going back to normal
and washing my hands, I saw in the mirror,
which was in the key of E flat minor,
myself as a winged demon with golden horns on top
and colored rotating spirals for my pupils, my stare
expressive of the universal doom.
Then there was a descent down the three-mile jade
staircase and gigantic escalades of diamond snow.
My buddy and I sat to our heart’s content on steaming grilles
in the pavement by the Store 24 warming ourselves
(though in fact it was hot) with other nocturnal characters,
who thankfully seemed to know no English, and in the end
I realized that we are chemical through and through,
so determinate and so chemical, while sliding in crystal insects up
the conic mountain of spacetime, with its mass but no weight,
pure composition. Soon by the creaking of refreshed pedestrians
I opened up to the idea that there was one hour left until the lecture.
Is supermarket coffee inherently such a palette of taste,
or was it the radically contingent chemistry of my palate
that temporarily made it so? My buddy had left to sleep it off
(wish I had his worries), but I tried to recompose alone
the ordinary coherency of life. All I heard were the dubious
reverberations of a mid-90s train passing underground.
Savonarola’s sermon, to which I had eventually made it
across the Alps, focused on the ideals of asceticism, poverty
and visionary piety. His project of a bohemian republic
appealed to me deeply as I took faithful notes
diagonally across my notebook (which was unliftable).
Fellow aspirants peeked at me inquisitorially,
but I waved them off, staring at the preacher’s
skinny jowl, enormous nose, dark cowl in profile. Then
I had nothing left or planned for the rest of Saturday
except to get home to my two-bit moth-devoured
studio with its many topological holes
and zip up my brain. I stepped across some literature
to my solitary bed, dedicated exclusively to the twin purposes
of study and sleep, and elongated myself as best I could.
Sleep was out of the question, issues of the irreducible
multiplicity pressing harshly upon my overburdened lobes.
I yearned to be one, complete, so I arched and reached
for the telephone. Yes, dropped some acid last night
first time ever, haven’t slept. Please come save me,
I hate acid. You hadn’t slept much since New York either,
but you arrived instantly, as if wading through atrocious snow
came as naturally to you as levitation to a saint.
I laughed suddenly, for the first time in a month,
shocked to discover your red hair had its usual color.
You had American Spirit cigarettes (I was out),
and in minutes we stood at the foot of Lee Bo’s Cantonese Kitchen,
whose second floor seemed unreachable on foot.
I sighed with relief in the pentatonic elevator.
In the bathroom things went well this time,
no dragons in the mirror. You fed me with a spoon,
then with chopsticks. The hot and sour soup
was indeed hot and sour, it counteracted my internal chill,
and the salt jumbo shrimp were verily salty and jumbo.
The green tea you poured into me sip by tiny sip
made me realize for the first time
how perfect we were for each other. I wept like a whale.
You had changed my chemical composition forever.

The 11th seeded Camille Rankine, in her poem, “Emergency Management,” recently published in The New Yorker, the iconic “limousine liberal” magazine, has a bodily reflection theme similar to Nikolayev’s:
.
.
The sun eats away at the earth, or the earth eats away
at itself and burning up,
.
I sip at punch.
So well practiced at this
living. I have a way of seeing
.
things as they are: it’s history
that’s done this to me.
It’s the year I’m told
.
my body will turn rotten,
my money talks but not enough,
I feel my body turn
against me.
.
Some days I want to spit
me out, the whole mess of me,
but mostly I am good
.
and quiet.
How much silence buys me
.
mercy, how much
silence covers all the lives it takes to make me.
.
In the event of every day and its newness
of disaster, find me sunning on the rooftop, please
don’t ask anything of me.
.
If I could be anything
I would be the wind,
.
if I could be nothing
I would be.
.
.
We love this poem.
.
But Nikolayev’s poem has more experience.
.
Philip Nikolayev wins.
.
Gripping their rolled-up programs, or littering them, or seeking to have them signed, the drifting, poem-happy, March Madness crowd is talking, talking, talking, and going, going, gone…

 

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