BLUES FOR BILLY COLLINS

Tell me first it’s a poem. Otherwise

I won’t know what is hitting my eyes.

You are so beautiful and I am a fool

to be in love with you

is a theme that keeps coming up

in songs and poems.

There seems to be no room for variation.

I have never heard anyone sing

I am so beautiful

and you are a fool to be in love with me.

I note Mr. Collins’ points one by one

Regarding love songs, and when he’s done,

With all his points agreeing,

He shifts to a nightclub, a singer named Johhny, a sax.

What exactly am I seeing?

Mr. Collins bravely states the facts.

For no particular reason this afternoon

I am listening to Johnny Hartman

whose dark voice can curl around

the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness

like no one else can.

It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette

someone left burning on a baby grand piano

around three o’ clock in the morning;

smoke that billows up into the bright lights

while out there in the darkness

some of the beautiful fools have gathered

around little tables to listen,

some with their eyes closed,

others leaning forward into the music

as if it were holding them up,

or twirling the loose ice in a glass,

slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

The Iowa Workshop with her beautiful fools

Revolutionizes poetry in the schools

As Mr. Collins makes us feel

The beautiful fools are beautiful and real.

Tell me first it’s a poem. Otherwise

I won’t know what is hitting my eyes.

So it’s a poem, after all, one of those

Which is, let’s face it, prose,

But it’s too late. Music is lost in the word.

Prose that wants to be a poem is absurd.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,

borne beyond midnight,

that has no desire to go home,

especially now when everyone in the room

is watching the large man with the tenor sax

that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.

He moves forward to the edge of the stage

and hands the instrument down to me

and nods that I should play.

So I put the mouthpiece to my lips

and blow into it with all my living breath.

The Iowa workshop poem sure can wail.

The beautiful fool has me, and will not fail.

The prose is blowing golden sequences that seem

The innumerable flickering sequences of a dream.

The humanities! The curricula! The school!

Mr. Collins is wise! Too wise to circumvent the fool.

We are all so foolish,

my long bebop solo begins by saying,

so damn foolish

we have become beautiful without even

knowing it.

And so the Iowa effort ends.

Midnight. All the little tables are friends.

We read prose without knowing it’s prose.

A fool picks up the tenor sax. And blows.

 

 

 

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND BILLY COLLINS: FOR NO ONE

Paul McCartney can be seen on You Tube interviewed by the poet Billy Collins—and it points up the superiority of the pop musician to the poet, in our day: Collins comes across as a mere fan, asking questions of the ex-Beatle which merely elicit answers we’ve heard before. You would think perhaps a poet of Collins’ stature could have steered this brilliant pop songwriter into novel intellectual territory.  But no. McCartney was funny, charming, and interesting. Collins was diffident and dull.

Collins said what was interesting about the early Beatles was “the chord;” they were playing new chords.  But this is completely wrong.

Paul playfully pointed out how the melody of his song “Blackbird” was borrowed from a Bach riff and how jazz’s more sophisticated chords influenced the Beatles, and Paul repeated the story of how the boys went across Liverpool on a bus to learn the chord B7 from an older guy—which is really just an elaborate joke since chords can be found in a book and it only takes a few chords to play rock music; the anecdote is one of Pauls’s favorites because it points up what humble novices the Beatles were and the mock worship of a chord is the equivalent of a desire for a woman or a drug.

All of this went right over the earnest poet’s head, Collins so certain that the Beatles were “inventing new chords.” That wasn’t the secret or the appeal of their music. Billy, the Beatles were not introducing new “chords” to the world. If Collins knew anything about their music, he wouldn’t have ventured this observation; Paul was too polite to correct him; he merely turned to his rich supply of jokes and anecdotes to brush the naivé poet aside; Paul did remind Collins in passing, during his rambling reply, that pop music, including much of the Beatles music, is built on three standard chords.

It was not a correction, or a lecture; it’s not Paul’s style to be didactic or stern; he laughed at Collins, but no one knew. When faced with the assertion that the central beauty of Beatles music was the new chord, he merely dragged out the B7 story. Paul was greatly influenced by his jazz musician father. Paul probably knew exactly what a B7 was. But it’s a great story, anyway.

Collins also made the cliched observation that early Beatles music wasn’t nearly as interesting as the Beatles’ later period—when a host of characters invaded their music, like Eleanor Rigby and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Well, yes, sure, the later Beatles did expand their lyric content superficially, but this makes 1967 and 1968 far more important than 1964 and 1965 in a way which obscures the Beatles’ real genius.  The early work was not just “love me do” and “yea yea yea.”  And as Paul impishly pointed out, the “sophisticated” lyric content Collins was naively hellbent on praising, was mostly due to—“drugs.”

Genius has a simplicity which the bumbling, ordinary understanding misses.  Collins hadn’t a clue what to ask Paul McCartney. Collins, the poet, was adrift on the notion that the Beatle song, “Penny Lane,” could perhaps pass as a poem.

Collins has written some very good poems and is obviously an intelligent man.

Blame the time we live in. The divide between poet and pop musician is so great, mutual interest can’t exist.

This demonstrates what John Crowe Ransom said almost a century ago: “the Modern” means specialization, and song and poetry, once brother and sister, are now different, have taken different jobs, and moved apart.

Whether this “specialization” is always a good thing, and whether poetry does not, in fact, live in great popular music, is perhaps the great aesthetic question of our day.  How long will modernism’s “specialization” estrangement hold sway?

It wasn’t like Paul McCartney was saying anything interesting about poetry. He never asked Collins about the secret to writing poetry, or seemed the least interested in what Collins wrote.  Here was the Paul that everyone hates, basking with a grin in the crowd’s adoration: “Yesterday. Maybe you’ve heard of it?  wink wink.” (This aspect of Paul’s behavior makes one long for the more sour Lennon—the truism of why they complimented each other.)

When Collins asked Paul about the difference between writing songs and poetry, Paul was certain they were different activities—which perhaps dooms McCartney’s (attempts at) poetry, and makes McCartney, on the flip side, a fool like Collins.

McCartney, surely knowing that he is a certified “failed poet,” opined that poetry to him was like writing in a “diary;” one brings in “things” to try and make them “interesting,” and this was either Paul’s way of insulting poetry—the kind Collins and modern poets write—or, it was what Paul really thinks poetry is.

But McCartney’s feeling was telling, for “diary writing” does not make one famous; and Paul was sitting their being interviewed because he is famous, and Collins, compared to McCartney is not, and no poet today is, and so Collins wanted to know what Paul thought—Paul didn’t care what the Collins, the “diary writer” thought.

Soon after the interview began, someone brought Paul a guitar, and it was his prop, his crutch, his ticket to glory; McCartney couldn’t stop nervously fiddling with it, almost as if any moment the guitar was going to demand it be played; no serious talk about poetry was going to take place in this studio—Paul had brought ‘his Yoko’ (guitar) to Collins’ sacred interview—it was the rock star’s space, not poor Billy’s. The guitar was there. And where was Billy Collins’ instrument? Billy Collins could have used his voice to quote great poetry throughout the interview; what would Paul McCartney have thought of that? Collins didn’t dare.

Collins did get to play teacher to the pop genius for a couple minutes: that’s what most poets are today—university professors. The interview was at a college because Paul is a step parent of a college student.  So Collins read a little from Paul’s book of published poetry, declaring it “good;” probably an agonizing couple of minutes for the pop star—McCartney’s “poetry”—and it must be obvious to everyone—is exceedingly average.

Collins did stumble on an interesting topic when he asked Paul about cover songs. Collins assumed that Paul had all sorts of opinions about others who covered Beatle songs, but Paul honestly said he was happy with anyone who played his music—“Wouldn’t you be happy if you heard someone on a street corner reciting one of your poems?” he asked Collins, and of course the sheepish response was yes.

This led to McCartney’s necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention anecdote, which does throw an interesting light on creation and performance: when the Beatles were first playing out in the shows that featured lots of other rock-and-roll bands, the Beatles used play-lists of “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard (1956 hit) and other songs by contemporary artists—the Beatles in the early days played other people’s material, not their own. What happened was, that bands who went on stage before the Beatles, would be covering the same songs—which the Beatles, fearing repetition, then couldn’t play.  And so, simply to avoid this problem, the Beatles wrote their own songs.

Paul said he dreamed “Yesterday,” and that he was sure at first that he copped a song that already existed.

Paul’s humility—one which humbly celebrates that creation is nothing but a kind of absent-minded, fortuitous  imitation—was something that Collins, the modern poet and “Beatles fan” couldn’t get his head around.

For imitation is finally at the heart of the whole matter: beware, beware, said Plato of imitation—do not trust art and its imitative reality.

To imitate is—to fool.

Today we have different brands of fancy yogurt—with 0% fat. Yogurt today, aping the original product, is robbed of an essential ingredient by diet faddists. Imitation of the old is practiced by the fraudulent—to lure fans to a fad. (Animal fat is good for you. Imitation non-fat yogurt, extremely popular, is actually bad for you. We should be wary of imitation, even as we admit how ubiquitous it is.)

The young, white Beatles played black music for millions of new, white “fans.” (Viewing on You Tube recently a June, 1965 concert in Paris, when the Beatles were at the height of Beatlemania fame, I noticed that the song played by the Beatles that got the audience most exited and brought out the most police protection was not a Beatles song; it was—Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally.”)

McCartney knows what the game finally involves, and what a “fan” really is—a foolish, bankrupt, byproduct of purely cynical and expedient imitation which attaches itself to something else—race, sex, etc—specifically to cater to new audiences for new sales.

The irony that Paul’s claim to fame is called, “Yesterday,” and that, despite his enormous talent, he has not produced anything memorable or critically acclaimed in the last two-thirds of his long, productive life, hovers over his current notoriety—a notoriety still able to steamroll Billy Collins and any poet who sits across from him.

The Beatles were a business.  They were in the music business. They wrote their own songs out of necessity, and those songs were created from a knowledge of other songs the Beatles absorbed as they were growing up and listening to their parents’ music—a vast, expansive library of old, lovely, tuneful music, too large for any ear to grasp, and later, American blues and country music, rock and roll music which already existed, which they learned as they played together in Liverpool, and then in Hamburg for hours and hours, weeks and weeks, months and months, and then back to Liverpool, over a period of years: the “10,000 hours to become proficient” formula was cited by Collins. Paul agreed that all those hours of playing, especially the long hours of performing in Hamburg long before the Beatles were famous, helped tremendously. It enabled them to play a great version of “Long Tall Sally,” for instance.

Paul did mention that he had a great English teacher in school who taught Shakespeare and Keats and Chaucer. Chaucer’s dirty bits got the students’ attention, Paul recalled, and he said if he were not a rock musician, his next choice of vocation would be a teacher of literature.

Why were the two—McCartney the lyric pop song writer, and Collins, the poet—unable to connect?

Collins played the fan, and Paul, the success.

Perhaps the great divide is this: Song: I love you. Literature: Let us examine what ‘I love you’ really means.

The theme of “appealing to girls” was a strong one. When Collins brandished students’ questions at the end of their talk, he made a point of saying that some of the questions were “can I meet you, later?”

Paul has often admitted, cheekily, the Beatles were formed “to meet girls,” and when he and Collins briefly discussed early Beatle lyrics the mockery was palpable: “love me, do;” “please, please me;” “she loves you.”

But the devil is in the details, and details were what the two refused to discuss.

This is what the “specialization” of modernism has done: it has made everyone generally ignorant.

The interview, by the logic of specialization, was forced into the following category: Famous Pop Musician Interview. This is where it remained.

McCartney, a phenomenal success in his field, seemed utterly ignorant of poetry; Collins, successful in poetry, seemed utterly ignorant of song.

In the modern age, we seem to like it this way. We prefer to be blind in a sea of “experts” and “specialists,” even when it hinders a great deal of interest and pleasure.

The English teacher—the one who obviously shaped McCartney—once imparted general knowledge: Shakespeare’s poetry was simply, the world.

But Shakespeare’s towering acheivement is now considered not “specialized” enough.

The student of poetry in the Creative Writing Program New Order is now a diarist who specializes in themselves. This is the specialization which now dominates everything and fosters general ignorance.

The truth is that “She Loves You” is a lot more interesting than “I Love You”—it is a whole order of magnitude more interesting. It involves three people instead of two, and is, in fact, a master Shakesperian stroke. Collins was ignorant of this, and even Paul seemed so, as well. Early Beatle work was dismissed by both men as juvenile. Popular song, even as popular as the phenomenal success of the Beatles, was assumed—by two men who should have known better—to have absolutely no poetic interest. And somehow love songs—music “appealing to girls,” was assumed to be vacuous, when, in fact, nothing is more interesting and complex than love and its attractions.

But this is what happens in an age of specialization.

Love belongs to friendship and sex to the prostitute.

Everything is business. Everything is expediently separated out—to the destruction of the whole person. This alienation brought about by division of labor overlaps the Marxist complaint—which makes sense on its own, without having to get into a Left v. Right quarrel, or a Socialist v. Capitalist one—more specialized nonsense that covers up what unites us. Division of labor here and there has its place, obviously, but one can see how, in modernity, it simply gets out of hand, killing the whole person.

When does division help? Certainly the Marxist complaint against division of labor can get out of hand, as well.

Why should we rue the fact that Collins is Collins and McCartney is McCartney? Perhaps it is good neither artist understands the others’ art—isn’t this what makes each excellent? Isn’t it good that song is with song, and poetry is with poetry? Perhaps modern specialization and its divisions make perfect sense. We simply can’t have Shakespeare anymore: the best we can do is have a McCartney here and a Collins there.

Or: perhaps the Beatles output as a whole could only have happened because of Shakespeare, and poetry in general will decline if we forget general knowledge and indulge in highly modernist, Creative Writing Program, specializing.

Paul’s song “For No One” belongs to the Beatles earlier period, or, perhaps more accurately, the middle “Yesterday” period—and this remarkable song has no chance in the Collins universe which divides the Beatles work into unsophisticated “love songs” and sophisticated songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane.”

It might be argued that Paul wrote “Yesterday” as a revenge against “Long Tall Sally,” the song that perhaps in the boys’ minds remained their best Beatlemania song, despite all their original output.

“For No One” emerged during the “Yesterday” period, and received little attention—fans liked it, but it was just another “love song.” Critics liked it, too, and some admired it as more sophisticated than “yea, yea, yea,” but Billy Collins wasn’t going to bring it up. It remains an obscure Beatle song.

But this is the sort of Modernist mistake which boasts that everything 19th century is naivé and sing-songy and no one needs to write like Keats and Byron anymore, and that crunchy content is everything. But the truth of the matter is that simple words can be very profound, and the song “For No One” is a very profound song.

The modern prose poem which Collins writes relies on crunchy content to carry its message. And humor. And Collins happens to be very good at this kind of poem—Collins really is as good in this area as McCartney is in his.

The point of this essay is not that McCartney is a greater genius than Collins—only to observe the intersection between a sensibility based on modern poetry and a sensibility based on pop music within the context of: What is art? What is significant? What is valuable? What contributes to the making of art?

Music adds to what Paul is doing as a poet in his songs: “she loves you” written on the page is not the same as “she loves you” sung with music in the Lennon-McCartney composition. But that does not mean “she loves you” is not poetry, nor does it mean that poets do not have the music of words at their disposal—they certainly do, even as metrical language and rhyme tends to be eschewed by modern poets like Collins.

Another feature of modern poetry which is relevant and makes it so different from a pop music sensibility is the pride of exclusivity—the powerful New Critic idea that worthy, sophisticated poetry needs and wants nothing from outside. This New Critical view inhibits truth, for all art is formed by what happens outside of it, and this is one more unfortunate, if noble, error the modernists made.

The truth is finally what we seek—whether it is in science, in love, in politics, or in art.

If we view poetry through the modernist lens that a poem exists on an island of its own making, we cannot possibly see the truth of what makes McCartney’s music interesting.

Collins, schooled in modernist poetry, praised later Beatle compositions like “Eleanor Rigby,” since they feature “characters” in a little drama: there on the island of Paul’s song is a unique world, a unique character named Eleanor Rigby—enough to please any modernist New Critic. And the song is a good one, spoiled a little by the lyrics which telegraph its message: “look at all the lonely people.”

But what Collins cannot appreciate is this:

“Eleanor Rigby” features an interesting metrical/music based on a pronounced dactylic/trochaic rhythm.

The character’s name in Paul’s composition couldn’t be Eleanor Smith—based on sound alone.

If her name were Eleanor Smith, it would be a different song—rhythmically and melodically. A totally different song. But in a Collins poem, changing Eleanor Rigby to Eleanor Smith would hardly matter.

These sorts of considerations are just as important in early Beatle songs as later Beatle songs. They used to be important in poetry, too. Collins, the modern poet, is fixated on Eleanor Rigby, the character, but she’s not a character. She’s a piece of rhythm. Collins, as a modern poet, has a limited appreciation of pop music. Rhythm used to be crucial in poetry, but since modernism, it no longer is.

Paul, who was writing rhythmical poetry in his Beatle songs unconsciously, attempted to write what he thought was “real poetry” for his book, Blackbird Singing, and failed.

The truth is this: poems are not islands: it matters very much how they get made, and Paul wildly successful, and, at the same time, humble and humorous and without pretence, admitted that the Beatles’ creativity was extremely imitative and accidental—the Beatles’ “creativity” existed in the context of merely expanding a crowd-pleasing playlist containing a certain type of composition which they were basically imitating in the manner of excited boys trying to please girls.

But genius can grow in any soil, and the plainer and simpler the soil, the more profoundly is genius able to display itself. Genius is not a complication within a complication; genius is that which blows complication to bits. And the truth is always the larger truth: what are all the facts about this poem-song?

Paul wrote “For No One” on a ski holiday with Jane Asher in March, 1966, roughly a year after “Yesterday” and it has the same theme, only expressed in a slightly more dramatic way. But it wasn’t on Collins’ radar because “For No One” only uses “you” and “her,” and doesn’t have a real crunchy content. It happens to be one of those exquisite pop songs which teeters on the edge of “poetry,” and yet wouldn’t really turn heads as a poem, if it were just presented on the page.

But what is amazing is that “for no one,” the phrase itself, has a meaning that is ambiguous in the song—“cried for no one” refers to the woman who is leaving the man, the woman who has now moved on—and so we have emotion (“cried”) coupled with indifference (“for no one”).

“No One” turns out to have meaning outside the song itself, if we think of Paul McCartney’s actual identity as a writer of hit songs.

The phrase may refer to: 1. the faceless crowd (which is “no one”) 2. himself, who is “no one” compared to the famous songwriter Beatle, 3. The famous songwriter Beatle, who is “no one” compared to Paul, the person, 4. John, who was pulling away from him as co-songwriter and friend, and thus, “no one,” or 5. “no one” needs or truly expresses insincere pop song emotions in pop songs.

All these work—outside of the poignant and relevant meaning “for no one” has within the song.

This is the sort of territory we hoped Collins might have ventured into in his discussion with McCartney, but nothing like this could occur. Specialization—Collins’ role as humbled modernist poet/pop fan—prevents it.

There’s a You Tube video of Paul in the studio with just an acoustic guitar, as he first auditions “For No One” for Beatles’ producer George Martin, and one is struck immediately by the confidence, the melodic invention, the nonchalant effort of the genius, who plays the song quickly, it pouring out of him, seemingly without thought. And we notice something else: “For No One” concerns the saddest situation it is possible to experience in ordinary life: loving someone who no longer cares about you—and yet, despite the poignancy and misery expressed overtly by the lyrics, Paul, as he plays it in all its expressive sadness, smiles at one point, and is thoroughly enjoying himself. He is able to be two-sided, not weighed down by the weight, Paul McCartney taking flight into a heaven of accomplishment and pleasure—even in the very misery of the subject of the song.

 

 

 

POEMS OF SCARY DEPTH: BILLY COLLINS SEEKS TO ADVANCE PAST LORD BYRON

Byron: hated by husbands and modern poets. Can Billy Collins match up with him?

The chief objection to the poet from the typical sports watching lay person is that the poet ‘makes shit up.’

Yup, the poet does ‘make shit up’ and this is why philosophers like Plato object to them and why citizens immersed in reality have no time for them.

The world is full of shit, and shit is what most people are busily involved in—it’s the making the poets supposedly do which arouses suspicion and distaste for poets, because first of all, only God and people who work with their hands can ‘make’ something, and secondly, anyone who ‘makes’ something with words has got to be suspicious right from the start.

Common sense keeps words docile and doesn’t let words do anything tricky; poetry, on the other hand, lets words do anything they want; why should someone who maybe doubts their ability to keep all words under control, never mind all word-combinations under control, trust poetry?

It’s not surprising that poetry doesn’t have a lot of fans.

One might object by asking: what of the fabulist, the fictioneer, the novelist, the TV or movie script-writer? They get more love than the poet. Why?  Don’t they make up stuff with words, too?

Unlike the poet, the strict story-teller uses reality’s language, even if fantasy or sci-fi is the genre: words behaving themselves can talk about anything, but poet’s words do not behave. Misbehaving words afflict the mind itself, transforming the reader into something they may not recognize about themselves. This is scary.

The reader needs to feel safe: they prefer moral instruction which keeps their own mind intact as a reality construct, receiving reality’s information. Keeping a ‘made-up story’ at arm’s length is safe. Having your mind invaded by tricky words is something totally different.

The predictability of genre, reviewing, reader feedback and the ‘best seller’ phenomenon is crucial: this is why readers choose books by genre, by reviews, by recommendation, and by what’s on the ‘best-seller’ list.  The moral arc of predictable story-telling comforts the reader. The brains of most readers cannot receive beauty in language; words simply tell them what they can understand, and this is all that reading is for them.

Poets don’t cooperate with this system, because words which don’t obey a certain moral-reality-paradigm literally alter one’s brain and one’s morals.  Not all poets can do this, of course, nor could most readers have their brains altered by what they read even if they tried; but this is the perception in terms of readers generally choosing what they like or do not like.

Two poets who have more fans than most are contemporary poet Billy Collins, and 19th century poet Lord Byron, who had celebrity status from his poetry.

Collins takes great pains to not sound like a traditional poet.

Selling books is like herding bovines. Large house editors and publishers, if they really wanted to, could make Byron’s Don Juan a best-seller again: it would just require a large enough advertising budget and a movie tie-in.

It is not in the interest of publishers to do so, however, since if the industry can sell millions of books written in the plain style of King or Steele or Grisham, why raise the bar, Byron being so much a better writer?  Why build a cathedral when a wooden church will do?

Byron (beautiful, smart, funny) is dutifully kept in his place by the publishing industry; first of all, to make sure no authors feel they have to write well (like Byron) to sell, and secondly, Byron today occupies a down-trodden, sub-sub-position even within wretched poetry which, since Byron’s death, has morphed into a ‘modern’ product of plain speech and easy-to-grasp morals—as part of fiction’s publishing strategy of ‘most efficient bovine herding.’

Byron doesn’t sell today on account of being one of those tricky poets who ‘make shit up,’ barred from the lay reader’s comprehension.

Not only that, however: Byron is not even respected among poets today as a poet, rejected by them precisely because he is comprehended.

During poetry’s transformation from pretty to plain during WW I—when poets who wrote prettily (Brooke, Thomas, Owen) were literally being slaughtered in the trenches—as poems became plain-spoken to fit in with mass living, a last-minute alteration occured: seeing poetry had nothing now to distinguish it from plain speech, in a calmly calculated effort to keep poetry as the ‘elite’ art form everyone understood poetry to be, poetry labeled itself “difficult,” so that in its new plain state at least it would not completely disappear.

The anglo-american poetry industry made a Faustian bargain: poetry will continue to exist as a “difficult” genre the lay person cannot trust—and this will be poetry’s sole (but vital) distinguishing characteristic. It would attract a small following of the mad, but at least it would still exist as what the mad groupies were sure was “poetry.”

Not everyone in Modernville was happy this happened, but it did. Exceptions, of course, exist. Poets, determined to be understood, have written easily understood poems: on wheel barrows. But once an industry criterion is established, it doesn’t easily go away: a wheel barrow in a poem has deep meaning whether it really does—or not.  This is the iron law.  It has long since been established as poetry’s trade-pamphlet reality: all poems are/ought to be “difficult,” even little ones about wheel barrows. 

Poetry—whether by Byron, or not—is not popular today because not being popular became poetry’s identifying marker when poetry self-consciously became ‘modern’ and jettisoned all its previous charms.

Again, exceptions exist; elements of the public yearn to reverse the Modernist Faustian Bargain, and popular poems do peep through the cement occasionally. But obscenity-trial “Howl” was an ugly flower; the public still mistrusts poetry; “difficulty” lingers on as poetry’s identifying elitist marker.

Byron (past) and Collins (present) are good examples of populist, anti-modernist poetry; they are welcome participants in Scarriet’s 2013 Madness Tournament.

Collins writes plainly; it is the equivalent of one approaching a doe in the woods: “It’s okay! Don’t be afraid! I won’t hurt you!”

“At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats,” is the first line of Collins’ Madness Tournament entry, “Passengers.” 

There is no meter, no rhyme; just one line after another, as if it were prose—but easier.

Gently the doe is offered food: “At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats.”

PASSENGERS–Billy Collins

At the gate, I sit in a row of blue seats
with the possible company of my death,
this sprawling miscellany of people—
carry-on bags and paperbacks—

that could be gathered in a flash
into a band of pilgrims on the last open road.
Not that I think
if our plane crumpled into a mountain

we would all ascend together,
holding hands like a ring of sky divers,
into a sudden gasp of brightness,
or that there would be some common spot

for us to reunite to jubilize the moment,
some spaceless, pillarless Greece
where we could, at the count of three,
toss our ashes into the sunny air.

It’s just that the way that man has his briefcase
so carefully arranged,
the way that girl is cooling her tea,
and the flow of the comb that woman

passes through her daughter’s hair…
and when you consider the altitude,
the secret parts of engines,
and all the hard water and the deep canyons below…

well, I just think it would be good if one of us
maybe stood up and said a few words,
or, so as not to involve the police,
at least quietly wrote something down.

Collins does not ‘make shit up,’ he merely records his quirky ruminations—the charming thing about “Passengers” is that it exists as an actual document of someone thinking about something which he cannot share.

The very people Collins could share it with are not allowed to access his thoughts—and the reason it cannot be shared is the very reason for the poem itself.

The “police” are absent censors until the poem is liberated in front of us—who become the “passengers” of Collins’ poem.

Byron is represented with a random excerpt from his long poem, Don Juan:

Hail, Muse! et cetera.—We left Juan sleeping,
       Pillow’d upon a fair and happy breast,
     And watch’d by eyes that never yet knew weeping,
       And loved by a young heart, too deeply blest
     To feel the poison through her spirit creeping,
       Or know who rested there, a foe to rest,
     Had soil’d the current of her sinless years,
     And turn’d her pure heart’s purest blood to tears!

     O, Love! what is it in this world of ours
       Which makes it fatal to be loved? Ah, why
     With cypress branches hast thou Wreathed thy bowers,
       And made thy best interpreter a sigh?
     As those who dote on odours pluck the flowers,
       And place them on their breast—but place to die—
     Thus the frail beings we would fondly cherish
     Are laid within our bosoms but to perish.

     In her first passion woman loves her lover,
       In all the others all she loves is love,
     Which grows a habit she can ne’er get over,
       And fits her loosely—like an easy glove,
     As you may find, whene’er you like to prove her:
       One man alone at first her heart can move;
     She then prefers him in the plural number,
     Not finding that the additions much encumber.

     I know not if the fault be men’s or theirs;
       But one thing ‘s pretty sure; a woman planted
     (Unless at once she plunge for life in prayers)
       After a decent time must be gallanted;
     Although, no doubt, her first of love affairs
       Is that to which her heart is wholly granted;
     Yet there are some, they say, who have had none,
     But those who have ne’er end with only one.

     ‘T is melancholy, and a fearful sign
       Of human frailty, folly, also crime,
     That love and marriage rarely can combine,
       Although they both are born in the same clime;
     Marriage from love, like vinegar from wine—
       A sad, sour, sober beverage—by time
     Is sharpen’d from its high celestial flavour
     Down to a very homely household savour.

     There ‘s something of antipathy, as ‘t were,
       Between their present and their future state;
     A kind of flattery that ‘s hardly fair
       Is used until the truth arrives too late—
     Yet what can people do, except despair?
       The same things change their names at such a rate;
     For instance—passion in a lover ‘s glorious,
     But in a husband is pronounced uxorious.

Byron is self-consciously rejecting old poetry with his jokey, “Hail, Muse! et cetera.”  Byron is more modern than many moderns would like to admit. Maybe it’s time to come out and admit that “Modern” is merely a brand. 

Byron, like Collins, also conveys the forbidden: love/sex/marriage advice: highly embarrassing to the public at large, which would prefer Byron to be a character in a novel, not a free-thinking poet speaking out in a poem as a thinly-veiled version of himself.

The chief fault with the Byron is the tone of lecturing, combined with the feeling that too much sweat is spilled for the sake of wit and rhyme that attempts to mitigate that same tone.  Otherwise, it’s just brilliant.

Collins, despite his prose, does use poetic language; note the assonance of: “some spaceless, pillarless Greece.”

One might say Collins and Byron are apples and oranges, but a winner there must be.

Collins 90, Byron 88.

Lord Byron goes down!

CAN BILLY COLLINS SMOKE BEN MAZER?

After it has been read, a novel can feel less substantial in a reader’s mind when compared to a brief poem—if the novel’s focus is narrow, and the poem’s is wide.

America buys more novels than poems because we don’t trust our minds.  We need the concrete fact: I read 288 pages—and it was a ‘good read.’  The author took me somewhere.  I had a good time with him.  He bought me dinner, and then took me home. 

The poet and his one-page poem, however, barely murmur hello.  How rude is that?

It is true, that aesthetically, the novel which persists in keeping theme and plot narrowly tied up in a small, dim room, so that no chapter, character, or minor observance can move without bumping into one other, is usually a winner.  Novels we read in an afternoon, that unwind from a single spool, novels we can picture nearly all at once, like The Great Gatsby, have that narrow vision we like.  Compared to a novel like that, a one-page poem can be haphazard, sprawling, and damn confusing.

The confusing one-page poem is a wretched thing, and yet so many poets persist in it—why?   The poet suffers from penis-envy, perhaps; he’s not a novelist, so he’s going to make up for it by bulking up his little poem with as many facts as possible.  Poets used to view facts as the enemy.  What happened?  Why are poets now so in love with facts?  You can say, with a sly, Ashbery grin, well they are not really facts, but this doesn’t alter the aesthetic impact, the stylistic impression, the final result in the mind of the reader.

The ‘revolution’ of 20th century poetry can be summed up thusly: Death to Victorian rhyming poetry that tells a moral story!   The result, a hundred years later, is the Ashbery poem.  With all its myriad little facts indifferently mixed together in a funhouse mirror tale, the Ashbery poem  perfectly realizes that cry: Death to Victorian rhyming poetry that tells a moral story! 

But at Ashbery’s back I always hear: Auden—who kept jabbering away like a Victorian, even as he walked in the cool, modern idiom, even as he awarded Ashbery the Yale Younger.  Sometimes fine resemblances, more than the major distinctions, do us the most good.  Auden—if you read his early obscure poems you see Ashbery—perfected that indifferent voice which pipes in with facts, not in the Victorian, earnest, writing-a-novel-in-a-poem sort of way, but carelessly, so that facts pour in and shape the poem, rather than the poem shaping the facts. 

Isn’t this the major difference, after all, between the Victorian poem and the Ashbery poem?  In the Ashbery poem, the facts shape the poem; in the Victorian poem, the poem shapes the facts.  But still…the modern experiment can only go so far—and how far did it really go?  Too far, because didn’t it kind of kill poetry’s public, as American poetry now survives on creative writing workshop students reading one another? 

The poets cannot rhyme—the Victorians did that.  The poets cannot tell moral stories—the Victorians did that. 

But the best aesthetic revolutions should tell us what we can do, not what we can’t do.

Look at this poem by Auden.  It features two characters: the ambitious Victorian and the indifferent Modern.  It pre-dates Godot by 15 years.  It’s a novel-in-a-poem:

Who’s Who

A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day;
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea;
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.

With all his honours on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.

The Moderns decided to chuck the “long marvelous letters” of the Victorian era, and replace them with blueprints of cryptic psychological truth.  Auden is careful not to reveal the gender of the indifferent Modern.  Maybe it’s Byron writing to Larkin?  Or Byron writing to Auden, himself?

Enough yapping.  Let’s rumble.   Collins v. Mazer.

Collins may seem like a zombie Victorian rising from the grave, but he’s just another version of that Modern who refuses to answer that Victorian’s “long marvelous letters.”  Collins is us.  Ashbery is us.  Just another modern version of that indifferent character in Auden’s “Who’s Who.”  Collins is enjoying his little world.  Note the wry reference to the 19th century:

 THE BEST CIGARETTE

There are many that I miss
having sent my last one out a car window
sparking along the road one night, years ago.

The heralded one, of course:
after sex, the two glowing tips
now the lights of a single ship;
at the end of a long dinner
with more wine to come
and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
or on a white beach,
holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

How bittersweet these punctuations
of flame and gesture;
but the best were on those mornings
when I would have a little something going
in the typewriter,
the sun bright in the windows,
maybe some Berlioz on in the background.
I would go into the kitchen for coffee
and on the way back to the page,
curled in its roller,
I would light one up and feel
its dry rush mix with the dark taste of coffee.

Then I would be my own locomotive,
trailing behind me as I returned to work
little puffs of smoke,
indicators of progress,
signs of industry and thought,
the signal that told the nineteenth century
it was moving forward.
That was the best cigarette,
when I would steam into the study
full of vaporous hope
and stand there,
the big headlamp of my face
pointed down at all the words in parallel lines.

“holding one with fingers still wet from a swim” is glorious.   This is what the poets should be giving us today, instead of X, Y, Z on a blackboard.

Collins foregrounds the writing process itself in the second half of the poem, and this reflexivity is a Renaissance trope.  Collins is no Victorian, but he travels backwards a lot.  But this is what poets do.  The modern (post-modern, etc etc) poet is, in truth, an oxymoron.  Collins is obsessed with clarity.  (The future, i.e., the modern, is never clear.) That, alone, puts him above most of his contemporaries, who hint at everything, who struggle to say something so differently that obscurity results—because they think this makes them more literary, or more intelligent. 

Collins may be guilty of hinting too much in this poem: the locomotive trope may be too clever for its own good, ostentatiously following its tracks over a cliff.  Invoking 19th century progress is not exactly done in a joking manner; Collins, the first-person poet, is always so good-natured that the reader can relax (what’s wrong with that?)—and not worry about catching anxious irony and mockery.  One puff of smoke equals another puff of smoke.  The humor is gentle and self-effacing.  There’s no reaching after “long marvelous letters.” 

We have touched on a number of themes and they all come together in Ben Mazer’s poem—by which he hopes to pull off a miracle, and advance to the fourth round in Scarriet’s 2012 March Madness Tournament: defeating Ashbery, Heaney, and now, Billy Collins:

THE IMPERIALIST GOES TO INDIA
 
Hey, you look just like your facebook photo.
No, you don’t! I read your pores like a map
of everything that’s wrong with the world,
plus everything that’s right. Fields and fields
of daffodils and roses and poppies extending
all the way to the edge of the unshorn
virgin territories unexplored by balloon.
What is the word for this? It wells up
like silence in my groin and chokes
up in my throat like consonants
depleted of syllables. Ooooooooo
then nothing. I sit by a roadside
and have my fortune told. My lines speak triumph
but the voice that cloaks them is ominous.
I may have left Omaha and Idaho
to come to this, but I have fallen in love
and will not leave this till death wrenches me.
Like a librarian without a library
my love shines, she is loved by everyone!
Even small animals adorn her Madras
silks, would gladly die for her.
She cleans her perfect teeth with poppy seeds
and looks on me with a pure look of love.
What is it I see on the other side of myself?
I see, I see, a thousand monkeys
looking through a glass that separates
me from you—I see you trying
to penetrate the glass, but I can’t hear your words.
What are you saying? This drama is intense,
too much is swarming over the old castle walls.
Is this what my aunt meant back in Omaha?
Believe in yourself. Do what you love.
I thought that I had power, held the strings
to my own destiny, and those of others.
Or is that all a dream, will I awake
to find I loved what I already knew.
 
There is more anxiety in Mazer’s first-person—and there is something terribly endearing about the poem’s anxiety, because it’s so sad, without being complaining or hysterical, and it has hidden, nuanced humor: “plus everything that’s right.”  The icy humor of the post-modern.  plus everything that’s right.
 
How a poem ends is 90% of a poem’s success.  We like how Mazer’s poem ends—with a poignancy that sums up the feeling of the entire poem. 
 
By comparison, Collins’ ending feels too clinical: that comparison of train tracks to lines of poetry—we don’t like it!  It spoils a nice poem.  Puffing smoke like a locomotive, the industrious poet is a clown, here, and humor is the way we might say goodbye to our romantic cigarettes.  The poem is certainly winning.  But does it win against Mazer?
 
Oh my God…not another upset…
 
It is possible…?
 
Mazer 80 Collins 78
 
MAZER WINS AGAIN!!!!

ROUND 3 BEGINS: BILLY COLLINS V. BEN MAZER

Collins: The 2010 Scarriet Tourney Champ and still in the hunt in 2012

Two years ago Billy Collins won it all: the Scarriet/BAP March Madness Tourney, and last year Scarriet/APR crowned Philip Larkin—only because one of Larkin’s best poems happened to be published in APR.

This year, the recent Penguin Anthology of 20th century American poetry, edited by Rita Dove, was the book used by Scarriet, but we confined the tourney to living authors and we did draw from a few poets not included in the anthology, because we figured: look, it’s missing Plath and Ginsberg, so we allowed ourselves that license.

The best poems in the Dove come from dead poets—in fact, when it comes to good poems, or famous poems, the latter half of the book is falling off a cliff: where are those “best-loved poems?”  The last 50 years haven’t produced any. They don’t exist anymore.  It isn’t that good poems are no longer being written; it’s that we lack an apparatus to compile and display poems that stick in the public consciousness.  What’s missing is salesmanship that relentlessly pushes The Famous Poem.  The Big Poem lifts all boats, but the sea itself is dry.  The boats have been cut up for firewood and set aflame, that individual poets might warm their hands.

Part of the problem is that editors  no longer know what The Famous Poem is.

The novelists are writing the famous poetry—yes, poetry is still earning its keep—in novels.

And if the poets accuse the novelist by saying, That’s not poetry! who is going to take the poets seriously?  The poets who have been saying poetry isn’t poetry anymore for at least 50 years?

So the irony.   Poetry still sells: but in Booker Prize-type novels.  Of course this is embarrassing to the poetry anthologists and to poetry in general.

Here’s what happened: it was laid out by Harold Bloom in the New York Review 25 years ago—if you are a poet, you must choose either Emerson or Poe as a model, (Bloom said it explicitly, just like that) and (according to Bloom, with the weight of the New York Review’s taste behind him) you better not choose Poe.  Emerson’s children are Whitman and Williams, Poe’s, European prose masters and poets who write the pure fire of meter and rhyme, like Richard Wilbur or Seamus Heaney.  But of course rhyme is not something one simply chooses to do—one must do it very well to have an impact.  To even slightly fail at rhyme is to crash and burn.  Line-breaks in prose never prove disastrous—it always works, in its way.   One cannot demand poets perform a formalist high-wire act; and if they don’t want to do it, why make them get up there?  Most poets are happier performing line-breaks on the ground.  You can’t make someone risk their life for their art.  You can’t tell someone who lives in a valley to climb a mountain.

The bigger problem, however, is that the whole idea of The Famous Poem has been abandoned.  Here’s a universally admired poem has been replaced by You might like this one.

What’s important about the Universally Admired Poem is that it, more than anything else, defines poetry for us all.  Defining it on a blackboard (or writing on a blackboard, ‘A poem can be anything’ or ‘A poem ought to have a political agenda’) is all well and good—but it really is the poetry, or the poem, that shows us what poetry can do, what poetry is.  What else can tell us, but the poem that is universally admired?

“Universally admired” might stick in some people’s craw—but what does that say about their craw?  How can “universally admired” be anything but good?  Yet there will be those—you know who you are—who will object to that phrase, and who will fear its implications.

In Robert Pinsky’s Favorite Poem Project Anthology, published in 2000 and titled America’s Favorite Poems, with American poets and poets from other countries, Poe, Shelley, and Billy Collins are excluded. (Rita Dove, who published Pinsky in her anthology, was included in Pinsky’s book).   These are quibbles, perhaps, but excluding those three poets seems a bit…crazy.

But back to Collins versus Mazer.  Perhaps we don’t live in a ‘Poetry Anthology Age’ and there’s no hope of producing popular poets anymore.  It seemed for awhile that Billy Collins was poised to become another Robert Frost in terms of notoriety, but the Robert Pinskys of the world perhaps don’t want it to be so.

We know this: Mazer will need to be at his best to advance past Collins!  

Mazer has already upset Ashbery—and Heaney!   Can he do it again?

BILLY COLLINS AND MARIE HOWE IN SWEET SIXTEEN SMACKDOWN!!

Billy Collins has a popular appeal which annoys the poetry avant-garde—who have no popular appeal.  The reason, the sophisticated say, is that the populace is simple and Collins is simple, and thus the appeal.  But this is too simple. 

A Collins poem is vivid.  That’s his secret.  A Collins poem is first constructed as an objective thing in space, with a certain size and shape.  The poem proper is Collins describing the first poem.  Collins makes his poems twice.  The first constuction exists as a visible three-dimensional object, with light and atmosphere, and all that makes a visible object visible as a visible entity. The second construction is the poem—a translation of the first vision.

It has nothing to do with Collins’ easily understood ideas.   Difficult ideas belong to philosophy, not poetry, for obvious reasons. 

Comforting ideas are dismissed as easy ideas, but this is a gross error.  Philosophy was never meant to comfort—it has to do with the understanding only.  But when ideas do comfort, this is a rare and profound pleasure, like beauty, and poetry is the ideal place for comforting ideas, and to express comforting ideas takes skill and vision.  Authentic comfort requires the sort of vision which produces the vivid effects we get in Collins’ poems.

The following poem, in which Collins banks on advancing to the Sweet 16, is comforting and moral, but note how these qualities exist,  not in the telling, or in metaphor, or in any rhetorical tricks, but in the purely visual aspect of the poem:

THE DEAD

The dead are always looking down on us, they say.
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.

They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a long afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,
which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.

Collins is underestimated by those who fail to see his poems, and also by those who mistake comforting ideas for easy, or trivial ones.

Here Collins may have met his match, however. 

The following poem by Marie Howe may seem like a Billy Collins poem.

But it’s not.

Collins’ poems exist vividly in time and space, such that their existence precludes the need for metaphor.

Marie Howe’s poem is disturbing/comforting and it all revolves around a metaphor.  The poem is strange, and it’s not fully realized in the way the best Collins poems are.  It does not feel that it is necessary that we be comforted in this manner.  That’s the difference.  The great poem feels strange but inevitable; the almost-great poem always feels strange rather than inevitable.

WHAT THE ANGELS LEFT

At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

What are these scisssors and why do they want to be used?  The poet tells us the scissors feel like “grace,” but do they to the reader? They accumulate, then they are put outside, snowed on, and when the spring mud appears, they are gone.  It’s a very interesting poem, but it feels slightly more odd than necessary.  Is it nature triumphing over man-made things?  In that case, maybe the poem does feel necessary.  But in that case does it feel a little too easily done?

Collins feels like the master who creates a comforting mystery with a few strokes.  Howe is the mannerist who follows in the master’s footsteps, though in this poem she is perhaps equal to him.

Collins 69 Howe 68

BILLY COLLINS, NO. 4, SEED BATTLES CAROL ANN DUFFY, BRITISH POET LAUREATE

DUFFY

Duffy, the British poet laureate, takes on the best-selling Billy Collins.

Billy Collins is a popular American poet who teaches poetry; born in 1941, he is the same age as the Creative Writing Program era, and represents (in many people’s minds) the comfortable, jokey, white middle class.  This following poem was chosen by Rita Dove to  represent Collins in her anthology of 20th Century American poetry, and it features Collins as poetry teacher acting defensively towards the masses who want poems to ‘mean something:’

INTRODUCTION TO POETRY

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

What I find ironic about this is that Collins has succeeded precisely as a ‘poet of meaning;’ all his success turns on meaning; he takes extra pains in his poems to make himself understood by the common reader in poems that boil down, essentially, to jokes one could tell in a bar.  “Introduction to Poetry” has a meaning: poems don’t need to mean anything, and so, ironically, it’s a very typical Collins poem—because it has meaning.

But there’s an extra pleasure to Collins, and this is why he’s good, and the best selling poet alive today.  He manages—with humor’s exaggeration—to laugh at the whole enterprise: he wants his students to “waterski across the surface of a poem,” which, when you think about it, is absurd, and parodies the nutty creative writing teacher lording it over his students who just want to understand.  On one (obvious) level, the poem defends Creative Writing’s modern flip-off—meaning is so 19th century, man!—but on another, more secretive level, the joke is on the modern Creative Writing teacher—urging students to “waterski” (??) on the poem.

Meaning means 3 point shots, lots of them, and lots of points—which one can see on the scoreboard.  Collins piles up the points.  He scores.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955-) comes from middle class Great Britain and became British poet laureate in 2009, the first woman to ever hold that distinguished position.  Her poem, “Valentine,” has meaning in the form of an equation: onion = love.  The poem’s metaphorical formula is all the poem is.  You cut onions, luv.  The smell gets under your fingers.

VALENTINE

Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

The onion has many uses.  Why shouldn’t an onion be a metaphor for love?   One admires the novelty of the metaphor, which manages to invoke beauty (moon) and earnestness (its fierce kiss will stay on your lips) but the wide-ranging and flexible character of an onion works better for the onion than it does for Duffy’s poem, which finally seems nothing but a clever riff on that flexibility.  The poem never really transcends ‘love is like an onion’ in its conventional, formulaic sense.  The term “lethal” at the end seems forced.  The metaphoric exercise never really comes to life, remaining on the level of a string of nice and somewhat unusual comparisons.  The poem is nicely pasted together, but it never really gets up and walks.  Do onions make us cry like love does?  Of course not, but here, for “Valentine” to work, it would seem the answer, at least for a moment, needs to be yes, because, the poem is finally about…an onion…and not love.  We suppose one could say there aren’t many poems that do much more than this poem does: ride the horse of metaphor for all its worth: “Not a red rose or a satin heart.”  An onion.  But where does the poem finally go?  It doesn’t seem to go anywhere in that last stanza.  This poem is not “cute!” Duffy is careful to tell us.
In case we miss the meaning.
Collins romps 90-77.

BILLY COLLINS WINS WHITE HOUSE READING

There’s no crying in poetry criticism.

So why is everyone afraid to actually judge the recent White House poetry reading?

The post-modern school of U.S. poetry is always pushing forward, like commuters on a platform when a train pulls in late, or frantic competitors buying tickets for a plane in the award-winning Amazing Race reality show.

Eager to find the newest way in which the mundane can be declared poetic, the avant-garde scrambles up the next peak of platitude to plant a flag marked ‘poetry.’

The whole modernist/post-modernist history of the avant-garde, from Rimbaud to Apollinaire to Kenneth Goldsmith, is wrapped up in a single concept: the ‘Found Poem Syndrome,’ in which the avant-garde artist, like King Midas, turns everything to poetry-gold with a mere touch.

There is a different tradition.

In this tradition, poetry seeks to connect in a far different manner.  Milton hints at this tradition cunningly, if bombastically, in Book I of his Paradise Lost:

my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.
And chiefly thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for thou know’st; thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread,
Dove-like sat’st brooding on the vast Abyss,
And mad’st it pregnant: what in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That, to the height of this great argument,
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.

This tradition is typically characterized by the Greek ideal of arete, or excellence, the Romantic sublime, or Shelley’s “scorner of the ground,” but it can be explained in a more humble light: it is simply the reverse of the Found Poem Syndrome.

Instead of trying to make everything poetic, the sublime tradition defers poetic appropriation, and takes the wary, Platonist approach, exploiting the tension between the poetic and the not poetic.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 145 is a good example of the poet eager to explore the poetic as desire in the Platonist tradition—rather than a ‘found poem,’ we get the tantalizingly lost:

Those lips that Love’s own hand did make,
Breathed forth the sound that said ‘I hate’,
To me that languished for her sake:
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet,
Was used in giving gentle doom:
And taught it thus anew to greet:
‘I hate’ she altered with an end,
That followed it as gentle day,
Doth follow night who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away.
‘I hate’, from hate away she threw,
And saved my life saying ‘not you’

We have, then, the ‘Rare’ tradition on one hand, and, on the other, the modernist Found Poem tradition—which asserts the poetic in as many ways as possible.

Both traditons showed up at the May 11 White House poetry reading, but only one poet gave us the arete or sublime, tradition: Billy Collins.

Jack Powers ran a poetry group in Boston called “Stone Soup Poetry,” consisting of misfits on welfare who met in a restaurant until they were banned—for anti-social behavior: being rude to the servers or hogging a table for hours to drink one cup of coffee—only to move on to the next restaurant.   The poetry was awful, but anyone calling themselves a poet had an audience and a scene, and since helping misfits, even while harming restaurants, carries with it a moral lift, Jack, of tall stature, bass voice and plain manner, was a bit of a local hero for decades.  Blowing into town, I noticed the misfits, and being a  young, unpublished poet myself, I swore to myself I would never bring myself to mingle with that crowd, which had the whiff of the mental hospital about it: I said to myself: “These people are not misfits because they are poets.  They are poets because they are misfits.”

Of course I was being a snob, and my fear of this crowd may have had much to do with the fact that I was something of a misfit myself.  I certainly did not believe that ‘smooth’ persons were better poets than eccentric ones, nor did I avoid eccentric persons as a matter of course—I did not, and still do not. The oddball can be a fascinating conversationalist and an interesting person, but there’s no guarantee that poetry is in the cards for such a person.  When I did inevitably succumb, and found myself drinking a beer at a Stone Soup reading, the poetry that was read was exactly what I expected: a little bit of it good, some it funny, most of it coarse, self-absorbed, and stupid.

The White House poetry reading felt very Stone Soup.  The poets, except for Billy Collins, were anxious to drape the world in poetry: Rita Dove’s homage to her childhood public library loved every unconnected detail it presented, so the result was smarmy, loose and rambling. Alison Knowles was an artsy-fartsy nightmare, taking off her shoes and dully talking about them. The young Moira Bass read a short poem that had a lot of “aints” in it.  The other HS student, Youssef Biaz, looking somewhat like a young president Obama, recited a Sharon Olds poem that encompassed genocide, vocabulary, pedagogy, sex and so many other subjects, it all blurred together—and it was recited in a smooth, and yet also odd, affected way. Kennth Goldsmith read a found poem. I found him not quite as embarrassing as Alison Knowles, but close. Jill Scott went for perky feminist uplift, the rapper Common, for earnest Martin Luther King, Jr. uplift.  They both had a certain amount of charisma, but in both cases, the poetry itself bordered on annoying.

The assumption is that general interest increases when poetry finds new ways to thump us over the head, and when poetry tackles all sorts of subjects and when poetry keeps ‘finding’ new poetic objects.  President Obama, in his brief introductory remarks, said poetry is “different” for everyone.

But why does poetry as a general interest keep declining?  Because general interest requires us to feel the same about something. General interest is not enhanced by shouting, or by the greatest possible number of small fires burning in idiosyncratic, private, differences.

Obama’s “difference” is a political ideal, not a poetic one.  All our personal differences should be respected.  But poetry doesn’t build general interest by breeding difference.  Obama’s first example, the War of 1812 poem which united people as America’s national anthem, betrays his notion that poetry is about everybody feeling differently.

Billy Collins was funny and entertaining.  He was the only poet I genuinely enjoyed, and you could tell by the laughter that he was the genuine hit of the evening.

Both poems Collins read were the opposite of the artsy-fartsy found poem.

Say what you will about it, “The Lanyard,” read pefectly by Collins, is  quintissentially anti-Kenneth Goldsmith, a direct hit against the found poem, against the avant-garde impulse that would ground everything in poetry.  A hand-crafted lanyard becomes Collins’ humorous sacrifice:

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

The other poem Collins read, after some jokes about how “jealous” other poets would be that he was at the White House—good jokes because you weren’t sure if he was kidding or not—was the marvelous “Forgetfulness.”

The first line of “Forgetfulness” is “The name of the author is the first to go.”

Collins’ poem is in the same spirit as Shakespeare’s Sonnet #145.

Billy Collins is an antidote to the artsy-fartsy Found Poem artist who is in a hurry to make all casual objects poetic.

The sublime poets, like Collins and Shakespeare, have a whole different strategy in mind.

“BEFORE THERE WAS BILLY COLLINS & TED KOOSER, THERE WAS EDGAR GUEST” –RON SILLIMAN

 

Billy Collins: hated by the Olson-ites.

Ron Silliman knows that Billy Collins does not write like this:

And I can live my life on earth
Contented to the end,
If but a few shall know my worth
And proudly call me friend.

–Edgar Guest (1881–1959)

Every poet knows Billy Collins is nothing like Edgar Guest.

Silliman’s remark is nothing but a rankle: he and his friends are not popular, and he fears they never will be popular.   How sad, then, that Ron feels it necessary to equate a witty, free-verse writer like Billy Collins with a hack doggerelist who happened to be popular for a time.

Dorothy Parker (another popular poet like Collins) wrote of Edgar Guest:

I’d rather flunk my Wasserman test
Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest

We ought to pause here and ask a simple question: what is the popular?

The answer is simple: the popular is neither good nor bad in itself, though all want it; the popular may be vain—but it is also human.

A popular poet, as instanced by Edgar Guest, may not be original or intricate or profound and it’s true that popularity and sentimentality go hand in hand.

But if Silliman and his friends are to ever have the popularity Billy Collins enjoys, and that they so obviously want, they will need to reach out to the public.  The public is sentimental—sentimentality is the stuff of which the  public’s interest in poetry is made.  There are levels of sentimentality, of course, but the trick for the poet is to be sentimental artistically, or artful sentimentally.  The sentimental is human and the human is popular and none of this can be avoided, not even in the hearts of the Language Poets. 

Did Charles Bernstein have Edgar Guest in mind when he coined the term ‘official verse culture?’ Does Bernstein feel personally oppressed by the aesthetic failure of doggerel? Is there an official culture of doggerel? 

When Gerald Stern asked Bernstein to “name names” at a 1984 poetry conference in Alabama, Bernstein was rather tongue-tied; when pressed to name names of poets who belonged to this official verse culture of Bernstein’s, he could only name one poet: T.S. Eliot. The reasons we might entertain for such a choice are obviously complex, but Bernstein has wanted critics to be included as poets; include the theoretical, not just the pretty, is the real issue, quite obviously, for Bernstein.

But sentiment, the key to the public, to popularity, can certainly co-exist with intellectuality and theory. That’s what the genius is able to do. That defines the artistic genius.  If you asked the Language Poets to point to specific elements in their poetry that cannot be popular, would they be able to point to such elements? And if they couldn’t, the question then must be asked, ‘Why aren’t they popular?’

If the public expects certain attributes in their poetry, should the Language Poets refuse them? I shouldn’t be speaking of the Language Poets as a group, since they don’t compose as a group, except to include them in that large group of poets who have no popular poems.

It will not do to pretend that sentiment can be avoided (in poetry it can’t), or to pretend sentiment cannot be avoided except when one is making jokes at its expense—one will never be popular if one persists in either of these two approaches. Sentiment is the clay, and how it is shaped makes all the difference; but when one attempts to deny the clay itself, one will inevitably be obscure. Without sentiment, you lie under sediment.

It is not that Guest or Collins are more sentimental than the poetry of the Language poets, than the poetry of Silliman and Bernstein and Armantrout; Billy Collins shapes sentiment into more interesting shapes than the Language Poets do, and thus Collins enjoys and deserves more popularity. If repeated successes in publishing and award-giving finally push the Language poets, all pushing 70 now, onto a threshold of potential popularity, the only thing that will push them over the threshold into real popularity will be a sincere appeal to the public and its sentimental nature.  There is no other way. If the other elements in the Language poetry agenda are crucial to mankind’s well-being, all the more reason for that poetry to be popular and reach as many people as possible.

No excuses, such as I am not Edgar Guest, are allowed.  

Silliman and his Language Poet friends are a self-enclosed tribe whose secret handshake is: ‘do not write like Edgar Guest.’  They learned this from their forerunners, the Modernists. Successful, these poets all, in killing the ant, Edgar Guest, but meanwhile the real dragon, Obscurity, wounds them. The Olson-ites are pleased to have killed all the villagers of Guest-town and they are looking for thanks and applause, but the villagers of Guest-town are all who might have loved them, and now they are dead.

Silliman and his friends oppose themselves to the “Quietists.”

But they are so quiet themselves.

WHY IS BILLY COLLINS POPULAR?

Because he’s classical. 

The world of literature is small, rounded by misty pre-history on one end, and mad post-modernism on the other, with Greeks and Romans and all their imitators, Donne, Pope, Shelley, Tennyson, and Eliot, in-between.

We sometimes kid ourselves that this iron limit doesn’t exist, but the true classicist knows it does, and is always resigned to this limit, and, placidly nursing the secret, learns quicker than his fellows, and does so with honor, and a smile.

The fickle modernist, proud of his infinite world, (here comes another boring, eye-lash intricacy) grinds his teeth at the classical popularity.

Horace, like Collins, wrote often of other poets—not passively, in mere manic, modernist, observation—but socially, playfully, and self-consciously, making the admiration a part of his own art:

Borne by strong winds, Pindar the Theban swan soars
high above, Antonious,  through the lofty realms
Of cloud: while I, in another fashion—
just like a small bee
sipping each sweet blossom of thyme and roving
through the thick groves, over the slopes of Tibur
rich with streams—so, cell upon cell, I labor
moulding my poems.

In Collins’ latest, “Memorizing ‘The Sun Rising’ By John Donne,” in November’s Poetry, classical tropes are on display: memorizing a well-known poem, engaging with the whole work (not a fragment), and assimilating that work optimistically, romantically, mystically, ecstatically:

Every reader loves the way he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they
were likely cloudy on that seventeenth-century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

But after a few steps into stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day.

And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second is likewise gone, a blown-out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

So it’s not until I leave the house
and walk three times around this hidden lake
that the poem begins to show
any interest in walking by my side.

Then, after my circling,
better than the courteous dominion
of her being all states and him all princes,

better than love’s power to shrink
the wide world to the size of a bedchamber,

and better even than the compression
of all that into the rooms of these three stanzas
is how, after hours stepping up and down the poem,
testing the plank of every line,
it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.

In a loving tribute to the Roman classical poets, Poets In A Landscape by the scholar and translator Gilbert Highet (d. 1978), we are told

“Except to schoolboys, the odes of Horace have been, for nearly two thousand years, one of the best-loved books of poetry ever written.  They are one of the few absolutely central and unchallengable classics in Latin and in the whole of western literature.  For many generations, a man was not considered educated unless he knew them.”

Highet also points out that to translate the complex music of Horace is impossible; the attempt to translate in an utterly faithful fashion crashes and burns; the best way to render Horace is to write like Collins, steadily, sincerely, and without fireworks.

Billy Collins is our Horace.  This is why he is popular.

Poetry’s popularity does not, and will never, derive from the experimental; poetry’s appeal springs from the classical; for the classical is not old, but  human.

And here, then, is the Donne poem, which (O! clever Collins!) is necessary for the Collins poem—which forever takes after the Donne:

BUSY old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think ?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I ;
Nothing else is ;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

BILLY COLLINS FINDS JESUS CHRIST A WIN

Middlebury, VT (Scarriet News) –The crowds were immense in this mountain town of Vermont as the New England Frost’s Breadloaf Park hosted the starting pitching debut of Jesus Christ for Robert Frost’s ballclub.

Man Ray (1-8) of the New Jersey Williams, the New Jersey ace who has not pitched like one this year, was Christ’s mound opponent, and almost stole the show with a brilliant performance.

Christ was shaky in the first, giving up two hits and a walk, as the Williams took a quick 1-0 lead.  A spectacular catch by the Frost’s Thomas Hardy in center prevented further damage.  Then Christ settled down, retiring 13 straight batters between the third and the seventh innings.

The Williams’ infield of Spicer, Snyder and Creeley turned four double plays behind Man Ray’s pitching as the New Jersey visitors took a 1-0 advantage into the ninth.

With two down in the bottom of the final frame, and pinch runner Rupert Brooke on first, Billy Collins fouled off five straight pitches against Man Ray, who needed just one more strike for a complete game shutout victory.  Ray was throwing nothing but fastballs to Collins, and then Williams catcher Yone Noguchi called for a curve. Man Ray threw one and it hung like an old-fashioned art exhibit and the poet Collins was all over it.  Billy Collins launched a tremendous shot into the late-afternoon, Vermont  sky, over everything, “past steeple and hill” as Frost put it in the post-game interview, the homerun “past steeple and hill” Frost kept saying, and I suppose this will be known forever as the homerun “past steeple and hill.”   The homerun gave Jesus Christ and the Frost a 2-1 victory.

Meanwhile, the red-hot Rapallo Pound are now tied with the Frost for third place in the AL, and the even hotter, first place London Eliots have won six straight.

As Collins was rounding the bases, though, after his tremendous homerun in the ninth, he wasn’t thinking about Pound or Eliot—he was thinking about all those fans in Vermont, and Robert Frost, and his pitcher, Jesus Christ.

THE ROAD ENDS HERE: BILLY COLLINS V. WILLIAM KULIK, REB LIVINGSTON V. JANET BOWDAN

Live from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts:

The distinguished Scarriet Best American Poetry March Madness Committee  delivers its Laurel Leaf Prize to the Best American Poetry poets who successfully traveled the road to the Final Four.

Janet Bowdan, Billy Collins, William Kulik, Reb Livingston, this high honor has no other attachments but recognition of your service to poetry, to glory, and to song.  You four began with your obscure births a journey to this moment.

In the presence of our judges, your families, your friends, Garrison Keillor, and these poets who love you, on this day, April 3, 2010, I present to each of you the Scarriet Laurel Leaf Prize.

(Applause)

All four poems feature lucid movement through a dramatic landscape, a sleek impressionism, an original beauty, a fluid design, a combined emotive and cognitive power, and clues to life, as well.

The final Order of the Poems:

4.  The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite –William Kulik

3. The Year –Janet Bowdan

2. That’s Not Butter  –Reb Livingston

1. Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey  –Billy Collins

Thanks to all participants in this year’s Scarriet Best American Poetry March Madness.

A final farewell to the No. 1 seeds in the tournament: Galway Kinnell (East), Louis Simpson (North), Sharon Olds (West), and Donald Justice (South).

We hope you all enjoyed the excitement during the road to the Final Four, and learned more about all these poets.

64 excellent poems, chosen from 1,500 Best American Poetry selections 1988—2009, were selected to the tournament itself and Kulik, Bowdan, Livingston and Collins were the top four.

Congratulations!

BILLY COLLINS, HARRY MATHEWS BATTLE IN MARCH MADNESS EAST SEMI-FINAL

the idiocy of rural life” –Karl Marx

let the young Lambs bound”  –Wordsworth

Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey

I was here before, a long time ago,
and now I am here again
is an observation that occurs in poetry
as frequently as rain occurs in life.

The fellow may be gazing
over an English landscape,
hillsides dotted with sheep,
a row of tall trees topping the downs,

or he could be moping through the shadows
of a dark Bavarian forest,
a wedge of cheese and a volume of fairy tales
tucked into his rucksack.

But the feeling is always the same.
It was better the first time.
This time it is not nearly as good.
I’m not feeling as chipper as I did back then.

Something is always missing—
swans, a glint on the surface of a lake,
some minor but essential touch.
Or the quality of things has diminished.

The sky was a deeper, more dimensional blue,
clouds were more cathedral-like,
and water rushed over rock
with greater effervescence.

From our chairs we have watched
the poor author in his waistcoat
as he recalls the dizzying icebergs of childhood
and mills around in a field of weeds.

We have heard the poets long dead
declaim their dying
from a promontory, a riverbank,
next to a haycock, within a copse.

We have listened to their dismay,
the kind that issues from poems
the way water issues forth from hoses,
the way the match always gives its little speech on fire.

And when we put down the book at last,
lean back, close our eyes,
stinging with print,
and slip in the bookmark of sleep,

we will be schooled enough to know
that when we wake up
a little before dinner
things will not be nearly as good as they once were.

Something will be missing
from this long, coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray,

the glossy gardenia drooping
in its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning core of an apple.

Nothing will be as it was
a few hours ago, back in the glorious past
before our naps, back in that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly after lunch.

Billy Collins (1998, Hollander)

Histoire

Tina and Seth met in the midst of an overcrowded militarism.
“Like a drink?” he asked her. “They make great Alexanders over at the Marxism-Leninism.”
She agreed. They shared cocktails. They behaved cautiously, as in a period of pre-fascism.
Afterwards he suggested dinner at a restaurant renowned for its Maoism.
“O.K.,” she said, but first she had to phone a friend about her ailing Afghan, whose name was Racism.
Then she followed Seth across town past twilit alleys of sexism.

The waiter brought menus and announced the day’s specials. He treated them with condescending sexism,
So they had another drink. Tina started her meal with a dish of militarism,
While Seth, who was hungrier, had a half portion of stuffed baked racism.
Their main dishes were roast duck for Seth, and for Tina broiled Marxism-Leninism.
Tina had pecan pie a la for dessert, Seth a compote of stewed Maoism.
They lingered. Seth proposed a liqueur. They rejected sambuca and agreed on fascism.

During the meal, Seth took the initiative. He inquired into Tina’s fascism,
About which she was reserved, not out of reticence but because Seth’s sexism
Had aroused in her a desire she felt she should hide – as though her Maoism
Would willy-nilly betray her feelings for him. She was right. Even her deliberate militarism
Couldn’t keep Seth from realizing that his attraction was reciprocated. His own Marxism-Leninism
Became manifest, in a compulsive way that piled the Ossa of confusion on the Pelion of racism.

Next, what? Food finished, drinks drunk, bills paid – what racism
Might not swamp their yearning in an even greater confusion of fascism?
But women are wiser than words. Tina rested her hand on his thigh and, a-twinkle with Marxism-Leninism,
Asked him, “My place?” Clarity at once abounded under the flood-lights of sexism,
They rose from the table, strode out, and he with the impetuousness of young militarism
Hailed a cab to transport them to her lair, heaven-haven of Maoism.

In the taxi he soon kissed her. She let him unbutton her Maoism
And stroke her resilient skin, which was quivering with shudders of racism.
When beneath her jeans he sense the superior Lycra of her militarism,
His longing almost strangled him. Her little tongue was as potent as fascism
In its elusive certainty. He felt like then and there tearing off her sexism
But he reminded himself: “Pleasure lies in patience, not in the greedy violence of Marxism-Leninism.”

Once home, she took over. She created a hungering aura of Marxism-Leninism
As she slowly undressed him where he sat on her overstuffed art-deco Maoism,
Making him keep still, so that she could indulge in caresses, in sexism,
In the pursuit of knowing him. He groaned under the exactness of her racism
– Fingertip sliding up his nape, nails incising his soles, teeth nibbling his fascism.
At last she guided him to bed, and they lay down on a patchwork of Old American militarism.

Biting his lips, he plunged his militarism into the popular context of her Marxism-Leninism,
Easing one thumb into her fascism, with his free hand coddling the tip of her Maoism,
Until, gasping with appreciative racism, both together sink into the revealed glory of sexism.

Harry Mathews (1988, Ashbery)

These two remarkable poems show that optimistic humor is ideally suited to poetry.  This sometimes gets lost amid the elegy and experimentation which  dominates modern verse.

There’s a bright, snappy, Enlightenment verve to poems like these.  Both Collins and Mathews slay dug-in sensibilities—Collins explodes the nostalgic notion of the good old days, or good old golden age, while Mathews has fun with the high-church seriousness of political beliefs.

Here is wit, but not the brief variety; these authors take stock of their subject first, and draw the reader in with conversational intimacy.  They convince with repetition, they accomplish their aim by placing their art within a frame of inevitability, but within that frame is a rhetorical looseness; one could fault Collins for the awful line, “as frequently as rain occurs in life” but this would be to miss the point.  Such ‘badness’ contributes to the necessary looseness, which in turn contributes to the trust between author and reader; such badness is like air in food which gives it lightness.  Mathews is under the same burden; the joke of his poem forbids elegant rhetoric from occuring, but the details add up differently, badly, in fact, but this is how the joke must work and the joke works in the only way it can, by distorting details for the sake of the whole, which adds up to satire against another existence, one smoother, apparently, than the Mathews poem, that of political pretense.

There has been some discussion behind the scenes of Scarriet lately on the nature of poetry, for when a large variety of poems are forced to compete, as in this March Madness tournament, one naturally begins to wrestle with the question of not only which of the poems is better, but which of the two is more like a poem. Why this question: which one is more like a poem? should even arise, I do not know, but it is almost as if, when we are faced with two poems we enjoy equally, to choose the best, we fall back on this question, it being human nature, or perhaps the nature of thought itself, to slightly favor whatever is more universal over what is more particular.

To be brief: a poem is, in words, whatever takes place in a certain space.

How do words make something take place and how do words create a certain space?

Meter and rhyme can create their own artificial space (a stanza) without the words having to mean anything.  Poems have traditionally featured a series of stanzas in which meaning is conveyed.

But meaning itself can create space—without stanzas.  Stanzas made it necessary for meter and rhyme and even the verse line to exist; not the other way around.  Most of us assume that the stanza is a mere outgrowth of the line, when the reverse is true: the stanza actually came first.  The stanza is the space, the room, in which poetry behaves as poetry.

All modern forms follow from this idea.  In today’s poetry, the room, or space (stanza) and things taking place within that room or space, (stanza- action) occur more frequently in word-meaning rather than word-sound.  I think this sums up the whole matter quite nicely.   The Divine Comedy has more rooms and more occurances, but otherwise is the same, in terms of form and content, as the haiku.

Billy Collins carves out space like so:

Something will be missing
from this long, coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray

As long as Collins works in stanzas, he doesn’t really need the line, or he can get away with lines of no interest whatsoever, such as “the walls and windows now.”    His lines can have no interest, the lines of a Billy Collins poem can be invisible, more or less, as long as he uses stanzas; few critics really understand how Collins’ poetry can even work. These critics are blind to the stanza-principle and in their blindness dismiss Collins as middle-brow fluff, going so far as to say that it is not  poetry at all.  The error involves the false belief that the line precedes, and gives rise to, stanza when, in fact, the reverse is true.  The fact that Billy Collins is successful without bothering to write good lines is proof of the thesis here outlined: the stanza, (the room) not the line (sequential unit), is the essence of poetry.

Highly musical poetry can be stanza poetry. Prose can also be stanza poetry.   The advocates of the line tend to favor either the highly musical poem or the highly prosaic poem, but not both.

Simple folk with no theory enjoy both. For the over-learned, too proud to enjoy Billy Collins, or too cutting-edge to enjoy Shelley, I have just provided a way out of your essential confusion; likewise for the formalists who cannot reconcile in their minds a Shelley and a Collins.

One might have a tendency then, to choose the Mathews over the Collins because “Histoire” by Mathews is a sestina, and features language with more repetition, and thus would appear to be more poetic, but this is to put a minor principle (with some merit) before philosophy plus perception (which has a great deal more).

Billy Collins is the winner.

BILLY COLLINS KISSES BILL KNOTT ON THE CHEEK ALONG WITH THOMAS BRADY

In the glory days of Harriet, back in the summer of 2009, the following exchange took place between one of our Scarriet editors, Thomas Brady, and the poet, Bill Knott.

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”  — Thomas Brady

.

“Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!” —  Bill Knott

.

Brady writes:

I don’t think the crisis in poetry is a social engineering issue.

It’s not a question of ‘how can we bring poetry to the people?’  Or, if this is the question, the question is not a large, complex one, but only a matter of refinement.

Despite the efforts of ground-breaking poet-academics like John Crowe Ransom (whose ashes are scattered on the Kenyon campus), there is no expertise anywhere that can decide how or what kind of poetry should be delivered up to ‘the people.’ I think we need to cure ourselves of this notion right away. Poetry is not for experts. Poetry is how the people short circuit the experts. Science demands a certain a certain amount of expertise; poetry is the joy of science sans expertise.

The people get all the poetry they need from old poetry or pop songs or prose or opera, or comedy, and these avenues will never be supplemented by contemporary poetry of the difficult variety to any significant degree.

Contemporary poetry is mostly lyric poetry and this is in keeping with our ‘short attention span’ age—which began with the rise of the penny presses 200 years ago and coincided with Poe’s famous words, “A long poem does not exist.”  How could it?  No recordings of Poe reading exist, but we do have Edna Millay and Dylan Thomas: listen to them reading their brief poems—how could one take that intensity for long?

John (Harriet comment) asked about the first ‘lyric poetry reading.’  Poe in the 1840s was asked all the time at salons in NYC to read his “Raven.”  John is absolutely right; not only does a long poem not exist, but short poems should not be read for long; they should never be a big imposition.

Perhaps we need to stop apologizing for the ‘short attention span.’  What if it’s not a flaw at all, but a feature of our advanced, busy, speedy-communications age?

Instead of slamming that square peg into that round hole, why don’t we accept that ‘short attention spans’ are part of who we are now; simply a reflection of how we are adapting to our times, and if poetry is not popular, it’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.

POSTED BY THOMAS BRADY: ON ON JUNE 2, 2009 at 4:07 PM

.
Knott’s response:

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”

–I agree totally with Brady’s point there.

But WHY do (we) poets do this?  Doesn’t the answer lie in the realm of the psychoanalytic…

Almost all writers begin in adolescence by writing poetry—what differentiates those who continue in this futile practice while others (call them adults) go on to write prose…

Given that poetry is the least rewarded/ the least funded of all the writing genres, and indeed of all the arts,

–knowing that, why would anyone willingly opt to pursue this abject vocation…why would anyone seek such inferior status; why would anyone in their right mind join this subgroup, this slaveclass—

Masochists, manic depressives, suicides, all poets are neurotics of the death instinct, losers and failures who embrace the misery of their wretched trade, who wallow in its servile aura of diminishment and squalor—its paltry practice.

But among poets, those dismal defeated schlemiels and corner-biting cowards lured by vile Virgils into the abyss of verse, a fortunate few manage to inhabit the upper circles, its higher hellblocks—

Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!—

What traitors these are to their class—(jeez, if they didn’t want to be failures, why did they become poets!)

No wonder all the normal (i.e. unsuccessful) poets hate the Judas Billy Collins and the quisling Mary Oliver

POSTED BY BILL KNOTT:ON JUNE 2, 2009 AT 5:10 PM

And did Martin Earl take this sitting down, and did Bill Knott not come back with post after post that broke every rule of length and frequency Travis Nichols had ever dreamt of, and did the fracas not wake everybody up and get all the bells in Parnassus ringing?

Oh yes, and yes, and yes!

Yet shortly after Thomas Brady and his friends were punished for writing too much too often, Bill Knott, Eileen Myles, Martin Earl, Annie Finch and all the other passionate irregulars stopped bothering, and despite the best efforts of the new Contributing Writers, Harriet stalled to a  Members Only Chat-roomlike it is.

What a failure of The Poetry Foundation mission!

The Scarriet Editors


FINAL FOUR: BOWDAN, COLLINS, KULIK, LIVINGSTON!

Fantastic_FourHead.jpg

The philosopher Benjamin Paul Blood (1832-1918) wrote the following to William James:

“Philosophy is past.  It was the long endeavor to logicize what we can only realize practically or in immediate experience.”

The experiment of March Madness has been interesting.  We have examined whether or not poetry, like the philosophy portrayed in Blood’s essay, “Pluriverse: An Essay in the Philosophy of Pluralism,” can be known best if we become profoundly self-conscious as poets and readers in a group dynamics medium in which immediate experience and practicality are pushed to their limits within that context.

20,000 fans, spilling soda and popcorn, screaming at the top of their lungs in response to a contest between, let’s say, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, a 16th seed! and “Sunday, Tarzan In His Hammock” by Lewis Buzbee, upset winner over Mary Oliver’s fifth seeded “Flare” in first round play in the West Bracket, experienced the poem in such an intense manner—however the partisanship might have expressed itself—that the delight based on the pure excitement itself propeled the imaginative response—which has always relied on a certain suspension of disbelief—to new heights, in which the suspension of disbelief was simultaneously extended and dismantled by the crowd.

The vision of this collective consciousness, at once critical, reflective and wholly reactive, is not meant to be defined here as a definitive vision, nor should the results of these contests fill anyone with either joy or dismay.  Combatants, were these none.  The riotous fans have been, and were, you and I; once a mob, now a critic, once weeping and hollering, now holding steadily the iron pen.  Let the tattooing begin.

How shall we describe Janet Bowdan’s “The Year?”  How shall we describe her victory?  How shall we describe the young fan, who, in a fit of ecstacy, nearly fell from the top of the stadium upon the heads of the throng below, this young worshiper of this terrible and haunting poem?  How to describe the look of Buzbee in defeat, Tarzan and Jane beside him, the barely comprehending Cheetah on Tarzan’s shoulder, looking wildly around?

We sought out Bowdan for an interview, but she was gone.  The crowd had carried her away.

Earlier, at the crack of dawn, with a youngish Wordsworth showered and shaved, Billy Collins advanced to the center of our beloved March Madness court, the polished wood of the court gleaming, the clever concession stands spread around, and dominated Stephen Dunn, making sure he couldn’t breathe for a second.  “John Donne, eh?  Are you done?’  The voice of the haughty no. 2 seed in the East resounded for eons after Dunn’s poem was read.  We have to go back years before we find a game that was like this, or, find any game.  The gods were, of course, anxious.  Rules, there were none.  The fans were not silent for a moment.  The rooting was astonishing.

Bernard Welt’s “I stopped writing poetry…” plied poetry long into the evening, almost as if to send Reb Livingston away, but she stood her guard, unblinking.  Some fans in the second half had a revelation and got the brilliance of Welt’s trope: the reasons he gave for not writing poetry were actually powerful incentives to write poetry, and this was the fuel of the poem itself, but the commotion in the second balcony as Livingston was shooting her free-throws was lost on the broadcasters—they  ignored it, thinking it was just the crowd being a crowd, a 190 line poem being a 190 line poem, and fans on the floor only saw it in separate parts.  Some Welt fans ran outside, but it was too late.  Livingston was stoic as Welt’s voltage melted.

William Kulik dazzled with a ferocity not seen yet in the tournament and Margaret Atwood froze with a searching look.  Kulik started to tick tick tick as soon as the contest started, the moss covered walls closed in, and no matter how hard Atwood looked, the drama of Kulik continued to drown.

“Bored” is sure of itself, as Atwood is; she was tranformed by Kulik into what went sadly down into the shadows.

The crowd implored those shadows.

Don’t trust crowds, they say.

We trusted this one.

Tom, this is Marla Muse, down at courtside…the crowd has seen four thrillers and they want more…this is how poetry should be…I’m being lifted by this crowd and that’s how I like it…I’m looking for my little notebook….have you seen it?

No, Marla, I haven’t.

BILLY EDGES JORIE IN SWEET SIXTEEN

The Best American Poetry March Madness Tournament is down to 16 poets.

“Poets don’t know a lot of math, but I can count to sixteen,” a grinning Billy Collins said after his close win over Harvard professor Jorie Graham

“Don’t you count syllables in your poems?” a reporter yelled from the back of the Kennedy Center lobby.  

“I count wins,” Collins quipped, obviously on cloud nine after making the Sweet Sixteen with a hard fought victory.

Billy’s poem, “Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey,” looks back at Wordsworth looking back; it resonated a little more than Jorie Graham’s “On Difficulty,” which looks down at Adam and Eve looking up.

They can look up and wonder no longer.   Adam and Eve are going home.

John Hollander chose the Collins poem for the 1998 volume.  Ashbery chose the Graham poem for the first BAP 1988 book.

Collins is the only one who has made the Sweet 16 as BAP poet and BAP editor (2). 

Heather McHugh (3) has the most editor selections in the Sweet 16.  Richard Howard (2) and Donald Hall (2) are making strong showings as editors in the Sweet 16 as well.

Sweet Sixteen Results:

Let’s start with the EastBilly Collins, Stephen Dunn, Robert Pinsky, and Harry Mathews have survived.

In the North, jubilation for Louis Simpson, William Kulik, Margaret Atwood, and Franz Wright.

In the West, the winners were Brad Leithauser, Janet Bowdan, Dean Young, and Lewis Buzbee.

And finally, in the South, rounding out the Sweet 16, are Kenneth Koch, Alan Shapiro, Bernard Welt,  and Reb Livingston.

Able to stop Jorie Graham, Billy Collins now has to be the favorite to go all the way.  

Can anyone stop the Tintern Abbey train?

MORE ROUND ONE ACTION IN THE LIFE BRACKET

Image result for rupi kaur

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”

 

OH NO, PLEASE HELP US! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED

angry-mob

1 Anders Carlson-Wee: Brilliant, empathic poem, “How-To,” published in The Nation—then a mob ends his career.

2 Stephanie Burt: Harvard professor and Nation poetry editor publishes Carlson-Wee—caves to the mob.

3 Carmen Giminez-Smith: Nation co-editor, with Burt, apologizes for “disparaging and ableist language” giving “offense,” “harm,” and “pain” to “several communities.”

4 Grace Schulman: Former Nation poetry editor: “never once did we apologize for publishing a poem.”

5 Patricia Smith: Runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, a slam poet champion, leads Twitter outrage which greets Carlson-Wee’s Nation poem.

6 Ben Mazer: Selected Poems out, discovering unpublished Delmore Schwartz material for Library of America.

7 Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey, her debut self-published book of viral Instagram ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ verse, has put a young woman from Toronto on top of the poetry popularity heap.

8 Tyler Knott Gregson: NY Times pointed out this Instagram poet’s first collection of poetry was a national bestseller.

9 Christopher Poindexter: This Instagram poet has been compared to Shakespeare by Huffpost. (He’s nothing like Shakespeare.)

10 Nikita Gill: Probably the best of the feminist Instagram poets.

11 Yrsa Daley-Ward: Her Instapoetry memoir, The Terrible, was praised by Katy Waldman in the New Yorker.

12 Marilyn Chin: Her New and Selected (Norton) this October contains her famous poem, “How I Got That Name.”

13 Frank Bidart: Awarded 2018 Pulitzer for his Collected Poems.

14 William Logan: New prose book: Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods. New book of poems, Rift of Light, proves again his formal verse is perhaps the best poetry published today.

15 Kevin Young: New New Yorker poetry editor.

16 Evie Shockley: Was on short list for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

17 David Lehman: Series editor for Best American Poetry since 1988—30 years.

18 Linda Ashok: Poet (Whorelight), songwriter (“Beautiful Scar”) and champion of Indian poetry in English.

19 Derrick Michael Hudson: Who still remembers this “Chinese” BAP poet?

20. Dana Gioia: Guest editor of Lehman’s Best American Poetry 2018.

21 Akhil Katyal: “Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?”

22 Urvashi Bahuguna: “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/It was Boy.”

23 Jeet Thayil: “you don’t want to hear her say,/Why, why did you not look after me?”

24 Sridala Swami: Jorge Louis Borges of English Indian poetry.

25 Adil Jussawalla: Born in Mumbai in 1940, another Anglo-Indian poet ignored in the U.S.

26 Rochelle D’Silva:  Indian slam poet who writes in English.

27 Billy Collins: Pajama and Slippers school of poetry. And nothing wrong with that at all.

28 W.S. Merwin: One of the few living major poets born in the 20s (goodbye Ashbery, Hall).

29 Valerie Macon: Quickly relieved of her NC poet laureate duties because of her lack of creds.

30 Mary Angela Douglas: a magical bygone spirit who sweetly found her way onto the Internet.

31 Stephen Cole: Who is this wonderful, prolific lyric poet? The daily Facebook fix.

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

33 Rochelle Potkar: “But can I run away from the one cell that is the whole Self?”

34 Helen Vendler: No one finally cares what non-poets say about poetry.

35 Huzaifa Pandit: “Bear the drought of good poems a little longer”

36 N Ravi Shankar: “a toy train in a full moon night”

37 Sharon Olds: Like Edna Millay, a somewhat famous outsider, better than the men.

38 Nabina Das: “the familiar ant crawling up”

39 Kaveh Akbar: “the same paradise/where dead lab rats go.”

40 Terrance Hayes: “I love poems more than/money and pussy.”

41 Dan Sociu: Plain-spoken, rapturous voice of Romania

42 Glyn Maxwell: Editor of Derek Walcott’s poems— The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

43 Arjun Rajendran:  Indian poet in English who writes sassy, seductive poems.

44 A.E. Stallings: With Logan, and a few others, the Formalist torch.

45 Patricia Lockwood: Subsiding from viral into respectability.

46 Marjorie Perloff: An old-fashioned, shaming of NYU professor Avital Ronell in the Nimrod Reitman case.

47 Daipayan Nair: Great love and sex poet of India

48 Shohreh Laici: Proud young voice of restless, poetic Iran

49 Smita Sahay: “You flowed down the blue bus/into a brown puddle/below the yellow lamp post/and hung there”

50 Mary Oliver: An early fan of Edna St. Vincent Millay, she assisted Edna’s sister, Norma, in assembling the great poet’s work.

51 Natasha Trethewey: Former U.S. laureate, her New and Selected favored to win National Book Award this year.

52 Anand Thakore: “a single tusk/White as a quarter-moon in mid-July,/Before the coming of a cloud.”

53 Carl Dennis: Author of the poem, “The God Who Loves You.”

54 Tony Hoagland: Today’s Robert Bly.

55 Meera Nair: “I live in a house/Someone else has loved in”

56 Fanny Howe: “Eons of lily-building/emerged in the one flower.”

57 Rita Dove: Won Pulitzer in 1987. Her The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) was panned by Vendler and Perloff.

58 Diana Khoi Nguyen: Poet and multimedia artist studying for a PhD in Creative Writing.

59 Matthew Zapruder: Poetry editor of the New York Times magazine since 2016.

60 Jenny Xie: “I pull apart the evening with a fork.”

61 Mary Jo Bang: Chair of the National Book Award judges.

62 Jim Behrle: Hates David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series and “rhyme schemes.”

63 Semeen Ali: “diverting your attention/for a minute/contains my life/my undisclosed life”

64 George Bilgere: Ohio’s slightly more sophisticated Billy Collins.

65 Aishwarya Iyer: “When rain goes where will you find/The breath lost to the coming of love?”

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

67 Sushmita Gupta: “So detached, so solid, so just, so pure. A glory unbeholden, never seen or met before.”

68 Merryn Juliette: “before your body knows the earth”

69 John Cooper Clarke: “The fucking clocks are fucking wrong/The fucking days are fucking long”

70 Justin Phillip Reed: His book (2018) is Indecency.

71 Cathy Park Hong: Her 2014 essay, “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” rules our era. The avant-garde is no longer automatically cool.

72 Carolyn Forche:  “No one finds/ you no one ever finds you.”

73 Zachary Bos: “The sun like a boat drowns.”

74 Bob Dylan: “You could have done better but I don’t mind”

75 Kanye West: The musical guest when SNL open its 44th season September 29th

76 Raquel Salas Rivera: “i shall invoke the shell petrified by shadows”

77 Jennifer Reeser: Indigenous, her new collection, will be available soon.

78 Forrest Gander: Be With from New Directions is his latest book.

79 Arun Sagar: “through glass and rain./Each way out/is worthy, each way leads/to clarity and mist,/and music.”

80 Joanna Valente: “Master said I am too anti-social.”

81 Richard Howard: Like Merwin, an American treasure, born in the 1920s.

82 J.Michael Martinez: Museum of the Americas on 2018 National Book Award longlist.

83 Amber Tamblyn: The actress/poet’s dad does the amazing flips in the movie West Side Story.

84 Paul Rowe: Stunning translation of Cesario Verde’s “O Sentimento dum Ocidental.”

85 Jill Bialosky: Norton editor caught plagiarizing by William Logan

86 Robert Pinsky: Editor of the 25 year anniversary edition of Best American Poetry in 2013.

87 Philip Nikolayev: Poet, linguist, philosopher: One Great Line theory of poetry is recent.

88 Ada Limón: The poet lives in New York, California, and Kentucky.

89 Rae Armantrout: Her poems examine, in her words, “a lot of largely unexamined baggage.”

90 Alex Dimitrov: “I want even the bad things to do over.”

91 Sam Sax: “Prayer for the Mutilated World” in September Poetry.

92 Danielle Georges: “You should be called beacon. You should be called flame.”

93 Stephen Sturgeon: “These errors are correct.”

94 Hieu Minh Nguyen: “Maybe he meant the city beyond the window.”

95 Richard Blanco: presidents, presidents, presidents.

96 Kent Johnson: His magazine Dispatches from the Poetry Wars continues the fight against poetry as commodity/career choice.

97 Parish Tiwari: “between falling rain/and loneliness…/the song/that once was ours”

98 Eliana Vanessa: Rrrrr. Lyric internet poet of the Tooth, Death, Love, Sex and Claw school.

99 Rachel Custer: Best known poem is “How I Am Like Donald Trump”

100 Jos Charles: “wen abeyance/accidentlie”

 

 

 

HOT AS HELL—2018 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

The world has not gone crazy.  The world is the same. The idea of progress is vanity. Human happiness is zero sum.

But the news, these days, is definitely crazy.  And maybe even hopeful, as cracks in the old arguments begin to appear. Certain prominent narratives are flipping.

And poetry, which belongs to change and tradition, is news

So here we go:

1. Garrison Keillor   Accused!  No more Writer’s Almanac poems!

2. Jill Bialosky  Plagiarist! Norton editor. 72 poets, many published by Norton, have defended her.

3. William Logan  Critic and poet, exposed Jill Bialosky’s widespread plagiarism—which he as a reviewer discovered in her memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life.  Logan’s review, in Tourniquet Review, was picked up by AP and the NYT.

4. Robert Pinsky  Poet Laureate of the U.S. (1997 to 2000). Published by Norton, and one of 29 signatories in letter to Times defending Jill Bialosky.

5. Ben Mazer His Selected Poems just published  (Madhat press). Three poems early in the volume, “The Double,” “Death and Minstrelsy,” and “The Long Wharf,” ensure his immortality.

6. Kevin Young  New Yorker poetry editor! now that Paul Muldoon is retiring. Studied under Seamus Heaney at Harvard with Mazer.

7. Valerie Macon Briefly N. Carolina poet laureate, forced to resign because she lacked academic credentials, has new book.

8. John Ebersole  Questioned for writing an in-depth, honest, but less than flattering review of a poet’s book—see no. 9.

9. Kaveh Akbar Calling A Wolf A Wolf released in 2017 by Alice James Books gets pummeled in Tourniquet Review.

10. Dan Beachy-Quick “I don’t know how to sing” closes his poem in December Poetry issue. Well, damn right. Most contemporary poetry cannot.

11. Forrest Gander “You who were given a life, what did you make of it?” After obscure parts, occasionally contemporary poetry tries to sound frank, and accessible and wise. As in Gander’s “What It Sounds Like” in December Poetry, it fails.

12. Angie Macri has a poem in December Poetry, “What pleasure a question,” which gives us some drama and psychology on Adam and Eve: “It was the first time she had/something to give, what/the man couldn’t take, the first time/the man said please: please let me have a bite.”

13. Cornelius Eady has a poem in December Poetry titled, “All the American Poets Have Titled Their New Books ‘The End'”, leaving open the question whether this is foolish, or not. Contemporary poetry never shows its hand, for then it would fail.

14. Valzhyna Mort makes a rather obvious point in her “Scene from Medieval War,” published in Poetry for December, with her first line, “When God appears before me he is a burning woman tied to a bush.” Poetry still aims for the High Modernism of Eliot and Yeats, but fails.

15. Kristen Tracy strives to update Tradition in the December Poetry: “she died there. Stuck. Like a tragic Santa.”

16. Paul S. Rowe the young college professor, poet, translator, and editor of Charles River Journal, is serially publishing Thomas Graves’ book on Ben Mazer.

17. Billy Collins must do something controversial soon, or we’ll forget him. No. Who could forget “The Lanyard?”

18. Jorie Graham who married into the Washington Post Graham family, has won the 2017 Wallace Stevens award, with a stipend of $100,000. She commands a chair at Harvard, and about 10 years ago was caught cheating as poetry contest judge.

19. Ed Roberson is the recipient of the 2017 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, worth $25,000.

20. Patrick Rosal has received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, worth $25,000, for his book Brooklyn Antediluvian (2016). Rosal teaches Creative Writing at Rutgers.

21. sam sax has won the James Laughlin Award, worth $5,000 and a one-week hotel stay in Miami.

22. Piotr Florczyk in 2017 received the Harold Morton Landon Tranlation Award, worth $1,000.

23. Thomas E. Peterson was awarded the Raiziss/De Palchi Fellowship for English translations of modern Italian poetry, worth $25,000.

24. Frances Revel an MFA student at Cornell, won the Aliki Perroti And Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award, worth $1,000, for her poem, “Hymn for the End of Drought.”

25. Rayon Lennon is the 2017 $10,000 prize winner of the Rattle Poetry Prize for his poem, “Heard.”

26. James Henry Knippen has won the 2017 Discovery/Boston Review Contest with “Poem,” in full: “I wanted to rescue the moon/from our hopes. I wanted/to rescue our hopes from hell./I wanted to rescue hell/from existence. I wanted/to rescue existence/from itself.”

27. Stephen Cole puts one in mind that poetry is a sounding-leaf which needs a tree—the great and kindly interest in love and philosophy; the leaf is artificial, otherwise. Cole, who lives in Kansas, doesn’t artificially hoard for acclaim; his prolific output goes right on the Internet.

28. Sushmita Gupta is wise, but poetry declares itself in the homely passions; she is Cole’s poetry-as-natural-as-breathing, female equivalent: vulnerable simplicity of expression, sorrow never feeling sorry for itself, shining on the World Wide Web.

29. Sharon Olds won the Pulitzer a few years back—one of the best living poets, her skill lies in creating domestic, intimate scenes that flash upon the reader like an old master’s painting or drawing.

30. Philip Nikolayev is a poet, philosopher, and linguist, who belongs to Ben Mazer’s Harvard/Boston University brat-pack-genius circle of neo-Romanticism—which is genuine because it pursues so many things; he is currently translating Sanskrit into English and Ben Mazer into Russian; his Facebook discussion threads attract the best minds online.

31. Steph Burt is the critical heir to Helen Vendler at Harvard, a de-centered, eclectic, whirlwind, part of the 21st century movement of American poetry outward from Harvard, where Emerson/William James/Gertrude Stein/Santayana/Wallace Stevens/TS Eliot/Bly/O’Hara/ Ashbery/Bishop/Lowell/Heaney/Mazer sometimes eked out a living. Harvard is poetry’s center no more, as Slam, Creative Writing and the internet pull it apart.

32. Steven Cramer hides out at Lesley University, which is next to Harvard in Cambridge, and exemplifies the truth that poetry is not about geography, but where minds gather; American poets in the 19th century crossed the ocean just to visit Wordsworth—the poet god no longer exists; “The Hospitals” by Cramer is one of America’s best poems.

33. David Lehman is the Series editor of Best American Poetry (1988 to present) the volume poets hate  each year when they see they are not included; Lehman desperately, recklessly, felt compelled to include the late Ashbery in annual volume after volume—like a drowning man clinging to the rope of poetry’s decreasing importance; in his general introduction Lehman always protested too much, crying out, “poetry is well.” But the Series has served.

34. Derrick Michael Hudson Years from now, when BAP is no more, this will be, no doubt, the one incident in its history talked about the most—a white male poet achieved much better publication success when submitting poems to journals using the psuedonym of a Chinese woman. Sherman Alexie, BAP guest editor, chose the poem, discovered the trick, still published it, and was excoriated.

35. Joie Bose is a poet from India; a wife and a mother; she traveled to Japan alone, just for the delicious poetic hell of it; she personifies the poet as restless spirit, and belongs to that great, international, Romantic trend in poetry which one can see on the internet, but which few have bothered to document or record.

36. Bob Dylan made as little as possible, it seems, of his Nobel Prize in Literature. Is this because “rock star” means so much more than “writer?” Sell records and get the girl. “Prize?” “Writing?” Fuck that.

37. Amber Tamblyn is an actress who has published poetry—no American good at anything else has ever been revered as a poet; Michelangelo—yes, that one—wrote great poetry, but no American knows it. Poe dared to write great short stories, too—and to this degree, professional American poetry critics, such as Vendler and Bloom, cannot admit Poe is a good poet—it’s an iron law. What of Wallace Stevens? This proves the point—he had a job—but had it been excelling in another area of the arts, his poetry would be forgotten.

38. W.S. Merwin is America’s most time-honored, living, iconic male poet with the passing of Ashbery and Wilbur—not that these guys were household words—but Merwin, who knew Robert Graves, has little star power, somehow. The famous American poet is not a dying breed. It’s a dead one.

39. Ron Padgett has some hoary prominence—he wrote a few poems for the recent movie, Paterson, starring Adam Driver. England had Lord Byron and Lord Tennyson. The U.S. doesn’t like lords—or their kind of poetry much anymore—though it’s still good.

40. Claudia Rankine was the poet who clashed with Tony Hoagland and his ‘watching tennis’ poem over race before she became big with her race book, Citizen. The Victorians (beneficiary heirs of the slave trade, created by the British Empire) had children as their poetic subject. 21st Century Americans (victim heirs) have racism.

41. Mary Angela Douglas should be discovered. She writes lines of real beauty. She is unknown, like a basketball player sinking a number of thirty-foot shots in a row, in some empty stadium.

42. Mary Oliver is a national treasure. We’re glad she’s still around. She proves to us nature poetry doesn’t really exist. All poetry is of nature, and never gets beyond it, if we are honest, and if we turn off the blurbing trumpets.

43. Donald Hall is about the same age as Merwin. He has written harrowing poetry and should not be forgotten.

44. Terrance Hayes has a lot going for him: major prizes, sensitive poetry, alive to the times, and he’s young. He’s 46. Which in American poetry today, is young. A hundred years ago, 26 was young; fifty years ago, 36 was young; today, 46 is about right. One needs time to get that MFA, or two.

45. Eminem is not considered a poet, and no hip hop artist will ever be considered a poet. There’s a hierarchy, and it goes something like this: Prose poetry difficult to understand is first, prose poetry which is politically correct, a close second. Rhyme, quietism, slam, and hip hop are kept in cages.

46. Rachel McKibbens is a feminist poet and mother who writes of sexual assault and abortion with a fervor which challenges poetry which repels subject, and cares only for poetry.

47. Joanna Valente is a poet who belongs to the post-post-post-Feminist Wave which is not so much pro-woman, as we-are-going-take-the-whole-concept-of-woman-away-from-men-entirely. This is the right of every non-binary creature. There’s an epidemic sweeping across our land of daughters wholly estranged from mothers which poets like Valente, striking out into the unknown, represent.

48. Ron Silliman belongs to an old SUNY Buffalo/L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E/Charles Bernstein/anti-Quietist  School which has nothing more to say. Like so many similar movements, it arose out of a fetish sensibility—which inevitably condemns itself to irrelevance, since it enacts newly what was never really new, but merely odd, and with the passage of time and any success at all, there is the attempt to be more than what was odd at first (normalcy is greedy in all of us at last) causing the radical impulse to die.

49. Dan Sociu is a Romanian whiz kid poet who now must be taken seriously on the English speaking stage thanks to the publication of English translations of his urbane and sensitive work by Ana-Maria Tone.

50. Richard Howard is the living tradition (he’s of the generation of Donald Hall and W.S. Merwin) of James Merrill, the highly learned, lavish, baroque—which enhances, but sometimes gets in the way—of American poetry.

51. Patricia Lockwood wrote a date rape poem a few years ago which went somewhat viral on Twitter. She was “me too” before that became famous. Prophet is probably too big a word. Perhaps poets may serve as the canary in the mine?

52. Collin Yost is an Instagram “dude” poet who was critically savaged in an offhand remark (and then re-tweeted) by a feminist woman for his naively bad “dude” poetry.

53. A.E. Stallings is the last gasp of New Formalism—which attempted to make rhyme critically respectable and failed, because formalism has nothing to do with formalism and everything to do with the rare great poet who inhabits it and validates it.

54. Rupi Kaur is selling, but there’s always a catch, when it comes to poetry—and this is certainly poetry’s fault, and we shouldn’t blame Rupi Kaur.  Her successful book, Milk and Honey, is full of trite advice, the “inspirational” mode of truly fake poetry, passing itself off as wisdom—but which makes people feel good, so the critics and poets (are they wise?) remain wrapped in silence.

55. Frank Bidart is the poet (his Collected won National Book Award in 2017) who exemplifies sociology and psychology in dramatic guise; he’s known for highly personal, ALL CAPS pronouncements in his poems. Once a poet gets inside not just language, but font, and is able to make it a bit strange, together with ‘everyman’ observations, a certain amount of success is assured.

56. Eileen Myles has a nice combination of things going: well-reviewed novel and poems, a museum presence, a cool, older lesbian presence, a Boston, Catholic background; shrewd, nice, but with a loner vibe, as well.  Such things probably happen by accident—but poetry, which is never an accident, does well with it.

57. Paige Lewis is a very young poet who has already written two great poems: “You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm” and “The River Reflects Nothing.” But American poetry has no apparatus to make good poetry known. So what is a poet to do? Ginsberg’s fame arose from obscenity charges. The last legitimately known poets, Frost, Cummings, Eliot, were born in the 19th century.

58. Tyehimba Jess of sensitive Jim Crow era passions and historiography, beat out Adrienne Rich’s Collected for the 2017 Pulitzer: Living Black Male Slam 1, Dead White Lesbian Book 0.

59. Marjorie Perloff is like those other experienced, learned poetry critics, Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler: hoary American Criticism generally likes Pound, without looking at his writings very specifically, and generally dislikes Poe, without looking at his writings very specifically—this respectable but odd opinion towards the hyena and the lion is a terrible drag on American Letters.

60. Frederick Seidel belongs to the Scorched Earth School of American poetry. The older poets today are far more eccentric than the young—for about a million reasons.

61. Wendy Cope is brainy, English, and funny. She uses rhyme to “win” arguments. Which is sort of what rhyme is supposed to do. Of course, she’s poison to those who practice “serious” poetry in the United States. The British poets used to matter in the United States. They no longer do.

62. Daipayan Nair belongs to the English speaking avalanche of Indian poetry on the Internet. He is a master of the very short form—his mind is so complex that compositions of any length tend to misfire; he can say more in a few words (I am a poet/I kill eyes) than most can say in a book.

63. Marilyn Chin was born in Hong Kong, named after Marilyn Monroe; she landed as a child on the west coast, found her way to the University of Iowa, is now a well known Chinese American poet; her best known poem: “How I Got That Name.”

64. Dana Gioia was chair of the NEA under George W. Bush, a New Formalist who champions Longfellow. New Formalism arose during Reagan, and has managed to assure that rhyme is used even less by critically acclaimed poets today. One cannot just impose rhyme on trivia. What the New Formalists did not understand (and the free verse advocates do not understand, either) is that good rhyme does not elevate expression; it humbles it. Humbling the trivial is boring.

65. Diane Seuss was Pulitzer Poetry runner-up in 2016, an extroverted feminist with a new book coming out this spring.

66. Charles Simic is another respected, older American poet who may not wish to go gently from America’s poetry landscape, but probably will. Simic belongs to the late Mark Strand school of European surrealism.

67. Kay Ryan writes clever, dryly humorous, brief poems, was U.S. Poet Laureate for awhile, and perhaps should be better known than she is.

68. Kenneth Goldsmith lived and died by the ‘found poem’; “poetry that stays news” was taken a step further (or backwards) by Goldsmith to “poetry that is, literally, the news.” Michael Brown’s autopsy was his downfall.

69. Cathy Park Hong destroyed Ron Silliman’s white Modernist avant-garde with one short, racially outraged, f-bomb essay.

70. George Bilgere is perhaps the best current example of the Carl Dennis/Stephen Dunn/Dean Young/Billy Collins/James Tate school of wise-acre, poignant, middle-aged, dude poetry.

71. Rita Dove did very well to stay above the fray when Vendler and Perloff blasted her anthology for being too black.

72. William Kulik toils away as America’s prose poem Dante.

73. Louise Glück does not have Sharon Olds’ powerful Adele vibe, but as an influential and respected female poet of American Letters, she’ll do.

74. Vievee Francis won the greatest poetry prize in 2017—the Kingsley Tufts Award. It’s worth $100,000. Her poetry appears in BAP, 2010 and 2014, and the Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry.

75. Sonnet L’Abbé edited Best Canadian Poetry 2014 and is highly engaged in decolonial projects and erasure poetry. Her name comes from her father, Ja-son and her mother, Ja-net.

76. Lisa Robertson has won the new C.D. Wright Award for Poetry, worth $40,000.

77. Jennifer Reeser is a poet’s poet: a high quality formalist, praised by X.J. Kennedy, translated into Persian and Hindi, she has four books; and can be found in anthologies such as Phoenix Rising: The Next Generation of American Formal Poets. She also engages with Native American literature.

78. Terence Davies directed a sensitive movie on Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, starring Cynthia Nixon, released in the spring of 2017.

79. Saheli Mitra is a highly interesting poet one can read on the Internet. There’s a certain tension these days between poets one can read (and see) freely on the web, and the more “respectable” poets—who provide links for purchase of their books, but it is difficult to read a single one of their poems. The poem, and the way it is presented, will always be divided—and very much related. The critic must discern. Readers will gush—or not.

80. Don Mee Choi recently published an autobiographical book of poems about the American wars in Vietnam and Korea called Hardly War, which gets a thoughtful review in The Margins by Sukjong Hong.

81. Matthew Zapruder currently enjoys a critical perch in the NY Times. In his July 10, 2017 column he opines what Scarriet has been saying for years: a poem is not a riddle which deliberately hides its meaning, or is “difficult” on purpose to impress. Zapruder faults Harold Bloom for keeping this fallacy alive. Good. But then Zapruder concludes poetry is meant to bring “language back to life again” in the “machine” of the poem. This is wrong, too. Language is far bigger than anyone’s poem-as-machine. Zapruder has traded one mumbo-jumbo for another.

82. Timothy Donnelly has one of those poems, “Unlimited Soup and Salad” in the November 27, 2017 New Yorker—the trending kind of poem made of breathless facts and extremely long sentences.

83. Don Share is Poetry editor and chair of the Kingsley Tufts Award finalist judges—the Kingsley Tufts Award ($100,000 prize) has nothing to do with Tufts University; Kingsley Tufts was a wealthy LA shipyards executive who published poems in The New Yorker, Esquire, and Harpers.

84. Gary B. Fitzgerald will remind you his poetry is Taoist, not Zen.

85. Ellen Bass writes poetry accessible, poignantly honest, and self-effacing. Her poem, “Indigo,” in the October 16, 2017 New Yorker, about seeing a tattooed man she wishes had been the father of her child is an example. It begins, “As I’m walking on West Cliff Drive…”

86. Ada Limón was a 2017 Kingsley Tufts Award runner-up for her book Bright Dead Things (milkweed). We would be depressed for a long time if we just missed winning $100,000. Perhaps this prize thing is out of control? Aren’t poets anxious enough? Can one imagine Shelley or Dante writing for a gigantic pile of cash?

87. Leila Chatti appears in the anthology, 2017 Best New Poets (series editor Jeb Livingood) with her poem “Motherland,” chosen by guest editor Natalie Diaz.

88. Taylor Swift is, according to Carrie Battan this past year in the New Yorker, “the most consistent singer and songwriter of her generation.” More from the magazine: “The album [“Reputation”] tries to nail down the center of pop at a time when such a thing hardly exists.”

89. Osama Alomar has two books published by New Directions in the United States. A Syrian exile, he is a poet of simplicity and power.

90. Kim Addonizio is receiving a lot of praise for her latest book, Mortal Trash.  It’s published by Norton. We like this line from it: “We believe in the one-ton rose”

91. Shohreh (Sherry) Laici is a young performance artist, poet, and translator from Tehran, who is beginning to get published in the U.S. and belongs to the Iranian Miracle which began on November 8, 2016. She confirmed for us Jimmy Carter’s State Department did in fact help put the current, corrupt regime of 1979 into power.

92. Dylan Krieger has a book of poems which is one of three to make the NY Times 100 Best Books of Fiction/Poetry of 2017. It is ” obscene and religious” and titled Giving Godhead. The others are by Jorie Graham, who writes of “ecological crisis,” and Layli Long Soldier, who is of Sioux heritage. The new faces should be easy to remember: think of the two best American music acts of the 20th Century, Dylan, the folk/rock/”Blowing in the Wind” Nobel, and Krieger, guitarist for the Doors who wrote Light My Fire. Long Soldier should be easy to remember. But, really. What the hell does the New York Times know about poetry?

93. Alan Cordle is a name you need to know. He changed poetry forever with Foetry.com by exposing crooked prizes and contests—the under-the-radar academic money flow which modern-poetry-which-nobody-buys needs—to have any “official” contemporary visibility at all.  Of course dishonest puffery still rolls on—and the general reading public has little confidence that quality in poetry matters at all. True critics wanted—it’s the only real solution.

94. Kushal Poddar belongs to the English speaking India poetry Renaissance taking place around the world, which has yet to gain the attention it deserves—it is too spontaneous for the MFA/New York publishing route; Poddar is especially deft and subtle, more than enough for editors at Norton, or professors at Iowa.

95. Tracy K. Smith was selected as the 22nd Library of Congress Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in June. She is the winner of a Cave Canem and a Pulitzer poetry prize. She was born in 1972. She has an MFA from Columbia.

96. Rae Armantrout continues her smart assault with this from her poem, “Project,” published in the New Yorker in August: “Your clock’s been turned to zero,/though there is no zero on a clock.”

97. Daniel Swift is the author of  2017’s The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound (FSG) a look at the poet who made more than 200 radio broadcasts from Rome during the Holocaust and World War Two, supporting Hitler and the Nazi liquidation of Jews. In 1949, his “insanity” having allowed him to escape hanging for treason, T.S. Eliot and Robert Lowell thought it would be a good idea to issue Pound a major poetry prize—which they did. 1949 was also the year T.S. Eliot won his Nobel Prize for Literature, and published an attack against the American poet Edgar Poe. Remind us who won World War Two, again?

98. Simon Armitage is currently the Oxford Professor of Poetry, following in the footsteps of Matthew Arnold (“Dover Beach”), W.H. Auden, Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, James Fenton, and Robert Graves—who, from that venerable position, in the 1960s, recommended eating psychedelic mushrooms. William Logan, the American critic, reviews Armitage’s latest book, The Unaccompanied, in The New Criterion, and Logan calls Armitage’s “whimsy…a touch labored” and, in this spirit, the Yank punishes the Brit in the Logan way, accusing him of “premature ejaculation of style…his bullish charm is everywhere undercut by the constant smirking and cutesy quirkiness,” as the reader can’t help but laugh and shout, “Hurray, Criticism.”

99. Nathan Woods may not be a big prize winner right away, having recently discovered, as a young poet, Scarriet, but we trust he will enjoy himself all the same.

100. Robert Tonucci is an invaluable Scarriet editor, as it enters its 10th year—Happy New Year, Nooch!!

NOVEMBER 2017. THE SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

Related image

1) Sushmita Gupta— When the waves lashed and the clouds loomed and I was alone.

2) Diane Seuss— I could do it. I could walk into the sea!

3) Rachel  McKibbens— as you lie still within the soft forgotten witch of your body

4) Daipayan Nair— The maker of a house carries its hardness.

5) Eminem— The best part about me is I am not you.

6) Sharon Olds—  I had not put it into words yet, the worst thing

7) Natasha Trethewey— two small trout we could not keep.

8) Billy Collins— The name of the author is the first to go

9) Terrance Hayes— but there are tracks of your syntax about the land

10) Robert Pinsky— The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

11) Bob Dylan— How does it feel?

12) Dan Sociu— the quakes moving/ for nothing, under uninhabited regions. (trans. Ana-Maria Tone)

13) Ben Mazer— Mother then/I am your son/The King.

14) Denise Duhamel— Ken wants to feel Barbie’s toes between his lips

15) Molly Fisk—  Then someone you love. And then you.

16) Sherman Alexie— They were common people who believed only in the thumb and the foot.

17) Jorie Graham— the infinite finding itself strange among the many

18) Charles Simic— Have you found a seat in your room/For every one of your wayward selves?

19) Louise Glück— In her heart, she wants them to go away.

20) Richard Howard— inspired by some wag’s verbose variations on the theme of semi-porn bric-a-brac

21) Donald Hall— so that she could smell the snowy air.

22) Stephen Cole— For the knowing heart the known heart cannot know.

23) Laura Kasischke— as if the worship of a thing might be the thing that breaks it.

24) Mary Ruefle— the dead borrow so little from the past.

25) Tony Hoagland— Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

26) Kevin Young— a freshman, I threw/a Prince party, re-screwed/ the lights red & blue

27) Maxine Beneba Clarke— penny lane/on the Beatles trail/all the locals say and they nod/as if for sure they know/our tourist game

28) Carolyn Forché— What you have heard is true.

29) Mary Jo Bang— A plane lit down and left her there.

30) Dan Beachy-Quick— Drab bird unseen in the dark dark’s underbrush

31) Carl Dennis— Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.

32) Christian Wiman—  Do you remember the rude nudists?

33) Stanley Plumly— I clapped my hands just for the company.

34) Major Jackson— All seeing is an act of war.

35) Gary B. Fitzgerald— A life is gone and, hard as rock, diamonds glow in jet black skies.

36) Mary Angela Douglas—  the larks cry out and not with music

37) A.E. Stallings— From the weeds of the drowned.

38) Joe Green—  the teacup is filled with the eyelashes of owls

39) Dorianne Laux—  It’s tough being a guy, having to be gruff and buff

40) Collin Yost— I’ll love you when you’re mad at me

41) Rupi Kaur— Don’t tell me my women aren’t as beautiful as the ones in your country

42) Wendy Cope— The planet goes on being round.

43) Warsan Shire— when the men come, set yourself on fire.

44) Savannah Brown— Hi, I’m a slut. What?!

45) Brenna Twohy— My anxiety is a camera that shows everyone I love as bones

46) Lily Myers— My mother wanes while my father waxes

47) Imani Cezanne— Addiction is seeking comfort in that which is destroying you.

48) Ada Limón— What’s left of the woods is closing in.

49) Olivia Gatewood— resting bitch face, they call you

50) Vincent Toro—  This island like a basket/of laundry 

51) Koraly Dimitriadis— the day I moved out, I took my wedding dress to mum’s house

52) Nayuka Gorrie— I lose it and find it and lose it again.

53) Hera Lindsay Bird— Keats is dead so fuck me from behind

54) Marie Howe— Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?

55) Valerie Macon— You are the boss of your canvas

56) Patricia Lockwood—  OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

57) Danielle Georges—  O poorest country, this is not your name.

58) Frank Bidart—  In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead.

59) Eileen Myles— I write behind your back.

60) Leila Chatti— Are you also dreaming? Do you still worship me, now that I’m here?

61) Claudia Rankine—  After the initial presidential election results come in, I stop watching the news.

62) Anne Carson—  I can hear little clicks inside my dream.

63) William Logan—  the pastel salons require/the formalities of skin

64) Marilyn Chin—  lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency.

65) George Bilgere—  The mysteries/from the public library, due

66) Robin Coste Lewis—  what’s greyed/In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.

67) Daniel Borzutzky—  hieroglyphics painted on the/walls of financiers who accumulate capital through the/unjustified sexual behavior of adulterous/women

68) Maggie Smith—  Any decent realtor,/walking you through a real shithole, chirps on/about good bones

69) Kim Addonnizio—  a man who was going to be that vulnerable,/that easy and impossible to hurt.

70) Kay Ryan—  If it please God,/let less happen.

71) Dana Gioia—  there is no silence but when danger comes.

72) Megan Fernandez— The bullet is a simple, adolescent heartache.

73) Kushal Poddar— My mom, a wheelchair since two thousand and one

74) Sascha Aurora Akhtar— I ate/But I am/Hungrier than before

75) Jennifer Reeser— your coldness and my idealism/alone for all this time have kept us true.

76) Linda Ashok—  a sudden gust of Kalbaisakhi/changed the conversation.

77) Ramsha Ashraf— tremble and tremble and tremble/With every kiss

78) Amber Tamblyn— If it had been Hillary Clinton, this would’ve never happened to Harvey Weinstein.

79) Ruth Awad— Nothing grows from me except the dead

80) Merryn Juliette— I will love her all insane

81) Nathan Woods— The best poems swell the lungs.

82) Nahid Arjouni— My headscarf will shudder if you speak with anyone. (trans. Shohreh Laici)

83) Philip Nikolayev— the fool moon/couldn’t stand the iambic pentameter any longer

84) Saira Shah Halim— The rains left behind a petrichor of shared verses

85) Jay Z— I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.

86) Nalini Priyadarshni— mostly bookish, as sinfulness should be

87) Mark Doty— Into Eden came the ticks, princes of this world, heat-seeking, tiny

88) Paige Lewis— I’m making love easy for everyone.

89) Mary Oliver—  You don’t have to be good.

90) Lyn Hejinian— to change this nerdy life upon row upon row upon row

91) Afaa Weaver— I stand here where I was born,/ and the masks wait for me.

92) Alex Dimitrov— What is under the earth followed them home.

93) Ben Lerner— jumpsuits, they have changed/painting

94) Wendy Videlock— the owl devours/ the hour,/ and disregards/ the rest

95) Joie Bose— I own that you from that night in November

96) Amy Gerstler— Pardon my/frontal offensive, dear chum.

97) Nathaniel Mackey—  Some new Atlantis known as Lower/Ninth we took leave of next

98) W.S. Merwin— into a world he thought was a thing of the past

99) Juan Felipe Herrera— Where is our exile? Who has taken it?

100) Charles Bernstein—  Think about it, Mr./Fanelli.

DAIPAYAN NAIR

Image result for moby dick the great whale in painting

What has happened to contemporary literature?

When did it become so overly serious, so full of itself?

What is literature supposed to do?

Literature is supposed to show us life, if not here, than over there, as it is.

OK, fine. Kill me and torture me, but with an enjoyable read.

Our modern era revels in the Weltschmertz novel—fiction written from an autobiographical ditch of despair, allowing readers to thrill at an existence more heart-breaking and miserable than their own.

Schadenfreude sells.

Literature, whether it is American literature or literature from somewhere else, has one use:

Drop the reader into a silo of pain—a place (real, fantastic) or a time (if it’s historical fiction) so terrifying, we are overjoyed, when we finish the book, to return to our boring, mundane existence.

The only difference between the more modest torture devices of contemporary literature and the gigantic, cumbersome classics such as Moby Dick or Ulysses, is that we don’t finish these epics—but we say we did.

The famous authors we read—Faulkner, Orwell, Huxley, O’Connor, Golding, Greene, Fitzgerald, McCarthy, Burgess, Bradbury, Miller, Waugh, Hemingway, Bowles, Rhys, Styron, London, Conrad, Kesey, Pynchon, Bellow—if we finish their books—blind, maim, confuse, madden, burn, demoralize, crush, enslave, confound, and kill us.

Henry James? He just bores us.

Why do we let them do this?

Do mystery or fantasy genres make us any happier?

No. They torture and murder us, too.

It’s all quite grim.

Modern literature. A maw. Of insanity and torture.

Look at any list of the “The 100 Best Novels.”

Check the list. Where are the great comic novels?

Where is the literature which lifts us above this dreary life?

Where is the genius of insight and humor?

Garrison Keillor recently got into some hot water, because Keillor wrote in the Washington Post that humorless, bleak, Kazuo Ishiguro should not have received the Nobel Prize for Literature—it’s because we let the grim Swedes pick the prize, Keillor half-jokingly opined.

Keillor must be shocked at how much genuine hate and scorn he received for his recent essay—for simply voicing his opinion, in a witty manner.

This is what we’ve come to.

Where have you gone, Oscar Wilde?

Or, Dorothy Parker?

Does every book, esteemed, or popular, need to feature hacked limbs?  Or clouds of confusion and depression?

Does every book need to be about how we’re trapped, and there’s no way out?

It only gets worse when we turn to modern poetry.

Expecting a rhyme to make us happy?  Guess, again.

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

This is from America’s currently most critically esteemed, contemporary poet.

And the prison walls of the harried soul close in.

So we go back to novels.  At least there, we have an arc, a story, and not just snippets of doom—as we are brutally killed and demoralized.

What a joy, then, to read the shrewd, brilliant, philosophical, poems of Daipayan Nair.

Nair says his “real muse” is “my own ‘distorted’ mind,” and though he belongs to the Neruda/Whitman school of poetry, this, we think, is the proper way to approach writing: don’t be afraid of your own distorted mind.

His childhood in northeast India had “fairy tale lullabies,” but “school and growing up” put him “survivor” mode, and then, finished with school, according to Nair:

The birth of poetry in me was more like a ‘rebellion,’ though I started with penning lyrical, romantic verses. One can say

Falling in love is
Like following a trend

Understanding love
Is kissing a rebellion

The excellence of the epigram is nowhere better exhibited today than in the writings of Daipayan Nair:

She doesn’t
Speak much

It gives me
One pair of lips
Two eyes
And an entire face
To talk to

~

How I will die
depends on the life
After my death

~

Time is a spoiled child.

~

The maker of a house carries its hardness.

~

Poetry is a poet trying to fathom his poet.

~

Let’s be silent
With each other tonight,
As our words
Have found better routes.
They take to the air,
Fly at luxurious speeds,
Landing exactly where they
Want to.

When I hear a voice
I only walk towards
The terminal.

~

Beauty, as helpless
As its beautiful posture
Reflected on a ten story window,
The walls of which
Are on fire.

~

Let’s die together.
What use is your cover
When it has
Nothing to cover

Everything
Sucked in my grave.

~

The future of a soul
As formless
As its disintegrating
Present.

~

It is not that Daipayan Nair’s writing refuses to deal with death and mayhem.

It does.

We are not here to praise the sunny colors of poetry which can be described as overly optimistic.

Some accuse Billy Collins of this, but there is an edge, an irony, beneath the surface, in Billy Collins—but this is a debate for another place and time.

The point is this.

Daipayan Nair does not belong to the sunny optimism school.

You have darkness.

And either the author is part of that darkness.

Or carries a light.

Some readers want mayhem, (or political indignation only) and need to see characters crushed by real cement and bricks. Killed by real despair.

With Daipayan Nair, the wit is what buries us.

It is the philosophy, not the sad life, which makes the writing important.

And which deserves a closer look.

Let us see again, that list of great writers.

Daipayan Nair deserves to be on it.

Related image

FEBRUARY POEMS BY BEN MAZER, REVIEWED

Image result for feb poems mazer

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

But there never was such a thing.

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

To put things in historical perspective:

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

Billy Collins was born in 1941.

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

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

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

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

What of poets born after 1950?

Who knows them?

Where are the biographies and critical studies?

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

Who is a young poet that we know?

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

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

Who is Ben Mazer?

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

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

Mazer has published numerous books of poems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mazer sounds Modern.

As he revives Romanticism.

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

Revival is always open to the charge of retrograde.

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

Before the public gets bored?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Infinite stasis exploring tenderness” !!

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

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

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

The poems range from greatest bliss:

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

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

(excerpt from poem on pg. 16)

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

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

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

To pure sublimity and beauty and joy:

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

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

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

 

 

INDIE INDIA

Image may contain: 1 person

The poet and painter Sushmita Gupta.

There’s something happening in poetry at present which ought to make many very proud, and a smaller, but a still significantly large amount of people, uncomfortable.

The best poetry in English right now is being produced by non-MFA poets from India.

We can name this phenomenon anything we want—some have called it the Bolly Verse phenomenon. Its center is Kolkata, or West Bengal, where a great deal of poems today are written in English. Kolkata (Calcutta), which we hear is an enchanting, mystical, modern city, was the cultural capital of British India. Rabindranath Tagore, the Tolstoy/Hugo/Poe/Borges/Shakespeare of India, was Bengali.

Contemporary Indian poets are inspired both by modern ways and old leather books from the 19th century.

These amateur Indian poets, amateur in the best sense of that word, are dimly aware of Whitman and William Carlos Williams, but they are just as likely to be inspired by Rumi or Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

These Indian poets have an advantage over American sophisticates—who are brutally and self-consciously modern.

Rumi sells far more books in America than any modern American poet—Rumi’s popularity rolls over the chilling influence of MFA programs; Rumi has an immense following in spite of American MFA-program success—a kind of pyramid-scheme success, if one is honest, and which, to be critically valid, demands a kind of anti-populist, historically-blank, hyper-individualist poetry: the kind published by university presses; academically rewarded—but since popularity is considered by sophisticates to be a bad thing—MFA-produced poetry has an almost nonexistent readership.

These indie Indian poets are not consciously writing against the MFA.  And we do not bring these Indian poets to the world’s notice to make an anti-MFA point. Live, and let live, is a fine motto. These Indian poets have as many admiring readers on Facebook as the most successful American poets do, with the exception of poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver—but even these are, relatively speaking, no lions; Rumi is a thousand times more influential.

These indie Indians are probably a little better, however, just because they are not beholden to Modernist or MFA sensibilities—which is sometimes a bee hive, death star, hodgepodge of crackpot, over-educated impulses.

These indie Indians are good, in large part because they are good in the way poems have been good and will always be good, despite the Modernist, MFA detour—confusing many Western hair-shirt wearers since 1913.

Joie Bose writes like a foul-mouthed Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  The foul-mouthed part is not “modern.”  The ancient Roman poets were foul-mouthed.  Peel the Modernist onion and you find ancient, and then perhaps nothing—the good poet happily and desperately on their own.  There is no need to advertise Bose as modern—because she’s good.

Image may contain: 1 person

The poetry of Joie Bose, and to be less pretentious, the poems of Joie Bose, belong to the center of what poetry has always been; when you’re drunk and you get up close to someone at a party, or any situation where you find yourself in a position to really hear what a person is really thinking—not what they think about X, Y, or Z-–but what they are thinking, as a person navigating this absurd, strange, beautiful, threatening world just like you, and navigating it means feeling along with the thinking, you get the total human experience.  Too much of poetry is somebody thinking about something and then coming up with a poem (let me use this image! let me use this rhyme!)—the good poets actually do less work and skip that step of “thinking about what they are going to write” and instead plunge right into it, so we experience the thinking—the thinking does not orchestrate the correct sort of speech behind the facade of the poem.  The thinking is the poem.

And let’s quote a Joie Bose poem so you’ll see exactly what we mean:

Stop talking! Shut your trap,
You better shut the fuck up!

Revolution is revolting and
we see that it’s the same
phrases and people on both sides
not knowing much about the cause
for these causes are mere pawns
and their quest is the same.

Why do you get up in the morning
Everyday and gear up to get out of bed?

I do, to board a train called Hope
It passes by many stations
For my destination changes.

I am a vagabond. Home is where I am.

People die when I rub them off
And I don’t believe in obituaries, ecologies and funerals.

Don’t ask me to stop if you can’t be me
And when you become, you will cease to care.

This poem is very heavy on the attitude.  And to its credit.

Because that’s what poetry is.  It’s attitude.

Think about it. Poetry isn’t science. When Keats famously said beauty is truth, he was presenting an attitude.  Think of Byron.  He was all attitude.

Poe made great efforts to get across the important point that poetry is neither moral nor intellectual, but resides in an area between the two.  Once poetry attempts to be moral, it dies, because poetry is too truthfully subjective to be moral; when poetry becomes too intellectual, it perishes for the same reason, losing the subjective thrill which is the key to poetry’s expression.  This does not mean that the moral and intellectual faculties of the poet are absent; the poet is aware of these—but the reader wants cohesion, not precepts.

Joie Bose’s poem has its reasons. “Causes are mere pawns” is the same thing as saying causes are effects—which they certainly can be; there is a sound and playful philosophy going on here.  The way hope inside hope rides a train which stops, but doesn’t, carries more interest—the poet is calling the shots, and that’s refreshing; she’s not letting the world and its stock images (train stations, destinations, these normally dull objects of sorrow and limitation) spoil her fun.  But this is not to say the poet is making a train a nice thing on a whim—the whole poem follows out the entire essence of what the poet is saying at every point, and, finally, “Don’t ask me to stop if you can’t be me” which is piling on more of that “shut the fuck up” attitude—and “cease to care” opposes “hope,” and these two opposites interact precisely because the poet’s attitude is strongly expressed—we connect with the poet who apparently doesn’t give a fuck (or does she?)  There’s a person in Bose’s poem—one is bumping into an attractive stranger, not hearing a lecture.  Her poem is exciting.

The poet Sushmita Gupta also makes poetry from a plain, homely, yet gracious place—poetry coming out of a tradition which sells the human.  As with Bose, Sushmita Gupta is not interested in intellectual or aesthetic distance, something modern poets often do—and why must they do it? What if poetry is harmed by intellectual distancing, and modern poetry has made a horrible miscalculation?  For calculation is at the center of modern poetry—if nothing else, it is highly intellectual and historically and theoretically conscious, and if it does take its calculations seriously—and this means miscalculation is possible—the moderns need to at least acknowledge this.  In speaking of a “modern temper,” and speaking of it pejoratively, we are sure our modern readers, every one, will say to themselves, “Well this isn’t my attitude! I have no “modern” limitations! Scarriet is building a straw man!” This indeed may be true, but any sophisticated reader who reads the following poem by Sushmita will find themselves immediately confronting what their modern education tells them is insufficient, even as their very soul is swept away by the beauty of this poem:

Why Me

Beyond the forest
By the river swollen,
Stood a single tree.
Often times,
I ran away
From it all,
And sat underneath,
Where branches,
From the sun,
Barely covered me.

One evening,
On a day of betrayal,
I sat sobbing.
And by the time
The sun was gone,
And tiny stars
Just began showing,
My quiet sobbing
Had turned to a howl.
Past hurt,
Came crawling,
Out of deep dungeons,
They were on a prowl.
I asked,
Of the wildly hungry,
Wind,
Why me.
Why always me.
That angered
The dark
And brazen
Wind to a frenzy.
It threw me
In the river,
Of fast flowing,
Spiraling waters,
That was used to
Smoothening rocks,
In a day,
To pebbles.
I was blown away,
By just that one question.
Why me.
I groped,
I screamed,
I cried for help,
But the waters rumbled,
The winds roared,
My cries drowned,
To a tiny yelp.
I was cruised,
Over rocks,
Over branches,
Till I was thrown,
On the shores,
Of an unknown land.
My clothes in tatters,
My head and hair,
Covered in wet sand.
The sun
Was beginning to rise,
But I just wished,
For sleep,
For rest,
For some
Peaceful time.
Happy to be alive,
I once again asked,
But more in gratitude,
You saved me o divine lord,
Why me.
Why in spite of my failings,
Why me.

This poem by Sushmita Gupta succeeds not because it’s telling a highly realistic story; it is not successful for any modern reason at all—it succeeds almost mathematically—the pure timing of “why me,” its musical repetition. If Sushmita’s poem is mathematical, it seems unobtrusively musical, instead, seeming to spring directly from the heart. It succeeds where all great art succeeds; not in some critical guide book—but with the audience.

We found this poem by Payal Sharma  printed out on Facebook recently, and include it in our random piece on a great nation’s poetry; it reminds us of Emily Dickinson or even Sylvia Plath.  We have no great motive for sharing this, except as a pleasing addition to the vague idea that Indian women writing by their wits alone are making great poetry today.  Payal lives in the north of India, works in an office, is intelligent, passionate, and counts among her influences Oscar Wilde, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, Wilfred Owen, Lord Byron, Kahil Gibran, Mirza Ghalib, Sarojini Naidu, and Rabindranath Tagore. If William Shakespeare or W.H. Auden or Oscar Wilde find you in offices in Mexico, childhoods in India, or MFA seminars in the U.S.A., they find you.  That’s all that matters.

In the following poem by Payal, we find “exhaling sad to inhale relief” exquisite, and the conclusion of the poem sounds like the pure yelp of divine Miss Emily herself: “demurely silent pearls, which nobody earned more so!”

As you may

Half drowned,
treading through the narrow waters
in numbing black void,
greased with slippery layers
of lard extracted from my old epithets.

Dear lover, come as you may-

A chrome door to murky corridor,
leading to the virgin smells
of crushed black olives
in medieval castles.

A faint hint of corrosive carbon,
peered with miraculous oxygen,
released in deep audible
breaths of night trees,
exhaling sad to inhale relief.

A knight in decent armour,
sent by gown-less fairies
from the oppressed villages of
valour and essential ignorance.

A tang of air from several yards,
carrying the mental notes
from past teachers,
coiled around my neck for a while,
like demurely silent pearls,
which nobody earned more so!

~~~~

These three Indian poets, Joie, Sushmita, and Payal are different, independent—and magnificent!

We are proud to be able to present them.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, phone, selfie and indoor

Payal Sharma

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

Image may contain: 2 people, sunglasses

1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100 IS HERE AGAIN!!!

Image result for masked ball in painting

1. Matthew Zapruder: Hurricane Matthew. Hired by the Times to write regular poetry column. Toilet papered the house of number 41.

2. Edward Hirsch: Best American Poetry 2106 Guest Editor.

3. Christopher Ricks: Best living critic in English? His Editorial Institute cancelled by bureaucrats at Boston University.

4. Joie Bose: Living Elizabeth Barrett Browning of India.

5. Sherman Alexie: Latest BAP editor. Still stung from the Chinese poet controversy.

6. Jorie Graham: Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard

7. W.S Merwin: Migration: New and Selected Poems, 2005

8. Terrance Hayes: “I am not sure how a man with no eye weeps.”

9. George Bilgere: “I consider George Bilgere America’s Greatest Living Poet.” –Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer

10. Billy Collins: Interviewed Paul McCartney in 2014

11. Stephen Cole: Internet Philosopher poet. “Where every thing hangs/On the possibility of understanding/And time, thin as shadows,/Arrives before your coming.”

12. Richard Howard: National Book Award Winner for translation of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1984.

13. William Logan: The kick-ass critic. Writes for the conservative New Criterion.

14. Sharon Olds: Stag’s Leap won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

15. Nalini Priyadarshni: “Denial won’t redeem you/Or make you less vulnerable/My unwavering love just may.”  Her new book is Doppelgänger in my House.

16. Stephen Dobyns: “identical lives/begun alone, spent alone, ending alone”

17. Kushal Poddar: “You wheel out your mother’s latte silk/into the picnic of moths.” His new book is Scratches Within.

18. Jameson Fitzpatrick: “Yes, I was jealous when you threw the glass.”

19. Marilyn Chin: “It’s not that you are rare/Nor are you extraordinary//O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree”

20. E J Koh: “I browsed CIA.gov/for jobs”

21. Cristina Sánchez López: “If the moon knows dying, a symbol of those hearts, which, know using their silence as it was an impossible coin, we will have to be like winter, which doesn’t accept any cage, except for our eyes.”

22. Mark Doty: His New and Selected won the National Book Award in 2008.

23. Meghan O’ Rourke: Also a non-fiction writer, her poetry has been published in the New Yorker.

24. Alicia Ostriker: Born in Brooklyn in 1937.

25. Kay Ryan: “One can’t work by/ lime light.”

26. A.E. Stallings: Rhyme, rhyme, rhyme.

27. Dana Gioia: Champions Longfellow.

28. Marilyn Hacker: Antiquarian bookseller in London in the 70s.

29. Mary Oliver: “your one wild and precious life”

30. Anne Carson: “Red bird on top of a dead pear tree kept singing three notes and I sang back.”

31. Mary Jo Bang: “A breeze blew a window open on a distant afternoon.”

32. Forrest Gander: “Smoke rises all night, a spilled genie/who loves the freezing trees/but cannot save them.”

33. Stephen Burt: Author of Randall Jarrell and his Age. (2002)

34. Ann Lauterbach: Her latest book is Under the Sign (2013)

35. Richard Blanco: “One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes/tired from work”

36. Kenneth Goldsmith: “Humidity will remain low, and temperatures will fall to around 60 degrees in many spots.”

37. Rita Dove: Her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry is already 5 years old.

38. Stephen Sturgeon: “blades of the ground feathered black/in moss, in the sweat of the set sun”

39. Marjorie Perloff: Her book, Unoriginal Genius was published in 2010.

40. Kyle Dargan: His ghazal, “Points of Contact,” published in NY Times: “He means sex—her love’s grip like a fist.”

41. Alan Cordle: Foetry.com and Scarriet founder.

42. Lyn Hejinian: “You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.”

43. Stephen Dunn: Lines of Defense: Poems came out in 2014.

44. Ocean Vuong: “Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god/to give it back”

45. Marie Howe: “I am living. I remember you.”

46. Vanessa Place: Controversial “Gone with the Wind” tweets.

47. Helen Vendler: Reviewed Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor Ben Mazer, in the NYR this spring.

48. Martin Espada: Vivas To Those Who Have Failed is his new book of poems from Norton.

49. Carol Muske-Dukes: Poet Laureate of California from 2008 to 2011.

50. Sushmita Gupta: Poet and artist. Belongs to the Bollyverses renaissance. Sushness is her website.

51. Brad Leithauser: A New Formalist from the 80s, he writes for the Times, the New Criterion and the New Yorker.

52. Julie Carr: “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

53. Kim Addonizio: Tell Me (2000) was nominated for a National Book Award.

54. Glynn Maxwell: “This whiteness followed me at the speed of dawn.”

55. Simon Seamount: His epic poem on the lives of philosophers is Hermead.

56. Maggie Dietz: “Tell me don’t/ show me and wipe that grin/ off your face.”

57. Robert Pinsky: “When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.”

58. Ha Jin: “For me the most practical thing to do now/is not to worry about my professorship.”

59. Peter Gizzi: His Selected Poems came out in 2014.

60. Mary Angela Douglas: “the steps you take in a mist are very small”

61. Robyn Schiff: A Woman of Property is her third book.

62. Karl Kirchwey: “But she smiled at me and began to fade.”

63. Ben Mazer: December Poems just published. “Life passes on to life the raging stars”

64. Cathy Park Hong: Her battle cry against Ron Silliman’s reactionary Modernists: “Fuck the avant-garde.”

65. Caroline Knox: “Because he was Mozart,/not a problem.”

66. Henri Cole: “There is no sun today,/save the finch’s yellow breast”

67. Lori Desrosiers: “I wish you were just you in my dreams.”

68. Ross Gay: Winner of the 2016 $100,000 Kingsley Tufts award.

69. Sarah Howe: Loop of Jade wins the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.

70. Mary Ruefle: Published by Wave Books. A favorite of Michael Robbins.

71. CA Conrad: His blog is (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals.

72. Matvei Yankelevich: “Who am I alone. Missing my role.”

73. Fanny Howe: “Only that which exists can be spoken of.”

74. Cole Swensen: “Languor. Succor. Ardor. Such is the tenor of the entry.”

75. Layli Long Soldier: “Here, the sentence will be respected.”

76. Frank Bidart: Student and friend of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

77. Michael Dickman: “Green sky/Green sky/Green sky”

78. Deborah Garrison: “You must praise the mutilated world.”

79. Warsan Shire: “I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes/On my face they are still together.”

80. Joe Green: “I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.”

81. Joan Houlihan: Took part in Franz Wright Memorial Reading in Harvard Square in May.

82. Frannie Lindsay: “safe/from even the weak sun’s aim.”

83. Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright: Translates contemporary German poetry.

84. Noah Cicero: This wry, American buddhist poet’s book is Bi-Polar Cowboy.

85. Jennifer Barber: “The rose nude yawns, rolls over in the grass,/draws us closer with a gorgeous laugh.”

86. Tim Cresswell: Professor of history at Northeastern and has published two books of poems.

87. Thomas Sayers Ellis: Lost his job at Iowa.

88. Valerie Macon: Surrendered her North Carolina Poet Laureate to the cred-meisters.

89: David Lehman: Best American Poetry editor hates French theory, adores tin pan alley songs, and is also a poet .”I vote in favor/of your crimson nails”

90: Ron Silliman: Silliman’s Blog since 2002.

91: Garrison Keillor: The humorist is also a poetry anthologist.

92: Tony Hoagland: “I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain/or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade”

93. Alfred Corn: One of the most distinguished living poets.

94. Philip Nikolayev: He values spontaneity and luck in poetry, logic in philosophy.

95. Laura Kasischke: Read her poem, “After Ken Burns.”

96. Daipayan Nair: “I was never a part of the society. I have always created one.”

97. Claudia Rankine: Her prize-winning book is Citizen.

98. Solmaz Sharif: Her book Look is from Graywolf.

99. Morgan Parker: Zapruder published her in the NY Times.

100. Eileen Myles: She makes all the best-of lists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFINE THE BRUTE

When I’m asked for an opinion on modern American poetry, I want to do more than list poems and poets I like, though this is probably the only adequate response. Anything else will be sure to confuse as much as it enlightens.

But I cannot resist the injunctions, so fraught with discipline is my soul, even though it inhabits a bestial body.

Before poems are offered up, however, I have a desire to show my thoughts on what poetry is, and what it does, and what it is supposed to do, if it is worthy to be called, poetry, of which “modern” and “American” are even more hopelessly vague.

Surely poetry has a certain pedagogical use.

Verses and rhyme help us significantly in two ways: verse helps us to learn a language and helps us to learn to love a language.

Poetry can most simply be defined as language at play.

How can one love a language which is complex and unmusical?

Unless one is hopelessly misanthropic and affected?

Language can confuse more easily than anything else—because a chaos of meaning is more chaotic than chaos itself.

Language should never confuse—if it is worthy to be called language.

How can the most complex thing on earth do us good as a cheerful and loving guide?

This is the whole question, and poetry, in its beautiful robes, is always near, emerging elegantly from the shadows, with the answer.

Poetry, to cast away all pretense and confusion, then, is for the learning-book, the school lesson; poetry is the teacher of language.

Poetry is language for the child.

The child, who lisps wants and thoughts in the world of his mother, all at once enters the next phase—and grows slowly into a speaking and feeling citizen—with the help of poetry. 

At the end of this phase, perhaps harsh and complex and unmusical language awaits; but this middle path should be guided by simple and playful and happy versification, which fills the senses and the muscles of learning—with confidence and joy.

The student of poetry is the student of poetry for students.

For teaching is what poetry does.

Student, to some, is an unfriendly word; it implies anything but joy. We would prefer the poet as someone who learns from nature, outside the school’s walls.  Student implies shallow breathing and pitiless annoyance.

Student may have unfortunate institutional associations, but the athlete trains, the baby animal learns, the lover knows the beloved, and poetry casts knowing lovingly over all creatures who speak.

Poetry is a stream for all the speaking tribes.

Poetry is wisdom that is more than wisdom.

A student of poetry is the best thing to be—for once the adolescent has imbibed poetry’s waters, something divine will stay in him forever.

Poetry does not exist for itself, or to convey “truths” among sophisticated grownups—who need “news that stays news;” poetry is only very indirectly connected to the fussy things necessary to move among the trials and griefs of mature life. Poetry’s influence is wide and strong enough to trick sophisticates into thinking that poetry is a sophisticated enterprise. But the true poets know better.

Poetry can belong to “truths;” it can belong to, and be, anything; it is, for many, the speech of strangeness, the speech of estrangement, the speech of enormity, the speech of iconoclasm, the speech of vain maturity shot through with terrifying irony, and yes, speech which can dare to say anything.

Yes. The stream is the sea.

However, before it is any of these things, poetry is food for the student eternal.

Poetry should turn language into a beautiful instrument, both for exterior expression, and for inner thoughts of the highest enterprise and pleasure.

To be great, poetry must know where it belongs.

Poetry serves language.

Language does not serve poetry.

Poetry exists as a lover of language—not to “know things” or to express “knowledge,” though what it expresses can, obviously, relate to knowledge and knowing.  Knowing isn’t what it is—just as a stove is not heat.

A child will have plenty of opportunity to grasp things about the sordid, factual world.

Language—which poetry serves—is how we navigate the world. Language—which poetry serves—is not merely a repository of facts.

For the doubting adolescent, language, beautiful language, is the way to swim through the intellectual sea. The intellectual sea shouldn’t be poured into the novice’s mouth.

Since poetry is language, poetry makes both the mind and its objects beautiful—language which belongs to poetry appeals to both the sense and the senses. Language which belongs to poetry revels in fluency, revels in delight and a practiced ease, with which to contemplate and think.

As an example, we offer a recent poem of our own composition, which demonstrates how poetry belongs in language—not just in the macro-sense (to which we typically think poetry belongs, making sublime, insightful, emotional, grandiose observations and pronouncements, etc)—but in the micro-sense: poetry is, more than anything else, speech which punctures pretense, speech which spreads harmony, grace and civilization.

YOU SAW MY COMMA, YOU SAW WHAT I SAID WAS NICE

You saw my comma, you saw what I said was nice;

The shouting world that you see has nothing to do with me,

But I, at least, can prove to you, with the way I write,

That I am kind, nice to kiss, and safe—even sweet to be with at night.

It really is true that we have nothing to do with the world,

Although we are in it. The unseeing world

Has been manipulated against its will,

Or not: maybe the whole world meant to do it this way,

And the world is exactly as it should be, every day;

Though we don’t believe this, and I don’t believe this,

And please just kiss me—and do me a favor: don’t believe a single thing I say.

****

But to really be convincing, we offer an example of one of the greatest poetic speeches:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer…or to take arms…

Great old poetry from our mother tongue obviously throws its influence over contemporary American poets, though some, to be “more contemporary” push away the old—though every poet knows this is impossible. But if we look at this famous verse, immediately we see it appeals to the child: One or Zero. Either/Or. Binary language lies beneath computer language and a great deal more—difficulty, however, is not Shakespeare’s aim: child-like clarity and truth, rather. “The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office” is not the speech of long, tortured disquisition; it is the truth spoken quickly; now the mathematical simplicity of one or nothing is further complicated, but simply: the added issue is this: nothing is not really nothing—“but that dread of something after death…” But in the end, it still comes down to one or zero, because uncertainty is still zero.

And this is a truth which gives the lie to the “Difficult School,” and every kind of inadequacy and pretence which kills poetry in our day and makes it so unappealing to the public: “uncertainty is still zero.”

This is why William Blake’s lovely, child-like ballads to “Innocence and Experience,” mark the return of Shakespearian genius in the poets which came to be called “the Romantics” by critics who had no other word, just as “Modern” is no word at all to describe anything literary. Perhaps if we mean to say “stupid,” like that plum poem (Christ!) by Carlos Williams.

There is only good poetry.

There are no eras.

There is no liking poetry which is “about” something you like.

You’re not liking poetry, then.

There is no scholarship—especially the kind that exists to prove that Ezra Pound is more important than Edna Millay. Most people don’t care. A small percentage care, but most of that small percentage doesn’t get it. Poor poetry.

Intellectuals in the West chiefly care about “equality,” which translates into going backwards from their superior intellects into something worse—for the sake of that very “equality” they love.

The poor hate “equality,” which is why popular music, for instance, the entertainment of the poor, is so unequal: The “hit” songs get played over and over again. And for a simple reason, which no doubt goes over the intellectuals’ heads—on account of the intellectuals being so intellectual: Good songs are good because they sound good, and even better, with more listens.

So everything popular is not equal. Prose make all poems equal. That’s why prose-as-poetry appeals to intellctuals. This alone is the point. It isn’t that the intellectuals hate verse, or that the Pope hates naked women. Equality is solemnly the aim.

So to quickly review American poetry: ballads sung by the poor, evince a great deal of poetic genius, and this informs the great shadow poetry of America: popular music, which our Mother Country joyfully “invaded” in the 1960s, with phenomenal numbers like “House of the Rising Sun.”

Edna Millay is a great genius of American poetry (see her sonnets, etc).

Then there is the great counter-tradition, began in the 1930s at Iowa, in which American poetry lives entirely in the university—and two crucial things happen in the Creative Writing frenzy of the Writing Program Era: 1. Intellectuals take the “popular” element out of poetry in the name of what is largely pretentious “scholarship” and 2. Poetry is taken hostage by a business model which replaces disinterested learning of poetry with shameless ‘Be a Writer!’ institutional profit-share scheming.

The New Critics, the counter-tradition, institutional champions of mid-20th Century American poetry, awarded Iowa’s Paul Engle his early 30s Yale Younger Prize. A New Critic (Fugitive) was Robert Lowell’s psychiatrist when Lowell left Harvard to study with New Critics Ransom and Alan Tate and room with Randall Jarrell.

What about the Beats? The street-wise response to Lowell? The problem with the Beats is that they produced one famous poem, “Howl,” which no one reads to the end, and Robert Lowell, who was a Writing Program teacher at Iowa, and a Frankenstein monster of the tweedy New Critics, actually has more loony, real-person, “confessionalist” interest than the Beats do. Ginsberg’s “Supermarket In California” is easily his best poem, and it is probably no accident that this poem is an homage to Whitman—the canonized creation of Emerson (the prose of the Sage of Concord was stolen by Whitman and turned into poetry) and Emerson was 1. the godfather of William James (inventor of stream of consciousness and Gertrude Stein’s professor) and 2. friends with T.S. Eliot’s grandfather—and here are the roots of every leaf of American modern experimental poetry.

When I went to Romania this last month, I met David Berman, student of the late James Tate. Berman, an underground indie rock star (Silver Jews) and estranged from his millionaire right wing lawyer father—is a truly delightful person, as funny and smart a man as you will ever meet. James Tate won his Yale Younger in the 40s and has a Creative Writing degree from Iowa.

America poetry is Iowa. Quirky, intelligent, funny. Very, very conveniently in prose. This is the kind of poem you read once, are vastly impressed, but with each successive reading, all interest dissolves—because the intelligence has striven with billions of stars and trillions of grains of sand—and lost.

This is poetry that is really stand-up comedy.

John Ashbery, and his friend Frank O’hara, are also funny.

Ashbery, who was awarded the Yale Younger by W.H. Auden (talented Brit anointed by T.S. Eliot) in the 1950s, makes no sense, and so he is considered slightly better of the two (Ashbery, O’Hara) by intellectuals, since before Ashbery’s poetry everyone is equal (equally befuddled).  To think there was a time, not that long ago, when Byron complained he couldn’t understand Wordsworth.

Billy Collins, the best-selling American poet today, belongs to the James Tate/humorous/Iowa School. But since he is clear, although he is clever, and writes in prose, like every critically acclaimed poet in America, Collins is not appreciated by the intellectuals. His clarity bugs the intellectuals—who invariably confuse obscurity of expression with obscurity of subject, favoring the former, against all good sense.

I traveled to Romania with Ben Mazer, who is struggling to break the mold, who is perhaps the only American poet today seriously attempting to write verse in which verse writes the poetry.

Slinging words around in a half-comical or half-fortune cookie wisdom fashion, and avoiding all the excellences which the Romantics evinced, is the norm today—and one never bucks the norm, if one knows what is good for one. Unfortunately, avoidance of the past is bad. It prevents one from traveling to the future.

Then there is political poetry, which invariably falls into the category of poetry which is “about” something which the reader is already prepared to identify with, the political poet carefully avoiding any thing which might be called poetry to get in the way of what the “poem” is preciously and importantly “about.” This kind of poetry will always be written since poetry left poetry roughy 100 years ago, a time when, unfortunately, in America, the literary word “modern” began to be taken seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOT! HOT! HOT! SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100! HAPPY 2016!

  1. BEN MAZER –Simply the best poet writing today. Keeping John Crowe Ransom and Landis Everson alive, too. “all is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.”
  2. CLAUDIA RANKINE–“How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?”
  3. ROBIN COSTE LEWIS–Winner of the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry with Voyage of the Sable Venus.
  4. BILLY COLLINS–There’s only one Billy Collins. You will know him by his bathrobe and slippers.
  5. SHARON OLDS–Plain-spoken poignancy.
  6. JOHN ASHBERY–Essentially French
  7. KENNETH GOLDSMITH–We don’t see how he can redeem himself.
  8. TERRANCE HAYES–Highbrow examination of prejudice.
  9. ALICE NOTLEY–2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
  10. SARAH HOWE–her debut book, Loop of Jade, wins 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.
  11. CHUMKI SHARMA–“After every rain I leave the place for something called home.”
  12. SEAN O’BRIEN–“‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair,/But these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.”
  13. MELISSA STEIN–because she wrote the poem, “never said.”
  14. MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS–“till the larks cry out/and not with music”
  15. DORIANNE LAUX–because she wrote the poem, “Facts About the Moon.”
  16. MAURA STANTON–“Who made me feel by feeling nothing”
  17. MOLLY BRODAK–“boundlessness secretly exists, I hear”
  18. TRACI BRIMHALL–“I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea”
  19. CATE MARVIN–because she wrote the poem, “The Readership.”
  20. BETSY SHOLL–because she wrote the poem, “The Sea Itself.”
  21. SJOHNNA MCCRAY–2015 Walt Whitman Award winner for Rapture
  22. CHARLES HAYES–“her sweaty driver knows his load is fair”
  23. BRIAN BRODEUR–his blog is “How A Poem Happens”
  24. MELISSA GREEN–“They’ve mown the summer meadow”
  25. RICK BAROT–because he wrote the poem, “Reading Plato.”
  26. ALLEN PROWLE–Do we live in the Age of Plagiarism?
  27. VANESSA PLACE–What do you think, Vanessa?
  28. LORI JAKIELA–“In Pittsburgh, we have 2 dreams…go to Vegas to live…go to Florida to die”
  29. CONNIE VOISINE–“The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds”
  30. SHARA LESSLEY–because she wrote the poem, “Advice From The Predecessor’s Wife.”
  31. ALFRED CORN–because he wrote “An Xmas Murder.”
  32. WILLIAM LOGAN–“The critic is a Diogenes in a world where everyone is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (Battersea Review) Are there poets on Sunnybrook Farm?
  33. MARJORIE PERLOFF–Are there so many poets, that reviewers and critics no longer exist?
  34. DAVID HUDDLE–because he wrote the poem, “Men’s Sauna.”
  35. TIM LIARDET–“Its windows look through us, as if we offer a view.”
  36. BOB HICOK–because he wrote the poem, “The Active Reader.”
  37. LOUISE GLÜCK–because she wrote the poem, “A Fantasy.”
  38. CHARLES SIMIC–because he wrote the poem, “So Early in the Morning”
  39. DANA GIOIA–because he wrote the poem, “The Angel with the Broken Wing”
  40. DONALD HALL–“To grow old is to lose everything.”
  41. LAURA KASISCHKE–because she wrote the poem, “For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike.”
  42. CODY WALKER–because he wrote the poem, “Trades I Would Make.”
  43. DERRICK MICHAEL HUDSON–Will he be remembered?
  44. DAVID LEHMAN–Editor of Best American Poetry series has a soft spot for Tin Pan Alley.
  45. CARL DENNIS–2002 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  46. MARK JARMAN–narrative poet is a professor at Vanderbilt.
  47. KUSHAL PODDAR–Bold, intriguing, WC Williams-like poet in English from Bengal.
  48. VALERIE MACON–Briefly poet laureate from North Carolina
  49. GARRISON KEILLOR–Good for good poems.
  50. PHILIP NIKOLAYEV–Confounding the experts by drawing.
  51. JUAN FELIPE HERRERA–California laureate to U.S. Laureate.
  52. RON SILLIMAN–Hates Republicans.
  53. EILEEN MYLES–I Must Be Living Twice is her latest book.
  54. PATRICIA LOCKWOOD–Twitter poet with two books, a Best American Poetry regular, and a viral poem.
  55. TONY HOAGLAND–because he wrote the poem, “Lucky.”
  56. STEPHEN DUNN–2000 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  57. STEPHEN BURT–Critic at Harvard with an eye on the new.
  58. W.S. MERWIN–“you know there was never a name for that color”
  59. RICHARD WILBUR–“not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only”
  60. JOE GREEN–Limerick Homer. Yes, this is for real. Homer translated into limericks.
  61. ROBERT HASS–“So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.”
  62. NAOMI SHIHAB NYE–“If you love Jesus you can’t love anyone else”
  63. RODNEY JONES–“I happily took myself into the darkness of the underground, where I was king”
  64. GERALD STERN–because he wrote the poem, “Waving Goodbye.”
  65. JORIE GRAHAM–“A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls”
  66. DAVID KIRBY–because he wrote the poem, “Broken Promises.”
  67. BARBARA HAMBY–“carrying around a copy of Being and Nothingness so boys will think you have a fine mind.”
  68. LISA LEWIS–“I knew it was love when I didn’t want to close my eyes.”
  69. SUSAN WOOD–“The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.”
  70. BRENDA HILLMAN–“Talking flames get rid of hell.”
  71. LUCIA PERILLO–because she wrote the poem, “Early Cascade.”
  72. STEPHEN STURGEON–“City busses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia”
  73. JESSE BALL–because he wrote the poem, “Lester, Burma.”
  74. CHARLES BERNSTEIN–Attack of the Difficult Poems was published in 2011.
  75. GEORGE BILGERE–The new Billy Collins. Featured on Garrison Keillor’s show.
  76. LES MURRAY–“Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.”
  77. SURAZEUS SIMON SEAMOUNT–Epic poems of the ancient philosophers.
  78. ALAN CORDLE–Foetry.com founder. Scarriet was his idea as a reply to Blog Harriet.
  79. NATHANIEL MACKEY–Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.
  80. AMY KING–received MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College and MA in Poetics from SUNY Buffalo.
  81. LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI–Presenter at mass S.F. protest (“Human Be-In”) in January, 1967, when LSD was banned in California in 1966.
  82. PETER GIZZI–“No isn’t it amazing, no none of that”
  83. DEBORAH LANDAU–“I don’t have a pill for that”
  84. SARAH ARVIO–In 2015 Best American Poetry
  85. MARK DOTY–His book Deep Lane was short-listed for 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.
  86. MARY OLIVER–“You do not have to be good”
  87. DAN CHIASSON–because he writes for the New Yorker
  88. MARILYN HACKER–National Book Award for Poetry in 1975.
  89. A.E. STALLINGS–she rhymes.
  90. HAROLD BLOOM–does he still hate Poe?
  91. ANNE CARSON–“don’t keep saying you don’t hear it too
  92. RITA DOVE–U.S. Poet Laureate 1993-95.
  93. DON SHARE–“A brown bust of a sad man”
  94. HELEN VENDLER–The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry was published in April, 2015
  95. CATHY PARK HONG–Teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence.
  96. SIMON ARMITAGE–chosen to succeed Geoffrey Hill as Oxford Professor of Poetry
  97. VICTORIA CHANG–“The boss tells me of the billionaire who likes me”
  98. MARILYN CHIN–wins Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Hard Won Province, first time for a book of poetry.
  99. DAVID BIESPIEL–Writes for The Rumpus.
  100. KAY RYAN–doesn’t like being compared to Emily Dickinson; “would you like to be compared to God?” —Paris Review interview

YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

image

1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

THE LIST: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100

Conceptualism Can Hardly Be Imagined!

1. KG  is talked about.
2. Vanessa Place  Conceptualism’s moment in the sun
3. Ron Silliman  Has Conceptualism fever
4. Marjorie Perloff  Wrestles with: Avant-garde = Art, not poetry
5. Amy King  “Real issue” poet leads the war against Conceptualism
6. Cate Marvin  VIDA masses breaking down the walls of Conceptualism
7. Carol Ann Duffy writes poem for reburial of Richard III
8. Benedict Cumberbatch, distant cousin, delivers it.
9. Ben Mazer publishes Complete Ransom
10. Jorie Graham  Big Environmentalism comeback?
11. Claudia Rankine  Seizing the moment?
12. James Franco  Film/gallery/poetry renaissance man or Hollywood punk?
13. David Biespiel  April Fool’s Conceptualism piece in Rumpus
14. George Bilgere  Just “good poems?”
15. Kent Johnson  “Prize List:” Brilliant or KG lite?
16. Susan Howe   Who, where, what, why?
17. Ann Lauterbach Can’t hear the baroque music
18. Corina Copp  Reproduce
19. David Lau  A permisson
20. Forrest Gander  Take a look
21. Harryette Mullen Thinking it over
22. Keston Sutherland  S’marvelous! S’alternative!
23. Evie Shockley  Electrical grass
24. Joe Luna  Pale orb that rules the night
25. Geoffrey O’Brien Library of America editor
26. Lisa Cattrone “Your mother could pull a fresh squid from a lumberjack”
27. Jennifer Tamayo  Colombian-born New  Yorker
28. Juliana Sparr Won the Hardison Poetry Prize in 2009
29. Monica de la Torre Born and raised in Mexico City
30. Caroline Knox Educated at Radcliffe, lives in Massachusetts
31. J. Michael Martinez Hispanic American poet, winner of Walt Whitman award
32. Jasper Bernes  Theorist who received his PhD in 2012
33. Mairead Byrne Discovered the internet in 1994 on a plane from Ireland
34. Ben Lerner Eyebrows haunt glasses beneath intellectual hair
35. Ron Padget  Young member of the New York School
36. Alli Warren  Born in L.A., her book is Here Come the Warm Jets
37. Sandra Simonds “And once you give up drinking, drugs and having random sex, what is left?”
38. John Wilkinson  Studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge, United Kingdom
39. Hoa Nguyen Born near Saigon in 1967
40. Will Alexander Also made Johnson’s “Prize List”
41. Sophia Le Fraga “it took me fifteen minutes and eight tries which is too many and too slow I think”
42. Joyelle McSweeney She edits Action Books!
43. Cole Swensen “for instance, the golden section mitigates between abandon and an orchestra just behind those trees”
44. Cathy Wagner Her book Nervous Device came out in 2012
45. Christian Hawkey Is a poet, activist, translator, editor, and educator. Also wears shoes.
46. Dana Ward Was a featured writer for Harriet
47. Stacy Szymaszek “then something happened and a FUCK YOU FENCE went up”
48. Rebecca Wolff “The dominant paradigm of the day: the mediocre narrative lyric.”
49. Lugwa Mutah Kidnapped in Nigeria. Made Johnson’s “Prize List”
50. Maureen Thorson “At first heartbreak made me beautiful.”
51. Sean Bonney Brought up in the North of England
52. Tan Lin Poet, novelist, filmmaker, and new media artist
53. Rob Halpern “I herded me and me and me into a room in groups of ten to twenty and stripped me and me and me naked.”
54. Charles Bernstein  Playing in Scarriet March Madness Tourney, too busy to talk right now.
55. Rob Fitterman  Postconceptual pizza
56. Matthew Dickman “All night it felt like I was in your room, the French doors opened out onto the porch”
57. Anne Carson Born in Toronto in 1950
58. Christian Bok Born in Toronto in 1966
59. Caroline Bergvall Born in Germany in 1962
60. Peter Gizzi “Beauty walks this world. It ages everything.”
61. Linh Dinh His poem “Quiz” is on the Poetry Foundation site
62. Michael Robbins “A Poem for President Drone”
63. Bill Freind “We found this on the map so it is real.”
64. Danielle Parfunda  She is the author of Manhater.
65. Daniel Tiffany “Bin Ramke has come to be known for the procedures and allusions that quicken his ongoing poetic experiment”
66. Cathy Park Hong “To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.”
67. Dodie Bellamy Sex poetry grows apace with her Cunt Norton.
68. Lucas de Lima  Wet Land is for Ana Maria
69. Rosa Alcala “English is dirty. Polyamorous. English wants me.”
70. Yedda Morrison Whites out Heart of Darkness for her book, Darkness
71. Craig Santos Perez From Guam, co-founder of Ala Press
72. Divya Victor A featured writer for Harriet last year
73. Nathaniel Mackey Teaches at Duke
74. Brenda Hillman Married to “Meditation at Lagunitas”
75. Elizabeth Willis “You don’t blame the lamp for what you cannot read”
76. Ocean Vuong Won a Lilly fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2014
77. Bhanu Kapil  British-Indian who teaches at Naropa and Goddard
78. Joshua Wilkinson A “Poetry Plus” advocate
79. Elizabeth Robinson “red blush on air makes fatality sublime”
80. Brandon Brown Charles Baudelaire the Vampire Slayer
81. Lee Ann Brown “The Question Undoes Itself/ On an organic twittering machine”
82. John Yau Educated at Brooklyn, Bard and BU
83. Lyn Hejinian The Queen of the Language Poets?
84. Erica Hunt  “She likes to organize with her bare teeth”
85. Michael Hansen Poetry editor of Chicago Review
86. John Ashbery  And he goes, and he goes
87. David Lehman What is the best?
88. Jim Behrle The clown downtown
89. Alan Cordle He ripped the veil
90. Helen Vendler  Sees Yeats in the twilight
91. Billy Collins  Free verse genius
92. Seth Abramson Have no idea what he’s talking about
93. Philip Nikolayev  Gold mine of Russian translation
94. Valerie Macon  We won’t forget
95. Joe Green  A Fulcrum poet
96. Garrison Keillor  Poetry’s Walter Cronkite?
97. Camille Paglia  Feminist-hating blah blah blah?
98. Sharon Olds  The sweet crash-and-burn of Iowa Confessionalism
99. Amber Tamblyn The actress. Her new book of poems, Dark Sparkler, is about dead actresses
100. Dan Chiasson  Au courant, staus quo reviewer

SCARRIET’S HOT 100— AS WE RING OUT A WILD 2014!

olena.jpg

Olé, Olena!  No. 4 on the Scarriet Hot 100

1. Claudia Rankine –Seems everyone wanted her to win the National Book Award

2. Louise Gluck –Won the National Book Award. Coming into focus as morbid lyricist

3. Dan Chiasson –Coveted reviewing perch in the glossy pages of the New Yorker

4. Olena K. Davis –Praised by #3 for “Do you know how many men would paykilldie/for me to suck their cock? fuck

5. Terrance Hayes –2014 Best American Poetry Editor for David Lehman’s annual series (since 1988)

6. Patricia Lockwood –Her book, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals made NY Times most notable 2014 book list

7. Rita Dove What was all that fuss about her anthology, again?

8. Henri Cole —Poetry editor part of mass resignation at New Republic

9. Valerie Macon –appointed laureate of North Carolina, resigned due to firestorm because she lacked credentials

10. Helen Vendler –Contributing editor in TNR’s mass exodus

11. Glyn Maxwell –British poet and editor of The Poetry Of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

12. James Booth –author of Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love

13. Afaa Michael Weaver  –this spring won the Kingsley Tufts Award: $100,000 dollars

14. Frederick Seidel –Stirred outrage with a strange poem about Ferguson.

15. Clive James –Got into some controversy about racism and sex reviewing Booth’s book on Philip Larkin in the Times

16. William Logan –The honest reviewer is the best critic.

17. Ron Silliman –Elegy & Video-Cut-and-Paste Blog

18. John Ashbery –Perennial BAP poet

19. Cathy Park Hong –Wrote “Fuck the Avant-garde” before Brown/Garner protests: Hong says poetry avant-garde is racist.

20. Philip Nikolayev –Poet, translator, Fulcrum editor, currently touring India as beloved U.S. poetry guest

21. Marilyn Chin –Poet, translator, new book from Norton, currently touring Asia as beloved U.S. poetry guest

22. Daniel Borzutzky –Guest blogger on Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet: “We live in an occupied racist police state”

23. Ben Mazer –Brings out Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom—as po-biz churns with racial indignation

24. Nathaniel Mackey –Headlined poetry reading at Miami Book Fair International.

25. Marjorie Perloff  —Now we get it: the avant-garde is conservative

26. Amy Berkowitz –Wrote on VIDA Web page how everyone has been raped and how we can be safe.

27. Yelena Gluzman –Ugly Duckling editor publishes vol. 3 of annual document of performance practice, Emergency Index

28. Carol Ann Duffy –British poet laureate gave riveting reading in Mass Poetry festival (Salem, MA) this spring

29. P.J. Harvey –Rocker to publish book of poems in 2015—Good luck.  Rock is easier.

30. Christian Nagler –poet in Adjunct Action: “SF Art Institute: faculty are 80% adjunct and have no say in the functioning of the institution”

31. Major Jackson –Wins $25,000 NEA grant.

32. Divya Victor –Her book, Things To Do With Your Mouth, wins CA Conrad’s Sexiest Poetry Award.

33. Kenny Goldsmith  —wears a two-million-ton crown

34. Donald Hall –new book, Essays After Eighty

35. Mary Oliver –new book, Blue Horses: Poems

36. Charles Wright –2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate

37. Stephen Burt –Harvard critic looking for funny stuff other than Flarf and Conceptualism.

38. Vijay Seshadri –2014 Pulitzer in Poetry

39. Ron Smith –The new poet laureate of the great state of Virginia!  North Carolina still waits…

40. Sherman Alexie –the first poet in BAP 2014. It used to be Ammons.

41. Erin Belieu  –Hilarious poem spoofing Seamus Heaney in her new book, Slant Six

42. Robert Pinsky  –has influence, authority and a lisp

43. Billy Collins –Becoming critically irrelevant?

44. Adam Kirsch –Senior Editor and poetry critic, also saying goodbye to TNR

45. Cornelius Eady  –co-founded Cave Canem.

46. Anne Carson –One of those poets one is supposed to like because they’re a little deeper than you…

47. Lucie Brock-Broido  –Emily Dickinson refuses to be channeled

48. Tony Hoagland  –still smarting from that tennis poem

49. Bob Hicok –He’s the new Phil Levine, maybe?

50. Yusef Komunyakaa –Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993

51. Eileen Myles –Just published a novel about her younger days

52. Sharon Olds  –still glowing from her 2013 Pulitzer win, the book showcasing her exploded marriage

53. D.A. Powell –Studied with Vendler at Harvard

54. Cate Marvin –In BAP 2014 and on fire with p.c indignation.

55. Dean Young  –wants to be the best poet ever—in a late 70s Iowa Workshop sort of way

56. Chris HughesTNR owner: “Despite what has been suggested, the vast majority of our staff remain…excited to build a sustainable and strong New Republic that can endure.”

57. Alan Cordle –changed poetry forever with his Foetry.com

58. George Bilgere  –patiently enduring the Collins comparisons

59. William Kulik –the ‘let it all hang out’ prose poem

60. Amy King –Northern Lesbo Elitist

61. Leah Finnegan –Wrote in Gawker of TNR: “White Men Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine.”

62. Jorie Graham –Get ready!  Her Collected is coming!

63. David Kirby –“The Kirb” teaches in Florida; a less controversial Hoagland?

64. Don Share –edits the little magazine that prints lousy poetry and has a perfunctory, cut-and-paste blog

65. Paul Lewis –BC prof leading Poe Revisionism movement

66. Robert Montes –His I Don’t Know Do You made NPR’s 2014 book list

67. Cameron Conaway –“beautifully realized and scientifically sound lyrics” which “calls attention to a disease that kills over 627,000 people a year” is how NPR describes Malaria, Poems 

68. Charles Bernstein –He won. Official Verse Culture is dead. (Now only those as smart as Bernstein read poetry)

69. Richard Howard –Did you know his prose poems have been set to music?

70. Harold Bloom  –He has much to say.

71. Camille Paglia  –Still trying to fuse politics and art; almost did it with Sexual Personae

72. Vanessa Place –This conceptualist recently participated in a panel.

73. Michael Bazzett  —You Must Remember This: Poems “a promising first book” says the New Criterion

74. Matthea HarveyIf the Tabloids Are True What Are You? recommended by Poets.Org

75. Peter Gizzi –His Selected Poems published in 2014

76. Mark Bibbins –Poets.Org likes his latest book of poems

77. Les Murray –New Selected Poems is out from FSG

78. Michael Robbins –writes for the Chicago Tribune

79. Stephen Dunn –The Billy Collins school—Lines of Defense is his latest book

80. Robin BeckerTiger Heron—latest book from this poet of the Mary Oliver school

81. Cathy Linh CheSplit is her debut collection; trauma in Vietnam and America

82. John Gallaher –Saw a need to publish Michael Benedikt’s Selected Poems

83. Jennifer Moxley  –Panelist at the Miami Book Fair International

84. Bob Dylan –Is he really going to win the Nobel Prize?

85. Ann Lauterbach  –Discusses her favorite photographs in the winter Paris Review

86. Fanny Howe –Read with Rankine at Miami Book Fair

87. Hannah Gamble –In December Poetry

88. Marianne BoruchCadaver, Speak is called a Poets.Org Standout Book

89. Anthony Madrid  –His new book is called I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

90. Robyn SchiffRevolver is not only a Beatles album.

91. Ted GreenwaldA Mammal of Style with Kit Robinson

92. Rachel ZuckerThe Pedestrians is out

93. Dorothea LaskyRome is her fourth book

94. Allan PetersonPrecarious is the new book: “the weed field had been/readying its many damp handkerchiefs/all along.”

95. Adrienne Raphel –“lavender first and by far”

96. Gillian ConoleyPeace is chosen as a Poets.Org Standout Book

97. Barbara Hamby  –“The Kirb” needs to know. She’s not on the list because of him.

98. Katia Kopovich –She coedits Fulcrum with husband Nikolayev.

99. Doc Luben –“14 lines from love letters or suicide notes” a slam poem viewed a lot on YouTube

100. Tracy K. Smith  2012 Pulitzer in Poetry for Life On Mars

IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR…POETRY’S HOT 100!!!!!

hot 100.jpg

1. Valerie Macon—Credentialing 1, Poetry 0

2. Patricia Lockwood—“Rape Joke” first viral-era poem to go viral?

3. Paul Lewis—Poe scholar brings Poe statue to Boston: The Jingle Man Returneth

4. Marjorie Perloff—Every era needs its Uber-Critic

5. Charles Wright—New Poet Laureate

6. Camille Paglia—Zeitgeist, Firebrand, Sexual Ethics, Gadfly.

7. James Franco—Can Hollywood make poetry cool again?

8. David LehmanBest American Poetry best anthology gathering-place.

9. Richard Blanco—interviewed in Vogue

10. Garrison Keillor—King of Quietism

11. Kenny Goldsmith—We understand some people take him seriously

12. Marilyn Chin—New book, Hard Love Province (Norton)

13. Amy King—Lesbians trying to take over the world!

14. Charles Bernstein—Papers going to Yale

15. Tao Lin—Alt-Lit unravels

16. William Logan—Every era needs the Kick ass Review

17. George Bilgere—Imperial is new; only poet who can out-Collins Collins.

18. Stephen Burt—Harvard’s frenzy of sweet political correctness.

19. Josh Baines—rips apart Alt-Lit on Vice.com

20. Don Share—Steering Poetry Foundation Mother Ship

21. Ron Silliman—Guiding Avant-garde ships through Quietism’s shallows

22. Ben Mazer—Neo-Romantic publishes Collected Ransom, the South’s T.S. Eliot

23. Frank Bidart—Punk Rock Robert Lowell

24. Paul Muldoon—Drives the New Yorker

25. Philip Nikolayev—Bringing back Fulcrum

26. Vanessa Place—Museum performer

27. Casey Rocheteau —Wins a home in Detroit for being a poet!

28. Natasha Trethewey—Bids farewell to the Laureateship

29. Billy Collins—Ashbery with meaning

30. Terrence Hayes—Wins MacArthur

31. Harold Bloom—Anxiety of Flatulence?

32. Mary Oliver—Nature poetry sells?

33. David OrrNew York Times Book Review column

34. Adam Kirsch-New Republic critic

35. Susan Wheeler—“narrative glamour” -John Ashbery

36. Andrew Motion—President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England

37. Khaled Matawa—2014 MacArthur Winner

38. Richard Howard—James Merrill lives!

39. John Ashbery—Old Man Obscurity.

40. Eileen Myles—“always hungry”

41. Mark Doty—Brother of Sharon Olds

42. Rae Armantrout—Silliman is a fan

43. Al Filreis—MOOCS!

44. Anne Carson—“inscrutable brilliance” –NY Times

45. Michael Robbins—The Second Sex (Penguin)

46. C.D. Wright—from the Ozarks

47. Lisa RobertsonChicago Review gave her a special issue

48. Claudia Rankine—Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

49. CAConradPhilip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) is his new book

50. Ariana Reines—“To be a memory to men”

51. Kim Adonizzio—“I want that red dress bad”

52. Frederick Seidel—Nominated for Pulitzer in Poetry

53. Kay Ryan—U.S. Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010

54. Edward HirschThe Living Fire, new and selected

55. Christian Wiman–ex-Poetry editor

56. Cornelius Eady—Nominated for a Pulitzer in Drama

57. Bin Ramke—Georgia Foetry Scandal

58. Jorie Graham—Collected Poems coming this winter

59. Erin Belieu—VIDA vision

60. Forrest Gander—anthropological

61. Amjad Nasser—run in w/Homeland Security

62. Ann Lauterbach—her poetry “goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time” -John Ashbery

63. Rita Dove—editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

64. Sharon Olds—Mark Doty’s sister

65.  Carol Ann Duffy—High powered, story-telling, Brit

66. Robert Archambeau—Rhyme is returning

67. Monica Handme and Nina, Alice James Books

68. Margo Berdeshersky—“understands how eros is a form of intelligence” -Sven Birkerts

69. Shelagh Patterson—“succeeds in forcing students to become critical thinkers” from Rate My Professors

70. Jennifer Bartlett—“this will all be over soon”

71. Lynne Thompson—“Vivaldi versus Jay-Z”

72. Allison Hedge Coke—Editor of Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas

73. Dan Chiasson—Poet and critic who teaches at Wellesley

74. Martin Espada—Teaches poetry at Amherst

75. Gina Myers—“Love Poem To Someone I Do Not Love”

76. Jen Bervin—Poet and visual artist

77. Mary RuefleTrances of the Blast, latest book

78. Mary Hickman—“This is for Ida who doesn’t like poetry but likes this poem”

79. Catherine Wagner—professor of English at Miami University in Ohio

80. Victoria Chang—PEN winner

81. Matthew KlaneYes! Poetry & Performance Series

82. Adam Golaski-Film Forum Press

83. Mathea Harvey—Contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB

84. Amanda Ackerman—UNFO

85. James Tate—Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, 1967

86. Jenny BoullyThe Book of Beginnings and Endings

87. Joyelle McSweeney—professor at Notre Dame

88. William Kulik—the lively prose poem

89. Tamiko Beyer—Raised in Tokyo, lives in Cambridge, MA

90. Julia Bloch-–teaches creative writing at Penn

91. Brent Cunningham—co-founded Hooke Press

92. Richard Wilbur—Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 & 1989

93. Patrick James DunaganRumpus reviewer

94. Matthew Zapruder—Wave Editor

95. David Kirby—“The Kirb” teaches in Florida, uses humor in poetry

96. Alan Cordle—Foetry.com founder

97. Lyn HejinianThe Book of a Thousand Eyes

98. Cole Swensen—Translates from the French

99. Aaron Kunin—Teaches Milton at Pomona

100. Dana WardThis Can’t Be Life

HERE’S THE SWEET 16 IN SCARRIET’S 2014 MARCH MADNESS POETRY PHILOSOPHER TOURNAMENT!

Johann Wenzel Peter , Fight of a lion with a tiger , 1809

Here are the Literary Critics worth reading: the Top 16 Who Have Prevailed So Far and Have Made It To the SWEET SIXTEEN!

Every year, Scarriet holds their version of March Madness, with 64 authors competing for the championship.

In 2010, the first year of the tournament, we used every Best American Poetry volume, David Lehman, editor, to determine the field.  Winner: Billy Collins

In 2011, Stephen Berg, David Bonnano, and Arthur Vogelsang’s Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review. Winner: Philip Larkin

In 2012, Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Winner: Ben Mazer

In 2013, casting about for players, we amassed 64 Romantic poets, including modern and contemporary poets fitting the Romantic mold. Winner: Shelley

This year, Scarriet used the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John McGowan, and Jeffrey J. Williams, which has produced a true clash of giants:

Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Sidney, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Marx, Freud, Pater, De Beauvoir, Saussure, T.S. Eliot, etc.

The earth actually shook as the combatants went toe to toe in this year’s March Madness.

The critc-philosophers who made it to the Sweet 16 are:

CLASSICAL

1. PLATO d. Sidney

2. DANTE d. Aristotle

3. POPE d. Aquinas

4. ADDISON d. Maimonides

ROMANTIC

5. WORDSWORTH d. Marx

6. COLERIDGE d. Burke

7. POE d. Peacock

8. SHELLEY d. Emerson

MODERN

9. BAUDELAIRE d. Saussure

10. FREUD d. Benjamin

11. WILDE d. Pater

12. (John Crowe) RANSOM d. T.S. Eliot

POST-MODERN

13. (Edmund) WILSON d. Northrup Frye

14. (J.L.) AUSTIN d. Cixous

15. (Edward) SAID d. De Beauvoir

16. (Harold) BLOOM d. Sartre

Scarriet would ask you not to try this at home: The winners are all white men.

We are really sorry, VIDA.  But when women—or the women presented in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism—only write on women, this narrowness itself contributes to a certain amount of self-marginalizing.

This is a universal problem: if the oppressed are thrown in an intellectual hole, how do they dig themselves out—in a truly broad intellectual fashion?

Perhaps this is why there’s a certain dislike for this kind of competition: the best rises to the top, producing an historical unfairness, given what human history has been.

We see the problem.  We make no apologies, however, for our experiment.

100 ESSENTIAL BOOKS OF POETRY

 

EYE Don Share

Collecting is where material pride, wisdom and love uneasily sit, an endless pursuit which moves product, an endless boon to any enterprise.  To collect is to amass, to buy, to own, to bring into one’s circle the niceties of some industry for one’s own comfort and inspection. The collectable items should be unique, if not numerous, and if not unique, at least very rare.  Collecting is to break off pieces of some whole, but the item, when found, bought, discovered, possessed, is a shining whole to the collector, and compared to it, the universe is a sad jumble—such is the profundity of collecting.

Poetry anthologies spread wealth; poetry is centrifugal; it scatters itself outward freely.  Except where it overlaps with the ‘rare book collector,’ poetry, despite its fecundity, is not collectable; collecting is centripetal; it waits in vaults and rooms crowded with unique paintings, coins, and cars.  To know coins, one must darken them in one’s palm; to know poetry, one merely glimpses what every other person glimpses.

The following list is not a rare book list; increasingly, great old poetry, important translated poetry, and all sorts of rare poetry, simply lives on the internet.

This, in many ways, is a perfectly centrifugal list, readily available to whatever soul—no matter how mysterious, no matter how centripetal, no matter how hidden, no matter how curious—happens to want it.

Poetry is against collecting.  Poetry doesn’t  hoard; you can be deeply poetic for free.

These are books you could own, or read, or memorize, or teach, or learn, and probably already have.

Good translations are necessary, but impossible.  Old poems are necessary, but impossible.  Good, new poetry is necessary, but impossible.

The list below is mundane, but necessary.  This—mostly from the top of the list—is what you read if you want to know poetry.

It is everywhere, but it still must hit you.

 

1. SHAKESPEARE SONNETS, AUDEN INTRODUCTION  Modern poetry begins here. A definite sequence: 1-14 children as immortality, 15-28 poems as immortality, etc.

2. POE: POETRY, TALES, AND SELECTED ESSAYS (LIBRARY OF AMERICA) Iconic poems, tales of poetic quality, even criticism of poetic quality

3. VIKING BOOK OF POETRY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING WORLD, RICHARD ALDINGTON  H.D.’s husband, got Eliot out of the bank, solid anthology by this Brit wounded in WW I who knew all the Modernists and hated most of them (375 poets)

4. PLATO: THE COLLECTED DIALOGUES, BOLLINGEN SERIES, EDITH HAMILTON, ED  Poetry being born

5. THE ARDEN SHAKESPEARE, COMPLETE WORKS  With Shakespeare the best is just to read, and forget all the notes

6. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE, JOHN D. SINCLAIR, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD U. PRESS)  Verse translation hopeless; take the prose Sinclair with Italian on the facing page

7. THE ILIAD OF HOMER TRANSLATED BY ALEXANDER POPE (PENGUIN)  The king of men his reverent priest defied/And for the king’s offense the people died

8. THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH VERSE BY ALEXANDER POPE (MACMILLAN, 1911)  The man for wisdom’s various arts renown’d/Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound

9. EDNA MILLAY COLLECTED, NORMA MILLAY (HARPER)  Tragically undervalued as Modernism came into vogue, Millay’s Collected is a must

10. PHILIP LARKIN THE COMPLETE POEMS, ARCHIE BURNETT  recently published master of the short lyric

11. LYRICAL BALLADS, WORDSWORTH, COLERIDGE  A shame Coleridge didn’t contribute more

12. WASTELAND AND OTHER POEMS, T.S. ELIOT  The one Modernist who could really write poetry (and prose).

13. LEAVES OF GRASS, WHITMAN (1855 EDITION) The first edition, before it got too long-winded

14. THE COMPLETE POEMS OF JOHN MILTON WRITTEN IN ENGLISH (HARVARD CLASSICS) You can’t go wrong with melodious Milton

15. UNDERSTANDING POETRY, BROOKS AND WARREN Textbooks are propaganda—this most used anthology in the 20th c. attacked Poe and elevated Pound/Williams

16. SELECTED POETRY & LETTERS, BYRON, EDWARD BOSTETTER, ED  Byron was very, very unhappy

17. POCKET BOOK OF MODERN VERSE, OSCAR WILLIAMS (1954)  Okay. Some of modern verse is good

18. A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, AN INTRODUCTORY ANTHOLOGY, CZESLAW MILOSZ  International poetry collections are good things

19. SELECTED POEMS AND TWO PLAYS, WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, ROSENTHAL, ED  Yeats benefits from Selected as opposed to Collected

20. OVID, THE LOVE POEMS, A.D. MELVILLE, ED. And you can really learn something, lovers

21. THE BEST LOVED POEMS OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, HAZEL FELLEMAN  Because these uncritical anthologies always have some gems

22. ROBERT BROWNING, THE POEMS, PETTIGREW, ED. 2 VOLS  Because it’s Robert Browning

23. A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF MODERN POETRY, SELDEN RODMAN (1938)   Great snapshot of poetry in the 1930s: lots of ballads of political anguish

24. 100 GREAT POEMS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MARK STRAND, ED.  A very nice selection from a poet whose reputation is fading

25. POETRY OF WITNESS: THE TRADITION IN ENGLISH 1500-2001, CAROLYN FORCHE, DUNCAN WU, EDS   Poetry handles real horror

26. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1988, LEHMAN, SERIES ED. ASHBERY, GUEST ED. The first volume in the series may be the best

27. ARIEL, SYLVIA PLATH  A whirlwind of rhyme and rage

28. PABLO NERUDA, TWENTY LOVE SONGS AND A SONG OF DESPAIR, DUAL-LANGUAGE EDITION (PENGUIN) Neruda may get you laid

29. GREAT POEMS BY AMERICAN WOMEN: AN ANTHOLOGY, SUSAN RATTINER (DOVER) Women once had a higher standing as poets

30. OXFORD BOOK OF LIGHT VERSE, W.H. AUDEN, EDITOR  Who said light verse was light?

31. PALGRAVE’S GOLDEN TREASURY, FRANCIS TURNER PALGRAVE (1861) Look out! Right-wing poetry!

32. LIBRARY OF WORLD POETRY, WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT Worth a peek

33. 100 POEMS FROM THE JAPANESE, KENNETH REXROTH  blossoms and other stuff

34. BLACK POETS OF THE UNITED STATES: FROM PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR TO LANGSTON HUGHES, JEAN WAGNER  Before rap

35. THE OXFORD BOOK OF NARRATIVE VERSE, PETER OPIE  A narrative poem does not exist?

36. A BOY’S WILL, ROBERT FROST  His first book, published in England while the 40 year old poet made contacts there

37. THE NEW AMERICAN POETRY 1945-1960, DONALD ALLEN   Dawn of the post-war avant-garde

38. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 1990, LEHMAN SERIES EDITOR, JORIE GRAHAM, GUEST EDITOR  Has that wonderful poem by Kinnell…

39. FIRST WORLD WAR POETRY, JON SILKIN, EDITOR  While being slaughtered, they wrote

40. SPANISH POETRY: A DUAL LANGUAGE ANTHOLOGY 16TH-20TH CENTURIES, ANGEL FLORES  Dual Languages are a must, really

41. THE HERITAGE OF RUSSIAN VERSE, DIMITRI OBOLENSKY  “From The Ends To The Beginning A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse” is available on-line

42. BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2007, LEHMAN, SERIES EDITOR, MCHUGH, GUEST EDITOR   One of the best volumes in the series

43. POETS TRANSLATE POETS, A HUDSON REVIEW ANTHOLOGY, PAULA DIETZ, ED.  Nice historical sweep…

44. ART AND ARTISTS: POEMS, EMILY FRAGOS (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)    Art really meets poetry; lovely poems

45. W.H. AUDEN COLLECTED POEMS Best poet of the 20th century; slighted by anthologies

46. POEMS 1965-1975 SEAMUS HEANEY  Never quite made it to major status

47. POEMS BEWITCHED AND HAUNTED, JOHN HOLLANDER, ED (EVERYMAN’S POCKET LIBRARY)  Some really darling pieces here

48. COMPLETE POEMS OF KEATS AND SHELLEY (MODERN LIBRARY) The two best—the best, the best

49. THE 20TH CENTURY IN POETRY, HULSE, RAE, EDS (PEGASUS BOOKS)   Wonderful idea: poems in close chronology throughout the century

50. VITA NOVA, DANTE, MARK MUSA, TRANSLATOR (OXFORD) A great book for so many reasons

51. CHAUCER: THE CANTERBURY TALES (PENGUIN) father of English literature, we hear

52. HYPERION; BALLADS & OTHER POEMS, LONGFELLOW (1841)  “Hyperion” is a very modern poem…

53. THE RAG AND BONE SHOP OF THE HEART: A POETRY ANTHOLOGY, ROBERT BLY, EDITOR  A lot of Rumi and Neruda

54. WORLD POETRY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF VERSE FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT, WASHBURN, MAJOR, FADIMAN, EDS  The translations are terrible, the selections are generally weak, but kudos for the attempt

55. LES FLEUR DU MAL, BAUDELAIRE  Ah…Baudelaire!

56. VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY, LEIGHTON, REYNOLDS, EDS (BLACKWELL)  That backwards era when women poets sold better than their male counterparts

57.  IMMORTAL POEMS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, OSCAR WILLIAMS   Solid overview (150 poets) without too much emphasis on annoying moderns

58. ALEXANDER POPE, SELECTED (OXFORD POETRY LIBRARY) You could do worse than his verse

59. A TREASURY OF GREAT POEMS, LOUIS UNTERMEYER   Almost 2OO poets

60. AMERICAN POETRY: THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, HOLLANDER, ED, LIBRARY OF AMERICA   A good look around at two centuries ago

61. ANEID, VIRGIL, ROBERT FITZGERALD, TRANSLATOR  Poet of the silver age…

62. THE POETICAL WORKS OF ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING, RUTH M. ADAMS INTRO  She was the famous poet when Robert met her

63. THE ESSENTIAL RUMI, COLEMAN BARKS, ED  Passion pushed to the limit of wisdom

64. EUGENE ONEGIN BY ALEXANDER PUSHKIN, STANLEY MITCHELL (PENGUIN) The most modern of all epics

65. DYLAN THOMAS, COLLECTED, PAUL MULDOON, INTRO Too drunk to write many poems; this may be good or bad

66. POETRY OF DEREK WALCOTT 1948-2013, SELECTED BY GLYN MAXWELL  Between obligation and pleasure, we read…

67. BRITISH POETRY SINCE 1945, EWARD LUCIE-SMITH.  The poor modern Brits, neither old nor quite modern

68. THE PALM AT THE END OF THE MIND, WALLACE STEVENS, SELECTED POEMS & A PLAY  Pretentious rot, but fun

69. ROBERT LOWELL, COLLECTED  Most overrated poet of the 20th century, but has his moments

70  AMERICAN PRIMITIVE, MARY OLIVER  Our little Wordsworth

71. GORGEOUS NOTHINGS, EMILY DICKINSON, WERNER, BERRIN, EDS (NEW DIRECTIONS)  A really bizarre document

72. ELIZABETH BISHOP, POEMS (FSG)  Another one of those poets who wrote few, but good, poems

73. A CHOICE OF ENGLISH ROMANTIC POETRY, STEPHEN SPENDER (DIAL PRESS)  Rare, if you can track it down…(it’s at the Grolier in Hvd Sq)

74. CHIEF MODERN POETS OF BRITAIN AND AMERICA, 5th Edition, SANDERS, NELSON, ROSENTHAL  Can’t get enough of those chief poets

75. NEW AMERICAN POETS OF THE 80s, MYERS & WEINGARTEN Look back into the recent, recent past

76. BIRTHDAY LETTERS, TED HUGHES  The poetry isn’t good, but interesting historical document

77. TRANFORMATIONS, ANNE SEXTON, FOREWARD BY KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Modernized fairy tales—very influential

78. THE ESSENTIAL HAIKU, ROBERT HASS, ED (ECCO)  We forget Imagism sprang directly from haiku rage in West after Japan won Russo-Japanese War

79. THE DIVINE COMEDY, CLIVE JAMES, TRANSLATOR. This new translation is worth a read

80. PENGUIN BOOK OF FRENCH POETRY 1820-1950  Good translation anthologies are few and far between

81. ESSENTIAL PLEASURES: A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS TO READ ALOUD, PINSKY, ED  Reading aloud is good

82. THE RATTLE BAG, SEAMUS HEANEY, TED HUGHES, EDS  Conservative selection: Shakespeare, Blake, Hardy, Lawrence, Frost, etc

83. MODERNIST WOMEN POETS, ROBERT HASS, PAUL EBENKAMP, EDS   Not a large number of poets

84. COLLECTED FRENCH TRANSLATIONS, JOHN ASHBERY (FSG)  Not the most trustworthy translator, but we’ll take ’em

85. VILLANELLES (EVERYMAN POCKET LIBRARY)  These editions are available and lovely—why not?

86. BRIGHT WINGS: AN ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF POEMS ABOUT BIRDS, BILLY COLLINS, ED  All the best poems are bird poems—it’s really true

87. THE ETERNAL ONES OF THE DREAM: SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010, JAMES TATE Iowa Workshop poem par excellence, poignant, miserable, and cute

88. GOOD POEMS, GARRISON KEILLOR  As accessible as it gets

89. THE MAKING OF A SONNET, HIRSCH/BOLAND, EDS (NORTON) There’s no best sonnet anthology, but this one is good

90. MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA, DAVID HINTON, ED  Includes the major poets

91. SELECTED RILKE, ROBERT BLY, ED  Amazing how well Rilke sells in the U.S.

92. KING JAMES BIBLE  Yea, poetry

93. WELDON KEES, COLLECTED POEMS, DONALD JUSTICE, ED  Somewhat creepy—as modern poetry truly ought to be?

94. BILLY COLLINS, AIMLESS LOVE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (RANDOM HOUSE)  Collins is America’s modern poet—get used to it.

95. JOHN ASHBERY, SELF PORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR  His tour de force

96. NORTH OF BOSTON, ROBERT FROST (1915, HENRY HOLT) Like Emerson, Whitman, and Melville before him, interest by the English was the ticket to fame

97. HOWL AND OTHER POEMS, ALLEN GINSBERG  A Hieronymous Bosch nightmare

98. TALES FROM THE DECAMERON OF GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO, RICHARD ALDINGTON (1930)  this 14th century writer considered a ‘novelist’ but influenced Chaucer

99. EROSION, JORIE GRAHAM  Such promise!  Then along came Alan Cordle

100. LUNCH POEMS, FRANK O’HARA  Not repasts; snacks; the virtue of O’Hara is that he’s funny

 

 

 

SCARRIET’S NEW HOT 1OO!!

1. John Ashbery –Still the most respected living U.S. poet
2. Billy Collins    –Still the most entertaining living U.S. poet
3. Kenneth Goldsmith  –Does the avant-garde still exist?
4. Stephen Burt  –Is Criticism respected anymore?
5. Marjorie Perloff   –Has avant-garde criticism any controversies left?
6. Helen Vendler  –the 21st century Pater
7. Harold Bloom  –the 21st century Emerson
8. Frank Bidart  –cooked until raw
9. Sharon Olds  –the honesty of woman
10. Robert Pinsky  –the 21st century Untermeyer
11. Paul Muldoon  –New Yorker poetry editor
12. David Lehman –Best American Poetry editor
13. Don Share  –Poetry magazine editor
14. Al Filreis  –Video Education Guru
15. Garrison Keillor  –Folksy Poetry Lives!
16. William Logan  –Knife Wielding Critic
17. Anne Carson –Brainy School
18. Ron Silliman –avant-fustian, necessary
19. Natasha Trethewey –Second term U.S. Poet Laureate
20. Kay Ryan –Cute School
21. Jorie Graham –Sky-Is-Falling School
22. Mary Oliver –21st century Wordsworth
23. Derek Walcott –21st century Southey
24. W.S. Merwin –21st century W.S. Merwin
25. Tony Hoagland –plain-talking hipster poetry
26. Philip Nikolayev —Fulcrum editor, Russian translation
27. Franz Wright –21st century John Clare
28. D.A. Powell –the quite good gay poet
29. Marilyn Chin –de Stael of Asian chick poetry
30. Charles Bernstein –Langwhich
31. David Orr –NYTimes Poetry reviewer
32. Rita Dove –anthologist who freaked out Vendler and Perloff
33. Erin Belieu –VIDA
34. Michael Robbins –“Where competency ends,” Ange Mlinko “begins”
35. Kevin  Young –Studied with Heaney
36. Ben Mazer  –Studied with Heaney
37. Ron Padget  –LA Times Book Prize
38. Lucie Brock-Broido –rococo
39. Louise Gluck –quiet confessionalism
40. Rosanna Warren  –Robert Penn Warren’s little girl
41. Christopher Ricks –professor at B.U.
42. Anis Shivani  –MFA smasher
43. Amy King –twist and shout
44. John Koethe –a philosopher poet
45. Carl Phillips  –teaches at the college founded by TS Eliot’s grandad.
46. Charles Simic –compares elegant checkmates in chess to elegant endings of poems…
47. Robert Bly –at Harvard with Rich, Koch, O’Hara, Hall, Ashbery…
48. Vanessa Place –avant-garde book of dollar bills
49. Dana Gioia –the essay that shamed us all…
50. Robert Hass –has a book, “20th century pleasures”
51. Simon Armitage –leading Brit
52. Frederick Seidel –controversial, 1962, first book prize
53. Cole Swensen –post-Language school
54. Matthew Dickman –works as a baker
55. James Tate –teaches at Amherst
56. Lyn Hejinian –“it is not imperfect to have died”
57. Eileen Myles –diary poetry
58. Geoffrey Hill –gnarled syntax
59. Paul Hoover –institutional ‘new’
60. Alfred Corn –Harold Bloom called him ‘visionary’
61. Rae Armantrout  –avant-garde, in brief
62. Terrance Hayes –began as a visual artist
63. Henri Cole –a Thom Gunn award winner
64. Seth Abramson –pro-MFA lawyer poet
65. Peter Gizzi –tenuous lyric
66. Mark McGurl —Program Era author
67. Janet Holmes –we can never remember how to spell Ahsahta…
68. George Bilgere –Billy Collins in waiting…
69. Matthew Zapruder –editor of Wave books
70. Ange Mlinko –see #34
71. Cate Marvin –VIDA, too
72. Maya Angelou –remember her?
73. Brenda Hillman –“Allow form.”
74. Galway Kinnell –why don’t these legends write tell-alls?
75. Dorothea Lasky –teaches at Columbia
76. Nikki Finney –“us giving us away”
77. Noah Eli Gordon –#34 called his work “simply dead.”
78. K. Silem Mohammed –was a featured writer for Blog Harriet
79. Ariana Reines –“I know that really beautiful women are never alone.”
80. Richard Wilbur –Old Man Rhyme
81. Rowan Ricardo Phillips —When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness
82. Garrick Davis –editor, Critical Flame
83. Alan Cordle –the foetry revolution!
84. J.D. McClatchy —Yale Review editor
85. Philip Levine –‘Whitman of the industrial heartland’
86. Clive James –from down under
87. Robert Archambeau –his blog is Samizdat
88. Matthea Harvey –skittery queen?
89. Laura Kasischke –“not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling of the elderly”
90. Paul Legault –The Emily Dickinson “translations.”
91. Lynn Xu –Waste Land’s child
92. Laura Jensen –Donald Justice-era Iowa Workshop grad
93. CA Conrad –pop-inflected Bukowski
94. Jynne Martin –“Draw any beast by starting with a circle!”
95. Traci Brimhall –believes in The Next Big Thing
96. Adam Fitzgerald —amour de soi
97. Cyrus Cassells –Lambda Literary award winner
98. Richard Siken –“no one will ever want to sleep with you
99. Naomi Shihab Nye  –fights terrorism & prejudice
100. U.S. Dhuga —Battersea, baby!

A STONE’S THROW FROM TINTERN ABBEY

Professor Robert Archambeau.  Don’t be fooled by that knowing look.

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” concerns neither childhood, loss, nor Tintern Abbey. The mistaken readings of this famous poem are so acute and widespread that it’s safe to say if you know nothing of the poem, the professor who has studied it knows a great deal less. In the case of “Tintern Abbey,” ignorance may not be bliss, but it is less ignorant.

Professor Robert Archambeau recently published an essay on “Tintern Abbey” on his respected literary blog, Samizdat, but he’s apparently writing on a different poem—one that exists in his own mind.

Tintern Abbey is nowhere in “Tintern Abbey,” whose full title is “Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour: July 13, 1798.”

The abbey is a several miles away: out of sight and out of mind—it is not mentioned in the poem at all. Wordsworth is a Nature poet. It makes sense.  But here is Professor Archambeau in his “Tintern Abbey” essay:

For Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey was a haunted place— shrouded with past associations…

Here, the whole action of the poem involves the speaker standing near the ruined abbey he used to visit as a child

When he sees the abbey now, he experiences it screened through thought and memory and judgement and layers of experience.

Wordsworth had his experiences at the dramatic ruins of an ancient abbey…

It would have seemed undignified and odd to locate significant experiences in a place as trivial as an old beat-up building…

The differences between the old abbey and the Tintin books…

Professor Archambeau has the building on his brain, and we can see it there in his mind’s eye as he writes. The trouble is, Wordsworth’s experience of the building doesn’t exist—it is mentioned in the title of the poem as a general marker (“a few miles above”) and that’s the end of it.

How is this possible? How can a man who is paid to teach literature get a short and very famous poem entirely wrong? Poe wrote a “thousand scholars are wrong—because they are a thousand.” Herd mentality promotes error—and keeps it going—like nothing else.

Archambeau not only gets the abbey wrong in his essay, putting Wordsworth in the middle of the abbey’s “dramatic ruins,” with its “past associations,” “thought and memory and judgement and layers of experience,” but professor Archambeau gets the whole thrust of the poem wrong.

He writes:  “the whole action of the poem involves the speaker standing near the ruined abbey he used to visit as a child.”

Wordsworth never visited the abbey, or the scene of the poem, as a child.

Nor is Wordsworth’s poem about, as Archambeau tell us, “how Wordsworth came to understand what he’d lost in terms of childhood perception.”

This is not the poem’s message.

Archambeau is not alone.

Billy Collins perpetuates the misreading of the 1798 poem in his 1998 poem, “Lines Composed Over ThreeThousand Miles from Tintern Abbey,” in which Collins wittily glosses the commonly accepted theme of the poem:

I was here a long time ago/and now I am here again…But the feeling is always the same/It was better the first time…as he recalls the dizzying icebergs of childhood/and mills around in a field of weeds

Collins, like Archambeau, thinks “Tintern Abbey” concerns loss of childhood’s sensory thrill—an adult awareness, by the adult speaker of the poem, of the loss. As Collins puts it, simply:

I’m not feeling as chipper as I did back then…Something is always missing—/Swans, a glint on the surface of the lake

Archambeau says the same thing, slightly more elaborately, comparing Wordsworth’s “loss” to his own, as he, Archambeau, now reads “Tintin” as a grownup quickly for plot, though as a child he dreamed over intriguing details of the comic in a glowing, mystical, one-with-the-universe, ocean-of-feeling, sublime.

Collins’ poem is charming, Archambeau’s essay, due to its length, less so.

But the point is Collins, Archambeau, and experts galore continue to grossly misread the most famous poem in the canon.

Wordsworth was a Nature poet, and more, he was an environmentalist. And even more, Wordsworth was part of the great intellectual tide still washing over us—the secular, we-are-part-of-nature, not-Christian-subduers-of-it, tide.

In this poem, W. is out to convince us that Nature civilizes us and inspires us as adults. Nature makes us kinder and more human; Nature, W. wants us to see, is a meditative force for social good—not simply a haunt for restless adolescents, a tree-climbing adventure for thoughtless youth. “Tintern Abbey” is not about childhood loss. “Tintern Abbey” is about adult gain,  due to Nature’s gifts. “Tintern Abbey” attempts to make Nature sublimely healthy, social, and respectable in the eyes of grownup readers—at that time, a still unorthodox view.

“1798” is in the title—Wordsworth was 27 when he wrote the poem. “Five years have past” is how the poem begins—Wordsworth’s sole previous visit to the banks of the Wye was when he was 23 (ending a phase of his life with French girlfriend and child).  Wordsworth is a 27 year old reflecting on his experience as a 23 year old—there are no childhood memories or impressions involved at all. Wordsworth’s childhood is referenced once, parenthetically, and dismissed: “(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days and their glad animal movements all gone by.)”

Nor is there any loss. Quite the contrary. Five years ago he was alone ; now with his sister, in the present, in the sublime occasion of the poem’s conclusion, W. gushes, not about how things are not as good now, but:

Nature never did betray the heart that loved her; tis her privilege, through all the years of this our life, to lead from joy to joy; for she can so inform the mind that is within us, so impress us with quietness and beauty and so feed with lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, rash judgements, nor the sneers of selfish men…shall e’re prevail against us…I, so long a worshiper of Nature, hither came, unwearied in that service; rather say with warmer love, oh! with far deeper zeal of holier love.

Wordsworth, in the present, is “unwearied,” and feels “warmer love” and “deeper zeal.”

In addition, during the last five years, when he was away from the banks of the Wye, leading up to the present, the scene’s “forms of beauty” do this to him:

passing even into my purer mind with tranquil restoration feelings too of unremembered pleasure; such perhaps as may have had no trivial influence on that best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love…another gift, of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood in which the burden of the mystery, in which the heavy and the weary weight of all this unintelligible world is lighten’d—that serene and blessed mood, in which the affections gently lead us on, until, the breath of the corporeal frame, and even the motion of our human blood, almost suspended, we are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul: while with an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.

This, the most powerful and sublime rhetoric of the poem, is reserved for how Wordsworth interacts with Nature now—not in youth or childhood.

Archambeau quotes one portion of the poem, the famous, “when like a roe I bounded o’er the mountains” passage, in which W. makes some reference to how he has “changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first I came among these hills” (at 23, not as a child) and how “nature then…was all in all.”

But it is laughably wrong to think Wordsworth had previously been in some joyous youthful state of oneness with nature—for even in the passage Archambeau cites, W. says (of his former experience) he “bounded o’er mountains, by the sides of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams, wherever nature led; more like a man flying from something that he dreads, than one who sought the thing he loved.”

Flying from something you dread does not fit with misty, lost ideals of something sadly lost.

Immediately after the passage quoted by Archambeau, Wordsworth (now in the present) states “other gifts have followed, for such loss, I would believe, abundant recompense. For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth…”

Wordsworth presents his silent sister, Dorothy, as containing his past naive feelings—yet she’s only a year younger than Wordsworth.  Archambeau could have made something of this, in light of the male-dominated Tintin of his youth—but professor Archambeau was distracted, no doubt, by his bungled reading of “Tintern Abbey.”

CONCEPT OR THING?

Jim Behrle: He’s no Duchamp

The Kill List poetry phenomenon consists of a book (of conceptualist poetry) and the various responses to it by poets on, or not on, the list.

The Kill List is an actual list (four per page) of living poets with either “rich” or “comfortable” after their names.

The fake outrage by Jim Behrle—one of the poets (“comfortable”) on the list and obviously thrilled at the publicity for himself, and the chance to exploit it for more (ads for T-shirts, “comfortable” or “rich”)—is currently at the center of the hyper-self-conscious, intra-reactive, analytical, blog-storm.

Conceptualism’s first rule is: In the presentation of the work, thing comes first, whether it is Duchamp’s urinal or Josef Kaplan’s The Kill List.  The presentation of the object must be pure; there can be no visible authorial intent in the presentation of the object qua object.

Since pure objectivity can never be presented as such, however, the thing presented, the instant it is presented, moves in the public perception from thing to concept.

The moment the public shifts its view from thing to concept, a second round of narrowed public consciousness finds it once again to be a thing; this movement between thing and concept is the very engine of the known and knowing universe.

The Kill List itself will always be safe in its thing-ness.  Its validation as a thing grows more secure with each new round of conceptualist speculation.

If it were only a conceptualist work, in fact: a comment on drone killing, a Marxist commentary on middle-class po-biz, an examination of the nature of personal threat, an analysis of social awareness and identity based on simple inclusion and exclusion, it would merely fizzle out, intellectually and ineffectually, and quickly become yesterday’s news.

But because the book, The Kill List, exists as itself, as a “real list,” and was presented merely as that, it survives, forever swinging back and forth, in the public mind, between concept and thing.  Long after Obama’s drone “kill list” or Frederick Forsyth’s espionage novel, Kill List (the google champ) is forgotten, the poetry “joke” will be remembered.

Because this phenomenon exists only among poets, the Kill List, as a public event, is small.  Duchamp’s conceptualist joke rippled the pond of the general press.

Behrle’s “Penis List,” a short poem which jokes about po-biz penis sizes (Billy Collins, 4 inches) and calls poetry itself a large vagina, recently published on the website HTML Giant as a joking response to The Kill List, is hopelessly banal, because it is conceptualist (abstract) only and forgets the rule: life and art require first a thing, and then, only then, will the proper conceptual transmorgrification occur in the public consciousness.

In a bygone era, it was the technical, metrical wizardry of a work by Alexander Pope that was its immediately presented thing-ness—no idea was present except as it was launched in the minds of readers by physical arrangements of sound-harmonics, and these exist as solidly as the porcelain shape of Duchamp’s toilet.

We say Pope’s rhymes and Duchamp’s toilet, but in presentation, no owner (authorial intent) is visible—the public gets wind of a toilet in a museum, just as it gets wind of a specific set of verses which offend the public taste.

Offense is key here. The offending words either melt into air, or the villain who uttered the offending words is made to feel the cudgel of punishment upon frail flesh and blood.

But if the offense is an everlasting object, real fame is possible.

UGLY BIRDS: THE FAILURE OF MODERN POETRY AND THE SUCCESS OF THE NOVEL

Modernism is no longer “modern.”  Duchamp was born in the 19th century and the Mona Lisa moustache artist is several generations closer in time to Byron than he is to us.

But the legacy of modernism, with its self-conscious -isms, grows apace: ungainly poetry the public ignores continues to flourish, aided by institutional subsidy.

The New English Review published an article last year, “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism,” by Mark Signorelli and Nikos Salingaros, and was rebuked in First Things by Maureen Mullarkey: “Beckmann’s Deposition, A Modernist Offering.”

It is nice to know these sorts of discussions are going on, for Modernism’s profound influence is taken too much for granted.  Here is Signorelli’s reply to Mullarkey.

Compare the two paintings in Mullarkey’s article:  the one by Max Beckmann (1917) and the one by Geerhaert David (1500).

The models speak for themselves.

Rhetoric of a certain religious or political bent need not distract us.   Artistic Modernism is too important an issue to be sidetracked by religious or political wrangling, and it is precisely this wrangling, which, by its very nature, is nearly always beside the point, that helps to keep the legacy of Modernism afloat.

The cry against Modernism could be any of the following:  “God has gone out of art!” or “It is as if God, if there were a God, had gone out of art!”  Or,  “Beauty has gone out of art!”   Or, “Art now sucks!”   The rhetoric may be different, but the truth is the same.

Now, we will not deny that Modernism has a certain powerful secular, scientific, open-minded, progressive perception among many intellectuals, and that complaints against Modernism tend to be construed as nothing more than a sort of superstitious “yahoo” reaction.

But Modernism lacks genuine scientific credentials: Cubism is not a “fourth dimension” or a “new reality.”  Poems cannot be measured by “breaths” or “fields of energy” or “things.”  Also, many of Modernism’s founders were fascists.  Modernism’s heady, positive, scientific “perception” is largely a p.r. gimmick.

Modernism’s p.r. perception, however, is fading, as minds secular and religious are getting fed up with what has been to a large extent, a narrow, anti-human, anti-art, con.

Why a “con?”   Real simple:  Because 20th century art was a profitable style based on cheap materials (Bauhaus cement) and hyped painting (buy Cezanne/Matisse/Picasso low, sell high) with an accompanying apparatus of critics, lawyers, speculators, art leagues, schools, and galleries, each part validating the other.

Poetry was the intellectual con that abutted the profit con (architecture, painting).  The arts tend to pull along together: think Keats and Mozart; then Pound and Picasso.  There’s an intellectual/artistic sea that catches up all swimmers.

On a more practical level, however: the modern art collector and lawyer, John Quinn, changed import law (in US Congress!) to make the modern art Armory Show (1913) happen—Quinn also negotiated Eliot and Pound’s “Waste Land” deal.  The wildly influential modern art critic John Dewey allowed wealthy modern art collector A.C. Barnes to co-write his famous Art and Experience. The poetry clique of Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, WC Williams, and Louis Ginsberg (Allen Ginsberg’s father) was headed up by another wealthy modern art collector, Walter Arensberg, who hosted Duchamp’s first visit to America.  Duchamp advised Peggy Guggenheim, who hung out with Ashbery and O’Hara.  William James, the nitrous oxide professor, taught Gertrude Stein at Harvard; Stein’s poetry was less important than the modern art collecting she and her brother Leo did.

Knowing the history and persons does open up our eyes, but we don’t have to waste time with shallow, abstract, ideology, or do a lot of historical second-guessing.  To repeat: the art, the models, speak for themselves.

The public is no longer interested in poetry, at least since the death of Frost 50 years ago.  Today, free verse poets like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver sell a little bit, but they are not critically esteemed.  Poetry is a fractured, mostly ignored enterprise.

Novels still sell, but poems do not.

In our previous post, we pointed out the crucial difference between fiction and poetry:  the public has a certain amount of patience for novels—readers will “stick with” a novel for a “pay-off;” poems are not given the same chance—and this is due to an old (and correct) expectation that poems should please us immediately.

A novel may be hard to “get into,” and even appear to be an ugly mess, at first, but readers will stay with it because they assume that the total effect will eventually please them.

Modern poets stubbornly believe readers will “give poems the same chance” they do novels.

They won’t.  Public perception of modern poems as compared to modern novels will always operate in the following way:

The consumer’s choice is simple:

Poems are no longer beautiful things which please immediately, but instead imitate the prosy nature of novels,

So what does that mean?  It means the buyer has two choices: the novel—an ugly bird who can fly a long way or, the poem—an ugly bird who can only fly a short distance.  In terms of bang for their buck, the consumer is always going to choose the bird that can fly a greater distance.

No wonder the novel out-sells the poem.

We’ve all seen the poets who try some new trick, who try to make the poem into something it isn’t: an offensive joke, a dense nugget packed with topical information, a pictogram, a revolutionary tract, a diary, but this just makes the poet look desperate: it never works.  The clever poet thinks, Look, I am not only giving them a poem, I am giving them a joke, too!  The public is not interested.  The public just thinks: if you don’t like poetry, why are you pretending to write it?  Write a novel or a joke, instead.

Poetry may be dead, but the idea of it still lives.

Modernism couldn’t kill that.

POETRY WILL BE DEAD IN 15 MINUTES: OR, ARE MODERNISTS, PO-MOS, AND FLARFISTS JUST A BUNCH OF ASSHOLES?

Vanessa Place: the Mona Lisa of Flarf?

We never met a Flarfist, but we’re beginning to wonder if Flarf simply belongs to the 20th century avant-garde art & poetry tradition of Asshole-ism.

Paul Fussell (1924-2012), author of The Great War and Modern Memory;  Purple Heart in WW II; PhD, Harvard ’52; essayist who taught at U. Penn, Germany, and London, wrote

Would it be going too far to consider what Modernism derived from the European political atmosphere of its time (I am thinking both of Russia in 1917 and Germany in 1933) as a way of suggesting that Modernism in its way is an artistic refraction of totalitarianism?

In our humble opinion, no, it would not be going too far.  We’re talking T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, here, and it goes deeper than just Germany and Russia; British poets (Hulme, Thomas, Brooke) were swept up in male war-mongering before the Great War—Pound associate Ford Madox Ford (who would later rub shoulders with the right-wing Southern Agrarian/New Critics in the US) worked for the War Propaganda Bureau during WW I.

Scarriet has already exposed Modernism as a reactionary Men’s Club that bought low and sold high in the art market.  There was nothing freeing or broadening or insightful or revolutionary happening with the 20th century avant-garde.  It was never about freeing the world of capitalism and Edgar Guest.  It was just mean-spirited snaffling. The shabby treatment of Edna Millay by Hugh Kenner and the Pound circle is just one example.  So let’s look at this interesting quote from Amy King’s recent piece in The Rumpus where she talks about one of the critic Edgar Poe’s favorite topics: cliques.  King calls them ” intentional groups:”

First, let me back up to my graduate school days at SUNY Buffalo. I was naïve. I used to wonder why Susan Howe would declare that she “is not a Language Poet.” I didn’t understand why, in each class I took with Charles Bernstein, a certain core of “po-mo” boys were permitted to dominate discussions every semester while new female students would populate the room’s fringes, dropping away after the first week or so. I didn’t understand how intentional groups premised on exploring poetics intent on engaging politically as the “avant-garde,” presumably to destabilize power, might also be complicit in reifying the overall capitalist structure in the process of their empire building, er, institutionalization.

Not until the Flarf Collective came on the scene did I begin to think a bit more consciously about intentional groups. That is, my gut registered aversion to their private, invite-only email listserv, where some poets I knew abandoned ship with sideways notes of exclusivity and pretension, and others I know and like very much remained. Thanks to the advent of the Internet and numerous poets exploring its use value through various means of engagement, I thought about the similarities of Gary Sullivan heading up a group that was collecting poetic techniques and André Breton gathering his all-male cast of Dada members to compose his manifestos. I realized that, akin to Breton’s aims, the Flarf Collective was formulating a list of techniques and engagements that would ‘liberate’ us from the lyric, as they defined it. They were going to show us the error of our lyrical ways.

When I engaged them on my blog regarding some cursory problematics of exclusive membership, specifically in the case of Jennifer Knox who was not a Flarf Collective member but was before-their-manifestation employing techniques now claimed by Flarf, as were others, I was distractedly schooled on my own susceptibility to falling victim to emotional conditioning via a poem penned for me by Sullivan about my grandma’s labia. I am easily distracted. But I still wondered, since many poets were and continue to respond to the Internet and its impact, why did one group, a Flarf Collective, try to own that?

The similarities, and limitations, of Breton’s Dada-cum-Surrealism are worth a side note here for they speak to the risks of supporting and advancing intentional groups of this ilk. In a move towards recruiting additional worthwhile artists for his coterie, Breton laid claim to painters like Frida Kahlo (“’I didn’t know I was a Surrealist until André Breton came to Mexico and told me I was.” “They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore . . . I [would] rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.”), Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini (“Breton seemed to expect devotion, like a pope, and wanted me to become ‘a sheep in his gang’… I refused the label Surrealist.”). None became official members, and only by association are their paintings now read through the framework of Surrealism, often rendering limited, simplistic interpretations & even preventing the deeper engagement they deserve.

Beautiful.  Amy King is going to get in trouble, because she gets it.  We wish we could give her a hug.

The Flarf Collective think they’re special because they use overhead projectors and do stuff in museums and they can claim to care and not care about poetry as they turn it into conceptual art.

King is right to see Flarf as nothing more than a market ploy to advance a few careers, and this cynical view of hers unfortunately plays right into the hands of the cynical Flarfists.

The madder Amy King gets, the more fun the Flarfists have.

Forget it, Amy King.  They’re assholes.  Let them be.  Shit, they can’t be worse than Ezra Pound.  Let them have their fun.

And Amy will essentially agree with us.  As she puts it towards the end of her 2 part essay, “Beauty and the Beastly Po-Biz:”

I’m not out to deny anyone institutional participation or access to resources; rather, I want to call attention to the claim these groups purport to block capitalism while intentionally employing capitalist techniques (i.e. media-style sensationalism to garner notice, sound-bite saturation, prolific self-referencing, reducing all other modes of subjective expression to exchangeable equivalences, etc.) to achieve and secure status within the capitalist structure.

We personally think it self-defeating to set oneself up as so anti-capitalist that it backs you into a dour corner seething with both resentments and contradictions; but putting that aside, it’s clear that Amy King, in her critique of Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place, Marjorie Perloff and their Flarfist/Conceptualist mentality? behavior? stupidity? has got these clowns pegged.

We like the remark by Amy King’s friend.  When he heard that Goldsmith read poetry at the White House (with Billy Collins and others) and bragged that his (Goldsmith’s) exaggerated paisley suit was “subversive” because the suit maker was the same worn by the president, who opined he wouldn’t dare wear such a suit, Amy’s friend said, “Whether you’re an American president or an avant-garde poet, Brooks Brothers has a suit for you.”

John Quinn, the modern art collector who made the 1913 Armory Show a reality (Quinn gave the opening address at the show) was Eliot and Pound’s attorney, and negotiated the book deal for Eliot’s The Waste Land.  Walter Arensberg, another modern art collector, funded not only Duchamp but Williams and Stevens.   20th century avant-garde painting and poetry were boiled in the same stew.  The poets are late to the game, as far as conceptualism goes, but that’s only if poetry turns into its cousin, art.  Which really has poetry heading backwards, not forwards.

Perloff, et al, is just a continuation of the Romanticism-hating of Pound and Eliot.

Found Poetry has been around a long, long time, hasn’t it?   And was it really that interesting the first time around?

Originality has always been something to be aimed for in poetry, and it is never entirely achieved.   By definition, the less original a poem is, the less poetic it is.   How original is it?  The question can be maddening, obviously.  And to be entirely mad, one simply gives in to the madness and becomes Kenneth Goldsmith.  He is the monkey in the cage of the problem.

Goldsmith is stupid enough to think that “plagiarism and theft” will “erase the ego.”  But last time I checked, the ego of the criminal is the biggest ego of all.

Flarf is nothing more than Duchamp all over again, except now instead of calling Duchamp-ism “art,” the Flarfists call Duchamp-ism “poetry.”

And that, my conceptualist friends, is the only difference.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

FIRST ROUND ACTION MOVES TO THE EAST AS WE REVIEW THE WINNERS

Last year’s Scarriet March Madness Tournament Champion, Ben Mazer: Should S.T. Coleridge be afraid?

First Round play in Scarriet’s Romanticism, Old and New, Madness Tournament East Bracket awaits: with icons Coleridge, Poe, Shakespeare, and T.S. Eliot, plus living poets Stephen Dunn and Ben Mazer!

First round play is finished in the North, South, and West.

So far, three living poets have managed to advance to the second round, mixing with the best Romantic poets of all time: Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland, and Billy Collins.

Philip Nikolayev (“Litmus Test”) almost upset First Seed John Keats in the South.

One change to report: Algernon Swinburne has made the cut as a 15th seed in the East, replacing “The Ballad of Barbara Allen.”  The Scarriet Madness committee has an obscure rule that no Anonymous authors may compete, thus barring the folk ballad (often replete with Romantic genius).

Here’s a recap of the poets advancing:

Goethe “Holy Longing” d. Donald Justice “In Bertram’s Garden”

Frost “Stopping By Woods” d. Thomas Campion “Follow Thy Fair Sun”

Catullus “Lesbia Let’s Live Only For Love” d. Rimbaud “Lines”

Larkin “Whitsun Weddngs” d. Thomas Traherne “Eden”

Suckling “Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover” d. Ashbery “Syringa”

Burns “Red, Red Rose” d. W.H Auden “Miss Gee”

Herrick “Delight in Disorder” d. Theodore Roethke “I Knew A Woman”

Blake “How Sweet I Roamed” d. Wallace Stevens “Peter Quince At The Clavier”

Keats “Ode To A Nightingale” d. Philip Nikolayev “Litmus Test”

Plath “Lady Lazarus” d. Poseidippus “Dorchia”

Petrarch “Whoso List To Hunt” d. Bishop “The Fish”

Wordsworth “On The Beach At Calais” d. Baudelaire “L’invitation Au Voyage”

Hoagland “A Color Of The Sky” d. Ovid “Amores I,V”

Barrett “A Musical Instrument” d. Betjemen “A Subaltern’s Love Song”

Eberhart “The Groundhog” d. Marvell “The Garden”

Olds “Primitive” d. Dante “Tanto Gentile”

Shelley “The Cloud” d. Arnold “Dover Beach”

Dryden “Song For St. Cecilia’s Day” d. Dylan Thomas “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”

Yeats “Lake Isle Of Innisfree” d. Tennyson “Mariana”

Millay “And You As Well Must Die” d. Pope “Ode On Solitude”

D.H. Lawrence “River Roses” d. Propertius “O Best Of All Nights, Return and Return Again”

Charles D’Orleans “La! Mort Qui T’A Fait Si Hardie” d. Spender “I Think Continually Of Those Who Are Truly Great”

Billy Collins “Passengers” d. Byron “Don Juan” excerpt

Walther Vogelweide “Under The LindenTree” d. Browning “Meeting At Night”

And those are the (North, South, West) winners so far!

We need 8 more from the East Bracket.

Ben Mazer, last year’s Scarriet March Madness Champion, who defeated Marilyn Chin for the title, advancing past the likes of Seamus Heaney and John Ashbery, draws a tough challenge this year: “Kubla Kahn” by Samuel Coleridge, perhaps the most famous Romantic poem of all time.  Last year’s amazing run by Mazer was against living poets.

Here’s the Mazer entry:

AT THE TABUKI KABUKI

She was a hothouse flower, but she grew
to such proportions that she never knew

her brand of people, less her brand of steeple,
and saw things as they happened, from the view.

Her husband took her on his trips to Asia,
to count the factories, and meet the heads
of government and business. In her beds
were flowers, chocolates, cinctures of aphasia.

In time the path sloped upward, and the driver
relaxed a bit, began to tell his story.
It grew less clear just who was driving who,
she, the loquacious one, or he, the taciturn McGiver,

or if it was a modern sort of dory.
As she listened, she began to rue
the little fables, and the many tables,
and the entire vast illusion, too.

As we read this brief poem by Mazer, up against Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, we might think it is a lamb going to the slaughter, but not so.  We observe, for instance, Mazer’s delicate ear in the first few lines: “grew, knew, people, steeple, from the view.”  We also note the compactness of imagery and story; an undertone of despair sweetly mixed with an undertone of humor; informative density “heads of government and business” effortlessly combines with lyric surface: “flowers, chocolates, cintures of aphasia.”

If we might take a moment to define the genius of the Romantic era and poetic genius in general, as evinced by Mr. Mazer, it is this: the poet of genius, moved by that love in which desire seeks its goal by any means necessary, fires all its guns in a burst of fervor and ardor in which no poetic strategy is rejected, no rule is obeyed other than: the more rules broken, the better; no poetic school or fashion is followed; the poet shoots all the arrows available in his quiver at the sun.

Mazer is not rhyming so much as rejecting the modern rule that you shall not rhyme—there is a difference between the two; the Romantic rebel, we feel, and we know not how, is doing the latter.

Shelley, in a poem, writes of a “cloud,” and that’s all he does, and the wise elders think, “You can’t just have a poem about a cloud!”

This is what Romanticism is: it is not “about romance,” per se; it is love following its own vibrations, passionately rejecting rules and embracing whatever-it-takes to enkindle a certain profundity of delight.

You cannot mention McGiver—much less use it as a rhyme!—in a brief, melancholy lyric and make it work!   But Mazer does.  This is what impossible-to-define-genius does.

It is not what genius does that makes poetic genius genius, but how it manages to make whatever what happens to be come to life in unexpected ways.

KUBLA KHAN, a dream fragment—S.T. Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
 
 
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
   
 
A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me, 
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
 
This poem is a mess.  Yet it works, better than almost any poem ever written.   What sort of claptrap is this?  “A damsel with a dulcimer/In a vision once I saw” and yet who does not delight in it?  The Romantic era reached this pinnacle: poets created Taste by violating it, a phenomenon which has largely been missing from poetry ever since.  Since the 19th century, poets, in their compositional techniques, have been prosier, more correct—and colder.
 
Coleridge 88 Mazer 79
 
Mazer fights hard, but the iconic poem carries the day.

ANIS!! LEFT-WING HUFF POST CRITIC OF THE TWITTER AGE

Anis Shivani might be a bitter guy, but as a literary critic at the Huffington Post  he exemplifies the sort of high-brow hating which pleases like a good nerdy fuck.

Let’s say this much of criticism which pummels its subjects: it will always be closer to the truth. 

Think about your own life.  Really knowing your friends, your lovers, your spouses, your places of unemployment, are you not palpably aware of numerous flaws, faults, stupidities, culpabilities and insanities, and isn’t your intimate experience the reason for this—not because you happen to be mean?

Criticism is—criticism.  Why shouldn’t we expect criticism to provide the insights of the inevitable flaws?  Sure, there are perfect poems here and there, perhaps a flawless short story, but when reviewing the corpus of a fashionable writer, life being what it is, there’s got to be let-downs, just as we are disappointed by our friends, our lovers, our jobs.

Social decorum should keep us from attacking our personal relationships—but why shouldn’t we be honest regarding a book that wants out time and money? 

Anis Shivani is correct—both in his criticism and by what his criticism symbolizes: In Literary Criticism, the bland and cheery is always bad, always a lie.

Anis Shivani is correct—even as we disagree with him; disagreeing with him (he over-values High Modernism, for instance) is not the point, for Shivani’s whole impulse his correct, and his audience responds—people deeply want honest criticism, and despite what the status quo sometimes says, they shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting it.

We disagree with Shivani when he writes of Billy Collins’ work: “escapist denial of death is pervasive.”  Has Shivani read Collins’ poem, “Passengers?” And we are only mildly miffed that Shivani stole our idea—debuted on Scarriet several years ago—that Collins’ poetry is “stand-up comedy.”  We forgive Shivani, for this nice observation alone: “[Collins]poems have lately become mostly about writing poems–in his pajamas, with a cup of coffee in hand.”

We also like that Shivani is well-acquainted with all genres; there’s nothing we hate more than ghetto-izing and niche-ing.   In his recent The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers, 7 are fiction writers, 6 are poets, and 2 are critics.

Shivani opens with a moral, common sense overview:

Are the writers receiving the major awards and official recognition really the best writers today? Or are they overrated mediocrities with little claim to recognition by posterity? The question is harder than ever to answer today, yet it is a worthwhile exercise to attempt (along with identifying underrated writers not favored by bureaucracy).

It’s difficult to know today because we no longer have major critics with wide reach who take vocal stands. There are no Malcolm Cowleys, Edmund Wilsons, and Alfred Kazins to separate the gold from the sand. Since the onset of poststructuralist theory, humanist critics have been put to pasture. The academy is ruled by “theorists” who consider their work superior to the literature they deconstruct, and moreover they have no interest in contemporary literature. As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical “reviews” announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes (hence my inclusion of Michiko Kakutani).

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat–awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there’s no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism–very desirable in this time of xenophobia–is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed “dangerous,” and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)

The MFA writing system, with its mechanisms of circulating popularity and fashionableness, leans heavily on the easily imitable. Cloying writers like Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Aimee Bender, and Charles D’Ambrosio are held up as models of good writing, because they’re easy enough to copy. And copied they are, in tens of thousands of stories manufactured in workshops. Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability–Marilynne Robinson, for example–to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords. Since grants, awards, and residencies are controlled by the same inbreeding group, it’s difficult to see how the designated heavies can be displaced.

As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn’t know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they’re happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them.

If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing. Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded. They are the unreadable Booth Tarkingtons, Joseph Hergesheimers, and John Herseys of our time, earnestly bringing up the rear.

It’s hard to argue with his general points, and we like his pedagogical earnestness, too: “If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing.”

Here are the summary observations on the 15, and Shivani is definitely a critic of the twitter age, as he packs each line with left-wing, moral outrage:

Ashbery: When reality = language (as his carping cousins the language poets, have it) politics becomes vacuous, and any usurper can, and will step in.

Collins: Pioneered the poet as the stand-up comedian…

Cunningham: Proves the point that to be successful as a fiction writer today, all you have to do is create facile pastiche assemblages.

Diaz: Replaces plot in stories and novels with pumped-up “voice.”

Foer: Always quick to jump on the bandwagon of the moment.

Gluck: Her flatness of tone (mistaken as equanimity by infatuated critics) suggests paralysis after emotional death.

Graham: Started off modestly, but with increasing official recognition, her abstractions, pseudo-philosophizing, self-importance, and centerless long lines have spun out of control.

Kakutani: Simply the worst book critic on the planet.

Lahiri: Utterly unwilling to write about any thing other than privileged Bengali immigrants with PhDs living in Cambridge’s Central and Inman Squares and making easy adjustments to top of American meritocratic pyramid.

Nelson: Workshop writing, dysfunctionality is thy name, and there is no better writer to learn family dysfunction from…

Oliver: A “nature poet” whose poems all seem to follow the same pattern: time, animal, setting, observation, epiphany.

Olds: Infantilization packaged in pseudo-confession…

Tan: Empowered other immigrant writers to make mountains out of molehills of their minor adjustment struggles.

Vendler: Zero poetic feeling…has never uttered one original insight…

Vollmann: Encapsulates ethical vacuity of American fiction after the collapse of 1970s postmodernism.

It does not matter, for instance, that we feel Sharon Olds has written some moving poems: Anis Shivani is entitled to his opinion of Olds’ poetry—and if that’s how he feels about it, he should be allowed to utter it, and everyone should be encouraged to be that opinionated—if only to combat the reverse condition: the true literary nightmare of know-nothing politeness.

A POEM’S LANGUAGE IS—LANGUAGE

Tony Hoagland: A Quietist.  But always starting trouble!

A Tony Hoagland “mic-grabbing” tantrum (?) at AWP Boston in the  name of accessible poetry against obscure, academic, show-off poetry has proven to be a lightning rod on John Gallaher’s blog, which has been moving slowly for months. Peter Campion, an LA Times poetry critic, locked horns with Hoagland on that AWP panel, and made an appearance on Gallaher’s thread.

Matthew Cooperman, a Poetry MFA professor, joined the conversation and recommended an essay on accessibility by Josh Wilkinson (The Volta).  We visited, mentioning the C.Dale Young APR essay on accessibility Scarriet just reviewed.  The following is our take on the piece by Wilkinson, who cleary belongs to the Inaccessible School—which Hoagland railed against at AWP.

Wilkinson begins by taking exception to Times editor Bill Keller’s, “I prefer craft to spontaneity;” for Wilkinson, this is equivalent to “declawing” poetry and putting it in a “‘zoo.”

The trouble with this sort of rhetoric?  It’s trapped in abstract dualities.  The wag can always retort: “Can’t we have craft and spontaneity?”  The wag  beats vague every time, and the colorful “zoo” metaphor is no help. 

But now Wilkinson moves onto a 3-dimensional reality.  The following by Wilkinson is something we can sink our teeth into:

We are told, again and again, that for poetry to be digestible in a broadly appealing way, apparently it must be poetry paired up with something else. For Natasha Tretheway to be invited to Fresh Air, there must be a pitch; poetry beside a familiar topic. “Poetry plus” is what Marjorie Perloff calls this.

For Tretheway, that means poetry plus her biracialness. Which allows Terry Gross to ask, “What does [Obama’s election] mean to you?” For former poets laureate it is poetry plus the homelessness of a brother (Robert Hass) or poetry plus the death of a parent (W.S. Merwin); and really why should this surprise us? It just exploits the fact that poetry can speak to literally anything. And so long as the host sticks to the topics we are safe with (politics, death, family) then we will avoid having to talk about what animates poetry (the language itself, of course).

Nicely said, but when Wilkinson finishes up with “the language itself, of course,” it should give us pause, since language, as we all know, has both a specific and a uniting purpose, whether or not we speak of “biracialness” on one hand, or whatever non-subject Wilkinson has in mind, on the other.  We would love to see an example at this point in Wilkinson’s essay of a non-subject poem, or hear why “language” is barred from any discussion of a poem when it’s “paired up with something else.”  This is not to say a poem’s subject qua subject is not vitally important, but this is not really what Wilkinson is after; he is hunting “the language itself (of course.)”

We’ve heard this a million times: a poem is not what is said, but how it is said—but this does not mean nothing is said. 

Wilkinson, the poem’s language is—language.  Duh. 

The wag wins, again.

Now Wilkinson mentions the popularity of Billy Collins’ “accessibility,” and asks why we have to “diminish” poetry with “access?”

But isn’t this another abstract duality?  Why does Wilkinson assume that access has to equal diminishment?

We know what Wilkinson is saying, of course: Poetry shouldn’t stoop to the less educated reader, etc. 

But again, isn’t this just another truism which hinges on two vaguely opposing things: the educated enough reader versus the not-educated-enough reader?  If we can’t define these terms better, (how do we know when someone is educated enough?) the rhetoric which uses theses terms is empty.

Our readers probably can see now that we are not disagreeing with Wilkinson here; we cannot disagree with Wilkinson—we are merely indicating in a Socratic manner that his rhetoric is inconsequential.

Wilkinson then mentions how much poetry is available on-line through sites like poetry.com and asks,

Do we really believe that there is some drought of poems that we might call “accessible”?

But we fail to understand what this has to do with anything: Wilkinson doesn’t mention a single one of these poems available on-line, or to what extent these poems are “accessible,” or not.  The root question of accessibility still remains.

We then get a phrase, “immediately familiar,” which Wilkinson uses to defend critics Harold Bloom and Charles Bernstein from the “elitist” charge.  Our differences with these critics have nothing to do with whether they are “elitist” or not, but rather with errors in their judgment, but here’s the issue and we are glad Wilkinson used the phrase “immediately familiar” as a way of defending the inaccessible:

All literary works contain parts (words, chapters, stanzas, lines, etc) and no temporal work of art can be “immediately accessible,” and therefore works can be highly complex, even as each individual part is “immediately familiar.”  It might even be asked: if we do have a highly complex work with many parts, why shouldn’t we ask that each part be “immediately familiar,” to facilitate the ease of understanding the complex work, and wouldn’t the more complex work of the demanding genius be understood better if that same genius created each part fitting spectacularly together  “immediately familiar” in its identity as a part as all of those parts fit subtly into the whole?  What could possibly be gained by making the parts, in this instance, not “immediately familiar?”  And if each individual part is not “immediately familiar,” do they really exist as parts—since the poet, by creating something which is complex, is responsible for every part. (And complexity, of course, cannot exist without parts.)

This is kind of what Billy Collins is quoted as saying later in Wilkinson’s essay—and Wilkinson does concede this one (very crucial) point in favor of accessibility to Collins: “accessibility,” says Collins, is a kind of “Trojan Horse,” a “ruse,” in which he, the poet, Collins, leads the reader towards what might be called the complex and the unfamiliar. 

Speaking of parts, Wilkinson now says in his essay that a poem could be defined by “our inability to reduce it,” which makes us think of classical “unity” and New Criticism (a poem cannot be paraphrased) and all sorts of time-honored things, but as true as the whole experience of anything naturally pre-supposes “our inability to reduce it,” (it meaning our experience of it) we should never forget what we have just outlined above—the parts which must exist in anything which partakes of temporality.  And in addition, “inability to reduce” would also pre-suppose something else: clarity, accessibility: since how else could we perceive that threshold of irreducibility?

More in this vein:

Wilkinson quotes Susan Howe asking “why should things please a large audience,” but this is like asking, why should language be understood?  Obviously things don’t have to please a large audience, but what reason can we give for language not being understood, or for a large audience not understanding a thing?

Wilkinson quotes Wittgenstein: a poem is “not used in the language-game of giving information,” but “giving information” has little, or nothing to do with the accessibility of the poem’s temporal existence itself—even as it naturally flies under the radar of “giving information.”

Towards the end of his essay, Wilkinson refers to the well-known Onion piece, “Distressed Nation Turns to Poet Laureate for Solace, as if the Onion were not making fun of contemporary, inaccessible poetry, but was instead making fun of those who want poetry to be accessible; we think the former is closer to the Onion’s intent, and, similarly, Wilkinson wonders what we “lose” in a defensive response “against” inaccessible poetry, but he doesn’t seem to realize that the question could just as easily be asked the other way: what  do we lose in a defensive response for inaccessible poetry?

And so Wilkinson’s essay entertains—like a dog chasing its own tail.

RASULA AND CHASAR: HEAD BUTT OVER THE POETRY GLUT

BILLY COLLINS AND MARIE HOWE IN SWEET SIXTEEN SMACKDOWN!!We already have a glut of this ‘poetry glut’ nonsense and “Glut Reactions,”  a conversation between two author/professors, Jed Rasula and Mike Chasar in the Boston Review, highlights its nonsensical nature nicely. As in Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” the actual letter goes unread—the subject, poetry, isn’t touched, as Rasula and Chasar talk past each other in a verbose, socio-economic chest-beating act of who can sound more anti-capitalist.

Henry Gould, in the first comment to the on-line “Glut Reactions,” (The “Comments” are always the saving grace of these on-line articles: take note, Blog Harriet, Silliman.) asks: “What about aesthetics?”  You forgot about what’s important, fellas. The second comment (poet Bill Knott) blows Chasar and Rasula out of the water in its anti-capitalist paranoia, so that even a capitalist could applaud Knott’s audacity:

Too many poets?  Compared to what?  There’s too many marines, bomber pilots, priests, politicians, police, too many millionaires and billionaires. Po-Biz authorities who complain about too many poets [are making] subliminal petitions directed at the police-state officials, the FBI CIA National Guard et al, urging those agencies to raise their yearly quotas for the murder of poets.

Knott’s comment is quickly praised in a comment by aesthete Joan HoulihanKnott has stolen the show.

Now of course there is a poetry glut in the sense that we no longer have time to read all the poetry being written—it is no doubt the fact that more poetry was written yesterday than we should read in a lifetime—notice we say should, a word of more significance than the more factual can.

Humans are physically limited—what else is new? We can’t picnic on Jupiter and we can’t read every poem—so what? Neither can we blink our eyes and make Jupiter or capitalism or John Keats go away, no matter how much we don’t like these things.

John Keats is not only important because he’s good; he’s important because he’s a standard, and if a ‘poetry glut’ is a bad thing, it’s only because 1) 50,000 Poetry MFA graduates are crap next to Keats.

Some (Chasar, Rasula) are implying the ‘poetry glut’ is bad because 2) 50,000 Poetry MFA graduates are as good as Keats.

Still others (Burt, Perloff) are implying the ‘poetry glut’ is bad because 3) 50,000 Poetry MFA graduates make Keats look like crap.

These are the three aesthetic positions which clarify where one stands in the glut debate.

The loss of standard is acute. 

Look at how Chasar and Rasula can’t agree: Rasula (classic example of myopic-doctrinaire-politically-correct-lefty-who-can’t-get-laid) posits long works (Silliman, Waldman, Hejinian, Notley) as a standard. Chasar (who seems a little sexier) greets Rasula’s suggestion of a standard with a yawn in his face: “I don’t have a lot of patience for the types of long texts you mention [Chasar writes] so I’m not the best person to ask.” (Take your Hejinian long poem and shove it.)

Both share buzz-words—“capitalism’s floating signifier,” “anthology wars,” “Derrida,” “Nietzsche,” “commodity,” “escalating pattern of consumption,” “binaries,” “prizes,” “elitism,” “consideration v. use”—but they can’t do anything but quarrel in the murk of their 1970s, socio-political rhetoric. 

Rasula, at the end of the conversation:

What’s simmering under our exchange is the tension between poetry as something approachable, welcoming multitudes, and poetry in [Laura] Riding’s sense as “the most ambitious act of the mind,” which clearly invites charges of elitism.

But it’s not even a good fight. 

The “tension” Rasula refers to doesn’t really exist, because the two men are lost in the same Marxist muck. 

Even Marx himself didn’t hate capitalism as much as these guys.

Rasula’s Adorno-ism, “flagrant uselessness of artworks as a mote in the eye of global capitalism,” which is justification for Rasula’s elite “standard” of long, tedious (some would say unreadable) poems, is countered by Chasar’s “democractic” : “Many elements of popular or vernacular culture value the uselessness, apparent uselessness, or non-instrumentality of things.”

Both Rasula and Chasar are going to punish capitalism with the useless—just in different ways.  It’s all about subverting some old-fashioned idea of capitalism. Rasula wants to kill capitalism with long, boring poems that no one reads; Chasar thinks we can kill capitalism with Knock! Knock! jokes.

It’s the cartoonish totem of capitalism which these two (and so many professors like them) dance naked around which finally renders their exchange insignificant.

Rasula, like Seth Abrahmson, despite all his research, is blind to the real circumstances of the reactionary Modernists/New Critics creation of the Program Era.  He makes the occasional good point, but doesn’t connect it to anything; he just keeps peeling the Marxist onion.

Rasula and Chasar don’t get it: the “anthology wars” was a friendly competition between Ivy-Leaguers: Creeley and Ashbery were Harvard and Ginsberg was Columbia.  The real ‘War’ of the 20th century was Modernism against Everthing Else; it was Pound against Poe.

Chasar writes at one point: “Capitalism 1, Poetry 0.”

No.

Obsession with Capitalism 1, Chasar and Rasula 0.

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…

IS POLITICAL INTRACTABILITY GOOD FOR LITERATURE?

Santayana: Born in Madrid in 1863, died in Rome in 1952; at Harvard with Eliot and Stevens.

We don’t see how those who are morally and politically simple, no matter how well-intentioned they are in matters of politics and morals, could be very interesting writers.  To write well is to enjoy solving problems, and to think about politics in a mature way is to constantly wrestle with problems; yet, increasingly in this country, politics means agreeing with one group of people while ridiculing another group of people on issues that are only explored in the most superficial manner.

We have seen the old abortion debate blow up into an unfortunate “legitimate rape” smackdown; homosexuality, taxes, regulations, the enviroment, health care and race continue to cloud our political discussions in simplistic, divisive, ugly ways.

In order to win a democratic election, one must appeal to the masses in sound-bites, and thus elections turn even smart people stupid, because intelligence is nothing more than thinking through problems at length, patiently, far away from the arena of personal insult.  More and more, it seems democracy prevails by insult. Who escapes insult the best?  Who can insult most cleverly?

Democracy of the school yard bullies.

Politics is so fraught with ugliness that in other areas of our lives, we can choose to do one of two things: escape it all together, or continue the fight by other means.

Literature and politics are much alike: both are comprised of rhetoric, neither one are very scientific, but we might say literature is slow and politics is fast.  If we indulge in politics, we do so quickly, with certainty, and then get on with our lives.  If we indulge in literature, we do so slowly, and dreamily, and perhaps we puzzle things out, and have trouble getting on with our lives, or, maybe, we get into our lives.

The poets have long since gotten out of the political debate. Poets dream; they don’t orate.  Once they did both: Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Tennyson…but that was then, and politics and poetry have gone their separate ways—no room for dreaminess in our politics.  Ginsberg’s political poetry hasn’t any poetry: it’s merely politics.  Ginsberg wasn’t a poet when he was being political.  We know Ginsberg as ‘a poet,’ and if we blur our vision, we might be able to kid ourselves that he is both political and poetic—but in actuality, he is never the same together.  One can be brutally honest in a personal manner and come to a certain political point of view that way—think of Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Larkin or Seidel, perhaps, but the personal never manages to be very political in poetry.

Modernism, with its attention to forms, forgot content, and thus politics.  Politics was cast aside and replaced with intimacy, subjectivity and obscurity.

George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher who taught Wallace Stevens at Harvard, wrote the kind of poetry in the early 20th century that was then falling off a cliff, and disappearing forever.

Modernism made poets like Santayana and Clark Ashton Smith vanish.  It’s a pity.  Look at these two poems by Santayana: both brutal and dreamy:

“As in the Midst of Battle There is Room”

As in the midst of battle there is room
For thoughts of love, and in foul sin for mirth,
As gossips whisper of a trinket’s worth
Spied by the death-bed’s flickering candle-gloom;
As in the crevices of Caesar’s tomb
The sweet herbs flourish on a little earth:
So in this great disaster of our birth
We can be happy, and forget our doom.

For morning, with a ray of tenderest joy
Gilding the iron heaven, hides the truth,
And evening gently woos us to employ
Our grief in idle catches. Such is youth;
Till from that summer’s trance we wake, to find
Despair before us, vanity behind.

Solipsism

I could believe that I am here alone,
And all the world my dream;
The passion of the scene is all my own,
And things that seem but seem.

Perchance an exhalation of my sorrow
Hath raised this vaporous show,
For whence but from the soul should all things borrow
So deep a tinge of woe?

I keep the secret doubt within my breast
To be the gods’ defense,
To ease the heart by too much ruth oppressed
And drive the horror hence.

O sorrow that the patient brute should cower
And die, not having sinned!
O pity that the wild and fragile flower
Should shiver in the wind!

Then were I dreaming dreams I know not of,
For that is part of me
That feels the piercing pang of grief and love
And doubts eternally.

But whether all to me the vision come
Or break in many beams,
The pageant ever shifts, and being’s sum
Is but the sum of dreams.

—G. Santayana

These poems embrace the sort of thinking one needs to plow into politics and fight in that arena.

And look at these marvelous quotations from Santayana:

Life is not a spectacle or feast; it is a predicament.

Sanity is a madness put to good use.

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

The truth is cruel, but it can be loved and it makes free those who love it.

The wisest mind has something yet to learn.

To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood.

Why shouldn’t things be largely absurd, futile and transitory? They are so, and we are so, and they and we go very well together.

Should poets allow great material like this just to drift away?

THE THREE TYPES OF POETRY

I like discovering new poems.  I almost said new poets, but that is too personal: poetry is marvelous because it allows us to experience human delight without all the messy and inconvenient aspects of humanity—poetry sweetly bars the heavy and smelly poet—bragging, disappointing, spotted, ruined, dying—from our sight.  The minute I start following a poet I will cease to love poetry.  My lover certainly ought to be poetic, but they don’t have to write poetry, and I don’t need more lovers; I don’t need poets—keep them away!  A poet will invariably disappoint with a new poem.  A poem is what we should be looking for when we pursue poetry, and no poet has a monopoly on poems.

Scarriet has defended Billy Collins, but this doesn’t mean we believe every Billy Collins poem is good.  Defending Billy Collins only indicates that there is something that we recognize as a “Billy Collins poem” that is worthy of notice.

Critics have nothing to do with the ‘likes and dislikes’ of readers.  Worthy of notice is just that—worthy of notice.  To hear these Collins detractors, you would think they were forced to kiss Billy Collins.  The whole matter of whether Billy Collins is worthy of notice, or not, is one of pure intellectuality, and it involves a sensible acknowledgement of poetic classification.

There are three distinct kinds of poetry, and the Collins poem happens to be one of them.

These three types of poetry are important not just as frozen types—they have a history—we can trace their development over time.  The Billy Collins poem, for instance, goes back as far as “Dover Beach.”  Along the way, the rhyming aspect of “Dover Beach” is jettisoned, and the poet learns to navigate without it, keeping the spirit the same.

Another feature which makes the three types essential, and not merely arbitrary, is this: these three types strongly repel each other; the three kinds of personalities which enjoy these three kinds of poetry would fight if they were left in the same room.

I recently discovered a new poem—a major discovery, because it is a perfectly realized Collins poem—but not written by Billy Collins.  It therefore flashed upon me that I was in the presence of a powerful type of poem, and this poem both attracted and repelled my critic’s nature so forcefully, that almost immediately the three types of poetry sprang up before me.

Here is the poem, by George Bilgere:

Unwise Purchases

They sit around the house
Not doing much of anything: the boxed set
Of the complete works of Verdi, unopened.
The complete Proust, unread:
The French-cut silk shirts
Which hang like expensive ghosts in the closet
And make me look exactly
Like the kind of middle-aged man
Who would wear a French-cut silk shirt:
The reflector telescope I thought would unlock
The mysteries of the heavens
But which I only used once or twice
To try to find something heavenly
In the window of the high-rise down the road,
And which now stares disconsolately at the ceiling
When it could be examining the Crab Nebula:
The 30-day course in Spanish
Whose text I never opened,
Whose dozen cassette tapes remain unplayed,
Save for Tape One, where I never learned
Whether the suave American
Conversing with a sultry-sounding desk clerk
At a Madrid hotel about the possibility
Of obtaining a room,
Actually managed to check in.
I like to think
That one thing led to another between them
And that by Tape Six or so
They’re happily married
And raising a bilingual child in Seville or Terra Haute.
But I’ll never know.
Suddenly I realize
I have constructed the perfect home
For a sexy, Spanish-speaking astronomer
Who reads Proust while listening to Italian arias,
And I wonder if somewhere in this teeming city
There lives a woman with, say,
A fencing foil gathering dust in the corner
Near her unused easel, a rainbow of oil paints
Drying in their tubes
On the table where the violin
She bought on a whim
Lies entombed in the permanent darkness
Of its locked case
Next to the abandoned chess set,
A woman who has always dreamed of becoming
The kind of woman the man I’ve always dreamed of becoming
Has always dreamed of meeting,
And while the two of them discuss star clusters
And Cézanne, while they fence delicately
In Castilian Spanish to the strains of Rigoletto,
She and I will stand in the steamy kitchen,
Fixing up a little risotto,
Enjoying a modest cabernet,
While talking over a day so ordinary
As to seem miraculous.

This poem is wonderful in a way that would repel the likes of Ron Silliman, Rae Armantrout and the avant-garde, simply for its clarity.  Those who believe that poetry is verse and not prose would also dislike this poem.  But here it stands.

Briefly, then, the George Bilgere poem is wonderful because of the way it begins with “They sit around the house,” referring to unused objects of human imagination and improvement that bespeak, universally: limits, despair, and finally longing, gently mocking human limitation with the very longing that hovers about the unused objects themselves, unused because there is too much longing? not enough? and finally it is words themselves, objects that “sit around” in the poem itself which is the poem’s grand, secret symbol in its playful and longing imagination that fights against the despair of not having enough will to improve, or imagine, or be useful.

The poem has a Newtonian logic—moving forward (in humor and optimisim) with a force equal to its moving backwards (in realism and pessimism).  The language learning tapes are transformed from an object into something human, and even passionate, in a manner that is logical, humorous, and delightful.

But how different is Bilgere’s poem compared to something like this:

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veil’d
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott”.

This is Part I of the famous Tennyson poem; notice how the poem not only gives us luxurious sound, but it paints a scene, as well.

Ekphrasis is overrated, for it is a hundred times better to paint—with a poem—a painting that doesn’t exist yet, than to merely describe one that already does exist.  And this is what the—currently underrated—Tennyson does.

By comparison, the work by Mr. Bilgere exists in the realm of idea only—it’s a funny story about neglected hobbies; it is not a painting; the Tennyson, however, begins, “On either side…”  Tennyson paints a world; the Bilgere is jokey and anecdotal: “They sit around the house…”  These two poems are different kinds of art.

The third type of poem is currently the most common and it owes more to simple human nature than to anything else. We all know “The Lady of Shalott”—and we all know human nature.  Human nature produces envy on a whim—if someone else has something nice, we decide we don’t like it, on account of the fact that it is nice.  We disparage the nice; secretly at first, and then more boldly, as we find peers who feel the same envy we do, and then even more boldly as we equate nice with evil itself, in political terms…the rich have nice houses and the rich are unkind and therefore the nice itself is—not really nice!

And so the third type of poem is all-encompassing and attracts many people: amateurs, puritans, students, and scholars, alike, and identifies itself as avant-garde, experimental, politicalThe whole point of this third type of poetry, avant-garde poetry, is to be unpleasant and ugly.

One example will suffice.  From William Carlos Williams, published in The Poetry Anthology, 1912-2002:

LEAR

When the world takes over for us
and the storm in the trees
replaces our brittle consciences
(like ships, female to all seas)
when the few last yellow leaves
stand out like flags on tossed ships
at anchor—our minds are rested

Yesterday we sweated and dreamed
or sweated in our dreams walking
at a loss through the bulk of figures
that appeared solid, men or women,
but as we approached down the paved
corridor melted—Was it I?—like
smoke from bonfires blowing away

Today the storm, inescapable, has
taken the scene and we return
our hearts to it, however made, made
wives by it and though we secure
ourselves for a dry skin from the drench
of its passionate approaches we
yield and are made quiet by its fury

Pitiful Lear, not even you could
out-shout the storm—to make a fool
cry! Wife to its power might you not
better have yielded earlier? as on ships
facing the seas were carried once
the figures of women at repose to
signify the strength of the waves’ lash.

There is no way to reconcile whatever this poem is doing—or thinks it is doing—with the first two types of poetry.  But a certain perversity in human nature will defend this third kind against the other two, and none will be reconciled.

THE CHAMPIONSHIP: MARILYN CHIN V. BEN MAZER

mazer
A mid-summer evening as Scarriet’s March Madness finally draws to a close.
West coast poet Marilyn Chin and east coast poet Ben Mazer clash in the championship game of Scarriet March Madness 2012.
64 poets, and we are now down to two.
In 2010 and 2011 (this is our third annual tournament) a poet and his or her one chosen poem battled to the top, but this year a poet used a new poem in every contest, so it becomes a question of: well, poet, how many great poems have you got?
In our first year, using Lehman’s BAP, a Billy Collins poem won it all, a playful take on a Wordsworth trope, “Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey”—the title itself sums up David Lehman, Billy Collins, and cheerfully post-modern, late 20th century poetry.  In year two, using an APR anthology, Larkin’s “Aubade” swept to the title: a dead English poet’s rueful, fearful, honest, atheistic, speculation on death.
This year we used Rita Dove’s Penguin anthology of 20th century poetry, the book with a lot of black poets and ‘traditional,’ Iowa workshop, free verse lyrics.  Marilyn Chin is in Dove’s anthology; Ben Mazer is one of a handful of poets not in the anthology—the Scarriet selection process is too complicated to explain.
Mazer has emerged as a new Ashbery, an Ashbery not ashamed of running, hat flying off, down Romanticism Lane—which is refreshing, since every last bit of Modernist poetry for at least 100 years has been a rejection of anything resembling Romantic poetry, or Tennyson, or anything Byronic.  We sometimes wonder: what do they mean when they say Writer’s Workshop poems are all the same?  They are not the same—they are clearly free, and different.  But they are the same in this: they eschew Shelley and Byron and Keats. Workshop poems might be a little like Wordsworth—because Wordsworth, well, he genuinely liked trees.  But the sublime of Keats, Byron, Shelley?  Not allowed.  The New Critics, supposedly ‘conservative,’ wrote in tremendous opposition to the Romantics, as did T.S. Eliot and Pound and Williams, and this is really what Modernism felt obligated to do—even more important than the poetry that it did write, was the poetry it didn’t.  Modernism didn’t write on modern subjects, necessarily; its ‘experiments’ were finally wan or cute, when they were not lengthy & unread; it didn’t distinguish itself in any manner at all with the public—except to retire from its notice with a shrug and a smirking apology.  The modern poems of Frost, Millay, Cummings, Eliot, Auden, Jarrell, and Larkin that did make a dent on the public all sounded like Tennyson, or maybe Tennyson’s anti-war, younger brother.
If poetry is a language, that some people speak and some do not, the only difference between English and French or Italian or Japanese or Arabic and poetry is that poetry is 1) easier to learn and 2) is characterized by sounding good. Since Tennyson sounds good, this is how we know the language known as poetry.  We speak poetry because our speech is good, not because we know the meanings of French words.  Speech is good as speech, not as individual words or isolated debating points—sustained good speech is the simplest and most accurate definition of good poetry.
This is what Keats meant when he said you dive into a lake for the sensual experience, not to ‘work out the lake.’  Poetry isn’t a banner waving; it is swimming in a lake.  It is intellectualization sensualized.  Theory walks along the edges of the lake; the water or the swimming is not for theory.  Theory needs to know its place.  ‘Conceptual’ art is art infected with the dried-up-lake of theory.
Women poets are more susceptible to theory and banner-waving these days out of an inferiority complex thrust upon them by the men, which is too bad.  Women are being led astray by modern experiments.
Marilyn Chin is somewhat immune to theory, for she has history and wit.
We offer this as her poem, and following that, Mazer’s.
Who immerses themselves in the lake?  Who gives us the lake?
The poet who gets us soaking wet will win.

THE BARBARIANS ARE COMING

 War chariots thunder, horses neigh, the barbarians are coming.
What are we waiting for, young nubile women pointing at the wall,
    the barbarians are coming.
They have heard about a weakened link in the wall.
    So, the barbarians have ears among us.
 So deceive yourself with illusions: you are only one woman,
    holding one broken brick in the wall.
So deceive yourself with illusions: as if you matter,
    that brick and that wall.

The barbarians are coming: they have red beards or beardless
with a top knot.

The barbarians are coming: they are your fathers, brothers,
    teachers, lovers; and they are clearly an other.

The barbarians are coming:
    If you call me a horse, I must be a horse.
    If you call me a bison, I am equally as guilty.

When a thing is true and is correctly described, one doubles
    the blame by not admitting it: so, Chuangtzu, himself,
    was a barbarian king!

Horse, horse, bison, bison, the barbarians are coming

and how they love to come.
The smells of the great frontier exalt in them!

 

  

Crisping the Comedian C

 
And with my sword cane I rapped the dog on its head.
To its master I said:
“The soul’s expanding to make room for you
among the piles of rusted bric a brac
that make men grimace, revile themselves in church. . .
I felt the ground beneath begin to lurch,
increased my laughter with its rolling waves
laughter increase. . .
as he lunged forward trying to save himself. . .
I was an honest man. What could I do?
I pushed him forward where the great vacuum grew
and marvelled as he fell. . .
into the silence of the pits of hell.
“That’s one less editorial to write,”
I thought, and blinkered to recall the light,
and blinkered to recall the blight. . .
the scourge of man. . .
I like to help them any way I can.
In my emotions not a thought of man. . .
but that his docile sudden-widowed wife
might serve the lord. . .
replace, with some improvements in accord
with justice and increase, a missing life. . .
I dyed my hair.
A most enticing shade of emerald green,
and knowing the precise dimensions of her lair,
(and its location)
I took me there. . .
in search of satisfaction, and a queen.
She was the best damned thing I’d ever seen.
I smiled to mechanize my spotless luck.
As we proceeded. . .
no human call we heeded. . .
I do not think that men will speak to me.
But wider, wider, like a churning sea
of foaming lavender and sapphire green
I met my match. . .
How can the blameless blame me for my snatch?
I laughed to see
that God had spread his vistas out for me,
his servant lord,
no matter how much I murdered or I whored. . .
I was quite sane.
And turned to mark my profile in a pane
of ice that served my child-bride for a heart. . .
She promised a new start. . .
and I was wondrous, seeing how I’d changed;
the souls of men were cobbled there and ranged
across the germ of my experiment. . .
But at the crack of dawn these visions went,
and I was back among the human race;
answering servants in my modern palace. . .
though one thought, ordinary, flamed and flitted
of how my research proofed that I had fitted. . .
and I was not incognizant of place. . .
answering letters in unbridled solace. . .
an evening like a fortnight had them piled
and crumpled on my desk. . .
Although I cannot, I afford a smile. . .
and set out half a mile. . .
My soul was stirred, and hungered to be reviled,
revived and furnished. . .
where the creature’s dignity was burnished
on all she touched. . .
I bowed my head. My emerald locks she brushed. . .
grew wiry and strange…
yes, in that glass I recognized a change
of heart. She wept and promised a new start. . .
But how can I begin. . .
A child sees vistas in the hammering rain,
and does not ask if everything’s the same. . .
one night I fell. . .
and nothing shall restore me to His Grace.
Yet in its infancy the new-born face
is pocked and filed. . .
and strangely familiar. Something in me smiled.
It’s hard to find a perfect spot of shade. . .
Life is the best thing that I ever made. . .
The Mazer poem is uncanny.
The Chin poem is attempting to be uncanny.  Marilyn Chin’s poem keeps waking from its dream—what did I mean by horse?  By Bison?
Mazer’s poem does not allow us to wake from its dream.
*
*
*
Mazer 90 Chin 81

BEN MAZER IS THE 2012 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS CHAMPION!!

STEPHEN DUNN V. LOUISE GLUCK IN THE NORTH

Stephen Dunn belongs to the Billy Collins school.  They should go on a poetry-reading tour together.

The public needs to know: this is modern poetry which is being written for you—and here are the poets who write this kind of poetry.

It’s not just Collins and Dunn.  One thinks of Tony Hoagland, Dean Young, James Tate, Matthew Dickman, and maybe Louise Gluck, who—without a poem in the Rita Dove Penguin anthology—is one win away from the Final Four.   The public really does need to know who these poets are, the poets who, in every poem, more than anything, want to please the public. 

It’s a given that the public is 1) hard to please, and 2) they need to be led by the nose.  We shouldn’t mourn this fact.  We should just accept it.  But po-biz will not.

Once the public discovered Billy Collins wrote to them and loved them, and he was a safe bet in this regard, Billy Collins and his poetry did alright.

Collins fell short of being a national phenomenon, but can you imagine if he were young and good-looking?   Who knows?  Poetry might be big again.

I asked a young writer friend of mine recently why he thought people read novels instead of poetry and what he said was: when you’re on the train and you finish a poem (which invariably makes you realize that everyone else not sharing in the beauty and wisdom of the poem you are reading is an asshole) you look up and see all the assholes on the train, but with a novel, you get to keep reading and you never have to look up at all the assholes.

If only poems could last at least as long as a train commute.

First the Louise Gluck poem, and then Stephen Dunn’s:

CELESTIAL MUSIC

I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she’s unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling over it.
I’m always moved by disaster, always eager to oppose vitality
But timid also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
According to nature. For my sake she intervened
Brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down
Across the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to God, that nothing else explains
My aversion to reality. She says I’m like the child who
Buries her head in the pillow
So as not to see, the child who tells herself
That light causes sadness-
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
To wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person-

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We’re walking
On the same road, except it’s winter now;
She’s telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial music:
Look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
Like brides leaping to a great height-
Then I’m afraid for her; I see her
Caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth-

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
From time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It’s this moment we’re trying to explain, the fact
That we’re at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar doesn’t move.
She’s always trying to make something whole, something beautiful, an image
Capable of life apart from her.
We’re very quiet. It’s peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering-
It’s this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.

POEM FOR PEOPLE THAT ARE UNDERSTANDABLY TOO BUSY TO READ POETRY

Relax. This won’t last long.
Or if it does, or if the lines
make you sleepy or bored,
give in to sleep, turn on
the T.V., deal the cards.
This poem is built to withstand
such things. Its feelings
cannot be hurt. They exist
somewhere in the poet,
and I am far away.
Pick it up anytime. Start it
in the middle if you wish.
It is as approachable as melodrama,
and can offer you violence
if it is violence you like. Look,
there’s a man on a sidewalk;
the way his leg is quivering
he’ll never be the same again.
This is your poem
and I know you’re busy at the office
or the kids are into your last nerve.
Maybe it’s sex you’ve always wanted.
Well, they lie together
like the party’s unbuttoned coats,
slumped on the bed
waiting for drunken arms to move them.
I don’t think you want me to go on;
everyone has his expectations, but this
is a poem for the entire family.
Right now, Budweiser
is dripping from a waterfall,
deodorants are hissing into armpits
of people you resemble,
and the two lovers are dressing now,
saying farewell.
I don’t know what music this poem
can come up with, but clearly
it’s needed. For it’s apparent
they will never see each other again
and we need music for this
because there was never music when he or she
left you standing on the corner.
You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I’ll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.
The poem is saying that to you now.
But don’t give anything for this poem.
It doesn’t expect much. It will never say more
than listening can explain.
Just keep it in your attache case
or in your house. And if you’re not asleep
by now, or bored beyond sense,
the poem wants you to laugh. Laugh at
yourself, laugh at this poem, at all poetry.
Come on:

Good. Now here’s what poetry can do.

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There’s an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You’re beautiful for as long as you live.

Dunn woos the reader, outrageously.  The last line is not true—but in poetryland it is.  But the line is true, perhaps, because Dunn began by saying, “Imagine.”  Dunn is out there on a limb, like a coach, telling the reader what to do.  He has set up the relationship between writer and reader—in full confidence.

Louise Gluck never woos the reader: she talks plainly and half-hopes the reader overhears.  Which is what most poets do.  Otherwise, you risk being a jerk. The last line of her poem, “The love of form is a love of endings,” is not meant to be outrageous—and only true in poetryland—but actually true.  Therefore, she takes a much greater risk than Dunn.  We accept Dunn’s line immediately, perhaps on account that we know right away that it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not.  We have to think about Gluck’s last line: Is the love of form really a love of endings?   One understands conceptually what Gluck is saying, and one may even appreciate that “endings” ends her poem—with the two silent, contemplative friends sitting together as night falls.  But in baseball terminology, Dunn hits his pitch perfectly on a line out of the park for a homerun, while Gluck hits a tremendous fly ball that’s a towering pop up, taking forever to come down, for an out.  The jerk wins.

Dunn 99 Gluck 93

Congratulations, Stephen Dunn!   You are in the Final Four!

MARILYN CHIN AND HEATHER MCHUGH BATTLE FOR THE FINAL ELITE EIGHT SPOT

chin

Marilyn Chin, a shy kid who went to the University of Iowa, has three poems in Rita Dove’s Penguin anthology of 20th century poetry.  She has a chance to advance to the Elite Eight in Scarriet’s third annual March Madness Poetry Tournament, which started with 64 of the best living English-speaking poets in the world.  Here’s that third Chin poem from the Dove anthology:

THE SURVIVOR

Don’t tap your chopsticks against your bowl.
Don’t throw your teacup against the wall in anger.
Don’t suck on your long black braid and weep.
Don’t tarry around the big red sign that says “danger!”

All the tempests will render still; seas will calm,
horses will retreat, voices to surrender.

*

That you have bloomed this way and not that,
that your skin is yellow, not white, not black,
that you were born not a boychild but a girl,
that this world will be forever puce-pink are just as well.

Remember, the survivor is not the strongest or most clever;
merely, the survivor is almost always the youngest.
And you shall have to relinquish that title before long.

The wry humor here is sweet.  Chin has what most poets lack—profound yet unostentatious wit.

McHugh has two poems in the Dove.  Her “What He Thought” is one of the great little-known poems of the 20th century and it gave her a victory over Kay Ryan in Round Two.  McHugh, too, is witty:

After Su Tung P’o

ON THE BIRTH OF A SON

When a child is born, the parents say
they hope it’s healthy and intelligent. But as for me—

well, vigor and intelligence have wrecked my life. I pray
this baby we are seeing walloped, wiped and winningly anointed,

turns out dumb as oakum—and more sinister. That way
he can crown a tranquil life by being

appointed a cabinet minister.

Heather McHugh belongs to that tribe of poets who want poetry to be socially interesting and make us laugh.  Witty poems make us cry and laugh at the same time, as do Chin and McHugh with their poems here.

Chin manages to be more sweeping.

Chin 69 McHugh 65

So here is the Elite Eight—and the matchups for the Final Four!

North: Franz Wright v. Ben Mazer

South/Midwest: Derek Walcott v. W.S. Merwin

North: Louise Gluck v. Stephen Dunn

West: Sharon Olds v. Marilyn Chin

Big names have fallen: John Ashbery, Richard Wilbur, Billy Collins, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Kay Ryan, Mary Oliver, but you had to be there for those contests to see it happen.

Marla Muse:  They happened.

HERE’S THE SWEET 16!

sweet 16

Before we formally congratulate the Scarriet Sweet 16 poets of 2012, who, pound for pound, are probably the most entertaining poets alive today, the poets least likely to bore you, the poets who simply have a high batting average of poems sure to interest, amuse, or move the common reader—before we congratulate them, we should address the burning issue which always seems to loom over this enterprise: we refer to the poets and readers of poetry who balk at the idea of poetry used as fodder for competition.

First, we would say the competition is the fodder, not the poetry.  The ancient Greeks, who had drama competitions in front of crowds, understood this.

The poetry contest, of which distinguished U.S. poets have so long been a part, is competitive—but since the process of picking winners is shrouded in secrecy, the process does not offend.

But there is absolutely no difference between what Scarriet does with March Madness and what the more distinguished elements of po-biz do with their contests and prizes.

The reason competition offends probably has to do with sex. Sex is all about ‘who is hotter,’ whereas love entails ‘being loved forever for who I am.’   The former creates anxiety, the latter comfort. Love rules morals. All literature has a moral basis.  These unspoken laws are surely the underpinning to the disquiet and protest which greets Scarriet’s attempt to toss poems onto a horse track.

Judgment, or the Critical Faculty, ride the horses, however.  “Judge not” is a moral injunction, not a literary one.  To write is to get on a horse.

Love cannot be escaped when we make moral judgments—but poems are not moral in the same way people are.  We hope the morals of the people are in the poems.  Morals, however, do not make us love poems as poems—which exist apart from human moral issues, simply because they are poems, not people.  This does not mean that poems are not moral, or that poems camot create a moral universe; what it means is that poems themselves are immune to moral concerns.  The decree against poems competing arises from the mistaken idea that poems are morally attached to their authors—they are not; and if they are good poems, this is especially true.  The moral person makes the moral poem, but something happens when the moral travels from the person to the poem—it transforms into something which is no longer moral, even though morals was the impetus.  The objection to poems competing assumes poems are continually creating the moral worlds of their authors in such a manner that they cannot be interrupted from that task, ever.  Which is pure folly.  Those who are really moral persons do not rely heavily on moral attachments between poem and person.  This is my poem, do not touch it! is the sentiment of the moralist who will never write a good poem in the first place.

There are many people who cannot reconcile the fact that morals are both oppressive and good.  But here’s the happy thing about poems.  The good should be present in the person writing the poem, even to an oppressive degree, but once the poem comes into existence, this moral creation, because it is a poem, escapes the oppressive  aspect of morals entirely while still being moral—that is, written by a moral person.  Art is the means by which the moral escapes its oppressive character.

Judging art is not a moral act, but an entirely free act;  judging cannot escape competition; judging cannot escape the horse race, for comparison is always at the heart of the knowing that is judging.  Comparison cannot escape competition. The horses cannot stand still while we judge.

Here they are, most from the Dove anthology, and all living:

EAST: Ben Mazer, Billy Collins, Franz Wright, Mary Oliver,

MIDWEST/SOUTH: Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, W.S. Merwin, Patricia Smith 

NORTH: Phil Levine, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Dunn, Louise Gluck

WEST: Sharon Olds, Matthew Dickman, Heather McHugh, Marilyn Chin 

Congratulations to the winners!

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: