MYSTERIOUS BRACKET, SECOND ROUND

Image result for telephone abstract painting

What are we doing when we read poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you see why?

It sets us up. And delivers.

Srividya Sivakumar describes for us what she’s doing:

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

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

It’s wonderfully done.

We love this line.

But Jennifer Barber wins.

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are but a tongue!

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

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

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

****

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

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Sridala Swami counters with a difficulty which is almost mathematical.

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

The line suggests set theory.

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

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

It is power versus charm.

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

****

MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET PLAY CONTINUES

Image result for plato in painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kuntal directs the action:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aakriti Kuntal wins, and advances to Round Two.

***

The fourth contest in the Mystery Bracket is the following:

Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”

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

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

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

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

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

“grey as I am” transfixes us.

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

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

But “grey as I am” wins.

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

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

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

Merryn Juliette advances.

****

Coming up next in the Mystery Bracket:

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

****

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

versus

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

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

Image result for battlefield in renaissance painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes part of a poem good?

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

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

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

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

But this may be nothing but the wildest speculation.

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

Some would say modern poetry has set rhythm free.

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

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

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

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

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

And now we present the 2019 March Madness poets:

I. THE BOLD BRACKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

II. THE MYSTERIOUS BRACKET

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

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

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

Merryn Juliette — “grey as I am”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. THE LIFE BRACKET

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

Danez Smith — “i call your mama mama”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

IV. THE BEAUTIFUL BRACKET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jennifer Robertson — “ocean after ocean after ocean”

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

Philip Nikolayev — “within its vast domain confined”

Ravi Shankar — “What matters cannot remain.”

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

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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