NOVEMBER 2017. THE SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100.

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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.

LET’S DO IT AGAIN! ANOTHER SCARRIET HOT 100 POETRY LIST!

 

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Yone Noguchi and Joaquin Miller: How curiously they would gaze on us today!

This latest Hot 100 List is mostly comprised of very brief quotes from poems in BAP 2015—now the most collectible volume in David Lehman’s “best” anthology series, due to its Yi-Fen Chou controversy.

The “molecular” display presents fragmentary glimpses of “hot,” and we must say it is an interesting way to see the poets—can we know them by a few of their poetry molecules?

We may be living, without knowing it, in the Age of the Fragment.  The best prose-poems often produce dull fragments. That’s the bad news. The good news is that fragments from dull prose-poems may intimate genius; if future ages can only read the fragments we produce today, some lucky poets, who wrote mediocre prose poems, may be hailed as geniuses. Since the lyric of unified metrical accomplishment is really not our strength today, the Fragment may be our era’s ticket to lasting fame.

Is it the goal of the fragment to be fragmentary?  Is it ever the goal of the poem to be fragmentary?  Are there different types of fragments?  Is there not a rush to completion by every poem itself that makes even a fragment seem complete, beyond even the knowledge of the poet?

Getting to know David Lehman on Facebook…he loves rhyme, especially the rollicking sort, and we believe those sorts of poems in BAP are his selections.  Lehman is also a ‘free-speech-er;’ he sanctions the racy; the BAP poems often strive to be popular in the attention-getting sense, which I suppose is admirable—or not.

The non-poem exceptions in the Scarriet list are recent remarks by the hot Alexie, Lehman, Perloff, and Mary Karr. We are proud to include the quotation from Perloff—who chose to break her silence on the “racist Avant-garde” controversy by addressing Scarriet—on Facebook!—as she admitted her book Unoriginal Genius and its final chapter on Goldsmith’s Traffic may have had a part in bringing on the racist label. Are we not interested in my discussion of Yoko Tawada in Unoriginal Genius, Perloff asked, because she’s Asian-German, rather than Asian-American? “What xenophobia!”

The question we asked Perloff was, “Is the non-creative nearly racist by default?” The question was not meant to put Perloff on the spot; it was as much about the current race-conscious atmosphere as it was about Perloff, or the avant-garde. Were an avant-garde poet to tweet “red wheel barrow beside the white chickens” enough times, just think what might happen. And speaking of Williams (and Pound) and their Imagiste schtick: Scarriet, in its five year assault on Avant-Garde Modernism as a reactionary clique of white men, should get some credit for opening up this whole discussion.

Scarriet has written of Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) in the context of Imagism ripping off haiku, the importance of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war, and Noguchi’s important contacts: Yeats, Hardy, Symons, and John Gould Fletcher—the Arkansas poet who, along with Ford Maddox Ford, was the connecting link between Pound’s circle and the equally reactionary and highly influential circle of New Critics—the group of men who brought us the Writing Program Era—and its “difficult” Modernist flavor.

Scarriet, which trailblazes often, found the secret to the Red Wheel Barrow poem: WC Williams had a brother, Edgar, who married the woman he loved, Charlotte (Bill married her sister). “So much depended on” this: and Ed can be found in “red,” Charlotte in “chickens” and “white” symbolizes the bride.

But here we go. Controversy and hot go together; let’s get to the hot list. No mention of awards this time. Enjoy the list—and the poetry.

1. Yi-Fen Chou –“Adam should’ve said no to Eve.”

2. Derrick Michael Hudson –“Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?”

3. Sherman Alexie –“I am no expert on Chinese names…I’d assumed the name was Chinese.”

4. David Lehman –“Isn’t giving offense, provoking discussion…part of the deal?”

5. Terrance Hayes –“Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours”

6. Marjorie Perloff — “Scarriet poses the question…I have so far refrained from answering this and related questions but perhaps it is time to remind Scarriet and its readership…”

7. Amy Gerstler –“…live on there forever if heaven’s bereft of smell?”

8. Jane Hirshfield — “A common cold, we say—common, though it is infinite”

9. Mary Karr — “[John Ashbery is] the most celebrated unclothed emperor…an invention of academic critics…the most poisonous influence in American poetry”

10. Mary Oliver — “June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter.”

11. Rowan Ricardo Phillips — “It does not not get you quite wrong.”

12. Lawrence Raab — “nothing truly seen until later.”

13. Patrick Phillips — “Touched by your goodness, I am like that grand piano we found one night”

14. Dan Chiasson — “The only god is the sun, our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

15. Willie Perdomo — I go up in smoke and come down in a nod”

16. Katha Pollitt — “Truth had no past. It was wordless as water, a fall of shadow on stone.”

17. Tim Seibles — “That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger”

18. Marilyn Hacker — “You happened to me.”

19. Charles Simic — “I could have run into the street naked, confident anyone I met would understand”

20. Louise Glück — “…the night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.”

21. Laura Kasischke — “but this time I was beside you. …I was there.”

22. Michael Tyrell — “how much beauty comes from never saying no?”

23. Susan Terris — “cut corners    fit in     marry someone”

24. Cody Walker — “Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.”

25. A.E. Stallings — “the woes were words,     and the only thing left was quiet.”

26. Valerie Macon — “coats fat over lean with a bright brush”

27. Jennifer Keith — “…bound to break: One the fiction, one the soul, the fact.”

28. Ed Skoog — “Its characters are historians at the Eisenhower Library.”

29. Terence Winch — “I’m in the emergency room at Holy Cross hoping all is not lost.”

30. Chana Bloch — “the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.”

31. Natalie Diaz — “Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark”

32. LaWanda Walters — “And we—we white girls—knew nothing.”

33. Raphael Rubinstein — “Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else”

34. R.S. Gwynn — “How it shows, shows, shows. (How it shows!)”

35. Robin Coste Lewis — “how civic the slick to satisfied from man.”

36. Andrew Kozma — “What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.”

37. Melissa Barrett — “—lines from Craiglist personal ads

38. Mark Bibbins — “He’s Serbian or something, whole family wiped out”

39. Chen Chen — “i pledge allegiance to the already fallen snow”

40. Patricia Lockwood — “How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel marry Across…on a Tightrope?”

41. Ron Padgett — “Old feller, young feller, who cares?”

42. Bethany Schultz Hurst — “Then things got confusing for superheroes.”

43. Natalie Scenters-Zapico — “…apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.”

44. Sandra Simonds — “Her little girl threw fake bills into the air.”

45. Donna Masini — “Even sex is no exit.  Ah, you exist.”

46. Dora Malech — “paper mane fluttering in the breeze of a near miss, belly ballasted with…kisses”

47. David Kirby — “Pets are silly, but the only world worth living in is one that doesn’t think so.”

48. Ross Gay —  “One never knows does one how one comes to be”

49. Meredith Hasemann — “The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.”

50. Madelyn Garner — “working her garden…which is happiness—even as petal and pistil we fall.”

51. Wendy Videlock — “like a lagoon, like a canoe, like you”

52. Erica Dawson — “I knocked out Sleeping Beauty, fucking cocked her on the jaw.”

53. Hailey Leithauser — “Eager spills eel-skin, python, seal-leather, platinum and plate, all cabbage, all cheddar.”

54. Monica Youn –“the dead-eyed Christ in Pietro’s Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers”

55. Tanya Olson — “Assless Pants Prince High-Heels Boots Prince Purple Rain Prince”

56. Jericho Brown — “But nobody named Security ever believes me.”

57. Danielle DeTiberus — “In a black tank top, I can watch him talk about beams, joists…for hours”

58. Rebecca Hazelton — “My husband bearded, my husband shaved, the way my husband taps out the razor”

59. Dana Levin — “I watched them right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea while the real sea thrashed and heaved—”

60. Evie Shockley — “fern wept, let her eyes wet her tresses, her cheeks, her feet. the cheerlessness rendered her blessed”

61. Alan Michael Parker — “Rabbi, try the candied mint: it’s heaven.”

62. Aimee Nezhukumatahil — “I wonder if scientists could classify us a binary star—”

63. D. Nurske — “Neils Bohr recites in his soft rapt voice: I divide myself into two persons”

64. Afaa Michael Weaver — “inside oneness that appears when the prison frees me to know I am not it and it is not me.”

65. Marilyn Chin — “She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove”

66. Candace G. Wiley — ” My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.”

67. Joanna Valente — “Sometimes, at night, I wish for someone to break into me—”

68. Jeet Thayil — “There are no accidents.  There is only God.”

69. Kate Tempest — “It gets into your bones.”

70. Alice Notley — “To take part in you is to die is why one dies Have I said this before?”

71. Eileen Myles — “Well I’ll be a poet. What could be more foolish and obscure.”

72. Major Jackson — “When you have forgotten the meaningful bop”

73. Dawn Lundy Martin — “And Olivia, the mouth of his children from the mouth of my vagina.”

74. Kiki Petrosino — “We sense them shining in our net of nerves.”

75. Jennifer Moxley — “How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.”

76. Juliana Spahr — “There is space between the hands.”

77. Ada Limón — “just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

78. Kevin Young — “I want to be doused in cheese and fried.”

79. Dodie Bellamy — “what is it have I seen it before will it hurt me or help me”

80. Juan Felipe Herrera — “Could this be yours? Could this item belong to you? Could this ticket be what you ordered, could it?”

81. Joy Harjo — “The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits blew deer magic.”

82. Saeed Jones — “In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back”

83. Sarah Arvio — “The new news is I love you my nudist”

84. Desiree Bailey — “how will I swim to you when the day is done?”

85. Rachael Briggs — “Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny”

86. Rafael Campo — “We lie and hide from what the stethoscope will try to say”

87. Emily Kendal Frey — “How can you love people without them feeling accused?”

88. James Galvin — “Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress? What, gone?”

89. Douglas Kearney — “people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.”

90. Jamaal May — “how ruined the lovely children must be in your birdless city”

91. Claudia Rankine — “What did he just say? Did she really just say that?”

92. Donald Platt — “Someone jerks his strings. He can’t stop punching.”

93. Denise Duhamel — “it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires”

94. Jane Wong — “A planet fell out of my mouth”

95. Derrick Austin — “Will you find me without the pink and blue hydrangeas?”

96. Dexter L. Booth — “The head goes down in defeat, but lower in prayer”

97. Catherine Bowman — “From two pieces of string and oil-fattened feathers he made a father.”

98. Jessamyn Birrer — “Abracadabra: The anus. The star at the base of the human balloon.”

99. Julie Carr– “Can you smell her from here?”

100. Mary Angela Douglas — “music remains in the sifted ruins”

REPORTER AT LARGE: MARILYN CHIN AND AFAA WEAVER AT THE GROLIER

“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg.  The last American poem to be famous?

Poetry tells of larger things, and it is entirely in the telling that it succeeds or fails, to tell of those larger things. If Poetry tells of a small thing: the fashion or style of someone’s appearance, or of a large thing: war, history, law, it will all be big or small, or significant, or insignificant, because of how it is told. Poetry is the ‘telling’ game, and what is told does not finally matter in poetry.

The smallest matter gets our attention if it is told to us by a friend; if a stranger wants to tell us something vital and personal, we are less interested—this is the rule of friendship; we may even tell the stranger to shut up, or go away, even if the news is important to the stranger.

Telling has rules and nuances governed by the complexities of the life we are living.

How we tell something may impact what we tell, and if how we tell impacts what we tell significantly, we have moved into the realm of art: rhetoric, poetry, song.

If everyone were friends, we would not need government. Government protects strangers from each other.

A poem, if it is really good, demands, because it is good, that strangers experience it, too.

However, unlike government, poetry isn’t necessarily for strangers.

Poetry, like gossip, like heart-to-heart talks, can simply be for friends only.

The only time a poem can be ‘known to strangers’ (famous) is if it deals with the business of strangers, and the business of strangers pertains to one of two things: 1) some extravagant aesthetic pleasure or 2) the government’s role of protecting strangers from each other.

(We could add a third: Pedagogy concerns strangers. Poems in textbooks can make a poet famous, and when the New Critics’ Understanding Poetry was one of the few, this did make a huge difference—but that was over 50 years ago. Scarriet has discussed this angle elsewhere, so we’ll leave it aside for the time being.)

The first—aesthetics—has withered away in terms of poetic fame: how poems traditionally tell what they tell is no longer a standard for a large audience: we only understand aesthetic excellence in context; when that context no longer exists, widespread appreciation is no longer possible. The Bee Gees became big in 1967 because they sounded like the Beatles; the Bee Gees did not sound exactly like the Beatles, but the Bee Gees succeeded within the parameters of a recognized template. Popular music, as unique as any particular song might be, succeeds in terms of a template. The popular song, or the popular music concert, meets the popular criteria of ‘extravagant aesthetic pleasure,’ based on a template: whatever the lights, singing style, dancing, lyrical content, personal appearance, etc. happen to be. What used to make poems famous: rhyme, meter, and other rhetorical devices which mark telling as exceptional within poetry’s traditional template, no longer exists in criticism and practice. The experimental has unstrung the bow. There is no longer any way of telling whether a poem as a poem, is excellent or not.

The second—impact in the sphere of government—since the withering away of the first, is now the only route to poetic fame, and the facts prove the case. “Howl,” the last poem to achieve some degree of fame in the United States (if we do not count Plath’s suicide) was read by the government (judged as obscene or not) before it was read widely by the people. The same is true of Fleurs du Mal; the French poet Baudelaire’s template-shattering poetry was published—and examined by government censors—one hundred years before “Howl.” True, Baudelaire rhymed, but translated into English, the subversive, prosaic content became the manifest effect and major influence on poets like T.S. Eliot. The ‘poetry template’ was still in place for poets like Frost and Millay, appreciated in their time, but over the last 50 years or so, the template has been eclipsed by pure content—thus it is no longer possible for poetry to be famous as poetry, since content generates interest everywhere, and poetry has no ownership of content in any competitive sense at all.

Stephen Burt, in his just published New York Times review of Patricia Lockwood’s second book of poems declares that “Rape Joke, ” the poem that went viral on the web last year, is the least funny poem, and not the best poem, in her collection. “Rape Joke” tells of Lockwood being raped by her boyfriend, and the painful, ambiguous, non-legal aftermath.

It is true that Lockwood’s poem has not been ‘read by the government,’ but it is about sex, and sex as potentially regulated—or not—by the government has reached a threshold of interest, and is the essential content of “Rape Joke.”  I was raped. Doesn’t anybody care? This is the deftly turned plea of “Rape Joke.” It is a cry for government attention on a serious level. We must protect the vulnerable in a legally representative manner in this specific area: sexual freedom collides with sexual harm in a way which puzzles and perturbs the law, just as “Howl,” which had to be judged by legal officials, puzzled censors of public morality. Is this OK? Do we need to be protected from this?  This question—asked specifically of “Howl,” is a question for strangers—it is not a question for friends only—and is thus a ticket to fame.

There’s a line dividing the country now, a line so prominent and defined that it is spilling into discourse of every kind: secular progressives versus religious right-wingers increasingly steals into every conversation.

But the debates that boil over in a far-reaching manner are characterized by profound legal ambiguity: a lot of strangers are certain, but divided, even within the context of the Constitution.

If the U.S. Constitution explicitly protects the free exercise of religion, not sexual activity, and if religion promotes chastity, all sexual issues, including issues like gay rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, will bump up against the government, whether it is explicitly a legal issue, or not. “Rape Joke” fits into this category. In the past, with obscenity trials, the subversive in the work may have been a genuine factor, but when freedom, and government regulation of freedom, is the overriding concern, the role mentioned above: ‘government protecting strangers from themselves,’ becomes paramount. Patricia Lockwood may be subversive, but her rapist is more so.

To repeat: fame is possible only when strangers are impacted—either aesthetically or in terms of government. If “Howl” and “Rape Joke” succeed aesthetically, it is impossible to tell in any immediate or measurable way. The legal issue is what perches on the bust and remains.

The Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision recently caused a stir, precisely because of a legal controversy which refuses to be resolved.  Protected religion, promoting chastity, denies sexual rights and even condones bullying of gays, according to some: but is the bully at fault, or Christ? The city of Salem, in reaction to the Hobby decision, severed a contract with Gordon college, a Christian institution, and Salem’s mayor was applauded on Facebook when she advertised that she was donating five dollars to a North Shore Gay Youth Center for every call of complaint received in her offices, calls apparently fueled by a prominent right wing author and media personality. The argument here is that Christianity, protected by the Constitution, promotes bullying of gays; therefore the Constitution promotes bullying of gays. Amendment to the Constitution, anyone? Legal division feeds uproars of strangers more than anything else.

Last evening we had the pleasure to attend a poetry reading in Harvard Square by two poets, both in the activist mode: Marilyn Chin and Afaa Weaver: one starting out as a poor immigrant from Hong Kong, one as a frightened kid from America’s black ghetto. Weaver, the black man, brought to his audience at the Grolier Poetry bookstore, Chinese nature poetry, and Chin, the petite Asian woman, blues and rap inflected libidinous poems. They were lovely together, and questions rained down upon them from the rapt, standing-room-only audience following the reading.

In the question and answer session, Weaver, who just won the Kingsley Tufts Award of 100,000 dollars, and read from his 12th collection, The Government of Nature (U. Pittsburgh), spoke in restrained accents of the African slave trade, the diaspora which he called truly the worst holocaust, for its 18 million estimated deaths. Marilyn Chin, who teaches in California, in town to promote her latest book, Hard Love Province (W.W. Norton), a dynamic collection of elegies and yawping utterances in a fermenting hybrid of songs/forms, called herself an “activist”—as poet and teacher—and being in her presence, one really feels it springs from her whole being: she’s not just playing at this; she’s a mother in the flesh giving birth to this, forever and always. Which is not an easy thing to do. There are pauses after she makes a joke or says “okay, okay!” in which life, plain life, intervenes: and a little voice whispers: is this Chinese Poet Activist Mother thing—for real? It is.

Marilyn Chin is almost famous for her poem which begins:

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin

“How I Got That Name” tells us her dad named her for Marilyn Monroe, adding that no one questioned his impulse because we know “lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency.”

Marilyn Chin, by putting her finger on “lust,” slyly takes on male poets like Whitman, Pound and Ginsberg, all famous for poems which “list.” We know why Marilyn Monroe was famous, and yet the name itself is famous, and millions of strangers are named Marilyn. The themes of “How I Got That Name” are many; some are: fame and lust and being named, and ‘that name’ rather than ‘my name’ is the key, perhaps, to this very teachable poem, and it would be deliciously ironic if “How I Got That Name” made Marilyn Chin truly famous at last.

Marilyn Chin likes to banter between poems; she enjoyed teasing Weaver, her ‘big brother.’ Laughing, she looked at him as she punned multiple times on the word sin (sincerity) making reference to Weaver’s Chinese scholarship: Sinologist. It was quite an evening.

Weaver, stoic and solid, is just as fascinating as a person, though he doesn’t ooze the energy of a famous person like Marilyn Chin does. Weaver appeared quietly happy, but one could tell that here was a physically large man who had been laid low a time or two in his life by forces beyond his control. The Tao Te Ching saved Weaver’s life when he was in his 20s, a college dropout learning to be a poet, working long years in a Baltimore factory.

Race—and every attendant cultural nuance—is at the heart of Weaver and Chin’s politics. Racial bigotry is still on America’s radar, but in terms of fame, in our era, it hasn’t got a chance against sex, and this is because fame has little to do with history and everything to do with contemporary legality. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution leave no room for debate—at least legally.

This has nothing to do with ‘sex sells,’ per se. Chin writes quite a bit about sex—even with haiku, in her latest collection! But this alone will never lead to poetic fame. Now if a book is banned for sex, that’s another manner. That will make you famous.

 

 

 

 

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