Bill Knott’s poem, “Monodrama,” is a bizarre sonnet whose meaning eludes even as the final couplet rings its close:


Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
Full length nude, at halfmast the pubic flag
Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
More to the word perhaps than its image—

But predators always bite the nape first
To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
I failed to be. I went to the window:

Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

–Bill Knott

In round one, Knott upset Robert Bly and a cheering section at the John Crowe Ransom Arena which included a whole class of Harvard poets, Vietnam War Protestor poets and even drummer John Densmore of the Doors.

Fans will recall that Alan Dugan’s poem, “Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton,” upended Hayden Carruth’s “Quality of Wine,” a cheap-wine poem about old age.

MARLA MUSE: Dugan’s poem has cinematic allure, a doomed celebrity poet, and “beautiful” Galway Kinnell charming Sexton away from the narrator. It’s a bit pathetic, if you ask me.

And who wouldn’t want to ask the Muse?  Yes, Dugan…you loser!  Oh, gosh, did I say that?

MARLA MUSE: You did. No one deflates a poem like you do. You’re terrible.

I can’t stand that Knott poem, and I can’t figure out exactly what it’s saying, but there’s something about it that intrigues me…



A last-second shot wins it, 67-66.

That takes care of Round Two in the East and North, Conoley, Creeden, Guest, Scalapino, Knott, Larkin, Nemerov, and Stanton advancing.  Next, Round Two in the South and West…


Anne Sexton: not in the APR tourney as a poet, but as a lover

Wine and poetry go way back. (In fact we’re afraid meds replacing wine has ruined poetry.)

Wine intoxicates the body, just as poetry intoxicates the mind, and both make us mad. Both have refinements, and since a little madness is deemed good, poetry is taught in school and wine is served in public houses.

Alan Dugan, 6th seed, brings “Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton” to the APR tourney.

Every story (memories) is a piece of a larger one; what we leave out is the key to story-telling. If we leave almost everything out, it’s a poem—or so many poets think.

Even a long story still leaves a lot out, but even a short poem is about what we put in. So are many poets mistaken in their art, thinking to write poems by leaving things out, confusing the poem with the story. Stories tease and poems infuriate—when they try to be stories.  As soon as a poem tries to be a story by leaving things out, it fails, because after we read a poem we should feel nothing has been left out. A poem is what’s there, a story is what is not there.

For this reason, I like this Dugan poem:

Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton

The first and last time I met
my ex-lover Anne Sexton was at
a protest poetry reading against
some anti-constitutional war in Asia
when some academic son of a bitch,
to test her reputation as a drunk,
gave her a beer glass full of wine
after our reading. She drank
it all down while staring at me
full in the face and then said
“I don’t care what you think,
you know” as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover
what? and just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her
“Just as I was told, your eyes,
you have one blue and one green”
and there they were, the two
beautiful poets, staring at
each others’ beautiful eyes
as I drank the lees of her wine.

–Alan Dugan

MARLA MUSE: What is the point of the story? I don’t get it.

The story?  You mean the poem?

MARLA MUSE: The poem…the story…you know what I mean…!

The point is not to be sentimental, even when drunk. To be bad-ass.

MARLA MUSE: But it has no point precisely because it’s sentimental.

When it comes to sentimentality all poems have leaky roofs; the sentimentality gets in. Isn’t it true?  The Victorians, according to the moderns, were sentimental, but isn’t it funny how looking back at modern poetry now it’s sentimental, too. Sentimentality is poetry’s coin. All poetry is sentimental.

MARLA MUSE: Sigh. I think you’re right.

Hayden Carruth is a tough old son of a gun. Here’s how he battles Dugan:

The Quality of Wine

This wine is really awful
I’ve been drinking for a year now, my
retirement. Rossi Chablis in a jug
from Oneida liquors, the best
I can afford. Awful. But at least
I can afford it. I don’t need to go out and beg
on the street like the guys
on South Warren in Syracuse, eyes
burning in their sockets like acid.
And my sweetheart rubs my back when I’m
knotted in arthritis and swollen
muscles. The five stages of death
are fear, anger, resentment, renunciation,
and—? Apparently the book doesn’t say
what the fifth stage is. And neither
does the wine. Is it happiness? That’s
what I think anyway, and I know I’ve been
through fear and anger and resentment and at least
part way through renunciation too, maybe
almost the whole way. A slow procedure,
like calling the Medicare office, on hold
for hours and then the recorded voice says, “Hang up
and dial again.” Yet the days
hasten they
go by fast enough. They fucking fly like the wind. Oh,
Sweetheart, Mrs. Manitou of the Stockbridge Valley,
my Red Head, my Absecon Lakshmi of the Marshlights,
my beautiful, beautiful Baby Doll,
let the dying be long.

–Hayden Curruth

That may not be Victorian sentimentality, but this poem is still swimming in sentimentality.

MARLA MUSE: Those Roman poets! Now they could put away the wine and still ravish me…

Let’s focus on the contest before us, Marla.

MARLA MUSE: I like the Dugan poem because it brings a scene to life: for a moment you feel you are there, in the presence of Anne Sexton herself, but the Carruth, as sweet as it is, is just talk.

Yes, the Dugan has a cinematic quality which the garrulous Carruth poem lacks, and it’s the key to the memorable poem, isn’t it, almost as if cinema pre-dates story-telling, predates looking, even. The term some poets use is ‘the camera is running’ or ‘there’s film in the camera;’ look, right here:

She drank
it all down while staring at me
full in the face and then said
“I don’t care what you think,
you know” as if I was
her ex-what, husband, lover
what? and just as I
was just about to say I
loved her, I was, what,
was, interrupted by my beautiful enemy
Galway Kinnell, who said to her

So there it is, that ‘cinematic, real time’ effect which we get from all the famous poets, from Homer to Dante to Shakespeare to Milton to “Stopping By A Woods On A Snowy Evening.”  We’re there in the scene.

MARLA MUSE: Does Dugan win, then?

Yes–Dugan wins, 72-68.

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