THE ELITE EIGHT!! POETRY MARCH MADNESS ’19

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Scarriet came into existence in September of 2009, quite by accident—from a silly quarrel with Blog Harriet, the Poetry Foundation site.

As we approach Scarriet’s 10th anniversary—after nearly one original post per day, and a million visits—we offer thanks to everyone who has ever looked at Scarriet—or contributed in some way to its pages.

Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness began in 2010.

Congratulations to the poets who have made it to 2019 Sweet Sixteen!

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

MYSTERIOUS bracket

Jennifer Barber “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”
Merryn Juliette “grey as I am”
Michelina Di Martino “Let us make love. Where are we?”
Kushal Poddar “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

LIFE bracket

William Logan “’I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’”/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”
Alec Solomita “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”
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”

BEAUTIFUL bracket

Mary Angela Douglas “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual spring”
Medha Singh “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”
Jennifer Robertson “ocean after ocean after ocean”
Sushmita Gupta “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

****

AND NOW…

Reaching the Elite Eight!!

Daipayan Nair defeats Diane Lockward.  The wife and dog are finally caught! The winner’s line was a little more thrilling.
Eliana Vanessa defeats Aseem Sundan. The “hum of so many skulls, alone” was finally too much for the blood red paper.

Jennifer Barber defeats Kushal Poddar. “All Summer” was not quite enough to vanquish “even so you put down the phone so soundlessly.”
Michelina Di Martino defeats Merryn Juliette. “Let us make love. Where are we?” is a poem in itself.  We hate to see “grey as I am” go.

N Ravi Shankar defeats William Logan. The nude mother overcomes the “ghost of a caress.”
Divya Guha defeats Alec Solomita.  The jet like a dime way up high is so delightful, but “greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you” is victorious.

Sushmita Gupta defeats Mary Angela Douglas.  How can one of these perfections lose?  The mortal eye will have to accept this decision.
Medha Singh defeats Jennifer Robertson.  The oceans surrender to the winter.

Congratulations to the surviving poets!

 

MORE LIFE BRACKET ACTION, SECOND ROUND

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Danez Smith goes for Sweet 16

In so many fields of study, categories matter.

It is a curious thing how little categories matter in the study of poetry.

We don’t seem to know what to say about poetry (we don’t even know what it is) so in order to support the art as we review it, critics fall into raptures about who the poet is, where they are from, and make only passing remarks on the subject matter, if it happens to matter.

But what of the poetry itself?

The New Critics spent most of the 20th century rejecting the biographical emphasis of Romanticism. But little has changed. Instead of young Keats coughing up blood there is the MFA, the gender, or the latest prize. What the poetry is actually doing barely registers. All we know is that it is most likely going to be about suffering.

But look at this matchup:

Danez Smith “I call your mama mama”

versus

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

Even with a few words, nothing could be more different than these two poetry opponents.

One is speech: “I call your mama mama.”

One is visual: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

What makes us call these two very different things poetry?

Even if that question can never be answered, the game still must be played.

Mach Madness must go on.

It is almost April.

Danez Smith is more concise, and the two most important words of the five are identical: mama, a rather universal word of immense importance. If poetry cannot define this by Danez Smith, then this by Danez Smith defines poetry.

But “I call your mama mama” is something people might say every day.

Surely, as a construct, as an expressive thing, the following is infinitely more unique: “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high” —Surely this is one in a million—to compare a jet high in the sky to a dime—and it causes us to see it, the metaphor being wonderfully true.

On the other hand, doesn’t “like a diamond in the sky” come immediately to mind?

And it could be said that the uniqueness is based on an obscure fact of no real consequence—a far away jet looking like a dime.

But the metaphor of jet-as-dime also contributes to “All of the sky is silent.” The distant jet not only shines like a dime, it is the same size as a dime, and silent like a dime, too, and so there’s two working parts, the “silent sky,” and the jet-as-a-dime metaphor, and they work nicely together.

Mama and mama also work well together, and the dramatic brevity of “I call your mama mama” is understated and arresting. The “I” carries interest; without it, the line falls apart, and so in a natural sort of way this is lyricism of the highest order.

But let us return (as we must, in the back and forth of the game) to “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high”

Both Solomita’s silent sky and far away, silent jet, achieves a melancholy effect, based on factual description alone, a skill we attach to poetry.

This part: “the jet shining like a dime way up high” sounds like the poet is saying the “dime” is “way up high”—but in fact it’s the “jet” which is “shining (like a dime) way up high.” This confusion actually helps the metaphor.

Alec Solomita edges out Danez Smith! Alec Solomita has made it to the Sweet Sixteen!

****

This second round contest in the Life bracket also features objects which elicit emotion.

Is this an admirable human trait? Do only poets have emotional responses to objects? When is this response nothing more than superstition and weakness? Is it poetry’s job to encourage these responses?

Divya Guha is taking advantage of the trope. “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

But the poet will protest: It is not the shaver, the laptop; it is the fact that they are gone that matters.

Ah, wonderful trick—mention a thing gone and it works twice as hard—as a thing and as a missing thing.

And then to exploit the whole idea further—one, the laptop; two, the missing laptop; and three, the “greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.” The object is “hiding you” almost as if the missing person introduced as “you” at the very end of the line were still there, hiding in the room—but the real message (a message we may find on the laptop itself if we only look hard enough) is that the person the poet cared about was in some ways always gone, swallowed by the greediness of impersonal laptop technology.

The poet uses “greedy” to describe both the laptop and “you,” who, it is assumed, was selfishly inclined to bury themselves in the internet. So a whole bunch of things are missing. Ten of the saddest and most poignant words ever written.

Stephen Cole uses a similar strategy with his objects—they are missing, or away from him, but  we see and hear them through the poet, doing a whole lot:

“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.”

A poet names objects to bring them back.

But Stephen Cole knows his poem’s objects will not come back—they are chasing themselves, indifferent to him. He can “feel” the “wind-tides” which belong to a mountain he has named; he can “hear” the action of things, “brakes” which belong to other things (vehicles) attached to an “incline” of a “Pass,” also named by the poet. The effect is so powerful and melancholy and strange that some say we almost don’t need the “suicide” of the “brakes” or the “sad” of the “incline,” the whole thing works so well.

Is this poetry? The second naming of things after Adam, things which are never quite defined and never quite stay?

Excuse the melancholy impulse. The March Madness arena is roaring—the fans want their conclusion.

These collections of objects, which make their poets sad, smash into each other.

The laptop. Fremont’s Pass.

The game—this crying thing—must end.

The “greedy laptop” wins.

Divya Guha advances to the Sweet Sixteen.

****

The advantage of speech is that objects are always either contained or implied in it, whereas poet who don’t speak, but attempt to objectively paint scenes like a painter, are removed from speech, so remain painters solely. Speech can also describe.

These two final contestants in round two of the Life bracket utilize what might be called high speech—an utterance which does not sound entirely natural; it belongs more to oratory or opera.

The first, by N Ravi Shankar, is sweet and bizarre:

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

The second, by Sam Sax, affects a humble wisdom:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

The object for Sax is “this,” which “you” are reading, so the poetry is the object itself, a delight which ought to be enough.

The “lullaby” of the bamboos creaking substitutes for the mother’s voice, who is “nude” with the poet—and we are not sure why. How can we seriously judge this? Well, that’s the point. Our judgment falters, and in the moment that it does, the nudity of mother and son and the creaking of the bamboo branches invade us with a calm which erases understanding. Objects can be felt, but not understood. They don’t have to be understood in poems.

“that you are reading this” completely understands “this,” for the “reading” of it “must be enough.” There is an urgency and a clarity and an abstractness here, utterly beyond objects and utterly at odds with the “bamboo lullaby.”

To such an effect, produced by the bamboo lullaby, we almost have to laugh.

N Ravi Shankar has won round two! He’s off to Sweet Sixteen!

****

 

MORE FIRST ROUND LIFE BRACKET PLAY

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Marilyn Chin

When it comes to poetry, lying is either good, or it isn’t.

There are several ways we can approach lying and poetry.

Philip Sidney (1554-1586) was very clever in his Defense of Poetry: poetry does not claim to tell the truth, so it “cannot lie.”

Plato, the social critic who condemned poetry, went to great lengths not to allow what would become Sidney’s excuse to wind its way into society. Plato said: no, poetry does lie, even if it does so unintentionally, and furthermore, careless or ignorant lying is worse than intentional lying—which may be a puzzling thing for Plato to say, until you realize: who would trust a pilot who can’t fly but thinks he can?  To trust ignorance in any matter of importance leads to our doom, whereas cunning, selfish, deception at least participates in knowing; unlike ignorance—a hijacker, to save himself, might save us.

The third approach, as an increasing number of contemporary poets might put it: we can forget about lying and poetry. Poetry is truth and my poetry tells the truth.

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.”

Gehringer’s opponent in the Life Bracket is:

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

We could see the modern day Plato perhaps objecting to the poetry of June Gehringer—but not necessarily because it lies. Isn’t June Gehringer telling the truth? Ultimately, Plato wanted to protect his idea of the Republic.  Both lies and truth, in their own way, can serve the long term good. Plato wanted the role-model gods in poetry to be depicted as brave, and not cowardly.  Since cowardice has more emotion than bravery, in Plato’s view, emotion was bad, and therefore emotional poetry was bad.

Is this emotional? “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

One can hear this spoken with no emotion at all.

Yet there does seem to be emotion in the expression itself—in the poetry.

Gehringer’s truth is an emotional, dramatic truth—of which Plato was wary.

We cannot believe Plato would be afraid of “All of the sky is silent/Even the jet shining/like a dime way up high.”

We have no idea whether if one of these wins, it will be a victory for a certain kind of philosophy.  There is a quiet charm in that “jet shining.”

We don’t know if this means the Republic will survive, but Alec Solomita wins.

****

Marilyn Chin is the author of the iconic, late 20th century poem, “How I Got That Name,” and she finished second to Ben Mazer in the 2012 Scarriet March Madness Tournament. She brings to this 2019 March Madness, the tourney made of fragments, this one which closes her famous poem:

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

Scarriet discovered Stephen Cole on Facebook. It’s a pity more don’t know his work.

“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.”

This is a classic battle between classic architecture: “all that was/all that was” v. “I feel the/I hear the”

“Lavished” and “taken” packs a real punch, and the “wind-tides” and “cry of suicide brakes” sure is haunting.

This is too close to call.

Stephen Cole, in a puff of smoke lingering over Fremont’s Pass, wins.

***

Sam Sax has that drinking, slam poet vibe, and maybe he’s this century’s Dylan Thomas, we don’t know. His opponent is Dylan Thomas, in a twist of fate. Do not go gently into that March Madness. The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ is known for those rueful, end-of-the-line truths.  Sam Sax brings it with:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

Hits it out of the park, doesn’t it?

The ‘Dylan Thomas poet’ sometimes sinks into hyperbole and sentimentality.  They either hit a home run, or fall down, striking out.

And, to speak for the Dylan Thomas poet is Dylan Thomas:

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

We all know what he means.

Sax and Thomas lean on each other, exhausted, after 15 rounds of fighting:

“that you are reading this/must be enough”

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

Sam Sax has just enough!  Sam Sax advances!

****

Next up, the fourth and last bracket of play, the Beautiful Bracket—first round.

Then we’ll be down to 32 poets,and heading for the Sweet 16…

 

 

 

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

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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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