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.

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THE UNIVERSAL, THE PERSONAL, AND THE CREEPILY PRIVATE

Image result for alex dimitrov

Poet Alex Dimitrov: “I don’t believe in the universal.”

Are poems and stories that are universal better than poems and stories that are not?

“Yes, of course!” comes the answer 100 years ago; but today, the universal is considered an old-fashioned virtue, a mere outdated concept, in hip circles.

But should we trust the hip?  If universal means more people can appreciate your poem or story, why isn’t the universal always a good thing?

Is misanthropy the source of not believing in the universal—the hip author does not want certain types of persons to appreciate their poem or story?  Or, perhaps, the hip author fears their work is not broad or deep enough to appeal to a wide audience?

Or, to put it in a slightly different way, which perhaps vindicates the scribbler of hip:

To be appreciated by that audience, I would have to write a certain way—which I cannot do.  Thus, I am against the universal—even as an ideal.

We also might object to the universal on a purely metaphysical basis: life is too complex to admit the absolutes of universals, etc.

But isn’t this metaphysical view finally too abstract and hair-splitting?

Why can’t we agree that the universal—or universal appeal—is a good thing?  Certainly the reformist wants to reach as many lost souls as possible.  And, if one is not a reformist,  how can one object to any slob liking one’s work?  One may not like a particular reader’s lifestyle or views, for instance—but what harm can it do if one’s poem burrows itself into some part of that reader’s soul?

The following is a contemporary example which triggered the preceding remarks.  Bored (very bored), we turned to the Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet and found the following poet’s entry in a Los Angeles Review of Books forum, ‘Person and Persona in Poetry:’

THE REAL WHORE
Alex Dimitrov

A few months ago, after a reading I gave in San Francisco, someone came up to me and recounted a very personal sexual experience which he said came to mind instantly after hearing one of my poems. Then he said, “Your poems are so personal and universal.” This confession was both an entering into a shared space (where presumably we’ve had similar sexual experiences) and a reminder to me that even when it appears we have the same stories, there is no universal — everything that happens to us happens in very specifically different ways. I don’t believe in the universal. But I do believe in the personal. […]

It’s just what poets like to do these days: deny the universal.

Is this nothing more than a completely unthinking ‘I’m too cool/existential/modern to be universal’ reflex?

We think it is.

The poet admits that he and the fan have a shared personal experience in the poem, but the poet claims this “shared space” does not qualify as a universal experience.

The question becomes: how many people have to screw in a light bulb before the experience becomes universal?

If the experience shared by poet and fan is unique to them, then Dimitrov is correct, and the experience cannot be called universal—for the universal doesn’t ask what the experience was, only that a lot of people had it.

Dimitrov discretely keeps the experience to himself-–so we have no way to judge.  Sexual experiences may be private, but that doesn’t stop them from being universal.

It eclipses our identity as persons to think that many people have the same experiences we do—what a horror to think that not one thing we think or do is unique.  No wonder the person who has any ego at all pushes away the whole concept.

Memo to Dimitrov: The scary truth is that we aren’t as unique as we think we are: the universal not only exists, but is inescapable.

And one more memo to Dimitrov: We have to assume that we do experience the same things—the burden of proof lies with whomever claims their experiences are unique.

The original poem must be earned.

The universal is atmospheric, then; it is not something that is either good or bad; it is not something that either exists or does not exist.

How silly of Dimitrov, then, to say he doesn’t believe in it.  In the extended version of his piece (linked above) he does concede that the idea of the universal exists, but only as an illusion to make us feel less lonely.  Speaking in hip-speak as opposed to universal-speak, Dimitrov makes change the all-important thing—a poem changes a person; a poem has nothing to do with timeless truth.

Dimitrov, in his brave loneliness, doesn’t believe in the universal, and doesn’t want it to exist.

We think this universal gem—“What oft’ was thought, but ne’er so well expressed,” is to the point.

It is impossible for thoughts and their words to escape the universal.

And yet—and yet—every soul, as Poe wrote in his great work, Eureka, believes nothing is greater than itself.  There must be nuances we experience every moment which are unique to ourselves…  But even this does not cancel out the idea of the universal, which only indicates a widely shared experience—whatever that happens to be.

Pope wrote “What oft’ was thought,” not “What oft’ was done.”

Is poetry waiting for its great poet-murderer?

Are there deeds waiting for poetic expression—or does poetry truly belong to thought?

Yes, poetry belongs to thought alone.

Murderous thoughts are probably pretty near universal; poetry already has enough material for—murder, if it wants to go there.

We believe—and we think we believe correctly—that poetry is the product of a unique person, not of unique deeds.

A poem is the product of words (universals).

The following poem (a bit of Wallace Stevens impressionism) by Dimitrov (which we like) relies on universals, such as “things that are anonymous and belong to no one.”

Blue Curtains

That day we were in a room with blue curtains.
Every time I wanted to speak
some hand would lift that pale, translucent fabric
and I’d see him standing on the circular balcony
which held something old and shapeless.
It was late morning.
We were already late for everything.
So I stood at one end of the room
and watched him. And between us
was a bed and a table and things
in a hotel—you know,
things that are anonymous
and belong to no one.
Like a sea or a life.
And all I remember is how expensive it was.
Not the room, but the feeling.

If Dimitrov does not believe in the universal, why does he write “Like a sea or a life.”  Why doesn’t he write, “Like the sea or the life?”  Had he written, “Like my life,” would this have been more, or less universal?  The punchline of the poem: the feeling—needs the setup of “a sea or a life.”

Is this philosophical inquiry on the concept of the universal finally only a matter of direct and indirect articles?

Well, yes.

In order to pinpoint not that feeling but this feeling, this one, Dimitrov needs to create a universal atmosphere populated by those “things that are anonymous and belong to no one. Like a sea or a life.”

The person, Dimitrov, does not believe in the universal.

But the poet, Dimitrov, does.

But then what does a person know?

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