1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…


Richard Wilbur—about 75 years ago.
According to G.E. Lessing (1729-1781), painting depicts one moment with many bodies, while poetry depicts one body in many moments, and each genre fails if they attempt to invade the other’s territory. Homer, Lessing says, did not waste energy trying to be a painter; action was paramount, description limited. Lessing goes so far as to say painters should depict soft rather than stiff clothing to better infer bodily movement in the immediate past or future. For Lessing, the poet who describes, or paints, is didactic, and the didactic is not poetic.  The poet should describe one body, or one part of a body.  Prose is better at mere description—poetry is concerned with illusion. The eye can take in many parts simultaneously—for the poet to attempt this with description is a waste of labor. Action, sequential action, is the poet’s domain. Lessing’s theory, to the moderns, must seem hopelessly narrow (as Poe, the anti-didactic critic and poet, is often viewed).

 But it can be argued that the eclectic and highly sophisticated modern temper has lost the ability to understand nature’s simple truths or grasp the common sense argument of a rigorous scientific mind such as Lessing’s.

 It cannot be denied that modern poetry has lost both the innocent public and the objective, scientific reader.  The freedom of the modern poet has led to a cul-de-sac of obscurity, the ‘everything’ of the modern poet has turned to ‘nothing’ in many eyes, and the moderns’ touted ‘difficulty,’ to hopeless looseness, even to its many sophisticated followers.

 What if Lessing’s common sense is generally correct?

Richard Wilbur may be the last living classical poet.  We don’t know if Lessing is an influence, but reading Wilbur’s poetry, one almost senses he must be.  Rhyme can be used for all sorts of things; Wilbur is known for his rhyme, but the respect he’s earned is for more than rhyme, though it might be difficult to separate that out.  It might help to read Wilbur with Lessing in mind.
Wilbur has three poems in Dove’s anthology, but one of our readers, Robert Bagg, pointed us to the grand “A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra.” 
“Love Calls Us To the Things Of This World” (in the Dove’s anthology) is always anthologized and it is not, we think, one of Wilbur’s best.  It’s good, but it has a lot of flaws.  So we are breaking our Penguin Anthology rule (a silly rule, we admit)  in honor of this still living poet born in 1921, by including a poem not in the anthology.
Wilbur does write  Homerically—he never describes something but there is some kind of action involved. Lessing would probably say that “Love Calls Us To the Things Of This World” is not a complete action—and is thus a failure.  “Baroque Fountain” succeeds partially by Lessing’s classical rules—too meditative, too busy, Lessing would probably say.
Wilbur is the favorite here against Alice Oswald, who is a sentimentalist—for those kinds of poets are still given respect in Britain. (Billy Collins is a funny sentimentalist, which is not the same thing.)
Here is Wilbur’s poem:
Under the bronze crown
Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet   
      A serpent has begun to eat,
Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down
            Past spattered mosses, breaks
On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills   
      The massive third below. It spills
In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes
            A scrim or summery tent
For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.   
      Happy in all that ragged, loose
Collapse of water, its effortless descent
            And flatteries of spray,
The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,
      Watching, about his shaggy knees,
The goatish innocence of his babes at play;
            His fauness all the while
Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh   
      Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh
In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile
            Bent on the sand floor
Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come
      And go in swift reticulum,
More addling to the eye than wine, and more
            Interminable to thought
Than pleasure’s calculus. Yet since this all   
      Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,   
Must it not be too simple? Are we not
            More intricately expressed
In the plain fountains that Maderna set
      Before St. Peter’s—the main jet   
Struggling aloft until it seems at rest
            In the act of rising, until   
The very wish of water is reversed,
      That heaviness borne up to burst   
In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill
            With blaze, and then in gauze   
Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine
      Illumined version of itself, decline,
And patter on the stones its own applause?
            If that is what men are
Or should be, if those water-saints display   
      The pattern of our aretê,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,
            Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fulness of desire
      For what is given, they do not tire
Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse
            And riddled pool below,
Reproving our disgust and our ennui   
      With humble insatiety.
Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow
            Before the wealthy gate
Freezing and praising, might have seen in this   
      No trifle, but a shade of bliss—
That land of tolerable flowers, that state
            As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand   
      Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.
Wilbur does not merely describe the fountain.  We follow—perhaps not always perfectly—a movement of sorts. 
Wilbur has not reached major poet status; he’s an embarrassment to most moderns and  post-moderns, perhaps with good reason.  There used to be a public for Wilbur, but it was killed around the time he was born. Or maybe Wilbur’s work is too ‘busy’ to appeal to a wide audience.  In poetry circles, WC Williams is mentioned 1,000 times for every mention of Wilbur. Williams’ one advantage?  He’s not as ‘busy’ as Wilbur. “The Young Housewife” has a certain Homeric quality in terms of action, clarity and emotion, but Williams doesn’t pass the Lessing test, either.
Alice Oswald’s poem has movement, but its delight is miles away from Wilbur’s Homeric grandeur.  “and when” propels the poem and it is sweet the way “and when” becomes “which is” at the end.  When ideas make the poem move, this only makes the poem move closer to didactic prose—at least this is what Lessing would say.  Moderns make ideas so central so often in their poems, they are probably not conscious of how unlike the old poetry, the poetry Lessing would have admired, they are. 
Can Oswald’s humble poem, like David, slay Goliath?
From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions . . .
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.
Wilbur 89 Oswald 66


Enrique Simonet’s “Judgement of Paris”

They fought, they battled, they elbowed, they rebounded, they shot, they sweated, they passed, they jumped, they fell into seats trying to save a ball going out-of-bounds.  You know what they did.   Here’s the winners and their margins of victory:


Ben Mazer (d. Ashbery 102-101, 3 OT)
Seamus Heaney (d. Carolyn Forche 65-61)
Franz Wright (d. Geoffrey Hill 58-42)
Billy Collins (d. Carol Ann Duffy 90-77)
Marie Howe (d. Jorie Graham 63-60)
Robert Pinsky (d. Charles Bernstein 80-47)
Mary Oliver (d. Charles Simic 67-53)
James Tate (d. Paul Muldoon 71-51)

Summary:  The beasts are in the East: Collins, Heaney, Pinsky, Oliver, Tate, Franz Wright, plus the upstart Ben Mazer, who has an aura of invincibility after knocking off Ashbery in triple overtime—but only one can survive to enter the Final Four!


Yusef Komunyakaa (d. A.E. Stallings 81-75)
Derek Walcott (d. C.D. Wright 91-47)
Patricia Smith (d. Mark Doty 80-69)
Rita Dove (d. Sandra Cisneros 64-60)
W.S. Merwin (d. Kevin Young 78-72)
Elizabeth Alexander (d. Carl Phillips 79-76)
Natasha Trethewey (d. Andrew Hudgins 69-68)
Terrance Hayes (d. Charles Wright 67-54)

Summary: the veteran Merwin is the only white poet to move on in this brackett.  Walcott is the Nobel Prize Winner, Patricia Smith, the Slam wild card, and Rita Dove, the Anthology editor.


Philip Levine (d. Joanna Klink 88-67)
Richard Wilbur (d. Anne Waldman 101-70)
Dana Gioia (d. Brenda Shaughnessy 78-66)
Margaret Atwood (d. Bin Ramke 70-68)
Stephen Dunn (d. Glyn Maxwell 89-83)
Louise Gluck (d. Peter Gizzi 67-62)
Alice Oswald (d. Frank Bidart 55-54)
Cornelius Eady (d. Mark Strand 65-59)

Summary: Old school Richard Wilbur has to be the one to watch, after his dismantling of Waldman; also favored, the highly accessible Atwood, plus the imposing Dunn and Levine.


Robert Hass (d. Cathy Song 67-63)
Sharon Olds (d. Li-Young Lee 79-77)
Gary Snyder (d. Sherman Alexie 80-72)
Heather McHugh (d. Rae Armantrout 66-54)
Kay Ryan (d. Cole Swensen 90-59)
Gary Soto (d. Ron Silliman 81-60)
Marilyn Chin (d. Michael Dickman 90-78)
Matthew Dickman (d. Joy Harjo 88-67)

Summary: Kay Ryan and Sharon Olds are strong women in this brackett; Gary Snyder has the savvy and experience to go all the way, and don’t count out young Dickman.

The raw numbers: 44% of the 32 poets still in the hunt are white males, and  41% are women.

The third annual Scarriet March Madness Tournament is using a different rule this year: winning poets bring a new poem with them into the next round.

Previously, Lehman’s  Best American Poetry, and Stephen Berg’s American Poetry Review were Scarriet sources; this year it is Dove’s 20th Century Poetry anthology (Penguin), with some exceptions (mostly British), and all living poets.



Bidart has a long poem in Dove’s anthology and is favored to advance.  Was friends with Lowell and Bishop.

Frank Bidart writes poetry that feels like a different genre.  He violates THE POEM.   Or something like that.  He gets 11 pages in Dove’s anthology for his poem, the most of any poet in that anthology, which makes him the greatest poet of the 20th century.  Or something like that.  It’s really hard to talk about Frank Bidart.  His poetry is so intense.  Bring it, Frank.

I love sweets,—
would be dying on a bed of vanilla ice cream …But my true self
is thin, all profileand effortless gestures, the sort of blond
elegant girl whose
body is the image of her soul.—My doctors tell me I must give up
this ideal;
but I
WILL NOT … cannot.Only to my husband I’m not simply a “case.”But he is a fool. He married
meat, and thought it was a wife..            .            .Why am I a girl?

I ask my doctors, and they tell me they
don’t know, that it is just “given.”

But it has such
and sometimes,
I even feel like a girl.

.            .            .

Now, at the beginning of Ellen’s thirty-second year, her physical condition has deteriorated still further. Her use of laxatives increases beyond measure. Every evening she takes sixty to seventy tablets of a laxative, with the result that she suffers tortured vomiting at night and violent diarrhea by day, often accompanied by a weakness of the heart. She has thinned down to a skeleton, and weighs only 92 pounds.

.            .            .

About five years ago, I was in a restaurant,
eating alone
with a book. I was
not married, and often did that …

—I’d turn down
dinner invitations, so I could eat alone;

I’d allow myself two pieces of bread, with
butter, at the beginning, and three scoops of
vanilla ice cream, at the end,—

sitting there alone
with a book, both in the book
and out of it, waited on, idly
watching people,—

when an attractive young man
and woman, both elegantly dressed,
sat next to me.
She was beautiful—;

with sharp, clear features, a good
bone structure—;
if she took her make-up off
in front of you, rubbing cold cream
again and again across her skin, she still would be
more beautiful.

And he,—
I couldn’t remember when I had seen a man
so attractive. I didn’t know why. He was almost

a male version
of her,—

I had the sudden, mad notion that I
wanted to be his lover …

—Were they married?
were they lovers?

They didn’t wear wedding rings.

Their behavior was circumspect. They discussed
politics. They didn’t touch …

—How could I discover?

Then, when the first course
arrived, I noticed the way

each held his fork out for the other

to taste what he had ordered …

They did this
again and again, with pleased looks, indulgent
smiles, for each course,
more than once for each dish—;
much too much for just friends …

—Their behavior somehow sickened me;

the way each gladly
put the food the other had offered into his mouth—;

I knew what they were. I knew they slept together.

An immense depression came over me …

—I knew I could never
with such ease allow another to put food into my mouth:

happily myself put food into another’s mouth—;

I knew that to become a wife I would have to give up my ideal.

.            .            .

Even as a child,
I saw that the “natural” process of aging

is for one’s middle to thicken—
one’s skin to blotch;

as happened to my mother.
And her mother.
I loathed “Nature.”

At twelve, pancakes
became the most terrible thought there is …

I shall defeat “Nature.”

In the hospital, when they
weigh me, I wear weights secretly sewn into my belt.

.            .            .

January 16. The patient is allowed to eat in her room, but comes readily with her husband to afternoon coffee. Previously she had stoutly resisted this on the ground that she did not really eat but devoured like a wild animal. This she demonstrated with utmost realism…. Her physical examination showed nothing striking. Salivary glands are markedly enlarged on both sides.
January 21. Has been reading Faust again. In her diary, writes that art is the “mutual permeation” of the “world of the body” and the “world of the spirit” Says that her own poems are “hospital poems … weak—without skill or perseverance; only managing to beat their wings softly.”
February 8. Agitation, quickly subsided again. Has attached herself to an elegant, very thin female patient. Homo-erotic component strikingly evident.
February 15. Vexation, and torment. Says that her mind forces her always to think of eating. Feels herself degraded by this. Has entirely, for the first time in years, stopped writing poetry.

.            .            .

Callas is my favorite singer, but I’ve only
seen her once—;

I’ve never forgotten that night …

—It was in Tosca, she had long before
lost weight, her voice
had been, for years,
deteriorating, half itself …

When her career began, of course, she was fat,

enormous—; in the early photographs,
sometimes I almost don’t recognize her …

The voice too then was enormous—
healthy; robust; subtle; but capable of
crude effects, even vulgar,
almost out of
high spirits, too much health …

But soon she felt that she must lose weight,—
that all she was trying to express

was obliterated by her body,
buried in flesh—;
abruptly, within
four months, she lost at least sixty pounds …

—The gossip in Milan was that Callas
had swallowed a tapeworm.

But of course she hadn’t.

The tapeworm
was her soul

—How her soul, uncompromising,
must have loved eating the flesh from her bones,

revealing this extraordinarily
mercurial; fragile; masterly creature …

—But irresistibly, nothing
stopped there; the huge voice

also began to change: at first, it simply diminished
in volume, in size,
then the top notes became
shrill, unreliable—at last,
usually not there at all …

—No one knows why. Perhaps her mind,
ravenous, still insatiable, sensed

that to struggle with the shreds of a voice

must make her artistry subtler, more refined,
more capable of expressing humiliation,
rage, betrayal …

—Perhaps the opposite. Perhaps her spirit
loathed the unending struggle

to embody itself, to manifest itself, on a stage whose

mechanics, and suffocating customs,
seemed expressly designed to annihilate spirit …

—I know that in Tosca, in the second act,
when, humiliated, hounded by Scarpia,
she sang Vissi d’arte
—“I lived for art”—

and in torment, bewilderment, at the end she asks,
with a voice reaching
harrowingly for the notes,

“Art has repaid me LIKE THIS?”

I felt I was watching
an art; skill;

miles distant from the usual soprano’s
the usual musician’s dream
of virtuosity without content …
—I wonder what she feels, now,
listening to her recordings.

For they have already, within a few years,
begun to date …

Whatever they express
they express through the style of a decade
and a half—;
a style she helped create …

—She must know that now
she probably would not do a trill in
exactly that way,—
that the whole sound, atmosphere,
dramaturgy of her recordings

have just slightly become those of the past …

—Is it bitter? Does her soul
tell her

that she was an idiot ever to think
material wholly could satisfy? …

—Perhaps it says: The only way
to escape
the History of Styles

is not to have a body.

.            .            .

When I open my eyes in the morning, my great
stands before me …

—I know that I am intelligent; therefore

the inability not to fear food
day-and-night; this unending hunger
ten minutes after I have eaten …
a childish
dread of eating; hunger which can have no cause,—

half my mind says that all this
is demeaning

for days on end
drives all real thought from my brain …

—Then I think, No. The ideal of being thin

conceals the ideal
not to have a body—;
which is NOT trivial …

This wish seems now as much a “given” of my existence

as the intolerable
fact that I am dark-complexioned; big-boned;
and once weighed
one hundred and sixty-five pounds …

—But then I think, No. That’s too simple,—

without a body, who can
know himself at all?
Only by
acting; choosing; rejecting; have I
made myself—
discovered who and what Ellen can be …

—But then again I think, NO. This I is anterior
to name; gender; action;

… trying to stop my hunger with FOOD
is like trying to appease thirst
with ink.

.            .            .

March 30. Result of the consultation: Both gentlemen agree completely with my prognosis and doubt any therapeutic usefulness of commitment even more emphatically than I. All three of us are agreed that it is not a case of obsessional neurosis and not one of manic-depressive psychosis, and that no definitely reliable therapy is possible. We therefore resolved to give in to the patient’s demand for discharge.

.            .            .

The train-ride yesterday
was far worse than I expected …

In our compartment
were ordinary people: a student;
a woman; her child;—

they had ordinary bodies, pleasant faces;
but I thought
I was surrounded by creatures

with the pathetic, desperate
desire to be not what they were:—

the student was short,
and carried his body as if forcing
it to be taller—;

the woman showed her gums when she smiled,
and often held her
hand up to hide them—;

the child
seemed to cry simply because it was
small; a dwarf, and helpless …

—I was hungry. I had insisted that my husband
not bring food …

After about thirty minutes, the woman
peeled an orange

to quiet the child. She put a section
into its mouth—;
immediately it spit it out.

The piece fell to the floor.

—She pushed it with her foot through the dirt
toward me
several inches.

My husband saw me staring
down at the piece …

—I didn’t move; how I wanted
to reach out,
and as if invisible

shove it in my mouth—;

my body
became rigid. As I stared at him,
I could see him staring

at me,—
then he looked at the student—; at the woman—; then
back to me …

I didn’t move.

—At last, he bent down, and
threw it out the window.

He looked away.

—I got up to leave the compartment, then
saw his face,—

his eyes
were red;
and I saw

—I’m sure I saw—


.            .            .

On the third day of being home she is as if transformed. At breakfast she eats butter and sugar, at noon she eats so much that—for the first time in thirteen years!—she is satisfied by her food and gets really full. At afternoon coffee she eats chocolate creams and Easter eggs. She takes a walk with her husband, reads poems, listens to recordings, is in a positively festive mood, and all heaviness seems to have fallen away from her. She writes letters, the last one a letter to the fellow patient here to whom she had become so attached. In the evening she takes a lethal dose of poison, and on the following morning she is dead. “She looked as she had never looked in life—calm and happy and peaceful.”

.            .            .

Dearest.—I remember how
at eighteen,
on hikes with friends, when
they rested, sitting down to joke or talk,

I circled
around them, afraid to hike ahead alone,

yet afraid to rest
when I was not yet truly thin.

You and, yes, my husband,—
you and he

have by degrees drawn me within the circle;
forced me to sit down at last on the ground.

I am grateful.

But something in me refuses it.

—How eager I have been
to compromise, to kill this refuser,

but each compromise, each attempt
to poison an ideal
which often seemed to me sterile and unreal,

heightens my hunger.

I am crippled. I disappoint you.

Will you greet with anger, or

the news which might well reach you
before this letter?

Your Ellen.

Bidart’s poem is based on a German doctor’s book published in the 1950s about his patient.  Bidart dramatizes the woman’s plight by speaking through her.  It reads very quickly.  We are interested in the situation and sympathize with the woman.  The ideas are clear and cogent.  We just find ourselves asking, “But where is the art, where is the poetry?” and feeling vaguely ashamed for doing so.
Alice Oswald is not in Dove’s 20th century American poetry anthology because she’s English.
We offer her poem simply called:
I can’t sleep in case a few things you said
no longer apply. The matter’s endless,
but definitions alter what’s ahead
and you and words are like a hare and tortoise.
Aaaagh there’s no description — each a fractal
sectioned by silences, we have our own
skins to feel through and fall back through — awful
to make so much of something so unknown.
But even I — some shower-swift commitments
are all you’ll get; I mustn’t gauge or give
more than I take — which is a way to balance
between misprision and belief in love
both true and false, because I’m only just
short of a word to be the first to trust.

Oswald’s sonnet considers the doubts lovers commonly feel; “short of a word” is very nicely done.

Marla Muse: This is like Walt Whitman v. Thomas Hardy.  I don’t know how to size this one up.

It’s an offensive team vs. a defensive team, Marla.  Differences are never as great as they seem.

Marla Muse:  But Oswald and Bidart are doing such different things!

Not really.  They both are presenting women who have lost faith.  Whitman, who had faith, is actually much different than both of them.  What Bidart presents is harrowing: a detailed a record of an actual person’s profound insanity.  Oswald’s poem, too, records the painful trial of doubting love.

Marla Muse: Yes, I see what you are saying; there are regions of thought where many dare not to go—why should they?  It causes pain and suffering.  How much suffering—even in a poem—should one experience?  And how many people, or artists, do we trust to take us to the regions of suffering?

Not many.  Unless we are suffering so much ourselves that we are numb.

Oswald 55 Bidart 54

A nail-biter. Almost painful to watch.


Members of the One Percent catch a snuggle at the theatre. The first wife’s gone and it’s time to rock.

What does the Occupy Movement want? 

It protests the actions of the One Percent.  But what is the One Percent?   Is life really that simple?

Of course it isn’t.

That’s why all of this is so stupid.

It’s serious.  It’s not something to be made fun of.  But it’s stupid all the same.

The 99% has a 1% contained within it—those malcontents and protestors who let the world know they don’t like the real 1%. 

The 98% will always shuffle along as best they can, never quite understanding what the other two—the wealthy one percent and the malcontent one percent are talking about.

Every now and then something earth-shaking occurs, and a really charismatic member of the malcontent one percent is accepted into the ranks of the wealthy one percent.

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” is a hoary saying, but it contains an actual person’s name.  Can anything come of “let’s camp out at a park?’  Or next to “a bank?”

Generalized complaint finally leads to what?

Much has been written lately of the little tempest in a teapot in jolly ol’ England; two poets—who talent-wise clearly belong to the 99%— have withdrawn their short-listed 2011 poetry collections from the T.S. Eliot Prize competition.  The sponsoring organization of the most prestigious poetry prize in Britain, something calling itself the Poetry Book Society, is now funded by a private investment firm, for it turns out the Arts Council England has recently dumped the Poetry Book Society from their National portfolio.  It seems the prestigious prize is not so important to the Arts Council. 

Why not?

Valerie Eliot is still living.   She donates the 15,000 pound annual prize money for the T.S. Eliot prize.

The slobby 98% may be buzzing about the two poets of the 99%, John and Alice, I believe they’re called, complaining about “capitalism” [let’s go to a “park” and protest “capitalism!”]

But here’s what the real One Percent is saying:   “How dare they insult Val, Tom’s wife!  The nerve!  She gives the money for the award, now doesn’t she?”

Cats pushed the Eliots into the One Percent; that’s why the Eliot Prize exists.

Speaking of Capitalism and its ‘Hidden Hand:’

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw,
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the law!

Speaking of the law and protests and malcontents, here’s an excerpt of a recent piece we found on the blog Montevidayo that well, kind of scares us:

The fundamental components of poetry are power, risk, and resistance. A poetic situation is one in which there exists a process of resistance within a field of power. This situation necessarily creates risk, and risk is what turns death into life and life into death: it sets power free or releases it from bondage, so to speak, by raising the stakes to their limit. What results is always a catastrophe, and yet the catastrophe itself is neither right nor wrong, neither good nor evil. What we’re talking about here is the mechanism of revolt, or what Žižek (via Benjamin) identifies as “divine violence”. Divine violence does not judge; it annihilates. This is pure power. It’s egalitarian only in the sense that it serves no one and no thing. It wipes clean.

Within the context of a conventional poem, the field of power is the psychic energy channeled by the poet. This energy is contorted and amplified through a process of resistance to what the poet wants to say. The stronger the resistance, the greater the risk. What the poet risks is 1) failure and 2) the consequences of not failing. Either way, risk is a destabilizing and dislocating force. The reader will experience it as ecstasy, or anxiety, or laughter, or boredom, emptiness, etc., but the poem itself does not move its audience to act. What it does is reorient them so that action is once again possible. In other words, the poem is a product of intentional, uncalculated risk, and risk is a prerequite to, though not a gaurantee of, revolt.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

This is a quote from famed occultist Aleister Crowley, whom I consider both a total clown and a real poet. For our purposes, what is relevant here is the whole of the law, which knows no risk; risk is what exists outside the law. There can be no turning of death into life (no resurrection) within the law. The law is made of rights, not risk. The moment you start talking about rights is the moment you have none. In other words, resistance is not resistance unless you risk everything by resisting the very concept of rights. Likewise, a poem that says what you want to say (that does “what thou wilt”) is not a poem. It’s a law. And an entire book of these non-poems is a system of death.

This is what the biggest assholes in Heaven have done. Globally speaking we are living within the worst book of non-poems possible. The book is getting worse. How much worse, and for how long, will depend on our collective efforts toward escalating a sustainable risk. If risk is what exists outside the law, the law is whatever serves the biggest assholes in Heaven. It’s their execution plan. It’s what keeps the Heavens from crashing to the Earth.

They say the world will end if we don’t follow their plan. This is not just a scare tactic (though it is that too); they are telling the truth. And our role, as human beings, is to seize this truth and do what we can to make it materialize. Our task, as poets, is to not fear failure or the consequences of not failing.

The world is the end of the world.

Obey the will of the Ninety Nine Percent! 

And Aleister Crowley.

And don’t forget the Hidden Paw!

But you’ll look in on dear Mrs. Eliot in case her tea gets cold, won’t you?

Meet the new T.S. Eliot Prize sponsor! Kevin Grundle, hedge fund manager and CEO of Aurum.  (Also goes by the name of Griddlebone.)

%d bloggers like this: