WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BERLIN PISTOLS?

General Snobbery | Film and Philosophy

The philosopher. Heidegger. Pitching coach for the Berlin Pistols in the Glorious League.

The Scarriet Poetry Baseball League is organized this way:

The Emperor Division (5 teams)   LAST WEEK

The Glorious Division (5 teams)   THIS WEEK

The Secret Society Division (5 teams)

The Peoples Division (5 teams)

The Modern Division (5 teams)

We already looked at the Emperor Division—two teams (11-5) with ancient and renaissance grandeur are tied for first; Napoleon’s Codes (Homer, Hesiod) and the Ceilings of Pope Julius II (Milton, Spenser), followed by the sturm & drang Goths of Charles X, featuring Goethe, Baudelaire, and Wilde, and these two teams are tied for last: the Broadcasters of Fellini, a modern unit of Jim Morrison, Rilke, Nabokov—and the Crusaders, owned by Philip of Spain, a devout team of Thomas Aquinas, Mary Angela Douglas, Bishop Berkeley, and St. John of the Cross.

WH Auden (Codes), Henrich Heine (Goths) and Aeschylus (Crusaders) lead the Emperor Division with five home runs.  Milton of the Ceilings is the ERA leader with 1.15.  Chauteubriand (Goths) and Kant (Codes) have 3 wins.

Some wonder why Auden is playing for Napoleon, but some teams hire anyone they think can help them win.

The season has just started, but the pitching of the Ceilings (11-5), led my Milton, is the story of the Emperor Division so far; they’re allowing about two runs per game, and that’s how you win titles.

~~~

The Glorious Division is dominated by British icons from Shakespeare’s time to our day.

On top of that division right now, with a 12-4 record, are the Carriages, led by Tennyson’s 7 homers and Andrew Marvell’s 3 wins and 1.30 ERA.

As you know, versifying skill means good defense in the field and the ability to get on base, popular works of fiction of any kind means power, and philosophical, transcendent, or critical acumen translates into great pitching. Marvell was more than just a great lyric poet; he was a politician, wrote long satires, and convinced the new government after Cromwell not to kill Milton.  Marvell is the ace of a pitching-rich ball club.

The Carriages, owned by Queen Victoria, with manager Prince Albert, pitching coach Joseph Priestly, are a tough, no-nonsense, team, marked by high seriousness. Look at their pitching staff: Marvel, Virginia Woolf, William Hazlitt, Henry James, Jeremy Bentham, Charlotte Bronte, and Charles Lamb. (The more introverted Emily Bronte recently joined the Goths.) George Bernard Shaw has slammed 5 home runs off the bench, including two pinch hit game winners, giving the Carriages a tremendous boost; Longfellow has 4 round-trippers from the cleanup spot, and Robert Browning has also drilled four home runs batting fifth. Paul McCartney has 3 home runs and seven stolen bases at the top of the order. The Carriages are absolutely the team to watch in the Glorious Division.

The Laureates are owned by 17th century Poet Laureate of England Nahum Tate, who was born in Dublin. His most popular work was an edition of King Lear, re-written with a happy ending. This gives you an idea, perhaps, of the nature of this team. The Laureates are in second place in this division full of strong modern teams, and much of it is thanks to Livy’s strong work in the bullpen, and the offense led by Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens, and Aphra  Behn (14 homers between them). Sara Teasdale has hit 3, and JK Rowling, 2.  The Laureates, who play in Dublin, are similar to London’s Carriages: popular writers tend to have pop in their bat, and the Laureates have plenty of that, and clutch hitting, too. Their starting pitchers are not overpowering, but manager Ronald Reagan and pitching coach Bobby Kennedy feel they can get the job done: Edmund Burke, Thomas Love Peacock, Samuel Johnson, and Leigh Hunt are all healthy and have pitched fairly well. The Irish-Anglo scientist Robert Boyle was picked up to help Dana Gioia and Livy in relief.

The Sun are in third place with a .500 record. They are owned by PM Lord Russell. Winston Churchill (!) is their manager. Lord Palmerston is their pitching coach. The Sun has a modern, worldly scope, fed by the pride of the British Empire, and could dominate this division if it ever clicks into gear. Ralph Waldo Emerson (if one looks deeply into his biography, Waldo is just as British as he is American) is their ace; John Stuart Mill will be out for a while, and John Ruskin will replace him as the no. 2 starter, Aldous Huxley is starter no. 3, followed by Thomas Carlyle. Bertrand Russell, Thoreau, Joshua Reynolds, and Christopher Ricks are in the bullpen. Basil Bunting has been an unlikely power source for the Sun, with 6 home runs batting eighth! Kipling, Wordsworth, and Matthew Arnold are the big bats, but largely silent, so far.  Aside from two unusual games, totaling 60 runs, team Sun has not scored much.  They massacred the Pistols 27-3, and also beat them 23-18.

The Banners, of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the fourth place team at 7-9, have not been hitting much either, but their pitching staff may be the best in the whole league: Dante (Ficino filled in recently), Shelley, Virgil, Leonardo da Vinci, Boccaccio, Bronzino, Botticelli, and William Rossetti.  The Banners hitting features Keats (no home runs yet), Friedrich Schiller (5 homers to lead the team), and DG Rossetti (one home run) in the 3,4,5 part of the lineup. Ben Mazer has been a pleasant surprise for the Banners, with 3 homers from the lead off position.  The Banners will certainly give the Carriages a run for their money. Queen Victoria has to respect de’ Medici.

What’s wrong with Eva Braun’s Pistols?  They are 5-11, but it feels like they are doing much worse. The pitching coach, Martin Heidegger, has been under fire, as the team has allowed a whopping 121 runs.  The Pistols have been hitting, especially Joyce and Yeats (8 homers each!). T.S. Eliot, their ace, is 0-4, and has been getting worse with each start. Three of the Pistols’ five wins have come when William James has started, and James had to leave a tough 3-1 loss with depression. Pound is 1-1, and started the horrendous 27-3 loss; he didn’t want to come out, and people are wondering whether Randolph Churchill, Winston’s son who married Pamela Harriman, has the stuff to manage this team. It’s great that Randolph’s father is Winston Churchill, but do the Pistols need someone tougher to lead them?

Standings

Carriages 12-4  —75 runs, 57 against

Laureates 9-7  —82 runs, 76 against

Sun 8-8  —-95 runs, 73 against

Banners 7-9 —48 runs, 49 against

Pistols 5-11 —82 runs, 121 against

Leaders  WINS

Marvell 3-0, ERA 1.30  –Carriages
Shelley 3-1 ERA 1.78    –Banners

Hazlitt 2-1 ERA 3.09     -Carriages
W James 2-0 ERA 3.10  -Pistols
Woolf 2-2 ERA 3.65      -Carriages
Carlyle 2-1 ERA 4.42     -Sun

Livy 3-1 ERA 2.99   –Laureates   Relief Pitcher
Gioia 3-1 ERA 3.20 –Laureates   RP

C Bronte 2-0 ERA 2.33 -Carriages RP
B Russell 2-0 ERA 2.73 -Sun  RP

Leaders HRS

Joyce, Pistols 8
Yeats, Pistols 8

Tennyson, Carriages 7

Bunting, Sun 6

GB Shaw, Carriages 5
Dumas, Laureates 5
Dickens, Laureates 5
Schiller, Banners 5

Behn, Laureates 4
Longfellow, Carriages 4
Browning, Carriages 4

Scarriet Poetry Baseball News

 

THAT I CAN SIT HERE AND TURN THESE PAGES AND NOT DIE: BEN MAZER’S LANDMARK EDITION OF HARRY CROSBY’S POEMS

The arrest of Dora Marsden, 30th March, 1909

SELECTED POEMS OF HARRY CROSBY, Ben Mazer, ed, MAD HAT PRESS, 6/22/20

DECEMBER 10, 1929

That I can sit here and turn these pages and not die,
As you did, Harry Crosby, when the time was right,
Saying goodbye to Caresse, as you and Josephine turned out the light,
Every poem leading up to your death was just the way it had to have been,
Unless we don’t know that—because of freedom.

No one published your poems for 87 years, until Ben Mazer,
Who finds everything in the darkness of letters, like a laser.
I think of the Tell-Tale Heart when the old poetry had to die
And new poetry opened the door and shot light into the dark room onto the eye.

I can hear T.S. Eliot breathing low
In the stuffy rooms at Cambridge
When during the weekend Pound decided to come down.
Now, after another 27 difficult years, Robert Lowell sits there, remorseful, in his dressing gown.

The sun! give me the sun,
The true dawn, or none.
Give me the diary, Harry, give me the gun.
Was there freedom,
Too much freedom, too much—or absolutely none?

Ben Mazer, poet and editor, born in 1964, is saving poetry from its 20th century catastrophe.

He personally rescued Landis Everson, the most obscure figure of the San Francisco Renaissance, and found him publishing outlets.

He edited The Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (Harvard University Press).

He edited the Complete Poems of John Crowe Ransom (The American South’s T.S. Eliot), noticed in a review by Helen Vendler in the New York Review of Books.

He recently received the green light from FSG to compile the first Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz.

And now, perhaps the most exciting of all.  Harry Crosby.

Ben Mazer is seeing into publication this year, as editor, the Selected Poems of Harry Crosby, allowing the world to see this central figure for the first time since this Back Bay rich boy (nephew to J.P. Morgan) danced on the world’s stage and self-published his poetry almost 100 years ago.

Crosby belonged to poetry’s One True Circle which overlapped, as one would expect, with the worlds of High Finance, War Profits, and Modern Painting.  Crosby knew Hart Crane, Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence, among others, and was mentored by a wealthy gentleman, Walter Berry (Crosby got his book collection when Berry died in 1927 a few days before Crosby’s 30th birthday) who knew Henry James and Marcel Proust.

Crosby, however, has been utterly forgotten.

Why?

This is what makes Mazer’s project so exciting. Crosby exemplified, perhaps more than any other poet, the One True Circle of 20th Century Anglo-American Poetry, the Who’s Who of Modern Poetry All Intellectuals Know. 

Crosby was the craziest of all.  The really embarrassing one.  He was loved.  But he was excluded—that is, written out of the canon. 

The insane, tabloid, side of the One True Circle is embarrassing, and much of it is not fit for school.

A 20th century poet, to be known, had to be taught in school.  Ezra Pound and WC Williams were as unknown as Harry Crosby, when a couple of government-connected New Critics, in the middle of the 20th Century, put Pound and Williams in a college textbook, Understanding Poetry.

License.

The license of those times, the moral looseness of the One True Circle itself, was one kind of very real license. This was widely understood.

The poems selected for especial praise by the editors of Understanding Poetry were two very brief ones—one by Williams, and one by his U Penn friend, Pound—describing plainly, a red wheel barrow, and petals on a black bough.

Poems praised—and yet poems anyone could write.

The other kind of license was the one for the public at large.

The poetry establishment, without directly saying so, was giving the public license.  The Petals-and-Wheel Barrow clique was rather priestly and private, but it’s implicit message to the reading public was loud and clear: to be a Byron was now a snap—poetry was now extremely brief and extremely easy.

Harry Crosby did not write a two-line poem on flower petals or a one-sentence poem on a wheel barrow.

Crosby went Williams and Pound one better.

Harry Crosby produced a one sentence poem:

a naked lady in a yellow hat

Crosby was too hot to handle for a college textbook in the 1930s; Crosby made the tabloids when he shot himself on December 10th 1929, in a suicide pact with his mistress.

Pound and Williams were more attractive.

First, they were alive; second, their poems were austere and moral compared to Crosby’s—who more accurately (and this was a problem in itself) reflected the unfettered, anything-goes, private-parties-of-the-rich sensibility of the One True Circle.

But now Pound and Williams are also dead.

And we can handle anything.

And as we disentangle ourselves from the selling of poetry—the selling that was very consciously done by the One True Circle in the 20th century, and view poetry and the One True Circle more discerningly—we can welcome Harry Crosby into the wider fold, and allow him his rightful place in a pantheon which may be sordid and embarrassing, but is necessary, not only for historical study, but for poetry, itself.

Mazer is also, for those who know his work, perhaps the most important American poet writing today.  His Selected Poems is recently published.

Americans don’t even speak of 21st century poetry. The whole thing is too embarrassing.  Too painful.

There isn’t one critically acclaimed, popular, anything in poetry left.

There’s merely a cool kids list which changes every few months.

There is no poetry, in terms of centralized recognition.

We now live in the Great Empty Hangover of a 1920s Gatsby party.

New Jersey poet Louis Ginsberg was a Nudist Camp member, and belonged to the One True Circle—in particular: Alfred Kreymborg/WC Williams/Ezra Pound/Wallace Stevens/Man Ray/Duchamp. His son was Allen Ginsberg.

Ginsberg, who gained fame, like Baudelaire and Joyce, completely from obscenity controversy, died in 1997.

Maya Angelou died in 2014.

John Ashbery, known for poetry which “makes no sense,” associated with Modern Art circles in New York City, including Peggy Guggenheim, a modern Gertrude Stein, who was awarded his Yale Younger Poets Award by W.H. Auden, died in 2017.

No one has replaced these figures.

A few replacement figures may exist, poets who knew Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, for instance, but the magnetic pull which holds pieces of inspiration together—think of Plato’s Ion—just isn’t strong enough. These figures may be on poetry lists, but the public doesn’t know them.

The total absence of poetry in the 21st century, its complete de-centered, trivial, existence is the void now faced by Mazer with his lantern.

Here’s an example. The Essential T.S. Eliot was just published (April 2020), reprinting the better-known poems and one essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”

The only thing new in the Essential T.S. Eliot is the introduction by Vijay Seshadri. A nice essay.  He has the slick, academic, ‘priesthood patter’ down—Pound and Eliot are profound and wonderful in all sorts of (World War One! The Horror!) ways.

However, in this new, rather sizeable introduction, no one after the middle of the 20th century is mentioned.  

I find this very interesting. The occasion of reprinting T.S. Eliot, in 2020, is cause for not even the faintest flutter in the post-Eliot Tradition.

So what is all this fuss about the Tradition, then?

Does it stop with Eliot and Pound?

Walt Whitman makes an appearance in the introduction—Seshadri tells us Eliot and Whitman are opposites, but also informs us that both were reactionary in their politics and both were influenced by a terrible war.

The most recent figure mentioned in Seshadri’s introduction is Hugh Kenner.  Seshadri reminds us that Bertrand Russell—son of Lord Russell, Prime Minster of England when Whitman was writing—slept with Eliot’s wife. Well, what would an examination of the One True Circle be, after all, without a Harry Crosby type of anecdote?

Eliot, and especially his associate, Ezra Pound—-both unknown and hungry during World War One—as mature, middle-aged, literary figures, both bet, essentially, on the Axis Powers to win World War Two. The second half of the 20th century, therefore, saw the entire sensibility of poetry, unlike the booming, victorious-over-Hitler, United States itself, become a high brow contest to see who could best apologize for what we were told was the best of our poetry—which had lost.

The worst “loser,” the embodiment of all that was lauded in the “new” poetry, was Ezra Pound—a T.S. Eliot objection away from being hung as a traitor in Italy in 1945. Ezra Pound, the irascible, cash-handy, “Make It New” deal-maker, the flesh of the poetry that was supposed to carry us forward to new heights of insight and interest.

But a curious thing happened.

As the 20th century went on, the “new” poetry, instead of taking us forward, took us back.

Poetry kept returning to Ezra Pound, Imagiste poet of World War One; it kept going back to T.S. Eliot and The Waste Land, which will be a hundred years old in 2022; this was the narrative: Pound, Eliot, Pound, Eliot.

But what of us?  What of the next generations?  Well, you had Ashbery, the late 20th century god, chosen by Auden—who had been chosen by Eliot.  There was simply no escape.  The One True Circle, which began in William James’ mental laboratory, kept shining. The rest of us could go to hell.

The One Circle trapped us in so many ways.

The 1970s pot-smoking professors trapped us, with their unreadable doctoral theses on Finnegan’s Wake and The Cantos.

There was the poetry itself which trapped us, the poetry which now anybody could write, and they did: your professor, your classmates, all the while doing the necessary obeisance to the “new” poetry—the crappy sort of poetry so easy to write—it only had to be obscure enough, which made it possible for anyone to believe they were a poet—as long as poetry that was actually good was kept, as much as possible, out of sight.

The poetry that was actually good was anything studied, anthologized, and written, prior to the existence of the One True Circle—that is, whatever Pound and Eliot dismissed: Milton, Poe, Shakespeare.

The past had to be read selectively, based on the One True Circle’s recommendations—one couldn’t just love old poetryno, that was forbiddenVillon, yes.  The “French Symbolists.” Yes. Rimbaud was terribly, terribly cool, even in a Bob Dylan, son of Woody Guthrie, sort of way. Even though no one knew what Rimbaud was talking about. (For a while we didn’t know what Dylan was talking about.) Obscurity was always good.  So Rimbaud was good. Baudelaire was good, no, great, because he was completely wretched. It was as if Baudelaire were alive during WW I!  So he was good. And French, of course, was good. A few tortured passages by Donne. Yes. That was okay, too. Pre-Raphaelite was very good. Because it was prior to the Renaissance, you see. And the Renaissance, because it was truly good, was very, very bad. Byron, Poe, Milton, Elizabeth Barrett, Edna Millay, Sara Teasdale. No way.  Millay and Teasdale were especially annoying, because they wrote a little too much beautiful poetry that actually was good, and they also had the audacity to be contemporary. Hugh Kenner, the Pound fan, was quick to dismiss Millay. And those in the One True Circle nodded silently.

So here we are in 2020, with a big poetic nothing.

We are still talking about Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, or Pound’s friend, WC Williams.

And exactly in the way the New Critics wanted us to talk about them.  The “difficult,” academic-priestly, text-centered way, is how we appropriately baffle ourselves.

There is only one thing which can be discussed outside the text.

World War One’s horrors.

It isn’t so much that we shouldn’t be talking about Eliot.  Certainly, we should. He was a good poet, and a good critic, and the Great War did happen, after all.

But what about everybody else?  What about the big future nothing which the cloudy, morbid, obsession with Modernism has created?

We hear, over and over again, how Eliot’s entire poetic being was a casualty of WW I, (the way “mad Ireland hurt” Yeats “into poetry”—Auden) but Modernist critics never stop to think how maybe the reader is a casualty of Modernism, which came about, as every Modernist is quick to point out, in de rigueur wretched tones, because of a horrific war.  If the horrific war was real, and Modernism’s reaction to it was real, then here is the Romantic poison drunk during the French Revolution—only we can’t talk about the French Revolution, because the One True Circle needs to be historically exclusive, as we see time and time again. Go back—but only to Pound and World War One, please. Stop there. And then, and only then, perhaps, you may perhaps travel indirectly back—as long as you don’t lose the thread, and forget that it connects to Pound—to, let’s say, Rimbaud, the anti-Romantic.

And never, never say the Modernist poets were part of the same group that produced World War One.  Always portray the Modernist poets as victims of the Great War.  Even if Ford Maddox Ford worked in the War Propaganda Office. Whatever you do, don’t mention that! Modernism was a burning cauldron heated by the fires of World War One.  And it melted everything.  That is all.

We bet on the Pound clique, and lost.

After the war, Pound had to be rescued; somehow World War Two had to be forgotten; unlike WW I, there was no WW II poetry of any note.

The Bollingen Prize—the first one—in 1949, was the stamp of approval, the swift and necessary repair of Pound’s reputation. Had Pound been quickly shot as a traitor, the poetry of our age would look entirely different.

The Bollingen Prize was presented to Pound, (amid howls of protest, of course) by three judges W.H. Auden, TS Eliot, and Conrad Aiken.

The One True Circle had to defend itself; it almost imploded, as World War Two made World War One temporarily irrelevant.  Thank God for the Bollingen and 1949!

New Critic and Southerner Allen Tate, who New Englander Robert Lowell worshiped (his eyes on the One True Circle) helped start the Writing Program at Princeton—where professor RP Blackmur taught the younger Princeton creative writing professor John Berryman how to drink—ending in Berryman’s suicide at the U. of Minnesota.

Princeton eventually took over the Bolligen Prize, which was the unofficial life blood of the One True Circle, as the 20th Century progressed, and they give out the Bollignen Prize to this day, the prize itself over-shadowing poets whom no one knows.

The Bollingen continues, but it only exists because Pound had to be saved.

Bollingen, by the way, is the name of the house of Carl Jung. The Bollingen prize originally had non-poetry money attached to it (normal for how poetry grew during the 20th century). Fortunately for the One True Circle, it fell into the lap of Pound’s friend, T.S. Eliot, and the two other judges, who were both Eliot’s friends, at the Library of Congress.

Conrad Aiken and Eliot were old Harvard friends—Harvard profs William James (sometimes known as the Nitrous Oxide Philosopher) and George Santayana, a bachelor who lived the last 20 years of his life in fascist Italy, were the two greatest influences on Aiken and Eliot (as well as Wallace Stevens).

Ralph Waldo Emerson—the antithesis of Poe and friends with T.S. Eliot’s New England grandfather—was William James’ godfather—and William James was the brother of the Great, Inscrutable, Expat, Novelist Henry James. William James was the founder of the first Psychology Department in the United States, at Harvard—and it could be said that William James might be the beginning of the One True Circle, if we must trace it back. (Though it’s in the nature of any True Circle never to be understood.) William James (also known as the Stream-of-Consciousness philosopher, though of course he didn’t invent stream of consciousness) also taught Gertrude Stein (one foot in the Nonsense Poetry Business, one foot in the Modern Painting Business)—she is of course an important member of the One True Circle.  (This game is very easy, but don’t let the ease fool you.)

Eliot was very much like the trans-Atlantic Henry James. The distinguished magazine, The Atlantic, was where Henry James was first published—by William Dean Howells, the editor set up there by Emerson. Eliot’s early tea-cup poetry resembles the novels of Henry James.

The One True Circle is almost entirely made up of men—but women were extremely influential behind the scenes, just as a great deal of non-poetry money was behind the scenes.  Pound needed lots of ready money to be the influence he was, and this mostly came from Pound’s female contacts.

Eliot’s first book (it was really a “pamphlet” according to Seshardri), Prufrock and Other Observations, was subsidized by Pound’s wife and published by the Egoist, a vital Modernist magazine, (Conrad Aiken was the first to review Prufrock and Other Observations—do you see how it works?) and yet the magazine itself, prior to being the Egoist, had been a radical feminist one, The New Freewoman, run by Dora Marsden, before it became, still under her leadership—but guided increasingly by Pound—the Egoist.

Marsden was too radical for even her radical feminist cohorts; she lived the last 40 years of her life as a broken recluse.  She was a passionate believer in radical individualism, feminism, and free love. This is somewhat ironic, given the fact that the mature, “conservative” Eliot excoriated the young Shelley for advocating free love.  Eliot’s career was born on the shoulders of “free love.”  Eliot never had to apologize for his abuse of Shelley, however, because Shelley, the stunning Romantic poet, was persona non grata to Pound’s One True Circle, anyway.

Letters in the 20th century decided to make an American poetry hero out of Ezra Pound and to make College Writing Programs (‘you, too, can be a poet’) the key to success in poetry.

The result: American poetry no longer has a public.

Of course, what happened, happened.  Nothing written here is the attempt to make it all go away. Quite the contrary. We might as well go into it even deeper, if we are to come out of it, and start anew.

Harry Crosby and his Black Sun Press is an important part of that story.

It was suppressed then, and Ben Mazer is bringing it back to light, now.

Mazer’s introduction to Harry’s poems is mostly factual. He details Harry’s life as WW I soldier, poet, and lover. He praises the poetry as having that quality where every reader can see something different in it. He lauds its sincerity. The introduction ends this way:

A notable occasion in Harry’s life was when he witnessed Lindbergh’s landing in Paris on May 20, 1927. On August 1, 1929, he decided that he wanted to learn how to fly. Soon he was taking lessons, and going up with an instructor. Then, he became more and more impatient as he yearned to be allowed to fly solo, but continued to be sent up with an instructor. He was determined to fly solo before departing for America. Finally, on Armistice Day, November 11, Harry completed his first solo flight. Five days later he and Caresse sailed for New York on the Mauretania. On November 18, Harry received a radiogram from Josephine: “IMPATIENT.” On November 22, the Crosbys docked in New York. The next day, Harry visited Josephine before the Harvard-Yale football game. Harry saw much of Josephine in the next two weeks. The final entry in Harry’s diary reads:

One is not in love unless one desires to die with one’s beloved

There is only one happiness it is to love and to be loved

One can get lost in the tabloid excess of Harry’s life.  But there was a tragic Romantic figure beneath the excess—a deeply sensitive man who loved.

The poems of Harry Crosby are bright, fanciful. Here are two samples:

I am endeavoring to persuade a Chinese professor who is at work on a torpedo which he expects to shoot to the sun to allow me to live in the centre of this torpedo

And

a giraffe is gorging himself on sunflowers a Parisian doll is washing herself in a blue fingerbowl while I insist on their electrocution on the grounds of indecency

Crosby’s poetry has a quality which represents the times in which he lived better than anything else that was being published then.

T.S. Eliot thought.

Harry Crosby lived.

The following is one of the most interesting things I found in the book.

This excerpt—from a critical piece Crosby published in the summer of the year he died—proves that Harry belonged, at least in his own mind, to the One True Circle.  You can tell by his likes and dislikes. The following perhaps reveals too much. There is a cult-like worship of those in the One True Circle, which may have even unsettled the members of the One True Circle themselves.  Did Crosby hate Amy Lowell because she was against the U.S. entering World War One—which made his uncle, J.P. Morgan, rich?  Amy Lowell was dedicated to poetry. Pound, police commissioner of the One True Circle, did nothing but ridicule her. And why did Crosby reject a beautiful poet like Edna Saint Vincent Millay?  Perhaps Millay wanted nothing to do with the One True Circle? After all, not everyone liked Ezra Pound.

A well-known phenomenon in the East is the False Dawn, a transient light on the horizon an hour before the True Dawn. The False Dawn = the poets sponsored by Amy Lowell and the Imagists who flickered for a brief instant on the horizon before they dwindled into the Robert Hillyers and Humbert Wolfs, the Edna Saint Vincent Millays, the Walter de la Meres, the Benets and Untermeyers, the Auslanders and Teasdales who spot with their flytracks the bloated pages of our magazines and anthologies. Once again the general reader has been deceived by the False Dawn and has gone back to bed (who can blame him?) thus missing the True Dawn which has definitely appeared on the horizon harbingered by T.S. Eliot, heralded by the Morning Star of Joyce and heliorayed with the bright shafts of Hart Crane, E.E. Cummings, Perse and MacLeish, Gertrude Stein, Desnos, Eluard, Jolas and Kay Boyle.

—Harry Crosby, 1929

Thank you, Ben Mazer.

Harry Crosby and the True Dawn (there was some truth) will always be looking for us.

Those “bright shafts.”

~~~~~
Salem MA, May 1 2020

THE SEASON BEGINS! SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL!

Index of /main/wp-content/uploads/2014/01

This is the first world baseball league in history!!!

25 teams, 500 poets, is a lot to take in, but that’s why we’re here to guide you.

Marla Muse: Is that snow outside?

Yes, Marla, snow is falling outside the commissioner’s office here in Salem, Massachusetts…

On April 16th!  But to continue…

There’s been a lot of recent signings as teams attempt to fill their rosters. And Boston took Franklin’s team from Philly.  Philly already has a team: The Crash.

We suggest you generally familiarize yourself with the teams, and pick a favorite team to win the championship–why not?  We assure you, these games will play out, for real; no hidden hand will determine the winners.

The Emperor Division

THE BROADCASTERS

Fellini’s Broadcasters is a team of flamboyance and show.  They know how to live and die.  A sexy team.  Motto: Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name. Home park: Rimini, Italy on the Adriatic coast.

Starting Pitchers Giacomo Leopardi 5, Ben Jonson 5, Nabokov 5, Coleridge 5, Relief Pitchers Valery 5, Hitchcock (new) 5, Walter Benjamin (new) 4
Robert Burns CF, Rilke 2B, Mick Jagger SS, Charles Bukowski 1B, Jim Morrison LF, Anne Sexton RF, Gregory Corso C, Sappho 3B,
Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Edmund Waller, Omar Khayyam, Swinburne

THE CODES

How would the emperor Napoleon pick his team—not knowing who might obey him or laugh at him behind his back? Napoleon was a law-giver, a conqueror, and larger than life, and poets either mocked and disparaged him (Byron, Oscar Wilde, Shelley,) or wrote him knee-bending odes (Victor Hugo, John Clare). The character of this team is difficult to define. Napoleon has brought together the best he can find, if they don’t actively hate him. Motto: Let the More Loving One Be Me.  Home park: Corsica, on the Mediterranean sea.

Napoleon’s The Codes Starting Pitchers Homer 6, Cicero 6, Hesiod 5, Logan 4, Relief Pitchers Kant (new) 6, Balzac (new) 6, Edmund Wilson 5
Racine CF, Victor Hugo 2B, W.H. Auden SS, Callimachus 1B, Soyinka LF, Villon RF, Tati-Loutard C, Derek Walcott 3B
John Peale Bishop, Jules Laforgue, Mina Loy, John Clare, Marcus Aurelius (new), Oliver Wendell Holmes (new)

THE CRUSADERS

This is the Christian team—owned by Philip II of Spain. There had to be one! Motto: If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me. Home park: Madrid, Spain, near the Prado.

Spain’s Philip II’s The Crusaders SP Aquinas 5, GK Chesterton 5, St John of the Cross 4, Tolkien 4, RP Handel (new) 6, Plotinus (new) 5, Lisieux 4,
Aeschulus CF, Hopkins 2B, Saint Ephrem SS, Countee Cullen 1B, Phillis Wheatley LF, Joyce Kilmer RF, Hilaire Beloc C, Anne Bradstreet 3B
John Paul II, Mary Angela Douglas

THE GOTHS

Charles X of France escaped to England and enjoyed a lavishly supported stay during the French Revolution; he became King after Napoleon, tried to return France to normal, whatever that was, but radicals forced him to abdicate; his team is the Goths—apolitical cool people. Motto: Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith. Home park: Paris, France.

Charles X’s The Goths SP Goethe 6, Chateubriand 6 Wilde 5, Baudelaire 5, RP AW Schlegel 5, T Gautier 5
Sophocles CF, Herbert 2B, Herrick SS, Ronsard 1B, Novalis (new) LF, Catulus RF, de Stael C, Heinrich Heine 3B
Pater (to Printers), Gray, Saint-Beauve, Marot, Irving Layton, Thomas Lovell Beddoes

THE CEILINGS

Pope Julius was a learned pope; he’s got Milton, Michelangelo, (a fine poet, by the way) Petrarch, Euripides, and William Blake. The Ceilings. Not a bad team! Motto: They also serve who only stand and wait. Home park: Rome, Italy.

Pope Julius II’s The Ceilings SP Milton 6, Dryden 6, Ludovico Ariosto 6, Swift 6, RP Bach (new) 6, GE Lessing 6, Augustine (new) 6
Spenser CF, Petrarch 2B, Wiliam Blake SS, Michelangelo 1B, Camoens LF, Tulsidas RF, Euripides C, Ferdosi 3B
James Russell Lowell, Kwesi Brew, Klopstock, Pindar, RH Horne

~~~
The Glorious League

THE PISTOLS

A lot of these teams are owned by mysterious conglomerates.  For the sake of controversy, we’re calling this Eva Braun’s team, but no one knows who really owns this team.  The murky rich. Pound signed with the Pistols, and brought along some friends. Motto: A life subdued to its instrument. Home park: Berlin, Germany

Eva Braun’s The Pistols  SP T.S. Eliot 6, George Santayana 5, Wagner 5, Pound 4, RP Wyndham Lewis 4, Kenner 4, Ernest Hemingway 4, Heidegger (new) 4
DH Lawrence CF, Stein 2B, Yeats SS, Ford 1B, A. Crowley LF, Hughes RF, Jung C, Joyce 3B
Balla, Martinetti, Dorothy Shakespeare, A.R. Orage, John Quinn, Olga Rudge

THE CARRIAGES

This is Queen Victoria’s team—Tennyson, Paul McCartney, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Henry James. You get the idea. Motto: Theirs but to do and die.  Home park: London, England

Queen Victoria’s The Carriages SP Marvell 6, V. Woolf 6, Hazlitt 5, H James 4, RP Jeremy Bentham (new) 4
CF Longfellow, 2B Tennyson, SS Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill 1B, Sylvia Plath LF, Philip Larkin RF, Browning C, Elizabeth Barrett Browning 3B
Theocritus, Suckling, Bronte sisters (new)

THE BANNERS

If you want glorious, haunting, human-centered, aestheticism, look no further than Medici’s the Banners. Motto: The One remains, the many change and pass. Home park: Florence, Italy

Lorenzo de Medici’s The Banners SP Dante 6, Shelley 6, Virgil 6, da Vinci 5, RP Boccaccio 6, Joshua Reynolds (new) 5, William Rossetti 5
CF Swinburne (new), 2B Keats, SS Thomas Moore, Friedrich Schiller 1B, C. Rossetti LF, D.G. Rossetti RF, George C, Cavalcanti 3B
Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Philodemus

THE SUN

Lord Russell, Bertie’s grandfather, was prime minister of Great Britain when France was on their side (under Napoleon III) and America was being ripped apart by the Civil War. French-Anglo Colonialism was wrapping up the globe; Emerson and Thoreau were part of the conspiracy—Poe was dead; the USA would return to England as a bucolic colony. A no-borders paradise run by smart people. Motto: A good indignation brings out all one’s powers. Home park: Devon, England

PM Lord Russell’s The Sun SP Emerson 5, JS Mill (new) 4, Aldous Huxley 4, Thomas Carlyle 4, RP Bertrand Russell (new) 5, Thoreau 4, Christopher Ricks (new) 4,
CF Southey, Kipling 2B, Wordsworth SS, Walpole 1B, Margaret Fuller LF, Basil Bunting RF, Sir John Davies C, M Arnold 3B
Joy Harjo, Marilyn Chin, Macgoye,

THE LAUREATES

Nahum Tate, a 1692 British Poet Laureate, rewrote King Lear with a happy ending. Many own the Laureates, but we think Tate’s story is an interesting one. Motto: Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands. Home park: Dublin, Ireland

Nahum Tate’s Laureates SP Edmund Burke 5, Thomas Peacock 4, Samuel Johnson 4, Leigh Hunt 4, RP Livy (new) 6, Dana Gioia 4
CF Goldsmith, Sara Teasdale 2B, Rod McKuen SS, Charles Dickens 1B, Dumas LF, Aphra Behn RF, Pasternak C, Ghalib 3B
JK Rowling, Verdi

~~~
The Secret Society League

THE ACTORS

Weinstein produced smart, progressive films, and this team, the Actors, reflects that, to a certain degree.  The jailed owner belongs to the league’s timeless ghosts; justice prevails, even as things are and are not. Motto: I am no hackney for your rod. Home park: Westport, Connecticut, USA

Harvey Weinstein’s The Actors SP Byron 6, Chaucer 6, Henry Beecher 5, Petronius 5, RP Sade (new) 6, Gide 4
CF Baraka, Hafiz 2B, Skelton SS, Knight 1B, Langston Hughes LF, Gwendolyn Brooks, RF Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde C, Thomas Nashe 3B
Clifton, Page, Jim Carroll

THE STRANGERS

The Strangers definitely have filmmaker David Lynch’s stamp. Motto: So still is day, it seems like night profound. Home park: Alexandria, Virginia, USA

David Lynch’s The Strangers SP Pope 6, Nietzsche 5, Beckett 4, Paglia 4, RP Lovecraft 4, Bloch (new) 4, Philip K Dick (new) 4
CF Rabelais, R. Graves 2B, Riding SS, Roethke 1B, Verlaine LF Kees RF, Rimbaud C, Mary Shelley 3B
Labid, Satie, Burroughs, Fernando Pessoa

THE ANIMALS

It’s a little difficult to define P.T. Barnum’s team, the Animals.   Is it spectacle?  Animal-friendly?  We’re not really sure. Majesty and love are incompatible. Fairfield, Connecticut, USA

P.T. Barnum’s The Animals SP Ovid 6, Melville 5, Verne (new) 5, Robert Bly 4, RP Darwin (new) 5, Nerval 5
CF Jack Spicer, Stevens 2B, Edward Lear SS, Heaney 1B, Mary Oliver LF, Marianne Moore RF, Jeffers C, Ferlinghetti 3B
Scalapino, Kay Ryan, Saint Saens

THE WAR

J.P. Morgan did fund World War One.  This is his team, The War. Motto: The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them. Home park: Madison Avenue, New York, New York

J.P. Morgan’s The War SP Shakespeare 6, Sir Walter Scott 5, Erich Remarque 4, David Hume 4, RP Aldington 4, Gibbon (new) 5,
CF Stephen Crane, Keith Douglas 2B, Sidney SS, Apollinaire 1B, Harry Crosby LF, James Dickey RF, Howard Nemerov C, Brooke 3B
Alan Seeger, T.E. Hulme, Untermeyer

THE SECRETS

America’s team! Motto: We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune. Home park: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Ben Franklin’s The Secrets SP Poe 6, Plato 6, Pushkin 6, Moliere 5, RP F. Scott Key 5, Jefferson (new) 5, Monroe (new) 5, Madison (new) 5
CF Hawthorne, Woody Guthrie 2B, Frost SS, Cole Porter 1B, Kanye West LF, Paul Simon RF, Emily Dickinson C, Carl Sandburg 3B
William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Bob Tonucci, Stephen Cole, John Prine, Dolly Parton (new), Willie Nelson (new)

~~~
The People’s Division

THE COBRAS

The great literary tradition of India: the Calcutta (Kolkata) Cobras! Motto: Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me? Home park: Kolkata, Bengal, India

Sajyajit Ray’s Cobras SP Tagore 5, Rumi 5, Kabir Das 4 (new), Herman Hesse 4, RP Ghandi 6, Nissim Ezekiel (new) 4, Krishnamurti (new) 4, Faiz Ahmad Faiz 4
Allen Ginsberg CF, Sen 2B, Anand Thakore SS, Nair 1B, Thayil LF, Muktibodh RF, Vikram Seth C, George Harrison 3B
Sushmita Gupta, Rupi Kaur, Meenakshi, Dhoomil, Jussawala, Ramanujan, Persius, Doshi, Meghaduta Kalidasa, Nabina Das, Sophie Naz, Linda Ash, Medha Singh

THE MIST

Yoko Ono and her husband are the double play combination for the Tokyo Mist. Motto: In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto. Home park: Tokyo, Japan

Kurosawa’s The Mist SP Basho 6, Issa 6, Heraclitus 5, Noguchi 4, RP Kobo Abe (new) 5, Suzuki 4
CF Gary Snyder, Ono 2B, John Lennon SS, Robert Duncan 1B, Doolittle LF, Richard Brautigan RF, Sadakichi Hartmann C, Corman 3B
Shikabu, Philip Whalen, Yukio Mishima (new), Haruki Murakami (new)

THE WAVES

Red China, with some ancient aesthetics, Chairman Mao’s The Waves. Motto: Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens. Home park: Beijing, China

Chairman Mao’s The Waves SP Voltaire 5, Lucretius 5, Rousseau 5, Lao Tzu 5, RP Khomeini 4, Lenin (new) 4, Engels (new)  4
CF Marx, Li He 2B, Tu Fu SS, Ho Chi-Fang 1B, LF Li Po, RF Billie Holiday, Brecht C, Neruda 3B
Wang Wei, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry, Lu Xun, Bai Juyi, Guo Morou, Baraka, Guy Burgess, Louis Althusser (new)

THE LAWS

The Law and Order producer calls the shots on this team—which is, frankly, hard to characterize. Motto: In poetry everything is clear and definite. Home park: Santa Barbara, California, USA

Dick (Law and Order) Wolf’s The Laws SP Aristotle 5, Lord Bacon 5, Horace 5, Yvor Winters 4, RP Van Doren 4, M L Rosenthal 4, David Lehman 4
CF John Donne, Jane Kenyon 2B, Donald Hall SS, Gottfried Burger 1B, LF Thomas Hardy, RF Machado, Martial C, Akhmatova 3B
Justice, Campion, Seidel, Ajip Rosidi

THE GAMERS

The league needed a Light Verse team, and this is it, and it’s more than that—Merv Griffin’s The Gamers! Motto: He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife. Home park: Los Angeles, California, USA

Merv Griffin’s The Gamers SP Lewis Carroll 5, James Tate 4, E.E. Cummings 4, Morgenstern 4, RP Menander 4, Charles Bernstein 4
CF Betjeman, Thomas Hood 2B, Noel Coward SS, Tzara 1B, Ogden Nash, LF Billy Collins, RF Wendy Cope, Eugene Ionesco C, Joe Green 3B
Riley, McHugh, XJ Kennedy, WS Gilbert, Tony Hoagland

~~~
The Modern Division

THE DREAMERS

Pamela Harriman married Winston Churchill’s son, the producer of The Sound of Music, and New York Governor Averil Harriman, before she ran the DNC.  Her team is the Dreamers. Motto: Not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me. Home park: Arden, New York, USA

Pamela Harriman’s  The Dreamers SP Simone de Beauvoir 4, Floyd Dell 4, Anais Nin 4, Marge Piercy 4, RP Germaine Greer (new) 4, Louise Gluck 4
CF Sharon Olds, Edna Millay 2B, Jack Gilbert SS, MacNeice 1B, LF Rukeyser, RF Louise Bogan, Carolyn Forche C, Richard Lovelace 3B
Propertius, Swenson, Jean Valentine, Stevie Smith, Stanley Burnshaw, George Dillon

THE PRINTERS

Andy Warhol is the ruling spirit of The Printers. Motto: The eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up. Home park: East 47th St, New York, New York

Andy Warhol’s The Printers SP Duchamp 6, Marjorie Perloff 4, Stephanie Burt 4, Mark Rothko 4, RP John Cage 4, RP Blackmur (new) 4, Guy Davenport (new) 4
CF Aristophanes, James Merrill 2B, Hart Crane SS, Kenneth Koch 1B, LF John Updike, RF Lorca, Andre Breton C, John Ashbery 3B
Schuyler, Thom Gunn, Isherwood, Lou Reed

THE BUYERS

Rockefeller didn’t want to spend too much on his team—will Whitman, Freud, Twain, and Paul Engle be a championship rotation of starters?  Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop are the double play combination. Motto: Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion? Home park: Chicago, Illinois, USA

John D. Rockefeller’s The Buyers SP Walt Whitman 5, Freud 5, Twain 5, Paul Engle 4, RP Vendler 4, Wimsat (new) 4, Beardsley (new) 4
CF Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop 2B, Robert Lowell SS, Duke Ellington 1B, LF Jack Kerouac, Edgar Lee Masters RF, Rexroth C, Dylan Thomas 3B
Jorie Graham, Harriet Monroe, Carl Philips, Richard Hugo, Alexander Percy, Alcaeus, Franz Wright

THE CRASH

AC Barnes, the wealthy modern art collector, sold his stock right before the Crash of ’29—John Dewey was his aesthetic philosopher. Motto: But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us. Home park: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

A.C. Barnes’ The Crash SP John Crowe Ransom 5, John Dewey 4, Wittgenstein 4, Walter Pater 4, RP Jackson Pollock 4, I A Richards (new) 4, K Burke (new) 4,
CF Allen Tate, Richard Howard 2B, WC Williams SS, Donald Davidson 1B, LF John Gould Fletcher, RF Stanley Kunitz, Stephen Spender C, Archilochus 3B
Merrill Moore, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Luigi Russolo, Anne Waldman, Cleanth Brooks, Harold Rosenberg

THE UNIVERSE

Steven Spielberg’s The Universe is very Hollywood: progressive and American. Motto: I know why the caged bird sings. Home park: Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Steven Spielberg’s The Universe SP Harriet Beecher Stowe 5, Harold Bloom 4, Randall Jarrell 4, Margaret Atwood 4, RP Foucault (new) 4, Milosz 5,
CF Delmore Schwartz, Bob Dylan 2B, Paul Celan SS, Anthony Hecht 1B, LF Philip Levine, RF Galway Kinnell, Maya Angelou C, Chuck Berry 3B
James Wright, Stephen King, Larry Levis, Juvenal, Alice Walker,

~~~

Opening Day Games

Rimini Broadcasters v. Corsica Codes SP Giacomo Leopardi, Homer

Madrid Crusaders v. Paris Goths SP Aquinas, Goethe

Berlin Pistols v London Carriages SP TS Eliot, Andrew Marvell

Florence Banners v Devon Sun SP Dante, Emerson

Westport Actors v Virginia Strangers SP Byron, Pope

Connecticut Animals v New York War SP Ovid, Shakespeare

Kolkata Cobras v Tokyo Mist SP Tagore, Basho

Beijing Waves v California Laws SP Voltaire, Aristotle

Arden Dreamers v Manhattan Printers SP de Beauvoir, Duchamp

Chicago Buyers v Philadelphia Crash SP Whitman, John Crowe Ransom

The Opening Ceremony Poem, read by Commissioner Thomas Brady

We hope you enjoy the game.
It’s not about fame.
It’s about the game.

 

PLAY BALL!

SCARRIET POETRY BASEBALL—HERE WE GO!

Lord Byron In Albanian Dress - 1813 Painting by War Is Hell Store

George Byron in a pensive mood, before taking part in the opening day Scarriet baseball ceremonies.

Happy Easter!

Scarriet has expanded and restructured its baseball league!!

Gone the 2 leagues of 20 teams led by 20 American poets—Eliot, Pound, Frost, Poe, Williams, Stevens, Moore, Dickinson, Millay, Jorie Graham, Ginsberg, Ransom, Cummings, Whittier, Whitman, Bryant, Longfellow, James Lowell, Ashbery, and Emerson.

Now poets like Emerson, Eliot and Poe can be player/managers—to contribute to their teams both at the plate and in the field.

The field is more international—Scarriet Poetry Baseball is now 25 historical teams from all over the world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The gods and muses must be pleased with our ten years of Poetry March Madness and our first Poetry Baseball season, where poetry is worshiped through time and space in a manner which no one has ever seen.

Fortunately one of the Muses has always been here to help us, Marla Muse.

Marla Muse: They are indeed pleased, Tom!

You have spoken to the other muses who live in other realms, in those shadowy timeless realms where time is one and poetry lights up suns distantly—

Marla Muse: Yes, and they approve! The stars in the heavens love you more than you know… I would rather die than see poetry die.

This baseball season is different. Mysterious and wealthy owners throughout time and space are bidding, some in secret, for players to fill their rosters.

In the Great Emperor League, we have the Broadcasters. Their motto is “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name” and they feature Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Gregory Corso, Anne Sexton, Bobby Burns, Omar Khayyam, Rilke, Coleridge, Leopardi, Anacreon, Sappho, and Ingrid Jonker.  They are rumored to be owned and funded by a business group led by Federico Fellini, and their ballpark is in Rimini, Italy.

These ballclubs are timeless, in every sense of the word (these teams compete, with actual statistics, where chance unfolds out of space, out of time) but real money, blood money, purchases these players.  We know JP Morgan, for instance, wanted Shakespeare and bid heavily to get him.

The Pistols, who play in Berlin, are said to be associated with Eva Braun, but this cannot be confirmed; one older muse claims to have overheard Eva say, “I take care of this. Adolf is too busy talking to bankers and architects. He doesn’t have time for poetry.” But honestly we cannot say who owns the Pistols.

Nahum Tate, owner of the Laureates, for those who do not know, re-wrote a popular King Lear with a happy ending (after Shakespeare’s death when, for a long period, the Bard was out of fashion,) and was chosen as Poet Laureate of England in 1692. 

Dick Wolf produces Law & Order on television, and appears to have a controlling interest in the Laws, playing out of Santa Barbara.  He’s got Aristotle, Lord Bacon, and Horace.

John Rockefeller opened his purse to get Walt Whitman, and he thinks that will be enough to win a championship.  We don’t know.  We do know baseball is all about pitching.  All you need is a few good arms which dominate, defense behind them, and some clubhouse chemistry, and not too many injuries. It’s a crap shoot, in many ways, and this is why Rockefeller grumbled he wasn’t going to waste money on superstars who hit home runs and have a high batting average. He’s probably right.  A team that wins 2-1 is better than a team that wins 7-4, by pure mathematics, even though the former score wins by 1 and the latter by 3 runs. It’s the ratio that counts.  2-1 = 2. 7-4 = 1.7  This simple reason is why defense wins in every sport. Rockefeller is using this formula, and the oil baron was also advised that you can’t buy a pennant—throwing money at sluggers doesn’t do any good; it’s 90% pitching and luck. Just put a a poet with critical depth on the hill and three good versifiers in the infield and sit back.

Some of the rosters might have some question marks, but that’s what happens in a free market.  It’s an historical fact that Longfellow did meet Queen Victoria in person. But no one expected him to play for her!

And W.H. Auden just “wanted to play for Napoleon, I don’t why.”

Marla Muse: I can’t wait for the season to begin!  Spring is in the air! Around Rome, and in those still fairer isles… Let’s forget about plagues and the starvation for awhile. Songs are going to sing.

Here then, are the Teams, their Mottoes, and the preliminary rosters—they are always changing (there’s a big minor leagues!)

~~~~~~

THE GREAT EMPEROR LEAGUE

Federico Fellini, Rimini  The Broadcasters [Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name]
-Mick Jagger, Sappho, Gregory Corso, Charles Bukowski, Paul Valery, Anne Sexton, Omar Khayyam, Robert Burns, Ben Jonson, Coleridge, Jim Morrison, Edmund Waller, Nabokov, Rilke, Giacomo Leopardi, Anacreon, Ingrid Jonker, Swinburne

Napoleon, Corsica The Codes [Let the more loving one be me]
-W.H. Auden, Homer, Hesiod, Racine, John Peale Bishop, Edmund Wilson, Mina Loy, William Logan, Irving Layton, Villon, Jean-Baptiste Tati-Loutard, Wole Soyinka, Jules Laforgue, Derek Walcott, Callimachus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius

King Philip II, Madrid The Crusaders [If in my thought I have magnified the Father above the Son, let Him have no mercy on me]
-Saint Ephrem, G.K. Chesterton, Tolkien, Thomas Aquinas, Hilaire Beloc, John Paul II, Saint Theresa of Lisieux, Joyce Kilmer, Saint John of the Cross, Mary Angela Douglas, Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Countee Cullen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Aeschulus

Charles X, Paris  The Goths [Every great enterprise takes its first step in faith]
-A.W. Schlegel, Baudelaire, Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater, Madame de Stael, Chateaubriand, Sophocles, George Herbert, Heinrich Heine, Robert Herrick, Clement Marot, Ronsard, Saint-Beuve, Catulus, Thomas Gray, John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Theophile Gautier

Pope Julius II, Rome  The Ceilings [They also serve who only stand and wait]
-Milton, Michelangelo, William Blake, Robert Lowell, Petrarch, G.E. Lessing, John Dryden, Klopstock, GE Horne, Ferdowsi, Ariosto, Luis de Camoens, Swift, Tulsidas, Edmund Spenser, Kwesi Brew, Pindar, Euripides

~~~~~

THE GLORIOUS LEAGUE

Eva Braun, Berlin The Pistols [A life subdued to its instrument]
-Ted Hughes, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, DH Lawrence, Alistair Crowley, George Santayana, F.T. Marinetti, Giacomo Balla, Richard Wagner, Jung

Queen Victoria, London The Carriages [Theirs but to do and die]
-Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett, Robert Browning, Longfellow, Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Hazlitt, Paul McCartney, Geoffrey Hill, Henry James, Andrew Marvel, John Suckling, Virginia Woolf, Theocritus

Lorenzo de’ Medici, Florence The Banners [The One remains, the many change and pass]
-Percy Shelley, Dante, William Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, DG Rossetti, John Keats, Marlowe, Guido Cavalcanti, Glyn Maxwell, Ben Mazer, Friedrich Schiller, Thomas Moore, Philodemus, Virgil, Stefan George, Boccaccio, Leonardo da Vinci

P.M. Lord John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, Devon The Sun [A good indignation brings out all one’s powers]
-Emerson, Horace Walpole, Thomas Carlyle, Thoreau, Wordsworth, Rudyard Kipling, Aldous Huxley, Matthew Arnold, Sir John Davies, Margaret Fuller, Robert Southey, Marilyn Chin, Joy Harjo, Basil Bunting, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Nahum Tate, Dublin  The Laureates [Luck is bestowed even on those who don’t have hands]
-Ghalib, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Peacock, Leigh Hunt, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Sara Teasdale, Pasternak, Louis Simpson, Dana Gioia, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Aphra Behn, Rod McKuen, JK Rowling

~~~~~

THE SECRET SOCIETY LEAGUE

Harvey Weinstein, Westport CT The Actors [I am no hackney for your rod]
-John Skelton, Langston Hughes, Henry Ward Beecher, Chaucer, Amiri Baraka, Lord Byron, Hafiz, Thomas Nashe, Marilyn Hacker, Petronius, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jim Carroll, Lucille Clifton, Etheridge Knight, Audre Lorde, Jimmy Page, Andre Gide

David Lynch, Alexandria VA  The Strangers [So still is day, it seems like night profound]
-Jones Very, Alexander Pope, William Burroughs, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Robert Graves, Laura Riding, Weldon Kees, Berryman, Mary Shelley, Rabelais, Charles Simic, Eric Satie, Labid, Roethke, Camille Paglia, HP Lovecraft, Nietzsche, Samuel Beckett

P.T. Barnum, Fairfield CT  The Animals [Majesty and love are incompatible]
-Ovid, Gerald Stern, Robinson Jeffers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Seamus Heaney, Jack Spicer, Kay Ryan, Leslie Scalapino, Mary Oliver, W S Merwin, Melville, Camille Saint Saens, Edward Lear, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Gerard de Nerval, Robert Bly

J.P. Morgan, Madison Avenue  The War [The fire-eyed maid of smoky war all hot and bleeding will we offer them]
-Shakespeare, Louis Untermeyer, Apollinaire, T.E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, Sir Walter Scott, Philip Sidney, James Dickey, Harry Crosby, Keith Douglas, Wilfred Owen, Howard Nemerov, Stephen Crane, Erich Remarque, Alan Seeger

Ben Franklin  Philadelphia  The Secrets [We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune]
-Paul Simon, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Edgar Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, F. Scott Key, Cole Porter, Plato, Hawthorne, Pushkin, Walter Raleigh, Moliere, William Cullen Bryant, Amy Lowell, Emma Lazarus, Carl Sandburg, Pete Seeger, Natasha Trethewey, Amelia Welby, Woody Guthrie, JD Salinger, John Prine, Kanye West, Stephen Cole, Bob Tonucci

~~~~~

THE PEOPLE’S LEAGUE

Sajyajit Ray, Calcutta The Cobras [Is it true that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?]
-Tagore, Allen Ginsberg, Jeet Thayil, Rupi Kaur, Anand Thakore, Dhoomil, G.M. Muktibodh, Rumi, A.K. Ramanujan, Samar Sen, Daipayan Nair, R. Meenakshi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Hermann Hesse, Persius, George Harrison, Adil Jussawalla, Tishani Doshi, Sushmita Gupta, Vikram Seth

Kurosawa,  Tokyo  The Mist [In Kyoto, hearing the cuckoo, I long for Kyoto]
-Basho, Hilda Doolittle, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, D.T. Suzuki, Yone Noguchi, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Kobayashi Issa, Lady Izumi Shikibu, Cid Corman, Sadakichi Hartmann, Heraclitus, Richard Brautigan

Chairman Mao, Beijing  The Waves [Death gives separation repose. Without death, grief only sharpens]
-Tu Fu, Lucretius, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Rousseau, Guy Burgess, Amiri Baraka, Brecht, Neruda, Li Po, Li He, Bai Juyi, Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Ho Chi-Fang, Yen Chen, Billie Holiday, Khomieni, Lu Ji , Wang Wei, Lao Tzu, Gary B. Fitzgerald, Wendell Berry

Dick Wolf, Santa Barbara  The Laws [In poetry everything is clear and definite]
-Ajip Rosidi, Aristotle, John Donne, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Donald Justice, Anna Akhmatova, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Campion, Frederick Seidel, Antonio Machado, Mark Van Doren, David Lehman, Lord Bacon, Martial, ML Rosenthal, Horace, Gottfried Burger, Yvor Winters

Merv Griffin, Los Angeles  The Gamers  [He thought he saw an elephant that practiced on a fife]
-Lewis Carroll, James Tate, E.E. Cummings, Tony Hoagland, Ogden Nash, Billy Collins, Eugene Field, W.S. Gilbert, Thomas Hood, Noel Coward, X.J. Kennedy, John Betjeman, Wendy Cope, Tristan Tzara, Heather McHugh, Charles Bernstein, Jack Spicer, James Whitcomb Riley, Joe Green, Menander, Morgenstern

~~~~~

THE MODERN LEAGUE

Pamela Harriman, Arden NY The Dreamers [not the earth, the sea, none of it was enough for her, without me]
-Sharon Olds, Edna Millay, George Dillon, Floyd Dell, Dorothy Parker, Stanley Burnshaw, Richard Lovelace, Stevie Smith, Louis MacNeice, Louise Bogan, Louise Gluck, Jack Gilbert, Marge Piercy, Carolyn Forche, Muriel Rukeyser, Jean Valentine, May Swenson, Propertius, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir

Andy Warhol, East 47th St The Printers [the eye, seeking to sink, is rebuffed by a much-worked dullness, the patina of a rag, that oily Vulcan uses, wiping up.]
-John Updike, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, James Merrill, Hart Crane, Lorca, Thom Gunn, Stephen Burt, Frank Bidart, Mark Rothko, Marjorie Perloff, John Quinn, Duchamp, Aristophanes, Christopher Isherwood, Andre Breton, Lou Reed, John Cage

John D. Rockefeller, Chicago The Buyers [Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?]
-Walt Whitman, Alcaeus, Edgar Lee Masters, Kenneth Rexroth, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Helen Vendler, Jorie Graham, Franz Wright, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Paul Engle, William Alexander Percy, Richard Hugo, Carl Philips, Harriet Monroe, Duke Ellington, Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Sigmund Freud

A. C. Barnes, Philadelphia  The Crash [But for some futile things unsaid I should say all is done for us]
-Allen Tate, John Gould Fletcher, John Crowe Ransom, John Dewey, Cleanth Brooks, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore, Walter Pater, Wittgenstein, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Archilochus, Anne Waldman, Stanley Kunitz, Jackson Pollock, WC Williams, Luigi Russolo, Stephen Spender, Richard Howard

Steven Spielberg, Phoenix AZ  The Universe [I know why the caged bird sings]
-Maya Angelou, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Bob Dylan, Margaret Atwood, Paul Celan, Czeslaw Milosz, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, Anthony Hecht, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Larry Levis, Claudia Rankine, Harold Bloom, Alice Walker, James Wright, Juvenal, Chuck Berry, Stephen King

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ballpark Road Trips in Review: 2018 - Ben's Biz Blog

 

 

TO PUT ALL POEMS OF NOTE IN ONE

Lincrusta Wallpaper - VE1967 | Lincrusta Wallpapers in 2020 ...

“old magazines piled up against the hours” -Ben Mazer

To put all poems of note in one,

Sacrificial cries watched by Italians,

Exemplifying hills and small lakes,

Cold, held by higher mountains,

Landscapes bitten off by words

Put into little leather books by spies,

All the Germans who translated things

That stood missing a long time in the earth,

Statues discovered only yesterday,

Yet suspected to be Michelangelo’s;

Records indicate he lived nearby,

The rebellious villages giving alms

Where the best of them were found.

Even the English springs, not Victorian,

Edwardian, leftover scents underground

Where even bright petticoats could find them,

Gave us the greatest challenge, poems

Cooked in spice, eastern vegetables

Chopped, and baked in the ovens

Where I saw down into the hole, black

Not moving, something tiny,

Maybe just a sound that modifies

Living with itself, stands under grass,

Heaves large rocks for hours;

Some of us working, seeing in haze

And further murkiness just before

Five o’ clock, the hour we love,

The hour uniting us, in a definite distance

That puts us in the way of so many poems.

Jolly as a thief, covered, at all points,

The instructions vary, half-understood

By the drinking mind that knows us,

Pulp in the garden, the small things fidget,

O twice-painted Keatsian bicycle,

Described, once again, those tools for you,

Placated nicely, soothed in all the paths

Going to you and letting you know

That here in the limestone hills

Where gods develop, you can still,

In the hush of extraordinary vision,

See things grow, peeping, the smaller,

The better, as the trained discover what

They are good at, at last; but pursue,

Instead, something else, to earn a living,

What no one was good at, what sent

The guards down, always indifferent,

Breeding Shakespeare, keeping the whole thing

For later, for the better yesterday,

Because you, jammed up against the wall,

Thought to turn your head slightly,

Habituated or not, towards sunrise,

You, finally in the poem. You can stand here.

Go ahead, I’m waiting.

LAST TWO FIRST ROUND MATCHES IN SUBLIME MARCH MADNESS!

Clearing in the Woods | Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

We love the hum of crowds, their jostling, anonymous company, when, with friends, we climb the stairs, joking with each other, on the way to our seats in the Poetry Arena, for Poetry March Madness.

After these two matches, all 64 contestants will have made their sublime presence known against an opponent in the 2020 Scarriet March Madness—its 10th anniversary.

Ten years of Poetry March Madness on Scarriet.  It’s hard to believe.

What do you think, Marla?  A proud moment, huh?

Marla Muse:  It’s only time, Tom. Don’t be so full of yourself. It’s only time.

True, Marla, true.

The fans are crazy about this contest.  Here’s one of the most haunting love poems ever written, “Litany” by 7th seeded Carolyn Creedon:

Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
I will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and I will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. Then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayon­naise and
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant
.
Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
Yes, and I will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby
.
Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
Yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. I will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and fore­heads
.
Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
Yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. I will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. If you fall I might disappear
.
Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a
loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
No, but I will come inside you and you will be my daughter
.
Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
No, but I will lie down on your sheets and taste you. There will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then I will never forget you
.
Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
No, but later you can lie against me and almost touch me and when I go I will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me
.
Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
No, but I will sit in silence while you rage, you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. I will always be the same and you will always wait
.
Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
No, it will burn my fingers. No one can have the sun: it’s on loan from God.
But I will draw a picture of it and send it to you from Richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun
.
Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptize me with sex and cool water?
I will come back from Richmond. I will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your neck and then I will lick the salt off it. Then I will leave
.
Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
I have left you. That is how you will know
.
.
Does this need any commentary?  Do great poems need any added words?
.
Opposite Carolyn Creedon is a poet of faith and exquisite beauty, whose many poems invoke childhood reigning over the fallen: the sensitive and delicate 10th seeded Mary Angela Douglas. She presents a portion of a poem; many of the sublime examples are excerpts. Few words, but we still feel Mary Angela Douglas has a good chance to win, since how can the soul deny the steady iamb (the voice you hear from long a-go…) drifting into a surprise, which stuns—the trochaic ransacked.  Never has one word been so elevated by the melody of poetry.
.

the voice you hear
from long ago
could be the voice
of all the snows
could be the light of all the stars
of all the feelings near or far
you felt just when
the world was new
until the sorrows
ransacked you

Both poets are from the American South—which implies poems of heartbreak and pessimism, and a beauty of decay which is sadder and more beautiful than anything.  In the calm evening the poets circle each other. It’s a shame that someone has to lose.

~~~~~~~~~~~
Dan Sociu lives in Romania. This masterpiece was translated with help from Ana-Maria Tone.  The Romanian title by the 8th seeded Sociu is “Nimic Nu Mai E Posibil.”

Nothing is possible anymore between me

And a nineteen year old girl, just as nothing

was possible when I was nineteen

years old. I listened to them carefully, they ruffled my hair,

they’d gently reject my touches, no, Dan,

you are not like this, you are a poet. They came

to me for therapy, they’d come with their eyes in tears

to the poet. I was a poet and everyone was in love

around the poet and none with him.

The poet would go out every evening

quaking like a tectonic wave and

in the morning he’d come back humiliated

in his heart—the quakes moving

for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

It’s impossible to define “poet” without intellectual bragging in a high-toned manner which no one quite believes, on one hand, or sounding the alarm against falsity and the fake, on the other. If a poet is truly praised, the definition begins to leave the poet behind; despite Shelley’s “Defense,” for instance, no one looks at today’s poets and then believes what Shelley said.  In this poem, Sociu manages to capture better than anyone, what’s going on underneath what all of us talk about when we talk about the “poet.”  “Nimic Nu Mai E Posibil” manages to sympathize, laud, pity, and disdain what a poet is in a manner visionary, intimate, grounded, and sublime.

Ninth seeded Ben Mazer is one of our best living poets.  In “Cirque D’etoiles,” the sublime keeps gaining speed as we read:

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

The fans are on their feet for both Dan Sociu and Ben Mazer.

The first round of Sublime March Madness action is complete.

The poets gather in the rotunda for music and wine.

Some make their way down the wooded pathways towards the sighing shore alone.

 

 

 

THE POST-MODERN BRACKET IN THE SUBLIME MARCH MADNESS!!

Image result for eleanor rigby in painting

Here is the Post-Modern Bracket, 16 heart-breaks which belong to nowour era, beginning with a boomer anthem, “Day in the Life,” and ending with a memory very recently seen on Facebook. This completes the 4 brackets and the 64 “teams” competing in the Scarriet 2020 Sublime March Madness.

How will future readers read us?  With silence and tears?  With pity?  With gratitude, in digital anthologies tucked inside the heart?  With long essays? With ridicule? With puzzlement?  With sighs?

Anyway, here they are:

1) John Lennon & Paul McCartney (day in the life)

I read the news today, oh boy.
About a lucky man who made the grade.
And though the news was rather sad,
I just had to laugh.
I saw the photograph.
He blew his mind out in a car.
He didn’t noticed that the lights had changed.
A crowd of people stood and stared.
They’d seen his face before.
Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords.

I saw a film today, oh boy.
The English army had just won the war.
A crowd of people turned away.
But I just had to look
Having read the book.

I’d love to turn you on.

Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head.
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late.
Found my coat and grabbed my hat,
Made the bus in seconds flat.
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream:
I read the news today, oh boy.
4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire,
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all.
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

I’d love to turn you on.

 

2) Carolyn Forche (the colonel)

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck them-
selves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

3) Rutger Hauer (blade runner dying speech)

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark
Near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those moments
Will be lost in time, like tears
In the rain. Time to die.

4) Marilyn Chin (how i got that name)

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin.
Oh, how I love the resoluteness
of that first person singular
followed by that stalwart indicative
of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g
of “becoming.”  Of course,
the name had been changed
somewhere between Angel Island and the sea,
when my father the paper son
in the late 1950s
obsessed with a bombshell blond
transliterated “Mei Ling” to “Marilyn.”
And nobody dared question
his initial impulse—for we all know
lust drove men to greatness,
not goodness, not decency.
And there I was, a wayward pink baby,
named after some tragic white woman
swollen with gin and Nembutal.
My mother couldn’t pronounce the “r.”
She dubbed me “Numba one female offshoot”
for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die
in sublime ignorance, flanked
by loving children and the “kitchen deity.”
While my father dithers,
a tomcat in Hong Kong trash—
a gambler, a petty thug,
who bought a chain of chopsuey joints
in Piss River, Oregon,
with bootlegged Gucci cash.
Nobody dared question his integrity given
his nice, devout daughters
and his bright, industrious sons
as if filial piety were the standard
by which all earthly men are measured.

*

Oh, how trustworthy our daughters,
how thrifty our sons!
How we’ve managed to fool the experts
in education, statistic and demography—
We’re not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning.
Indeed, they can use us.
But the “Model Minority” is a tease.
We know you are watching now,
so we refuse to give you any!
Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots!
The further west we go, we’ll hit east;
the deeper down we dig, we’ll find China.
History has turned its stomach
on a black polluted beach—
where life doesn’t hinge
on that red, red wheelbarrow,
but whether or not our new lover
in the final episode of “Santa Barbara”
will lean over a scented candle
and call us a “bitch.”
Oh God, where have we gone wrong?
We have no inner resources!

*

Then, one redolent spring morning
the Great Patriarch Chin
peered down from his kiosk in heaven
and saw that his descendants were ugly.
One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge
Another’s profile—long and knobbed as a gourd.
A third, the sad, brutish one may never, never marry.
And I, his least favorite—
“not quite boiled, not quite cooked,”
a plump pomfret simmering in my juices—
too listless to fight for my people’s destiny.
“To kill without resistance is not slaughter”
says the proverb.  So, I wait for imminent death.
The fact that this death is also metaphorical
is testament to my lethargy.

*

So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin,
married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong,
granddaughter of Jack “the patriarch”
and the brooding Suilin Fong,
daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong
and G.G. Chin the infamous,
sister of a dozen, cousin of a million,
survived by everbody and forgotten by all.
She was neither black nor white,
neither cherished nor vanquished,
just another squatter in her own bamboo grove
minding her poetry—
when one day heaven was unmerciful,
and a chasm opened where she stood.
Like the jowls of a mighty white whale,
or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla,
it swallowed her whole.
She did not flinch nor writhe,
nor fret about the afterlife,
but stayed!  Solid as wood, happily
a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized
by all that was lavished upon her
and all that was taken away!

 

5) Derek Walcott (this page)

This page is a cloud between whose fraying edges
a headland with mountains appears brokenly
then is hidden again until what emerges
from the now cloudless blue is the grooved sea
and the whole self-naming island, its ochre verges,
its shadow-plunged valleys and a coiled road
threading the fishing villages, the white, silent surges
of combers along the coast, where a line of gulls has arrowed
into the widening harbour of a town with no noise,
its streets growing closer like print you can now read,
two cruise ships, schooners, a tug, ancestral canoes,
as a cloud slowly covers the page and it goes
white again and the book comes to a close.

6) Philip Nikolayev (litmus test)

Didn’t want to go to the damn party in the first place,
needed to “catch a lecture” the next morning
on Renaissance Florence, one of those stupid 9-a.m.-on-Saturday
events, but my buddy insisted sangria, perfect chance to chat
up Jessica and Jake, so we went
at midnight. Sangria my ass. I mean it tasted extra nice,
bootilicious, but they’d run out of ice
and Jessica and Jake had already left. Half an hour later
three spluttering purple volcanoes
of indeterminate size, but perfectly harmless and hospitable,
spun winking out of the texture of the tabletop,
pouring forth an interminable wordlist full of words
into pulsating Buddha-faced saucers. My armchair
floated in the breeze over the seaweed-infested carpet
dead to rights. I was chary of wading through its Dead Sea
waters, though I needed to pee. My buddy goes man,
I think we just drank some acid, should’ve
poured the stuff that’s on the table but I wanted it cold
from the fridge cuz they’ve no ice
so anyway we can always and later too you know
all that, now best stay where you are, best to just to hang in look
I know you have to pee “like ouch” but listen
I’ve been thinking this week all week every day
for three years now, it’s driving me nuts I’ve always
wanted to talk you up about how you know sometimes
that feeling that we call sublime or subliminal whichever
you can also feel it right that wholesome feeling
a bird tipping from branch to branch to branch in luminous light
a bee crawling from bract to bract a strange kind of lyric feeling
the inexpressible what we felt in childhood
is really what we’re all about like they’re cluing you in on it now
gluing suing slewing you in on it. Spack,
a strange music turned itself on and wouldn’t quit,
that bizarre non-quitter music. Anyway when they sang
happy birthday dear Humphrey
at 2 a.m. I needed to pee especially badly
and trudged off through the interminable apartment
though my buddy hadn’t yet finalized his discourse.
I’d never been in a non-finite apartment before,
after 27 rooms I stopped counting
because I almost wet my pants before finding the bathroom
plus had to wait another ten minutes
while someone was getting sick in there.
And finally when I felt I was going back to normal
and washing my hands, I saw in the mirror,
which was in the key of E flat minor,
myself as a winged demon with golden horns on top
and colored rotating spirals for my pupils, my stare
expressive of the universal doom.
Then there was a descent down the three-mile jade
staircase and gigantic escalades of diamond snow.
My buddy and I sat to our heart’s content on steaming grilles
in the pavement by the Store 24 warming ourselves
(though in fact it was hot) with other nocturnal characters,
who thankfully seemed to know no English, and in the end
I realized that we are chemical through and through,
so determinate and so chemical, while sliding in crystal insects up
the conic mountain of spacetime, with its mass but no weight,
pure composition. Soon by the creaking of refreshed pedestrians
I opened up to the idea that there was one hour left until the lecture.
Is supermarket coffee inherently such a palette of taste,
or was it the radically contingent chemistry of my palate
that temporarily made it so? My buddy had left to sleep it off
(wish I had his worries), but I tried to recompose alone
the ordinary coherency of life. All I heard were the dubious
reverberations of a mid-90s train passing underground.
Savonarola’s sermon, to which I had eventually made it
across the Alps, focused on the ideals of asceticism, poverty
and visionary piety. His project of a bohemian republic
appealed to me deeply as I took faithful notes
diagonally across my notebook (which was unliftable).
Fellow aspirants peeked at me inquisitorially,
but I waved them off, staring at the preacher’s
skinny jowl, enormous nose, dark cowl in profile. Then
I had nothing left or planned for the rest of Saturday
except to get home to my two-bit moth-devoured
studio with its many topological holes
and zip up my brain. I stepped across some literature
to my solitary bed, dedicated exclusively to the twin purposes
of study and sleep, and elongated myself as best I could.
Sleep was out of the question, issues of the irreducible
multiplicity pressing harshly upon my overburdened lobes.
I yearned to be one, complete, so I arched and reached
for the telephone. Yes, dropped some acid last night
first time ever, haven’t slept. Please come save me,
I hate acid. You hadn’t slept much since New York either,
but you arrived instantly, as if wading through atrocious snow
came as naturally to you as levitation to a saint.
I laughed suddenly, for the first time in a month,
shocked to discover your red hair had its usual color.
You had American Spirit cigarettes (I was out),
and in minutes we stood at the foot of Lee Bo’s Cantonese Kitchen,
whose second floor seemed unreachable on foot.
I sighed with relief in the pentatonic elevator.
In the bathroom things went well this time,
no dragons in the mirror. You fed me with a spoon,
then with chopsticks. The hot and sour soup
was indeed hot and sour, it counteracted my internal chill,
and the salt jumbo shrimp were verily salty and jumbo.
The green tea you poured into me sip by tiny sip
made me realize for the first time
how perfect we were for each other. I wept like a whale.
You had changed my chemical composition forever.

 

7) Carolyn Creedon (litany)

Tom, will you let me love you in your restaurant?
I will let you make me a sandwich of your invention and I will eat it and call
it a carolyn sandwich. Then you will kiss my lips and taste the mayon­naise and
that is how you shall love me in my restaurant
.
Tom, will you come to my empty beige apartment and help me set up my daybed?
Yes, and I will put the screws in loosely so that when we move on it, later,
it will rock like a cradle and then you will know you are my baby
.
Tom, I am sitting on my dirt bike on the deck. Will you come out from the kitchen
and watch the people with me?
Yes, and then we will race to your bedroom. I will win and we will tangle up
on your comforter while the sweat rains from our stomachs and fore­heads
.
Tom, the stars are sitting in tonight like gumball gems in a little girl’s
jewelry box. Later can we walk to the duck pond?
Yes, and we can even go the long way past the jungle gym. I will push you on
the swing, but promise me you’ll hold tight. If you fall I might disappear
.
Tom, can we make a baby together? I want to be a big pregnant woman with a
loved face and give you a squalling red daughter.
No, but I will come inside you and you will be my daughter
.
Tom, will you stay the night with me and sleep so close that we are one person?
No, but I will lie down on your sheets and taste you. There will be feathers
of you on my tongue and then I will never forget you
.
Tom, when we are in line at the convenience store can I put my hands in your
back pockets and my lips and nose in your baseball shirt and feel the crook
of your shoulder blade?
No, but later you can lie against me and almost touch me and when I go I will
leave my shirt for you to sleep in so that always at night you will be pressed
up against the thought of me
.
Tom, if I weep and want to wait until you need me will you promise that someday
you will need me?
No, but I will sit in silence while you rage, you can knock the chairs down
any mountain. I will always be the same and you will always wait
.
Tom, will you climb on top of the dumpster and steal the sun for me? It’s just
hanging there and I want it.
No, it will burn my fingers. No one can have the sun: it’s on loan from God.
But I will draw a picture of it and send it to you from Richmond and then you
can smooth out the paper and you will have a piece of me as well as the sun
.
Tom, it’s so hot here, and I think I’m being born. Will you come back from
Richmond and baptize me with sex and cool water?
I will come back from Richmond. I will smooth the damp spiky hairs from the
back of your neck and then I will lick the salt off it. Then I will leave
.
Tom, Richmond is so far away. How will I know how you love me?
I have left you. That is how you will know
.

8) Dan Sociu (nimic nu mai e posibil)

Nothing is possible anymore between me

And a nineteen year old girl, just as nothing

was possible when I was nineteen

years old. I listened to them carefully, they ruffled my hair,

they’d gently reject my touches, no, Dan,

you are not like this, you are a poet. They came

to me for therapy, they’d come with their eyes in tears

to the poet. I was a poet and everyone was in love

around the poet and none with him.

The poet would go out every evening

quaking like a tectonic wave and

in the morning he’d come back humiliated

in his heart—the quakes moving

for nothing, under uninhabited regions.

9) Ben Mazer (cirque d’etoiles)

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

10) Mary Angela Douglas

the voice you hear
from long ago
could be the voice
of all the snows
could be the light of all the stars
of all the feelings near or far
you felt just when
the world was new
until the sorrows
ransacked you

11) Camille Rankine (emergency management)
The sun eats away at the earth, or the earth eats away
at itself and burning up,
.
I sip at punch.
So well practiced at this
living. I have a way of seeing
.
things as they are: it’s history
that’s done this to me.
It’s the year I’m told
.
my body will turn rotten,
my money talks but not enough,
I feel my body turn
against me.
.
Some days I want to spit
me out, the whole mess of me,
but mostly I am good
.
and quiet.
How much silence buys me
.
mercy, how much
silence covers all the lives it takes to make me.
.
In the event of every day and its newness
of disaster, find me sunning on the rooftop, please
don’t ask anything of me.
.
If I could be anything
I would be the wind,
.
if I could be nothing
I would be.
.

 

12) Stephen Cole (unreal city philosophy breakdown)

Keep the knives in the decider box
Where you make your choices.
Rattle the caustic chambers pots
At eye level
In the high mystical arch
Where the pigeons blur.
Reality is the paragon of confusion.

The surface cave is painted
In primary colors
On a mountain wall
But the snow is real.

It bares repeating
The fake cementing
On fracas light goes on
Piecing itself together
Over the top of a barren dream scape.
How reliable after all
Are dreams in dreams?

It goes just that far
And no further.
At this point
the universe turns back on itself.
The content is thrown back into eye
For the regulated comfort.
If some nefarious spirit
Changes the channel:
You’re gone.

 

13) Jeff Callaway (the greatest poems of all)

The greatest poems are never written down,
But lonely and forgotten before pen can be found,
The greatest poems never find the ink,
In the time it takes you to think;
Slowly with time they fade,
And face the guilliotine of jilted poems
And unrequited lovers,
Or glued to my own vague memory
Of what could have been
If only I’d had a pen,
And the recollection
To keep repeating what it was
I was trying to say.

The greatest poems are girls
Who poured Dewars on the rocks
Down their breasts with a splash of water
As I drink it off.

The greatest poems lick the ink
From the tip of my idea.
The greatest poems of all get drunk
From the bottle, straight, no chaser,
No requiem for a dream,
No teen queen Chinese angels on a silver screen,
No Hollywood homecoming queens,
Leaping side to side in ecstasy,
Or just beautiful girls who once
Gave me their phone numbers,
Or girls back in high school
Who kissed me, and later became strippers,
Midnight sirens to madness, mad, drunkard,
Barroom brawls, bras, panties, imported beers.

The greatest poems of all, who put my drinks
On my tab, and heavenly broads
Who brought me elixers which I did drink
Down into my self the likes of abinsthe,
Sugar, laudunum, or I read
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
Mad at midnight, typing poems furiously
Toward glory, or mayhem, or maybe for
Nothing at all, or maybe just
For the greatest poems of all.

So here, here! to the greatest poems of all!
To bikini contests, to Bikini Kill, to Bukowski,
To Rimbaud and other roughnecks,
To the wet T-shirts at Cedar Isle,
And to the Cedar Creek Lake rememberers
Who still remember all of the greatest poems of all.

To Siberian huskies named Molly who lived in Dallas Texas
With dirty filth, and to dirty filth,
To pain and pills and poems,
To words that slide into lyrical oblivion;
Sometimes these can be
The better rhymes of all times,
Dare I say the greater poems that can rhyme
From poets here today, like drunken
Ramblings, drunken one nighters,
Far beyond driven, drunk drivers,
In Dracula, no more drama before hot actress,
Sexy angel poetess,
Prostitutes, politics, and to the Texas outlaw press,
And to all of the greatest poems of all.

To Polly, to Pam, to the paranormal,
To the ghosts of the greatest poems of all,
To the ghouls, to the grim reaper,
To death, and its poetic casting call for us all;
I’d like to give a shout out to the gangsters,
Of the ghettos of Grand Prairie,
To the hypodermic hipsters of Plano
Who never made it, never got to hear
The greatest poems of all.

To poems that got kicked out of Magnolia
For drinking salt shakers, fat jokes, plastic chairs,
Who never swept the petty shit,
But always pet the sweaty shit,
From shinola to shangri-la,
From 26th and San Gabriel to the angel Gabriel,
From trumpets to cherubim,
To these crazy, insane, hot American chicks
Who love poets, poems, and Palm Pilots,
To an Austin poetry renaissance, or to purgatory.

How ’bout another round of drinks
To the greatest poets and poems of all.

14) Brian Rihlmann (untitled)

we used to joke about it
on days when you could—
his possible ethnicity
his identity…
the “who?” of this man
she kept from you
for 45 years—
even in her final breaths

and the crackle of the crematory flames
told you nothing
nor the rising smoke
nor the box of her ashes
you carried up the flank of Mt. Rose
and scattered in sight of that pond

once, when I hiked up there
alone….after we had died, also
I spoke to her—
“you know you fucked her up….
don’t you?” who were you protecting?”

“mother—your shield was nothing
but a sword…
and she is still falling on it.”

15) Meera Nair (yet another pongala)

What wouldn’t one do
To appease a Goddess?

The city is a bitch in heat
A lighted furnace
Waiting to go up in smoke

Bricks have lined up on pavements
Boundaries drawn
And territories captured
The women arrive in hordes
Laying claim to this fragile city

Goddess, I have no offering to make
No pot of grain
No boiling water
No lit fire
But here is a prayer
From within the walls of my agnostic house

Goddess, make it rain
Torrents and torrents of water
Wash out this hysteria on the streets
Cleanse this litter

Goddess, restore sanity to my city
She burns

 

16) Sean Harvey (reminiscence on facebook)

My Eleanor Rigby. It was 1974, and I was about 11 years old and a student at Charles Peck Elementary. Before the administration figured out that I really wasn’t all that bright, I was briefly in what was then referred to as “the gifted” program for smart kids. I hated it because the special sessions only occurred Tuesdays and Thursdays during physical education, which to me was the best part of the day. I’d be immersed in dodge ball, and I’d see some kid in the distance coming to fetch me to take me away to the creepy portable building; a windowless classroom-like trailer on wheels located at the far end of campus.

The Tuesday and Thursday buzzkill went on for a year, until one day I noticed that there was a new girl in the class. She was a Hollywood version of a shy child, with simple short brown hair and thick-framed glasses, and she sat all the way in the back of the room and she never said a single word. Three weeks passed and I paid absolutely no attention to her, EXCEPT that I noticed she wore the same brown and red dress every single day. One afternoon, our teacher happened to mention how much she herself liked The Beatles, and, in particular, the song “Eleanor Rigby.”

Up shot the hand of the quiet little girl.

I remember that even our teacher was surprised.

“I can sing it for you,” said the girl.

Baffled, the teacher asked: “Sing what?”

I wondered, what is wrong with this kid? I started to feel uncomfortable.

She repeated: “I can sing it. I can sing “Eleanor Rigby” for you.”

I don’t remember how she got permission, or if she just took it upon herself, but up she popped, standing aside her desk, porcelain skin and coke-bottle glasses, and she began to sing:

“Ah …look at all the lonely people …
Ah … look at all the lonely people …
Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice
in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face
That she keeps in a jar by the door…
Who is it for?”

Do you know how sudden, raw beauty has a way of transcending age or even previous exposure? I am in NO way gifted musically, but the ability to appreciate what’s miraculous is innate. I can remember maybe 10 minutes of fifth grade, and that scene comprises most of it. Listening to her, I immediately understood two things: that her voice was great, angelic, and that an important part of the reason it was great was because she was lonely and afraid. I was deeply and permanently smitten. This quiet little person had sung so bravely and so beautifully, we were all astounded and our teacher actually choked up and began to cry.

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

After, the class sat silently for what seemed like a minute, and as I sat there, I actually felt that something had changed. I knew, perhaps for the very first time in my life, that I would remember a moment, maybe forever.

Leading up to the next class session, no one had to come and fetch me because as fast as I could I ran out to the portables and got there early so I could sit in the seat right next to where the little girl had been. But when the bell rang, she wasn’t there. She had, apparently, moved away from our school just as suddenly as she had arrived. And I never saw her again.

To this day, thinking of that moment makes me sad. But more than that, it makes me yearn for answers to things that no one can answer. Things like where did that little Eleanor Rigby come from? And, in all the years since, did she ever find the place that she belonged?

 

 

 

XXX POEMS BY RAQUEL BALBONI

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Arts & Letters is a new journal—with poetry and nice color reproductions of art, printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the center of the activity around this simple, modest, but essential magazine (and small press) is Ben Mazer, the important writer/editor, currently editing the Collected Poems of Delmore Schwartz for FSG; and who offered to the public around two years ago his Selected Poems.

Arts & Letters is not burdened with an agenda, or mission; it’s primarily a clique of avant-garde friends. We think this is wise, because this is all Pound and the avant-garde “movements” really were. We suppose there were a few manifestos back in the 1920s, but in 2020 the avant-garde is more established, more relaxed.  Who needs manifestos?

Our favorite passage in Ms. Balboni’s book (actually, Feb March Arts & Letters) is this one, which concludes her first poem in the book, from page 4:

i always forget what you look like
can i borrow some photos
or act all surprised

We love this delicate turn on romance: you remember, you want to remember more, but surprise is good, too.

Ms. Balboni is best when she’s being a bit funny, or when she’s describing the psychology of love and attraction.

We find in this a kind of wild, deadpan humor:

Never try again to photograph the four unlit candles on the mantle in the fun house mirror.

We sense in Ms. Balboni’s poetry the formula articulated by Mr. Eliot 100 years ago: poetry as an escape from emotion—with the highly emotional those who need to escape. There is little emotion in Ms. Balboni’s poetry, but underneath the poetry, emotion desires to well up—it just never does. For instance:

i bowed to it in a shaky collapse
i wept over the trouble it took to find it there,
some center.

Is this due to her art, or the personality of Ms. Balboni? Or is it wrong to ask this? Should we focus on her poetry alone?

When someone keeps a diary, are they thinking, or being emotional?  Both. The diary is the attempt to reconcile thought and feelings.

What is poetry? Lyric poetry is: a diary—in which third person is changed to second.

The most interesting poems of Ms. Balboni use the word “you” frequently, and we like the ones which teasingly shudder about sex.

The use of “you” converts the mere diary writer (who writes of “him,” “her,” or “them”) to a poet; the risk is that in the public view, for protection, the diarist-now-poet’s rhetoric becomes more hidden, more obscure–and some would say, this act of obscuring is the poetry, is the art.

In the poem, “Come,” the longest poem in the volume, beginning on page 37, we get this passage to fire up the bookworm:

Using the wand in public spaces
Masturbating in the library
The library truly makes me horny
So what turns you on and how can i do it
Also makes me cum i wish
Do it all again for another chance
To see how you make me come

A few lines later, a terribly good description of what it means to be in love:

I usually think about this person most of the time but not intentionally in this new way that has been brought out in the open.

In the poem which begins on pg 23, “Healing Magic Through Words,” the poet appears as sensitive but stoic, fighting, perhaps, for her life. It begins, proudly:

You are so special
but I am more special

In the middle of the poem, the diary-turning-into-a-poem speaks:

I need to talk to you to get these thoughts in the open, when i have them to myself i have trouble fully believing in them

Ms. Balboni is very good at this: getting right to the point about something important, and being original about it. At the end of “Healing Magic Through Words,” she is getting drunk at a bar:

Drinking more, i fill my own glass to make sure there is enough for me then i give you the rest. We are close and i touch you so much more now. I expect and accept the pain later too in your bed.

This poem feels honest and brave, but we have to be careful when we assign morality to poetry. A poem which wears morality on its sleeve is no poem.

Ms. Balboni thinks—even when she is trying, for the sake of the poetry, not to think. Those who think, often offend those who feel.

To be less offended, poetry has gradually moved away from thinking (the Metaphysical poets) and towards feeling (the Romantics) and has gone even deeper into feeling, in the practice of the Moderns, who, with nervy touchiness, write obscure poetry which critics (the last vestige of thinking in poetry) can hardly understand. The pendulum will swing back, as it must, towards Romanticism, not for the sake of Romanticism, but for the criticism of it, and only in order that poetry in general swing back towards beauty, clarity, and thinking. Where Apollo, beaming and deep in thought, waits.

Punctuation is used little, if at all, in most of these poems.

In the second poem of XXX Poems, the poet experiments with the period. She uses it.

The poems which use no punctuation are no worse, and are often better, than the ones which do. The semi-colon is used once in the volume, on page 30. We find it in a writhing passage about aliens, after the word “continue;” perhaps, unconsciously, Ms. Balboni doesn’t like the semi-colon; many writers don’t; does creativity need it?

At times the poet becomes impatient with everything.

Body art
Secret art
Not doing anything art
Being so fucking high art
Fuck this im stupid art

But the next line rescues us from this impatience, because it is similar, seems more clear-headed somehow, and it’s also funny:

Obscurity is holding me back from being my full freak self

The one poem which rises out of the book’s searing ruminations into what might be called a story, or a Hawthorne tale, is “She,” on page 27, which begins with the lovely and mysterious:

She was in a secret relationship with one patch of trees in the woods

The poem turns out not to be a story—that’s not the kind of poem these are. The poem focuses on the “she” in the same, strange mood established at the start, in such a way that we soon believe the poet may be talking about herself. And yet somehow it does seem to be a story. This proves that Ms. Balboni is not your ordinary lyric poet; she is able to handle things.

Ms. Balboni is self-observing, without being self-serving. “She” is not actually a story, but it’s cohesive, coherent, and realized, in the way the best lyric poems are. These quotes will give you an idea:

what a mistake that was
getting to know her creepy bitch

~

she probably already knew i was
a freak let me tell you

she brought a Charles Bukowski book
and read it in the woods
the book with a title about horses and long days
her notebook had creamy paper dazzled with cold ink
and the smell of nauseous nicotine smoke,
of a deep breathing girl
leaning on a fence

she’s mine i think
but she’s like a barn cat
and i am the barn

I follow the directions to a ghostly hill wondering

~

She lived in a house that looked like a treasure chest
red rubies blue velvet emerald green

~

all i wanted was to see her up close
to see the way her arms blended with her neck
the sweet creamy skin, the smooth organ so there and soft
although it seemed my eyes played tricks on me when i looked at all

Ms. Balboni is poised for greatness; but she’s an introvert, and this may hinder her. Or perhaps not. Her book is full of observations such as the following, which uncannily depict love, and which only the sensitive introvert, perhaps, understands, because poetry, introversion, and love are the same:

People are outside having fun i am inside having fun

 

—Salem MA, Feb 2, 2020

 

 

SCARRIET’S HOT POETRY ONE HUNDRED 2019—“BEST LINES”

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I don’t know any format—except this one, Scarriet, now in its tenth year—which attempts to bring together every kind of poet in one place.

There are four kinds of poets who never touch each other and exist in separate universes: the formalist poet, the colloquial poet, the professional, and the amateur. Poets of radically different styles insult one another, stylistically, that is—the novelist is more like the poet than different kinds of poets from each other. I can no longer go to a library or a bookstore and seek “poetry” without entering a shooting zone of competing forms and sentiments.

The colloquial now dominates the professional; the beautiful and well-made book cover of the contemporary poet hides more f-bombs than rhymes.

The professional, with their prizes and book deals, wants nothing to do with the amateur—who posts their accessible love poems online. The gulf is such, that a person “who hates poetry” will sooner read, and even like, the amateur’s efforts, before the well-connected professional will deign to glimpse what, in their opinion, is trash (or perhaps to their jealous consternation, good) given away too easily.

One delightful thing I’ve noticed: how a few selected words from a poet’s work can explain the entirety of the kind of poet they are; as much as this is true, it validates this list, and makes it more than just an exercise in which a formalist amateur like myself attempts to ram together, in a feverish fit of schadenfreude, things which do not belong.

These poets do belong together—or, rather, they do not.

Yet here they are.

Thomas Graves, Salem, MA 12/4/2019

*******

1) Laura Foley “to look back and see, on the hilltop, our life, lit from inside.”

2) Luke Kennard “I take the murderer for coffee.”

3) Ilya Kaminsky “What is a child? A quiet between two bombardments.”

4) Kathleen Jamie “Walking in a waking dream I watched nineteen deer pour from ridge to glen-floor”

5) Linda Ashok  “the moon licked up the landscape with her fervent tongue”

6) Fiona Benson “How light I was. How doubtfully safe.”

7) Ben Mazer “Some must be publishers, and some must be spot on, in a horse drawn carriage, taking in the dawn”

8) Sushmita Gupta “She gave a last look at her solitary car, in her garage, with seats folded down so paintings could lay, the slope that rolled down the hill that ended in a roundabout, with palms and coloured grass that looked like hay.”

9) Stephen Cole “You still disturb the meadow with your words.”

10) Julia Alvarez “I’ve broken up with my true love man after man”

11) Brian Rihlmann “nail guns pop pop pop I heard stilettos on concrete the lady of old Reno wandering”

12) Patricia Smith “Who shot you, baby?”

13) Joie Bose “I see you in all the faces I see, crisscrossing the pavements aimlessly.”

14) Indah Widiastuti “Who is the poem I wrote? He speaks a language I never use; read by those I never know.”

15) Kevin Young “We curl down the slide one at a time, blue light at the end.”

16) Joy Harjo “I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.”

17) Jill McDonough “I am not interested in makeup. I am interested in jail.”

18) Chelsey Minnis “People in their nightgowns, smoking cigarettes, they give great speeches.”

19) Nabina Das “It’s in love that we wait & let all other loves wither & waste.”

20) Eliana Vanessa “impediment of roses: and this is not the sort of thing you can control, no, how our bodies trembled, post-love, nor the way I will keep falling, to explain it, just so.”

21) Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Splinter the sun, wake all its ashes.”

22) Dorianne Laux “Broken the days into nights, the night sky into stars”

23) Sharon Olds “I caught bees, by the wings, and held them”

24) Alicia Ostriker “there are no pauses in this game”

25) Tishani Doshi “to fall into that same oblivion with nothing. As if it were nothing.”

26) Vidyan Ravinthiran “this isn’t the right kind of snow.”

27) Glyn Maxwell “he goes his way delighted”

28) Anne Carson “During the sermon, I crossed my legs.”

29) Peter Gizzi “I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.”

30) Li-Young Lee “From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

31) Blake Campbell “And he entered, great spelunker, the resonant and ancient darkness”

32) Diana Khoi Nguyen “You cannot keep your brother alive.”

33) Marilyn Chin “I watched the world shrink into a penlight: how frail the court poet’s neck, how small this poetry world.”

34) Fanny Howe “We are always halfway there when we are here”

35) Babitha Marina Justin “It is rolling from roof to roof”

36) Meera Nair “You set us up against each other. Men against Women. We are all bovine.”

37) Anthony Anaxagorou “is that your hand still on my elbow?”

38) Tracy K. Smith “We wish to act. We may yet.”

39) Wendy Videlock “He watches ball. She throws a fit. She cannot stand to see him sit.”

40) Daipayan Nair “Autumn leaf! Nothing to keep—apart from beauty.”

41) Mary Angela Douglas “and let the tiny silver trumpets blow”

42) Carolyn Forché “What you have heard is true.”

43) Martin Espada “No one could hear him.”

44) Tina Chang “love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.”

45) Danez Smith “I have left earth.”

46) Ocean Vuong “this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning into a tongue.”

47) Eleanor Wilner “the blood that is pouring like a tide, on other shores.”

48) Marge Piercy “a woman is not made of flesh: she is manufactured like a sports sedan”

49) Yusef Komunyakka “My muse is holding me prisoner.”

50) Naomi Shihab Nye “Each day I miss Japanese precision.”

51) Terrance Hayes “I love how your blackness leaves them in the dark.”

52) Carl Dennis “Lending a hand, I’d tell him, is always dignified, while being a hero is incidental.”

53) Jeet Thayil “Some are sweet and old, others are foul-mouthed and bold. Mine is dead and cold.”

54) Victoria Chang “Her last words were in English. She asked for a Sprite.”

55) Kushal Poddar “ferns, orchids, hyacinths sprawl like insomniac veins.”

56) Karen Solie “We itch and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke”

57) Richard Blanco “Stare until the trembling leaves are tongues”

58) Paul Muldoon “putting its shoulder to the wheel it means to reinvent.”

59) Safiya Sinclair “Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark”

60) Frank Bidart “Fucked up, you know you’d never fall for someone not fucked up.”

61) Nick Flynn “My therapist points out that fifteen minutes of movie violence releases as many opiates into the body as if being prepped for major surgery.”

62) Jennifer Moss “all beauty turned hostile”

63) Fatimah Asghar “your lantern long ahead & I follow I follow”

64) Hannah Sullivan “All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.”

65) Jamal May “The counting that says, I am this far. I am this close.”

66) William Logan “Don’t be any form’s bitch.”

67) Juan Felipe Herrera “No food. No food no food no food no food!”

68) Hera Lindsay Bird “it was probably love that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true”

69) Ae Hee Lee “She asks your husband to step in.”

70) Jay Bernard “I file it under fire, corpus, body, house.”

71) Sophie Collins “pails full of oil all dark and density and difficult for a girl to carry”

72) Hollie McNish “I let myself go cycling slow as I unbutton my clothes jacket unzipped helmet unclipped”

73) Zaffar Kunial “I didn’t know the word for what I was.”

74) Paul Farley “he fell up the dark stairwell to bed and projected right through to Australia”

75) Deryn Rees-Jones “The movie I’m in is black and white.”

76) Roger Robinson “he picks you up in the hand not holding the book”

77) Lloyd Schwartz “or if not the girl, then Vermeer’s painting of her”

78) Nalini Priyadarshni “but I love tea and so do you.”

79) Raquel  Balboni “Come off as harsh even if I’m friendly”

80) Robert Pinsky “When I had no temple I made my voice my temple.”

81) Emily Lawson “I step out to meet the wanderer: its black-veined hindwings”

82) Bruce Weigl “Why do we murder ourselves and then try to live forever.”

83) Steph Burt “I want to go home, paint my nails until they iridesce, clamp on my headphones, and pray to Taylor Swift.”

84) Merryn Juliette “There is no ceremony to her—she was simply there when yesterday she was not”

85) Thomas Sayers Ellis “It’s entrancement, how they govern you. The entertainment is side effect.”

86) Amy Gerstler “Here on earth, another rough era is birthed.”

87) Rupi Kaur “i change what i am wearing five times before i see you”

88) Forrest Gander “What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark?”

89) Justin Phillip Reed “when you fuck me and i don’t like it, is that violence.”

90) Franny Choi  “i pick up the accent of whoever i’m speaking to. nobody wants to fuck a sponge.”

91) Emily Skaja “when night came, an egg-moon slid over the steeple.”

92) Mary Ruefle “Night falls and the empty intimacy of the whole world fills my heart to frothing.”

93) Aaron Smith “If a man is given dick, he’s never full.”

94) Donald Revell “Time might be anything, even the least portion of shadow in the blaze, that helpless Hare of darkness in the hawk’s world.”

95) Dan Sociu “people have infinite capacity for transformation, into anything, and I know that I myself can transform”

96) Ben Zarov “There are many, many wrong ways.”

97)  Adil Jussawalla “Twenty years on, its feet broken, will its hands fly to its face when a light’s switched on?”

98) Steven Cramer “no matter how we plead they won’t come down.”

99) George Bilgere “My father would take off his jacket and tie after work and fire up the back yard grill. Scotch and a lawn chair was his idea of nature. Even Thoreau only lasted a couple of years.”

100) Ravi Shankar “I watch, repose, alone.”

WHAT IS ROMANTICISM? MORE THAN YOU THINK.

Romanticism is the attempt to bring what is important in life into poetry.

It is about love and romance only indirectly.

Take the following poem. The author is Edmund Waller, imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London for a political plot; born in 1606, he does not belong to the group of 19th century poets known as “the Romantics,” advertised as rebelling against 17th and 18th century poetry. The poem, however, is pure Romanticism—the much anthologized “Go, Lovely Rose:”

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me

That now she knows

When I remember her to thee,

How sweet and fair she  seems to be.

*

Tell her that’s young,

And shuns to have her graces spied,

That hadst thou sprung

In deserts where no men abide,

Thou must have uncommended died.

*

Small is the worth

Of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth,

Suffer herself to be desired,

And not blush so to be admired.

*

Then die, that she

The common fate of all things rare

May read in thee;

How small a part of time they share,

That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

~~~

In examining this poem, we need to recognize some important things which will be missed if we merely list its formal properties—the worst way, obviously, to understand the essence of anything.

Facts defeat the fact, and this is why Socrates belongs to poetry’s wisdom more than Aristotle.

Moderns will be put off immediately by “Go, lovely rose!” But this is to fall into the error just mentioned—the facts cloud the fact.

“Go, lovely rose!” is, in its essence, a fact which eclipses the facts.

The facts are these: Poems say “Go, lovely rose!” but people, especially people today, do not.

The sounds of “go” and “lovely” and “rose” placed together are no accident, and therefore contrived, therefore limiting, and therefore insincere. It is a person speaking through a poem, and not a poem speaking as a person. So say the scholars, with their facts, today.

The facts of “Go, lovely rose!” point to technique—forced resemblances viewed throughout the poem, a damning list of rhythms and rhymes.

But the mystery is this. The following, too, is from another 17th century poet, James Shirley, from his book, Poems, published in 1646—when poets called their books “poems,” since this is what everyone happily understood them to be:

Within their buds let roses sleep,

And virgin lilies on their stem,

Till sighs from lovers glide and creep

Into their leaves to open them.

(from “The Garden”)

The facts, here, point to poetic language, too—sound similarities of great beauty. The rhythm of “into their leaves to open them” is exquisite. Whole libraries of 21st century poems don’t contain poetry like this.

Romanticism, as generally understood, began with Wordsworth’s revolutionary decree that poetry should speak as people do; but looking back, this is confusing, because Wordsworth’s poetry has much more in common with the 17th century poets than with poets of the 20th century.

OK, the scholars admit, Wordsworth said it, but didn’t do it; that came later.

And since poetry of the moderns established itself in the universities, as poets in the 20th century began to teach creative writing, poetry gained an educated sheen surpassing even the 17th century bards (think of Eliot’s footnotes, etc) before poetry finally succumbed to Wordsworth’s homely advice—in the far looser, award winning, efforts published under the name of “poetry” today.

So again, what is Romanticism?

Is Romanticism finally rhyming about flowers?

And if so, how can such a narrow definition even concern us today?

Well, here’s the fact that defeats the fact.

Romantic poetry is poetry which imitates life.

Modern poetry has only an accidental connection to life—for modern poetry is an activity in which self-expression is primary; and the individual, to be an individual, owes nothing to life—within any framed expression (poem) of an individual as an individual. Life, here, is meant in the sense in which it is always meant—life for everybody, and not for the individual. Not everyone is romantic. But life is romantic. Life is a set of conditions which furthers itself. Just as romantic conditions are necessary for romance, so the romantic poem is a set of conditions for romantic responses. The conditions created by romantic poems—beauty, the awareness that beauty quickly dies—are therefore sincere; they reflect life.

The connection between life and poetry is important. Why? Because we have seen, in the last 100 years or so, how poetry can get away with all kinds of shit—and this is one of the things we moderns admire about poetry: it can do whatever the hell it wants. It can be disorderly, and be simply for itself, and not a condition for anything. It can raise its voice. It can be vulgar. It can attempt to frighten, or shock. And it pretty much does this all the time now, even in, and especially in, the academically lauded sphere.

Once license becomes licensed, license tends to become all there is. And nothing will be protected once license is king, except license, since license is the end of all activity qua activity. Poetry is an activity. Life, which completely surrounds us, is not. The moderns are acutely aware of how efficient, modernized existence is a nexus of supporting activities—oil drilling is an activity which supports driving cars, and driving is an activity which supports commuting to work. Protesting oil drilling is also an activity, caught in the great activity nexus, a corrective response to oil drilling—and the correction itself is an activity. Education is an activity which carefully separates itself out into other activities, and one of these activities is poetry. And so on.

The activity, separated out from life, becomes, by the further activity of advertising in the modern world, an activity which is an end in itself. Advertisements for automobiles do not include scenes of cars being driven to work, or for errands—though this is what automobiles are mostly for; no, the advertisements always show driving as a beautiful and exciting activity, reveling in the self-contained activity of driving itself. This is how the advertising industry (the new poetry) depicts driving. Advertising, like any other activity, is not life.

Poetry, then, or modern poetry, is an activity, and known, and defended as such, as an activity which is for itself, just like any virtuous activity, such as driving, of which modern society tacitly approves. It is not quite accurate, then, to say “poetry can get away with all kinds of shit.” Poetry is free, as a modern activity, to be free within its identity as the activity which defines it as a modern activity, supporting, in otherwise unrelated ways, other activities which comprise the modern world. Poetry is an educational activity which promotes linguistic self-expression, and just as a car in an advertisement is never depicted as a commuting tool stuck in traffic, poetry advertised as such by those who nurture its existence in the university, present poetry as an activity which seeks license for its activity: linguistic self-expression in the free and experimental mode. The poetry is not “doing whatever it wants,” but is free in a different manner. It is by the approved nature of its activity qua activity, defined as self-expression in words, practiced experimentally and freely, that it can do anything at all. And since within this framework, it pursues license as an end in itself—which all activities, as advertised, do, and since license always promotes more license, poetry has become increasingly disorderly, since only life is truly conditional and contingent in a manner which requires order (intra-semblance) as a necessity.

Poetry today is highly disordered. It no longer has specific conditions, because this would get in the way of its hard-earned freedom. Romantic poetry, however, is a condition, and this is the whole point of Romantic poetry, and why it does not resemble license-seeking modern poetry.

I don’t like disorderly poetry.

Even if its disorderliness allows it to be about anything it wants.

Orderly and comely poetry is the effect which literary Romanticism promotes, and this orderly condition, like a pleasant bedroom with a fireplace, this atmosphere (merely atmosphere to the modern reader who is quick to find overt romanticism superficial) belongs to the very process which makes conditions infinitely multiply, which makes romantic poetry a reflection of life—due to that very conditionality.

I like beautiful lines of poetry intentionally made, thus made with greater frequency than in colloquial poetry, in which poetic lines emerge accidentally from the prose—and I read entire books recently published in which not one line of poetry can be found, so dense is the book with the honest and colloquial prose of self-expression.

But the Romanticsm we are seeking in this essay is not merely what might be called the sonorous, superficial beauty of “Go, lovely rose!” Once we reject license in self-expression, which includes the commandment to sound how “real” people talk, as the primary criterion of poetry, the poem is now, ironically, free to imitate life, with all its contingencies, with greater facility.

Life, after all, continually alters things, enforces things, and imposes conditions, from without, on what we are doing; it isn’t Waller, then, who artificially approves of “Go, lovely rose!” Life  demands it; Waller isn’t permitted to speak colloquially (though he could) because a higher end is demanded—and higher ends are hidden within the conditions necessary to life. The concision of the poem’s opening, the lovely concision of its drama, like a simple pawn move in chess, operates beyond self-expression and towards conditionality itself. In order for the poet to speak, he sends “a lovely rose” to speak for him. The single word, “rose,” becomes a character in a drama. Self-expression, by any means possible, is replaced by a concise imitation of life, by any means possible. The poem’s message is enforced by the poet telling the rose what to say to his potential beloved. Waller is not expressing himself. He is writing a poem. “Go, lovely, rose!” achieves three things quickly and simultaneously; the swift expression of: beauty, drama, and theme. Mathematical expression annihilates self-expression. Romanticism is not the point at all. Conditionality is. The wooed, in every instance, must be won. The poet is presenting the example of the rose to the reader, by comparing rose and beloved; the alacrity of the expression itself matches the urgency of the message: beauty (rose, person) fades. One aspect of the poem is necessitated by other aspects of the poem, and all of these aspects are dependent on life, or wisdom about life, which gives rise to the poem as poem.

To illustrate Romantisicm from another angle, let’s look at its typical pejorative treatment by a 20th century critic: Delmore Schwartz on the romantic Yeats.

“…some of Yeats’s poems are full of a wisdom which must commend itself to and convince every man, Buddhist to Seventh Day Adventist. The second part of “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” is a passage the equal of Dante and Shakespeare at their best. But in general, the point of view of Yeats’s verse is romantic in its assumptions and its conclusions.”

Note the assumption that “romantic” is bad, while the authors who gave the world Beatrice, Juliet, and Ophelia are held aloft as the highest standard.

Schwartz continues:

“Even when he sees and understands much more than the romantic poet, the lurid glow of romanticism nevertheless hangs over the scene.” …

“An easy instance is such a poem as “The Scholars.” These academic figures, bald-headed, coughing and respectable, would be dumbfounded, the poet suggests, if they met Catullus or the other poets whom they edit and annotate, making a learned text of the lines

“That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love’s despair

To flatter beauty’s ear”

“How utterly banal a view! No doubt, some scholars are worthy of contempt for the reasons advanced by the poet. It is not a question of the character of the scholar, past or present, nor is it necessary to suppose that scholars are handsome and heroic figures. What one finds essentially wrong here is the romantic triteness and stupidity of the attitude, the implied contempt for learning because it is painstaking and not spontaneous, the schoolboy’s view of the absentminded professor, and the Bohemian’s notion of academicism: ‘All (that is, all the scholars) think what other people think,’ Yeats wrote, thinking what other people think.”

—Delmore Schwartz, “An Unwritten Book,” from Selected Essays; originally published 1942, The Southern Review

Schwartz, the Modernist, thinks of scholars as contributing to an important and valued activity, complete and worthy in itself. He concedes there might be some inferior scholars, as Yeats depicts them, but not all of them can possibly be that way—otherwise the “activity” of scholarship would be invalid, which, as Schwartz understands it, is impossible.  But when Socrates said he could not automatically transfer his wisdom to another person who happened to sit down beside him, the Athenian did not mean some, he meant all. The romantic poet, according to “The Scholars,” owes his poetry to desire, not scholarship—the former writes the poem; the latter merely edits it.

The “spontaneous” is the immediacy of beauty, the glory of unhindered free speech, the brevity of wit, the quickness and certainty of love, the leap of understanding (eureka) by the  scientist, and yet this term is the object of Schwartz’s scorn; the “painstaking” is a scholarly virtue, for Schwartz, attempting at a young age to please his New Critic masters, as he calls Yeats’ theme “trite” and “stupid.”

Here’s the thing. The “activity” is always “painstaking,” and sometimes evil, whereas romanticism never is. Schwartz, a brilliant short story writer, poet, and critic, currently enjoying a revival thanks to Ben Mazer and others, is nevertheless wrong in this instance, poisoned by the Modernism of his time.

It is true that the “painstaking” is often for the good—laying transatlantic cable, Mozart hand-writing his music, etc—but life in poetry is always a good, while any painstaking activity, weighed in the balance, is always, in itself, bad. “The Scholars” is a great poem.

The romantic poet participates in life, which includes love. The scholar belongs to an activity—which is different. This Schwartz view sees only a series of activities, with practitioners sometimes more, or sometimes less, skilled at the activity at hand. Romanticism is not an activity, however; it is life. Yeats does not say there should be no more scholars—there will always be scholars, just as there will always be cakes and ale.

Even as the occasional poet will avoid cakes and ale—and be the much better poet for it.

Life is finally the critic. Life is finally the poet.

Romanticism, a term which arose, in fact, as a subtle form of abuse by modernist scholars, happens to describe, quite often, the true poetic effect—which the painstaking, modernist scholar is unable to grasp.

Sometimes the light does not go on.

 

CINEMA AND POETRY: A REVIEW OF THE UNCOLLECTED DELMORE SCHWARTZ, BEN MAZER, EDITOR

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I began to think about a whole lot of things as I was finishing Ben Mazer’s introduction to The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz, just published by Arrowsmith Press.

How does a poet exist in an unpublished, uncollected, or unnoticed state?

How much does the critical and editorial apparatus impact how society apprehends a poet?

Ben Mazer—and hopefully, very soon, many more—will be answering these questions as they pertain to the wonderful, but increasingly neglected writer, Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966).

I was thinking about the cinema, the modern poet as movie-lover, and how this might contribute to the “uncollected” reality of Delmore Schwartz—an author editors and publishers have never known quite what to do with.

Delmore Schwartz burst upon the world in 1937, by way of the Partisan Review crowd in New York City.

Ben Mazer, born in New York City, and raised in Cambridge (Delmore attended Harvard) and a splendid poet himself, is also a daring and sleuth-like editor: Mazer’s ‘Uncollected Schwartz” is a gem.

Mazer’s well-researched work features various genres: poem, story, essay, review, symposium memoir. Which is nice, because Schwartz excelled at them all.

But is this the problem of Delmore Schwartz’s reputation?  “Various genres?”

The poets America loves generally don’t get involved in other aspects of writing.

Where are the essays of W.S Merwin, the plays of Robert Frost, the criticism of Emily Dickinson, the novels of T.S. Eliot, the short stories of Ezra Pound?  No, somehow it diminishes the poet to not be, in terms of output, a poet.  The occasional essay on poetry is allowed, but that’s it.

Schwartz, the writer of variety, is like Poe, in this regard.

But even as Poe worked in, and even invented, or furthered, a number of genres, the 19th century Virginian—limited critically by the “macabre” label—stuck mostly to short pieces—and Poe mostly finished, thankfully, what he started; the single exception, a play.

Schwartz abandoned what seems like hundreds of writing projects.  A prodigy lauded early in his career, winning praise for a short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” Schwartz became bogged down in overly ambitious attempts at the long and unwieldy—a pity, for this modern talent should have followed Poe’s advice: the complexity of modernity requires brevity.

Schwartz didn’t use Poe as a guiding star. Both writers shared a certain quixotic arrogance; Poe obeyed form as a writer; Schwartz often did not, and ended up without an epidermis.

Looking back, Schwartz was best, by far, as a short story writer—as good as anyone in the 20th century—but his splendid efforts in this genre, strangely, seem to have only added to a literary reputation of promise followed by insanity, failure and waste.

No one, including Schwartz himself, wished Schwartz to be pegged as a writer of short fiction. The fiction world doesn’t always know what to do with poets, especially the ones who enter as poets first, fiction writers second. Had the order been reversed, Schwartz might have enjoyed a greater social stability.

Schwartz had two sides:

1. the doubtful, sentimental, highly emotional, poet

2. the crass, witty, profoundly wise, and pitiless, critic.

Fiction allowed these two sides to often mingle and shine.

Literary essays allowed Delmore Schwartz insights to peek out.  I’m not a big fan of High Modernism, but when Delmore writes on Stevens, Eliot, Auden, I feel a certain pride. Delmore’s intelligence as a critic is stunning.

Schwartz drowned in modernist self-pity, focused too much on the contemporary in his essays, and wasted too much time on long poems.

Otherwise, there was no stopping Mr. Delmore Schwartz.

One could argue Schwartz is a major poet. But poetry was a disturbing, and not really a friendly, medium for him.

The acerbic, joking, philosophy, the impatient, stuttering, thin-skinned, reflective, doubting, self-pity—all these things which the complex torrent of Delmore Schwartz was—freely articulated in poetry of the loose and modern manner, resulted more often than not, in opportunity by a genius missed.

The moderns who encouraged him were the “modern” moderns, the ones who turned their backs on Poe and everything before Rimbaud, and who liked the idea of residing in 1922 and nowhere else. The obscure heft of Joyce and Pound were unfortunately touchstones for New York City’s highly introspective genius, one who passionately saw through Pound, the person, and rejected him. Rimbaud began it all for the “modern” moderns, and so it’s not at all surprising Schwartz found himself, as a yet lauded and reputed poetic prodigy, hurrying into print a translation of Rimbaud, an imaginative English version of the Frenchman’s “Season in Hell”—almost universally ridiculed in the press for its translation errors; and as the bad reviews came in, the nervous prodigy’s honeymoon was over. Schwartz already had a personality that doubted. He didn’t universally like everyone, and he was not universally liked. When his reputation took a hit, it was pretty bad.

As we advance into the early middle of the 21st century, High Modernism is due for a hard look; well, at least it may help us understand and revive Delmore Schwartz.

Delmore’s survey of Wallace Stevens is the best thing, for my money, in Ben Mazer’s The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz. The mind of Delmore Schwartz is a treasure—without a doubt, this is the singular fact I have come away with in my recent acquaintance of the author who died at 52 alone, in a midtown Manhattan hotel.

Did cinema kill poetry? Schwartz’s guilty pleasure was going to the movies.

Poetry came apart, losing its lyric, leather-bound anthology, fireside, charm, somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, and for Schwartz this was always a good thing, because he belonged to his time, and he sums up the existence of Stevens as an “art for art’s sake” poet—almost ruefully, almost pejoratively—as due to “industrialism.”  The Wordsworthian whine, which didn’t stop with Modernism: the machine produces sorrow.

Stevens, according to Schwartz, is an “Art-man.” The poetry of Stevens smoothly and matter-of-factly occupies the museum, the concert hall, the ivory tower seminar room, the library, the poetry reading. Stevens is for Art, as opposed to the “life” of “disorder,” “presided over by the business man and the Philistine…”

Schwartz acknowledges the danger of this attitude, claiming it inhibited poets of the “Art-man” school in the late 19th century, but Delmore allows Stevens a triumph in it, for going, with a certain amount of intelligent self-consciousness, all in with it. Down with “industrialism.” Up with Wallace Stevens.

The reason cinema is so important for Delmore Schwartz—his break-out short story, “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities,” literally takes place in a cinema as the protagonist watches a “movie” of his parents prior to his birth—is manifold.

Schwartz’s youth coincided with film taking its place as a form of entertainment and art—but which was it? Poetry was losing out to other distractions, and cinema was one.

Film was a guilty, time-wasting pleasure for a poet like Schwartz, but it was a vital connection to “philistine life,” too. Schwartz was not Stevens, and cinema was one central reason: poetry for Stevens was purely aesthetic; Schwartz belongs more to the news-reel voice-over, the screen play, the drama, realistic but flickering, the movie of the peanut-crunching crowd. The hard-nosed, factual, aspect of film represented an important antidote to Schwartz’s morbid, fatalist, autobiographical nature.

The fatalism of film—a memory captured, to never be escaped—seen through his autobiographical obsession—his family divorce drama seeps into almost everything he wrote—underpins his iconic story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.”

Fortunately, Schwartz cared too much about people (his writing is very social) to be overly distracted by the horrors of “industrialism.”

Schwartz, who deeply admired Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, had a love-hate relationship with all the art movements around him—with a stammering, clumsy, combative, social persona, mixing uneasily with his genius, he couldn’t be as intellectually independent as he should have been; his “connections” in the intellectual circles of the John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review, the Partisan Review, and Harvard, where he met Laughlin, the editor of New Directions, were all important to him, more than he realized, or wanted to admit, and so the natural, original, impetuous, lonely greatness that was Schwartz kept trailing after the divided, humiliated, tortured, social animal that was Schwartz.  He unconsciously attempted to resolve this by uncritically admiring the aesthetic writings of his contemporaries (saving his critical energy for gossip towards them as individuals) and so the poet he was meant to be was colored, like the dyer’s hand, by much of the inferior work of his time.

His genius, in the fiction and the essays, mostly won out. In his poetry, it mostly did not. He absolutely nails Stevens in a manner which is fully sympathetic, but manages to diminish him, which is only proper, since Schwartz was, it seems to me, the wisest of his circle (a judgment I am well aware will not be taken seriously because  “High” Modernism is to this day, yet overrated, and due to the reputation of “crazy” Delmore Schwartz).

“A Note on the Nature of Art,” the second essay in Mazer’s collection, is first-rate in a perfectly logical manner; it patiently explains the difference between the “expressive” and the “critical-expressive” and doesn’t allow social reality to roll over aesthetic reality, which it will do, unless the critic is familiar with Aristotle and common sense—which Delmore happily was.

The essays are 30 pages of the book; putting aside the poems, of which there are 15 pages—the best one, I think, is “Sonnet,” published in 1950 in the Kenyon Review—we have an excellent 20 page story, and a 5 page memory on his Jewishness, also good; the essays occupy the bulk of what is excellent, as well as the story and the small prose memoir, proving once again, at least for me, that we should not look to Schwartz’s poetry as the best example of his work.

For me, as way of quick example, “the worms of fear spread veined” and “but the elation and celebration of the motions/of energy everywhere,” from two different poems, reside as things scattered on the surface; these quotes don’t feel integrated wholly into their poems—too much of his poetry features interesting parts which are not quite fused; there is a unconnected quality which I don’t meet in the prose, and which curtails my enjoyment of the verse. The longer poem, “Dr. Levy,” which Mazer cites for especial praise in his introduction, has emotional sincerity, but it feels more like a short play of not-quite-realized profundity, than a truly realized poem.

True, some of the poems in this volume are high school poems—ironically, there is one on Poe.  Schwartz didn’t care for him.  In his introduction to his long, prose poem, Genesis, Schwartz says he will write like a modern; he will not write like Swinburne—which of course means Poe.

The story in the volume, “An Argument in 1934” is wonderful; the lucid presentation of three, young, intellectual friends, interacting socially, is sensitive, highly observant, and subtle, without being busy or overbearing, and the theme: realism triumphing over the intellectually abstract, is expressed through both dialogue and action in a clear and poignant manner.

This review is not meant to devalue Schwartz as a poet; I just think his fiction is superlative. Profound. Funny. Timeless.

And this is good news: Ben Mazer is set to edit more Delmore Schwartz—the Collected Poems has been green-lighted by FSG, which is very exciting, indeed.

Hopefully “The Uncollected Delmore Schwartz” will be the start of a Delmore Renaissance.

I’ll close by quoting “Under Forty” from a symposium published by the Contemporary Jewish Record:

The contrast between the authority of the public school teachers and the weakness of the Hebrew school teacher is one which makes the child wonder what reason can justify the emphasis upon Jewishness. I remember my own extreme admiration for the rabbi who spoke to us on Sundays. It seemed to me that he could prove or disprove anything, and that he could find profound meaning in any story or incident. But I took this to be a personal gift; he was a very wise man; he seemed more intelligent than any of the teachers in public school. But then I merely wondered why he limited himself to what we then called temple, and I had no way of knowing that his dialectical and interpretative skills were an inheritance.

 

*******

The Scarriet editors, Salem MA 11/14/19

 

CONCLUDING MARCH MADNESS MYSTERY BRACKET FIRST ROUND PLAY

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Meer Nair plays in the Mystery Bracket

Poetry charms us just as any other kind of speech does.  This should give us pause.  What is poetry, then?  How do we know we’re reading poetry?

In the First Round contest in the Mystery Bracket we have this, which is infinitely charming, though we are not really sure why:

“Let us make love. Where are we?”

Michelina Di Martino is the poet.

Di Martino’s fans and supporters and followers resemble the followers of dionysus, which is to be expected. We cannot think of a more delirious meme than “Let us make love. Where are we?”  Frenzied acolytes make for a loud and enthusiastic fan base, which has to make Di Martino the favorite in this contest.

Her opponent is Meera Nair, who is a mother, a poet, and a movie actress.

Her is: “How long can you keep/The lake away from the sea”

It is supremely beautiful—we could ponder this line for hours in a sweet fit of melancholy; the lake, as we will believe, will be drawn to the sea, and landscapes with both lake and sea invoke all the peace and longing we might expect when contemplating robust and watery nature as she lies upon the land.

If Di Martino thrills, as we contemplate unburdening ourselves in smoky, far off hills, Nair allows us to reflect in our rooms, with a window open to the air.  We consider things broad and wide, or trivial perhaps, concerning a lake, and gentle hills leading the watery confinement gurgling down to the sea.  We know Meera Nair’s fragment is poetry. We cannot be sure Michelina Di Martino’s is.  It is perhaps because the packed March Madness arena is filled with noise and confusion, and the warm, heart-rending screams of the crowd, that “Let us make love. Where are we?” wins.

****

Sukrita Kumar’s “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown” burns us with its mysterious wisdom.

What is known more acutely than fire? And what burns?  The unknown.  Everything is unknown to leaping flames. Unknown, the cavernous space filled with sparks, dark and cool above the conflagration which desperately attempts to warm and light our lives.

In stark contrast, Kushal Poddar’s: “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

What could be more different from “Flames are messengers,” a loud pronouncement from the god Vulcan, perhaps, words belonging to the center of the earth, roaring to us from the metal doors of old time? “Call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer” is the essence of affectionate, domestic tranquility, the lean cat eluding its kind master in the cooling shadows.

How to decide between these two states?

There is no time decide.  Only the impetuous result beneath the lights and clock in the old trembling arena of March Madness.

We smile when we read Kushal Poddar’s offering.  It warms our heart, and this warmth douses the flames.

Poddar will advance to the second round.

****

Ben Mazer is another demonstration that poetry’s force often lies away from whatever we commonly think of as poetry.  Mazer is the champion of a previous Scarriet March Madness, perhaps the greatest prize a poet today can claim.  Nobel? Pulitzer?  Everyone knows these prizes are political.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is the line the Mazer crowd wildly cheers from the rooftops of the Madness arena.

What is this poetic force that Mazer has?

There are so many ways for poetry to excel. But to excel, to stand out, to be regarded with awe, one must evince a quality, a mysterious quality, a strange combination of qualities, which teases the soul of the reader so they surrender almost immediately to the spell.

“her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger” is all Mazer.  It is mesmerizing, but why?

We would venture to say that Mazer succeeds through the most profound introversion it is possible to evince.

The profound secret to Mazer’s success is simple.  The success is not simple, but the secret is.  And the secret is that Mazer proffers introversion to such an extreme degree, that the reader is disarmed, the reader’s blood pressure is reduced to near-zero, and in the resulting trance, the sweet poison is easily administered, and the spell effortlessly cast.

The great poet cannot be measured by rhymes, words, subject.  Or perhaps they can.  Anything can be quantified before the lynx eye.  But in this instance, as we contemplate the mystery that is the wonder of Mazer, we venture to say it is this: he is greater than nearly all of his peers in poetry (and any extreme in the realm of good taste can succeed in poetry) because his poetry is marked more by introversion than anyone else’s.

This is not to say that Mazer’s poetry cannot say bold or extroverted things.  It is the introverted life from which it comes which conquers.

One can see at once the advantage of introversion in poetry: the hush, the mystery, the unruffled beauty, the calm, the deep breathing, the concentration, the privacy, the reverie, the reverential, the quiet tension, the tender, abashed sinking into the unknown.

Mazer’s opponent is Nabina Das.  She has produced the for this bracket the one entry which might be intimates an actual mystery:

“under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

The future is blisteringly manifest: “where she later dangled.”  Or perhaps the dangling is done in fun?

We doubt it, for there is a menacing finality about the whole thing: “the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

The ambiguity would be more of a problem if the line were not so much fun in itself:

“Under the same” locks nicely into “ceiling fan from where” and the line travels straight up into the thin atmosphere of “she later dangled.”

It’s the kind of line which resembles a surfing wave—it belongs to nature almost as much as it belongs to ink:

“under the same ceiling fan from where she later dangled.”

It is not introverted, by any means.  Not like this, anyway:

“her room retains the look of the room of a stranger”

Both lines could almost be from the same poem.  It is almost as if fate matched these lines in March Madness.

Both are neatly divided in two:

her room retains the look—of the room of a stranger.

under the same ceiling fan—from where she later dangled.

Both are masterpieces of aural architecture:

“room” and “look” and “room” from a group, as do “retains” and “stranger.”

“under” and “where she later” form a group, as do “same ceiling fan” and “dangled.”

It is too close to call.

Nabina Das defeats Ben Mazer!

Fans in the rooms are going crazy.

****

In the final, Mystery Bracket Round One contest, we have Richard Wilbur, and his famous “The morning air is all awash with angels.”

Richard Wilbur’s (1921-2017) opponent is Sridala Swami:

“There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Richard Wilbur was a leading 20th century formalist, and we can see this in the exuberance of all those “a’s:” air, all, awash, angels. Not to mention the iambic pentameter: The MOR-ning AIR is ALL a-WASH with AN-gels.

Sridala is trying to do something quite different.

There are no angels. There is no morning air.

“There is only this book” and we are already post-modern, or is the a reference to what Dante, in his Vita Nuova, says is his “book of memory,” which creates the smaller book of his Vita Nuova?

Sridala’s line begins with three anapests: There is ON-ly this BOOK, and your ONE

And the caesura in the middle of the line is the spondee, ONE CHANCE—which is the perfect place to make a dramatic pause: you’ve got one chance, bub.

of SPEAK-ing to the WORLD is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

A long anapest: -ing to the WORLD, and then three iambs ends it: is THROUGH the WORDS in IT.

If we read both lines aloud, we find both scan, the Wilbur with more concentrated force, but hers is equally strong, and more subtle.

Hers is speech within speech.  One chance.

His is the singularity of something supernatural, or perhaps merely descriptive, we see in, and around, the morning air.

Wilbur’s is more fanciful, but there is something beautifully somber and philosophically contemplative in Sridala Swami’s “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

Sridala Swami wins.

 

Next up:  The Life and Beautiful Brackets.

MARCH MADNESS!! 2019!!

Image result for battlefield in renaissance painting

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.”

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED! WITH BEST LINES!

Image result for sushmita gupta poet

 Sushmita Gupta

Poetry doesn’t have a center—therefore this “hot” list is not legitimate, but is.

Good poems and poets are everywhere. These happened to hit my eyes.

The best poems are not being published by the major publishers or the glossy magazines or the Poetry Foundation, but by our Facebook friends, our girlfriends, or the guy sitting next to us at the café. The best poem in English, being written somewhere right now—right now—is probably being written in India. Comforting or not, this is the fact.

The death of Mary Oliver, and its fairly large public notice, shows poetry has a kind of shadow center, if not a real one, occasionally manifesting itself as seemingly real, only to fade into Auden’s cry, “poetry makes nothing happen.” Slowly, in obscure corners of people’s hearts, poetry does happen. It has no intellectual, philosophical, or critical identity, and its social identity is crushed by cinema and the popular song. But times change, and poetry does seem to be simmering towards something larger in the places where large things occur.

Poetry as the technical art, and poetry as it vaguely exists in the everyday efforts and reflections of the world are two different things. No poet or critic is responsible for the vastness of the latter.

In this contemporary snapshot list of poems, I intentionally made the search greater to include the best-known sources, for two reasons: “what are the most distinguished outlets doing?” and for the sake of variety.

So the poems on this list are poems I happily and locally and accidentally see, and also poems gleaned from sources which a slightly larger audience sees.

This explains why you see the poems you do.

As far as how the poems are actually ranked, the best first, and so on, again, I plead guilty to subjectivity, which never excuses authoritarian decisions—it only makes them seem more authoritarian; but the word authoritarian is overused and misused these days—whatever decisions the comfortable, fake-revolutionaries don’t like, are called, after the fact, authoritarian.

The poems are ranked by the best lines uttered in these poems.

Philip Nikolayev (on the list) has a theory that poetry lives, finally, in great lines.

It was a great Facebook discussion, and I forget what I said about it, then, which is all that matters—the Scarriet Hot 100 I introduce here is my authoritarian moment in the sun—and why I bring it up, I don’t know, because I agreed with Nikolayev, then, and now, perhaps, I don’t.

All the poems on the Hot 100 list are good—but some, as good as they are, have nothing but plain and ordinary lines, or phrases. No stand-alone piece of the poem—good when the poem is read as a whole—sounds very interesting.

In rare instances, the title of the poem, coupled with the selected mundane part of the poem, combines to be of interest, or surprising. As you judge, keep the titles in mind as you read the line.

Because the ranking here is by line (or part of a line, or lines) I should say a word or two about what makes a good line.

I believe it can be summed up: a good line is where the vision and the rhythm speak together.

Some lines are good for purely prose fiction reasons—they sound like the start of a great short story. They point, rather than being the point.

One more thing: since Scarriet has written on Indian poetry recently, many poets are from India; those designated “Scarriet” were featured on that date on this site, though found elsewhere. Please search, enjoy, and support, will you? all 100 of these poets.

 

(1) Jennifer Barber —Continuum (2018 The Charles River Journal #8) “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

(2) A.E. Stallings —Pencil (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Atlantic) “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

(3) Sushmita Gupta —Gently Please  (12/18 FB) “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

(4) William Logan —The Kiss (2017 Rift of Light Penguin) “‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

(5) Eliana Vanessa —this black rose (12/13 FB) “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

(6) Abhijit Khandkar —Bombil  (Poetry Delhi 12/1) “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

(7) Philip Nikolayev —Blame (1/4/19 FB) “within its vast domain confined”

(8) Sharanya Manivannan —Keeping the Change (12/5/18 Scarriet) “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

(9) Hoshang Merchant —Scent of Love (10/12/18 Scarriet) “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

(10) Divya Guha —Non-attendance (1/16/19 Gmail) “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

(11) Ravi Shankar —Buzzards (12/5/18 Scarriet) “What matters cannot remain.”

(12) Mary Angela Douglas —Epiphany of the White Apples (1/3/19 Scarriet) “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual Spring”

(13) N Ravi Shankar—Bamboo (12/26/17 FB) “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

(14) Aseem Sundan —The Poet Lied About The Paradise (1/12/19 Indian Poetry) “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

(15) Stephen Cole —The descriptor heart (1/18/19 FB) “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.”

(16) Yana Djin —Days are so slow, adoni, so slow (1/2/19 Vox Populi) “In the dusk leaves like golden suns shiver and glow”

(17) Ann Leshy Wood —Thanksgiving, For my father, 1917-2012 (11/23/16 FB) “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

(18) Shalim Hussain —Dighalipukhuri (12/5/18 Scarriet) “His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.”

(19) Linda Ashok —Tongue Tied (4/4/18 Cultural Weekly) “How deep is the universe? How many/light years will it take to reach your belly”

(20) Marilyn Chin —How I Got That Name (2018 Selected Poems, Norton) “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

(21) Diane Lockward —The Missing Wife (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

(22) Daipayan Nair —Roseate with Jyoti (Season 2) Poem VI (12/30/18 FB) “you hold my hand like possibilities”

(23) Ranjit Hoskote —Effects of Distance (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Blue is the color of air letters, of conqueror’s eyes./Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.”

(24) Nabina Das —Death and Else (9/7/18 Scarriet) “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

(25) Sridala Swami —Redacted poetry is a message in a bottle (6/9/18 Scarriet) “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

(26) Anand Thakore —Elephant Bathing (7/5/18 Scarriet) “As pale flamingoes, stripped irretrievably of their pinks,/Leap into a flight forever deferred.”

(27) Danez Smith —acknowledgments (December 2018 Poetry) “i call your mama mama”

(28) Anne Stevenson —How Poems Arrive (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “Or simply wait/Till it arrives and tells you its intention.”

(29) Jennifer Robertson —Coming Undone (4/14/18 Scarriet) “ocean after ocean after ocean”

(30) Srividya Sivakumar—Wargame (1/12/19 Scarriet) “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

(31) Medha Singh —Gravedigger (January 2019 Indian Quarterly) “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

(32) Lily Swarn —The Cobbler (1/7/19 Pentasi B World Friendship Poetry) “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

(33) Sophia Naz —Neelum (5/2/18 Scarriet) “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

(34) James Longenbach —This Little Island (November 2018 Poetry) “And when the land stops speaking/The wave flows out to sea.”

(35) Sam Sax —Prayer for the Mutilated World (September 2018 Poetry) “that you are reading this/must be enough”

(36) Raena Shirali —Daayan After A Village Feast (Anomaly #27) “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

(37) Priya Sarukkhai Chabria —She says to her girlfriend (12/5/18 Scarriet) “in the red slush/open/to flaming skies.”

(38) Nitoo Das —How To Write Erotica (10/12/18 Scarriet) “You’re allowed to be slightly long-winded.”

(39) Sukrita Kumar —The Chinese Cemetery (4/14/18 Scarriet) “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

(40) Zachary Bos —All that falls to earth (May, 2018 Locust Year—chapbook) “In a library properly sorted/ecology stands beside eulogy.”

(41) Khalypso —Women Are Easy To Love Over The Internet (Anomaly #27) “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

(42) C.P. Surendran —Prospect (10/12/18 Scarriet) “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

(43) Dan Sociu —The Hatch (Trans. Carla Bericz, National Translation Month) “the man with the tambourine went off cursing me”

(44) Nalini Priyadarshni —When You Forget How To Write a Love Poem (12/21 Chantarelle’s Notebook a poetry e-zine) “You try different places at different hours,/dipping your pen in psychedelic summer skies”

(45) June Gehringer —I Don’t Write About Race (1/16/19 Luna Luna Magazine) “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

(46) Robin Flicker —I fell asleep holding my notebook and pen (12/22 FB) “In my dream, the pen was a pair of scissors, and I had to cut out every letter of every word.”

(47) Robin Morgan —4 Powerful Poems about Parkinson’s (10/15/15 TED Talk You Tube) “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

(48) Arundhathi Subramaniam —Prayer (11/15/18 Scarriet) “when maps shall fade,/nostalgia cease/and the vigil end.”

(49) Menka Shivdasani —The Woman Who Speaks To Milk Pots (9/7/18 Scarriet) “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

(50) Ryan Alvanos —7:30 (2011 From Here—album online) “not too long and not too far/I carefully left the door ajar”

(51) Tishani Doshi —The Immigrant’s Song (3/16/18 Scarriet) “hear/your whole life fill the world/until the wind is the only word.”

(52) Semeen Ali —You Look At Me (3/16/18 Scarriet) “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

(53) Kim Gek Lin Short —Playboy Bunny Swimsuit Biker (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

(54) Lewis Jian —Mundane Life (1/9/19 World Literature Forum) “who’s wise enough to reach nirvana?”

(55) Dimitry Melnikoff —Offer Me (1/12/19 Facebook Poetry Society) “Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

(56) Kushal Poddar —This Cat, That (12/13/18 FB) “call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

(57) Ben Mazer —Divine Rights (2017 Selected Poems) “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

(58) Christopher T. Schmitz —The Poet’s Oeuvre (12/24 FB) “poems that guess/at the argot of an era to come/and ache with love/for the world he’s leaving/and couldn’t save.”

(59) Simon Armitage  —To His Lost Lover (2017 Interestingliterature) “And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,/about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.”

(60) Akhil Katyal —For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now (7/5/18 Scarriet) “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

(61) Minal Hajratwala —Operation Unicorn: Field Report (8/10/18 Scarriet) “The unicorns are a technology/we cannot yet approximate.”

(62) Jehanne Dubrow —Eros and Psyche (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “my mother might stay asleep forever, unbothered by the monument of those hands”

(63) Rochelle Potkar —Friends In Rape (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?”

(64) Merryn Juliette —Her Garden (9/21 FB) “grey as I am”

(65) Marilyn Kallet —Trespass (Plume #89) “Maybe that’s what Verlaine said,/at the end.”

(66) Meera Nair —On Some Days (12/17 FB) “on all days/Without fail/I need you”

(67) Nathan Woods —Wander, Wonder (12/26 FB) “into wands for spells to scatter the beasts”

(68) Rajiv Mohabir —Hybrid Unidentified Whale (11/15/18 Scarriet) “no others/can process its cries into music.”

(69) Dana Gioia —The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves (Video, Dana Gioia Official Site) “a crack of light beneath a darkened door.”

(70) Paige Lewis —You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm (January 2018 Poetry) “Right now, way above your head, two men”

(71) Smita Sahay —For Nameless, Faceless Women (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “change the way you tell your stories.”

(72) Sampurna Chattarji —As a Son, My Daughter (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “You fear nothing./You frighten me.”

(73) Michelina Di Martino —Original Sin (1/12/19 Intense Call of Feelings) “Let us make love. Where are we?”

(74) Jo-Ann Mort —Market Day (Plume #89) “wanting the air/ beside me to welcome you.”

(75) Sohini Basak—Laconic (1/12/19 Scarriet) “the rude dove just blinked”

(76) Carol Kner —Pieces of us Keep Breaking Off (Plume #89) “to quench the rage that lunges daily”

(77) Shikha Malaviya —September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours) (11/15/18 Scarriet) “Our hips swaying badly/to Bollywood beats”

(78) Michael Creighton —New Delhi Love Song (8/10/18 Scarriet) “all are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi.”

(78) Ranjani Murali —Singing Cancer: Ars Film-Poetica (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Anand jumps to his death from the staggering height of two feet”

(79) Jeet Thayil —Life Sentence (7/5/18 Scarriet) “your talk is of meat and money”

(80) Urvashi Bahuguna —Boy (6/9/18 Scarriet) “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/it was Boy.”

(81) Huzaifa Pandit —Buhu Sings an Elegy for Kashmir (3/16/18 Scarriet) “The beloved weeps in a hollow tongue”

(82) Nandini Dhar —Map Pointing At Dawn (2/21/18 Scarriet) “Ghost uncle is a calligrapher who cannot hold/a pen between his fingers.”

(83) Sumana Roy —Root Vegetables (2/21/18 Scarriet) “darkness drinks less water than light”

(84) Jorie Graham —Scarcely There (January 2019 Poetry) “We pass here now onto the next-on world. You stay.”

(85) Christian Wiman —The Parable of Perfect Silence (December 2018 Poetry) “Two murderers keep their minds alive/while they wait to die.”

(86) Martha Zweig —The Breakfast Nook (December 2018 Poetry) “One day it quits./The whole business quits. Imagine that.”

(87) Alex Dimitrov —1969 (September 2018 Poetry) “Then returned to continue the war.”

(88) Campbell McGrath —My Music (12/17/18 The New Yorker) “My music is way better than your music”

(89) Terrance Hayes —American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The New Yorker) “It is possible he meant that, too.”

(90) Garrison Keillor —I Grew Up In A Northern Town (1/12/19 FB) “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

(91) Dick Davis —A Personal Sonnet (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “These are the dreams that turned out to be real.”

(92) Sharon Olds —The Source (2018 All We Know of Pleasure—Poetic Erotica by Women, Shomer) “Ah, I am in him”

(93) Manjiri Indurkar —Diabetes at a Birthday Party  (1/12/19 Scarriet) “Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?/Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.”

(94) Jayanta Mahapatra —Her Hand (1/12/19 Scarriet) “The little girl’s hand is made of darkness/How will I hold it?”

(95) Rony Nair —Solarium (1/12/19 Scarriet) “some people get off on sleeping with your enemy”

(96) John Murillo —A Refusal To Mourn The Deaths By Gunfire, Of Three Men In Brooklyn (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “You strike your one good match to watch it bloom/and jook”

(97) CA Conrad —a Frank poem (12/31/18 Facebook Fraternity of Poets, DonYorty.com) “one experience is quietly/consumed by the next”

(98) Sara J. Grossman —House of Body (Anomaly #27) “weather of abundant appendages”

(99) Rupi Kaur —did you think i was a city (1/5/19 Instagram) “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

(100) Warsan Shire —The House (2017 Poetry Foundation) “Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

A FEW REMARKS ON POETRY, CHRISTIANITY AND NEO-ROMANTICISM— PART ONE

Image result for 3 wise men renaissance painting

The following essay is offered as nothing more than an intoxicating drink, with a few unique qualities—most of the musings here you’ve probably heard before; sometimes it’s only emphasis that matters.

Recall the scene in the Meno: Socrates proves all knowledge is recollection (which means the soul is immortal) by suggesting to an unlearned child the means to answer a difficult geometrical problem.

The Platonist poet, Shelley, agrees:

Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance.

Knowledge involves a certain humility; humans, the Platonist knows, do not invent; “reason” is merely “recollection,” or, as Shelley puts it, “enumeration of qualities already known.” Qualities are not invented, imagined, or discovered; qualities are, as the (grounded!) Romantic understands, “already known.” And the “imagination,” according to Shelley, “is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole.” Imagination is the “perception of the value of those qualities.” Imagination doesn’t create, or invent; the whole process is far more mundane (says the Romantic!); “perception of value, with an eye to “separately and as a whole.”

This is not easy stuff, but easier, since the Platonist grasps how really modest and small human intelligence is—the “imagination” is the “agent” perceiving the “value of qualities already known,” by using “reason” as an “instrument.”

This intoxicating drink I offer, with a little help from the Romantics, should calm and relax you, if nothing else.  Complexity, discovery, labor, be gone.

This is what I intend to do.  Give you a whiff of poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.  You can even close your eyes and find your way.

You know this stuff.

You know it’s true.

But you’ve forgotten.

This essay, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity and Neo-Romanticism,” should not be taken any more seriously than if flowery letters stating the same should be found on the side of a bottle. When we say seriously, sometimes, what we drink, and the label embellishing it, is serious indeed, but not in the manner of truth, but only of pleasure—so drink, and become intoxicated, and see what pleasures follow; nothing found in this Scarriet essay will necessarily be true; you’ll find only random observations made by a poet for the sake of poetry.

The defense of poetry is, by now, an old practice; half-wits do it; narrowing the subject of poetry to include “Christianity and Neo-Romanticism” is nothing more, really, than an attempt to peak interest in the drink. Philosophy is my beach-reading; if “A Few Remarks” is philosophical, good—think of it as amusement in a philosophical vein.

To state the Neo-Romanticism theme simply: the first criterion of poetry is beauty, in all its particular attributes, heightened by the imagination, and everything else flows from this highest category.

Beauty is advantageous for two reasons—imagination must be present to an extraordinary degree, since imagination first began as the urgent invention to create happiness when faced with sorrow, and beauty is happiness; secondly, beauty also requires harmony, and therefore a certain order and rigor is always necessary to carry off that harmony. Beauty, then, keeps poetry enthusiastic, since happiness is the best motivator for enthusiasm, and at the same time beauty requires expertise and skill to add the necessary harmony to the imaginative attempts to be beautiful.

With Neo-Romanticism, then, beauty is the top category—for the practical reasons just given, and this stricture need not be onerous; beauty was chosen precisely because beauty is not onerous—and naturally, all other elements may of course be present (so modern irritation with the flimsy idealism and ineffectual prettiness of “beauty” does not get the upper hand), just to remember that beauty is the measure and general design which prevails, even as the frightening (with its sublime attributes), the humorous (profound, or sublime wit) and other qualities contribute, in descending order, to that harmonizing effect the Romantic poet is known for, whether it is Byron laughing, Coleridge weeping, Keats gasping, Shelley sighing, Wordsworth philosophizing, Tennyson singing, Millay regretting, Eliot whispering, or Mazer dipping his dreaming toe in the dreaming springs.

Harmony is the leading trait of beauty, and while most poetry refers to things outside of itself to win favor (the poet serving as a kind of rough, honest, social messenger) harmony demands all interest reside within the poem itself (easy political sentiments, in this case, fail) and so how the parts fit is crucial. We know instinctively, but not rationally, how the parts of a beautiful face harmonize to give us pleasure—the trick surpasses our understanding; the same nose on another face is merely a beautiful nose on an ugly face; judgment of the whole is all. The poem cannot refer; its beauty must be its own, and only harmony can achieve this, for ‘a poem’ as it exists as ‘a poem’ is not beautiful; several parts harmonizing is the poem’s only chance.

The poem as a self-enclosed entity is imprisoning—harmony must be freeing, even as it forces parts together to make them fit. Parts must dwell beside each other in interesting and freeing ways, even as they harmonize as a whole—this is the key to beauty. Eyes must be able to flash like stars and be vastly different from mouth, nose, and chin—even as these eyes live on the same beautiful face as those other features: the nose—what can it possibly have to do with the eyes? It’s all a mystery, but certainly not a trivial one, since beauty and harmony are certainly not trivial.

Yet in many respects the harmony of a face is quite simple—and almost without harmony—compared to the harmony of a piece of music, or a poem. All a pretty face needs is: pretty eyes, check, pretty nose, check, pretty chin, check. How do these harmonize? It is not so much harmony, as a mere list of pleasing attributes. More profound and mysterious by far is the notion of the face itself. What is a human face, and why does it please? Then we would need to posit material considerations which have nothing to with lofty notions of beauty and harmony, and yet, these considerations are profound nonetheless: the eyes see, the mouth speaks and tastes, etc. The face is part of a living thing thriving in the world. The beauty of an eye is a poetic idea, since the eye is an instrument for seeing, and yet the seeing action of the eye-instrument is part of its beauty—practical considerations harmonize with beauty.

Harmony is an ever-widening process, even as it belongs to the limits of its action as a harmonizing whole, with a defined beginning, middle, and end.

We must ask, therefore, what practical considerations belong to the poem, as we explore its harmony and beauty. The upper idea hiding a subordinate idea is a crucial way a poem harmonizes, just as a piece of great music allows us to hear different threads simultaneously.

This brings us to Christianity, as it pertains to practical life harmonizing with beauty.

The poet makes choices, in the imagination, to allow us to perceive the more beautiful result. The poet, like the priest, must take practical matters and somehow harmonize them with beauty for the sake of imaginative fancy.

The “virgin birth” is just such an imaginative fancy, which pleases the Christian—but not the atheist, who sneers, “Virgin birth? Bah! Impossible! this absurdity brings down, like a house of cards, your entire religion.”

But the Romantic, who might be an atheist, will, as a poet, nonetheless tell the objecting atheist, “please hold that thought.”  Is religion not a series of interconnecting ideas, rather than facts?

The “virgin birth” is not a fact, but an ideaan idea which lives in a universe of other ideas; Keats’ “negative capability” defines the poet as one who can entertain doubts, who can temporarily dwell where answers are suspended, so that fancy (imagination) has a chance to build a harmonizing aspect of things, which moves us happily forward into a better reality.

Religion is a poetic, not a factual, response, to the world.

Harmony and imagination is the religious way.

The factual world (virgin births do not occur) is not a poetic one.

Or it is, if God is a poet.

Secularism is the poet (as fact-master) attempting to be God (as fact-master).

Religion posits God as the one true poet.

For virgin births do occur in the factual world.

The universe itself was a virgin birth. No scientist knows how the universe came into existence, and we doubt whether it was made by daddy light and mama darkness, or any other myth the primitive imagination might invent.

Imagination grows and matures with monotheistic religion. The immaculate conception is a profoundly scientific concept. The one universe was born, not by evolution, but in a manner absolutely mysterious and unknown. This is the fact of existence. The religious fancy, the poem, and the scientific fact, come together, in the harmonizing imagination, as one.

The harmonizing relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, in which the new obeys, and yet miraculously fulfills, and surpasses, the old, pertains to the strategies of poetry itself, and the inner harmonizing character of poems.

The parts come from the whole, and not the other way around.

God coming to earth requires a virgin birth, since there is no immortal element on earth; there is no immortal dad to impregnate the mortal mother. One needs to hold off the objection, then, to the virgin birth, in order for the God-coming-to-earth story to proceed.

The sacred story of Christ is a great poem, and so feeds poetry, if poetry harmonizes fully, and across the board, and, if we think of the trope of everyone writing the same poem, every time a poet writes a poem, as more than mere linguistic expression, not as a mere fragment of a song or a fragment of a plaint, or a fragment of a protest, or any factual observation the would-be poet might want to indulge in, we can understand a poem as a poem coming into being.  And this exists as a cloud of mystery, not as ‘writing poems for Christ,’ or anything so obvious or silly.

A virgin birth also avoids, for aesthetic reasons, sex, the messy core of messy reality. The raw fact of sex is not condemned or avoided, for sex certainly does have its harmonizing place in the world.

But what to do about sex is not a trivial matter, and has profound practical considerations. In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews must choose whether she wants to be a nun, or not.

Her choice belongs more to religious behavior, than to religious poetry. Religion is in the world, as much as the secular is.

However, we did mention earlier that good harmony keeps its parts, to a certain extent, free from each other. Harmony, which pulls together, should also be freeing. The freedom to choose to be a nun and serve the religion that way, belongs to a profoundly harmonizing challenge.

In another major religion, all women of the religion are forced to be nuns. Here the woman is free of the agonizing moral, social and religious choice which women in the Catholic faith must choose for themselves. Julie Andrews did not know what to do. The West has such a demand for choice and freedom, the whole thing for many people can be overwhelming. But the more freedom, the greater necessity there is for harmony and poetry.

Any religiosity seems horribly quaint in the face of modern, secularist advance.  I speak a little of Christianity (of which I am ignorant) just to appease the title, “A Few Remarks on Poetry, Christianity, and Neo-Romanticism.”

Quickly, before I lose all respect, I would like to examine, for pure pleasure alone, a recent sonnet by Ben Mazer, the contemporary Neo-Romantic poet.

A virgin snow remade the world that year.
Three kings had heard the rumour from afar
and wandered from the East by guiding star.
The sacred place was frosted with the sheer
anticipation of a world to come.
The shepherds and the animals were dumb
with gazing out the windows for the far
approaching kings, the radiant Hamilcar.
The old world would be disappearing fast;
the marvels that they saw they knew would last.
The wind stood patient on the bare swept sill.
Guests stood in silence on the little hill.
The three kings from a distance could be seen.
It was the most spectacular thing that’s ever been.

The Neo-Romantic aspect of this will be quickly seen.  When, against our will, there’s no escape, and we surrender to poetry’s predicament, this is love, romance, and all the helplessness implied, as expressed by again, Shelley, in his Defense of Poetry:

Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind over an Æolian lyre, which move it by their motion to ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of the sounds or motions thus excited to the impressions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could accommodate its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away; so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects.

In order for this formula, which Shelley has evoked, to work: the ‘human lyre’ which “seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause,” we must first really be a lyre, and be literally ‘played’ as a passive instrument; this passivity is the secret to human joy: settling into a dark theater and allowing images to wash over us as we sit there passively—far removed from drudgery and reason and understanding and work of any kind—one is simply a passive lyre. This is why Poe, ‘the Last Romantic,’ championed poetry which aspired to beauty and music and condemned the didactic poem—for didactic poetry slides over into the realm which belongs to labor and pain, and not thoughtless, passive, joy, the surrender necessary to experience poetry in a state of true excitement.

This is not to say poetry (words) benefits from a darkened theater, but the idea of inescapable focus is the same—poetry is different from film, but their joy is based on the same thing: trusting passivity, which frees us from the irritable ‘reaching’ we normally do, in thought or action, and we think naturally here of Keats’ Negative Capability. Sensuality (sound) in poems works like the brightened screen in the cinema—the sensual, unconscious device of passive joy, used to produce the higher version of harmony which attempts to surpass itself.

If this passive, first, step of delight is not allowed to occur, the next step: “which acts otherwise than in the lyre, and produces not melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment of sounds or motions…” cannot occur.

To intellectualize, in the common light of day, the horrors of the world, in the spirit of a utilitarian lecturer, will deprive poetry of Shelley’s cinematic mission, and will end up on the other side of Neo-Romanticism; this is why prosaic Modernism is so hostile to Romanticism—as Scarriet has demonstrated in a number of articles over the last ten years.

In Part Two, we will examine Mazer’s poem more closely as we breathe in Neo-Romanticism.

 

 

OH NO, PLEASE HELP US! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED

angry-mob

1 Anders Carlson-Wee: Brilliant, empathic poem, “How-To,” published in The Nation—then a mob ends his career.

2 Stephanie Burt: Harvard professor and Nation poetry editor publishes Carlson-Wee—caves to the mob.

3 Carmen Giminez-Smith: Nation co-editor, with Burt, apologizes for “disparaging and ableist language” giving “offense,” “harm,” and “pain” to “several communities.”

4 Grace Schulman: Former Nation poetry editor: “never once did we apologize for publishing a poem.”

5 Patricia Smith: Runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, a slam poet champion, leads Twitter outrage which greets Carlson-Wee’s Nation poem.

6 Ben Mazer: Selected Poems out, discovering unpublished Delmore Schwartz material for Library of America.

7 Rupi Kaur: Milk and Honey, her debut self-published book of viral Instagram ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ verse, has put a young woman from Toronto on top of the poetry popularity heap.

8 Tyler Knott Gregson: NY Times pointed out this Instagram poet’s first collection of poetry was a national bestseller.

9 Christopher Poindexter: This Instagram poet has been compared to Shakespeare by Huffpost. (He’s nothing like Shakespeare.)

10 Nikita Gill: Probably the best of the feminist Instagram poets.

11 Yrsa Daley-Ward: Her Instapoetry memoir, The Terrible, was praised by Katy Waldman in the New Yorker.

12 Marilyn Chin: Her New and Selected (Norton) this October contains her famous poem, “How I Got That Name.”

13 Frank Bidart: Awarded 2018 Pulitzer for his Collected Poems.

14 William Logan: New prose book: Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods. New book of poems, Rift of Light, proves again his formal verse is perhaps the best poetry published today.

15 Kevin Young: New New Yorker poetry editor.

16 Evie Shockley: Was on short list for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

17 David Lehman: Series editor for Best American Poetry since 1988—30 years.

18 Linda Ashok: Poet (Whorelight), songwriter (“Beautiful Scar”) and champion of Indian poetry in English.

19 Derrick Michael Hudson: Who still remembers this “Chinese” BAP poet?

20. Dana Gioia: Guest editor of Lehman’s Best American Poetry 2018.

21 Akhil Katyal: “Is Mumbai still standing by the sea?”

22 Urvashi Bahuguna: “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/It was Boy.”

23 Jeet Thayil: “you don’t want to hear her say,/Why, why did you not look after me?”

24 Sridala Swami: Jorge Louis Borges of English Indian poetry.

25 Adil Jussawalla: Born in Mumbai in 1940, another Anglo-Indian poet ignored in the U.S.

26 Rochelle D’Silva:  Indian slam poet who writes in English.

27 Billy Collins: Pajama and Slippers school of poetry. And nothing wrong with that at all.

28 W.S. Merwin: One of the few living major poets born in the 20s (goodbye Ashbery, Hall).

29 Valerie Macon: Quickly relieved of her NC poet laureate duties because of her lack of creds.

30 Mary Angela Douglas: a magical bygone spirit who sweetly found her way onto the Internet.

31 Stephen Cole: Who is this wonderful, prolific lyric poet? The daily Facebook fix.

32 Sophia Naz: “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

33 Rochelle Potkar: “But can I run away from the one cell that is the whole Self?”

34 Helen Vendler: No one finally cares what non-poets say about poetry.

35 Huzaifa Pandit: “Bear the drought of good poems a little longer”

36 N Ravi Shankar: “a toy train in a full moon night”

37 Sharon Olds: Like Edna Millay, a somewhat famous outsider, better than the men.

38 Nabina Das: “the familiar ant crawling up”

39 Kaveh Akbar: “the same paradise/where dead lab rats go.”

40 Terrance Hayes: “I love poems more than/money and pussy.”

41 Dan Sociu: Plain-spoken, rapturous voice of Romania

42 Glyn Maxwell: Editor of Derek Walcott’s poems— The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

43 Arjun Rajendran:  Indian poet in English who writes sassy, seductive poems.

44 A.E. Stallings: With Logan, and a few others, the Formalist torch.

45 Patricia Lockwood: Subsiding from viral into respectability.

46 Marjorie Perloff: An old-fashioned, shaming of NYU professor Avital Ronell in the Nimrod Reitman case.

47 Daipayan Nair: Great love and sex poet of India

48 Shohreh Laici: Proud young voice of restless, poetic Iran

49 Smita Sahay: “You flowed down the blue bus/into a brown puddle/below the yellow lamp post/and hung there”

50 Mary Oliver: An early fan of Edna St. Vincent Millay, she assisted Edna’s sister, Norma, in assembling the great poet’s work.

51 Natasha Trethewey: Former U.S. laureate, her New and Selected favored to win National Book Award this year.

52 Anand Thakore: “a single tusk/White as a quarter-moon in mid-July,/Before the coming of a cloud.”

53 Carl Dennis: Author of the poem, “The God Who Loves You.”

54 Tony Hoagland: Today’s Robert Bly.

55 Meera Nair: “I live in a house/Someone else has loved in”

56 Fanny Howe: “Eons of lily-building/emerged in the one flower.”

57 Rita Dove: Won Pulitzer in 1987. Her The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) was panned by Vendler and Perloff.

58 Diana Khoi Nguyen: Poet and multimedia artist studying for a PhD in Creative Writing.

59 Matthew Zapruder: Poetry editor of the New York Times magazine since 2016.

60 Jenny Xie: “I pull apart the evening with a fork.”

61 Mary Jo Bang: Chair of the National Book Award judges.

62 Jim Behrle: Hates David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series and “rhyme schemes.”

63 Semeen Ali: “diverting your attention/for a minute/contains my life/my undisclosed life”

64 George Bilgere: Ohio’s slightly more sophisticated Billy Collins.

65 Aishwarya Iyer: “When rain goes where will you find/The breath lost to the coming of love?”

66 Sukrita Kumar: “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

67 Sushmita Gupta: “So detached, so solid, so just, so pure. A glory unbeholden, never seen or met before.”

68 Merryn Juliette: “before your body knows the earth”

69 John Cooper Clarke: “The fucking clocks are fucking wrong/The fucking days are fucking long”

70 Justin Phillip Reed: His book (2018) is Indecency.

71 Cathy Park Hong: Her 2014 essay, “Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde,” rules our era. The avant-garde is no longer automatically cool.

72 Carolyn Forche:  “No one finds/ you no one ever finds you.”

73 Zachary Bos: “The sun like a boat drowns.”

74 Bob Dylan: “You could have done better but I don’t mind”

75 Kanye West: The musical guest when SNL open its 44th season September 29th

76 Raquel Salas Rivera: “i shall invoke the shell petrified by shadows”

77 Jennifer Reeser: Indigenous, her new collection, will be available soon.

78 Forrest Gander: Be With from New Directions is his latest book.

79 Arun Sagar: “through glass and rain./Each way out/is worthy, each way leads/to clarity and mist,/and music.”

80 Joanna Valente: “Master said I am too anti-social.”

81 Richard Howard: Like Merwin, an American treasure, born in the 1920s.

82 J.Michael Martinez: Museum of the Americas on 2018 National Book Award longlist.

83 Amber Tamblyn: The actress/poet’s dad does the amazing flips in the movie West Side Story.

84 Paul Rowe: Stunning translation of Cesario Verde’s “O Sentimento dum Ocidental.”

85 Jill Bialosky: Norton editor caught plagiarizing by William Logan

86 Robert Pinsky: Editor of the 25 year anniversary edition of Best American Poetry in 2013.

87 Philip Nikolayev: Poet, linguist, philosopher: One Great Line theory of poetry is recent.

88 Ada Limón: The poet lives in New York, California, and Kentucky.

89 Rae Armantrout: Her poems examine, in her words, “a lot of largely unexamined baggage.”

90 Alex Dimitrov: “I want even the bad things to do over.”

91 Sam Sax: “Prayer for the Mutilated World” in September Poetry.

92 Danielle Georges: “You should be called beacon. You should be called flame.”

93 Stephen Sturgeon: “These errors are correct.”

94 Hieu Minh Nguyen: “Maybe he meant the city beyond the window.”

95 Richard Blanco: presidents, presidents, presidents.

96 Kent Johnson: His magazine Dispatches from the Poetry Wars continues the fight against poetry as commodity/career choice.

97 Parish Tiwari: “between falling rain/and loneliness…/the song/that once was ours”

98 Eliana Vanessa: Rrrrr. Lyric internet poet of the Tooth, Death, Love, Sex and Claw school.

99 Rachel Custer: Best known poem is “How I Am Like Donald Trump”

100 Jos Charles: “wen abeyance/accidentlie”

 

 

 

WHITMAN VS. MAZER—THE SENTIMENTAL POETRY MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES

 

Image result for walt whitman

The sentimental, as this 2018 March Madness Poetry tournament is finding out—as poems smash into each other in the particle accelerators of Scarriet’s aesthetic criticism—refers to any emotion at all, even anger.

Emotion, which the Modernists sought to distance themselves from—because the Victorians and the Romantics were too emotional in their poetry—is the beating heart of any poem; the poem cannot survive without emotion.

Are poems truth, as in scientific truth?  Even those who hate emotion, would not make such a claim (it would be an emotional one).

So if poems are not scientific documents, what are they?  They are sentimental documents—as much as feeling can be registered in a scientific (aesthetic, philosophical, psychological) manner.

The Modernists were fashionably reactive, but rather bankrupt philosophically and critically—the New Critics’ objected shrilly to the relevance of  the reader’s emotional response to a poem (yes, poems may make us feel something, they conceded, but this was not as important as the objective description of the poem as a thing).

T.S. Eliot, the father of New Criticism, famously  called poetry an “escape from emotion,” but he was confusing Poe’s formula that verse was 90% mathematical and 10% moral.

Poems can certainly be written, as Wordsworth said, in “tranquility,” even as powerful feelings flow between poet and reader.

The poem itself is not emotional.

The whole question of “escaping” emotion, or counting emotions bad in a poem, the way emotions are bad if one loses one’s temper in real life, is besides the point.

The mathematical is not emotional, and verse is largely mathematical—even prose poetry relies on rhythm, which is music, which is math.

But should the poet invent, and impart, emotion as part of the poem’s effect?

Yes, and this is a truism.

Aristotle says emotions can be “purged” by poetry. Aristotle was arguing with Plato, and looking for a way to praise emotions, but the “purging” idea is incomplete.  Let’s say a poem elicits disgust—how does this “purge” anything?  Does this mean we will never feel disgusted, again?  Of course not.  The poem has given us a feeling of disgust where there was none before, and whenever we remember the poem, we are disgusted.

The emotional content of a poem can include some “bad” emotions—fear or sorrow, for instance—disgust should probably be avoided altogether, but even disgust may be used, sparingly, perhaps—but the poem itself should do more than just produce an emotion, or a combination of emotions; the emotions of the poem must be accompanied with—what?  And here’s the mystery; here’s what the poet must decide with each poem.  All we know is that every poem should be highly sentimental, in the old, less pejorative, meaning of the term.

In the Fourth Bracket, the Sushmita Bracket, we feature some living poets, who don’t give a damn what contemporary critics think, and find joy and weeping in the poetic euphoria of grand, old, high sentiment.

Ben Mazer—one of the greatest living poets (tell us how he is not)—gives us a poem burning on emotional jet fuel.

As we have said, the “emotion” of a person and the “emotion” of a poem are two different things.

Personal emotion could indeed be something we would want to “escape” from, to tamp down, to control, etc.

A poem, however, understands no such social limits or niceties.

The more the poet understands this crucial distinction, the better the poet will be; those who do not understand this distinction produce poetry which is either purely dull, or purely offensive.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

The famous poem by Walt Whitman is Mazer’s opponent.  We copy the first stanza.

O Captain! My captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red.
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Many know and admire this poem, and Walt Whitman was embraced by the moderns—Pound put out a hand to Whitman (while ignoring Poe, and other important figures of the 19th century.)

Those who admire Whitman’s poem, when pressed, would probably not remember “But O heart! heart! heart!/O the bleeding drops of red.”

What respectable poet writes anything like this today?

And yet, “O Captain! My Captain!” is a great poem, a powerful poem, a memorable poem, with a wonderful rhythm—if Whitman had checked himself and said, “I can’t write nonsense like O heart! heart! heart!” who doubts but that the poem would never have seen completion, would never have been written at all?

The only drawback to Whitman’s poem is that it exhausts its theme in the first stanza, and the next two stanzas merely recapitulate the first.  It is a bold and lovely poem, however.

Ben Mazer, similarly, pours on the sentimentality in his poem—the poet is vulnerable in the extreme.  The hysterical and desperate nature of the poem is announced at once, with, “I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife.”  This alone, marks the poem as genius, and then Mazer presents the searing, simple words of an actual, intimate conversation, which adds to the drama, and then Mazer ends the poem with a direct, emotional plea at the highest possible pitch.

Mazer’s poem has four parts, with the poet’s position never wavering—the first part announces the setting and situation, the second part features a dialogue, the third part presents a key, yet hopeless turn in the dialogue, “I wish that it were true,” and in the last part, the poet seeks divine assistance, after beginning the poem with a reference to earthly power.

There’s no crying in poetry?

Yes there is.

Mazer wins.

MARCH MADNESS 2018 —SENTIMENTAL AND WORTHY

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This year’s Scarriet 2018 March Madness Tournament is a contest between great sentimental poems.

We use Sentimental Poems because sentimentality in the United States has long been seen as a great fault in poetry.

It is necessary we bring attention to a crucial fact which is so obvious many overlook it: In the last 100 years, it is considered a virtue for the poet to avoid sentimentality.

But poetry does not belong to the factual.

Ever since Socrates pointed out that Homer wasn’t trustworthy when it came to chariots, law, war, or government, the fact that poetry is not factual has been understood and accepted.

As science grew in stature, it was only natural that Plato was seen as more and more correct—science, the eyes and ears of discovery, made the imagination of lyric song seem feeble by comparison.  Entertainment, Plato feared, could take the place of truth—and destroy society, by making it tyrannical, complacent, sensual, and blind.

Plato’s notion, to put it simply, triumphed.

Homer was no longer considered a text book for knowledge.

Poetry was just poetry.

Religion and science—one, an imaginative display of morals, the other, an imaginative display of reason, became the twin replacements of poetry for all mankind.

Poetry still mattered, but it belonged to entertainment and song, the frivolous, the sentimental—as much as these matter, and they do.  The sentimental was not considered a bad thing, but it was never confused with science. Nor was poetry confused with religion. Religion, with its unchanging sacred texts, was society’s moral guide; a poem springs up suddenly in a person’s mind, a fanciful thing, a piece of religion for the moment—not a bad thing, necessarily, but ranked below science and religion.

Poetry sat on the sidelines for two thousand years.  Homer made it glorious, Plato killed it, and then Science and Religion, for a couple of millennia, were Homer’s two important substitutes.

For two thousand years poetry was sentimental, not factual.

Religion bleeds into poetry (quite naturally) —Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Milton—and in the rival arts, painting, and music—helps religiosity (high sentiment) to thrive and not be overthrown by science (fact).

Music and painting were especially glorious—we use the word without irony—(and religious) during the Renaissance, becoming almost scientific; musicians like Beethoven proved music is more than entertainment—it enriches the soul as much as religion.  Plato would certainly have approved of Bach and Beethoven, if not Goya and Shelley.

Poetry crept back into good standing (since being dethroned by Plato) through religion’s back door—as religion—especially during the Enlightenment and the 19th century—became more and more disgraced by science.

Modernism changed all that.

In the beginning of the 20th century, poetry (together with painting and music) decided it didn’t need religion or science.

Perspective (the mathematics of seeing), which developed in Renaissance painting, is science.

Cubism, Collage, (2-dimensional fragments) and Abstract painting’s color-mixing do not constitute scientific advancement.

Speech and versification enhance each other in poets like Pope and Byron—this has a certain scientific validity—poetry dribbling off into awkward prose, as it pretends to “paint” an “image,” does not.

Verse exists as written music.   Verse, like music, is a system of notation.  Beethoven’s notes do not float around experimentally on the page—Beethoven’s genius exists both in the notation, and in what the notation projects, with the sound of musical instruments. Beethoven’s genius also lies largely in the realm of the sentimental. Which is not a bad thing at all. Sentimentality occupies the battle-ground middle between religion and science—the genius of the modern is found more in artists like Beethoven and Byron, than in the more self-conscious “modernist revolution” of the 20th century—which was largely a step backwards for art and poetry, as talkers like Ezra Pound and John Dewey gained ascendancy.

Here’s an example of the pseudo-science which infested 20th century Modernism: Charles Olson’s idea that poetry is expressed as “breath,” and can be notated as such, on the page.  Yes, people breathe as they read verse, but “the breath” has nothing to do with verse in any measurable way.  A sigh is dramatic, sure. But a sigh isn’t scientific. Yet no one laughed at Olson’s idea. Modernists took it seriously.

And here in 2018, in the wake of Modernism with its sharp-pointed, experimental, unscientific irreverence, poets continue since 1900 to frown on anything sentimental, associating it with flowery, Victorian verse—when the sentimental belongs to the genius of great poetry.

Poetry is sentimental.

Bad poetry is sentimental only because all poetry is sentimental.

The damaging mistake Modernism made, dumping anything pre-1900, in its pursuit of the non-existent “new” (never really described or defined) was the insistence that sentimentalism was bad.

It was a logical mistake, as we have just shown: all poetry (since Socrates knocked off Homer) is sentimental, not factual; Modernism’s childish, fake-science, tantrum against the sentimental was a gambit against religion, which was already collapsing before the advent of science.

Modernism did not embody scientific glory—unless skyscrapers as architecture belong to science.

The 20th century engineers and physicists (far closer to Leonardo da Vinci than William Carlos Williams) were scientific; religion lived on in the lives of the poor, even as Nietzsche-inspired, 20th century professors said God was dead; and meanwhile the Modern poets dug themselves into a hole—rejecting religion, while proudly beating their chests (Modernism’s crackpot identity was male) before the idol of pseudo-science. Modern poetry fell into oblivion, where it still exists today—secular, unscientific, unsentimental, unmusical, without a public, or an identity.

Sentimental poetry did live on throughout the 20th century—poetry is sentimental, after all.  It continued to thrive, in popular music, but as poetry, it mostly thrived beneath the Modernist headlines.

To highlight this argument, Scarriet’s 2018 March Madness Tournament will feature great sentimental poetry.

Before we start, we’d like to define the issue in more detail.

We do not assert that mawkish, simplistic, hearts-and-flowers, unicorns-and-rainbows, poetry is good.

But tedious, pedantic, dry, prosaic poetry is not good, either.

We simply maintain that all poetry, and the very best poetry, is sentimental, rather than factual—despite what Modernist scholars might say.

It is necessary to point out that verse is not, and cannot, as verse, be somehow less than prose, for verse cannot be anything but prose—with the addition of music.

Verse, not prose, has the unique categorical identity which meets the scientific standard of a recognizable art, because verse is prose-plus-one.  Verse is prose and more.  Here is the simple, scientific fact of verse as an identifying category, which satisfies the minimal material requirements of the category, poetry.

The objection can be raised that the following two things exist

1. prose and

2. prose which has a poetic quality, but is not verse

and therefore, poetry can exist without verse.

But to say that prose can be poetic while still being prose, is really to say nothing at all; for if we put an example of prose next to prose-which-is-poetic, it only proves that some prose writing samples are more beautiful than other prose writing samples.

This still does not change this fact: Verse is prose-plus-one.  Prose can be enchanting for various reasons; it can have a greater interest, for example, if it touches on topics interesting to us—but the topic is interesting, not the prose; the content of prose can have all sorts of effects on us—secondly, and more important, prose can certainly appeal for all sorts of sensual reasons, in terms of painting and rhythm and sentiment, and this is why we enjoy short stories and novels. But again, verse is all of this and more; verse is, by definition, prose-plus-one.

To repeat: Verse is more than prose. Prose is not more than verse.

What do we mean, exactly, by sentimental?  Isn’t there excellent verse which is not sentimental at all?  No, not really, if we simply define sentimental as the opposite of factual.

We might be confused here, because a fact can be sentimental; a simple object, for instance, from our past, which has associations for us alone—there it is, a souvenir, a fact which can move us to tears.

Just as verse is prose-and-more, the sentimental is fact-and-more.  Poetry adds sentiment to the fact.

Here are two examples of good poems, and because they are poems, they are sentimental; they are not sentimental because they are good, or good because they are sentimental.  The sentimental is a given for the poem. And because facts come first, and sentiment is added, poems use facts, even though poems are not factual.

Think of Byron’s famous lyric, “We Shall Go No More A Roving.”  The sentiment is right there in the title. “No more!” Something we did together which was pleasantly thrilling will never happen again.  

If this Byron lyric not sentimental, nothing is.   But we can state its theme in prose.  The sentimentality can be glimpsed in the prose, in the preface, in the idea.  The verse completes what the prose has started.

Facts, and this should not be surprising, do a lot of the work in sentimental poetry.  One of the things which makes Byron’s gushing lyric gloriously sentimental, for instance, is the fact that it is not just I who shall “go no more a roving,” but we shall “go no more a roving.” This is a fact, and the fact contributes to the sentimentality; or, it might be argued, the sentimentality contributes to the fact.

Carl Sandburg, born in 1878, got his first break in 1914 when his poems were accepted by Poetry, the little Modernist magazine from Chicago—where Sandburg was raised. Sandburg was initially famous for his “hog butcher for the world” poem about Chicago, but the Modernists (including the academically influential New Critics) withdrew their support as Sandburg gained real fame as a populist, sentimental poet. Sandburg even became a folk singer; his poem “Cool Tombs” was published in 1918, and you can hear Sandburg reading this masterpiece of sentimentality on YouTube—and you can hear Sandburg singing folk songs on YouTube, as well.  What is sentimental about a “cool tomb,” exactly?  Is it the sound-echo of “cool” and “tomb?” The sentimental in poetry proves the sentimental is not always a simple formula.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” might be preferred by Moderns, because on the face of it, this poem doesn’t seem very sentimental at all.  Shelley’s poem is factual: a traveler sees a ruin. Shelley describes the facts as they are—here’s what the traveler sees.  But upon reflection, one recognizes how powerful the sentiment of the poem is—a great thing existed, and is now gone.  And yet, what is gone was evil, and the poem mocks its loss, and the final image of the poem is simply and factually, “the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

However, and we don’t need to push this point more than necessary, the whole power of Shelley’s poem is sentimental.  The fact of the statue, half-sunken in the sands of a desert, is just that—a fact.  Were it only this, the fact would not be a poem—all poems, to be poems, must be sentimental; the sentiment is added to the fact.

The poet makes us feel the sentimental significance of the fact; this is what all poems do.

And now to the Tournament…

Our readers will recognize quite a few of the older poems—and why not?  The greatly sentimental is greatly popular.

Most will recognize these poems right up through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

The half-dozen poems composed more recently, in the fourth and final bracket, will not be as familiar, since sentimental examples of verse no longer get the attention they deserve; we bravely furnish them forth to stand with the great sentimental poems of old.

“Sentimental” by Albert Goldbarth is not actually sentimental; the poem is more of a commentary on sentimentality by a pedantic modern, in the middle of the modern, anti-sentimental era.

“A Dog’s Death” may be the most sentimental poem ever written, and it comes to us from a novelist; as respectable poets in the 20th century tended to avoid sentimentality.

The poems by Sushmita Gupta, Mary Angela Douglas, Stephen Cole, and Ben Mazer we have printed below.

The great poems familiar to most people are sentimental—at the dawn of the 20th century, sentimentality was unfortunately condemned.

Here are 64 gloriously sentimental poems.

Old Sentimental Poems—The Bible Bracket

1. Western Wind –Anonymous
2. The Lord Is My Shepherd –Old Testament
3. The Lie –Walter Raleigh
4. Since There’s No Help, Come Let Us Kiss and Part –Michael Drayton
5. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love –Christopher Marlowe
6. That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In My Behold –William Shakespeare
7. Full Fathom Five Thy Father Lies –William Shakespeare
8. Adieu, Farewell, Earth’s Bliss –Thomas Nashe
9. The Golden Vanity –Anonymous
10. Death, Be Not Proud –John Donne
11. Go and Catch A Falling Star –John Donne
12. Exequy on His Wife –Henry King
13. Love Bade Me Welcome –George Herbert
14. Ask Me No More Where Jove Bestows –Thomas Carew
15. Il Penseroso –John Milton
16. On His Blindness –John Milton

Newer Sentimental Poems—The Blake Bracket

1. Why So Pale and Wan Fond Lover? –John Suckling
2. To My Dear and Loving Husband –Anne Bradstreet
3. To Lucasta, Going to the Wars –Richard Lovelace
4. To His Coy Mistress –Andrew Marvel
5. Peace –Henry Vaughan
6. To the Memory of Mr. Oldham –John Dryden
7. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard –Thomas Gray
8. The Sick Rose –William Blake
9. The Little Black Boy –William Blake
10. A Red, Red Rose –Robert Burns
11. The World Is Too Much With Us –William Wordsworth
12. I Wandered Lonely As  A Cloud –William Wordsworth
13. Kubla Khan –Samuel Coleridge
14. I Strove With None –Walter Savage Landor
15. A Visit From St. Nicholas –Clement Clarke Moore
16. When We Two Parted –George Byron

Still Newer Sentimental Poems—The Tennyson Bracket

1. England in 1819 –Percy Shelley
2. To ___ –Percy Shelley
3. Adonais–Percy Shelley
4. I Am –John Clare
5. Thanatopsis –William Cullen Bryant
6. To Autumn –John Keats
7. La Belle Dame sans Merci –John Keats
8. Ode to A Nightingale –John Keats
9. How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways –Elizabeth Barrett
10. Paul Revere’s Ride –Henry Longfellow
11. Annabel Lee –Edgar Poe
12. Break Break Break  –Alfred Tennyson
13. Mariana –Alfred Tennyson
14. The Charge of the Light Brigade –Alfred Tennyson
15. My Last Duchess  –Robert Browning
16. The Owl and the Pussy Cat –Edward Lear

Even Newer Sentimental Poems—The Sushmita Bracket

1. O Captain My Captain –Walt Whitman
2. Because I Could Not Stop For Death  –Emily Dickinson
3. The Garden Of Proserpine –Charles Swinburne
4. The Man He Killed –Thomas Hardy
5. When I Was One and Twenty  –A.E. Housman
6. Cynara –Ernest Dowson
7. Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  –T.S. Eliot
8. Not Waving But Drowning  –Stevie Smith
9. Nights Without Sleep –Sara Teasdale
10. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed –Edna Millay
11. Sentimental –Albert Goldbarth
12. Dog’s Death –John Updike
13. Utterly In Love –Sushmita Gupta
14. I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas
15. Waiting –Stephen Cole
16. Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

Utterly in Love –Sushmita Gupta

Of all the remarkable,
Things and feelings,
In my life,
You are one.
And I guard you,
And your identity,
In the deepest,
Quietest corner,
Of my heart,
With a passion,
That some show,
For religion,
And if not religion,
Then they show it,
For revolution.
But me,
I am a mere mortal.
I only know,
To love you,
And love you secretly.
Secretly,
I melt in a pool,
By your thoughts.
Secretly,
I wish,
That you would,
Mould the molten me,
And give me,
A shape,
A form,
And eyes,
That twinkle,
Like far away stars.
And me,
With twinkling eyes,
And fragrant body,
From loving you,
Shall love you,
Even more.

I Wrote On A Page Of Light –Mary Angela Douglas

I wrote on a page of light;
it vanished.
then there was night.

then there was night and
I heard the lullabies
and then there were dreams.

and when you woke
there were roses, lilies
things so rare a someone so silvery spoke,

or was spoken into the silvery air that

you couldn’t learn words for them
fast enough.
and then,

you wrote on a page of light.

Waiting –Stephen Cole

I believe if She were here
She would tell me
The cold winds are departing.

The message delivered
Thoughtfully,
If only I was listening.

Comfort to the discomfort
With her warming words.
The void filled,
Recognized,
For what it lost,
Otherwise,
It could not be filled.

For Her,
The rules are absent by rules.
She always knows what to say
As only for the proper need,
She construes,
According to sidereal secrets
Of the long, long day.

Number 5 (December Poems) –Ben Mazer

I was at the Nuremberg Rallies pleading with my wife,
I love you, I love you, more than anything in the world!
As she looked off to see the dramatic spectators,
she turned to me and said, you hate my guts.
I wept, I pleaded, no, it wasn’t true!
I only married you because I love you!
There is no force to plead with that can change her course,
now everything is quite its opposite,
and yet she said, “I wish that it were true,”
and would not answer “Do you love me?”
or contest “You do! You love me!”
What are we then? Man and wife
hopelessly lost and separated in strife
and worser grief than was known to despair
at using words like markers, no means yes,
when Jesus Mary Magdalene won’t you bless
the two true lovers, their heads to your thighs,
and let this nonsense out in bursts of tears and sighs.

BEN MAZER: THE LAST MODERN

Image result for ben mazer selected poems

Selected Poems by Ben Mazer
Paperback, 248 pages
Madhat Press
Preface by Philip Nikolayev

T.S. Eliot was born in 1888. As Ben Mazer’s Selected Poems, with its T.S. Eliot heft, lands on America’s doorstep (as writing workshop and slam poet hives hum in every college town) this is the question a few may be asking: is Mazer a genius, or a copyist?

When we write in the ascendant style of an age, we position ourselves for greatness (think Beethoven atop Mozart), or neglect—a copyist the world doesn’t need.

W.H. Auden—younger, English-born, sassier than the somber American, T.S. Eliot—whom Eliot published, and who, after traveling to Berlin and China with Isherwood, subsequently moved to America and awarded John Ashbery his Yale Younger—is Auden Mazer’s fountainhead?

Are the following quotes from Auden or Mazer?

1.Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day/Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,/He got down to work

2. The flier, at the Wicklow manor,/Stayed throughout the spring and summer,/Mending autos in the drive

3. In a strange country, there is only one/Who knows his true name and could turn him in./But she, whose father too was charged with murder

4. Look, stranger, on this island now/The leaping light for your delight discovers

5. And move in memory as now these clouds do,/That pass the harbor mirror/And all the summer through the water saunter.

The insouciance of rhymes flung against the language of hard-boiled detective fiction. It’s Modernism longing to be Romantic, but finding it quite impossible.

1, 4, and 5 are Auden; 2 and 3, Mazer.

Shelley in army uniform, cynically resigned to domesticated Empire life—which pays better than it ought.

Ben Mazer is for, by, and about poetry which sings out the following historical paradox:

Shelley, the Romantic, is quick—look at him riding winds and swift ocean currents.

The Modern, with her machines and her anxiety, hasn’t got time for Romanticism singing Shelley, and, yet, the modern boredom and leisure which the modern affects, allows for poetry which goes deeper into the Shelley of Shelley than Shelley ever did.

If you give Mazer a few minutes (since a long poem doesn’t exist) he will pour more Shelley on you than you’ve ever known before.

The Mazer quoted above, in the comparison with Auden, is early Mazer.  The later Mazer is less like Auden and more like Eliot.  But these comparisons are not entirely fair. Mazer is Mazer.

Here’s an excerpt from Mazer’s “The Double:”

I remember chiefly the warp of the curb, and time going by.
As time goes by. I remember red gray green blue brown brick
before rain or during rain. One doesn’t see who is going by.
One doesn’t think to see who is going by.
One sees who is going by all right, but one doesn’t see who is going by.
The bright lights attract customers to the bookstore.
Seeing, chalk it up to that. The bitter looks of the booksellers,
as you leave the shop without paying. Rickety steps that will soon
be history. A ripped up paperback book with some intelligent inscriptions
in very dried out blue gray ink. Lots of dumpsters. And seagulls.
Or are they pigeons. They seem related, as the air is to the sea.
When it gets darker, or foggier, it is a really big soup
of souls, works of art, time tables, the hour before dinner,
theatrical enterprise, memories of things never happened, warnings
spoken in a voice familiar, a keen and quickened sense
of possibility glimpsed through windows.
Handbills, whatever to mark the passing time. And sleep.
I know it is good when the good of it is not noticed.
It is something you try and tell someone privately in a room
where the light is broken in October. Your sense of time
is the source of your charm with strangers,
who would accept you anyways.

Mazer’s accumulation of details—this is the first 22 lines of “The Double” (Poems (2010) in Selected pg. 9)—unlike the poetry of Ashbery, which explodes in non sequitur—narrows down to philosophy. With each additional observation, Mazer’s centripetal process pins down meaning; notice how the passage we have quoted is not just creating categories, but reflects on category itself: “They seem related, as the air is to the sea.” See (“seeing, chalk it up to that”) the subtle manner in which observations are linked throughout the passage: the ambiguity of the poet’s seeing-but-not-seeing-who-is-going-by is repeated in the “booksellers,” who by their very nature see-but-don’t-see visitors to the bookstore, since they want visitors (our poet) to buy books from their store—a store which has “rickety” steps, indicating not many people are buying books, and the store itself will become “history”—the bookstore itself will become a book. The poet embraces the trope of attracting customers (readers) himself—the poet comments on what makes poetry good (“I know it is good when the good of it is not noticed”) defines imagination (“memories of things never happened”) and the actual surroundings of the poet’s rambles (“lights, fog, handbills, dumpsters, gulls, bookstores, the hour before dinner) cunningly mingle with the walking-and-seeing poet’s thoughts on poetry: “try and tell someone privately…” “your sense of time” (poetry, a temporal art) “is the source of your charm with strangers”—and with “strangers” we are back to the booksellers—and the customers who don’t buy (“strangers” to each other) and readers of poems—the more successful, the more “charm” the poet has, the more readers (“strangers”) the poet will have.

The hidden meaning of “The Double” is the lonely enterprise of the seeing-but-not-seeing poet who strives to be successful—the background of urban poverty and charm denoting the modern is just one of its layers. There is a density of significance impossible to define, but Mazer’s poetry has it.  “The Double,” “Death and Minstrelsy,” and “The Long Wharf,” three longish poems which greet us in the beginning of Mazer’s Selected, should be taught in every writing class—these three poems alone ensure Mazer’s immortality.

We also think “Divine Rights,” Cirque D’ Etoiles,” “Deep Sleep Without Reservations,” “Monsieur Barbary Brecht,”  “The King,” (excerpted in Selected) and “After Dinner Sleep” fall into the “immortal” category, though there are shorter pieces (mostly sonnet-length) in the book of great charm, and even sublimity.

In Auden’s “The Partition,” quoted above, Auden was writing about the immensely real: the British Empire dividing up its conquests.

Mazer writes of the real, but almost religiously avoids current events.

Mazer writes of what is close—he is Romantic in nature.

The British Empire splitting apart requires the poets of that Empire to say something, to mourn, to capture.

The American Empire holding itself, remarkably, together, is impossible to speak, except in amateurish and splenetic bouts of boring and dubious prophecy. The best American poets are not historians. They enjoy being in the middle of a dream.

In the wider historical scope, it could just be this.

Mazer is properly, we think, poetry, not history.

Poetry, in a certain historic time and place, which tries to be history, fails.

Poetry of any sensuality, which doesn’t try to be history, tends to be Keatsian.  We don’t read the poetry of Keats to find out about English history.

Mazer, the neo-Romantic, might be called the Wordsworth of brick, but he is really closer to the sublime Keats than the more mundane and pedantic (though still good) Wordsworth. A Romantic urbanity thrills, and when a natural scene is glimpsed, it is all the more beautiful. To this extent, Mazer is Wordsworth.

Still more powerfully, Mazer carves out, half-self-consciously (there’s genius in that “half”) the leisure to travel wholly in Keatsian revery—into and around reality (we use “reality” in the plainest and most mundane way possible)—which makes Ashbery look like a mere manipulator of words, by comparison.

Ashbery’s prose-poetry might be said to resemble the Stars Wars trinity of prequel movies: Ashbery’s pyrotechnical ur-poetry attempts to modernize the nostalgic; Ashbery is a kind of hyper-contemporary of quotation and copying, done very well, but missing what makes the franchise (Poetry) great.

Every major contemporary critic, from Harold Bloom to Helen Vendler, acknowledges Ashbery—now the mourned, late Ashbery—as the contemporary master. But no one would say Ashbery is the future of poetry, or a reenactment of what makes the “old” poetry “great.” Ashbery took the franchise, Poetry, and inserted himself in front of it as a language machine which artificially generates poetry with a small “p.” The Ashbery “river” is like poetic consciousness, but without the Poem. Ashbery is (or attempted to be) the equipment of poetry without Poetry, without the poetry itself, without the ‘iconic poem.’

Ashbery also has a Jar Jar Binks quality, a silliness which condemns him before a certain more serious crowd.

William Logan, known for his critical rigor (and rancor?), isn’t fond of Ashbery. Logan, much younger, will outlive Bloom, Vendler, and Perloff, and so we’ll see.

Mazer may be the last Modern—his Modernism resembling Luke Skywalker’s lonely predicament in the currently much discussed, and much maligned, Last Jedi.

The High Modernism of T.S. Eliot is new, yet old, situated, in terms of politics and taste, somewhere between Dante and the new diversity.

Luke Skywalker is the last Jedi—and we might as well say it: Mazer is the last Modern.

Mazer gets his “Force” from the Tradition (in our crude analogy, the “Force” from the original Star Wars films)—Mazer’s work belongs to High Modernism, but if his poetry is “heroic,” (and we believe it is) the poetry is both nostalgic (timeless, longing) but also unique—when we read Mazer’s poetry, we care about the person in the poetry, and this is what gives the “great” poem an added, human, interest. The reader identifies with the poet on his quest, but also with the poem-significance of the quest, in terms of the bigger picture—Tradition, Poetry.  The great poem will use both elements in its appeal—1. this is a good poem 2. my heart is moved to pity and understanding by this poet who lives in this poem.

Mazer writes poems first, and secondly, poetry. Mazer’s poems will ensure his immortality—or not.

Ashbery wrote poetry first, and secondly, poems. Ashbery’s immortality depends on his poetry—as time rolls on and does its usual up-rooting and destroying.

A poem is probably a better shelter, but who knows how the future moves?

A review of a poet’s Selected Poems—retrospective by its very nature—would not be complete without some discussion of the arc of the poet’s career.

Critics love to talk of an artist’s phases, but most of this talk is speculation and half-truth; it is the fate of a poet to be a poet—never to be a poet in this or that phase.  Tennyson wrote about Crimea because Crimea happened—not because Tennyson was in a phase.

The quality which makes any artist significant is

1. recognized by the connoisseur immediately

2. transcends phases.

A long poem does not exist.  In the same way, a book of poems does not exist. Mazer’s Selected is hefty, but even if it were not, any poet’s Selected is for reading, at one’s leisure, a marvelous poem, or a series of marvelous poems. Eventually, the whole book may be digested and understood, and even memorized, but a Selected is not intended to be read straight through in one sitting.

The arc of any great poet’s career is: over a certain amount of time, they wrote poems.

And that’s it.

If a poem is successful, it escapes the circumstances of its writing.

We can say Dante was “exiled,” and this fact contributes to our understanding of the Divine Comedy.  Well, yes and no.

A biographical fact is good. The imagination of the poet rarely finds it useful, however.

But what happened to Mazer?  Don’t we care?  And shouldn’t his Selected Poems reflect this?

If you want to know, read the poems.

Keats, the most iconic Romantic, once complained of Wordsworth writing about Dover.  “Dover?” Keats groused, who would write on Dover?  The Moderns, of course, would laugh at this—why shouldn’t the poet write on anything he wants?  But Keats—no matter how much his advice may fly in the face of “freedom” and “common sense,” is correct.

No poet should write on Dover.  The poet uses his imagination to describe his own imagination.  Otherwise, the poet should be a photographer, a political writer, or a travel writer.

Mazer did write on New York. “Entering the City of New York” Selected, pg 84

It begins:

Entering the city of New York
is something like approaching Ancient Rome,
to see the living people crawling forth,
each pipe and wire, window, brick, and home.

The times are sagging, and it is unreal
to know one’s slice of mortal transient time.
We angle forward, stunned by what we feel,
like insects, incognizant of every crime.

We are so duped, who make up civilization
in images of emotions that we feel,
to know the ague of the mortal steel,
each one perched balanced at his separate station.

The graves are many, and their fields decay,
where nothing can be meant to stand forever.
No doubt in due course God will have his way,
and slowly, slowly, all our bonds dissever.

Mazer is obeying Keats’ edict, and not writing on New York City; these opening lines are certainly redolent of some very large city which a humble, rural, meditative stranger enters, but more importantly, an almost 18th century sublimity is expressed—the subject is not New York City, but the soul.

Mazer should be read for poetry, which vibrates to the times, to the reality—which surrounds all of us; and as we read, Mazer’s poetry frees itself of that reality, and then returns to it.  It’s the new return in the poetry which matters, not exactly what he is writing about. 

Even as the exact, in the winding, mossy ways of the poetry, is paramount.

If this advice sounds like a truism, it is, but it is a truism which is fading away, as Keats is fading away.  Mazer is Modernism returning (impossible!) to Romanticism, and not in a bookish sense, or a scholarly sense, but in exactly the way we have described it—it is poetry returning to poetry.

A minor drawback: Mazer reads his poetry aloud in a manner which does not do justice to its greatness; admirably, he speaks plainly, letting the poetry speak; at times, however, monotone eclipses music. The verse of Mazer’s Selected Poems Tour comes out of his body, which can barely know his mind, the latter being so vast as to have no affinity with mere lisp and gesture. (In person, Mazer tends to be very intense, and very quiet, rather than ebullient, but this makes his occasional joking and excitable nature all the more charming.)

In person, Mazer is a wit, one who does not waste words.

At one of his readings, there was a long question for Mazer, involving the structure of his poetry.

Mazer paused, and then said, “It all rhymes.”

The drama of the poems is missing in Mazer’s recitation, perhaps, because the drama is delicately locked within, guarded by the brain of the poet, which, when it comes to speaking its treasure, fails to properly spill outward the swells and currents of its majesty—in the ephemeral instruments devoted to breath.

We saw an anecdote, once, of Rupert Brooke reading his poetry so softly that he could only be heard in the front row. Mazer can be heard—he is certainly competent when he reads. Mazer is a talented musician, and his devotion to poetry (to the delight of poets everywhere) overtook his earlier interest in music.

Who are the great living poets today?

The audacity to seriously ask this question precludes, perhaps, an answer.

Should we say it?

At the top, or near, of the greatest living poets, is, without a doubt, Mazer.

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.

LOVE IS AN ACT: IN PRAISE OF ROMANTICISM

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It is time to be honest about love.

We are going to argue that love—truly romantic love—rejected as cheap and backwards these days, will save the world.

First, we admit that love is rare, and it dies rather quickly. Everyone experiences this. We like something if it benefits us, and all sorts of human relationships are based on practical arrangements. Love, and here we will skip a definition, since it refers to what most of us have experienced at some point: it is mad, complete, mystical, and full of desire. It is not friendship. It can strike us before puberty, but after puberty, the charisma involved largely partakes of sexuality.

It is a truism to say love requires focus. Love must be intense, have intensity—if it is what we know as love, it must be intense—and this brings us to love’s desire for beauty. It wouldn’t make sense for love to involve many things, for this would be to dilute and diminish by spreading too thin, all that love is, and we agree love must have intensity.

Love must have a physical dimension, and to have the force and importance love requires, love should be rare, but not so rare as to be beyond human possibility, and a certain social comprehension. Individual human beauty fits this criterion—human beauty is rare, invokes intensity and focus, and though rare, is accessible.

In the same manner that durable, attractive, and rare metals such as silver and gold will always signify value in terms of wealth in society, human beauty, whether we like it or not, is the coin of love.

We begin with individual human beauty.

But now we have two more elements.

These elements are based on the idea that love is an act.

Do we mean in the sense that “acting” is fake? “To be able to act” is simply what a successful person is able to do. One can say that beauty is “fake,” in the context of love; but this is to assume that the attractive, which is desired, is insincere, but how so? Acting, like beauty, might be construed as fake in “matters of the heart,” but this view, in the name of a fake “depth,” is the superficial one. If something is truly desired, and if any action, including “acting,” belongs to the category of achieving what is desired, how can it then be deemed superficial? We are forced to use acting, action, and act, and all these three words imply—since we are not talking of friendship or the spiritual, but the concentrated madness of love.

When we say “acting,” we do not include lying, or being dishonest in any way which hurts the beloved. We mean “acting” with the goal of loving one person. The “act” is for love, not for “playing around.”

After beauty, there are two layers of “acting” involved:

One: micro-acting, which refers to the natural charm of the person, an unconscious extension of physical attractiveness, and

Two: macro-acting, which involves the actual “behavior of love;” making vows and uttering words of promise, committment, passion, excitement, praise and, naturally, love.

Micro-acting is crucial. One can be physically attractive, but have very little actual charm. Physical beauty is necessary, but even necessary is micro-acting, the way a person smiles, their personality, how they “act.” We have all seen the attractive face which loses all its beauty the moment we experience that dull something in the person behind it. Beauty exists cleverly and minutely.

Macro-acting takes work.

Micro-acting is just the way the person is.

All three, personal beauty, micro-acting, and macro-acting, mutually enhance each other, and all three are present in love.

Acting, even as we are describing it here, in a heightened, non-pejorative way, is typically seen as wretched, superficial, dishonest, and unseemly.

But what we are saying here is that acting is at the heart of romantic love, and romantic love could not exist without it.

Romantic love is not necessary to marriage and children; there are many societies where marriage is arranged, or where women are second class citizens, or worse, and therefore breeding does not require love at all.

Here we notice two things. Romantic love, which may lead to marriage and children, is not necessary to these two things.

But when it is, it requires women to be free and equal to men.

If this is true, is the western tradition of romantic love directly involved in equality for women?

And if romantic love does require “acting,” is this why romantic love is easy for other societies to disparage, and why romantic love is increasingly viewed as insincere, useless, and crazy—especially with increasing contact between the west—and societies (Islam, for instance) which put more of a premium on breeding, and submissive women, than romantic love?

Recall that the major trope of romantic love as “madness” comes from Plato, who opined human breeding farms as a national ideal. (Plato redeems himself in other places, defending love, and the equality of women, but his pragmatic side had moments in his famous society blueprint, “The Republic.”)

What if romantic love is the true path to free and equal women, to a free and equal society, and love itself?

What if romantic love faces grave danger before the more practical forces of not only societies which enslave women, but groups who view romantic love as a backwards and superficial act?

Much has been made recently of the unlikely alliance between feminists and Muslims—how could these two groups possibly be allied?

Both oppose romantic love.

Islam prioritizes modesty—marriage in which the woman is subordinate.

Romantic love does not fit into this scheme.

Feminists (and many sexual progressives) dislike romantic love—since it prioritizes attractive and flirtatious females. Indicted here is the great western tradition of dead white male literature of the roaming, independent, pining male poets, and their beautiful female muses.

But the great tradition of romantic love does not feature enslaved, uneducated, subordinate women. Nor does it feature empty-headed, sexual bimbos, either.  And women can be beautiful in millions of different ways.

The Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley, loved educated women.

Equals. Women who could appreciate their poetry. Women (think of Mary Shelley) who were writers, as well.

Poe’s “Ligeia” is an entrancing, mentally and spiritually powerful, woman. Poe rejected as a literary ideal the merely sexual or physically attractive female. Flirtatious women meant nothing to Poe. But the woman poet was a source of great admiration for the American.

The great tradition of Romantic love features strong women. Otherwise it is perverted Romanticism.

Two wars. One should never fight two wars.

Women do not put on uniforms and go to war against other women. Men do that.

In nations where men fight other men and keep their women veiled and subordinate, men fight two wars, one against men, and another against their women.

These societies which fight two wars tend to lose out to the countries in the west—whose women are free and educated—the result of the western romantic literary tradition.

Here’s to Romanticism—often portrayed as reactionary, but it is quite the opposite.

Our readers have noticed we have championed the poet, Ben Mazer, who is just now bringing out his Selected Poems to a great deal of acclaim.

Ben Mazer and Scarriet are leading the revival of Romantic poetry.

We must admit that romance is an act—in the superficial meaning of that word.

We must admit to love’s superficiality.

Even as we defend it.

It is through poetry that micro-acting and macro-acting become one; and the poet achieves the charm of the lover—which all desire to possess.

Romantic love may just be the answer to world peace.

If the world heeds this essay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAKE JOHN CROWE RANSOM GREAT AGAIN

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Helen Vendler’s review of Ben Mazer’s The Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom (Un-Gyve Press, 2015) in the New York Review of Books last year did not start a Ransom revival. Our nation’s humiliated pundit class has been preoccupied with other issues recently.

When clothes come off and barriers come down, it makes us feel uncomfortable. There are walls and then there are walls. Persons and nations. The law attempts to bar and unite at once. You cannot come in here but of course you can. You will show us what you have but yes you can be clandestine.

We all know a point has no density. It was da Vinci who asserted that a point in geometry is like a zero in mathematics—it is a marker which is crucial for taking up no physical space.

We can argue in abstract realms to much understanding and profit, but when it comes to physical spaces, disputation inevitably turns into a war. Physical means a fight. Abstraction is the only chance for peace. As soon as we talk of physical walls, physical barbarians will be there. Look at the unborn child and the fight over that. Things must be born. But things also must not be born.  Private property enrages the anarchist; the middle classes watched in uncomprehending horror—and still do—as anarchist rage exploded in 20th century modern art—a business run mostly by independently wealthy anarchists; vapid, sharp pieces flying in static-crackling, faux-humble, morally ambiguous terror, causing madness and poetry which goes on for too long, either in the air or in the mind, the paper-thin derangement of the 20th century avant-garde, called at one point “Futurism,” by its Italian fascist wing, but going by all kinds of names in its cult-like fervor, in its simultaneously scattered and focused Margaret Sanger rage, reflecting a world (small place!) which lost its wits (was it 1900? 1850? Who knows?)—in what might be called Britain’s Revenge Against America, the slick British Empire, with its singular, secular, modern reach. The Empire’s genocide against the Irish, India, Arabs, Persians, and Africans, the Opium Wars against the Chinese, the tacit support of the Confederacy in the American Civil War, barging gloriously into World War One to kill the Huns, appeasing the Nazis, and finally turning the United States of America into a CIA Deep State image of its self. That lawyer-clever, Ivy League, leafy-quiet Empire. That one. The one run by London. Divide to conquer. Plant bombs secretly and don’t say a word. White Boss Man Workshop subverting and subduing nations for their raw materials. “We shall write National Geographic. You shall be in it.” Write the history. Make the history. The British Empire on which the fake sun never sets.

The 20th century avant-garde began its rise during World War One, and grew along with German and Japanese militarism, haiku prose poetry, primitive painting, hideous Brutalist architecture, and atonal music in the 1920s and 30s.

As this horror successfully rose, these gradually fell: Platonist/Judeo-Christian philosophy, the glories of Greece and Rome, Renaissance art and poetry, Pope and Byron, and everything splendid which had gone before. Poe said poetry belonged to beauty, but the 20th century disagreed.

In a valuable new edition which collects all of John Crowe Ransom’s poems in one place for the first time, the editor Ben Mazer, in his restrained and sage introduction, focuses on self-conscious self-censorship and revision, of a poet’s own work, over time. The poet, in this case, Ransom, the boy from Tennessee who went off to fight in the Great War and study Greek and Latin at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, treats his poems very much as if they were written by somebody else. Ransom never included poems from his first volume, Poems About God, (Holt, 1919) in Selected editions of his poetry, even though Robert Graves asked to reproduce them, and they were full of fascinating lines and themes.

John Crowe Ransom—and we find this out from Mazer’s now definitive edition—also wrote exceptional poems never collected at all. There’s something strangely half-hidden about this placid Southerner, hyper-explaining essayist, enterprising editor, and slightly mad, gifted poet.

Ransom’s poems are not formalist in a boring way—erratic at times, but even when they are not great, they are beautiful and creepy:

The swimmer’s body is white and clean,
It is washed by a water of deepest green
The color of leaves in a starlight scene,
And it is as white as the stars between.

(from the first poem in Ransom’s first book, “The Swimmer”)

John Crowe Ransom, in his highbrow formalism, overall learning and philosophical acumen, the central place as essayist, theorist, editor and mentor of Modernism in the American mode, the leader of Middle America Modernism—not only as a New Critic, not only as one of the academic leaders of the Creative Writing Program movement, but as poet, editor, philosopher, essayist—is as vital as Pound, (and more accessible and philosophically rigorous); and it is high time, not just for the sake of American Letters, but all Letters, that we, as literary and practical Americans, end the neglect of John Crowe Ransom.

But before we resurrect Ransom, there’s something we need to get out of the way. It has to do with tribal politics—which the British Empire has always exploited and gloried in, on the way to its phenomenal divide-and-conquer success.

In “Under the Locusts,” the 14th poem of Ransom’s first book—published when the highly respected Ransom, a World War One veteran, a school teacher, professor, a Rhodes Scholar with a Masters degree from Oxford University, was 31 years old—we have this stanza

Grinny Bob is out again
Begging for a dime;
Niggers haven’t any souls,
Grinning all the time.

Perhaps this passage is why John Crowe Ransom, despite being the most important and influential poet/critic in 20th century American Letters, a Bollingen poetry prize winner in 1951 (the same controversial prize Pound won when he escaped hanging for treason), founding editor of the Kenyon Review, mentor to Jarrell and Lowell, the intellectual leader of New Criticism, author of iconic poems and essays which define Modernism better than any other—has been neglected and nearly forgotten.

Controversy has certainly not covered up Pound—who has many admirers.

“Blue Girls” by Ransom may be the only truly perfect poem in existence. (Mazer’s edition gives the two distinct versions, the 1924 original, and the great revised one from Ransom’s 1945 Selected.) Pound never wrote anything as good.

But to return to Ransom’s embarrassing stanza:

Robert Graves—editing and reprinting Ransom’s Poems About God as Grace After Meat in 1923—did not reprint all the poems in Poems About God, in Grace After Meat. Ransom sent a revised and partial copy of his first book to Graves, including “Under the Locusts.” Graves chose to reprint “Under the Locusts.” Ransom, having made a number of subtle changes to the poem, kept the “nigger” stanza intact, except for one slight alteration of the punctuation.

Grinny Bob is out again,
Begging for a dime;
Niggers haven’t any souls,
Grinning all the time.

According to Ransom’s New Criticism idea, one shouldn’t or (cannot?) read poetry when one is bothering with the intent or the milieu of the author.  This prohibition certainly becomes stretched when looking at this stanza. Perhaps the poem does not reflect the poet’s feelings, but that of the “old men” in the poem. Then, perhaps, the New Criticism (and true poetry) triumphs and Ransom is off the hook? Here’s the poem in full:

What do the old men say,
Sitting out of the sun?
Many strange and common things,
And so would any one.

Locusts are sweet in spring
For trees so old and tough;
Locust trees give sorry shade,
Hardly good enough.

Dick’s a sturdy little lad
Yonder throwing stones;
Agues and rheumatic pains
Will fiddle on his bones.

Grinny Bob is out again,
Begging for a dime;
Niggers haven’t any souls,
Grinning all the time.

Jenny and Will go arm in arm,
He’s a lucky fellow;
Jenny’s cheeks are pink as rose,
Her mother’s cheeks are yellow.

War is on, the paper says,
Wounds and enemies:
Now young gallivanting bucks
Will know what trouble is.

Parson’s coming up the hill,
Meaning mighty well;
Thinks he’s preached the doubters down,
And why should old men tell?

(Grace After Meat, 1923)

Auden said of Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.” The same could be said of Ransom, whose poetry often matches Yeats for poignancy and beauty: the mad American South hurt Ransom into poetry. But this is a cynical view—though most love that Auden quote. Ireland isn’t mad. America isn’t mad. The British Empire is mad. Or, we’re all mad.

Ransom and the Tennessean New Critics, before they assumed the New Critic name and mantle, defended, in 1930, the pre-Civil War, agrarian, American South in their prose anthology I’ll Take My Stand.

Later, in 1937, the evolving Fugitives—the Fugitive was Ransom’s poetry club and small magazine when he was a student at Vanderbilt—as they were turning into the New Critics—championed Pound’s haiku prose modernism in their text book Understanding Poetry. 

Brooks and Warren were the New Critic editors of the influential text; the two writers were close associates of Ransom, and we’ll never know precisely how Ransom felt about their book—which, trying to look forward, perhaps, not only praised the crackpot Pound in its pages, but outright condemned the Southern formalist Poe (obviously an influence on the poet, Ransom), copying an attack by the English critic Aldous Huxley—who ridicules at some length the rhythmic magic of “Ulalume.”

This was the same decade—the 1930s—which saw Pound’s friend T.S. Eliot give his speech against Jews at the University of Virginia. After Eliot intervened to help his friend Pound in 1945, he would attack Poe in “From Poe to Valery” in 1949. Ransom’s reputation as a poet—no doubt given a boost by his Bollingen win in 1951, (and it was every poet’s desire to be published in Ransom’s Kenyon Review during the 1950s—it was practically Plath’s highest dream)—nevertheless continued to fall: either his poetry was too similar to Poe’s, or the newer, more progressive, post-1945, Modernists couldn’t face down “Under the Locusts.”

The New Critics generally revised their reactionary views, like many Modernists, after the Nazis were soundly defeated in 1945.

The Agrarians quixotically played into the hands of the old British Empire.

Ransom and the Agrarians, in their love of the bucolic, explicitly decried American industrial capitalism—the one thing which allowed the U.S  to be strong, independent, and free of the British Empire.

The reactionary politics, and the “Empire” context we are putting it in, is not meant to be definitive, and can be seen as insidious, but just as easily it can be seen as quaint; Ransom was complex, and smarter than his fellow New Critics; over the symbolic mural of both politics and modernism, social and theoretical, Ransom was subtle, sage, and adept, equally facile at discussing religion or the impressionistic poetry of Wallace Stevens.

It would be unfair to see Ransom as only a “Southern” writer, as Poe is often cheaply and unfairly characterized. Critics too quick to make geography in literature paramount betray themselves as the most shallow kind.

Ben Mazer wisely avoids all controversial speculation; like the good scholar he is, Mazer sticks to the facts before him, and provides a bountiful treasure of a book in his Collected Ransom, replete with wonderful appendixes.

Speaking of Wallace Stevens (d. 1955), whose fame rose as Ransom’s fizzled, (Helen Vendler held aloft the Stevens torch; nothing equivalent was done for Ransom), there is a poem in Ransom’s second collection (Chills and Fever, 1924) which bears comparison to Stevens’ well-known “Peter Quince,” published in Stevens’ first collection, Harmonium, in 1923.

“Peter Quince” debuted in Alfred Kreymborg’s Others magazine in 1915; not a free-verse poem, as it should have been, in those early revolutionary days, but it passed muster with Pound and Williams’ Kreymborg’s clique, evidently, because of its risqué sexual nature. Stevens was never a popular poet—too abstract and professorial, the “lecture” often spoiling the music; Stevens never quite succeeded the way Frost did, in being “wise” in a relaxed, “contemporary” manner, and, exactly like Ransom, there was in Stevens’ poetry often that hint of the old-fashioned, which condemns the poet to artificially-clever-and-imitative purgatory—even if the beauty of the poems slaughters the meager prose rantings of everyone else. After the passage of much time, we realize: this isn’t old-fashioned, it’s good. The poetry becomes safe to like. This should happen to Ransom—at least, if not more, interesting than his contemporaries.

John Crowe Ransom’s “Judith of Bethulia” owns passages which remind one of “Peter Quince,” and in its precise stanzaic structure, lacks the trembling, insouciant, and exquisite music Stevens brings—and yet, Ransom’s poem has a more focused, coherent, and haunting narrative. Ransom, unlike Stevens, provides no lesson on “beauty;” instead Ransom’s “Bethulia” is immersed in a number of factual things, of which beautiful pathos is the unspoken and shimmering crown.

Judith of Bethulia

Beautiful as the flying legend of some leopard
She had not yet chosen her great captain or prince
Depositary to her flesh, and our defense;
And a wandering beauty is a blade out of its scabbard.
You know how dangerous, gentlemen of threescore?
May you know it yet ten more.

Nor by process of veiling she grew the less fabulous.
Grey or blue veils, we were desperate to study
The invisible emanations of her white body,
And the winds at her ordered raiment were ominous.
Might she walk in the market, sit in the council of soldiers?
Only of the extreme elders.

But a rare chance was the girl’s then, when the Invader
Trumpeted from the south, rumbled from the north,
Beleagured the city from four quarters of the earth,
Our soldiery too craven and sick to aid her—
Where were the arms could countervail this horde?
Her beauty was the sword.

She sat with the elders, and proved on their bleak visage
How bright was the weapon unrusted in her keeping,
While he lay surfeiting on their harvest heaping,
Wasting the husbandry of their rarest vintage—
And dreaming of the broad-breasted dames for concubine?
These floated on his wine.

He was lapped with bay-leaves, and grass and fumiter weed,
And from under the wine-film encountered his moral vision,
For even within his tent she accomplished his derision;
She loosed one veil and another, standing unafraid;
And he perished. Nor brushed her with even so much as a daisy?
She found his destruction easy.

The heathen are all perished. The victory was furnished,
We smote them hiding in our vineyards, barns, annexes,
And now their white bones clutter the holes of foxes,
And the chieftain’s head, with grinning sockets, and varnished—
Is it hung on the sky with a hideous epitaphy?
No, the woman keeps the trophy.

May God send unto our virtuous lady her prince.
It is stated she went reluctant to that orgy,
Yet a madness fevers our young men, and not the clergy
Nor the elders have turned them unto modesty since.
Inflamed by the thought of her naked beauty with desire?
Yes, and chilled with fear and despair.

For our money, this is better than Pound, and rivals Stevens.  What’s not to love here?

Buy Mazer’s book. Read Ransom’s poetry. And Ransom’s prose, too. Ransom doesn’t just write about New Criticism, or the South.  To begin, we suggest two of Ransom’s great Modernist essays in Garrick Davis’ Praising It New.

If Ransom is to be revived, Ben Mazer, with his wonderful, scholarly, edition of the collected poems, has done something very important.

SCARRIET SUCCESS

We are busy at Scarriet—publishing new posts on almost a daily basis: original essays, poems, epigrams, Scarriet March Madness Poetry contests—in its 8th year, going on right now, Scarriet Poetry Hot 100’s, you tubes of poem readings, and even song compositions.  And one day we would like to repeat our successful Scarriet Poetry Baseball Leaguein 2010 (when I was teaching English Composition as an adjunct professor and working full time at my real job) Blog Scarriet ran an entire season with 16 teams of all-time poets with entire lineups, pitching staffs, trading deadlines, statistics, pennant races, and a world series—Philadelphia Poe defeated Rapallo Pound.

Scarriet Poetry Hot 100 allows us to bring attention to poets who are not famous yet, but who have written wonderful things: Daipayan Nair, Stephen Cole, Sushmita Gupta, Payal Sharma, Mary Angela Douglas, Nalini Priyadarshni, Philip Nikolayev, Paige Lewis, Valerie Macon, George Bilgere, Kushal Poddar, Joe Green, Cristina Sanchez Lopez, Merryn Juliete, Chumki Sharma, Stephen Sturgeon, Simon Seamount, Lori Desrosiers, and Noah Cicero.

This is a personal note to just say THANK YOU to all our readers—as we head towards a million views since our founding in 2009.  “The One Hundred Greatest Hippies Songs Of All Time” (published in February 2014) still gets over 2,000 views a week.  “The Top One Hundred Song Lyrics That Work As Poetry” (published in 2013) still gets 1,000 views a week.  And posts like “Yeats Hates Keats: Why Do The Moderns Despise The Romantics?” (published in 2010) are constantly re-visited.

A poet (who I’ve never met) on Facebook, Linda Ashok, originally from Kolkata, today requested her FB Friends share “what’s happening to your poetry” and, without thinking, I quickly wrote a post—and realized your friendly Scarriet Editor has been up to quite a lot, lately, and Scarriet readers might as well hear about it:

*******************

Shohreh Laici  who lives in Tehran and I are working on a Persian/Iranian poetry anthology—in English.   (See Laici’s translations of Hessamedin Sheikhi in Scarriet 11/26/16)

My critical study of the poet Ben Mazer will be published by Pen & Anvil Press.

My review of Dan Sociu’s book of poems Mouths Dry With Hatred  is in SpoKe issue 4

Also in SpoKe issue 4: is my review of the Romanian poetry scene (after attending Festival de Literatura, Arad, 9-12 June 2016, Discutia Secreta)

Thanks to poet and professor Joie Bose, I participated in Kolkata’s Poetry Paradigm Coffee for a Poem on World Poetry Day, March 21, in Cambridge MA.

Charles River Journal will be publishing chapters of my Mazer book.

Facebook and Scarriet is where it all happens: so I’m actually not that busy—the literary world comes to me!

Below: the new family dog.  If I don’t walk her, she pees in my bed.  Seems fair.

Image may contain: people sitting, dog, living room, table and indoor

 

 

FEBRUARY POEMS BY BEN MAZER, REVIEWED

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As the shadows lengthen on American poetry in the 21st century, one is naturally prepared to think there was a noisy, sunny noon of poetry with noisy, popular poets.

But there never was such a thing.

We had, in our early days, the British imitators: William Cullen Bryant, (friend to Lincoln) with his “Thanatopsis”; the splendid, dark Poe; dashing in his prose but solemn and brief in his poetry; Emerson and Thoreau asserting nature, not poetry, in due obeisance to the arrogant British idea that her late colony was still a wilderness; Whitman secretly reviewing his own poems, waving a private Emerson letter in the public’s face as way of validation, but Whitman was almost as obscure as Dickinson—no, America has had no sunny noon of poetry; Ben Franklin, the diplomat-scientist-founding father, representing our mighty nation of pragmatists, had little use for the muse.

To put things in historical perspective:

Emily Dickinson caught on with modern critics as a force to be reckoned with in the 1930s.

Billy Collins was born in 1941.

A few years after Billy Collins was born, Ezra Pound—friend to both anglophilic “Waste Land” and haiku-like “Wheel Barrow”—caused a brief stir as a traitor in an Allied cage. The New Critics liked Eliot, Pound, and Williams and gave them critical support, some notice. Otherwise they had probably died. And the canon would be ruled instead by the wild sonneteer, Edna Millay, the Imagist, Amy Lowell, perhaps the cute scribbler E.E. Cummings.

The New Critics, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the Creative Writing Program Era, all began to flower in the late 1930s/early 1940s, around the time Collins was born—and, a few years earlier, you had Frost (discovered in England, not New England, right before the First World War, as Harriet Monroe was starting Poetry with money from Chicago businessmen—and help from foreign editor Ezra Pound) and then another generation back, you have the end of Whitman’s obscure career. And then a couple generations further back, the often disliked, and controversial, Poe, who mocked the somewhat obscure Transcendentalists—including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Unitarian friend, William Greenleaf Eliot,  founder of Washington University in St. Louis, T.S. Eliot’s grandfather.

So not only is there no noisy noon of American poetry, no period when gigantic dinosaurs of American Verse ruled the earth, one could almost argue that we are still in the early morning of our country’s poetic history, way before noon—the noon has not even happened yet, as much as we often posit that American poetry is an abandoned field at sundown, where the 21st century MFA mice are playing.

Even if good poetry abounds in America today, it has no center, no fame, no visible love; Billy Collins, who sells a few books, was a teen when Allen Ginsberg, son of poet Louis Ginsberg, who knew WC Williams, achieved a bit of rock star fame through an obscenity trial. Allen Ginsberg has been dead for 20 years.

What of poets born after 1950?

Who knows them?

Where are the biographies and critical studies?

How can the greatest country on earth have no poets anyone really knows, for two whole generations?

Who is a young poet that we know?

Is the thread broken?  Is the bowl shattered? Will the sun never shine on this doorway again? What has happened to American poetry?

This sobering preface of mine (some might call it too sweeping and hysterical) is written by one who is proud to announce his critical study of the poet Ben Mazer is soon to be published by the noteworthy Pen and Anvil Press.

Who is Ben Mazer?

Born in 1964, he is the best pure poet writing in English today.

We use the word “pure” knowing the term is sometimes abused—Robert Penn Warren ripped Poe and Shelley to pieces in a modern frenzy of “purity” hating: sublime and beautiful may also, complexly, mean “pure.”  The heart has its reasons for loving purity—which all the Robert Penn Warren essays in the world can never understand (the essay we have in mind by Warren is “Pure and Impure Poetry,” Kenyon Review, ed. John Crowe Ransom, 1943—when Billy Collins was two years old).  If “beautiful and sublime” seem too old-fashioned, too “pure” for one’s taste, I assert “purity” as it pertains to Mazer means 1. accessible 2. smooth 3. not tortured.

Mazer has published numerous books of poems.

Mazer is also the editor of a number of important books, including the Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom (a neglected, but extremely influential figure)—Mazer’s large book reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYR last year.

February Poems is Mazer’s latest book of poems, following hard upon December Poems. The two are a pair—marking the sudden unraveling of an ideal marriage.

The first poem in “February Poems” goes like this:

The sun burns beauty; spins the world away,
though now you sleep in bed, another day
brisk on the sidewalk, in your camel coat,
in another city, wave goodbye from the boat,
or study in an archival library,
like Beethoven, and thought is prodigy.
Do not consume, like the flowers, time and air
or worm-soil, plantings buried in the spring,
presume over morning coffee I don’t care,
neglect the ethereal life to life you bring.
O I would have you now, in all your glory,
the million-citied, Atlantic liner story
of what we were, would time come to forget
being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.

This poem falls from the first word to the last with a temporal perfection not seen since Milton. One may recognize Robert Lowell, too, who was somewhat besotted with Milton—Mazer’s a better poet than Lowell, however.

Look at how in “The Sun Burns Beauty,” every line is packed with sublimity discretely spoken, none the less sublime for the discretion:

“The sun burns beauty.”  Lovely double meaning. Consumes beauty, but also is beautiful. “Burns” quickly gives way to “spins,” as the poem, like a heavenly orb, picks up weighty speed: “another day, brisk on the sidewalk…wave goodbye…” the stunning plea: “Do not consume…presume I don’t care…neglect the ethereal life to life you bring…” and the conclusion, worthy of a sun which is burning beauty: “O I would have you now…of what we were, would time come to forget being so rich and passing, and yet not covet.”  Magnificent.  How long have we waited for poetry like this?   It’s truly timeless in the tradition—a word we can use without any qualification or irony.

We mentioned purity above; another way of getting across what I mean is Mazer’s use of Eliot’s Objective Correlative.

Eliot’s Objective Correlative is not a blackboard term for Mazer; it lives in his poetry. Eliot asked that the poem’s emotion match the object. Eliot’s request is a simple one: the reader doubts the poem’s veracity if the poet is unduly excited by a mundane object.

The poet’s emotions tell him what to say; and it is with our emotions we read the poem.

Much is made in poetry (naturally) of the skill in using words—Mazer clearly has a wonderful vocabulary and all that; yet also, in Mazer’s poetry, fact does match feeling; it’s not a word-game—Mazer’s trajectory isn’t words.  Mazer understands the Objective Correlative.

T.S. Eliot represents the Modernist counter to the perceived hyperbolic imbalance of the Romantics: Wordsworth getting terribly excited by a flower, Byron yawning at the end of the world—it cuts both ways.

Eliot’s objective critical dictum was a correction—and Mazer, who, in many ways, is Romanticism redux, instinctively, now, well into the 21st century, obeys Eliot’s dictum—but flexibly.

We’ve got Wordsworth and his famous dictum from “Lyrical Ballads:” poetry helps us to see the mundane as extraordinary, using plain speech, which goes against Eliot’s rule—and Mazer is not only a Robert Lowell, an Eliot, but a Wordsworth.

Mazer sounds Modern.

As he revives Romanticism.

And, I dare to say, the Enlightenment—when the Metaphysicals provided poetry heft and light.

Revival is always open to the charge of retrograde.

But how many layers of post-modern experimentation are there?

Before the public gets bored?

Oh, yes, that happened about 75 years ago.  When Billy Collins was born. And critics were rising to an appreciation of Emily Dickinson.

John Ashbery, born in 1927, had a head start on Mazer—Ashbery added Romantic verbosity to Modern dryness, irony, archness, in a painterly, foggy mix of not quite making sense. Mazer, if it must be said plainly, is a little better than Ashbery. Mazer does make sense.

The poems in Mazer’s February Poems do not, for the most part, have titles—to the worshiper who would carry around this book of love, like a holy book of some sorts, the page numbers will suffice to identify the great passages within.

These lines which begin the poem on page 7 speak out plainly and passionately but with the greatest mystery:

All grand emotions, balls, and breakfasts,
make little sense, if nothing lasts,
if you should leave the one you love,
inexplicable as Mozart’s star above

This passage at the top of page 8, a new poem, may be a statement for the ages:

The living are angels, if we are the dead in life
and immaculate beauty requires discerning eyes
and to ask incessantly who you are
is both our strength and doubt in faith, to know
what we must appear within ourselves to know:
that we do love each other, that we know who each other is
by putting ourselves in the hands and the eyes of the other,
never questioning the danger that rides on words
if they should misstep and alter a logical truth,
or if they should signify more than they appear to,
whether dull, indifferent, passionate, deeply committed
or merely the embodiment of a passing mood,
some lack of faith in ourselves we attempt to realize
through the other who remains steadfast in all the flexibility of love.

This is stuff which could be read at weddings on top of mountains around the world.

The poem which resides at page 15 goes like this, (and observe how “love” in the first line both is invaded, and invades, the “fiercest passion”—as Mazer has crafted the syntax):

The fiercest passion, uncommon in love,
yearns to be understood, do incalculable good;
must penetrate the beloved’s eyes, give rise
to beauty unmatched anywhere above.

Note the lovely internal rhyming: “understood and good” in line 2, “eyes” and “rise” in line 3, are but two examples.

We’ll continue with the whole poem, “The fiercest passion, uncommon in love:”

Infinite stasis exploring tenderness,
substantially is the basis of all bliss,

“Infinite stasis exploring tenderness” !!

although ethereal, indelible,
not subject to the chronologic fall.
And yet vicissitudes will upset this,
and forces will keep true lovers apart
too many years, breaking the sensitive heart,
that pours its passion in undying letters,
while hope’s alive to break the social fetters,
incalculable agonies poured into great art.
Bribes the organist, locks the door,
unwilling to suffer any more,
must make his grand statement to the world,
all his grief, anger, and love hurled
back at the gods which all his genius spited;
his biography says love was unrequited.
We live in the shadow of his despair,
grief so great, where there is nothing there.

And here it ends. This is not egotistical…”We live in the shadow of his despair” refers to the “shadow” of the poem itself (its inky visage) living to the readers as they read, and the “grief” of the poet is “so great,” the poem disappears (“nothing there”)—the very opposite of egotistical; it is grief conveyed powerfully.

The entire book—February Poems—contains lines such as these—which belong to an expression of love poetry rarely seen.

The poems range from greatest bliss:

The moonlight is incomprehensible.
My lover’s lips are soft and rosy pink.
Who could understand love which transfigures night,
when night itself does the transfiguring?
She sleeps. Awake, I hold her in my arms,
so soft and warm, and night is beautiful.

…In sleep she moans and shifts, embracing me.
I can’t budge from where I lie, but am content.

(excerpt from poem on pg. 16)

To acute despair, not merely told, explained, but in the poetry itself, lived:

The vanishing country roads have vanished.
There, the steep descent into the new, different town.
We are together, and we look around.
What are these flags and trees that grasp and clutch
the infinite progress of our former selves,
of love so great that it must be put away,
not where we left it, but where we can’t reach;
why should eternity itself miss you so much?
The music of a thousand kinds of weather
seep into the trees, sweep into the leaves that brush
your shoulder lightly where I left my heart,
once, long ago, when we first made our start
to drive so many miles to here together.
But where is here? The place we are apart.

(poem, “Vanishing country roads,” pg 64)

To pure sublimity and beauty and joy:

The greatest joy known to mortal man,
shall live beyond us in eternity.
Catching you ice-skating in mid-motion,
cheeks flush, winter pristine in our hearts,
ineffable, permanent, nothing can abolish,
when the deep forest, buried in snow’s white
holds the soul’s eternal solitude,
when, melting coming in, each particular
that stirs the senses, is the flight of man
to unspoken urgencies, garrulous desire
continually fulfilled, the captured stances
that drift like music in the light-laced night,
shared words in murmurs soft as downy sky,
the stars observe with their immortal eye.
Furious, presto-forte homecoming
races into the eyes and fingertips,
confirming and commemorating bells
resounding with our vulnerable desire
in momentary triumph that’s eternal.
Life passes on to life the raging stars,
resonances of undying light.
All years are pressed together in their light.

(“The greatest joy known to mortal man” pg 17)

We wish for a whole generation of young readers to spring up, profoundly and happily in love—following in the footsteps of Mazer, in his growing fame, in his mourning—clinging fast to their torn and re-smoothed copies of February Poems.

 

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

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1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100 IS HERE AGAIN!!!

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1. Matthew Zapruder: Hurricane Matthew. Hired by the Times to write regular poetry column. Toilet papered the house of number 41.

2. Edward Hirsch: Best American Poetry 2106 Guest Editor.

3. Christopher Ricks: Best living critic in English? His Editorial Institute cancelled by bureaucrats at Boston University.

4. Joie Bose: Living Elizabeth Barrett Browning of India.

5. Sherman Alexie: Latest BAP editor. Still stung from the Chinese poet controversy.

6. Jorie Graham: Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard

7. W.S Merwin: Migration: New and Selected Poems, 2005

8. Terrance Hayes: “I am not sure how a man with no eye weeps.”

9. George Bilgere: “I consider George Bilgere America’s Greatest Living Poet.” –Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer

10. Billy Collins: Interviewed Paul McCartney in 2014

11. Stephen Cole: Internet Philosopher poet. “Where every thing hangs/On the possibility of understanding/And time, thin as shadows,/Arrives before your coming.”

12. Richard Howard: National Book Award Winner for translation of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1984.

13. William Logan: The kick-ass critic. Writes for the conservative New Criterion.

14. Sharon Olds: Stag’s Leap won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

15. Nalini Priyadarshni: “Denial won’t redeem you/Or make you less vulnerable/My unwavering love just may.”  Her new book is Doppelgänger in my House.

16. Stephen Dobyns: “identical lives/begun alone, spent alone, ending alone”

17. Kushal Poddar: “You wheel out your mother’s latte silk/into the picnic of moths.” His new book is Scratches Within.

18. Jameson Fitzpatrick: “Yes, I was jealous when you threw the glass.”

19. Marilyn Chin: “It’s not that you are rare/Nor are you extraordinary//O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree”

20. E J Koh: “I browsed CIA.gov/for jobs”

21. Cristina Sánchez López: “If the moon knows dying, a symbol of those hearts, which, know using their silence as it was an impossible coin, we will have to be like winter, which doesn’t accept any cage, except for our eyes.”

22. Mark Doty: His New and Selected won the National Book Award in 2008.

23. Meghan O’ Rourke: Also a non-fiction writer, her poetry has been published in the New Yorker.

24. Alicia Ostriker: Born in Brooklyn in 1937.

25. Kay Ryan: “One can’t work by/ lime light.”

26. A.E. Stallings: Rhyme, rhyme, rhyme.

27. Dana Gioia: Champions Longfellow.

28. Marilyn Hacker: Antiquarian bookseller in London in the 70s.

29. Mary Oliver: “your one wild and precious life”

30. Anne Carson: “Red bird on top of a dead pear tree kept singing three notes and I sang back.”

31. Mary Jo Bang: “A breeze blew a window open on a distant afternoon.”

32. Forrest Gander: “Smoke rises all night, a spilled genie/who loves the freezing trees/but cannot save them.”

33. Stephen Burt: Author of Randall Jarrell and his Age. (2002)

34. Ann Lauterbach: Her latest book is Under the Sign (2013)

35. Richard Blanco: “One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes/tired from work”

36. Kenneth Goldsmith: “Humidity will remain low, and temperatures will fall to around 60 degrees in many spots.”

37. Rita Dove: Her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry is already 5 years old.

38. Stephen Sturgeon: “blades of the ground feathered black/in moss, in the sweat of the set sun”

39. Marjorie Perloff: Her book, Unoriginal Genius was published in 2010.

40. Kyle Dargan: His ghazal, “Points of Contact,” published in NY Times: “He means sex—her love’s grip like a fist.”

41. Alan Cordle: Foetry.com and Scarriet founder.

42. Lyn Hejinian: “You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.”

43. Stephen Dunn: Lines of Defense: Poems came out in 2014.

44. Ocean Vuong: “Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god/to give it back”

45. Marie Howe: “I am living. I remember you.”

46. Vanessa Place: Controversial “Gone with the Wind” tweets.

47. Helen Vendler: Reviewed Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor Ben Mazer, in the NYR this spring.

48. Martin Espada: Vivas To Those Who Have Failed is his new book of poems from Norton.

49. Carol Muske-Dukes: Poet Laureate of California from 2008 to 2011.

50. Sushmita Gupta: Poet and artist. Belongs to the Bollyverses renaissance. Sushness is her website.

51. Brad Leithauser: A New Formalist from the 80s, he writes for the Times, the New Criterion and the New Yorker.

52. Julie Carr: “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

53. Kim Addonizio: Tell Me (2000) was nominated for a National Book Award.

54. Glynn Maxwell: “This whiteness followed me at the speed of dawn.”

55. Simon Seamount: His epic poem on the lives of philosophers is Hermead.

56. Maggie Dietz: “Tell me don’t/ show me and wipe that grin/ off your face.”

57. Robert Pinsky: “When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.”

58. Ha Jin: “For me the most practical thing to do now/is not to worry about my professorship.”

59. Peter Gizzi: His Selected Poems came out in 2014.

60. Mary Angela Douglas: “the steps you take in a mist are very small”

61. Robyn Schiff: A Woman of Property is her third book.

62. Karl Kirchwey: “But she smiled at me and began to fade.”

63. Ben Mazer: December Poems just published. “Life passes on to life the raging stars”

64. Cathy Park Hong: Her battle cry against Ron Silliman’s reactionary Modernists: “Fuck the avant-garde.”

65. Caroline Knox: “Because he was Mozart,/not a problem.”

66. Henri Cole: “There is no sun today,/save the finch’s yellow breast”

67. Lori Desrosiers: “I wish you were just you in my dreams.”

68. Ross Gay: Winner of the 2016 $100,000 Kingsley Tufts award.

69. Sarah Howe: Loop of Jade wins the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.

70. Mary Ruefle: Published by Wave Books. A favorite of Michael Robbins.

71. CA Conrad: His blog is (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals.

72. Matvei Yankelevich: “Who am I alone. Missing my role.”

73. Fanny Howe: “Only that which exists can be spoken of.”

74. Cole Swensen: “Languor. Succor. Ardor. Such is the tenor of the entry.”

75. Layli Long Soldier: “Here, the sentence will be respected.”

76. Frank Bidart: Student and friend of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

77. Michael Dickman: “Green sky/Green sky/Green sky”

78. Deborah Garrison: “You must praise the mutilated world.”

79. Warsan Shire: “I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes/On my face they are still together.”

80. Joe Green: “I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.”

81. Joan Houlihan: Took part in Franz Wright Memorial Reading in Harvard Square in May.

82. Frannie Lindsay: “safe/from even the weak sun’s aim.”

83. Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright: Translates contemporary German poetry.

84. Noah Cicero: This wry, American buddhist poet’s book is Bi-Polar Cowboy.

85. Jennifer Barber: “The rose nude yawns, rolls over in the grass,/draws us closer with a gorgeous laugh.”

86. Tim Cresswell: Professor of history at Northeastern and has published two books of poems.

87. Thomas Sayers Ellis: Lost his job at Iowa.

88. Valerie Macon: Surrendered her North Carolina Poet Laureate to the cred-meisters.

89: David Lehman: Best American Poetry editor hates French theory, adores tin pan alley songs, and is also a poet .”I vote in favor/of your crimson nails”

90: Ron Silliman: Silliman’s Blog since 2002.

91: Garrison Keillor: The humorist is also a poetry anthologist.

92: Tony Hoagland: “I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain/or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade”

93. Alfred Corn: One of the most distinguished living poets.

94. Philip Nikolayev: He values spontaneity and luck in poetry, logic in philosophy.

95. Laura Kasischke: Read her poem, “After Ken Burns.”

96. Daipayan Nair: “I was never a part of the society. I have always created one.”

97. Claudia Rankine: Her prize-winning book is Citizen.

98. Solmaz Sharif: Her book Look is from Graywolf.

99. Morgan Parker: Zapruder published her in the NY Times.

100. Eileen Myles: She makes all the best-of lists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEN MAZER: POEM FROM HIS FORTHCOMING BOOK

BEN IN ROMANIA

Greatest poet of his generation? Ben Mazer in Romania last month. Photo, Scarriet

THE GREATEST JOY KNOWN TO MORTAL MAN

The greatest joy known to mortal man,
shall live beyond us, in eternity.
Catching you ice skating in mid-motion,
cheeks flush, winter pristine in our hearts,
ineffable, permanent, nothing can abolish,
when the deep forest, buried in snow’s white
holds the soul’s eternal solitude,
when, melting coming in, each particular
that stirs the senses, is the flight of man
to unspoken urgencies, garrulous desire
continually fulfilled, the captured stances
that drift like music in the light-laced night,
shared words in murmurs soft as downy sky,
the stars observe with their immortal eye.
Furious, presto-forte homecoming
races into the eyes and fingertips,
confirming and commemorating bells
resounding with our vulnerable desire
in momentary triumph that’s eternal.
Life passes on to life the raging stars,
resonances of undying light.
All years are pressed together in their light.

Ben Mazer was educated at Harvard University, where he studied with Seamus Heaney, and at the Editorial Institute, Boston University, where he studied under Christopher Ricks and Archie Burnett. His poem which appears here is from his sixth poetry collection, February Poems, which will be published by the Grolier Poetry Press in the fall of this year. Mazer’s most recent collections are The Glass Piano (MadHat Press, 2015) and December Poems (Pen & Anvil Press, 2016). He is also the editor of The Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom (Boston: Un-Gyve Press, 2015). He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is the Editor of The Battersea Review.

REFINE THE BRUTE

When I’m asked for an opinion on modern American poetry, I want to do more than list poems and poets I like, though this is probably the only adequate response. Anything else will be sure to confuse as much as it enlightens.

But I cannot resist the injunctions, so fraught with discipline is my soul, even though it inhabits a bestial body.

Before poems are offered up, however, I have a desire to show my thoughts on what poetry is, and what it does, and what it is supposed to do, if it is worthy to be called, poetry, of which “modern” and “American” are even more hopelessly vague.

Surely poetry has a certain pedagogical use.

Verses and rhyme help us significantly in two ways: verse helps us to learn a language and helps us to learn to love a language.

Poetry can most simply be defined as language at play.

How can one love a language which is complex and unmusical?

Unless one is hopelessly misanthropic and affected?

Language can confuse more easily than anything else—because a chaos of meaning is more chaotic than chaos itself.

Language should never confuse—if it is worthy to be called language.

How can the most complex thing on earth do us good as a cheerful and loving guide?

This is the whole question, and poetry, in its beautiful robes, is always near, emerging elegantly from the shadows, with the answer.

Poetry, to cast away all pretense and confusion, then, is for the learning-book, the school lesson; poetry is the teacher of language.

Poetry is language for the child.

The child, who lisps wants and thoughts in the world of his mother, all at once enters the next phase—and grows slowly into a speaking and feeling citizen—with the help of poetry. 

At the end of this phase, perhaps harsh and complex and unmusical language awaits; but this middle path should be guided by simple and playful and happy versification, which fills the senses and the muscles of learning—with confidence and joy.

The student of poetry is the student of poetry for students.

For teaching is what poetry does.

Student, to some, is an unfriendly word; it implies anything but joy. We would prefer the poet as someone who learns from nature, outside the school’s walls.  Student implies shallow breathing and pitiless annoyance.

Student may have unfortunate institutional associations, but the athlete trains, the baby animal learns, the lover knows the beloved, and poetry casts knowing lovingly over all creatures who speak.

Poetry is a stream for all the speaking tribes.

Poetry is wisdom that is more than wisdom.

A student of poetry is the best thing to be—for once the adolescent has imbibed poetry’s waters, something divine will stay in him forever.

Poetry does not exist for itself, or to convey “truths” among sophisticated grownups—who need “news that stays news;” poetry is only very indirectly connected to the fussy things necessary to move among the trials and griefs of mature life. Poetry’s influence is wide and strong enough to trick sophisticates into thinking that poetry is a sophisticated enterprise. But the true poets know better.

Poetry can belong to “truths;” it can belong to, and be, anything; it is, for many, the speech of strangeness, the speech of estrangement, the speech of enormity, the speech of iconoclasm, the speech of vain maturity shot through with terrifying irony, and yes, speech which can dare to say anything.

Yes. The stream is the sea.

However, before it is any of these things, poetry is food for the student eternal.

Poetry should turn language into a beautiful instrument, both for exterior expression, and for inner thoughts of the highest enterprise and pleasure.

To be great, poetry must know where it belongs.

Poetry serves language.

Language does not serve poetry.

Poetry exists as a lover of language—not to “know things” or to express “knowledge,” though what it expresses can, obviously, relate to knowledge and knowing.  Knowing isn’t what it is—just as a stove is not heat.

A child will have plenty of opportunity to grasp things about the sordid, factual world.

Language—which poetry serves—is how we navigate the world. Language—which poetry serves—is not merely a repository of facts.

For the doubting adolescent, language, beautiful language, is the way to swim through the intellectual sea. The intellectual sea shouldn’t be poured into the novice’s mouth.

Since poetry is language, poetry makes both the mind and its objects beautiful—language which belongs to poetry appeals to both the sense and the senses. Language which belongs to poetry revels in fluency, revels in delight and a practiced ease, with which to contemplate and think.

As an example, we offer a recent poem of our own composition, which demonstrates how poetry belongs in language—not just in the macro-sense (to which we typically think poetry belongs, making sublime, insightful, emotional, grandiose observations and pronouncements, etc)—but in the micro-sense: poetry is, more than anything else, speech which punctures pretense, speech which spreads harmony, grace and civilization.

YOU SAW MY COMMA, YOU SAW WHAT I SAID WAS NICE

You saw my comma, you saw what I said was nice;

The shouting world that you see has nothing to do with me,

But I, at least, can prove to you, with the way I write,

That I am kind, nice to kiss, and safe—even sweet to be with at night.

It really is true that we have nothing to do with the world,

Although we are in it. The unseeing world

Has been manipulated against its will,

Or not: maybe the whole world meant to do it this way,

And the world is exactly as it should be, every day;

Though we don’t believe this, and I don’t believe this,

And please just kiss me—and do me a favor: don’t believe a single thing I say.

****

But to really be convincing, we offer an example of one of the greatest poetic speeches:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer…or to take arms…

Great old poetry from our mother tongue obviously throws its influence over contemporary American poets, though some, to be “more contemporary” push away the old—though every poet knows this is impossible. But if we look at this famous verse, immediately we see it appeals to the child: One or Zero. Either/Or. Binary language lies beneath computer language and a great deal more—difficulty, however, is not Shakespeare’s aim: child-like clarity and truth, rather. “The pangs of disprized love, the law’s delay, the insolence of office” is not the speech of long, tortured disquisition; it is the truth spoken quickly; now the mathematical simplicity of one or nothing is further complicated, but simply: the added issue is this: nothing is not really nothing—“but that dread of something after death…” But in the end, it still comes down to one or zero, because uncertainty is still zero.

And this is a truth which gives the lie to the “Difficult School,” and every kind of inadequacy and pretence which kills poetry in our day and makes it so unappealing to the public: “uncertainty is still zero.”

This is why William Blake’s lovely, child-like ballads to “Innocence and Experience,” mark the return of Shakespearian genius in the poets which came to be called “the Romantics” by critics who had no other word, just as “Modern” is no word at all to describe anything literary. Perhaps if we mean to say “stupid,” like that plum poem (Christ!) by Carlos Williams.

There is only good poetry.

There are no eras.

There is no liking poetry which is “about” something you like.

You’re not liking poetry, then.

There is no scholarship—especially the kind that exists to prove that Ezra Pound is more important than Edna Millay. Most people don’t care. A small percentage care, but most of that small percentage doesn’t get it. Poor poetry.

Intellectuals in the West chiefly care about “equality,” which translates into going backwards from their superior intellects into something worse—for the sake of that very “equality” they love.

The poor hate “equality,” which is why popular music, for instance, the entertainment of the poor, is so unequal: The “hit” songs get played over and over again. And for a simple reason, which no doubt goes over the intellectuals’ heads—on account of the intellectuals being so intellectual: Good songs are good because they sound good, and even better, with more listens.

So everything popular is not equal. Prose make all poems equal. That’s why prose-as-poetry appeals to intellctuals. This alone is the point. It isn’t that the intellectuals hate verse, or that the Pope hates naked women. Equality is solemnly the aim.

So to quickly review American poetry: ballads sung by the poor, evince a great deal of poetic genius, and this informs the great shadow poetry of America: popular music, which our Mother Country joyfully “invaded” in the 1960s, with phenomenal numbers like “House of the Rising Sun.”

Edna Millay is a great genius of American poetry (see her sonnets, etc).

Then there is the great counter-tradition, began in the 1930s at Iowa, in which American poetry lives entirely in the university—and two crucial things happen in the Creative Writing frenzy of the Writing Program Era: 1. Intellectuals take the “popular” element out of poetry in the name of what is largely pretentious “scholarship” and 2. Poetry is taken hostage by a business model which replaces disinterested learning of poetry with shameless ‘Be a Writer!’ institutional profit-share scheming.

The New Critics, the counter-tradition, institutional champions of mid-20th Century American poetry, awarded Iowa’s Paul Engle his early 30s Yale Younger Prize. A New Critic (Fugitive) was Robert Lowell’s psychiatrist when Lowell left Harvard to study with New Critics Ransom and Alan Tate and room with Randall Jarrell.

What about the Beats? The street-wise response to Lowell? The problem with the Beats is that they produced one famous poem, “Howl,” which no one reads to the end, and Robert Lowell, who was a Writing Program teacher at Iowa, and a Frankenstein monster of the tweedy New Critics, actually has more loony, real-person, “confessionalist” interest than the Beats do. Ginsberg’s “Supermarket In California” is easily his best poem, and it is probably no accident that this poem is an homage to Whitman—the canonized creation of Emerson (the prose of the Sage of Concord was stolen by Whitman and turned into poetry) and Emerson was 1. the godfather of William James (inventor of stream of consciousness and Gertrude Stein’s professor) and 2. friends with T.S. Eliot’s grandfather—and here are the roots of every leaf of American modern experimental poetry.

When I went to Romania this last month, I met David Berman, student of the late James Tate. Berman, an underground indie rock star (Silver Jews) and estranged from his millionaire right wing lawyer father—is a truly delightful person, as funny and smart a man as you will ever meet. James Tate won his Yale Younger in the 40s and has a Creative Writing degree from Iowa.

America poetry is Iowa. Quirky, intelligent, funny. Very, very conveniently in prose. This is the kind of poem you read once, are vastly impressed, but with each successive reading, all interest dissolves—because the intelligence has striven with billions of stars and trillions of grains of sand—and lost.

This is poetry that is really stand-up comedy.

John Ashbery, and his friend Frank O’hara, are also funny.

Ashbery, who was awarded the Yale Younger by W.H. Auden (talented Brit anointed by T.S. Eliot) in the 1950s, makes no sense, and so he is considered slightly better of the two (Ashbery, O’Hara) by intellectuals, since before Ashbery’s poetry everyone is equal (equally befuddled).  To think there was a time, not that long ago, when Byron complained he couldn’t understand Wordsworth.

Billy Collins, the best-selling American poet today, belongs to the James Tate/humorous/Iowa School. But since he is clear, although he is clever, and writes in prose, like every critically acclaimed poet in America, Collins is not appreciated by the intellectuals. His clarity bugs the intellectuals—who invariably confuse obscurity of expression with obscurity of subject, favoring the former, against all good sense.

I traveled to Romania with Ben Mazer, who is struggling to break the mold, who is perhaps the only American poet today seriously attempting to write verse in which verse writes the poetry.

Slinging words around in a half-comical or half-fortune cookie wisdom fashion, and avoiding all the excellences which the Romantics evinced, is the norm today—and one never bucks the norm, if one knows what is good for one. Unfortunately, avoidance of the past is bad. It prevents one from traveling to the future.

Then there is political poetry, which invariably falls into the category of poetry which is “about” something which the reader is already prepared to identify with, the political poet carefully avoiding any thing which might be called poetry to get in the way of what the “poem” is preciously and importantly “about.” This kind of poetry will always be written since poetry left poetry roughy 100 years ago, a time when, unfortunately, in America, the literary word “modern” began to be taken seriously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY MARCH MADNESS ELITE EIGHT!!!!!

NORTH

MAURA STANTON —WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

BEN MAZER —ALL IS URGENT, JUST BECAUSE IT GIVES, AND IN THE MIRROR, LIFE TO LIFE LIFE GIVES.

 

WEST

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS —THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

EMILY KENDAL FREY —HOW CAN YOU LOVE PEOPLE WITHOUT THEM FEELING ACCUSED?

 

EAST

LORI DESROSIERS —I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

JOIE BOSE —ISN’T THAT LOVE EVEN IF IT ANSWERS NOT TO THE HEART OR THE HEAT BUT TO THE MOMENT, TO MAKE IT COMPLETE?

 

SOUTH

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI  —DENIAL WON’T REDEEM YOU OR MAKE YOU LESS VULNERABLE.  MY UNWAVERING LOVE JUST MAY.

CHUMKI SHARMA  —AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME.

 

A great line of poetry is like fine cinema: you lose yourself in its message—which you arrive at, go into, stay in, and reluctantly but happily leave, feeling like everything outside is changed, that you know hunger and life a little better, a little more intimately, all because one poet in one line has made an entire film.  It is with the highest pleasure that we continue to present these winners, more winning in the judges’ eyes than the other winners: the lines of these elite eight are not only masterpieces of compression, one can die in them all day long.

Marla Muse: You say that very well, Tom. But just because you say it, does not make it so.

True, Marla. True.

Marla Muse: Don’t be sad, Tom. Look at the stars and the gates of poetry.  The stars shine for all, and the stars are all; in the circling heavens all will be well, and, look! it is perhaps well, even now.

SWEET SIXTEEN!!

Ben at Shays

Scarriet Poery March Madness first round winners have battled it out—and here are the final 16 contestants, the Sweet Sixteen!

These are extraordinary lines, evoking entire poems, entire books of poems.

Nicknames for this tournament have flooded in: The Mouse That Roared, Less Madness is More Madness, A Little Says It All, A Nutshell’s Unlimited Space.

The most common tropes in poetic history are all here in these magnificent microcosms: love, emotion, psychology, birds, music, fire, clouds, urgent definitions of time and space.

Marla Muse: I’m thrilled to death for all these poets!  What amazing lines!

We chose wisely.

Marla Muse: We did.

In the North

Maura Stanton: Who made me feel by feeling nothing

Ben Mazer: All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Jorie Graham: A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Molly Brodak: boundlessness secretly exists, I hear

In the West

Mary Angela Douglas: The larks cry out and not with music.

Cristina Sanchez Lopez: Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

In the East

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

In the South

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

 

 

BEN MAZER AND WARSAN SHIRE FINISH THE FIRST ROUND IN THE NORTH

Poetry cannot resemble music—unless it reduces the wealth of words to a few musical words:

Shakespeare:

For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive.

Tennyson:

Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Yeats:

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing

Why don’t the poets play this music anymore?

Is it the fear of using the same word more than once?  Remember that edict, drummed into us in school when we first learned to write good prose? Find another word. Don’t use the same word twice.

This doesn’t mean the edict, Use the same word over and over again, will necessarily work, either.

The poet Ben Mazer is fond of quoting one of his university mentors, the British critic Christopher Ricks: “There are no rules!”

But what if there is one rule: the mirror?

If there are no rules, there are no rules to break.

Some know this to be true: “There are no rules” is not a radical statement, but a conservative one.

Mirroring is done in architecture, song, painting, drama, and nature—and not long ago, in poetry.

Now the poets hardly do it at all.

The double—the reflection—the mirror—repetition—is not an artificial or old-fashioned idea..

“Dying, dying, dying” is less artificial than the most matter-of-fact prose passage in existence.

The error that has smashed the mirror is the error that has brainwashed the prose poets.

In this final first round contest in the North, Ben Mazer delivers the following:

All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Warsan Shire exploits the idea of the mirror more modestly, but powerfully:

I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

It doesn’t hurt that “mother” and “father” and “together” mirror each other, sound-wise.

The profundity of this line is as plain as the nose on one’s face—which is the best mirror there is.

 

 

 

PODDAR AND KASISCHKE GO A LITTLE BIT MAD IN THE MADNESS

Kushal Poddar is in the 2016 Madness

It is becoming more and more apparent to Americans—who, for all their worldly clout and influence, have recently become fixated on their Writing Program careers—that, holy cow!, there is something happening on the other side of the globe, in India, where totally mad people prepare for bed just when they should be waking up—don’t these people know how crazy that is? Well, give them a little credit: in India right now they are writing poems in English in the great Romantic Tradition, and, despite not attending writing programs, and despite their odd sleeping habits, poets from India are, at this very moment, writing better poetry than Americans—with the exception of Ben Mazer, who is a living Romantic Tradition unto himself: pilgrimages should be made to Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA—near Harvard Square.

Philip Nikolayev, an American, Harvard-educated poet, originally from Russia, had the good sense to go to India, and, to make a long story short, social media has led Scarriet to a world of heartbreak and beauty in which poetry exists as sweetly and commonly as a scent of perfume or a right arm.

In America, poets study at Writing Programs.

These costly one-year or two-year programs essentially teach the student of poetry one thing: Do not write like Keats—sound, in your writing, as different from Keats as possible, and this will guarantee that you will sound contemporary, and sound like yourself, because, after all, you are not Keats, and this is a good thing, since Keats is in the ground! We cannot tell you how to sound, for that is too complicated, given that poetry can sound like absolutely anything, it being defined by nothing, and so we cannot teach that; all we can do is make sure you don’t sound like Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Edna Millay. They are dead! Dead! Be a student of English literature if you want to sound like the dead. And, by the way, did we tell you the field of study at one time called the English Major is also dead? Good. Talk amongst yourselves, students, and commence writing! And just remember, I, with my degree from one of the most distinguished writing programs in the world, will be watching, to make sure you do not ever write like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Or anyone with three names! Horrors! Better to be known simply as Trudy. Or Billy. Or Sam. And write. poetry. like. this.

Laura Kasischke is a writing program graduate, and yet has still managed to distinguish herself as a poet of wonderful ability: she is known to write complete, comprehensible, sentences on comprehensible topics. This may be due to the fact, however, that she is also a successful novelist.

Her champion is Stephen Burt, a rising poetry critic star who teaches with Jorie Graham at Harvard; Burt broke into the big time with a damning piece in the Boston Globe on Foetry.com, Alan Cordle’s website which exposed systemic poetry contest cheating and reputation puffing in academic American poetry. It was fun, enlightening, painful (for people like Graham) depending on where you were on the map of poetry reputation. Everyone, due to Foetry.com’s influence, which was quite extensive, is sadder—but wiser. Wisdom has quietly turned to joy—and one can see it in Scarriet’s “To Sir With Love” exuberance.  Burt has edited an anthology of sonnets—the tacit assumption that sonnets were once written can be made with impunity once in a while, if a publisher is willing to suffer a material, if not a spiritual, loss.

Kasischke had one of the better poems in the latest (2015) Best American Poetry, Sherman Alexie, guest editor (The BAP Series has been edited by David Lehman since 1988) and we found her best line there:

but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Affection produced in prose language can, by its directness and homeliness, be extremely touching. Poetry can be iconic, but that doesn’t mean prose cannot occasionally outdo poetry by being more affectionate in its plainess. Prose may sometimes catch us off guard by smelling sweeter than poetry. This confuses the poets, who then proceed to drown themselves in the sea which the plain talkers successfully sail. Kasischke, we might entertain for a paranoid moment, might owe her success to this anti-poetry phenomenon.

Any language we do not understand sounds poetic to our helpless ears; as we come to understanding we come away from poetry, and by this formula the more purely prosaic we sound the more we understand and what we understand is the falsity of the one we once loved, dear poetry, the one who seduced us in a castle about 200 years ago in a frilly shirt—and now must die.

One solution to not sound prosaic and not sound 19th-century either, as a poet, is surrealism.

Kushal Poddar, from Calcutta, a self-taught genius, Kasischke’s opponent, writes very exciting poetry in a pyrotechnical inventiveness that fits the short, lyrical form to the unusual image—he never has a red wheel barrow in his poetic landscape unless that wheel barrow is fully on fire, and that is how he expresses his passions and his desires. Here is his line:

Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Poddar, like a true poet, suggests as much as he presents—the shadows produced by his mind are as lovely as the flames. We think him one of the better poets in the world writing in English, and one more reason to visit Calcutta—if you can get your head out of your résumé.

So which will win? The plain-speaking or the fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Sean O’Brien–‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

Warsan Shire–I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Traci Brimhall–I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

Denise Duhamel–it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Meredith Haseman–The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

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

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

Raphael Rubinstein–Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

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

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

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

Claudia Rankine–How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

 

 

 

 

 

HOT! HOT! HOT! SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100! HAPPY 2016!

  1. BEN MAZER –Simply the best poet writing today. Keeping John Crowe Ransom and Landis Everson alive, too. “all is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.”
  2. CLAUDIA RANKINE–“How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?”
  3. ROBIN COSTE LEWIS–Winner of the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry with Voyage of the Sable Venus.
  4. BILLY COLLINS–There’s only one Billy Collins. You will know him by his bathrobe and slippers.
  5. SHARON OLDS–Plain-spoken poignancy.
  6. JOHN ASHBERY–Essentially French
  7. KENNETH GOLDSMITH–We don’t see how he can redeem himself.
  8. TERRANCE HAYES–Highbrow examination of prejudice.
  9. ALICE NOTLEY–2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
  10. SARAH HOWE–her debut book, Loop of Jade, wins 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.
  11. CHUMKI SHARMA–“After every rain I leave the place for something called home.”
  12. SEAN O’BRIEN–“‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair,/But these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.”
  13. MELISSA STEIN–because she wrote the poem, “never said.”
  14. MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS–“till the larks cry out/and not with music”
  15. DORIANNE LAUX–because she wrote the poem, “Facts About the Moon.”
  16. MAURA STANTON–“Who made me feel by feeling nothing”
  17. MOLLY BRODAK–“boundlessness secretly exists, I hear”
  18. TRACI BRIMHALL–“I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea”
  19. CATE MARVIN–because she wrote the poem, “The Readership.”
  20. BETSY SHOLL–because she wrote the poem, “The Sea Itself.”
  21. SJOHNNA MCCRAY–2015 Walt Whitman Award winner for Rapture
  22. CHARLES HAYES–“her sweaty driver knows his load is fair”
  23. BRIAN BRODEUR–his blog is “How A Poem Happens”
  24. MELISSA GREEN–“They’ve mown the summer meadow”
  25. RICK BAROT–because he wrote the poem, “Reading Plato.”
  26. ALLEN PROWLE–Do we live in the Age of Plagiarism?
  27. VANESSA PLACE–What do you think, Vanessa?
  28. LORI JAKIELA–“In Pittsburgh, we have 2 dreams…go to Vegas to live…go to Florida to die”
  29. CONNIE VOISINE–“The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds”
  30. SHARA LESSLEY–because she wrote the poem, “Advice From The Predecessor’s Wife.”
  31. ALFRED CORN–because he wrote “An Xmas Murder.”
  32. WILLIAM LOGAN–“The critic is a Diogenes in a world where everyone is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (Battersea Review) Are there poets on Sunnybrook Farm?
  33. MARJORIE PERLOFF–Are there so many poets, that reviewers and critics no longer exist?
  34. DAVID HUDDLE–because he wrote the poem, “Men’s Sauna.”
  35. TIM LIARDET–“Its windows look through us, as if we offer a view.”
  36. BOB HICOK–because he wrote the poem, “The Active Reader.”
  37. LOUISE GLÜCK–because she wrote the poem, “A Fantasy.”
  38. CHARLES SIMIC–because he wrote the poem, “So Early in the Morning”
  39. DANA GIOIA–because he wrote the poem, “The Angel with the Broken Wing”
  40. DONALD HALL–“To grow old is to lose everything.”
  41. LAURA KASISCHKE–because she wrote the poem, “For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike.”
  42. CODY WALKER–because he wrote the poem, “Trades I Would Make.”
  43. DERRICK MICHAEL HUDSON–Will he be remembered?
  44. DAVID LEHMAN–Editor of Best American Poetry series has a soft spot for Tin Pan Alley.
  45. CARL DENNIS–2002 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  46. MARK JARMAN–narrative poet is a professor at Vanderbilt.
  47. KUSHAL PODDAR–Bold, intriguing, WC Williams-like poet in English from Bengal.
  48. VALERIE MACON–Briefly poet laureate from North Carolina
  49. GARRISON KEILLOR–Good for good poems.
  50. PHILIP NIKOLAYEV–Confounding the experts by drawing.
  51. JUAN FELIPE HERRERA–California laureate to U.S. Laureate.
  52. RON SILLIMAN–Hates Republicans.
  53. EILEEN MYLES–I Must Be Living Twice is her latest book.
  54. PATRICIA LOCKWOOD–Twitter poet with two books, a Best American Poetry regular, and a viral poem.
  55. TONY HOAGLAND–because he wrote the poem, “Lucky.”
  56. STEPHEN DUNN–2000 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  57. STEPHEN BURT–Critic at Harvard with an eye on the new.
  58. W.S. MERWIN–“you know there was never a name for that color”
  59. RICHARD WILBUR–“not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only”
  60. JOE GREEN–Limerick Homer. Yes, this is for real. Homer translated into limericks.
  61. ROBERT HASS–“So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.”
  62. NAOMI SHIHAB NYE–“If you love Jesus you can’t love anyone else”
  63. RODNEY JONES–“I happily took myself into the darkness of the underground, where I was king”
  64. GERALD STERN–because he wrote the poem, “Waving Goodbye.”
  65. JORIE GRAHAM–“A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls”
  66. DAVID KIRBY–because he wrote the poem, “Broken Promises.”
  67. BARBARA HAMBY–“carrying around a copy of Being and Nothingness so boys will think you have a fine mind.”
  68. LISA LEWIS–“I knew it was love when I didn’t want to close my eyes.”
  69. SUSAN WOOD–“The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.”
  70. BRENDA HILLMAN–“Talking flames get rid of hell.”
  71. LUCIA PERILLO–because she wrote the poem, “Early Cascade.”
  72. STEPHEN STURGEON–“City busses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia”
  73. JESSE BALL–because he wrote the poem, “Lester, Burma.”
  74. CHARLES BERNSTEIN–Attack of the Difficult Poems was published in 2011.
  75. GEORGE BILGERE–The new Billy Collins. Featured on Garrison Keillor’s show.
  76. LES MURRAY–“Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.”
  77. SURAZEUS SIMON SEAMOUNT–Epic poems of the ancient philosophers.
  78. ALAN CORDLE–Foetry.com founder. Scarriet was his idea as a reply to Blog Harriet.
  79. NATHANIEL MACKEY–Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.
  80. AMY KING–received MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College and MA in Poetics from SUNY Buffalo.
  81. LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI–Presenter at mass S.F. protest (“Human Be-In”) in January, 1967, when LSD was banned in California in 1966.
  82. PETER GIZZI–“No isn’t it amazing, no none of that”
  83. DEBORAH LANDAU–“I don’t have a pill for that”
  84. SARAH ARVIO–In 2015 Best American Poetry
  85. MARK DOTY–His book Deep Lane was short-listed for 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.
  86. MARY OLIVER–“You do not have to be good”
  87. DAN CHIASSON–because he writes for the New Yorker
  88. MARILYN HACKER–National Book Award for Poetry in 1975.
  89. A.E. STALLINGS–she rhymes.
  90. HAROLD BLOOM–does he still hate Poe?
  91. ANNE CARSON–“don’t keep saying you don’t hear it too
  92. RITA DOVE–U.S. Poet Laureate 1993-95.
  93. DON SHARE–“A brown bust of a sad man”
  94. HELEN VENDLER–The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry was published in April, 2015
  95. CATHY PARK HONG–Teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence.
  96. SIMON ARMITAGE–chosen to succeed Geoffrey Hill as Oxford Professor of Poetry
  97. VICTORIA CHANG–“The boss tells me of the billionaire who likes me”
  98. MARILYN CHIN–wins Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Hard Won Province, first time for a book of poetry.
  99. DAVID BIESPIEL–Writes for The Rumpus.
  100. KAY RYAN–doesn’t like being compared to Emily Dickinson; “would you like to be compared to God?” —Paris Review interview

IN FEAR OF DOGGEREL

We recently attended a poetry reading in Harvard Square and we had the great pleasure to hear the world’s greatest living poet, Ben Mazer, read his magnificent poem, “An After Dinner Sleep,” a poem of about 350 lines which closes his new book, The Glass Piano.  It was a cinematic experience, the sort of poem in which you get comfortable, close your eyes, and listen in a state half-way between sleep and waking.

If cinematic poetry doesn’t start a renaissance in poetry, nothing will.

Here’s the thing: and we might as well begin with Keats’ phrase: “fine excess.”  We all know that poetry is known for concision, and this is all well and good, but we must say, we fear this idea, once having got its nose in the tent, now occupies the whole of it, crowding out everything else.

For, as the wretched Pound pointed out—and many, many writers before him—prose, as much as poetry, should not waste words; poetry has no special hold on concision.

We do not mean, “If you have nothing to say, shut up.” No, if you have nothing to say, you are probably the poet we want to hear from.  But this is neither here nor there. We are speaking from a purely technical standpoint.

To say poetry is concise is like saying painting is concise—well, of course it is; it belongs to its frame, not the world. But if this truism took root, the pinnacle of art would be the fifteen-second sketch. Notwithstanding the infinite charm of the master creating a world with a few strokes, we think it time for poetry to throw off the burden of having to say little. Once and for all, let us declare that to be concise is not necessarily to be poetic.  Poe, who said, “a long poem doesn’t exist,” also said a small one doesn’t exist either: there must be sufficient pressure on the wax to create the impression.

Without having to specify length, what this means is, the poet, and the artist in general—for art has suffered from Modernist theories as much as poetry—should use all the tools in the tool box—and why not?  The thing we don’t like about abstract painting is not abstract painting; it is the fact that we once had the pleasure of pictorial representation and all the interest of color which abstract painters revel in.  The thing we don’t like about cartooning, or the vague sketch, or the Red Wheel Barrow, is not the principle which these uphold, that suggestion is perhaps the most important thing in art there is—it is.  But too much reliance on suggestion is suggestive no more.  The paltry is finally not poetic.

This essay comes to damn the poet who goes in fear of doggerel, the poet who plays it safe, who hides behind the “experimental,” a code word for “this is not what I really can do, as an artist, I’m just thinking out loud here, don’t mind me, but if you find something that’s clever here, well, I’ll take a compliment or two, why not?”

Fear of the tight rope turns into the earth-bound, fake bravery of the “avant-garde.” Clowning around on the piano and never getting down to playing a real piece has profited many a hack since 1900.

To be cinematic in poetry is difficult, for one is firmly in that temporal mode perfected by Homer and Tennyson with the added pictorial heft.  The purely discursive, or the obscure, will not do.  Cinematic poetry requires the whole art, which does not eschew the discursive or the suggestive, or any of the other tricks of the poet, by any means—no, but it requires them all.

Poetry, like the film, has motion as its medium; it pitches forward, and does so, like film, with all sorts of markers, pauses, ends, flashbacks, jump cuts, call them what you will—but you get the idea.

Every one of these temporal tricks is enhanced by meter and rhyme.

This is not some moral or bitter argument against the “avant-garde;” again, we are speaking purely from a technical point of view.

To make the poetry that does the most, that is whole and cinematic: meter and rhyme simply help drive that engine. To go in fear of the doggerel is a fear we must abandon.

The poems which win both the popular and the critical taste are cinematic poems; we love them like films, and the truly literate know they are better than films: Prufrock, Kubla Khan, The Raven, The Cloud. But we live in times of horror, in which an appreciation of classical music and great painting and beautiful poetry is fading; there are millions, even fairly intelligent and somewhat nice people—or those who can pass as such—too thick and dense to appreciate beauty in the arts. This is the greatest tragedy of our age, a violence against beautiful feelings which points to more material suffering in the future.

(Scarriet, in the last 5 years of its existence, has produced thousands of lines of original poetry, and so what if half, if 60% is doggerel? We don’t care. For what has been achieved, it is more than worth it.)

We do not recommend Mazer lightly, nor is our argument here to be taken lightly.

It may save poetry.

And everyone’s life.

 

EVERYTHING, BEN MAZER, SUBTRACTION, AND POETRY’S SECRET

 

In our review of Mazer’s latest book, The Glass Piano, published on the first of November, we tried not only for a review, but a Criticism, and reflecting on our words, feel a certain remorse.

In the most recent number of the Battersea Review, the critic William Logan wrote, “the critic is a Diogenes in a world where everyone is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”

How true! And no one feels this as acutely as ourselves (save perhaps Logan himself)—because we have taken to heart in our criticism the simplicity spoken simply by the honest Edgar Poe: “a criticism is simply that—a criticism.”

And one cannot, if one is a critic, escape the necessity of wounding others even if one is writing a positive review.

We loved Mazer’s book—but in our review we had to kill a great deal that was not Mazer.

Was it necessary to praise Mazer by killing what is not Mazer?

Yes.

This is precisely where the heart of critical intelligence resides—to say anything worthwhile, it is necessary to contemplate everything: no value, no good, no judgment, no insight, no understanding, stands alone.

Insight does not live in a vacuum, and no poet does, either: a bad poet is bad next to a good one, a good poet is good next to a bad one—no matter how politeness, or the discursively half-baked, might say otherwise. Mazer’s worth is meaningless without asserting what Mazer destroys. The Hindu religion has a Destroyer god; all major religions feature a God who is wrathful; even in the kinder ones, such as Buddhism, there is a philosophy that counsels denial, rejection and casting out. Religion does not make us obey—the world makes all religion (and all philosophy) obey the trope of destruction, in order that the world be understood and known. There is much around the heart that must be removed, before the heart can be seen. There is much of the one world that must be lost before the one world can be embraced, loved, or known.

Addition (Actual Creation) has, in the beginning, already been done by the Deity-Past; subtraction is how mortals proceed. Man, if divine, if creative, if artistic, resembles God the Creator—in reverse. Since you are mortal, if you don’t hate and destroy, you cannot build and love.

Nonetheless, we feel bad that we had to smite the non-Mazer in order to lift Mazer up.

Any time a critical judgment of any kind is made, it offends many poets who love poetry and participate in poetry on various levels—in the spirit of Everything.

Everything, or Everything-ness, is, precisely, for all these poets and their friends, the essence of poetry.

All we have said in this essay, and all we said in our Mazer review, to winnow away the non-Mazer, is, to these poets, the poets of Everything-ness, an offense and a horror.

For them, poetry is that which embraces Everything. The critical faculty that winnows, destroys, rejects, qualifies, judges, and defines is counter to everything the Everything-ists hold dear.

The Everything-ists believe poetry is poetry so far as it is able to be everything and imply everything and insinuate everything by using everything—and rejecting nothing.

The two views—ours and the Everything-ists—are oil and water. The two views are like matter and anti-matter.

They both belong to the category “poetry,” and yet they could not be more different.

Until this duality is really understood, poetry as an understood practice will be a great confusion, with no center, and a hard exterior, bashing in skulls, wounding egos, damaging philosophy, and creating an army of polite but sore-headed hypocrites.

For the Everything-ists are wrong. Poetry may seem to be for, and about, Everything—but the claim to this is specious and inane. It doesn’t matter how many famous or semi-famous poets you name-drop.

The bad poets must die.

If Ben Mazer is to live.

This is literally a matter of life and death.

We sympathize with the Everything-ists.  We understand what a temptation it is to embrace their good will, their pluralism, their kindness, their laisse faire, their cow-munching-in-the-meadow complaisance.

Why does Scarriet defend the wolf?

Just as Everything as a poetry trope is an illusion (the Everything-ists do not actually embrace Everything: only its idea, which is quite different), so the accusation that we defend the wolf for the mere sake of destruction is also an illusion.

We want to save the Everything-ists from destruction; their position springs from good will; but in terms of poetry, it makes no sense—and therefore, in the long run, it actually hinders good will and good poetry.

To say more regarding our sorrow at offending others would be superfluous.

We have apologized too much already.

So we will hurry on to the main point.

Mazer’s poetry can safely exist in the category, Everything.

Our criticism of Mazer cannot.

Nor can any poet—even the species, everything-ist—write a poem using Everything.

So in actual practice, the Everything philosophy or aspiration is bankrupt.

All poets and all poetry already exist in the universe which defies Everything.

A poet who rhymes, for instance, reduces the pool of words available to him or her.

Any topic or theme chosen, automatically reduces the material available to write the poem, and the better the topic, the more the available material will be reduced, until the greatest topic will simply be the poem itself.

The well-read poet, to be original, has less available to say, precisely because of the voluminousness of his or her reading.

Remember what we said about “subtraction?” That it is the only avenue open to us? In every case, all poets, before they begin writing, severely and inevitably reduce and winnow, making war at every point against the only “enemy”—Everything.

And so the Everything-ists are seen for what they are, at last: nothing. They do not exist. To be non-critical, and to embrace Everything, is to embrace sand in the wind.

The Critical Faculty is not different and apart from the poetic impulse which writes the poem: they are the same.

To write a poem is to decide what you cannot say.

If you are saying whatever you want to say, you are not writing poetry.

You are not writing poetry unless you have first prepared a vessel which restricts what you can say.

The mind of the poet is not what writes the poetry, but what makes these ‘restriction’ vessels. What fills them are the random impulses of the unconscious everything-ness transformed by one of these vessels—which is the actual “poem”—a “vessel” that is not “read,” but which is, in fact, the poem, and which did, in fact, make the poem.

What makes these vessels excellent, in every case, is what they restrict, and on how many levels they limit how, as well as what, may be said. 

The Everything-ist who writes a poem of three words may exult in how much is intimated by those three words. The process we are describing—building by subtraction—may seem to them, triumphantly, exactly what they are doing. And it is proved by the fact that their poem is only three words! How subtractive is that?

But the folly of the Everything-ist can be easily seen. One does not simply subtract. This subtraction is a pitiful shortcut to glory. One must first build a unique and complex vessel of subtraction.

Every excellent poem is excellent in this way: the interest of the subtraction-vessel which generates the poem. The Everything-ist abhors the subtraction-vessel, for this involves a great deal of reading, a rhyme scheme, an effect decided upon which is original, all leading in the mind to a massive amount of reduction, discrimination and subtraction, so that several aspects of the world must be fought with and conquered—and this runs counter to the temperament of the Everything-ist, who loves agreement for its own sake, and a fairy-tale, naive belief in “the new,” which arises benevolently out of a naive love of “everything,” when, in reality, originality is possible only through destruction and subtraction, which is the only avenue open to the wise who would truly imitate God—in reverse.

The truth is, the real poem will far more likely “say” one thing with a hundred lines, rather than a hundred things with one line, or even one word! The former is always preferred, for reasons that should be apparent to the true poet at once.

Great poetry is a fanatical pursuit: it really doesn’t help to know a hundred things half-well; it is far better to know one thing well—and not know anything else.

 

BEN MAZER’S THE GLASS PIANO AND THE POETRY OF INTELLECTUAL IMMEDIACY

Who walks here? Poe? Eliot? Mazer?

Just a glance at the titles of the poems in Ben Mazer’s new book, The Glass Pianoreleased Nov. 1 (Madhat Press) thrills this reviewer:

Lupe Velez with a Baedeker: Irving Thalberg with a Cigar
Autumn Magazines
My Last Dutchman
One dresses in the darkened gloom
Spread over the vast sinking town
Tonight my lover lies
Why is it some old magazine; like a wheelbarrow
The poet does his finest work in sin
Graves and waves are signified by rows

Pop culture is one thing; poetic, in the true sense of the term, is something else: the current swarm of poets in our Writing Program era often mix these two up.  Poetry can use pop culture; but amateurs aflame with various aspects of pop culture (or hipster culture) have it so that pop culture uses poetry, which is…ugh…so wrong.

In Mazer’s brief lyric, “Autumn Magazines,” poetry is using pop culture, not the other way around. It is difficult to pinpoint why, but Mazer, in his poetry, absolutely gets this distinction. In this poem, poetry asserts itself.

Autumn Magazines

The falling leaves of autumn magazines
are framed by nature. Frost said you come too.
Your gowns and sandals crown your nakedness,
Each season justifies all that you do.
The sidewalks spread out their appearances,
the towers and the gilding celebrate
the dates and calendars, commemorate
and underneath it all there’s only you.

The ending “you” is endearingly romantic and Romantic. Nearly all “serious” poets today avoid the gesture, fearing critical rebuke for its “pop song” component; such fear, however, dogs only the lesser poets, not poets like Mazer (we will be bold enough to point out Scarriet is the leading example of this style) who are in such command and control of their poetic gift that “pop” elements do not turn their poetry into “pop,” even when pop sentiments are used without irony.

The all-mighty “you” is a standard in sentimental song, sure, but this doesn’t mean the suave poet cannot borrow its mysteries and charms—charms, by the way, which belong to Dante and Petrarch (among others) and also belong to the trope no poet should do without: pronoun mystery—is the “you” the beloved, God, or the reader, etc etc?

Further, Mazer’s genius can be seen in the way he incorporates one of the greatest jazz standards, “Autumn Leaves,” into the idea of autumn magazines, (poets will be sentimental about magazine numbers, and why not Autumn?) beginning his poem as the famous song begins: “the falling leaves…” Then he introduces the idea of “framing nature,” a trope on a trope on a trope, and when he quotes Frost, another brief lyric is referenced, which references autumn leaves (“rake away…to clear a spring”) and Frost, in his lyric, also makes romantic use of “you.” Mazer’s poetic sensibility fills every bumper to the brim.

Now, the Difficult School, which we revile, rejects the immediacy of pop sensibility—but immediacy is actually what these two, pop culture and poetry, share.

This is why, in the titles of poems listed above, we can see immediately that Ben Mazer is a poet.

If one cannot see this, one should probably not try and read Ben Mazer; one will find oneself feeling like a yokel at the opera, or Ron Silliman before the throne of Poe.

If Lupe Velez with a Baedeker does not resonate with you; if you don’t feel the thousand feelings Autumn Magazines inspires; if My Last Dutchman does not bring a curious, appreciative smile to your lips, you have no business reading poetry. 

And to those who object that a a few words cannot prove mastery, we would ask, how many notes of Brahms’ first symphony does one have to hear before sublimity invades one’s soul?  Poetry is made of one thing: words—words which impress immediately if we are in the presence of the true poetic gift.  The Renaissance painters felt they were superior to the poets—they were, in as much they could depict immediately the face that the poor poet had to supply in pieces—but the poetic art has caught up with painting since the Renaissance, the poets coming to understand how a drop may intimate the sea. Of course, a fool may drown in a drop, but Mazer, who appreciates every drop, intimates oceans.

“Lupe Velez with a Baedeker: Irving Thalberg with a Cigar,” the first poem in the book, directly quotes T. S. Eliot’s “Burbank with a Baedeker, Bleistein with a Cigar” in its first two lines, and then we meet the name, Lupe Velez.

We shall not weigh down this review with references—Mazer’s poems are not weighed down with them; they float over our heads (or drift beneath our feet)—there is no need to “know” or “learn” as one reads a Mazer poem; one burns with it as one reads. Poems that weary us with their facts and their information—Mazer’s poems never do this, and not because Mazer doesn’t “know stuff;” he knows that poetry is not about that, thank God. He doesn’t let pedantry spoil his poetry—which so many otherwise brilliant poets do. He doesn’t allow the hiding of pedantry to spoil his poetry, either, which a smaller, more elite class of poets do; Mazer offers no pedantry, and this puts him almost in a class by himself. He uses what we know, or, more accurately, what we want to know, to entrance. Mazer lays the streets and paths and alleyways as if he were making a poem and then writing a poem in the one he has made—he creates the mind which reads the poem.  But he uses your mind. Many readers will find Mazer’s poetry uncanny in a familiar/strange sort of way, and this is the reason.

Why is Mazer such an important poet? Because he is a return to this impulse, the one voiced by Alexander Pope’s “what oft what thought, but ne’ver so well expressed” and the Romantic sublime, in which what we are able to feel, experiencing a world we all share, is the template, and we find our experiences to be breathtaking—thanks to the poet, who has not only done the work putting together his expression, but the work of joining his feeling to ours.

This remains true, even in the first poem in the book, if we have never heard, for instance, of Lupe Velez; the poem has much to do with her; the poem would not exist without her; no Mazer poem would exist without its unique underpinnings, and so, in that sense, the poet walks among us and is one of us; but the poem makes no effort to inform us of Lupe Velez—the poem is not made small, or trapped by this; reading The Glass Piano is not an exercise in learning, in the weary, worldly sense, but if one should gather the important facts of Lupe Velez—a Mexican actress who broke into U.S. Silent screen movies in the 1920s and successfully moved into sound—one will have learned something of Mazer’s poetic universe, not an isolated fact.  Mazer’s poetry is a symbol for a unique mind that is, itself, a symbol—one reads, literally, Mazer’s vision, of which the poems can only say so much—which is why, perhaps, he is prolific, and also why—too busy to “plan” in the ordinary sense—Mazer’s momentum builds in his longer poems, which seem to be planning themselves as they pitch forward, like life, so that suddenly turning off the main thoroughfare of patient exegesis (you are in an outdoor theater; movies are ghosts etc) you find yourself in a picturesque side path of discursive majesty, the words gaining weight as they fly, the vision really there and real. Mazer is almost like a scientist discovering his poems—and, as they are read, because one gets the idea that Mazer conceives them in the gentle heat of his brain (Mazer is gentle; he has a touch) with the same speed with which they are read, inspiration is able to feel the animal. The long poem (roughly 300 lines) which concludes the book, “An After Dinner Sleep” is immortal, and joins Mazer’s “Divine Rights” at the top of his winding stair.

Mazer chooses Lupe Velez (and Eliot) to begin his book, and says nothing about her, except in hints. (It is not necessary to read Velez’s heart-breaking suicide note.)  We quote in full the first poem of the book. Thalberg is another early figure in film, a producer of Grand Hotel (1932) and early monster/horror films. Mazer’s genius is perfectly content to feed on kitsch, populism, history, camp.

Lupe Velez with a Baedeker; Irving Thalberg with a Cigar

The smoky candle end of time
Declines. On the Rialto once.
With Lupe Velez. Prepared the crime.
But Irving’s valet was no dunce.

Had seen Tirolean dances there
before. And though she was no whore.
Perhaps was hired by the state.
Yet would not scare. And knew no fate.

Time’s thick castles ascend in piles,
The witnesses to countless mobs.
Each with intention, torches, throbs.
Bequeath the coming dawn their wiles.

Yet Irving was not meant for this.
He books the first flight to the States.
He suffers to receive Lupe’s kiss.
While all around the chorus prates.

There’s something does not love a mime.
Tirolean castles built to scale.
There was a mob. There is no crime.
These modernisms sometimes fail.

Mazer trusts the reader to “fill in” what is necessary; all great artists do this; some phrase from a favorite poet, for instance, reverberates in the mind; we recall the scene, the feeling, and yet, not all the words, and running to the book, we open it and find the passage: what? was it only these few words? Which depicted so much?  Indeed it was. Mazer has this gift: a few strokes of the brush: a world.

It is astounding how much this brief lyric conveys: we read each line like a chapter in a novel.  When was the last time we said a poem had “atmosphere?”  Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott?”  Poe’s “The Raven?”  Mazer’s poems have atmosphere (some more than others). Many poets have attempted to lay on atmosphere, but they fail, since atmosphere in poetry cannot be described or explained or accomplished with adjective—-poets are not painters; they cannot paint. The poet must find another way. Mazer finds another way. In “Lupe:” First, by using terse, yet dramatic speech. Second, referencing atmospheric templates (“Tirolean castles”). Third, finding the precise word, even as the other part of his brain is bringing the poem off in terms of beginning, middle, and end.

The narration is coolly involved in the action of the poem: the poet speaks with speech, not with emotion or personality, and this discipline is perhaps the most important “less-is-more” formula there is, and very hard to do. “These modernisms sometimes fail” comes to us from an uncanny place—there is no human, emotional, “straining after,” even though the poem as a whole is frightfully emotional.  It is as if the poem were so emotional that it could only speak without emotion.

The importance of the words is paramount; this is all the poet has, and Mazer is clever enough to know that none of the traditional tools of storytelling will make the words of the poem important: things like ‘a moral’ or ‘the story’ or ’emotion’ remove us from the importance of the words themselves; Mazer’s words seem like they are being spoken (or quoted) from some removed place—and what better way to make this impression than by a subtle, downplayed, insinuation of moral and story and emotion, so the action of the words themselves remain paramount?  And, secondly: hauling in familiar quotes and references from film and literature—the authority of feelings and experiences which belong to us, but lie beyond?  “Would not scare” echoes the ‘steely yet mournful night’ ending of Lowell’s “Skunk Hour.” “There’s something does not love a mime” intimates a “something” that wrecks walls, quoting Frost, with “mime’s” jokey alteration implying everything from silent film to the stoic reticence of Mazer himself.

To paraphrase Yeats, poems should be boldly designed, and yet appear design-less, and Mazer, who claims to compose unconsciously, his poems dictating themselves to him nearly complete, is able to revel in that inevitable surprise one (does not?) look for; one could almost say that the poetic is, by its very nature, unconscious design.

Who can argue with the unconscious, or Mazer’s stated idea in the book’s afterword interview with critic Robert Archambeau, that all composition is revision and all revision is composition?

There should be no conscious intent in poetry, according to this smooth-lake view—a view propounded by the New Critics, the ultimate Quietism of T.S.-Eliot-Learning-and-Conservatism, which defies 1. conscious Conceptualism and 2. conscious Ethnic/Ethical Poetry, these two Schools currently at war, as the School of Mazer (Romanticism, Frost, Eliot) makes its move.

Mazer eschews both the rattle of the gizmo avant-garde and the sloganeering of the ethnic/ethical.

Yet he has more to “say” than either.

Edgar Poe, the fountain of modern literature, quietly inspired T.S. Eliot, who, in the spirit of Anglo-American Modernism, publicly excoriated Poe, after he, Eliot, won the Nobel in 1948. Shelley was attacked earlier by Eliot, in the 1930s.

“These modernisms sometimes fail.”

Why not, as Mazer does in “Lupe,” rhyme like Percy Shelley, hint at Mary Shelley’s creature, and wrap it in an atmosphere of T.S. Eliot? Or Poe?

Why not force a wedding between Modernism and Romanticism?

This reconciliation is due, and Mazer, more than any living poet today, is showing the way. This may be, at the moment, his raison d’etre.

Ben Mazer, perhaps the most remarkable poet alive today, has in his bones that Poe, that poet of shadowy art, flowing into that Eliot of hedonist umber; Mazer struggling to emerge, newly, as that perfection which knows itself as such—latching onto the perfect atmosphere blindly, but perfectly blind—Mazer writing from the unconscious (the bones), not as an ‘automatic writing’ Ashbery, in the tradition of Harvard’s William James and his student Gertrude Stein, but in a tradition much less ‘laboratory,’ and more ‘organic.’ Ben Mazer—the Coleridge of Cambridge, shall we call him? Mazer inhabits the Harvard Square of Prufrock’s Eliot—not Longfellow (who lived there), or 100 years later, Ashbery (who studied there).

It’s a subtle thing, perhaps, but Mazer, who is sometimes compared to Ashbery, is far more Eliot: Eliot rejected the Romantic poets’ music reluctantly, with a frown; Ashbery did so completely, with a laugh.

The excitable, yet mathematical, purple of Poe (“organic” if nature is Platonically made of math) did flow into the tortured, beige suavity of Eliot—a fact difficult to detect not so much by the casual reader, but by the scholar—and in Mazer’s auditory onslaughts, his chaste intelligences, and his world-as-art acrobatics, Eliot’s prophetic Tradition-which-reveals-the-past-by-the-present has come true.

To demonstrate, we quote in full another poem from the new book. It is 13 lines. Most of the poems in this book, are in fact sonnets, 14 lines in length.

The title, “Spread over the vast sinking town,” (the poem’s first line) immediately puts us in mind of:

As if the towers had thrust aside
In slightly sinking, the dull tide…
Down, down that town shall settle hence…” (“The City in the Sea,” Poe)

The second line of Mazer’s poem, “Which winter makes seem half asleep” recalls Eliot’s “The winter evening settles down” from “The Preludes.” A significant word, “curled,” is found in both the Mazer and the Eliot poem.

Mazer has yanked together Eliot’s “Preludes” and Poe’s “The City in the Sea.”  Mazer’s poem begins:

Spread over the vast sinking town
Which winter makes seem half asleep

And notice, in the poem that follows, with what skill Mazer blends Poe’s melancholy spondaic/dactylic music with Eliot’s modern imagery couched in the merrier, yet ironic, iambic; initially the poem trips along in a nimble, 19th-and-20th-century mix, pausing for a moment at the precipice of what might become delicate sarcasm, before it settles into a work perhaps owing more to Poe—or is it Eliot?—but nonetheless achieving, in the end, a work poignant, uncanny, and original, even as it remains steeped in a strange, familiar, hybrid ambience.

Spread over the vast sinking town
Which winter makes seem half asleep
A bus begins its movement down
Across a bridge into the steep
Wide view of the familiar sights
The site of many rowdy nights
But now inhabitants have thinned
Discouraged by the winter wind
And one less one is in the world
Because our faith and will have curled
And folded on the mantel bare
To leave unborn without a care
One whom God’s glory wanted there.

“God’s glory…” Who, today, could invoke this, and be solemn and serious and reputable and true? Mazer may be the only one. The ticket, of course, is the music.

Mazer doesn’t always rhyme this methodically. Today it is almost considered critical suicide to rhyme, unless your name is A.E. Stallings.  As for truth: there is never a reason not to use punctuation, but there it is—occasionally poets feel the need to carve words alone in iron.

But as for rhyme: Poets do not rhyme for two simple reasons: 1. Contemporary fashion and 2. it is very difficult to do.

Mazer is steeped and skilled in the art—from both a practical and an historical perspective, both one and two do not trouble him; he is good enough not to care for contemporary fashion.

When Mazer does not rhyme, he does tend to sound like Ashbery, or a kind of Waste Land Ashbery—Old Possum is usually lurking behind the drapery.

In Glass Piano Mazer has bet heavily on rhyme.  And we are glad that he has.

Mazer’s poems are dreamy and contemplative; if there are two types of lyric, one, the conscious, busybody, Go Do Something, Mazer’s poetry fits I Am The Something; Mazer doesn’t plunder memory for the sake of finding things out, so much as drawing near to what one is wary of finding out. In the first kind of poem, morality often beats you with a stick. In Mazer’s poetry, morality is kind, and wears a cloak.

In the poem just quoted in full, whatever it is in the poem that is “folded on the mantel bare” hints at a memory of an abortion, perhaps? and oddly, other poems in the book which use the word “mantel” seem to hint at the same thing, but in a very delicate way. Mazer’s work is far too aesthetically layered to take any overt moral positions; here Mazer is like Shelley, who asked poetry to explore moral causes—not accessible, worldly, moral effects; below the surface in Mazer’s poetry there does seem to be a deep, ancient conservatism, one that is expansive in its nostalgia, an icy Weltschmerz, but one capable of skating on slippery levity; Mazer’s poetry is happy with the pluralism of existence, with its nostalgia—Mazer feels it, yes, but is not depressed or overwhelmed by it. Occasionally there is a wave of ticket-stub sentimentality, a feeling of poor old dad in his twilight study with the old-literary-magazine compendium, but Mazer never indulges in the merely rueful; there is a quickness to his melancholy.

The I Am Something poem, the one that says ‘Everything you need is here,’ does feature a passive poet—looking out windows, trapped in darkness—and, as a corollary, a passive reader, too–but we get an active poem; the Listen To Me! I Am It! Quietly! poem that, in itself, has everything we need. The passageways may be dark, but they are Mazer’s, and we travel them with trembling delight. We aren’t just reading words. We are moving in what they project.

Because of Mazer’s discursive and melancholy hyper-awareness of the fleeting struggling to cohere, those poems he knits with meter and rhyme (stitched to mingle and collide) tend to bring a happier result than his free-verse Ashbery ones.

Mazer makes quiet use of humor; we actually wish there were more of it in this book. Mazer’s subtle humor enriches the melancholy, instead of merely intruding on it.

A good example of Mazer’s sense of humor can be seen in the following poem, which we quote in full, and which exemplifies all we have been saying so far. Note the brilliant, philosophical ‘Phoenix’ joke. Jokes have designs on us.  Mazer’s genius is the receptive, unconscious kind.  His humor is quiet, and for that, all the more powerful, and brings out in him a related, yet different kind of genius, one we would like to see him pursue more often.

Meanwhile you come to me with vipers’ eyes
to ask, Is there one among us who never dies?
I look into the bottom of my pack of lies
and answer, The Phoenix, though Lord knows she sometimes tries.
You take my answer in your sort of stride,
and once again the stars align and ride
into our lives, upon the carpeted floor,
and the high mantle where you look no more
for evidence of what has gone before;
all stammers slightly,
and the evening closes up its door,
wrong or rightly; colorfully and brightly
some vestiges or trace of memory
falls on the wall; you close your eyes to see.

Mazer is obscure, but not hopelessly so, and because of the sad music, we never mind. We never feel, as we often feel with Ashbery, that there is some kind of parody going on, and Mazer is stronger for this.

All poetry, even—especially?—great poetry, has a shadow-self vulnerable to parody; “The Raven” was parodied upon its publication, immediately and often. One could say Modernism itself, in many ways, is a parody of the 19th century sublime—the spirit of Ashbery’s parody lives, partially hidden, in Eliot’s suffering heart. After all, Eliot anointed Auden and Auden, Ashbery. Is Mazer their successor?

Mazer is revolutionary, in our view, because, for the first time since Tennyson, poetry is once again allowed to be itself, to produce symphonies—with no need to parody, or feel self-consciously modern.

Mazer’s poems seem to say to us: Among all your sufferings, look! this lighted window really is for you. The couch of art, with its faint, sad music, belongs to everyone. You may all rest here.

Mazer is doing something wonderful and important. No one should resent this. Mazer is it. This review would have been better had we just copied his poetry.

We close with a passage from his magnificent poem, “An After Dinner Sleep:”

Now the two sisters have returned to London.
If one is done, the other must be undone.
You strain your eyes through columns, chance to see
the early return of the Viscount-Marquis.
Your monthly pension takes you on a spree
to Biarritz, Bretagne, Brittany,
and you will not be back till early fall,
and then again might not return at all,
the garish drainpipes climbing up the facades
all violently symbolic, and at odds
with simple pleasures countrysides bequeath
to girls with dandelions between their teeth.
There is no fiction that can firmly hold
the world afloat above the weight of gold,
but all your progress drains out to the lee
of million-fold eternal unity.

YES! ANOTHER SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!!!

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1. Vanessa Place —The High Creator does not create.

2. Kenneth Goldsmith —Death to the “creative” once and for all.

3. Simon Armitage —Best known for 9/11 poem, wins Oxford Poetry Professorship

4. A.E. Stallings —Lost the Oxford. World is still waiting for a good New Formalist poet.

5. John Ashbery —Doesn’t need to be good. Unlike New Formalists, his content and form agree.

6. Marjorie Perloff —Must confront this question: is the “non-creative” nearly racist by default?

7. Ron Silliman —Keeps tabs on the dying. Burned by the Avant Racism scandal.

8. Stephen Burt —Stephanie goes to Harvard.

9. Rita Dove —We asked her about Perloff; she laughed. No intellectual pretense.

10. Claudia Rankine —Social confrontation as life and death.

11. Juan Felipe Herrera —New U.S. Poet Laureate. MFA from Iowa. Farm workers’ son.

12. William Logan —“Shakespeare, Pope, Milton by fifth grade.” In the Times. He’s trying.

13. Patricia Lockwood —“Rape Joke” went Awl viral.

14. Lawrence Ferlinghetti —At 96, last living Beat.

15. Richard Wilbur —At 94, last living Old Formalist.

16. Don Share —Fuddy-duddy or cutting edge? It’s impossible to tell with Poetry.

17. Valerie Macon —Good poet. Hounded from NC Laureate job for lacking creds.

18. Helen Vendler —New book of essays a New Critical tour de force. Besotted with Ashbery and Graham.

19. Cathy Park Hong —Fighting the racist Avant Garde.

20. David Lehman —As the splintering continues, his BAP seems less and less important.

21. Billy Collins —His gentle historical satire is rhetoric nicely fitted to free verse.

22. David Orr —Common sense critic at the Times.

23. Frank Bidart —Student of Lowell and Bishop, worked with James Franco. Drama. Confessionalism.

24. Kevin Coval —Co-editor of Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.

25. Philip Nikolayev —Globe-trotting translator, editor, poet.

26. Ben Mazer —Neo-Romantic. Has advanced past Hart Crane.

27. Amy KingHates mansplaining. 

28. Sharon Olds —Best living female poet?

29. Louise Gluck —Her stock is quietly rising.

30. Jorie Graham —Her Collected has landed.

31. George Bilgere —If you like Billy Collins…and what’s wrong with that?

32. Garrison Keillor —Is he retiring?

33. Kent Johnson —Is his Prize List so quickly forgotten?

34. David Biespiel —One of the villagers trying to chase Conceptualism out of town.

35. Carol Ann Duffy —The “real” Poet Laureate—she’s Brih-ish.

36. Cate Marvin —Poet who leads the VIDA hordes.

37. Lyn Hejinian —The best Language Poet?

38. Dan ChiassonNew Yorker house critic.

39. Michael Robbins —As with Logan, we vastly prefer the criticism to the poetry.

40. Joe Green —His Selected, The Loneliest Ranger, has been recently published.

41. Harold Bloom —The canonizer.

42. Dana Gioia —The best of New Formalism.

43. Seth Abramson —Meta-Modernism. That dog won’t hunt.

44. Henry Gould —Better at responding than asserting; reflecting the present state of Criticism today.

45. W.S. Merwin —Knew Robert Graves—who recommended mushroom eating (yea, that kind of mushroom) as Oxford Poetry Professor in the 60s.

46. Marilyn Chin —Passionate lyricist of “How I Got That Name.”

47. Anne Carson —“The Glass Essay” is a confessional heartbreak.

48. Terrence Hayes —Already a BAP editor.

49. Timothy Steele —Another New Formalist excellent in theorizing—but too fastidious as a poet.

50. Natasha Trethewey —Was recently U.S. Poet Laureate for two terms.

51. Tony Hoagland —Hasn’t been heard from too much since his tennis poem controversy.

52. Camille Paglia —Aesthetically, she’s too close to Harold Bloom and the New Critics.

53. William Kulik —Kind of the Baudelaire plus Hemingway of American poetry. Interesting, huh?

54. Mary Oliver —Always makes this list, and we always mumble something about “Nature.”

55. Robert Pinsky —He mentored VIDA’s Erin Belieu.

56. Alan Cordle —We will never forget how Foetry.com changed the game.

57. Cole Swensen –A difficult poet’s difficult poet.

58. Charles Bernstein —One day Language Poetry will be seen for what it is: just another clique joking around.

59. Charles Wright —Pulitzer in ’98, Poet Laureate in ’14.

60. Paul Muldoon New Yorker Nights

61. Geoffrey Hill —The very, very difficult school.

62. Derek Walcott —Our time’s Homer?

63. Janet Holmes —Program Era exemplar.

64. Matthew Dickman —The youth get old. Turning 40.

65. Kay Ryan —Are her titles—“A Ball Rolls On A Point”—better than her poems?

66. Laura Kasischke —The aesthetic equivalent of Robert Penn Warren?

67. Nikki Finney —NAACP Image Award

68. Louis Jenkins —His book of poems, Nice Fish, is a play at the American Repertory Theater this winter.

69. Kevin Young —A Stenger Fellow who studied with Brock-Broido and Heaney at Harvard

70. Timothy Donnelly —His Cloud Corporation made a big splash.

71. Heather McHugh —Her 2007 BAP guest editor volume is one of the best.

72. D.A. Powell —Stephen Burt claims he is original and accessible to an extraordinary degree.

73. Eileen Myles —We met her on the now-defunct Blog Harriet Public Form.

74. Richard Howard —Pulitzer-winning essayist, critic, translator and poet

75. Robert Hass —U.S. Poet Laureate in the 90s, a translator of haiku and Milosz.

76. Rae Armantrout —Emily Dickinson of the Avant Garde?

77. Peter Gizzi —His Selected, In Defense of Nothing, came out last year.

78. Fanny Howe —Is it wrong to think everything is sacred? An avant-garde Catholic.

79. Robert Archambeau —His blog is Samizdat. Rhymes with Scarriet.

80. X.J. Kennedy —Keeping the spirit of Frost alive.

81. Robert PolitoPoetry man.

82. David Ferry —Classical poetry translator.

83. Mark Doty —A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

84. Al Filreis  —Co-founder of PennSound

85. Frederick Seidel —Has been known to rhyme malevolence with benevolence.

86. Sherman Alexie —Is taught in high school. We wonder how many on this list are?

87. Marie Howe —Margaret Atwood selected her first book for a prize.

88. Carol Muske-Dukes —In recent Paris Review interview decried cutting and pasting of “Unoriginal Genius.”

89. Martha Ronk —In the American Hybrid anthology from Norton.

90. Juliana Spahr —Has a PhD from SUNY Buffalo. Hates “capitalism.”

91. Patricia Smith —Four-time winner of the National Poetry Slam.

92. Dean Young —His New & Selected, Bender, was published in 2012.

93. Jennifer Knox —Colloquial and brash.

94. Alicia Ostriker —“When I write a poem, I am crawling into the dark.”

95. Yusef Komunyakaa —Known for his Vietnam poems.

96. Stephen Dunn —His latest work is Lines of Defense: Poems.

97. Thomas Sayer Ellis —Poet and photographer.

98. Carolyn Forche —Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University.

99. Margaret Atwood —Poet, novelist, and environmental activist.

100. Forrest Gander —The Trace is his latest.

 

 

 

 

 

MORE VERSES VERSUS VERSES: MAZER AND RANSOM

MAZER:

Sunlight rests like a package at the door.
Nothing sees. The rich interior is useless to persons and chronology.
Once when the spring came to our caravan I’d say the mountain streams ran in her hair.
Let these things rest without memory.

RANSOM:

The lazy geese, like a snow cloud
Dripping their snow on the green grass,   
Tricking and stopping, sleepy and proud,   
Who cried in goose, Alas,
For the tireless heart within the little   
Lady with rod that made them rise
From their noon apple-dreams and scuttle
Goose-fashion under the skies!

Now we get to see who is in the Final Four.

But how is this possible?

Look back on a few recent posts.

Michelangelo versus Teasdale: how can we declare a winner?  The very secret of Michelangelo’s soul in a newly translated sonnet. A heart-breaking lyric by the under appreciated Teasdale. How can there be a “winner?”

Oh God! Milton’s passionate paean to Virtue. Or Byron’s passionate paean to…passion. Oh God! Trembling are the knees of the judges!

Poe against Coleridge! Verses that drown the senses and tickle the smallest whiskers of the soul! How can a mortal decision be made?

Mazer, the contemporary representative! Contemporary poetry, generally, is flat, compared to great, old poetry. Ben Mazer, by a miracle, still in this tournament, among the greatest verse-makers of all time!  Against the Tennessean, Ransom, New Critic and T.S. Eliot of the American South, poet of old women and dead children.

The Final Four will appear in a cloud of tears

THE LIST: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100

Conceptualism Can Hardly Be Imagined!

1. KG  is talked about.
2. Vanessa Place  Conceptualism’s moment in the sun
3. Ron Silliman  Has Conceptualism fever
4. Marjorie Perloff  Wrestles with: Avant-garde = Art, not poetry
5. Amy King  “Real issue” poet leads the war against Conceptualism
6. Cate Marvin  VIDA masses breaking down the walls of Conceptualism
7. Carol Ann Duffy writes poem for reburial of Richard III
8. Benedict Cumberbatch, distant cousin, delivers it.
9. Ben Mazer publishes Complete Ransom
10. Jorie Graham  Big Environmentalism comeback?
11. Claudia Rankine  Seizing the moment?
12. James Franco  Film/gallery/poetry renaissance man or Hollywood punk?
13. David Biespiel  April Fool’s Conceptualism piece in Rumpus
14. George Bilgere  Just “good poems?”
15. Kent Johnson  “Prize List:” Brilliant or KG lite?
16. Susan Howe   Who, where, what, why?
17. Ann Lauterbach Can’t hear the baroque music
18. Corina Copp  Reproduce
19. David Lau  A permisson
20. Forrest Gander  Take a look
21. Harryette Mullen Thinking it over
22. Keston Sutherland  S’marvelous! S’alternative!
23. Evie Shockley  Electrical grass
24. Joe Luna  Pale orb that rules the night
25. Geoffrey O’Brien Library of America editor
26. Lisa Cattrone “Your mother could pull a fresh squid from a lumberjack”
27. Jennifer Tamayo  Colombian-born New  Yorker
28. Juliana Sparr Won the Hardison Poetry Prize in 2009
29. Monica de la Torre Born and raised in Mexico City
30. Caroline Knox Educated at Radcliffe, lives in Massachusetts
31. J. Michael Martinez Hispanic American poet, winner of Walt Whitman award
32. Jasper Bernes  Theorist who received his PhD in 2012
33. Mairead Byrne Discovered the internet in 1994 on a plane from Ireland
34. Ben Lerner Eyebrows haunt glasses beneath intellectual hair
35. Ron Padget  Young member of the New York School
36. Alli Warren  Born in L.A., her book is Here Come the Warm Jets
37. Sandra Simonds “And once you give up drinking, drugs and having random sex, what is left?”
38. John Wilkinson  Studied English at Jesus College, Cambridge, United Kingdom
39. Hoa Nguyen Born near Saigon in 1967
40. Will Alexander Also made Johnson’s “Prize List”
41. Sophia Le Fraga “it took me fifteen minutes and eight tries which is too many and too slow I think”
42. Joyelle McSweeney She edits Action Books!
43. Cole Swensen “for instance, the golden section mitigates between abandon and an orchestra just behind those trees”
44. Cathy Wagner Her book Nervous Device came out in 2012
45. Christian Hawkey Is a poet, activist, translator, editor, and educator. Also wears shoes.
46. Dana Ward Was a featured writer for Harriet
47. Stacy Szymaszek “then something happened and a FUCK YOU FENCE went up”
48. Rebecca Wolff “The dominant paradigm of the day: the mediocre narrative lyric.”
49. Lugwa Mutah Kidnapped in Nigeria. Made Johnson’s “Prize List”
50. Maureen Thorson “At first heartbreak made me beautiful.”
51. Sean Bonney Brought up in the North of England
52. Tan Lin Poet, novelist, filmmaker, and new media artist
53. Rob Halpern “I herded me and me and me into a room in groups of ten to twenty and stripped me and me and me naked.”
54. Charles Bernstein  Playing in Scarriet March Madness Tourney, too busy to talk right now.
55. Rob Fitterman  Postconceptual pizza
56. Matthew Dickman “All night it felt like I was in your room, the French doors opened out onto the porch”
57. Anne Carson Born in Toronto in 1950
58. Christian Bok Born in Toronto in 1966
59. Caroline Bergvall Born in Germany in 1962
60. Peter Gizzi “Beauty walks this world. It ages everything.”
61. Linh Dinh His poem “Quiz” is on the Poetry Foundation site
62. Michael Robbins “A Poem for President Drone”
63. Bill Freind “We found this on the map so it is real.”
64. Danielle Parfunda  She is the author of Manhater.
65. Daniel Tiffany “Bin Ramke has come to be known for the procedures and allusions that quicken his ongoing poetic experiment”
66. Cathy Park Hong “To encounter the history of avant-garde poetry is to encounter a racist tradition.”
67. Dodie Bellamy Sex poetry grows apace with her Cunt Norton.
68. Lucas de Lima  Wet Land is for Ana Maria
69. Rosa Alcala “English is dirty. Polyamorous. English wants me.”
70. Yedda Morrison Whites out Heart of Darkness for her book, Darkness
71. Craig Santos Perez From Guam, co-founder of Ala Press
72. Divya Victor A featured writer for Harriet last year
73. Nathaniel Mackey Teaches at Duke
74. Brenda Hillman Married to “Meditation at Lagunitas”
75. Elizabeth Willis “You don’t blame the lamp for what you cannot read”
76. Ocean Vuong Won a Lilly fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2014
77. Bhanu Kapil  British-Indian who teaches at Naropa and Goddard
78. Joshua Wilkinson A “Poetry Plus” advocate
79. Elizabeth Robinson “red blush on air makes fatality sublime”
80. Brandon Brown Charles Baudelaire the Vampire Slayer
81. Lee Ann Brown “The Question Undoes Itself/ On an organic twittering machine”
82. John Yau Educated at Brooklyn, Bard and BU
83. Lyn Hejinian The Queen of the Language Poets?
84. Erica Hunt  “She likes to organize with her bare teeth”
85. Michael Hansen Poetry editor of Chicago Review
86. John Ashbery  And he goes, and he goes
87. David Lehman What is the best?
88. Jim Behrle The clown downtown
89. Alan Cordle He ripped the veil
90. Helen Vendler  Sees Yeats in the twilight
91. Billy Collins  Free verse genius
92. Seth Abramson Have no idea what he’s talking about
93. Philip Nikolayev  Gold mine of Russian translation
94. Valerie Macon  We won’t forget
95. Joe Green  A Fulcrum poet
96. Garrison Keillor  Poetry’s Walter Cronkite?
97. Camille Paglia  Feminist-hating blah blah blah?
98. Sharon Olds  The sweet crash-and-burn of Iowa Confessionalism
99. Amber Tamblyn The actress. Her new book of poems, Dark Sparkler, is about dead actresses
100. Dan Chiasson  Au courant, staus quo reviewer

THE SWEET SIXTEEN!

For T.S Eliot, the incense stained Moderinst, the road to the Elite Eight goes through Rome and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo has laid aside hammer and brush and pulled two upsets in a row in an elite English-speaking poetry tournament, the only one of its kind in the world. Rumors are the Pope will attend this contest.

Sarah Teasdale must conquer the iconic Wordsworth; so far she has aimed at the simple heart and won. How many more hearts can she break? Will Wordsworth counter with sentiment of his own? Or be cold and dignified?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Alfred Tennyson. Enough said!

Poe battles Keats!  Half these battles for the Elite Eight feature a Brit versus an American, and this is one of them.  Poe admired Keats, but he was happy to knock down perceived English superiority which existed then.

Milton, who was not known for his sense of humor, plays Ashbery, who, one could argue, is never serious.

The two friends, Byron and Shelley, tangle by a crystal lake at midnight.

Mazer and Chin have met in a previous Scarriet March Madness, with Mazer winning a big one. Chin out for revenge. She is one of two women left in the tournament.

And, in an interesting twist, Ransom, the “The T.S. Eliot of the American South,” whose collected poetry Mazer just published, continues his underdog run against Alexander Pope.

Eliot v. Michelangelo

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown. —Eliot

I love to sleep, still more to sleep In stone while pain and shame exist: not see, or feel, or be kissed; so do not wake me, or weep. —Michelangelo

Wordsworth v. Teasdale

The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose, The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare, waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair. —Wordsworth

I have loved hours at sea, gray cities, The fragile secret of a flower, Music, the making of a poem That gave me heaven for an hour. —Teasdale

Coleridge v. Tennyson

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. —Coleridge

Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark! And may there be no sadness of farewell, When I embark. —Tennyson

Poe v. Keats

Our talk had been serious and sober, But our thoughts they were palsied and sear—Our memories were treacherous and sere—For we knew not the month was October, And we marked not the night of the year.  —Poe

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.  —Keats

Milton v. Ashbery

But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I can run Quickly to the green earth’s end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.  —Milton

Some departure from the norm Will occur as time grows more open about it. The consensus gradually changed; nobody Lies about it any more.  —Ashbery

Byron v. Shelley

‘Tis pleasing to be schooled in a strange tongue By female lips and eyes—that is, I mean, When both the teacher and the taught are young, As was the case, at least, where I have been; They smile so when one’s right, and when one’s wrong They smile still more, and then there intervene Pressure of hands, perhaps even a chaste kiss—I learned the little that I know by this.  —Byron

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? —Shelley

Chin v. Mazer

My cousin calls him Allah my sister calls him Jesus my brother calls him Krishna my mother calls him Gautama I call him on his cell phone But he does not answer. —Chin

The basement casements, dusty with disuse, convey with their impregnably abstruse recalcitrance an inner life, to all who are among the living of no use. The wide walkways of the stars divide chapters of our lives like music in reverse.  —Mazer

Pope v. Ransom

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown, Thus unlamented, let me die, Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.  —Pope

There was such speed in her little body, And such lightness in her footfall, It is no wonder her brown study Astonishes us all.  —Ransom

SCARRIET 2015 MARCH MADNESS—THE GREATEST LINES IN POETRY COMPETE

BRACKET ONE

1. Come live with me, and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That hills and valleys, dales and field, And all the craggy mountains yield. (Marlowe)

2. Every Night and every Morn Some to Misery are born. Every Morn and every Night Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to sweet delight, Some are born to endless night.  (Blake)

3. Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine; And I was desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion. (Dowson)

4. April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot)

5. No motion has she now, no force; She neither hears nor sees; Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course, With rocks, and stones and trees. (Wordsworth)

6. If the red slayer think he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain, They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again. (Emerson)

7. The sea is calm tonight, The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. (Arnold)

8. When I am dead and over me bright April Shakes out her rain-drenched hair, Though you should lean above me broken-hearted, I shall not care. (Teasdale)

9. The soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. (Dickinson)

10. We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile. (Dunbar)

11. This is the waking landscape Dream after dream walking away through it Invisible invisible invisible (Merwin)

12. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw, And I said I do, I do. (Plath)

13. It is easy to be young. (Everybody is, at first.) It is not easy to be old. It takes time. Youth is given; age is achieved. (May Swenson)

14. There is no disorder but the heart’s. But if love goes leaking outward, if shrubs take up its monstrous stalking, all greenery is spurred, the snapping lips are overgrown, and over oaks red hearts hang like the sun. (Mona Von Duyn)

15. Long life our two resemblances devise, And for a thousand years when we have gone Posterity will find my woe, your beauty Matched, and know my loving you was wise. (Michelangelo)

16. Caesar’s double-bed is warm As an unimportant clerk Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK On a pink official form. (Auden)

BRACKET TWO

1. Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds Or bends with the remover to remove. (Shakespeare)

2. In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. (Coleridge)

3. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. (Barrett)

4. Say to the Court, it glows And shines like rotten wood; Say to the Church, it shows What’s good, and doth no good: If Church and Court reply, Then give them both the lie. (Raleigh)

5. Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicaean barks of yore, That gently o’er a perfumed sea, The weary, wayworn wanderer bore To his own native shore. (Poe)

6. Some for the Glories of This World; and some Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come; Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go, Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum! (Omar Khayyam)

7. Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. (Marvell)

8. The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, The ploughman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. (Gray)

9. O hark, O hear! how thin and clear, And thinner, clearer, farther going! O, sweet and far from cliff and scar The horns of Elfland faintly blowing! Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying, Blow bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying. (Tennyson)

10. I have a rendezvous with Death, At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air. (Seeger)

11. I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done. Though we seek life through, we shall surely find There is none of them clear to us now, not one. (Swinburne)

12. When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d, And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night, I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. (Whitman)

13. O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing. (Keats)

14. Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. (Frost)

15. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Stevens)

16. I was, being human, born alone; I am, being a woman, hard beset; I live by squeezing from a stone The little nourishment I get. (Wylie)

BRACKET THREE

1. The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide: They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow Through Eden took their solitary way. (Milton)

2. Though the night was made for loving, And the day returns too soon, Yet we’ll go no more a roving By the light of the moon. (Byron)

3. I arise from dreams of thee In the first sweet sleep of night, When the winds are breathing low, And the stars are shining bright. (Shelley)

4. What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. (Owen)

5. We have heard the music, tasted the drinks, and looked at colored houses. What more is there to do, except to stay? And that we cannot do. And as a last breeze freshens the top of the weathered old tower, I turn my gaze Back to the instruction manual which has made me dream of Guadalajara. (Ashbery)

6. Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives. Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives. (Sassoon)

7. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get One perfect rose. (Parker)

8. The shopgirls leave their work quietly. Machines are still, tables and chairs darken. The silent rounds of mice and roaches begin. (Reznikoff)

9. It’s not my business to describe anything. The only report is the discharge of words called to account for their slurs. A seance of sorts—or transport into that nether that refuses measure. (Bernstein)

10. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed. (Rich)

11. When I see a couple of kids And guess he’s fucking her and she’s Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm, I know this is paradise Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives (Larkin)

12. I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground. So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind: Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned. (Millay)

13. Those four black girls blown up in that Alabama church remind me of five hundred middle passage blacks in a net, under water in Charlestown harbor so redcoats wouldn’t find them. Can’t find what you can’t see can you? (Harper)

14. It’s good to be neuter. I want to have meaningless legs. There are things unbearable. One can evade them a long time. Then you die. (Carson).

15. On my way to bringing you the leotard you forgot to include in your overnight bag, the snow started coming down harder. I watched each gathering of leafy flakes melt round my footfall. I looked up into it—late afternoon but bright. Nothing true or false in itself. (Graham)

16. The rape joke is that you were 19 years old. The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend. The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee. Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. (Lockwood)

BRACKET FOUR

1. Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of that man skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer, harried for years on end, after he plundered the stronghold on the proud height of Troy. (Homer)

2. And following its path, we took no care To rest, but climbed, he first, then I—so far, through a round aperture I saw appear Some of the beautiful things that heaven bears, Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars. (Dante)

3. With usura, sin against nature, is thy bread ever more of stale rags is thy bread dry as paper, with no mountain wheat, no strong flour with usura the line grows thick with usura is no clear demarcation and no man can find site for his dwelling. Stonecutter is kept from his stone weaver is kept from his loom WITH USURA (Pound)

4. I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin. Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of “be,” without the uncertain i-n-g of “becoming.” Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea. (Chin)

5.  Dreaming evil, I have done my hitch over the plain houses, light by light: lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind. A woman like that is not a woman, quite. I have been her kind. (Sexton)

6. I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew, The jealousy, the shyness—though in vain—Made up a love so tender and so true As God may grant you to be loved again. (Pushkin)

7. We cannot know his legendary head And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze is turned down low, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Rilke)

8. So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rain water besides the white chickens. (Williams)

9. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night. (Ginsberg)

10. The Walrus and the Carpenter Walked on a mile or so, And then they rested on a rock Conveniently low: And all the little Oysters stood And waited in a row. (Carroll)

11. What dire offense from amorous causes springs, What mighty contests rise from trivial things; Slight is the subject, but not so the praise, If she inspire, and he approve my lays. (Pope)

12. Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere. And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane. Or would you say that I have gone insane? What would you do, then, to even the score? (Mazer)

13. Come, read to me a poem, Some simple and heartfelt lay, That shall soothe this restless feeling, And banish the thoughts of day. (Longfellow)

14. So Penelope took the hand of Odysseus, not to hold him back but to impress this peace on his memory: from this point on, the silence through which you move is my voice pursuing you. (Gluck)

15. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so: From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (Donne)

16. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And vaster, Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (Bishop)

17. Practice your beauty, blue girls, before it fail; And I will cry with my loud lips and publish Beauty which all our power will never establish, It is so frail. (Ransom)

SCARRIET ROCKED 2014!

image

Thomas Brady: the simpleton who writes it all

In the 365 days of 2014, Scarriet brought you half that many original items: poems of lyric poignancy, articles on the popular culture, essays of Literary Criticism, the occasional humor piece, and the Literary Philosophy March Madness Tournament—in which Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Freud, Baudelaire, Woolf, De Beauvoir, Marx, Maimonides, Wilde, Poe, Emerson, Wordsworth, Pope, Wollstonecraft, Butler, Rich, Frye, Mallarme, Adorno, and 44 others sought immortality against one another in an orgy of wit and game.

Without further ado, here (with publication dates) are the most notable of the past year:

1. The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs 2/13.  This wins based on numbers. Over 15,000 views for this post alone in 2014, and it is averaging 120 views per day for the last 3 months, with views increasing, nearly a year after its publication. It’s always nice when an article has legs like this. We’re not sure what ‘search engine magic’ has made 100 Greatest Hippie Songs so popular. Prophetically, in the piece, we wrote, “All American music is hippie music.”

2. This Novel Has More Information Than You Need 9/18.  An essay provocative and charming at once.

3. No Boobs! 11/27. Hilarious (part two) satiric commentary on the December issue of Vanity Fair

4. The Problem With Rhetoric 5/1. Pushing the intellectual envelope is perhaps what we do best. In this essay we argue that reason does not exist.

5. Integration of Poetry and Life 11/3.  Another nice essay of essential Scarrietesque provocation smoothly rendered.

6. Marjorie Perloff, Adam Kirsch & Philip Nikolayev at the Grolier 9/15. Wearing a journalist’s hat, we meet Perloff, debate her, win her over, and demolish Concrete Poetry for our readers, as well.

7. Poe and the Big Bang: “The Body and the Soul Walk Hand in Hand” 3/10. Poe does most of the lifting here; a crucial addition to Scarriet’s campaign to lift the slander-fog hiding the world’s greatest mind.

8. Badass, Funny, But Alas Not Critic-Proof 6/27.  Tough love for the poet/professor David Kirby. And for those who fret Scarriet is too rancorous, relax; ‘The Kirb’ is still a FB friend. We don’t flatter—that’s the secret.

9. Is Gay Smarter Than Straight? 2/3. Only Scarriet would dare to ask—and really answer this question.

10. Rape Joke II 6/14.  We delivered a true poem; it offended one of our loyal readers for not being feminist enough; even though our poem was true, it was somehow supposed as an insult against Lockwood. We stand by our poem which is true, if imitative. We value originality, but since when was art that imitates a bad thing? We also admit we wrote the poem to become well-known. We played it up on twitter. So what? Scarriet believes everyone deserves to be famous.

11. Poe v. Wordsworth 8/18. March Madness contests are always excuses for brilliant essays. We made use of a wonderful book: Michael Kubovy’s The Psychology of Perspective in Renaissance Art.

12. “I Still Do” 10/13 Nice poem.

13. Chin & Weaver at the Grolier 7/21. Meeting up with California-based Marilyn Chin at a reading becomes an excuse to write an essay on the laws of poetic fame.

14. Painters & Artists Need to Shut Up 6/23.  Usually we pick on the poets.

15. Rage In America 7/7.  A political corrective to Jim Sleeper’s Fourth of July essay.

16. Poetry Hot 100 10/8.  Scarriet releases these now-famous lists several times a year. Valerie Macon topped this one.

17. What Does The History of Poetry Look Like 12/2. We often bash T.S. Eliot and the Modernists; here we lay down a genuinely insightful appreciation of Eliot’s Tradition.

18. Valerie Macon! 10/6. The credentialing complex destroyed Macon. We did a radical thing. We looked at her poetry, after she graciously sent samples.  Memo to the arrogant: her poetry is good.

19. 100 Greatest Folk Songs 11/17.  Not just a list: an assessment aimed at revival. Don’t just reflect the world. Change it.

20. The Avant-Garde Is Looking For A New (Black) Boyfriend 11/8.  A popular zeitgeist post inspired by Cathy Hong, which got po-biz stirred up for a few days.

21. Religion Is More Scientific Than Science 12/15.  An interesting discussion of free-will. Yes, we take comments.

22. Poetry, Meta-Modernism, & Leonardo Da Vinci 1/6.  Da Vinci compares poetry and painting in fascinating ways.

23. De Beauvoir v. Rich 4/22.  Scarriet’s March Madness contest yields essay on Behaviorism and Feminism.

24. Sex, Sex, Sex! 10/19. An interesting essay (obviously) in typical Scarriet (Are you serious?? We are.) mode.

25. Philip Nikolayev 11/15.  An excuse to try out ideas while praising a poet and friend.

26. “Poetry Without Beauty Is Vanity” 10/17.  A lyric poem which ‘gets’ rap.

27. Harold Bloom v. Edmund Wilson 8/13. Wilson was a real force in March Madness and so is this essay.

28. Fame: Is It Really Hollow? 7/2.  An exciting essay using Scarriet standbys The Beatles and Poe.

29. 100 Greatest Rock Songs Of All Time 5/9. The definitive list. Another constantly visited post.

30. 100 Essential Books of Poetry 5/21. People love lists. We get it now.

31. “Not Everyone Is Beautiful” 6/5.  A lovely little poem.

32. All Fiction Is Non-Fiction 5/19.  Scarriet makes the counter-intuitive simple.

33. The Good Economy 12/30.  We nail a simple but brain-teasing truth which rules us all.

34. Fag Hags, Cock Teases, and Richard Wagner 11/11. A bitter essay on a complex topic.

35. 100 Greatest Jazz Vocal Standards 10/14. And the Scarriet hits just keep on coming.

36. Hey Lao Tzu 10/27.  Scarriet takes down the wisest of the wise.

37. Ben Mazer At The Grolier 10/20.  The Neo-Romantic genius gets the Scarriet treatment.

38. “A Holiday Poem” 12/14.  An offensive poem written from a persona; it’s not our opinion.

39. Misanthrope’s Delight 6/11. An amusing list which makes light of misanthropy.

40. “What Could Be More Wrong Than A Poem Stolen From A Song?” A lyric gem.

And that’s our Scarriet top 40 for 2014!!

Be sure to read these if you missed them!

Scarriet thanks all our readers!

And especially the great comments! You know who you are! Always welcome and encouraged!

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

BEN MAZER: TWO NEW POEMS

 

To Look At Them

To look at them, who moved so easily
between the garden or the railway station,
who sat for hours where the boats came in,
with little movements fused in unity,
as if each were a breeze jostling the other,
drinking their coffee, talking of next to nothing,
could one perceive what brought these two together,
firm in their bond through any kind of weather?
Now that their endless conversation’s done,
the morning cigarettes, and seaside sun,
the fairs, the city days, the nights alone,
who is there to pardon or condone
the reasons such a two should be as one,
or make a world out of the observations
they shared through all their many incarnations,
or break the existence of their summer dinners,
or other such bright realities disperse?
A cat might notice: lace curtained unities
of street and tree, long pregnant nights in winter,
of rainy days through all their perorations;
but what is there left to give the faintest hint
or evidence that these two did exist?
Now they are done, by whom shall they be missed?

 

_____________________________________________

In Spring A Strange Pervasive Smell Persists

In spring a strange pervasive smell persists,
life sprouts and quickly overtakes the earth,
recalling the roots of language to our midst,
fear organizes fevered jabberings
to meet the strange utility of sex.
Men walk outside of houses, mottled hues
of bright light flashing through windshaken leaves.
An infant’s nose is pressed against the glass
to see dissolving motion as they pass,
like marks of crayon in a coloring book.
An oriole sits like a monument
upon a fountain, pecking at new life.
The kings an English grandmother recounts
possess no names or faces, flashing sounds
that till the earth, where glass keeps the wind out.
Who are the dead who lately walked the earth,
leaving their images on what remains,
peopling the leisure of more recent talk?
And still a strange pervasive smell persists,
countering the wind, and alienating rock.
Night comes. A castle sheds long celtic hair,
intoxicating the evaporate air,
and ideal spirits which are never there.
A hat rack stands unused inside a hall,
but peeped at on a constitutional,
visible through the grand, obstructive glass
of imperious houses, silent as we pass.
The author’s house on the long country drive,
residual before we were alive,
fixes the morning with a pleasant stare.
But how do we know that we are really there,
and not some wheelbarrow rotting in the sun,
where gardeners like Socrates will come?
The jungle lashes woman to his man,
where poison orchids spread their inhuman plan.
Yet evening brings its after dinner sleep
in private clubs where members mustn’t speak,
sprawling in armchairs with a newspaper,
dreaming of Cleopatra and Ben Hur,
strange portraits apparitions will concur,
waking to contorted puzzlements,
a low cacophony the learned stir.
Town meetings end, parting each councilor,
and still a strange pervasive smell persists,
hounding your footsteps, on the long walk home.
What force is rising up in all these things,
these pallid rejuvenations of the spring’s?
Fear is all, uprising through the roots
of consciousness and language, to diffuse
broken perspectives irreconcilably,
substances nourishing the truly free.
In Boston the tall houses brightly lit
sleep impenetrable and separate.
Who hears the imprecations of these things?
A celtic maiden at her window sings,
calling to lovers who do not exist.

SCARRIET’S HOT 100— AS WE RING OUT A WILD 2014!

olena.jpg

Olé, Olena!  No. 4 on the Scarriet Hot 100

1. Claudia Rankine –Seems everyone wanted her to win the National Book Award

2. Louise Gluck –Won the National Book Award. Coming into focus as morbid lyricist

3. Dan Chiasson –Coveted reviewing perch in the glossy pages of the New Yorker

4. Olena K. Davis –Praised by #3 for “Do you know how many men would paykilldie/for me to suck their cock? fuck

5. Terrance Hayes –2014 Best American Poetry Editor for David Lehman’s annual series (since 1988)

6. Patricia Lockwood –Her book, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals made NY Times most notable 2014 book list

7. Rita Dove What was all that fuss about her anthology, again?

8. Henri Cole —Poetry editor part of mass resignation at New Republic

9. Valerie Macon –appointed laureate of North Carolina, resigned due to firestorm because she lacked credentials

10. Helen Vendler –Contributing editor in TNR’s mass exodus

11. Glyn Maxwell –British poet and editor of The Poetry Of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

12. James Booth –author of Philip Larkin: Life, Art, and Love

13. Afaa Michael Weaver  –this spring won the Kingsley Tufts Award: $100,000 dollars

14. Frederick Seidel –Stirred outrage with a strange poem about Ferguson.

15. Clive James –Got into some controversy about racism and sex reviewing Booth’s book on Philip Larkin in the Times

16. William Logan –The honest reviewer is the best critic.

17. Ron Silliman –Elegy & Video-Cut-and-Paste Blog

18. John Ashbery –Perennial BAP poet

19. Cathy Park Hong –Wrote “Fuck the Avant-garde” before Brown/Garner protests: Hong says poetry avant-garde is racist.

20. Philip Nikolayev –Poet, translator, Fulcrum editor, currently touring India as beloved U.S. poetry guest

21. Marilyn Chin –Poet, translator, new book from Norton, currently touring Asia as beloved U.S. poetry guest

22. Daniel Borzutzky –Guest blogger on Poetry Foundation’s Blog Harriet: “We live in an occupied racist police state”

23. Ben Mazer –Brings out Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom—as po-biz churns with racial indignation

24. Nathaniel Mackey –Headlined poetry reading at Miami Book Fair International.

25. Marjorie Perloff  —Now we get it: the avant-garde is conservative

26. Amy Berkowitz –Wrote on VIDA Web page how everyone has been raped and how we can be safe.

27. Yelena Gluzman –Ugly Duckling editor publishes vol. 3 of annual document of performance practice, Emergency Index

28. Carol Ann Duffy –British poet laureate gave riveting reading in Mass Poetry festival (Salem, MA) this spring

29. P.J. Harvey –Rocker to publish book of poems in 2015—Good luck.  Rock is easier.

30. Christian Nagler –poet in Adjunct Action: “SF Art Institute: faculty are 80% adjunct and have no say in the functioning of the institution”

31. Major Jackson –Wins $25,000 NEA grant.

32. Divya Victor –Her book, Things To Do With Your Mouth, wins CA Conrad’s Sexiest Poetry Award.

33. Kenny Goldsmith  —wears a two-million-ton crown

34. Donald Hall –new book, Essays After Eighty

35. Mary Oliver –new book, Blue Horses: Poems

36. Charles Wright –2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate

37. Stephen Burt –Harvard critic looking for funny stuff other than Flarf and Conceptualism.

38. Vijay Seshadri –2014 Pulitzer in Poetry

39. Ron Smith –The new poet laureate of the great state of Virginia!  North Carolina still waits…

40. Sherman Alexie –the first poet in BAP 2014. It used to be Ammons.

41. Erin Belieu  –Hilarious poem spoofing Seamus Heaney in her new book, Slant Six

42. Robert Pinsky  –has influence, authority and a lisp

43. Billy Collins –Becoming critically irrelevant?

44. Adam Kirsch –Senior Editor and poetry critic, also saying goodbye to TNR

45. Cornelius Eady  –co-founded Cave Canem.

46. Anne Carson –One of those poets one is supposed to like because they’re a little deeper than you…

47. Lucie Brock-Broido  –Emily Dickinson refuses to be channeled

48. Tony Hoagland  –still smarting from that tennis poem

49. Bob Hicok –He’s the new Phil Levine, maybe?

50. Yusef Komunyakaa –Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993

51. Eileen Myles –Just published a novel about her younger days

52. Sharon Olds  –still glowing from her 2013 Pulitzer win, the book showcasing her exploded marriage

53. D.A. Powell –Studied with Vendler at Harvard

54. Cate Marvin –In BAP 2014 and on fire with p.c indignation.

55. Dean Young  –wants to be the best poet ever—in a late 70s Iowa Workshop sort of way

56. Chris HughesTNR owner: “Despite what has been suggested, the vast majority of our staff remain…excited to build a sustainable and strong New Republic that can endure.”

57. Alan Cordle –changed poetry forever with his Foetry.com

58. George Bilgere  –patiently enduring the Collins comparisons

59. William Kulik –the ‘let it all hang out’ prose poem

60. Amy King –Northern Lesbo Elitist

61. Leah Finnegan –Wrote in Gawker of TNR: “White Men Wrong White Man Placed in Charge of White-Man Magazine.”

62. Jorie Graham –Get ready!  Her Collected is coming!

63. David Kirby –“The Kirb” teaches in Florida; a less controversial Hoagland?

64. Don Share –edits the little magazine that prints lousy poetry and has a perfunctory, cut-and-paste blog

65. Paul Lewis –BC prof leading Poe Revisionism movement

66. Robert Montes –His I Don’t Know Do You made NPR’s 2014 book list

67. Cameron Conaway –“beautifully realized and scientifically sound lyrics” which “calls attention to a disease that kills over 627,000 people a year” is how NPR describes Malaria, Poems 

68. Charles Bernstein –He won. Official Verse Culture is dead. (Now only those as smart as Bernstein read poetry)

69. Richard Howard –Did you know his prose poems have been set to music?

70. Harold Bloom  –He has much to say.

71. Camille Paglia  –Still trying to fuse politics and art; almost did it with Sexual Personae

72. Vanessa Place –This conceptualist recently participated in a panel.

73. Michael Bazzett  —You Must Remember This: Poems “a promising first book” says the New Criterion

74. Matthea HarveyIf the Tabloids Are True What Are You? recommended by Poets.Org

75. Peter Gizzi –His Selected Poems published in 2014

76. Mark Bibbins –Poets.Org likes his latest book of poems

77. Les Murray –New Selected Poems is out from FSG

78. Michael Robbins –writes for the Chicago Tribune

79. Stephen Dunn –The Billy Collins school—Lines of Defense is his latest book

80. Robin BeckerTiger Heron—latest book from this poet of the Mary Oliver school

81. Cathy Linh CheSplit is her debut collection; trauma in Vietnam and America

82. John Gallaher –Saw a need to publish Michael Benedikt’s Selected Poems

83. Jennifer Moxley  –Panelist at the Miami Book Fair International

84. Bob Dylan –Is he really going to win the Nobel Prize?

85. Ann Lauterbach  –Discusses her favorite photographs in the winter Paris Review

86. Fanny Howe –Read with Rankine at Miami Book Fair

87. Hannah Gamble –In December Poetry

88. Marianne BoruchCadaver, Speak is called a Poets.Org Standout Book

89. Anthony Madrid  –His new book is called I Am Your Slave Now Do What I Say

90. Robyn SchiffRevolver is not only a Beatles album.

91. Ted GreenwaldA Mammal of Style with Kit Robinson

92. Rachel ZuckerThe Pedestrians is out

93. Dorothea LaskyRome is her fourth book

94. Allan PetersonPrecarious is the new book: “the weed field had been/readying its many damp handkerchiefs/all along.”

95. Adrienne Raphel –“lavender first and by far”

96. Gillian ConoleyPeace is chosen as a Poets.Org Standout Book

97. Barbara Hamby  –“The Kirb” needs to know. She’s not on the list because of him.

98. Katia Kopovich –She coedits Fulcrum with husband Nikolayev.

99. Doc Luben –“14 lines from love letters or suicide notes” a slam poem viewed a lot on YouTube

100. Tracy K. Smith  2012 Pulitzer in Poetry for Life On Mars

BEN MAZER READING AT THE GROLIER

Ben Mazer: Neo-Romantic genius.  When will he be critic-anointed?

The previous evening we had caught Sir Christopher Ricks at Boston University.

We enjoyed Ben Mazer reading his poems at the Grolier Bookstore in Harvard Square more. (9/26/14)

Ricks presented a talk on T.S. Eliot and World War One—fine topic! Corrupt, war-mongering Modernism, blood dripping everywhere.

But Ricks wrapped himself in the mummy cloths of New Criticism: we got trivial close-readings of a few obscure poems and the snoring of undergraduates.

History was put in an eye-dropper: “a poem,” Ricks opined, is not necessarily about a major event, like World War One; the War could be about the poem.

Now this was rather nice, actually, but this was not Ricks’ main thesis; it was served up nonchalantly during the questions at the end, to make the dogs run after meat, perhaps so Ricks could slip more easily away, and leave us amazed and wanting more.  The idea wasn’t meant to be analyzed—perhaps because on real inspection it simply falls apart?  Perfect, this idea, for the New Critics and the Moderns: look away from their odious views, look away from their hideous lives, read their poems as the reality.  Oh brother.

But Mazer did his doctoral study with Ricks, and Mazer is a poet (not a seedy Modern; an innocent Romantic playing with the Modern) who can make the world seem to be about his poem.  As a philosophy, the fact of this may fail, but in the hands of Mazer’s seeming, it works.

So Ricks and Mazer seem (who really can tell?) to have been a good fit; no pressure for Mazer to get rid of New Criticism’s fog: Mr. Mazer is now one of the best poets in the country—perhaps the best—at the type of poem which pins you to the ground with its language and yet can comfort you with its mesmerizing, suggestive, hazy, uncanny, poignant, sweet, expansive anxiety. Mazer achieves that ‘stupefying intelligence,’ that pleasant drowning quality in his poetry—it disarms the sternest intellectuals and burns novices to the core. He is a Quietist with tricks.

The first poem Mazer read (“Cirque D’etoiles” defeated Derek Walcott in a by now famous Scarriet March Madness Tournament) quickly established for the audience at the Grolier that here was a living Romantic.  In the 1960s, there were pop singers like Robin Gibb and Donovan who made us think of the Romantic poets; but poetry has never managed to unearth the uncanny magic of a Keats, a Shelley, a Coleridge, a Byron.  Poetry that conveys intense emotion—naked, unguarded emotion, in addition to an almost witty, 18th century poetic swagger, awash in a certain atmospheric excess, unashamed of its emotion because it owns a certain quasi-original something else:

CIRQUE D’ETOILES

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

Is this really clever illusion or is it real?  Ben Mazer’s lasting poetic reputation will depend on how much he is able, in the coming years, to convince us it is real—as he struggles towards a new Formalism—a hateful term which we use here only for a momentary and crude illustration.

On this evening at the Grolier, Mazer also read some of his sonnets from “The King,” and then new poems (which we can’t reproduce here, unfortunately), one of which featured a lovely refrain, but still in the mad swirl of Mazer’s style; and yet it seemed to us a new oldness was there; a poem really striving to stick in the mind as poems used to do, and comfortable, as well, in its metaphysical aspirations. We asked him to read it again, during the questions, and he graciously complied.

Mazer fielded questions from the audience afterwards profoundly; it stirred the audience; it even caused awe.

The elders in the audience asked about the rhymes; Mazer blew them away when he said simply of his poetry, “It all rhymes. It’s all rhyme.”  He said this as a poet, not a critic, and after hearing him read his poetry, and hearing his remark—an off-the-cuff, almost exasperated tone, with a certain happy irritation—we (the whole audience, I think) got it.  It’s all rhyme.  And he added, “A great critic told me, there are no rules.”

Another question: can you…explain…for us…please….the “mystery” of the “tension” which vibrates in your poetry?  Where lies this “tension?” the gentleman asked.

Mazer, reluctantly, it seemed, came up with this on the spot: “The tension is the meaning of the poet/poem versus the meaning of the world.”

We liked it.

If Christopher Ricks has helped to create this monster, this Mazer, who can make us wonder, (a younger Mazer studied with the late Seamus Heaney) it recommends Sir Ricks to us more than anything else Ricks may have done.

IT’S TIME AGAIN FOR…POETRY’S HOT 100!!!!!

hot 100.jpg

1. Valerie Macon—Credentialing 1, Poetry 0

2. Patricia Lockwood—“Rape Joke” first viral-era poem to go viral?

3. Paul Lewis—Poe scholar brings Poe statue to Boston: The Jingle Man Returneth

4. Marjorie Perloff—Every era needs its Uber-Critic

5. Charles Wright—New Poet Laureate

6. Camille Paglia—Zeitgeist, Firebrand, Sexual Ethics, Gadfly.

7. James Franco—Can Hollywood make poetry cool again?

8. David LehmanBest American Poetry best anthology gathering-place.

9. Richard Blanco—interviewed in Vogue

10. Garrison Keillor—King of Quietism

11. Kenny Goldsmith—We understand some people take him seriously

12. Marilyn Chin—New book, Hard Love Province (Norton)

13. Amy King—Lesbians trying to take over the world!

14. Charles Bernstein—Papers going to Yale

15. Tao Lin—Alt-Lit unravels

16. William Logan—Every era needs the Kick ass Review

17. George Bilgere—Imperial is new; only poet who can out-Collins Collins.

18. Stephen Burt—Harvard’s frenzy of sweet political correctness.

19. Josh Baines—rips apart Alt-Lit on Vice.com

20. Don Share—Steering Poetry Foundation Mother Ship

21. Ron Silliman—Guiding Avant-garde ships through Quietism’s shallows

22. Ben Mazer—Neo-Romantic publishes Collected Ransom, the South’s T.S. Eliot

23. Frank Bidart—Punk Rock Robert Lowell

24. Paul Muldoon—Drives the New Yorker

25. Philip Nikolayev—Bringing back Fulcrum

26. Vanessa Place—Museum performer

27. Casey Rocheteau —Wins a home in Detroit for being a poet!

28. Natasha Trethewey—Bids farewell to the Laureateship

29. Billy Collins—Ashbery with meaning

30. Terrence Hayes—Wins MacArthur

31. Harold Bloom—Anxiety of Flatulence?

32. Mary Oliver—Nature poetry sells?

33. David OrrNew York Times Book Review column

34. Adam Kirsch-New Republic critic

35. Susan Wheeler—“narrative glamour” -John Ashbery

36. Andrew Motion—President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England

37. Khaled Matawa—2014 MacArthur Winner

38. Richard Howard—James Merrill lives!

39. John Ashbery—Old Man Obscurity.

40. Eileen Myles—“always hungry”

41. Mark Doty—Brother of Sharon Olds

42. Rae Armantrout—Silliman is a fan

43. Al Filreis—MOOCS!

44. Anne Carson—“inscrutable brilliance” –NY Times

45. Michael Robbins—The Second Sex (Penguin)

46. C.D. Wright—from the Ozarks

47. Lisa RobertsonChicago Review gave her a special issue

48. Claudia Rankine—Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

49. CAConradPhilip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) is his new book

50. Ariana Reines—“To be a memory to men”

51. Kim Adonizzio—“I want that red dress bad”

52. Frederick Seidel—Nominated for Pulitzer in Poetry

53. Kay Ryan—U.S. Poet Laureate 2008 to 2010

54. Edward HirschThe Living Fire, new and selected

55. Christian Wiman–ex-Poetry editor

56. Cornelius Eady—Nominated for a Pulitzer in Drama

57. Bin Ramke—Georgia Foetry Scandal

58. Jorie Graham—Collected Poems coming this winter

59. Erin Belieu—VIDA vision

60. Forrest Gander—anthropological

61. Amjad Nasser—run in w/Homeland Security

62. Ann Lauterbach—her poetry “goes straight to the elastic, infinite core of time” -John Ashbery

63. Rita Dove—editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry

64. Sharon Olds—Mark Doty’s sister

65.  Carol Ann Duffy—High powered, story-telling, Brit

66. Robert Archambeau—Rhyme is returning

67. Monica Handme and Nina, Alice James Books

68. Margo Berdeshersky—“understands how eros is a form of intelligence” -Sven Birkerts

69. Shelagh Patterson—“succeeds in forcing students to become critical thinkers” from Rate My Professors

70. Jennifer Bartlett—“this will all be over soon”

71. Lynne Thompson—“Vivaldi versus Jay-Z”

72. Allison Hedge Coke—Editor of Sing: Indigenous Poetry of the Americas

73. Dan Chiasson—Poet and critic who teaches at Wellesley

74. Martin Espada—Teaches poetry at Amherst

75. Gina Myers—“Love Poem To Someone I Do Not Love”

76. Jen Bervin—Poet and visual artist

77. Mary RuefleTrances of the Blast, latest book

78. Mary Hickman—“This is for Ida who doesn’t like poetry but likes this poem”

79. Catherine Wagner—professor of English at Miami University in Ohio

80. Victoria Chang—PEN winner

81. Matthew KlaneYes! Poetry & Performance Series

82. Adam Golaski-Film Forum Press

83. Mathea Harvey—Contributing editor at jubilat and BOMB

84. Amanda Ackerman—UNFO

85. James Tate—Yale Series of Younger Poets winner, 1967

86. Jenny BoullyThe Book of Beginnings and Endings

87. Joyelle McSweeney—professor at Notre Dame

88. William Kulik—the lively prose poem

89. Tamiko Beyer—Raised in Tokyo, lives in Cambridge, MA

90. Julia Bloch-–teaches creative writing at Penn

91. Brent Cunningham—co-founded Hooke Press

92. Richard Wilbur—Won Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1957 & 1989

93. Patrick James DunaganRumpus reviewer

94. Matthew Zapruder—Wave Editor

95. David Kirby—“The Kirb” teaches in Florida, uses humor in poetry

96. Alan Cordle—Foetry.com founder

97. Lyn HejinianThe Book of a Thousand Eyes

98. Cole Swensen—Translates from the French

99. Aaron Kunin—Teaches Milton at Pomona

100. Dana WardThis Can’t Be Life

HERE’S THE SWEET 16 IN SCARRIET’S 2014 MARCH MADNESS POETRY PHILOSOPHER TOURNAMENT!

Johann Wenzel Peter , Fight of a lion with a tiger , 1809

Here are the Literary Critics worth reading: the Top 16 Who Have Prevailed So Far and Have Made It To the SWEET SIXTEEN!

Every year, Scarriet holds their version of March Madness, with 64 authors competing for the championship.

In 2010, the first year of the tournament, we used every Best American Poetry volume, David Lehman, editor, to determine the field.  Winner: Billy Collins

In 2011, Stephen Berg, David Bonnano, and Arthur Vogelsang’s Body Electric, America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review. Winner: Philip Larkin

In 2012, Rita Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry. Winner: Ben Mazer

In 2013, casting about for players, we amassed 64 Romantic poets, including modern and contemporary poets fitting the Romantic mold. Winner: Shelley

This year, Scarriet used the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, William E. Cain, Laurie A. Finke, Barbara E. Johnson, John McGowan, and Jeffrey J. Williams, which has produced a true clash of giants:

Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Sidney, Coleridge, Baudelaire, Marx, Freud, Pater, De Beauvoir, Saussure, T.S. Eliot, etc.

The earth actually shook as the combatants went toe to toe in this year’s March Madness.

The critc-philosophers who made it to the Sweet 16 are:

CLASSICAL

1. PLATO d. Sidney

2. DANTE d. Aristotle

3. POPE d. Aquinas

4. ADDISON d. Maimonides

ROMANTIC

5. WORDSWORTH d. Marx

6. COLERIDGE d. Burke

7. POE d. Peacock

8. SHELLEY d. Emerson

MODERN

9. BAUDELAIRE d. Saussure

10. FREUD d. Benjamin

11. WILDE d. Pater

12. (John Crowe) RANSOM d. T.S. Eliot

POST-MODERN

13. (Edmund) WILSON d. Northrup Frye

14. (J.L.) AUSTIN d. Cixous

15. (Edward) SAID d. De Beauvoir

16. (Harold) BLOOM d. Sartre

Scarriet would ask you not to try this at home: The winners are all white men.

We are really sorry, VIDA.  But when women—or the women presented in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism—only write on women, this narrowness itself contributes to a certain amount of self-marginalizing.

This is a universal problem: if the oppressed are thrown in an intellectual hole, how do they dig themselves out—in a truly broad intellectual fashion?

Perhaps this is why there’s a certain dislike for this kind of competition: the best rises to the top, producing an historical unfairness, given what human history has been.

We see the problem.  We make no apologies, however, for our experiment.

SCARRIET’S NEW HOT 1OO!!

1. John Ashbery –Still the most respected living U.S. poet
2. Billy Collins    –Still the most entertaining living U.S. poet
3. Kenneth Goldsmith  –Does the avant-garde still exist?
4. Stephen Burt  –Is Criticism respected anymore?
5. Marjorie Perloff   –Has avant-garde criticism any controversies left?
6. Helen Vendler  –the 21st century Pater
7. Harold Bloom  –the 21st century Emerson
8. Frank Bidart  –cooked until raw
9. Sharon Olds  –the honesty of woman
10. Robert Pinsky  –the 21st century Untermeyer
11. Paul Muldoon  –New Yorker poetry editor
12. David Lehman –Best American Poetry editor
13. Don Share  –Poetry magazine editor
14. Al Filreis  –Video Education Guru
15. Garrison Keillor  –Folksy Poetry Lives!
16. William Logan  –Knife Wielding Critic
17. Anne Carson –Brainy School
18. Ron Silliman –avant-fustian, necessary
19. Natasha Trethewey –Second term U.S. Poet Laureate
20. Kay Ryan –Cute School
21. Jorie Graham –Sky-Is-Falling School
22. Mary Oliver –21st century Wordsworth
23. Derek Walcott –21st century Southey
24. W.S. Merwin –21st century W.S. Merwin
25. Tony Hoagland –plain-talking hipster poetry
26. Philip Nikolayev —Fulcrum editor, Russian translation
27. Franz Wright –21st century John Clare
28. D.A. Powell –the quite good gay poet
29. Marilyn Chin –de Stael of Asian chick poetry
30. Charles Bernstein –Langwhich
31. David Orr –NYTimes Poetry reviewer
32. Rita Dove –anthologist who freaked out Vendler and Perloff
33. Erin Belieu –VIDA
34. Michael Robbins –“Where competency ends,” Ange Mlinko “begins”
35. Kevin  Young –Studied with Heaney
36. Ben Mazer  –Studied with Heaney
37. Ron Padget  –LA Times Book Prize
38. Lucie Brock-Broido –rococo
39. Louise Gluck –quiet confessionalism
40. Rosanna Warren  –Robert Penn Warren’s little girl
41. Christopher Ricks –professor at B.U.
42. Anis Shivani  –MFA smasher
43. Amy King –twist and shout
44. John Koethe –a philosopher poet
45. Carl Phillips  –teaches at the college founded by TS Eliot’s grandad.
46. Charles Simic –compares elegant checkmates in chess to elegant endings of poems…
47. Robert Bly –at Harvard with Rich, Koch, O’Hara, Hall, Ashbery…
48. Vanessa Place –avant-garde book of dollar bills
49. Dana Gioia –the essay that shamed us all…
50. Robert Hass –has a book, “20th century pleasures”
51. Simon Armitage –leading Brit
52. Frederick Seidel –controversial, 1962, first book prize
53. Cole Swensen –post-Language school
54. Matthew Dickman –works as a baker
55. James Tate –teaches at Amherst
56. Lyn Hejinian –“it is not imperfect to have died”
57. Eileen Myles –diary poetry
58. Geoffrey Hill –gnarled syntax
59. Paul Hoover –institutional ‘new’
60. Alfred Corn –Harold Bloom called him ‘visionary’
61. Rae Armantrout  –avant-garde, in brief
62. Terrance Hayes –began as a visual artist
63. Henri Cole –a Thom Gunn award winner
64. Seth Abramson –pro-MFA lawyer poet
65. Peter Gizzi –tenuous lyric
66. Mark McGurl —Program Era author
67. Janet Holmes –we can never remember how to spell Ahsahta…
68. George Bilgere –Billy Collins in waiting…
69. Matthew Zapruder –editor of Wave books
70. Ange Mlinko –see #34
71. Cate Marvin –VIDA, too
72. Maya Angelou –remember her?
73. Brenda Hillman –“Allow form.”
74. Galway Kinnell –why don’t these legends write tell-alls?
75. Dorothea Lasky –teaches at Columbia
76. Nikki Finney –“us giving us away”
77. Noah Eli Gordon –#34 called his work “simply dead.”
78. K. Silem Mohammed –was a featured writer for Blog Harriet
79. Ariana Reines –“I know that really beautiful women are never alone.”
80. Richard Wilbur –Old Man Rhyme
81. Rowan Ricardo Phillips —When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness
82. Garrick Davis –editor, Critical Flame
83. Alan Cordle –the foetry revolution!
84. J.D. McClatchy —Yale Review editor
85. Philip Levine –‘Whitman of the industrial heartland’
86. Clive James –from down under
87. Robert Archambeau –his blog is Samizdat
88. Matthea Harvey –skittery queen?
89. Laura Kasischke –“not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling of the elderly”
90. Paul Legault –The Emily Dickinson “translations.”
91. Lynn Xu –Waste Land’s child
92. Laura Jensen –Donald Justice-era Iowa Workshop grad
93. CA Conrad –pop-inflected Bukowski
94. Jynne Martin –“Draw any beast by starting with a circle!”
95. Traci Brimhall –believes in The Next Big Thing
96. Adam Fitzgerald —amour de soi
97. Cyrus Cassells –Lambda Literary award winner
98. Richard Siken –“no one will ever want to sleep with you
99. Naomi Shihab Nye  –fights terrorism & prejudice
100. U.S. Dhuga —Battersea, baby!

“YOUR AVANT-GARDE IS NOT AVANT-GARDE” MAZER, ARCHAMBEAU, AND BURT AT THE GROLIER

“In  speaking of the Poetic Principle, I have no design to be either thorough or profound.” —Edgar Poe

Last Friday evening at the Grolier poetry bookshop, Robert Archambeau, Stephen Burt, and Ben Mazer each read a paper on ‘Poetry: What’s Next?’ Wise man Henry Gould, up from RI, was in the audience, as was Philip Nikolayev, extraordinary poet and translator. Scarriet, fortunate the Grolier is in our own backyard, attended out of mere curiosity and a certain low motive pertaining to literary friendship.

Archambeau, Burt, and Mazer are powerhouses of Letters: they are scholars and authors we need to know about.

Mazer is a scowler; Archambeau, a smiler; and Burt simply harangues, mouth perpetually open. But do not be fooled by these superficial observations, which we make with affection; all three, when one moves into their personal orbit, are as sweet as can be, civilized by poetry in that conspiracy which outsiders must feel is the purpose of poetry: to strive to make manners and politeness supreme. Those educated by Letters are nice. The poet with low morals belongs to another era, and something tells us the lacking morals part was always a myth. With poets, a handshake is never a handshake; or it may be one, or less of one, or more of one, and one never knows this, and that is the whole point, and the joy, or the despair, of the poet and their poetry. But they do, finally, shake hands like everyone else, even the most philosophical of them.

But to the presentation itself: the three papers stuck to poetry, and thus were not about poetry.

To properly discuss a thing, one must discuss its parts. The parts, however, because they are parts, do not resemble the thing, and discussing parts is to stray from the thing, like being in the ocean away from the island (it can be scary), and none of the speakers, as witty as they were, had the intellectual courage to do this. They were all very much aware that they were to speak on poetry—poetry as it is always generally discussed by their contemporaries, and this is what they did.

Or at least Mazer and Burt did so.

Archambeau pointed out the post-modern marketing phenomenon of naming an electronic device a Blackberry, saying this was an act of Symbolist Poetry, and here this author and critic, a brilliant man of substance with a shy smile, was, in his cleverness, feeling his way towards the principle.

But alas, the tendency to discuss actual parts, so we might better familiarize ourselves with the actual thing comes up against that which most hinders it: poetry—in this case, Symbolist Poetry, one of many self-contained stars in a modernist firmament with astronomers obsessed with “what’s next?” and leaving “what is it?” to the old-fashioned, like Aristotle, Plato, and Shelley, who knew that “what’s next” cannot be discussed if we don’t wonder “what is it?” and that we should never take the latter for granted.

We are always discussing newly “what is it?”

“What’s next?” belongs only to Modernism’s sleight-of-hand.

But back to Blackberry. Archambeau gave us the wonderful counter-example, “Murphy’s Oil,” the old way of naming before Mallarme’s allusiveness fired up the imagination of the market; yet weren’t they calling baseball teams Giants back in the 19th century?

Archambeau also claimed that in the near future poets were going to rhyme like they had never rhymed before. A rhyme would become like a dare-devil “stunt,” Archambeau happily assured us, quoting some Jay-Z, and as we were swept up in this prophecy of euphoria, we still managed to wonder: where were the edifying examples? What makes a good rhyme and a bad rhyme? For to ask, “what is it?” implies the good: What is good poetry? What is good rhyme? We don’t want the bad, whether it’s behind us or before us.

The three gentlemen unconsciously pursued this course, as well: it was assumed all that was coming was good. Mazer, perhaps, escaped this, for he spoke on what poetry should be, in general; his was more an ought than a prophecy: Burt and Archambeau hewed to ‘this is a particular thing that is actually going to happen if it is not sort of happening already,’ predictions without much daring, saying only: we will see more of this already fully developed type of poetry.

None seemed conscious of it, but all three, we were rather pleased to hear, struck a concerted blow against the “what’s next?” trope.

Mazer fought the good fight with his scornful, “your avant-garde is not avant-garde.”

Burt, blurting “if I see one more book on Conceptualism or Flarf, I will…refuse to read it!” was another sign that there is a rebellion brewing against the whole blind, played-out, modernist, “what’s next?” syndrome, and a desire to get off the ‘what’s new’ treadmill for a moment.

But what did they say was coming?

We already mentioned that Archambeau sees a revival of rhyme, together with a counter movement of Symbolist “nuance,” and spent the rest of his twenty minutes naming familiar poetries in recent history: the Fireside Poets, featuring Longfellow, and their poetry of “middle class values” (and thus deserving, we assume, oblivion), Gertrude Stein foregrounding language for its own sake, with a ‘poetry only’ sub-culture of magazines and bookstores growing in the wake of poetry detaching itself from middle class values, giving rise to Vanessa Place and Conceptualism, as poetry against middle class values (and capitalism) replaces poetry for middle class values. And then we come full circle as Archambeau reminds us the modernist Frost is a poet of middle class values and really, so are the current poets of the Ethnic, Gender, Racial, Regional, Disability, micro-communities.

Archambeau ended with the epigrammatic observation that ‘what’s next’ is a revival of the past and it is “hard to predict the past.”

It is even harder to say what the past is, and what poetry is. This we did not get. “Rhyme” and “middle class values” satisfy a superficial hunger; the salted popcorn we eat forever without getting close to what poetry is, exactly.

Burt came next, and Burt, who has read more than anyone else, seemed determined to give us not only the forest and the trees, but a command to protect both: the big thing on the horizon for Burt is a big thing: poems of “area study,” which are “reported facts of a place,” grounding the poet in geographical reality, and one has to admire the ambition and the practicality, not to mention the many neo-classical, Romantic, and Modernist precedents. Williams’ Patterson and Olson’s Gloucester, as Burt quickly concedes, may fail in the “elegance and concision” departments, but what better way to talk about Climate Change?

Burt, a Harvard professor, pays homage, consciously, or not, to his institution’s illustrious poetic tradition: Emerson through Jorie Graham (her recent acute concern for the planet is her expansive-lyric trump card) champion America’s and the World’s Wilderness; this was explicit in Burt’s talk: “Area Study” poetry ought not to be “a cultural center,” Burt warned, like “Brooklyn or San Francisco;” a poet like Ammons should record planetary destruction where the public might not notice.

The other vital development for Burt will be poetry that, unlike “Area Study,” does embrace “ornament,” in poetry that is “uselessly beautiful.” And again, Stephen Burt makes sure his political sensitivity is on display: women are doing this kind of poetry, he tells us.

Burt is mad for the Eternal Feminine, embracing the earth in Area Study and, in his counter trend, women’s work that is “elaborate without worrying about the past,” and “not efficient or war-like.” This is the passive, receptive Muse of Shelley; this is Archambeau’s New Rhyme movement, but Burt is completely female, and so no dead white male “revivalist” interest is allowed; he mentions Angie Estes, “not a New Formalist of the 80s” and quotes her in perhaps the best example offered in an evening with few examples: “scent of a sentence which is ready to speak.” Note the absence of rhyme’s muscle, and instead the liquid alliteration.

Burt is ready for the pastoral and the pretty, the rustic and the raw. Burt is the female sprawl to Archambeau’s male all. Burt cannot abide the gallery and its Conceptual, urbane cleverness and really seems to want to leave the past behind; the closest he comes to cultural centrality is a nod to what he sees as a “smarter performance poetry” on the horizon, a “de-centered, tweetable, slam poetry, far from the literary past.” The poets Burt cites in this third movement are women, too: Ariana Reines, Patricia Lockwood, and Daniella Pafunda.

Mazer followed, and he was the rock rising above the fire and the water, rather glum compared to the first two, arguing for abiding truths like “empathic imagination” and “divine oracularity,” quoting early 20th century figures not to signal revolutionary beginnings, but to eulogize trends fizzling out in the “de-radicalization” and ahistorical “creative writing boon” and “awards” obsessed present. Mazer was playing the real poet in the room, intoning a dark warning to the glib critics. He did not mention any contemporary poets. Archambeau pointed to the fire in the sky, Burt showed us the chuckling streams hidden around the mountain. Mazer, by implication, was the mountain.

No one spoke on the anthology; and what possible role that would play in the future of poetry.

There were a few questions from the audience afterwards: Henry Gould wondered about the Balkanization of poetry; obsessed with movements and trends, aren’t we watering down what should be a poetry of the best combination of all possible parts?

Gould is right, of course. If Burt, for instance, is unwilling to clear a space where even Global Warming Deniers can participate, then, rightly or wrongly, the whole thing is finally about Global Warming, not poetry.

Poetry should have one, and only one, political rule: inclusivity.  The inclusivity should be radical; that is, we should all be included right now; a participatory government may say: your candidate lost—work, work, work, and come back in four years; poetry is more inclusive, still.  No subject gets special treatment in poetry. Will certain political beliefs lend themselves better to the poetic enterprisePerhaps. But we need to find out only when the example is before us, and cooly examined.

We have a feeling only Mazer, standing aloof from contemporary clamor, would really judge a new poem solely on its poetic merit. Brilliant Burt and artful Archambeau, immersed as they are in pluralistic poetics, would pigeon-hole first, and then judge. This we feel, even as we confess to being more entertained by Burt and Archambeau’s presentations.

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