Here, in no particular order, are Scarriet’s best poems of the 20th century.

Why these poems?

Because they hide from nothing, and all, on some level, break your heart.  Poe was right when he said poetry appeals to the heart and not the head.  Because many heads get this wrong, and think poetry is some kind of mental exercise, the universe has been turned upside-down for the last three-quarters of a century by a certain never-resting snobbery infesting perches in the taste-making branches of higher learning.  The poems on this list don’t get lost in minutea,  have no interest in proving how smart, or intellectual, or street they are.  They all aim for that middle ground which has intercourse with the earthy and the abstract, filtering each, as they combine nature with nature to make art.

If art is what we do to become gods, if art is what we consciously do, we don’t see why art should express the suicidal, or make us miserable, or should express the ugly, or the random.  Certainly melancholy approaching pain is allowed, but misery?

The usual coteries, which have slathered their cliquish influence over American Letters, are notably absent.   Our list reflects poetic talent, whether or not it happened, or happens, to reside within machinations of puffery. Some poets may be puffed, but not all the puffed are poets.

The Vanity of the Blue Girls -John Crowe Ransom
The People Next Door -Louis Simpson
litany  -Carolyn Creedon
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening  -Robert Frost
Recuerdo  -Edna Millay
When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone  -Galway Kinnell
Sailing To Byzantium  -William Yeats
Dirge Without Music  -Edna Millay
The Groundhog  -Richard Eberhart
Musee Des Beaux Arts  -W.H. Auden
Elegy for Jane  -Theodore Roethke
I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great  -Stephen Spender
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  -Dylan Thomas
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock  -T.S. Eliot
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  -Randall Jarrell
In California During the Gulf War  -Denise Levertov
Wild Peaches  -Elinor Wylie
Moriturus  -Edna Millay
Whitsun Weddings  -Philip Larkin
A Subaltern’s Love Song  -John Betjeman
Aubade  -Philip Larkin
Patterns  -Amy Lowell
A Supermarket in California  -Allen Ginsberg
Her Kind  -Anne Sexton
Not Waving,  But Drowning  -Stevie Smith
i stopped writing poetry  -Bernard Welt
Dream On  -James Tate
Pipefitter’s Wife  -Dorianne Laux
On the Death of Friends In Childhood  -Donald Justice
Daddy  -Sylvia Plath
Resume’  -Dorothy Parker
Time Does Not Bring Relief  -Edna Millay
If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way  -Edna Millay
Evening in the Sanitarium  -Louise Bogan
At Mornington  -Gwen Harwood
Those Sunday Mornings  -Robert Hayden
Psalm and Lament  -Donald Justice
The Ship of Death  -D.H. Lawrence
One Train May Hide Another  -Kenneth Koch
Encounter  -Czeslaw Milosz
Anthem For Doomed Youth  -Wilfred Owen
The Little Box  -Vasko Popa
For My Daughter  -Weldon Kees
The Golden Gate  -Vikram Seth
The Grass  -Carl Sandburg
Mending Wall  -Robert Frost
Peter Quince at the Clavier  -Wallace Stevens
The Fresh Start  -Anna Wickham
Bavarian Gentians  -D.H. Lawrence
River Roses  -D.H. Lawrence
The Hill  -Rupert Brooke
La Figlia Che Piange  -T.S. Eliot
“Not Marble nor the Gilded Monuments” -Archibald MacLeish
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why  -Edna Millay
What They Wanted  -Stephen Dunn
Down, Wanton, Down!  -Robert Graves
Cross  -Langston Hughes
As I Walked Out One Evening  -W.H. Auden
Love on the Farm  -D.H. Lawrence
Who’s Who  -W.H. Auden
The Waste Land  -T.S. Eliot
Snake  -D.H. Lawrence
At the Fishhouses  -Elizabeth Bishop
And Death Shall Have No Dominion  -Dylan Thomas
Reasons for Attendance  -Philip Larkin
Fern Hill  -Dylan Thomas
Distance From Loved Ones  -James Tate
The Hospital Window  -James Dickey
An Arundel Tomb  -Philip Larkin
My Father in the Night Commanding No  -Louis Simpson
I Know A Man  -Robert Creeley
High Windows  -Philip Larkin
The Explosion  -Philip Larkin
You Can Have It  -Philip Levine
Diving Into the Wreck  -Adrienne Rich
Pike  -Ted Hughes
Pleasure Bay  -Robert Pinsky
The Colonel  -Carolyn Forche
Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey  -Billy Collins
The Triumph of Narcissus and Aphrodite  -William Kulik
The Year  -Janet Bowdan
How I Got That Name  -Marilyn Chin
Amphibious Crocodile  -John Crowe Ransom
The Mediterranean  -Allen Tate
To A Face In A Crowd  -Robert Penn Warren
Utterance  -Donald Davidson
The Ballad of Billie Potts  -Robert Penn Warren
Preludes  -T.S. Eliot
Sweeney among the Nightingales  -T.S. Eliot
Journey of the Magi  -T.S. Eliot
The Veiled Lady  -Maura Stanton
Prophecy  -Donald Hall
Archaic Torso of Apollo  -Rainer Maria Rilke
Of Poor B.B.  -Bertolt Brecht
Women  -Louise Bogan
Bored  –Margaret Atwood
A Happy Thought  -Franz Wright
The Idea of Ancestry -Etheridge Knight
Smiling Through  -Reed Whittemore
Histoire  -Harry Mathews
The Request  -Sharon Olds


From Infant to All-Too-Human: Scarriet’s First Year

Could any living creature survive the dynamic changes wrought by and upon Scarriet in its first year of existence?  We doubt it. And yet Scarriet IS a living creature, its blood and viscera made up of its manifold contributors and admirers, a roster that runs the gamut from the illustrious to the notorious, from Billy Collins down (or is it up? Let the Muse judgeth!) to horatiox. Its spark of life, however, its animating spirit, is its poetry, ranging from ABBA to Zukofsky. There is room for all, for as the children of the ‘50s were all Mouseketeers, so all those who are childlike in spirit in the noughties and tennies are all Scarrieteers. The blog is named Scarriet for a reason — no prim Harriet reciting in a stuffy drawing room, but rather a rushing birth of blood, placental fluid, and, within the mass of sodden tissue, life itself. The wail issues out of said mass: Scarriet liveth. Liveth in the offices, supermarkets, alleys, and few remaining factories, in blue jeans or ties, democratic without being demotic, and aristocratic only in matters of the spirit. Heroines most welcome, even nigh deified; heroin disdained as a soul-killing crutch. A manifesto? Let it be so, and let it be burnt.

Cut to the present: the same infant now grown to full immaturity, eager to sift and build upon the ruins of worlds past. And how much built after one short year!  A year of tumult, that witnessed the phenomenal success of March Madness, an expansive merriment that served as nothing less than a lightning rod for the poetry world. Sparks flew, sweat poured, backboards were shattered, and, in keeping with Scarriet’s primal origins, blood flowed — and out of the agony and ecstasy came a greater realization of the role poetry continues to “play” in our contemporary world(s). Scarriet’s world(s). Not all were happy, as not all can ever be, save in that Paradise in which the mass of men once put great hope. A founder of Scarriet, Christopher Woodman, departed from the masthead. The pain was felt keenly amongst those who treasure the art of poetry and discriminating criticism of same, especially with regard to the lyric bards. His voice is still heard on occasion, and his posts still extant — but as the balladeer Carly Simon has sang, “I know nothing stays the same/but if you’re willing to play the game/it’s coming around again.” And so it is. And so it always shall. Selah.

More on March Madness, for this was a threshold for Scarriet, a crossing of the Rubicon, and like all momentous undertakings, was not without peril or controversy. Was the event, which ran coeval with the NCAA basketball finals, closer in spirit to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia or FDR’s invasion of Europe?  The debate continues to rage in precincts where strong drink and stronger poetry are freely indulged. Did Scarriet lose its soul during March Madness, or did it gain it, and the world as well? Was it a “Faustian bargain” or just “fargin’ boasting”? Numbers don’t tell a whole story, certainly, but they can instruct when viewed in a spirit of equanimity and in the proper light. And Scarriet’s numbers soared during the March festivities. But was quality sacrificed to attain popular success? We doubt it, for March Madness was met with approval ranging from guarded to raucous from world-class poets such as Alan Shapiro, Lewis Buzbee, Stephen Dunn, Janet Bowdan, Reb Livingston, William Kulik, Billy Collins, Bernard Welt, Robert Pinsky and Brad Leithauser. No visit from Sharon Olds, but then she didn’t make the Sweet Sixteen.

So the numbers were there, along with approval by world class, nay, heaven class poets — where was to be found the always present snake in the garden?  Why, where it always lurks, in our hearts, in the hearts of all who draw breath. And yet the snake was tamped down for those precious moments in which great poetry was shared and exalted and glorified — not placed into a glass case for bored schoolchildren to parade past, but ricocheted off a glass backboard and hurled recklessly down a parquet floor as poets strutted their most glorious moves in all their testostrogen-fueled glory. A celebration of fertility over futility. Of passion over pedantry.

Of poetry over prose.

Happy Birthday, Scarriet.

It’s been one hell of a year.



The philosopher Benjamin Paul Blood (1832-1918) wrote the following to William James:

“Philosophy is past.  It was the long endeavor to logicize what we can only realize practically or in immediate experience.”

The experiment of March Madness has been interesting.  We have examined whether or not poetry, like the philosophy portrayed in Blood’s essay, “Pluriverse: An Essay in the Philosophy of Pluralism,” can be known best if we become profoundly self-conscious as poets and readers in a group dynamics medium in which immediate experience and practicality are pushed to their limits within that context.

20,000 fans, spilling soda and popcorn, screaming at the top of their lungs in response to a contest between, let’s say, “The Year” by Janet Bowdan, a 16th seed! and “Sunday, Tarzan In His Hammock” by Lewis Buzbee, upset winner over Mary Oliver’s fifth seeded “Flare” in first round play in the West Bracket, experienced the poem in such an intense manner—however the partisanship might have expressed itself—that the delight based on the pure excitement itself propeled the imaginative response—which has always relied on a certain suspension of disbelief—to new heights, in which the suspension of disbelief was simultaneously extended and dismantled by the crowd.

The vision of this collective consciousness, at once critical, reflective and wholly reactive, is not meant to be defined here as a definitive vision, nor should the results of these contests fill anyone with either joy or dismay.  Combatants, were these none.  The riotous fans have been, and were, you and I; once a mob, now a critic, once weeping and hollering, now holding steadily the iron pen.  Let the tattooing begin.

How shall we describe Janet Bowdan’s “The Year?”  How shall we describe her victory?  How shall we describe the young fan, who, in a fit of ecstacy, nearly fell from the top of the stadium upon the heads of the throng below, this young worshiper of this terrible and haunting poem?  How to describe the look of Buzbee in defeat, Tarzan and Jane beside him, the barely comprehending Cheetah on Tarzan’s shoulder, looking wildly around?

We sought out Bowdan for an interview, but she was gone.  The crowd had carried her away.

Earlier, at the crack of dawn, with a youngish Wordsworth showered and shaved, Billy Collins advanced to the center of our beloved March Madness court, the polished wood of the court gleaming, the clever concession stands spread around, and dominated Stephen Dunn, making sure he couldn’t breathe for a second.  “John Donne, eh?  Are you done?’  The voice of the haughty no. 2 seed in the East resounded for eons after Dunn’s poem was read.  We have to go back years before we find a game that was like this, or, find any game.  The gods were, of course, anxious.  Rules, there were none.  The fans were not silent for a moment.  The rooting was astonishing.

Bernard Welt’s “I stopped writing poetry…” plied poetry long into the evening, almost as if to send Reb Livingston away, but she stood her guard, unblinking.  Some fans in the second half had a revelation and got the brilliance of Welt’s trope: the reasons he gave for not writing poetry were actually powerful incentives to write poetry, and this was the fuel of the poem itself, but the commotion in the second balcony as Livingston was shooting her free-throws was lost on the broadcasters—they  ignored it, thinking it was just the crowd being a crowd, a 190 line poem being a 190 line poem, and fans on the floor only saw it in separate parts.  Some Welt fans ran outside, but it was too late.  Livingston was stoic as Welt’s voltage melted.

William Kulik dazzled with a ferocity not seen yet in the tournament and Margaret Atwood froze with a searching look.  Kulik started to tick tick tick as soon as the contest started, the moss covered walls closed in, and no matter how hard Atwood looked, the drama of Kulik continued to drown.

“Bored” is sure of itself, as Atwood is; she was tranformed by Kulik into what went sadly down into the shadows.

The crowd implored those shadows.

Don’t trust crowds, they say.

We trusted this one.

Tom, this is Marla Muse, down at courtside…the crowd has seen four thrillers and they want more…this is how poetry should be…I’m being lifted by this crowd and that’s how I like it…I’m looking for my little notebook….have you seen it?

No, Marla, I haven’t.


So I’m here with Marla Muse, once again, as we are about to begin play that will bring us closer to crowning a Best American Poetry Champion in 2010.

Marla, could it be a Canadian?

It could.  Magaret Atwood’s poem from Richard Howard’s 1995 volume, “Bored.”  Atwood broke Franz Wright’s heart in triple-overtime in Sweet Sixteen.  We won’t soon forget that one!

No, we won’t.   Atwood goes against William Kulik in the North final.

What does Billy Collins have to do to advance against Stephen Dunn?  Dunn, if you remember won his game in the last second against Robert Pinsky.  Meanwhile, Collins rolled over Harry Mathews with a swarming defense as “Composed Over Three Miles From Tintern Abbey” proved too much for “Histoire” to handle.

Tom, I think Billy has to get it to Wordsworth.  That’s the guy who has taken him this far. And the lambs have to bound, Tom, the lambs really have to bound.

They’ve been bounding and bounding well.  How about the two American women left in the tournament…not well known…but they’re very tough…

They are…Reb Livingston in the South final will be facing Bernard Welt…who is nervous, we’ve already seen that…and Janet Bowdan will be defending her chance to go to the Final Four in the West against Lewis “Buzz” Buzbee, who, in contrast to Welt, seems very relaxed.

Tarzan has brought his hammock to the West bracket final…

And Jane and Cheetah, of course…

Bowdan’s poem is lovely, isn’t it?

Yes, Tom, Bowdan’s poem is from Rita Dove’s 2000 volume.   Bowdan could go all the way.

We can feel the tension in the air here as the poets and publishers pour into the arena for these four contests.  I’ve never felt such excitement, really, since Athens, and those playwrighting contests, when I was just a young girl…

Marla Muse, you don’t look a day over 2,000!

Thanks, Tom!


Ladies and gentlemen!  Welcome to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  Welcome poets, judges, and all you fans!

(Wild cheers)

The Scarriet Best American Poetry March Madness Road To The Final Four Tournament has been a whopping success.


Just as a play-within-a-play charms us within the context of the play precisely by a ratio of two to one, so the best of ‘the best’ cannot help but double the enjoyment of any who would enter into the spirit of climbing to the top—of what isn’t there.  Of course there’s no best.  Of course there’s no God.  But that is why our belief is so fanatical.

(Scattered clapping, hoots and hollers.)

Margaret Atwood, Janet Bowdan, Lewis Buzbee, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, William Kulik, Reb Livingston, and Bernard Welt…

(Terrific applause…standing ovation…)

…have climbed to the top of a mountain, a mountain as real…

(continued applause)

…as anything contained in the 1,500 poems published in the Best American Poetry’s 21 year existence.

(Mad cheering)

This is not to slight the reality of those poems…including the poems themselves which made it to the Elite Eight…

(clapping, foot stomping…)

but we all know that to write poetry is to translate doubtful thoughts on doubtful objects into a doubtful product for those who doubt, so that…

(Hoots and hollers)

…we might deliciously doubt our own doubts on what is so deliciously doubtful.


What could be more real than that?


And now may I present to you the expert on Good Poems…

Here’s Garrison Keillor!


Ahem. Thank you.  You know, with all the excitement around Best American Poetry March Madness, I’m tempted to say sports is more poetical than poetry…

(Laughter, cheers)

Who thought the Muse looked like… Howard Cosell?


Well, John Ashbery is out of the tournament.  He’s become the audience.  He’s becomes his admirers.  There you are…Hi, John!  You dominated BAP.  How can you be out of this tournament? Knocked out in the first round, right?   What happened?  (Pause for comic effect…)


[Audience member:  “Nathan Whiting!”]

Oh, yes…14th seed.   The dog poem.  Nathan Whiting turned John Ashbery into a stag.


And think of the poets who didn’t make the tournament.  August Kleinzahler?  Where is he?

(Nervous Laughter)

Ron Silliman?  Is he here?   Where is the School of…Noise?

(Groans, Laughter)

Charles Bernstein?  The School of Language.  Try to give us something more than objectivity and cleverness, fellas…

(Nervous laughter)

All kidding aside, I have a B.A. in English, so what do I know?   And not from Harvard, either.  The University of Minnesota.

(isolated cheer or two)

There’s a Golden Gopher.   That has a poetic ring to it, doesn’t it?  Golden Gopher.  Could anyone write a poem on that?   Ode to a Golden Gopher?  It would sound too strange…words are funny, aren’t they?  That’s the challenge of poetry, isn’t it?   To make words behave.   Golden Gopher ought to sound poetic, but once we hold it aloft…once we think on it…the whole thing sounds…


Let’s have a great round of applause for the Scarriet Best American Poetry Elite Eight!

(Applause, Cheers)

Congratulations, Scarriet!  You’re getting more hits than ever.  You are now the 46,793rd most popular poetry website!


Scarriet will never be the heroin of poetry appreciation.  Poems are not  appreciated on Scarriet so much as thrown off a building to see if they will fly.

To those who are still alive in the tournament, you’ve earned it.




Of his poem, “I stopped writing poetry…,”  Bernard Welt, a Jeopardy! champion from Texas, writes in ‘Contributors’ Notes & Comments’ in the 2001 Best American Poetry (Lehman, Hass, eds) “‘I stopped writing poetry…’ almost didn’t get written, because—well, I’d stopped writing poetry.”

I stopped writing poetry…

Poetry gives no adequate return in money, is expensive to print by reason of the waste of space occasioned by its form, and nearly always promulgates illusory concepts of life.  —Flann O’Brien

No one is more confident than a bad poet.  —Martial

I stopped writing poetry
When I was just starting to get good at it. First
I got good at rhyme, so I cast it away.
Then I got good at line and stanza construction—
So good I hardly needed to say anything at all.
My meanings emerged
..                                           .in the spaces between.
So I got rid of that, too.  Metaphor, metonymy,
Allusive echoes of my betters—well, frankly,
I was whizz at that stuff pretty early on.
So I emptied out the file-drawers
Of rhetorical strategy, musical form,
Continuity or criticism of tradition,
And I just wrote.  Finally I found
I was writing…prose, like everyone else.
But it was prose with a difference: prose with a rich,
Totally hidden other life lying behind it, unglimpsed
(I think) by the reader.  Not like a prostitute
Who reforms and becomes a nun.  I’ve seen
The movie.  More like a nun who becomes a prostitute.

I stopped writing poetry
at 16 (seriously), then again at about 20
but only for six months, once again
at 27, that at 32, 35, 40 and 42.
I’ll keep you posted.

I stopped writing poetry
when I realized that I understood romantic and symbolist
poetry sound sculpture objective verse conceptual art
pure language the confessional and elegaic modes and still
everything i wanted to do in poetry pretty much everything
I wanted anyone at all to do had been done already and much
better by don marquis in the archy and mehitabel poems

I stopped writing poetry
when everyone else did—in the early 90s, when television
became more interesting than culture.

I stopped writing poetry
when they came and deactivated my poetry button

I stopped writing poetry
when I got married—I mean settled down—
since the laws of the state of Maryland do not allow me
to marry the love of my life—though I’m not here
to whine about it—and maybe marriage would ruin me
as it seems to have ruined others—but one thing I know—
it is certainly nice to have someone to blame
for taking it easy and resisting inspiration when it inconveniently
insists on arising occasionally no matter what you do
(PS thanks for the dashes Emily Dickinson)

I stopped writing poetry
because the last thing I ever wanted
was to develop the obnoxious false
self masquerading as voice the way artists
as soon as their style becomes identifiable
are stuck in it and in what it will allow them
to think style isn’t a correlative of personality
or a way to explore transcendent issues
that lie beyond mere worldly content style is
exhaustion ennui and fashion and death

I stopped writing poetry
when I received the praise of people I admired.
It’s a terrible thing to receive exactly the attention you want
when you are unprepared to admit you might deserve it.
Of the many ways in which poets are always going on
about how poetry not only receives inspiration from love
but imitates it in form and feeling, this just may be the worst.

I stopped writing poetry because I saw what it was doing to people’s prose style.

I stopped writing poetry—
well, basically, because I’m white. I don’t
like being white, it isn’t a choice I’d make freely,
and to get argumentative I don’t think it’s entirely fair
that I have to be white right now when it’s so 10 minutes ago
when if I’d been born fifteen years earlier most racists
would have considered me anything but, what with
the whole Jew-as-vermin thing, but OK, OK, I concede
the point, I culturally white, or whatever, dammit,
and in case you haven’t noticed, this just isn’t
white people’s moment, poetry-wise. Don’t even
get me started on the griot tradition and that stuff,
I mean, just look at rap—poetry that communicates
exquisitely within its chosen boundaries of class
and common interest, and hardly at all outside it,
except  for those to whom it stands as aspiration to cool.
Just like Shakespeare and Donne. What have white people
contributed to culture recently?  Postmodernism?  Please.
My own revelation came when I realized
Little Red Corvette meant more to me than any poem
published since the early 1970s. On the not-very
mean streets where I learned versification, poetry
wasn’t a mode of expression spontaneously developed
from living people’s lived experience, it was a regime.
Well, that’s over now. Get over it.

I stopped writing poetry
When I just ran out of steam.
It’s really not a whole lot
More complicated than that.

I stopped writing poetry
When my friends started dying.  Some of my friends
Wrote beautifully about the condition of their illness,
And insightfully about mortality and their own impending
Death. Some wrote angrily about their invisibility
And created a literature of testimony in which we learn
What it was like to walk in the streets of American cities
As a ghost. Some wrote poems to memorialize their lovers,
Or to embarrass right-wing senators or arts funding agencies.
But I just counted 67 people I knew and was fond of
Who’ve died of “AIDS-related illness,” and not once
Have I genuinely felt I could respond to their suffering or death
In poetry. Is it poetry? Is it me? The era? I am willing to believe
That if Milton and Shelley and Tennyson could do it,
It can still mean something. Why should I think their ages
Made death any more manageable a subject than mine?
But whenever I sat down to try, I stopped in despair.
Whatever the political advantages of slogans
Of the time, it wasn’t the right words I looked for
But some way to make silence heard in lines
Of verse, and I never found it.
.                                                        .Now even that
Sounds like a device to me, like special pleading.
Fuck it. Just fuck it. Let someone else do it.

I stopped writing poetry
but I still love the stanza. All the other cool stuff—
tropes, the caesura, enjambment—I can live without.
But the stanza—wow.

I stopped writing poetry
after I went to my first MLA conference,
where they were attacking a way of reading
and understanding literature they called
“mainstream” and “dominant” that I’d never even
encountered. It was like what they meant by “book”
was totally different from what I meant by “book”—
as different as “washing machine” and “golf ball.”
I stopped writing poetry when it was eclipsed by criticism
for purely sociological and economic reasons.
I stopped writing poetry when people began writing
scholarly articles explaining how to read Frank O’Hara’s
Lunch Poems and it never occurred to them to mention
that you should read them during lunch. I stopped
writing poetry when it became popular. I realize
Robert Frost read at Kennedy’s inauguration but now
Ethan Hawke is telling Vanity Fair that he keeps
your book by his bed, and poetry as adjunct
to commercial culture and the veneration of celebrity
is so much more deliciously embarrassing for everyone
than even poetry in the service of the state.
I stopped writing poetry when taking it seriously
started seeming more likely to indicate
intellectual complacency than intellectual liveliness.
I stopped writing poetry when it got boring.

I stopped writing poetry
when the internet replaced the telephone
(since now that everyone has a phone,
and takes it everywhere, it’s obvious
the telephone is over). Ted Berrigan I thought
destroyed the sonnet by inviting the beloved
to just pick up the phone and call him
sometime—thus no more need to plead
and seduce through verse—so the channel
changed: it works both ways. Now we are all
(gay str8 bi-curious) pleading and seducing
in lower case as only freest verse used to
hitting reply b4 the intimacy of communication
has time even to register killing off poetry
by creating the first real audience for it in centuries.

I stopped writing poetry
because I promised to. I read something
at the Ear Inn around 1984 in which I encouraged everyone
to give up writing—as I engaged to—and it went over
real big. Afterwards any time I ran into any of the
poetry crowd they’d always ask me if I was still
not writing. I understood it was a performance piece
and so did they but I kept getting this gnawing feeling
I was abandoning a principle by continuing to write.
It was entirely superstition, like actually feeling sick
when you call in sick, but I suppose I have been a victim
of the terrible conviction that you must mean what you say.

I stopped writing poetry
when I had dedicated poems to everyone I knew, at least everyone I wanted to impress.
I promise to start writing poetry again as soon as I meet some new people.
Interesting people, anyway.
interesting people I can’t just come out and say things to, anyway.

I stopped writing poetry
but as satisfying as it has been to turn my back on it
as on a distant homeland fallen under the spell of a fascist party
still a breeze reaches me from time to time fragrant of verse
and suddenly I am as nostalgic as an exiled Russian
grand-duke waiting on tables in Paris in a screwball comedy
sometimes I wonder would it really be so terrible
If I wrote just one more line.

Depending on how you look at it, Welt’s poem is either a bunch of bitching or the most representative poem of its age.  What do you think, Marla?

I guess it’s a representative bitch.  A bitch to represent.   Also a bitch to play against in crunch time.  This poem could go all the way.

It’s many things, isn’t it?  AIDS elegy, ars poetica, confession…

Alan Shapiro is going to have his hands full with this baby.  Let’s take a look at Shapiro’s Sweet 16 entry, “Country Western Singer,” from the 2007 Heather McHugh volume, which some feel is the all-time best in Lehman’s BAP series.

Yes, Tom!  Right next to Alan’s poem in this volume is “The Death of the Shah” by Fred Seidel, which almost made the 64 team cut for this tournament but which was finally just a little too…creepy.  (shudder)

I love your aesthetic judgments, Marla.

They’re visceral.  What’s wrong with that?

OK, here’s the poem:

Country Western Singer

I used to feel like a new man
After the day’s first brew.
But then the new man I became
Would need a tall one too.

As would the new man he became,
And the new one after him
And so on and so forth till the new men made
The dizzy room go dim.

And each one said, I’ll be your muse,
I’ll trade you song for beer:
He said, I’ll be your salt lick, honey,
If you will be my deer.

He said, I’ll be your happy hour,
And you, boy, you’ll be mine
And mine won’t end at six or seven
Or even at closing time.

Yes, son, I’ll be your spirit guide;
I’ll lead you to Absolut,
To Dewars, Bushmills, and Jamesons,
Then down to Old Tangle Foot.

And there I’ll drain the pretense from you
That propped you up so high;
I’ll teach you salvation’s just
Salivation without the I.

To hear his sweet talk was to think
You’d gone from rags to riches,
Till going from drink to drink became
Like going from hags to bitches,

Like going from bed to barroom stool,
From stool to bathroom stall,
From stall to sink, from sink to stool,
From stool to hospital.

Now the monitors beep like pinball machines,
And coldly the IV drips;
And a nurse runs a moistened washcloth over
My parched and bleeding lips,

And the blood I taste, the blood I swallow
Is as far away from wine
As 5:10 is for the one who dies
At 5:09.

This is a smooth poem.

Bernie Welt’s gotta play ‘in-your-face’ defense to throw off Shapiro’s text-book shooting rhythm.

Welt’s expansive prose takes on Shapiro’s elegant rhyme.

Classic matchup.

Here’s the tip:

Bernie takes the early lead.  His title alone carries so much interest.  Bernie is saying what we think, but don’t say—at least not in poems.

Alan’s having trouble with this defense.  Is his poem finally too ‘country western song’ facile and clever?  He looks a little confused out there, Marla.

And so on and so forth till the new men made
The dizzy room go dim.

That’s weak…’And so on and so forth…’ you can’t have banal language like that in a poem of precise rhymes.  And the seductions of drink are falling into cliche: “dizzy room go dim.”

Meanwhile Welt is scoring easy buckets.

I stopped writing poetry
when everyone else did—in the early 90s, when television
became more interesting than culture.

Big lead for Welt!

The rhyme of “Absolut’ with ‘Old Tangle Foot…’  Ouch!

Welt leads 49-28 at the half.


Second half.  Shapiro needs a rally.  This won’t do it:

Till going from drink to drink became
Like going from hags to bitches

Welt continues to score:

Ted Berrigan I thought
destroyed the sonnet by inviting the beloved
to just pick up the phone and call him

A one-sided contest, Marla.

It’s never over until the nightingale sings.

Shapiro makes his move:

Like going from bed to barroom stool,
From stool to bathroom stall,
From stall to sink, from sink to stool,
From stool to hospital.

Good rhyme, alliteration, assonance…Shapiro cuts into Welt’s lead!  But is it too late?

A steal by Shapiro!  A drive…good!…and fouled!  Welt starting to show frustration!  Shapiro completes the three point play from the line, but he’s still down by 13.

Now the monitors beep like pinball machines,
And coldly the IV drips;
And a nurse runs a moistened washcloth over
My parched and bleeding lips,

And the blood I taste, the blood I swallow
Is as far away from wine
As 5:10 is for the one who dies
At 5:09.

A great finish by Shapiro!    But it’s not going to be enough…

Welt wins, 99-90.

Welcome to the Elite 8, Bernie!

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