THE BEST OF THE BEST OF 2013

You know these Best Poetry Books of 2013 Lists?

Not one has induced us to buy or read the books.

A description like this, for instance, is not going to make us the least interested in a book of poems; it just isn’t:

Reading Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion is like entering a medieval painting, a miniature world populated by strange and gorgeous figures. Her labyrinthine syntax and archaic diction cast spells that recall the infinite possibility and wonder of the sentence.

This is all we get: no quotations, just blurb-y rhetoric advertising “labyrinthine syntax” and “infinite possibility.” This is the poetic equivalent of used car salesmanship—why can’t people see that?

A minority of the Best of 2013 notices do quote the poetry, briefly, and while we appreciate the gesture, the quotations don’t help, either.

Why? Because taken out of context, contemporary poetry, in brief excerpts, might present an arresting image or phrase, but cool phrases can be found in magnets on someone’s fridge—we need more than a cool phrase. If we don’t see the immediately apparent skill of the formalist, or the whole poem’s arc, a slice of nifty rhetoric is not going to cut it.

Bill Knott, as usual, gets it. On Facebook recently, the poet confessed he couldn’t afford to buy all these books in order to make a true list of his favorites, but he had a list of ten poems he read on-line in 2013 which struck his fancy.

We had to do the work and search the poems on-line, and a few we couldn’t find, but the hunt was worth it—we found some good poets we hadn’t known existed; Bill’s judgement is sound and he put us on the right paths—no sales pitches, no blurbs; we actually felt a warm glow.

There has to be a better way to sell poetry, and we think Bill has the right idea: focus on poems—not award winning poets and their award winning books.

When the popular music business was a little less corporate, you would hear a song on the radio and say to yourself, ‘What a great song! Who is that?’

Never in a million years would you buy an album because someone told you it was “labyrinthine.” You’d scrape together your last pennies for a song you heard on the radio.

Now we have the Internet and we can hear songs on the radio ( we can discover poems by unknowns).  You love a poem and then maybe you love the poet and buy their book. A buzz is generated by one successful poem.

Instead we drown in a sea of small press blurbs or tiny positive reviews from college interns. Too much cheery is very, very dreary. There’s no chance for real conversation, real discrimination, real excitement. It’s a sci-fi nightmare: The Blurb.

The anthology exists for just this purpose: find good poems for us because we don’t have time to find them ourselves—put them in front of a wider audience to allow poems—rather than puffed reputations—to scale Parnassus.

Scarriet, from now on, will do its part by starting a new feature inspired by Knott’s humble top ten poem list—we will feature poems that we come across in our travels and reprint them based on their excellence alone.  We already feature new poems from our editors, and feel these warrant more attention; but we must concede there is excellence all around us that needs our help.

Here are the ten poets mentioned by Knott:

Rope by Rose Kelleher

An hour is not a house by Jane Hirshfield

Installation by Helen Humphreys

Government Spending by Patricia Lockwood

Crane by David Yezzi

Elegy for a Small Town Psychic by Morris Creech

A Novel by Sampson Starkweather

The Butcher’s Apprentice 1911-14 Adam Kirsch

At the Sewanee Writers Conference I Go Looking for Allen Tate’s Grave by Christopher Bullard

Fancy by Jehanne Dubrow

Tell us what you find, and if you like what you find. And Merry Christmas.

WHAT IS POETIC VALUE?

The poet Bill Knott made 24th place on Scarriet’s latest Hot 100 List, read by poets everywhere.

Bill Knott quickly came on Scarriet making comments disparaging the worth of his own poetry; Mr. Knott claimed to be the only poet on Scarriet’s Hot 100 who was not a “legitimate” poet, since Knott makes all his poems available on-line for no charge, he has no recent book publications, and he’s not up for any prizes or awards.

Knott has published books and has been picked up by anthologies, so perhaps he was being histrionic and self-pitying.

But another commenter—a reader calling themselves Van Giggles—immediately rebuked Knott, the poet, on Scarriet, sincerely it seemed, for his very practice of giving away his poems for free, claiming the practice was lowering Knott’s reputation, continuing a “market stereotype” that poems are essentially worthless, and thus robbing poets everywhere of their labor.

Bill Knott has a brilliant and original mind, and if I were his friend, I would pick his brain all the time, looking for insights from him personally, much more than I would read his poems.

His poems are knotty, complex, obscure, just as his mind is, and his mind makes good poems up to a point, the obscurity sometimes mystifying to advantage, but often not.

The well-worn saying that poetry is “news that stays news” is not correct, because poetry is not news.  Journalism is transparent; it presents facts of immediate interest, i.e., news.  The poem is not a poem as much as it is news; the poem is intentionally opaque, dense, clotted, sensual and watery, arousing keen feelings and hinting at truths that live apart from “news.”

This is not to say that “news” does not play a major role in forming poetic reputation: it does.

This might be a good moment to point out that reputation is the coin of poetic worth, not money; for if there is money involved, money always trails after reputation, and reputation is the end-in-itself, that “sweet fame” which is the siren to every poet.

When reform-minded New England writers, such as Waldo Emerson, beat a path to the door of the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, they did so because Wordsworth was “news.”  Wordsworth’s reputation was built on tender and sensitive adoration of the rural poor (combined with a deep appreciation of nature) and Wordsworth’s reputation, informed by Wordsworth’s skill as a versifier, belonged to something much greater than Wordsworth: it was nothing less than a great moment in history when the idea of material progress was radically questioned; it was news, very big news, (Wordsworth may have been the first environmentalist) and it’s why Wordsworth is one of the rare poets who inspired lengthy pilgrimages.

But again, “news” hinders poetry and is nearly always better communicated in other mediums: the newspaper, the essay, etc.   Since “news” is always popular, it will often mingle with poetry and give the poetry renown for that reason, but “news” which happens to reside in poems is parasitic.   The “news” that piggy-backs on a poem (one thinks of Yeats’ “Easter, 1916,” for instance) fools us into thinking the “poem” is enhanced by “news;” but this is but a trick of perception.   The poem has weight because it refers to an important historic event in the past—but this weight belongs to the parasitic “news” and not the poem.  “A terrible beauty is born” could be a hackneyed phrase; but it’s impossible for us to say, for aesthetic judgement is suspended—as we fall into a groveling respect for the historical event.

Another poet who managed to attain the kind of newsworthy reputation which impelled a great deal of visitation was Ezra Pound, when he was confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane—after he was captured in Italy for treason at the end of WW II.  If Wordsworth was a mecca because he was newsworthy in a vast, deeply emerging, moral kind of way, Pound was attractive because he represented newsworthiness in itself; Pound participated even less in the poetic and much more in the news:—as someone in the news himself and as a Modernist poet bent on turning poetry into news.

Does history age, like a person?  We feel it does.  We will never see a Wordsworth’s sort of fame again, or a Pound’s.  These were unique,  “newsy” times.  Until a flood wipes out the memory of Wordsworth in the English speaking world, a poet will not enjoy the kind of fame he did for being part of something so vast, important and new.

The truly poetic aspires to one thing and one thing, only: to cultivate an admiration for the truly beautiful and the truly good.  Plato understood this, and this is why he explicitly allowed poems of praise in his Republic.  Shelley, Romantic poet and follower of Plato (Shelley translated Plato’s Symposium) understood this principle too, when he said (in his “Defense of Poetry”) that love is the secret of morals, for when you truly love someone, you identify with them, and this identification with another is the virtue that unites imagination, poetry, morality and love.  The greatest poems of Shelley (he did write some newsy poems, attacking George III, etc) do not partake of “news;” works like “Ode to the West Wind,” “Adonais,” and “Prometheus Unbound,” are masterpieces of purely moral, imaginative beauty.

Van Giggles, in more commentary on Scarriet, said he had no interest in Shelley, and dismissed him as “just another wealthy person” who didn’t have to work.

We have a feeling that Van Giggles, who doesn’t read Shelley, is probably a fan of the Fragment/Gizmo School of Poetry spawned by Ezra Pound and his friend, William Carlos Williams. The “pound-of-flesh” sensibility that demands money for poems has that Modernist taint which surely informs Van Giggles poetic taste.

Poets like Shelley do not fit into the monetary scheme of our friend, Van Giggles, who continues to insist (on Scarriet) that poets should never give away their work for free.

Here’s the scenario.  Shelley, independently wealthy, instead of drinking himself to death, or idling away his life in madness, writes (heroically) one of the greatest poems in the English language.  But he does not sell it.  There is nothing “newsy” about it.  Friends read Shelley, praise him, and gradually, over generations, Shelley becomes a famous poet.

What can Van Giggles say?  In his crassly monetary argument, Van Giggles would have Shakespeare demand payment for the Sonnets that he passed around to his friends—which would not only be silly and vain, but rude.

HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

RASULA AND CHASAR: HEAD BUTT OVER THE POETRY GLUT

BILLY COLLINS AND MARIE HOWE IN SWEET SIXTEEN SMACKDOWN!!We already have a glut of this ‘poetry glut’ nonsense and “Glut Reactions,”  a conversation between two author/professors, Jed Rasula and Mike Chasar in the Boston Review, highlights its nonsensical nature nicely. As in Poe’s “Purloined Letter,” the actual letter goes unread—the subject, poetry, isn’t touched, as Rasula and Chasar talk past each other in a verbose, socio-economic chest-beating act of who can sound more anti-capitalist.

Henry Gould, in the first comment to the on-line “Glut Reactions,” (The “Comments” are always the saving grace of these on-line articles: take note, Blog Harriet, Silliman.) asks: “What about aesthetics?”  You forgot about what’s important, fellas. The second comment (poet Bill Knott) blows Chasar and Rasula out of the water in its anti-capitalist paranoia, so that even a capitalist could applaud Knott’s audacity:

Too many poets?  Compared to what?  There’s too many marines, bomber pilots, priests, politicians, police, too many millionaires and billionaires. Po-Biz authorities who complain about too many poets [are making] subliminal petitions directed at the police-state officials, the FBI CIA National Guard et al, urging those agencies to raise their yearly quotas for the murder of poets.

Knott’s comment is quickly praised in a comment by aesthete Joan HoulihanKnott has stolen the show.

Now of course there is a poetry glut in the sense that we no longer have time to read all the poetry being written—it is no doubt the fact that more poetry was written yesterday than we should read in a lifetime—notice we say should, a word of more significance than the more factual can.

Humans are physically limited—what else is new? We can’t picnic on Jupiter and we can’t read every poem—so what? Neither can we blink our eyes and make Jupiter or capitalism or John Keats go away, no matter how much we don’t like these things.

John Keats is not only important because he’s good; he’s important because he’s a standard, and if a ‘poetry glut’ is a bad thing, it’s only because 1) 50,000 Poetry MFA graduates are crap next to Keats.

Some (Chasar, Rasula) are implying the ‘poetry glut’ is bad because 2) 50,000 Poetry MFA graduates are as good as Keats.

Still others (Burt, Perloff) are implying the ‘poetry glut’ is bad because 3) 50,000 Poetry MFA graduates make Keats look like crap.

These are the three aesthetic positions which clarify where one stands in the glut debate.

The loss of standard is acute. 

Look at how Chasar and Rasula can’t agree: Rasula (classic example of myopic-doctrinaire-politically-correct-lefty-who-can’t-get-laid) posits long works (Silliman, Waldman, Hejinian, Notley) as a standard. Chasar (who seems a little sexier) greets Rasula’s suggestion of a standard with a yawn in his face: “I don’t have a lot of patience for the types of long texts you mention [Chasar writes] so I’m not the best person to ask.” (Take your Hejinian long poem and shove it.)

Both share buzz-words—“capitalism’s floating signifier,” “anthology wars,” “Derrida,” “Nietzsche,” “commodity,” “escalating pattern of consumption,” “binaries,” “prizes,” “elitism,” “consideration v. use”—but they can’t do anything but quarrel in the murk of their 1970s, socio-political rhetoric. 

Rasula, at the end of the conversation:

What’s simmering under our exchange is the tension between poetry as something approachable, welcoming multitudes, and poetry in [Laura] Riding’s sense as “the most ambitious act of the mind,” which clearly invites charges of elitism.

But it’s not even a good fight. 

The “tension” Rasula refers to doesn’t really exist, because the two men are lost in the same Marxist muck. 

Even Marx himself didn’t hate capitalism as much as these guys.

Rasula’s Adorno-ism, “flagrant uselessness of artworks as a mote in the eye of global capitalism,” which is justification for Rasula’s elite “standard” of long, tedious (some would say unreadable) poems, is countered by Chasar’s “democractic” : “Many elements of popular or vernacular culture value the uselessness, apparent uselessness, or non-instrumentality of things.”

Both Rasula and Chasar are going to punish capitalism with the useless—just in different ways.  It’s all about subverting some old-fashioned idea of capitalism. Rasula wants to kill capitalism with long, boring poems that no one reads; Chasar thinks we can kill capitalism with Knock! Knock! jokes.

It’s the cartoonish totem of capitalism which these two (and so many professors like them) dance naked around which finally renders their exchange insignificant.

Rasula, like Seth Abrahmson, despite all his research, is blind to the real circumstances of the reactionary Modernists/New Critics creation of the Program Era.  He makes the occasional good point, but doesn’t connect it to anything; he just keeps peeling the Marxist onion.

Rasula and Chasar don’t get it: the “anthology wars” was a friendly competition between Ivy-Leaguers: Creeley and Ashbery were Harvard and Ginsberg was Columbia.  The real ‘War’ of the 20th century was Modernism against Everthing Else; it was Pound against Poe.

Chasar writes at one point: “Capitalism 1, Poetry 0.”

No.

Obsession with Capitalism 1, Chasar and Rasula 0.

BEAT LARKIN? KNOTT GONNA HAPPEN

Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot

The East Bracket Sweet Sixteen contests are over, with Gillian Conoley edging Barbara Guest and Carolyn Creedon getting by Leslie Scalapino into the East Finals.

Today’s North Bracket Sweet Sixteen matchup is Philip Larkin v. Bill Knott.

Knott knocked off Alan Dugan and his “Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton” in a miraculous upset; Dugan’s poem brought celebrity, clarity, drunkenness, wistfulness, and we still have no idea what Knott’s homely sonnet is talking about:

MONODRAMA

Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
Full length nude, at halfmast the pubic flag
Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
More to the word perhaps than its image—

But predators always bite the nape first
To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
I failed to be. I went to the window:

Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

Rhymes and half-rhymes abound, but rhythmically, the poem is all-thumbs.  It has no music to recommend it, and if its harshness is intentional, or not, we can’t really see how it matters either way.

Knott’s poem is profoundly ugly, and this no doubt is intentional, due perhaps, to the homely subject matter.   Is it a conversation between the poet and his poem? The poem won’t let the poet be seen? That’s as much as we can get from it.

R.P. Blackmur, influential Modernist and New Critic, who got John Berryman—suicidal, in debt from his education, teaching HS—a job at Princeton, wrote:

The art of poetry
is amply distinguished from the manufacture of verse
by the animating presence in the poetry
of a fresh idiom: language

so twisted & posed in a form
that it not only expresses the matter in hand
but adds to the stock of available reality.

“So twisted & posed” sums up Knott’s poem—and much of modern poetry’s hubris: a belief that “twisted poetry” is far superior, by its very nature, to “manufactured verse.”  Verse does not contain “language” and does not “add to the stock of available reality.”  Whole generations which Blackmur influenced became besotted with this idea.

Who will lose to Knott? Not Larkin,
Whose poem contains more memorable
Lines than Pope; the day will darken,
Night meet day and placid on the window sill
Knott sits there still, unable to hearken
To anything but Aubade’s spell, Knott’s will
Broken bric-a-brac facing the pane; outdoors
Larkin, the storm, Monodrama meekly implores
The English poet to stop, stop, but Aubade roars.

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Larkin 98, Knott 37

 PHILIP LARKIN IS IN THE ELITE EIGHT!


KNOTT AND DUGAN GO FOR SWEET SIXTEEN

Bill Knott’s poem, “Monodrama,” is a bizarre sonnet whose meaning eludes even as the final couplet rings its close:

MONODRAMA

Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
Full length nude, at halfmast the pubic flag
Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
More to the word perhaps than its image—

But predators always bite the nape first
To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
I failed to be. I went to the window:

Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

–Bill Knott

In round one, Knott upset Robert Bly and a cheering section at the John Crowe Ransom Arena which included a whole class of Harvard poets, Vietnam War Protestor poets and even drummer John Densmore of the Doors.

Fans will recall that Alan Dugan’s poem, “Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton,” upended Hayden Carruth’s “Quality of Wine,” a cheap-wine poem about old age.

MARLA MUSE: Dugan’s poem has cinematic allure, a doomed celebrity poet, and “beautiful” Galway Kinnell charming Sexton away from the narrator. It’s a bit pathetic, if you ask me.

And who wouldn’t want to ask the Muse?  Yes, Dugan…you loser!  Oh, gosh, did I say that?

MARLA MUSE: You did. No one deflates a poem like you do. You’re terrible.

I can’t stand that Knott poem, and I can’t figure out exactly what it’s saying, but there’s something about it that intrigues me…

MARLA MUSE: So…

BILL KNOTT ADVANCES TO THE SWEET SIXTEEN!

A last-second shot wins it, 67-66.

That takes care of Round Two in the East and North, Conoley, Creeden, Guest, Scalapino, Knott, Larkin, Nemerov, and Stanton advancing.  Next, Round Two in the South and West…

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE FIRST ROUND MARCH MADNESS WINNERS!

winner

Let’s get this winners and losers business out of the way…

Here are the winners:

EAST BRACKET

LISA LEWIS (d. John Ashbery) Responsibility
WILLIAM MATTHEWS (d. James Wright) Good Company
GILLIAN CONOLEY (d. Robert Creeley) Beckon
CAROLYN CREEDON (d. James Tate)  litany
GREGORY CORSO (d. Stanley Kunitz)  30th Year Dream
DORIANNE LAUX (d. A.R. Ammons)  The Lovers
LESLIE SCALAPINO (d. Jack Spicer)  that they were at the beach
BARBARA GUEST (d. Larry Levis) Motion Pictures: 4

NORTH BRACKET

KAREN KIPP (d. Robert Lowell)  The Rat
JACK HIRSCHMANN (d. Robert Penn Warren*) The Painting
EILEEN MYLES (d. Frank O’Hara)  Eileen’s Vision
WILLIAM KULIK (d. Czeslaw Milosz)  Fictions
SHARON OLDS (d. Robin Becker)  The Request
TESS GALLAGHER (d. Richard Hugo)  The Hug
STEPHEN DOBYNS (d. Jim Harrison)  Allegorical Matters
AMY GERSTLER (d. Norman Dubie)  Sinking Feeling

NORTH BRACKET

JACK MYERS (d. Seamus Heaney)  The Experts
PHILIP LARKIN (d. Joseph Duemer)  Aubade
BILL KNOTT (d. Robert Bly)  Monodrome
EDWARD FIELD (d. Donald Justice)  Whatever Became of Freud
MAURA STANTON (d. Anne Carson)  The Veiled Lady
ALAN DUGAN (d. Hayden Carruth)  Drunken Memories of Anne Sexton
HOWARD NEMEROV (d. David Ignatow)  IFF
MICHAEL PALMER (d. Yusef Komunyakaa)  I Do Not

WEST BRACKET

ALLEN GINSBERG (d. Howard Moss) The Charnel Ground
DONALD HALL (d. Douglas Crase)  To A Waterfowl
RICHARD CECIL (d. Robert Hass)  Apology
JOY HARJO (d. Sylvia Plath)  A Post-Colonial Tale
JAMES SCHUYLER (d. Stephanie Brown)  Red Brick and Brown Stone
REED WHITTEMORE (d. Heather McHugh)  Smiling Through
STEPHEN DUNN (d. Sam Hamill)  What They Wanted
CAROL MUSKE (d. Charles Bukowski)  A Former Lover, A Lover of Form

* Robert Penn Warren resigned from the tourney

MARLA MUSE: Some of the losers I really don’t want to say goodbye to; the Milosz, the Justice, the Dubie, the McHugh…

The Bukowski…there’s something holy about his work, a wry honesty that few poets evince…I was thinking about the qualities that go into writing good poetry, both the New Critical qualities of the poem itself and those qualities the poet as a human being must have…

MARLA MUSE: The poet must say the right thing at the right time.

Or seem to.  Because in real situations in life, that’s a good quality to have: to be able to say the right thing at the right time, but for the poet, “time” can be years as they work on the poem, which distorts the meaning of that ability, the ability to say the right thing at the right time: if someone really has that ability in life, to really say the right thing at the right time, they wouldn’t need to fake it in a poem…

MARLA MUSE: Oh, you’re getting all Plato on me…life is real, poetry is fake

But isn’t it true, Marla, that ‘saying the right thing at the right time’ is not the same thing in life, as it is in poetry…poets can wait for the right time to pass, but in life, you can’t…the room is silent, and life calls for something to be said then, but to be a poet you can slink away and say something later…it doesn’t have to be at the right time

MARLA MUSE: The right time in the poem?

Yes, when you failed to say the right thing at the right time in life…

MARLA MUSE: But if we’re talking about qualities, the person who can say the right thing in a poem is probably the person who can say the right thing in life…

No, because if you can say the right thing at the right time in life, there’s no motivation to do so in a poem, for the poem is a shadow…life doesn’t let us wait years…

MARLA MUSE: But it does.  You are trying to connect life and poetry, you are trying to connect two things, and you can’t, and therefore you are saying nothing…

Am I?  So I shouldn’t have asked my original question: what qualities in life match those qualities in the poet…

MARLA MUSE: What about not fearing to go into an underground mine?  Does that help a poet?  To risk your life for somone else, does that have anything to do with being a poet?  I think we can only look at the poem.  I think the New Critics were right…

But Marla, you are beautiful!  How can you say something like that?

MARLA MUSE: Are we talking about poetry?

Thomas Brady is never talking about poetry, is he?

MARLA MUSE: Well, Tom, sometimes you do…

I’m thinking about that Bukowski poem, the car headlights, the remark by the mother, and the son’s joking, half-shameful, half-boastful response, and all the various parts in that Bukowski poem—isn’t the good poem when all those parts cohere?

MARLA MUSE: Bukowski lost! Why are you talking about him? Ah, you are recalling that debate you had…when you used the word “incoherent”…clever boy…you’re a New Critic, after all…

Yea, but the New Critics themselves were such narrow-minded, creepy—

MARLA MUSE: They hated the Romantics, that’s all, but that’s why you’re here, Tommy boy…

But right now this is not about me…congratulations, poets!

UNDERDOG BILL KNOTT BATTLES ROBERT BLY

Robert Bly has a prettier Jerry Garcia tie than you.

Let’s analyze this Bly/Knott  matchup:

Robert Bly has a large cheering section.

First, Bly’s Harvard friends: the post-war Harvard classmates John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara.

F.O. Matthiessen was the dominating literary force at Harvard when Bly was there.

Matthiessen’s vastly influential academic reader, “American Renaissance” (1941) once and for all took Poe out of the canon and put Whitman in.

Cheering on Bly is not only Matthiessen, but Matthiessen’s secret lover, Russell Cheney, the  first director of the Art Students League of New York, the 57th street independent school and studio from where modern artists, beginning with Jackson Pollock, rose to prominence in the 1940s.  The Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art movements owe their beginnings to the Art Students League of New York.   Modern poetry and modern art in the 20th century are linked by the same Ivy League movers, shakers—and crackpots.  The John Crowe Ransom Arena is not big enough to hold all of Bly’s friends!  Marla, they’re everywhere!

MARLA MUSE: Oh! There’s Robert Lowell, one of the literary lights who came to read at Harvard when Bly was there, and E.E. Cummings, I see him, modern painter, Harvard graduate, and quirky poet who belonged to the “Dial” clique with Pound, Williams, and Eliot, and of course there’s Gertrude Stein, modern-art collector, student of Harvard’s William James, and T.S. Eliot, also of Harvard, whose spirits reigned over Harvard when Bly attended….

Thanks for pointing them out, Marla, Thomas Brady’s eyes are not what they used to be…that’s quite a noise they’re making, so many of them in the front row…Did you know Matthiessen’s lover, Russell Cheney (his secret lover) was a member of Yale’s Skull and Bones?

MARLA MUSE: I did know that, Tom.  I’m the Muse.  But thanks for mentioning it.

We can’t forget the Iowa crowd.  After graduating from Harvard in 1950, Bly spent 1954-56 at Paul Engle’s Iowa Writer’s Workshop with poets like Snodgrass and Donald Justice, student of Yvor Winters and mentor to Jorie Graham.  That’s a huge cheering section, right there.

MARLA MUSE:  Small world.  Iowa’s such a little place.  As is the world.  It’s not poetry, it’s the people.

People?  I thought it was the poetry?

MARLA MUSE: (laughs) Oh, Tom, you are so naive!  Didn’t you learn anything from Alan Cordle?  Now wave to all of Robert Bly’s friends.

And there’s all Bly’s Vietnam War protester friends from the 60s…  Cool.  Bly has more friends than John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin put together. Almost as many friends as Allen Ginsberg!

MARLA MUSE:  The Iron John crowd.  They’re here, too.  I’ve never seen so many beards…

Poor Bill Knott.  Who’s rooting for him?

MARLA MUSE:  Not John Densmore, drummer for the Doors.  He’s healing and drumming for Bly’s Great Mother and New Father conference in Maine later this spring…

Somebody must be rooting for Bill!

MARLA MUSE: Alan Cordle?

Let’s get to the poems, shall we?

Snowbanks North of the House

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.

The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.

The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.

Robert Bly

ROOOOOOOAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Monodrama

Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
Full length nude, at halfmast the pubic flag
Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
More to the word perhaps than its image—

But predators always bite the nape first
To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
I failed to be. I went to the window:

Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

Bill Knott

yay, bill!

One is obvious in the extreme, not much more than a list of cliches, the other, a nerdy mumble.  The mumble is finally a bit more interesting, because at least you can guess at what it means.

Knott upsets Bly, 55-54!

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

POETRY MARCH MADNESS IS COMING! POETRY MARCH MADNESS IS COMING!

Danse Macabre is our theme for Scarriet’s Second Annual March Madness Poetry Tournament.

Death and poetry used to be closer; then with Modernism, Things in poetry became the rage, but Death as a symbol (and reality) cannot be denied.

So, here’s our thinking: The Second Annual March Madness Tournament, is, first of all, an elimination tournament.

Secondly, every poet lives with the anxiety that their poems will be neglected; even those with fame today may be forgotten tomorrow; all their sweat, worth and reputation may be utterly buried by Time.

Thirdly, many of the poems in the tournament have Death as their subject.

Fourthly, the poets themsevles are old, or dying, or dead.

But dancing implies vigor and joy, and there is that, too.  What if we never really die?  And why shouldn’t we dance, anyway?

Scarriet’s Poetry March Madness Tournament source this year is the APR anthology, The Body Electric, with an introduction by Harold Bloom.

Last year Scarriet drew from David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series for its Poetry March Madness contest.

Scarriet came into its own with its Poetry March Madness, attracting widespread attention from published poets thrilled to finally throw an elbow at their rivals, or freeze them with a soft jumper, or drive right over them to the hoop to win with seconds remaining.  Booya.

Who knows?  One day we may refer not to the work of a poet, but the play of a poet.

This year, taking center stage is the best of the American Poetry Review, poems from Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review, compiled by editors Stephen Berg, Arthur Vogelsang and David Bonanno.

APR began in 1972, and the poems in Scarriet March Madness Two have that hippie/post-hippie, ‘free-spirited intellectuals having nervous breakdowns’ energy, the glorious free-verse confessionalism where poets finally ‘get to say what they want to say’ in a fireworks of expressionism.  The embarrassment, however, is sometimes palpable in these poems, as death winds its way even into the most comfortable of poet-professors’ dens, and the happy, rounded, sexually-tinged, rhetoric, seeking escape from death-sonnets and other old, quaint devices, wrestles with the horror of old death, anyway.  Post-modernism, Modernism and the Ancients leveled, one might say.

And great poets are here, 180 of them, but only 64 get to enter the tournament itself.

Who will be in, and who will be out, during this first stage?

Can poets like Bill Knott, Eileen Myles, and William Kulik beat out poets like Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney and Sylvia Plath?

Let the elbowing commence.

“SO HAVE THE CRITICS NEARLY ALWAYS BEEN AMATEURS” -J.C. RANSOM

The professional hates the amateur. 

Poetry was for amateurs before the man in the photo above came along (John Crowe Ransom).  He put Modernism into the university and professionalized poetry at the same time. 

The Romantic artist was an amateur.  Beethoven and Keats didn’t need no credentials; their only credentials were symphonies and odes.  Modernism changed all that. 

The amateur creates commerce.  The professional controls it.

The amateur is hot Sturm and Drang.  The professional is cold New Criticism. 

The professional is passion deferred.  The amateur is passion right now. 

The amateur is “I’ll show you!”  The professional is “It has been said…” 

The professional is the person of obligation, responsibility, work, connections, and material reward.  The amateur is the irresponsible, inspired bum. 

The professional is the sly method.  The amateur is the sly method exposed.  

The professional is the explainer.  The amateur is the explained. 

It takes 100 years for the professional to absorb the amateur.* 

*Pound agrees with Stendhal that it takes 80 years.  So be it. 

One always betrays the other and they can never be friends—even in the same person.

Take Franz Wright.  His ‘professional’ side and his ‘amateur’ side are at war; the poor man has to keep apologizing for both: the amateur Franz Wright to his professional colleagues, the professional Franz Wright to his fans and friends.  My guess is that most of the time it is his professional side that does the bulk of the apologizing and feels the most guilty, so it must be a pleasurable vent when he ventures onto Scarriet to scold us for our amateur status, allowing the professional Franz Wright, who spends most of the day hiding, a chance to shine.   Same with Bill Knott, the adored amateur poet, who came on Scarriet recently to wax professionally indignant over copyright law.  Seth Abramson, another professional, came here recently to claim that the MFA/professionalization of poetry was not a game of Modernism or New Criticism, not a system created by Ransom, Tate and their friends, but was rather some kind of courageous neo-Romantic movement—against all historical evidence.  It’s easy to see why Abramson would rather his beloved MFA system be identified with amateurs and Romantics than with professionals and New Critics.  It’s for the same reason that finds Franz Wright with a divided and irritable soul.  It’s not anyone’s fault.  We want to have our cake and eat it.  We want to be both professional and amateur, but it’s impossible, for it’s the whole role of both to cut out the other.

Despite the professionalization of poetry that has occured since Ransom’s academic Modernist/New Criticism coup a couple of generations ago, the artist-as-amateur, beholden to no creds and nobody, still lingers as a Romantic ideal.  In our hearts, we all know we’re amateurs and that history will eventually judge us that way, and so professionalism is sought after by almost everyone—but still loathed.  

As  academic, anti-Romantic Ransom put it in 1937, in his now-famous essay (thanks to us): “Rather than occasional criticism by amateurs, I should think the whole enterprise might be seriously taken in hand by professionals.  Perhaps I use a distasteful figure, but I have the idea that what we need is Criticism, Inc. or Criticism, Ltd.”

BILLY COLLINS KISSES BILL KNOTT ON THE CHEEK ALONG WITH THOMAS BRADY

In the glory days of Harriet, back in the summer of 2009, the following exchange took place between one of our Scarriet editors, Thomas Brady, and the poet, Bill Knott.

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”  — Thomas Brady

.

“Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!” —  Bill Knott

.

Brady writes:

I don’t think the crisis in poetry is a social engineering issue.

It’s not a question of ‘how can we bring poetry to the people?’  Or, if this is the question, the question is not a large, complex one, but only a matter of refinement.

Despite the efforts of ground-breaking poet-academics like John Crowe Ransom (whose ashes are scattered on the Kenyon campus), there is no expertise anywhere that can decide how or what kind of poetry should be delivered up to ‘the people.’ I think we need to cure ourselves of this notion right away. Poetry is not for experts. Poetry is how the people short circuit the experts. Science demands a certain a certain amount of expertise; poetry is the joy of science sans expertise.

The people get all the poetry they need from old poetry or pop songs or prose or opera, or comedy, and these avenues will never be supplemented by contemporary poetry of the difficult variety to any significant degree.

Contemporary poetry is mostly lyric poetry and this is in keeping with our ‘short attention span’ age—which began with the rise of the penny presses 200 years ago and coincided with Poe’s famous words, “A long poem does not exist.”  How could it?  No recordings of Poe reading exist, but we do have Edna Millay and Dylan Thomas: listen to them reading their brief poems—how could one take that intensity for long?

John (Harriet comment) asked about the first ‘lyric poetry reading.’  Poe in the 1840s was asked all the time at salons in NYC to read his “Raven.”  John is absolutely right; not only does a long poem not exist, but short poems should not be read for long; they should never be a big imposition.

Perhaps we need to stop apologizing for the ‘short attention span.’  What if it’s not a flaw at all, but a feature of our advanced, busy, speedy-communications age?

Instead of slamming that square peg into that round hole, why don’t we accept that ‘short attention spans’ are part of who we are now; simply a reflection of how we are adapting to our times, and if poetry is not popular, it’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.

POSTED BY THOMAS BRADY: ON ON JUNE 2, 2009 at 4:07 PM

.
Knott’s response:

“It’s not because the public is too ‘stupid’ to ‘get’ difficult poetry; the poets, and their friendly critics, are stupid in their refusal to stop cultivating ‘long attention span’ poetry.”

–I agree totally with Brady’s point there.

But WHY do (we) poets do this?  Doesn’t the answer lie in the realm of the psychoanalytic…

Almost all writers begin in adolescence by writing poetry—what differentiates those who continue in this futile practice while others (call them adults) go on to write prose…

Given that poetry is the least rewarded/ the least funded of all the writing genres, and indeed of all the arts,

–knowing that, why would anyone willingly opt to pursue this abject vocation…why would anyone seek such inferior status; why would anyone in their right mind join this subgroup, this slaveclass—

Masochists, manic depressives, suicides, all poets are neurotics of the death instinct, losers and failures who embrace the misery of their wretched trade, who wallow in its servile aura of diminishment and squalor—its paltry practice.

But among poets, those dismal defeated schlemiels and corner-biting cowards lured by vile Virgils into the abyss of verse, a fortunate few manage to inhabit the upper circles, its higher hellblocks—

Even among the damned there are divisions…there are even (and it’s almost unbelievable that they can exist) some poets who want to succeed!  Who want their poetry to be read! Who actually try to write poetry that is accessible and can reach an audience!—

What traitors these are to their class—(jeez, if they didn’t want to be failures, why did they become poets!)

No wonder all the normal (i.e. unsuccessful) poets hate the Judas Billy Collins and the quisling Mary Oliver

POSTED BY BILL KNOTT:ON JUNE 2, 2009 AT 5:10 PM

And did Martin Earl take this sitting down, and did Bill Knott not come back with post after post that broke every rule of length and frequency Travis Nichols had ever dreamt of, and did the fracas not wake everybody up and get all the bells in Parnassus ringing?

Oh yes, and yes, and yes!

Yet shortly after Thomas Brady and his friends were punished for writing too much too often, Bill Knott, Eileen Myles, Martin Earl, Annie Finch and all the other passionate irregulars stopped bothering, and despite the best efforts of the new Contributing Writers, Harriet stalled to a  Members Only Chat-roomlike it is.

What a failure of The Poetry Foundation mission!

The Scarriet Editors


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