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.

 

 

 

 

 

SCARRIET’S HOT 100— AS WE RING OUT A WILD 2014!

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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

BILLY COLLINS, NO. 4, SEED BATTLES CAROL ANN DUFFY, BRITISH POET LAUREATE

DUFFY

Duffy, the British poet laureate, takes on the best-selling Billy Collins.

Billy Collins is a popular American poet who teaches poetry; born in 1941, he is the same age as the Creative Writing Program era, and represents (in many people’s minds) the comfortable, jokey, white middle class.  This following poem was chosen by Rita Dove to  represent Collins in her anthology of 20th Century American poetry, and it features Collins as poetry teacher acting defensively towards the masses who want poems to ‘mean something:’

INTRODUCTION TO POETRY

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

What I find ironic about this is that Collins has succeeded precisely as a ‘poet of meaning;’ all his success turns on meaning; he takes extra pains in his poems to make himself understood by the common reader in poems that boil down, essentially, to jokes one could tell in a bar.  “Introduction to Poetry” has a meaning: poems don’t need to mean anything, and so, ironically, it’s a very typical Collins poem—because it has meaning.

But there’s an extra pleasure to Collins, and this is why he’s good, and the best selling poet alive today.  He manages—with humor’s exaggeration—to laugh at the whole enterprise: he wants his students to “waterski across the surface of a poem,” which, when you think about it, is absurd, and parodies the nutty creative writing teacher lording it over his students who just want to understand.  On one (obvious) level, the poem defends Creative Writing’s modern flip-off—meaning is so 19th century, man!—but on another, more secretive level, the joke is on the modern Creative Writing teacher—urging students to “waterski” (??) on the poem.

Meaning means 3 point shots, lots of them, and lots of points—which one can see on the scoreboard.  Collins piles up the points.  He scores.

Carol Ann Duffy (1955-) comes from middle class Great Britain and became British poet laureate in 2009, the first woman to ever hold that distinguished position.  Her poem, “Valentine,” has meaning in the form of an equation: onion = love.  The poem’s metaphorical formula is all the poem is.  You cut onions, luv.  The smell gets under your fingers.

VALENTINE

Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

The onion has many uses.  Why shouldn’t an onion be a metaphor for love?   One admires the novelty of the metaphor, which manages to invoke beauty (moon) and earnestness (its fierce kiss will stay on your lips) but the wide-ranging and flexible character of an onion works better for the onion than it does for Duffy’s poem, which finally seems nothing but a clever riff on that flexibility.  The poem never really transcends ‘love is like an onion’ in its conventional, formulaic sense.  The term “lethal” at the end seems forced.  The metaphoric exercise never really comes to life, remaining on the level of a string of nice and somewhat unusual comparisons.  The poem is nicely pasted together, but it never really gets up and walks.  Do onions make us cry like love does?  Of course not, but here, for “Valentine” to work, it would seem the answer, at least for a moment, needs to be yes, because, the poem is finally about…an onion…and not love.  We suppose one could say there aren’t many poems that do much more than this poem does: ride the horse of metaphor for all its worth: “Not a red rose or a satin heart.”  An onion.  But where does the poem finally go?  It doesn’t seem to go anywhere in that last stanza.  This poem is not “cute!” Duffy is careful to tell us.
In case we miss the meaning.
Collins romps 90-77.

BLAH BLAH BLAH: INTRODUCTIONS, BLURBS

Don’t we hate them?  Those introductions praising a poet before they go on?  Why do they have them?  They are stupid, and they seem more stupid the more clever they are.  They are not necessary.  Shut up.  I don’t care how many prizes this poet has won.  Let the poet get up on the podium and read their goddamn poems. Enough with this tradition already.  The oily professors and graduate students with their prefaced remarks for the visiting poet: look how clever I am!  Bet you didn’t know how many layers of meaning gleam in the title of our poet’s latest book!  Maybe I’ll get laid!  The poet doesn’t need an introduction.  Imagine how annoying it would be if you went to the theater, and before the play: “Before we begin, I’d like to make a few remarks about our playwright tonight.  William Shakespeare, as you all know…”  Save it.

And then blurbs.  Has there ever been a blurb which does not negate everything we mean when we utter the sacred word, poetry?  The blurb is like the Introduction, but a frozen version of it, a cold stain.  Shall we do away with blurbs forever?  Yes.  Just give me a plain book that says “Poems” on it, and, in smaller letters, the author’s name.   The blurb is a sugary humiliation, a confectionery wreck, a cotton candy tomb, a blah blah blah that chokes and humiliates.  Have we no shame?

Therefore, without introduction, we present the 2012 Scarriet March Madness EAST BRACKET!

EAST

1. John Ashbery
2. Seamus Heaney
3. Geoffrey Hill
4. Billy Collins
5. Jorie Graham
6. Robert Pinsky
7. Mary Oliver
8. James Tate
9. Paul Muldoon
10. Charles Simic
11. Charles Bernstein
12. Marie Howe
13. Carol Ann Duffy
14. Franz Wright
15. Carolyn Forche
16. Ben Mazer

Blurbless, sans introduction, these names stand before you.

These poets want to do one thing: Win.

They want to win, because the winner will spend an entire night with Marla Muse.

Marla Muse:  I beg your pardon?

Marla! You’re supposed to say, “And they will never forget it.”

Marla Muse:  I never agreed to do that!  And I don’t think it’s funny!

I was just kidding…in the name of poetry…these poets…don’t you think the winner…?  I wasn’t implying…

Marla Muse:  It’s not funny.

Sorry.  Well, they still want to win…

Marla Muse:  Of course they do.

And soon we’ll announce what poems the poets will be going with in the first round!

Marla Muse:  Stay tuned!

It’s so cute the way you say “Stay tuned…”

Marla Muse:  Thank you.

SIR GEOFFREY HILL: THE MOST OVERRATED POET, EVER?

“Can I help you?”  That annoyed, bookworm look.

For too long now, since the early 20th century, poetry has become a vessel for pedantry—everything that poetry is not: gnarly, dweeby, bitter, pretentious, digressive, unpleasant, mumbly, claptrap.

“Difficult” is the icy, vampire-breath spell that needs to be broken—with our warm Shelley and Keats.

Fight off the New Critic specters, find T.S. Eliot in his coffin, and stab him through the heart.

Then the boil known as Geoffrey Hill will burst and dribble away.

But at the present, no birds sing.

Hill, who some in tweedy academia call the “greatest living poet,” used the “difficult” approach when he went off recently on Carol Ann Duffy; the current British poet laureate innocently called poetry the original texting message: after all, poetry is known for its ability to say a lot in a few words.  No, thundered the greatest living poet; difficulty is the essence of poetry, not brevity.   But really.  Duffy’s point need not be burned to the ground, even if it is just another one of those vain attempts to make poetry seem more relevant in a world that ignores or hates it today.  Over here, we have Shelley’s Defense of Poetry. And over here…a observation that texting youth are making poems—sort of.  OK, maybe it’s pathetic.  But worse, far worse, is Geoffrey Hill’s “difficult” maneuver, which is a complete turning away from Shelley’s Defense.  Any defense of poetry that says “poetry is difficult is no defense at all, but don’t tell that to a pundit like Sir Geoffrey.  Shelley, nor any of the Romantics, ever thought of defending, or describing, poetry as “difficult.”  Shelley at 22 was more learned than Geoffrey Hill will ever be, and Shelley stretched out on the sand before the sea is difficulty enough.  “Don’t treat readers like fools,” Hill tells Duffy, but to be intentionally difficult ranks as the most foolish effort of all.  Difficult exists in poetry or elsewhere, but not as a goal—that would be, quite simply, insane.

The difficult school produces poetry which is a series of impressions that may, at best, produce a state of strange befuddlement—which we might convince ourselves has some kind of intellectual worth. 

Shelley, by contrast, is like drinking from a cold spring after one has been hiking for hours.

The experiences are quite different.

The tradition from which Hill springs can be traced back to the early 20th century British academic tradition which produced plain language philosophy and language poetry.  The Cambridge Apostles, Kim Philby, Bertrand Russell, T.S. Eliot, Anthony Blunt, G.E. Moore, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Rupert Brooke, John Maynard Keynes, Guy Burgess, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Ottoline Morrell, and F.R. Leavis.  “Difficult?”  Sure.  The poetry of government spies, double agents, closeted homosexuals and language philosophers  is bound to be difficult.   The source of the “difficult” tradition has a place and a name: Bloomsbury, Oxford, Cambridge.

The New Critics, who dominated American poetry for 50 years, were all Rhodes Scholars in England.  They were Southern Agrarians (basically defending the Old South) before they became New Critics.  Figure that one out.  Difficult?  Oh, yes. 

Then there’s poetry for people, poetry in the universal, democratic tradition.  Hello, Shelley.  Hello, Poe.

The other poetry is that of the priesthood, not for those who entertain people, but for those who want to manage people—the so-called difficult school, which appeals to language philosophy professors and those trained in various types of intelligence and social engineering.  Sir Geoffrey Hill. The New Critics.  Pound, Eliot, Guy Burgess.  The difficult ones.

Those in the second group hate and fear those rare artists like Poe and Shelley—populist geniuses savvy enough to expose them for what they are. 

Here is a good example: New Critic Robert Penn Warren’s essay, “Pure and Impure Poetry,” first delivered as a lecture at Princeton in 1942—this is where Allen Tate was seting up an early Poetry Workshop.  Warren’s lecture was later published in John Crowe Ransom’s influential Kenyon Review.  But before we look at Penn Warren, let’s quickly take a peek at another essay, a more famous one:

IN speaking of the Poetic Principle, I have no design to be either thorough or profound. While discussing, very much at random, the essentiality of what we call Poetry, my principal purpose will be to cite for consideration, some few of those minor English or American poems which best suit my own taste, or which, upon my own fancy, have left the most definite impression. By “minor poems” I mean, of course, poems of little length. And here, in the beginning, permit me to say a few words in regard to a somewhat peculiar principle, which, whether rightfully or wrongfully, has always had its influence in my own critical estimate of the poem. I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, “a long poem,” is simply a flat contradiction in terms.

I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul. The value of the poem is in the ratio of this elevating excitement. But all excitements are, through a psychal necessity, transient. That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length. After the lapse of half an hour, at the very utmost, it flags — fails — a revulsion ensues — and then the poem is, in effect, and in fact, no longer such.

There are, no doubt, many who have found difficulty in reconciling the critical dictum that the “Paradise Lost” is to be devoutly admired throughout, with the absolute impossibility of maintaining for it, during perusal, the amount of enthusiasm which that critical dictum would demand. This great work, in fact, is to be regarded as poetical, only when, losing sight of that vital requisite in all works of Art, Unity, we view it merely as a series of minor poems. If, to preserve its Unity — its totality of effect or impression — we read it (as would be necessary) at a single sitting, the result is but a constant alternation of excitement and depression. After a passage of what we feel to be true poetry, there follows, inevitably, a passage of platitude which no critical pre-judgment can force us to admire; but if, upon completing the work, we read it again, omitting the first book — that is to say, commencing with the second — we shall be surprised at now finding that admirable which we before condemned — that damnable which we had previously so much admired. It follows from all this that the ultimate, aggregate, or absolute effect of even the best epic under the sun, is a nullity: — and this is precisely the fact.

In regard to the Iliad, we have, if not positive proof, at least very good reason for believing it intended as a series of lyrics; but, granting the epic intention, I can say only that the work is based in an imperfect sense of art. The modern epic is, of the supposititious ancient model, but an inconsiderate and blindfold imitation. But the day of these artistic anomalies is over. If, at any time, any very long poem were popular in reality, which I doubt, it is at least clear that no very long poem will ever be popular again.

That the extent of a poetical work is, cœteris [[ceteris]] paribus, the measure of its merit, seems undoubtedly, when we thus state it, a proposition sufficiently absurd — yet we are indebted for it to the Quarterly Reviews. Surely there can be nothing in mere size, abstractly considered — there can be nothing in mere bulk, so far as a volume is concerned, which has so continuously elicited admiration from these saturnine pamphlets! A mountain, to be sure, by the mere sentiment of physical magnitude which it conveys, does impress us with a sense of the sublime — but no man is impressed after this fashion by the material grandeur of even “The Columbiad.” Even the Quarterlies have not instructed us to be so impressed by it. As yet, they have not insisted on our estimating Lamartine by the cubic foot, or Pollock by the pound — but what else are we to infer from their continual prating about “sustained effort?” If, by “sustained effort,” any little gentleman has accomplished an epic, let us frankly commend him for the effort — if this indeed be a thing commendable — but let us forbear praising the epic on the effort’s account. It is to be hoped that common sense, in the time to come, will prefer deciding upon a work of art, rather by the impression it makes, by the effect it produces, than by the time it took to impress the effect, or by the amount of “sustained effort” which had been found necessary in effecting the impression. The fact is, that perseverance is one thing, and genius quite another; nor can all the Quarterlies in Christendom confound them. By and by, this proposition, with many which I have been just urging, will be received as self-evident. In the mean time, by being generally condemned as falsities, they will not be essentially damaged as truths.

On the other hand, it is clear that a poem may be improperly brief. Undue brevity degenerates into mere epigrammatism. A very short poem, while now and then producing a brilliant or vivid, never produces a profound or enduring effect. There must be the steady pressing down of the stamp upon the wax. De Béranger has wrought innumerable things, pungent and spirit-stirring; but, in general, they have been too imponderous to stamp themselves deeply into the public attention; and thus, as so many feathers of fancy, have been blown aloft only to be whistled down the wind.

A remarkable instance of the effect of undue brevity in depressing a poem — in keeping it out of the popular view — is afforded by the following exquisite little Serenade.

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.
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me — who knows how? —
To thy chamber-window, sweet!The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream —
The champak odours fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale’s complaint,
It dies upon her heart,
As I must die on thine,
O, beloved as thou art!O, lift me from the grass!
I die, I faint, I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast:
Oh! press it close to thine again,
Where it will break at last!

Very few, perhaps, are familiar with these lines — yet no less a poet than Shelley is their author. Their warm, yet delicate and ethereal imagination will be appreciated by all — but by none so thoroughly as by him who has himself arisen from sweet dreams of one beloved, to bathe in the aromatic air of a southern midsummer night.

Poe’s remarks made this little poem by Shelley one of Shelley’s more popular poems

In his essay, Robert Penn Warren sets up a staw man: pure poetry.   Pure poetry, in Warren’s view, is what poets like Poe and Shelley are after.  Pure poetry is the target which Warren, the New Critic, attempts to destroy.

Warren looks at “The Indian Serenade,” as well, and one can tell Shelley’s poem is now better known.  One can see the shift from Poe’s “Very few, perhaps, are familiar with these lines” to Robert Penn Warren’s introduction to Shelley’s poem in his essay:

And we know another poet and another garden. Or perhaps it is the same garden, after all:

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.
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Hath led me—who knows how?
To thy chamber window, Sweet!

We remember how, again, all nature conspires, how the wandering airs “faint,” how the Champak’s odors “pine,” how the nightingale’s complaint “dies upon her heart,” as the lover will die upon the beloved’s heart. Nature here strains out of nature, it wants to be called by another name., it wants to spiritualize itself by calling itself another name.

The ideality of Poe and Shelley are faulted by Warren as “nature” which “strains out of nature,” and “nature” that wishes to “spiritualize itself.” 

Prior to his discussion of Shelley’s “garden” from “The Indian Serenade,” Warren presents the various elements of the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet so he can refute “pure poetry” in the following way: Romeo swears his love for Juliet by the moon: Juliet objects because the moon is changeable.  Warren assigns “pure poetry” to Romeo’s “purist” moon metaphor and Juliet’s objection represents, for Warren, the more sensible “impure poetry” of the moderns—who laugh at the straining, spiritual sentimentalism of purists, Poe and Shelley—and, in this case, Romeo.  Here are Warren’s exact words:

Within the garden itself, when the lover invokes nature, when he spiritualizes and innocently trusts her, and says, “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,” the lady herself replies, “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon/That monthly changes in her circled orb.”  The lady distrusts “pure” poems, nature spiritualized into forgetfulness. She has, as it were, a rigorous taste in metaphor, too; she brings a logical criticism to bear on the metaphor which is too easy; the metaphor must prove itself to her, must be willing to subject itself to scrutiny beyond the moment’s enthusiasm. She injects the impurity of an intellectual style into the lover’s pure poem.

Juliet, and “her rigorous taste in metaphor!”   According to Warren, the New Critic, the “logic” of Juliet “injects the impurity of an intellectual style” into the “pure poem.” 

Of course this is imbecilic.  Here is a classic case of pedantic over-thinking by a New Critic determined to push out the Shelley/Poe influence in poetry.  Juliet does not object to the “metaphor.”  She objects to the inconstant moon.   Warren is attempting to work up an intellectual case against “purity” (and Shelley’s “Indian Serenade”) by linking “pure poetry” to an inexact use of metaphor.  But the metaphor does not fail here; the moon fails.  And the moon fails for the woo’d girl because of its inconstancy.  There is nothing “impure” here—except in Warren’s reasoning.  Nothing in Juliet’s objection signals “impurity,” or a rebuke to Poe or Shelley’s poetry, or their Platonist philosophy.  The implied Shakespearean rebuke of Shelley’s “purity” is all in Warren’s New Critical head. 

Warren continues the attack on Shelley’s “purity” by “installing Mercutio in the shrubbery” of Shelley’s “Indian Serenade.”  (Mercutio is outside the garden in the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene—why not put him in the Shelley poem?)  “And we can guess what the wicked tongue would have to say in response to the last stanza,”  says Warren, rubbing his hands together in glee.

Warren then works up an elaborate trope about how all poets must come to terms with the bawdy Mercutio when writing love poems—one cannot exclude Mercutio entirely without consequences.  Warren’s point is certainly apt—if only he were not comparing a brief lyric to a play.  Poe (who was always very vigorous about metaphor) made this precise point regarding “undue brevity” one hundred years prior—which Warren seems to have completely missed.

Poe appreciates the beauty of Shelley’s poem, remarking that its brevity prevents it from being a popular poem.  Warren, however, blames the beauty that is there in Shelley’s poem—by comparing it to a Shakespeare play—and implying there is something intellectually lacking  in Shelley’s lyric.

Warren says a lot more in this essay: how there are many types of poetic purity, so many, in fact, they contradict each other; that purity implies exclusion—as when Poe says poetry should exclude truth and passion except by contrast, and strive for unity—and since there are as many types of exclusions as types of purity, the exclusionary strategy is fruitless; hence Poe is wrong, and all poems benefit from being impure.

Warren then examines two poems; first the famous four-line “Western wind, when wilt thou blow,” and then his friend John Crowe Ransom’s “Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter.”  We get the sort of New Critical analysis that mingles the obvious with the obscure in such an over-reaching manner that it ends up making one feel less acquainted with the poem.  No one will remember Warren’s essay—except for perhaps Harvard’s Stephen Burt, who stole the concept “Elliptical Poetry” from its pages. 

The New Critics began something wicked—even as they, themselves, now fade from our collective memories.  It is the seed planted by the New Critics that makes us declaim today that the ghastly Sir Geoffrey Hill is the “greatest living poet.”

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