What in the world is better than Nature poetry, for cryin’ outloud?
Mary Oliver is a nature poet. A nature poet is the best way to go: who doesn’t adore and implicitly love nature? You want animals? You got ’em. You want imagery and scenery? Done. You want the bitter, hard, but carefree, unsentimental life? It’s yours. You want quasi-religious platitudes? Here they are.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Oliver is timeless. This poem could have been written thousands of years ago. It makes me want to cry, thinking about it. We still live in the land of nature poets. We really don’t need TV. If you don’t like modern life, the nature poet will save you.
If nature poets make you bored and dull and restless with their perfections, there’s always Charles Simic, who writes poems from inside the diseased city:
This strange thing must have creptRight out of hell.It resembles a bird’s footWorn around the cannibal’s neck.As you hold it in your hand,As you stab with it into a piece of meat,It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:Its head which like your fistIs large, bald, beakless, and blind.
March 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm (Ben Mazer, Billy Collins, Carol Ann Duffy, Charles Simic, Franz Wright, James Tate, John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, March Madness, Marie Howe, Marla Muse, Mary Oliver, Paul Muldoon, Robert Pinsky, Seamus Heaney)
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!
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.
Elimination. It has to happen. All grass cannot grow. All things cannot live. All chimneys cannot puff. The poet who plays his pipe may play his pipe in vain.
The APR anthology, The Body Electric, features 180 poets published in the APR in the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Only 64 of those poets are chosen for the tournament, and each one of those 64 rumble to the top with their best poem, chosen by Scarriet, with help, of course, from the ancient, but still lovely, Marla Muse.
The cuts do not reflect the talent of the esteemed poet, but rather the worth of the particular poems selected by the APR editors. The editors were guilty, occasionally, as we all are, of being dazzled by names. Famous poets at the bitter end of their careers tossed scraps at the magazine, and this is just one obvious instance of the sorts of errors in judgment which the Scarriet March Madness process will judiciously correct.
Marla Muse will read one of her own compositions before we announce the first of the cuts.
Take it away, Marla:
“Thank you, Thomas. Ahem…first I just want to say that elimination is not a bad thing. Death is not always bad. We get rid of things. We push away the worst and make room for the better. And don’t be sad, poets, if you get eliminated. You can always come back, next time. This is only death for this time.
Death Is Love
Death is love’s friend.
Death is the one thing we cannot pretend;
All fools go on, except this end.
Death helps love live,
For nothing can withstand the long hours that give
Beauty wrinkles, and youth something even more primitive.
I once felt beautiful pain
Thinking of my own love’s dear name
On a stone, swept by leaves—but in vain…
My love, instead, fell gradually old with stumbling grace;
Death did not leave the memory of a beautiful face,
But took love slowly down to a different place.”
Beautiful, Marla! Speaking of death, here are the first cuts:
John Berryman: Little pitiful-drunk rants
Jorie Graham: Early lyric promise crashes and burns
Louis Simpson: Surprisingly banal
Louise Gluck: Dully abstract
Anne Sexton: Booze Muse
C.K. Williams: Can’t finish a poem.
Richard Wilbur: Rhyme buries sense.
Michael Ryan: Bitter confessing: adolescent.
Gerald Stern: Come on! Love me! Please!
Charles Simic: Two-cent Symbolism.
Kenneth Rexroth: Robot Zen.
Stanley Plumly: Chance of poetry, turning to prose.
John Hollander: Grade A Bombast
Kenneth Koch: Encyclopedic insincerity
Fred Seidel: I’m more connected and dangerous than you.
James Dickey: White spaces? You?
Richard Eberhart: Eh?
Charles Bernstein: He started a joke and started the whole world crying.
There are many more poets who have to go. And we’ll let you know who the other losers are, and publish the 2011 March Madness brackets soon!
(cue drum, flute, lyre)
November 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm (Alan Cordle, Ben Mazer, Billy Collins, Charles Bernstein, Charles Simic, David Lehman, David Orr, Derek Walcott, Donald Hall, Eileen Myles, James Tate, John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Marcus Bales, Seamus Heaney, Seth Abramson, Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland)
1. Billy Collins -a poet of wit and popularity
2. Dana Gioia -his famous essay still resonates
3. David Lehman -BAP takes the pulse better than prizes/contests do.
4. Louise Gluck -the new Jorie; has stepped down as Yale judge.
5. John Ashbery -the most famous unknown person ever
6. W.S. Merwin -emerging as the e.e. cummings of our time
7. David Orr -elegant critical manner, writes poetry, too
8. Helen Vendler -when the dust settles, what has she done, exactly?
9. Paul Muldoon -as long as he’s at the new yorker, he’ll be on this list.
10. Harold Bloom -will he ever live down his nutty hatred of Poe?
11. Glyn Maxwell -a one-man british invasion
12. G.C. Waldrep -he’s all the rage, and deserves it
13. Anne Carson -managed to secure that all-important ‘classical’ rep…
14. Robert Hass -he sort of reminds us of Paul Engle…
15. Mary Oliver -popular ’cause she feels, rather than thinks, nature poetry.
16. James Tate -founder of the funny/absurd/surreal/realism school
17. Dean Young -James Tate lite?
18. Sharon Olds -nobody does frank sexuality so morally and deftly
19. Charles Simic -perfected the small, vivid, cinematic poem
20. Marvin Bell -long time U. Iowan
21. Donald Hall -our Thomas Hardy?
22. Karen Solie -2010 Griffin Poetry prize and good poet
23. Terrance Hayes -beautiful, black, and a National Book Award…
24. Robyn Schiff -Jorie love-blurbed her madly, UG Iowa Wrkshp dir…
25. Adrienne Rich -for the sisters
26. Barbara Hamby -rides the new ‘excessive’ style
27. Lucia Perillo -2010 BAP; rocks the newly minted ‘A.D.D. School’
28. Matt Donovan -2010 Whiting Writers award
29. Ron Silliman -this is his time
30. Amy Gerstler -2010 Best American Poetry editor
31. Henry Hart -found a poem I liked by someone on the web, damn!
32. Sandra Beasley -this gal is worth checking out!
33. Shane McCrae -warning: this poetry may actually be good…
34. Philip Gross -2010 T.S. Eliot Prize
35. Simon Armitage -the closest brit who possesseth any wit
36. L.S. Klatt -2010 Iowa poetry prize winner
37. Margaret Atwood -she’s never boring
38. Carolyn Forche -that ‘bag full of ears’ poem, seems like only yesterday…
39. Matthew Yeager -2010 BAP, “Go now, my little red balloon of misery!”
40. Stephen Burt -one day vendler’s empire will be his
41. Barrett Watten -selling Language Theory to British academia
42. Cole Swensen -Iowa City/Paris gal
43. Christopher Reid -first poetry book to win Costa since ’99 (Heaney)
44. D.A. Powell -seems to be making all the right moves
45. Frank Bidart -actor James Franco digs his poetry
46. Carl Phillips -one of our most understated, thoughtful poets…
47. Rachel Hadas -writing, judging…
48. Alan Cordle -the david who slew goliath
49. Bin Ramke -has that ‘Bladerunner’ fallen angel look…
50. Donald Revel -the blue twilight school
51. Jorie Graham -has her move to p.c. extremism doomed her?
52. Natasha Saje’ -we like her poetry
53. Paul Hoover -tortured, philosophical poetry, but good…
54. Conor O’Callaghan -Bess Hokin winner
55. Terri Erickson -exploded onto Scarriet, and won Nooch’s heart…
56. George Szirtes -Hungarian Brit
57. Abigail Deutsch –Poetry magazine’s 2010 reviewing prize…
58. Jason Guriel -poet/reviewer making his mark with Poetry…
59. D.H. Tracy -fastidious, not fawning, as Poetry critic…
60. A.E. Stallings -studied classics in Athens!
61. Dan Chiasson -belongs to new crowd of poet/critics
62. Mark Levine -the David Foster Wallace of workshop poetry…
63. Katherine Larson -2010 Yale Younger, Gluck’s last pick…
64. Dara Wier -workshop queen at Amherst & has a Selected…
65. Joseph Donahue -“the angel’s jibe would harry the glitter from the dew”
66. Robert Casper -poetry society of america, jubilat
67. Ben Mazer -Man of Letters: poet, editor, critic? He has first two…
68. Eileen Myles -will not self-edit, thank you…
69. Derek Walcott -his Pure Style, like buttah…
70. Bob Hicok -the school of manly sentimentalism…
71. Janet Holmes -‘ass hat uh’ press is how you pronounce it, I think…
72. August Kleinzahler -he chased Garrison Keillor away…
73. John Barr -runs the Evil Empire? Blog Harriet: zzzzzz
74. Philip Schultz -his 8 year-old son told him he won the Pulitzer…
75. Seamus Heaney -his iconic Bog-status is nearly blinding…
76. Kevin Young -curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library…
77. Charles Bernstein -his school producing a new generation of folly?
78. Tony Hoagland -he dares to write like Billy Collins…
79. Ilya Kaminsky -the spirit of translation…
80. Matthea Harvey -carries a flag for a style which others do better…
81. Mary Jo Salter -the most respectable force in poetry ever!
82. William Logan -if his critic ever reads his poetry, he’s done…
83. Alice Quinn -20 years picking poems for New Yorker
84. Julianna Spahr “MFA is under-realized, under-theorized…”
85. Rae Armantrout -one of the greatest little poem poets…
86. Rita Dove -Clinton was prez, she was poet laureate, Oasis was cool…
87. Seth Abramson -ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client’s poetry…
88. Adam Kirsch -the Harvard kid who made good…
89. Daniel Nester -We Who Are About To Die is a funny website…
90. Meghan O’ Rourke -poetry’s audrey hepburn
91. Jim Behrle -funny, creative, but can’t get laid!
92. Martin Espada -“Latino poet of his generation” says his website
93. William Kulik -scarriet march madness final four
94. Patricia Smith -slam queen, rattle prize winner
95. C.D Wright -tickled by the Elliptical…
96. Philip Nikolayev -where’s Fulcrum?
97. Carl Adamshick -latest Walt Whitman winner
98. Dora Malech -everything going for her but poetic talent
99. Eleanor Ross Taylor -best 90 year old poet around
100. Valzhyna Mort -beautiful russian-american…uh…poetry.
101. Marcus Bales -anybody like skilled verse?
December 18, 2009 at 1:54 pm (Alice Cary, Amy Lowell, Anna Hempstead Branch, Billy Collins, Charles Simic, David Lehman, Donald Hall, Donald Justice, Dorothy Parker, Edmund Wilson, Edna Millay, Elinor Wylie, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, Ellen Wheeler Wilcox, Emma Enbury, Emma Lazarus, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, Frances Harper, Genevieve Taggard, Harriet Monroe, Helen Vendler, Hilda Dolittle, Inna Donna Coolbrith, James Tate, John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Louise Bogan, Lucy Larcom, Lydia Sigourney, Maria Gowen Brooks, Marianne Moore, Marjorie Perloff, Mark Strand, Mary Ashley Townsend, Mary Maple Dodge, Richard Howard, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Sarah Helen Whitman, Sarah Teasdale, T.S.Eliot, Uncategorized)
Let’s examine women poets.
It’s not a happy prospect, because the woman poet has lost her way.
Since mothers sang lullabies, since divas rocked opera houses, since numerous women poets earned a living writing poetry in the 19th century, there has been a falling off.
Not since Edna Millay has there been a truly popular female poet, one who could fill an arena, make headlines, cause vibrations in the popular culture.
Why is this?
100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century, Mark Strand, editor, Norton, 2005, is 14% women and 8% American women, Clampitt, Stone, Swenson, Bishop, Moore, H.D., Bogan, and Millay. H.D. and Moore belonged to Pound’s clique; Moore mentored Bishop who was known also because of her association with Robert Lowell, Swenson worked for New Directions, Bogan, for the New Yorker, Clampitt regularly published in the New Yorker, Stone has been a creative writing teacher for years; Millay is the only one with independent force–and she was viciously attacked by Pound’s champion Hugh Kenner. Millay had numerous lovers, including Edmund Wilson and George Dillon, Pulitzer Prize for poetry and Poetry magazine editor, but Millay didn’t give to get; she didn’t plot her fame; it came looking for her—because of who she was. It seems hard to believe Millay is the only American woman poet of whom we can say this.
In David Lehman’s Best American Poetry series, which has existed for 20 years now, only one poet has enjoyed a kind of ‘must be included’ status, and that’s John Ashbery; Ammons until his death, was a close second, and now Billy Collins is almost in that positon, not to mention Richard Howard, Donald Hall, Charles Simic, James Tate, also John Hollander, James Merrill, Thom Gunn, Kenneth Koch, and Donald Justice, while they were alive. No female poet is even close. Jorie Graham, Louise Gluck, Rossana Warren, and Rita Dove have no impact beyond academia—nor even within it; for they have no unique theoretical or rhetorical calling, and women who do, like Vendler or Perloff (pedants who champion men, mostly), are not poets.
When tiny enclaves of mostly male academic pedants decide what poetry should be, is it any wonder po-biz looks the way it does?
Modernist poets Ford Madox Ford and Pound worked for war machines (British, Axis Powers, respectively) and/or were bigotted misogynists like T.S. Eliot…”in the rooms the women come and go/talking of Michelangelo.”
Robert Frost wrote poems mostly of male work— “mending walls” and solo male journeys “stopping by woods” and “road[s] less traveled” —and Frost’s poetry was universally praised and celebrated even as the same sorts of poems by women were declared trivial and dismissed as mere Victorian rhymes.
Frost, (b. 1875) was allowed to continue this Victorian tradition as a hard-nosed Yankee male, to great applause.
Obviously this does not mean we have to reject the poetry of Eliot or Frost. We mention this only to add perspective on the plight of women poets.
As Muriel Rukeyser (b. 1913) wrote in her poem, “Poem (I Lived In The First Century):”
“I lived in the first century of world wars./Most mornings I would be more or less insane,/The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,/The news would pour out of various devices/Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen./I would call my friends on other devices;/They would be more or less mad for similar reasons./Slowly I would get to pen and paper,/Make my poems for others unseen…”
Rukeyser’s helpless, prosaic, passive address is the voice of a woman in thrall to a technological universe of people who are “unseen;” her poem is flat and prosaic; she is unable to sing in a man’s war-like world. That’s probably Ezra Pound’s “news” that “pour[s] out of various devices.” The 20th century was a century of “world wars,” of women’s songs in retreat.
Rukeyser is not a victim in the poem; she is a victim for having to write this sort of poetry at all.
One thinks of Bishop’s poem, “In the Waiting Room” (which takes place in 1918) in which two helpless females, the young Bishop and her aunt Consuelo—who “sings” from pain—exist in a world of “pith helmets” and naked, “horrifying,” breasts in a National Geographic magazine in the office of a male dentist who remains “unseen.”
Men and technology have conquered. Women are separate from men, and women are confused and suffering.
The standard explanation for why 19th century women poets are no longer read is:
Women were confined to writing on flowery, “womanly” topics due to the sexism of a male-dominated society. Therefore, women’s works are worthless to modern audiences.
But this is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It is not our intention to rewrite history, or tell women what sort of poetry they ought to write; we merely suggest that a popular tradition has been eclipsed by a narrow trope which has taken root and flourished without check, as trends have been known to do. This unfortunate phenomenon is not less important because it affects poetry only—the issue is a large one even though the illness is marginal, the marginality having been caused by the illness itself. It is with pride and certainty that poetry no longer pipes and swoons and sings but practices a kind of hit-and-run philosophy in whatever form and shape it pleases; but this pride has led to a great fall; poetry neither contributes to science nor pleases the many—it has no real existence.
Lydia Sigourney’s “The Bell of the Wreck,” Alice Cary’s “To Solitude,” Maria Gowen Brooks’ “Song,” Elizabeth Oakes Smith’s “Ode To Sappho,” Sarah Helen Whitman’s “To Edgar Allan Poe,” Harriet Monroe’s “Love Song,” Elinor Wylie’s “Beauty,” Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose,” Genevieve Taggard’s “For Eager Lovers,” Louise Bogan’s “Women,” Sarah Teasdale’s “The Look,” Edith M. Thomas’ “Winter Sleep,” Rose Hawthorne Lathrop’s “A Song Before Grief,” Ellen Wheeler Wilcox’s “Individuality,” Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus,” Emma Enbury’s “Love Unsought,” Ina Donna Coolbrith’s “When The Grass Shall Cover Me,” Mary Maple Dodge’s “Now The Noisy Winds Are Still,” Mary Ashley Townsend’s “Virtuosa,” Frances Harper’s “A Double Standard,” Lucy Larcom’s “A Strip Of Blue,” Amy Lowell’s “Patterns,” Hazel Hall’s “White Branches,” and Anna Hempstead Branch’s “Grieve Not, Ladies” are the kind of strong and beautiful poems by women which are routinely ignored.
Overly sentimental this poetry may often be, but the women authors were not sentimental. Enduring the hardships of an earlier day, they could hardly afford to be. Virtues of rhythm, image, unity of effect, and expressiveness shouldn’t be rejected by literary historians for a defect (“sentimentality”) which is, if one looks at the matter objectively, merely superficial and technical, really.
When a poet ‘plays a part,’ as if ‘on stage,’ for instance, the expressive style adopted should not be measured against a rhetorical style in which the poet is talking as herself, as if across a table from the reader. Much of the “sentimentality” is due to this approach, this technique, and is not due to any defect or fault, per se, in the soul or sensibility of the 19th century women poet.
Here is one of my favorites from the poems listed above. Note the simplicity of language, the sturdy rhythm, the confident music, and the plain but exquisite final image:
To SolitudeI am weary of the working, Weary of the long day’s heat, To thy comfortable bosom, Wilt thou take me, spirit sweet? . Weary of the long, blind struggle For a pathway bright and high,– Weary of the dimly dying Hopes that never quite all die. . Weary searching a bad cipher For a good that must be meant; Discontent with being weary,— Weary with my discontent. . I am weary of the trusting Where my trusts but torment prove; Wilt thou keep faith with me? wilt thou Be my true and tender love? . I am weary drifting, driving Like a helmless bark at sea; Kindly, comfortable spirit, Wilt thou give thyself to me? . Give thy birds to sing me sonnets? Give thy winds my cheeks to kiss? And thy mossy rocks to stand for The memorials of our bliss? . I in reverence will hold thee, Never vexed with jealous ills, Though thy wild and wimpling waters Wind about a thousand hills.
………………………………………...Alice Cary (1820–1871)