SCARRIET POETRY HOT ONE HUNDRED! WITH BEST LINES!

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Mary Oliver and Sushmita Gupta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This explains why you see the poems you do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(15) Stephen Cole —The descriptor heart (1/18/19 FB) “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTIAN WIMAN OPENS THE DOOR TO CRAZY

Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, 2003-2012 and the recent Poetry anthology, The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine

How do you respond to someone who goes on using old terms to describe what they keep insisting is new?

This is the dilemma of those who must listen to the endless drone of the curators and defenders and benefactors of modern poetry, or contemporary poetry, as it’s sometimes called; it’s no surprise this drone would manifest itself most painfully in a celebration of 100 years of Poetry magazine, specifically in Christian Wiman’s introduction to The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine.

Wiman’s The Open Door introduction is ostentatiously entitled, “Mastery and Mystery.”

The mastery is a mystery—this is what we think Mr. Wiman means.

Wiman is one of these—fans—of poetry (in the abstract, of course) who love everything about it, so things like critical faculty, discernment, and judgment, are mere annoyances that get in the way of the joyfully universal hippie consciousness kissing every divine modern word, kissing every divine modern line-break.

Wiman is habituated, like so many of his ilk, to prate on and on about “craft” in a wholesomely earnest manner, in which craft designates not skillful arrangement, but any arrangement, which he, Wiman, for no reason which can be discerned, finds deeply meritorious.  What do you say to the person, who, reclining in some well-made chair, points to a heap of sticks, declaring the pile to be an excellent example of “craft?”

“Craft matters because life matters,” Wiman intones—and of course it does, because a loose pile of sticks matters—as all things matter, and who would deny this?  Certainly not Wiman.

The lovely assertion—“Craft matters because life matters”—is all the critical mountebank needs, but Wiman will not let the windmill get away quite so easily, for he adds,

Craftless poetry is not only as perishable as the daily paper, it’s meretricious, disrespectful (of its subjects as well as its readers) and sometimes, as Pound implies, even unethical.

“Craftless poetry…is unethical,” (!!) and who better to “imply” this than the highly ethical, ‘pile-of-sticks-author’ himself, Ezra Pound?

But what, according to Wiman,  is “craftless poetry,” anyway?

Did you really expect Wiman to tell us?  He mentions Pound, and that’s all he needs to do.  The in-the-know-modernist sagely nods, and Wiman immediately changes the subject, diving into another modernist topic.

The difficulty of modern poetry—that is, poetry written since Modernism—is taken by most people as a given.

Ah, having quickly covered the “craft” issue, we now get the old canard about the “difficulty of modern poetry,” as if Shakespeare, for instance, is not “difficult,” and as if “difficult” (which can easily be translated into ‘poorly written’) means anything substantial at all.

Following his brief and sage observation that Edna Millay is not “difficult,”  Wiman falls down in utter worship of a poet who is, Basil “Crushed Grit” Bunting, in a manner that would make even Shakespeare blush:

Briggflatts is a palimpsest of history, nature, learning, loss. It is the testament and artifact of a man who has lived so thoroughly through the language, that is has become a purely expressive medium. Because of cadence and pacing, and the way sounds echo and intensify sense, the word is restored to a kind of primal relation with the world; language itself takes on the textures and heft of things:

Under sacks on the stone
two children lie,
hear the horse stale,
the mansion whistle,
harness mutter to shaft,
felloe to axle squeak,
rut thud the rim,
crushed grit.

Let’s be placid and factual for a moment: Crossword puzzles are random words that fit into a whole—a rather superficial use of craft—what Bunting does (hyped by the excitable Wiman) is select random words of similar sound and meaning (“horse” and “harness”) and put them into a heap.

We might admire Bunting’s list of words, (requiring a dictionary and a bit of free time,) but we must point out that the craft of making a crossword puzzle involves fitting words into a whole—but the Bunting excerpt is, in fact, “craftless,” since beyond the similarity of the words themselves (in Bunting’s list) no definitive whole is acheived; all we get, if we speak as an honest critic, is a vague depiction of a blurry,  impressionistic scene, which is naturally what we would expect if any such list were presented loosely to us.

The Bunting excerpt is (try it) as good read backwards—just as we can do a crossword puzzle in any order we choose.

The Bunting passage has less craft than what is acheived by the author of the crossword puzzle.

Yet Wiman explicitly states that Bunting of “crushed grit” is a great advance (!!) (“the word is restored,” “language itself takes on…the heft of things”) of a wondrous kind—an interesting thesis.

Next, Wiman completely misses the meaning of a Denise Levertov passage as he purports to give us “a little master class in free verse,” in which

Our bodies, still young under
the engraved anxiety of our
faces

is for Wiman all about the line-break after “under” because

it is one thing to say that a body is “still young,” quite another to say that it is “still young under.” The latter implies a history, a density of feeling and experience, whereas the former is simply a statement of fact.

First, despite the feverish belief in the importance of the line-break, we must point out that Levertov never says, “still young”—she says, “still young under.”  In the split-second it takes to read “still young under,” it is impossible not to read Levertov’s line as “still young under,” line-break or not.

Second, Wiman misreads Levertov’s simple meaning.  Wiman informs us that:

The mind naturally wants to read these lines like this:

Our bodies, still young
under the engraved anxiety
of our faces…

But this completely changes the meaning and effect of the lines. It is one thing to say that a body is “still young” quite another to say that it is “still young under.” The latter implies a history, a density of feeling and experience, whereas the former is simply a statement of fact.

We are not sure what all this “history” and “density of feeling and experience” is that Wiman gratuitously mentions; Levertov is stating an anatomical fact: faces show outward signs of age (wrinkles, and so forth, the “engraved anxiety of our faces”) before bodies do; it’s common knowledge for the body in middle age to remain smooth and young-looking while the face begins to look “engraved.”  The “under” Wiman wants to load with all sorts of significance, merely refers to to one’s body “under” the engraved face. Wiman’s ‘insight’ is nothing but error.

This is where line-break-ism leads: rant.  Wiman, winds up his “triumphant” reading of Levertov’s lines with this:

The point here is not to go through every poem nitpicking technique, trying to find some obvious “reason” for every formal decision. Rather, the point is simply to be aware that what may seem like awkwardness or even randomness (James Schuyler!) can be as formally severe and singular as any Bach fugue.

The folly here is laughable in the extreme: we move, with Wiman, from a silly misreading into the majesty of a Bach fugue.

Wiman, now half-way through his introduction, swells with pride at his own poetry-reading skill, which causes him to embrace the essence of life itself:

One of the qualities to being good at reading poetry is also one of the qualities essential to being good at life…

Wiman continues in this vein: Poetry! Life! 

Poetry…”gives us access to a new world and new experience” and also “enlivens the lives we thought we knew.”

Hyperbole joins hyperbole, as only the advocate of modern poetry can bring it.

“Why write poetry?” asks Wiman, why “keep a journal?”  Because “language is a living thing” and deserves “our fullest and most costly consciousness, only our whole selves honed by emotional extremity.”

Wiman then warns against “vanity” in poetry as we might find it in the “bloviating laueate” or the “open-mike” poet in the “local bar,” saying poetry, even when it’s anti-religious, is the force that invented religion in the first place, and we must feel poetry in our “blood,” in the “marriage of word and world.”

We also need to understand that “the lyric” is not only “inward,” as Wiman points out  for us that Thom Gunn, with “his heroic height” and “his motorcycle boots” had “little patience for Romantic effluvia” as he “wanted to obliterate personality in his poetry.”

Wiman blows us away with another flashing insight: a “writer who grows up in a bookless culture” will “always be torn by conflicting impulses.”

More wisdom: “Every poem in this book is situated somewhere on this spectrum between life and learning, between linguistic powers honed to surgical precisions and the messy living reality out of which all language…”

For all the canons and anthologies, for every rock-solid reputation and critical consensus, poetry is personal or it is nothing.

As far we can tell, Wiman has convinced everyone—but himself—that “it is nothing.”

Precisely because he has declared it to be everything.

Poetry, according to Wiman, brings that “face-off between spiritual integrity and social insecurity.”

If only Wiman were a bit more “insecure” regarding “spiritual integrity”—and everything else.

Finally, Wiman tells us that he and his co-editor, Don Share, feel “humility” and “pride” in the job they’ve done.

At least he’s feeling humble.

Do we expect too much from a perfunctory introduction to a book containing 100 poems in 100 years of Poetry?

Of course we do.

But at that same time, the thought on display in any poetry anthology introduction should not be taken lightly.  Mountain-top pronouncements no longer exist in poetry.  We should be harsh with every whisper, every small notion, every part.  If we find no fault with the brick, we cannot criticize the house.

Criticism today must be micro, as well as honest, and Wiman, who made Poetry better as an editor by adding controversial prose, will no doubt understand Scarriet’s purpose.

It is not our fault that the Modernist is the dullest creature on the face of the earth, both emotionally flat and inane.

Whatever poetry does to us with its awkward spell, it finally does to us in a manner of which we have little or no cognizance; how important, then, is the Maid, Reason, who protects us from ravenous incomprehensibility; Modernism, however, with its notoriously unfriendly prose style (Whitman, Pound, Jarrell) is no nurse speaking with sweetness and clarity at our feverish bedside. Wiman, like all the other Modernists, is excitable, and lacks simple common sense.

DON SHARE OF POETRY CLAIMS NOVELIST THREATENED HIM

Don+Ocean+Cropped

Don Share: How important is the middle man?

There it is, that terrifying anecdote, right at the beginning of the recent, much-reprinted Chicago Tribune spread piece on the recently Ruth Lilly-enriched Poetry magazine:

Poetry makes nothing happen.
So said W.H. Auden. Who never lived in Chicago. Or knew Don Share. Share is the senior editor of Poetry magazine, the venerable Chicago-based literary institution. It turns 100 next year, and has seen far more than nothing happen, particularly in the past decade. Share arrived at the magazine four years ago, hired away from Harvard University, where he was poetry editor of Harvard Review. Soon after arriving, he received what he calls a “threatening  phone call.”
It came from a famous novelist whose name he won’t say, but the message to Share was this: You really don’t want to find yourself alone in the same room with me. “He couldn’t believe we rejected his poems,” Share said of the man. “When you work in poetry all day, it’s internal. People get shaken. I was shaken.”

This is a remarkable story—if true: a “famous novelist” feeling the need to threaten Don Share for not publishing his (the “famous novelist’s”) poems in a wee magazine?   Every prestigious magazine publishes “famous” authors—that’s why they’re prestigious magazines.  It’s hard to believe the “famous novelist” felt so terribly left out.  The refusal to publish someone in Poetry magazine simply does not hold enough weight to generate anything but trivial ill-temper; it strains credulity to think Don Share was genuinely “shaken.”  Was Share afraid of getting beaten up by John Updike?  Or whomever it might have been?

But far beyond these vicissitudes lies the chief oddity: Poetry magazine has a well-funded on-line presence, Harriet: The Blog, which allowed the public to talk on-line—until the editors at Poetry stopped that practice dead-in-the-water over a year ago.

Don Share used to joyfully take part in the Harriet public conversations—though once he sulked at a literary comment I made.

But here’s the point: that “famous  novelist” four years ago could have posted his poem right on Harriet, and readers could have made up their own minds on the spot.  Readers could have read the “famous novelist’s” poem and made public their praise, or displeasure.

Poems and debates about poems once could make a public appearance on Harriet, though Harriet moderators (and some of the readers, as well) were always testy about “staying on topic;” for some reason intelligent people adlibbing, digressing, and simply expressing themselves on the spur of the moment, was “threatening” to some—and certainly to the Harriet editors.

Why?  Because editors want that wall between them and their readers.  They want Poetry to be a magazine of their choices.

The process is: poet writes poem, reader reads poem.

Poetry magazine wants to decide which poems the reader gets to read.

But today, who needs this filter?

The editor, obviously, who wants the prestige—the middle man’s feather-in-the-cap.

I can decide whether you get published in Poetry magazine, or not.

Well! Good for you!

This is why, when Harriet: The Blog was a public blog,  there was always an uneasy feeling about it, why the moderator/editors were always full of anxiety: because editors don’t like it when the wall dissolves and  prestige (that intangible thing) crumbles.

Poetry magazine, then, is nothing more than the poems which some particular person (Don Share, or Christian Wiman) happens to have picked out.  This is its prestige.  This is where its prestige begins and ends, with the tastes and prejudices and minds of certain gentlemen who are good poets themselves—or not.  We have nothing against Share or Wiman’s taste, necessarily.  We’re just putting things in perspective.

The credulous fall into vapid worship of empty prestige.  The Tribune article, for instance, goes on to say:

Poetry magazine started in Chicago in 1912, and during the ensuing century, the magazine’s history and the history of American poetry were joined at the hip. It published an unknown T.S. Eliot, gave early support to Langston Hughes, discovered Wallace Stevens, James Merrill, Gwendolyn Brooks.

This is nothing but banal untruth: Ezra Pound discovered Eliot, not Poetry. Pound published, as Poetry’s London editor, Eliot’s undergraduate poem, “Prufrock.”  “The Waste Land,” however, was published in The Dial.  Eliot’s prep school friend, Scofield Thayer ran that magazine; Pound worked out a “Waste Land” deal with the lawyer, John Quinn, promising Eliot the 1922 Dial Prize—worth a thousand dollars, equal to Eliot’s yearly salary at Lloyd’s—before Pound had even finished the edits on the poem.  Poetry, a little magazine with a small readership, could not possibly compete with Pound’s well-connected PR machine, which put Eliot on the map.  Langston Hughes, first published by the NAACP, and made famous by anti-U.S. trips to the Soviet Union, and his politics, did not require any “support” from Poetry to further his career, and similarly, Wallace Stevens, who studied with Santayana and William James at Harvard, and was part of Yvor Winters and Hart Crane’s 1920s Pound/Eliot/Tate circle, did not require any “discovering” by Poetry, which happened to publish a few of his poems—on behalf of Stevens’ own connections.  The Egoist, The Dial, Ford’s Transatlantic Review,  The Little Review, The Nation, and finally, Ransom’s Kenyon Review, which appeared in 1939—there were many alternatives to the modest Poetry, in the 20th century.  With the dawn of the Writing Program era in the 1940s, there were thousands of small journals publishing poetry. Poetry was simply one of many.  Careers were not made by Poetry magazine. Not to mention that  poets like Edna Millay and Frost sold books—they hardly needed magazines.

Poetry has longevity, true.

But now that Poetry has money, must we feel obligated to inflate its importance in history?

Isn’t that the last thing the art of poetry needs right now?  Vacuous, historically ignorant, puffing?

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