HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2017 SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100

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1 Bob Dylan. Nobel Prize in Literature.

2 Ron Padgett. Hired to write three poems for the current film Paterson starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani.

3 Peter Balakian. Ozone Journal, about the Armenian genocide, won 2016 Pulitzer in Poetry.

4 Sherman Alexie. BAP 2015 ‘yellow-face controversy’ editor’s memoir drops this June.

5 Eileen Myles. Both her Selected Poems & Inferno: A Poet’s Novel making MSM lists.

6 Claudia Rankine. Citizen: important, iconic, don’t ask if it’s good poetry.

7 Anne Carson. The Canadian’s two latest books: Decreation & Autobiography of Red.

8 Paige Lewis. Her poem “The River Reflects Nothing” best poem published in 2016.

9 William Logan. In an age of poet-minnows he’s the shark-critic.

10 Ben Mazer. “In the alps I read the shipping notice/pertaining to the almond and the lotus”

11 Billy Collins. The poet who best elicits a tiny, sheepish grin.

12 John Ashbery. There is music beneath the best of what this New York School survivor does.

13 Joie Bose. Leads the Bolly-Verse Movement out of Kolkata, India.

14 Mary Oliver. Her latest book, Felicity, is remarkably strong.

15 Daipayan Nair.  “I am a poet./I kill eyes.”

16 Nikky Finny. Her book making MSM notices is Head Off & Split.

17 Sushmita Gupta. [Hers the featured painting] “Oh lovely beam/of moon, will you, too/deny me/soft light and imagined romance?”

18 A.E. Stallings. Formalism’s current star.

19 W.S. Merwin. Once the house boy of Robert Graves.

20 Mary Angela Douglas. “but God turns down the flaring wick/color by color almost/regretfully.”

21 Sharon Olds. Her Pulitzer winning Stag’s Leap is about her busted marriage.

22 Valerie Macon. Briefly N.Carolina Laureate. Pushed out by the Credentialing Complex.

23 George Bilgere. Imperial is his 2014 book.

24 Stephen Dunn. Norton published his Selected in 2009.

25 Marilyn Chin. Prize winning poet named after Marilyn Monroe, according to her famous poem.

26 Kushal Poddar. “The water/circles the land/and the land/my heaven.”

27 Stephen Burt. Harvard critic’s latest essay “Reading Yeats in the Age of Trump.” What will hold?

28 Joe Green. “Leave us alone. Oh, what can we do?/The wild, wild winds go willie woo woo.”

29 Tony Hoagland. Tangled with Rankine over tennis and lost.

30 Cristina Sánchez López. “I listen to you while the birds erase the earth.”

31 Laura Kasischke. Awkward social situations portrayed by this novelist/poet.

32 CAConrad. His latest work is The Book of Frank.

33 Terrance Hayes. National Book Award in 2010, a MacArthur in 2014

34 Robin Coste Lewis. Political cut-and-paste poetry.

35 Stephen Cole. “And blocked out the accidental grace/That comes with complete surprise.”

36 Martín Espada. Writes about union workers.

37 Merryn Juliette “And my thoughts unmoored/now tumbling/Like sand fleas on the ocean floor”

38 Daniel Borzutzky. The Performance of Being Human won the National Book Award in 2016.

39 Donald Hall. His Selected Poems is out.

40 Diane Seuss. Four-Legged Girl a 2016 Pulitzer finalist.

41 Vijay Seshadri. Graywolf published his 2014 Pulitzer winner.

42 Sawako Nakayasu. Translator of Complete Poems of Chika Sagawa.

43 Ann Kestner. Her blog since 2011 is Poetry Breakfast.

44 Rita Dove. Brushed off Vendler and Perloff attacks against her 20th century anthology.

45 Marjorie Perloff. A fan of Charles Bernstein and Frank O’hara.

46 Paul Muldoon. Moy Sand and Gravel won Pulitzer in 2003.

47 Frank Bidart. Winner of the Bollingen. Three time Pulitzer finalist.

48 Frederick Seidel. Compared “Donald darling” Trump to “cow-eyed Hera” in London Review.

49 Alice Notley. The Gertrude Stein of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.

50 Jorie Graham. She writes of the earth.

51 Maggie Smith. “Good Bones.” Is the false—“for every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird”— poetry?

52 Adrian Matejka. His book The Big Smoke is about the boxer Jack Johnson.

53 Elizabeh Alexander. African American Studies professor at Yale. Read at Obama’s first inauguration.

54 Derek Walcott. Convinced Elizabeth Alexander she was a poet as her mentor at Boston University.

55 Richard Blanco. Read his poem, “One Today,” at Obama’s second inauguration.

56 Louise Glück. A leading serious poet.

57 Kim Addonizio. Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life came out in 2016.

58 Kay Ryan. An Emily Dickinson who gets out, and laughs a little.

59 Lyn Hejinian. An elliptical poet’s elliptical poet.

60 Vanessa Place. Does she still tweet about Gone With The Wind?

61 Susan Howe. Born in Boston. Called Postmodern.

62 Marie Howe. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time is her latest book.

63 Glynn Maxwell. British poetry influencing Americans? Not since the Program Era took over.

64 Robert Pinsky. Uses slant rhyme in his translation of Dante’s terza rima in the Inferno.

65 David Lehman. His Best American Poetry (BAP) since 1988, chugs on.

66 Dan Sociu. Romanian poet of the Miserabilism school.

67 Chumki Sharma. The great Instagram poet.

68 Matthew Zapruder. Has landed at the N.Y. Times with a poetry column.

69 Christopher Ricks. British critic at Boston University. Keeping T.S. Eliot alive.

70 Richard Howard. Pinnacle of eclectic, Francophile, non-controversial, refinement.

71 Dana Gioia. Poet, essayist.  Was Chairman of NEA 2003—2009.

72 Alfred Corn. The poet published a novel in 2014 called Miranda’s Book.

73 Jim Haba. Noticed by Bill Moyers. Founding director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

74 Hessamedin Sheikhi. Young Iranian poet translated by Shohreh (Sherry) Laici

75 Pablo Larrain. Directed 2016 film Neruda.

76 Helen Vendler. Wallace Stevens champion. Helped Jorie Graham.

77 Kenneth Goldsmith. Fame for poetry is impossible.

78 Cate Marvin. Oracle was published by Norton in 2015.

79 Alan Cordle. Still the most important non-poet in poetry.

80 Ron Silliman. Runs a well-known poetry blog. A Bernie man.

81 Natalie Diaz.  Her first poetry collection is When My Brother Was An Aztec.

82 D.A. Powell. Lives in San Francisco. His latest book is Repast.

83 Edward Hirsch. Guest-edited BAP 2016.

84 Dorianne Laux. Will always be remembered for “The Shipfitter’s Wife.”

85 Juan Felipe Herrera. Current Poet Laureate of the United States.

86 Patricia Lockwood. Her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in 2013 thanks to Twitter followers.

87 Kanye West. Because we all know crazy is best.

88 Charles Bernstein. Hates “official verse culture” and PWCs. (Publications with wide circulation.)

89 Don Share. Editor of Poetry.

90 Gail Mazur. Forbidden City is her seventh and latest book.

91 Harold Bloom. Since Emerson, Henry James, and T.S. Eliot are dead, he keeps the flame of Edgar Allan Poe hatred alive.

92 Alan Shapiro.  Life Pig is his latest collection.

93 Dan Chiasson. Reviews poetry for The New Yorker.

94 Robert Hass. “You can do your life’s work in half an hour a day.”

95 Maurice Manning.  One Man’s Dark is a “gorgeous collection” according to the Washington Post.

96 Brian Brodeur. Runs a terrific blog: How A Poem Happens, of contemporary poets.

97 Donald Trump. Tweets-in-a-shit-storm keeping the self-publishing tradition alive.

98 Ben Lerner. Wrote the essay “The Hatred of Poetry.”

99 Vidyan Ravinthiran. Editor at Prac Crit.

100 Derrick Michael Hudson. There’s no fame in poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOBBY Z!

Image result for bob dylan

Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The great critic, Christopher Ricks, is happy.

But many people are objecting to Dylan’s literature Nobel because Dylan “is a musician.”

Here is Ryu Spaeth in The New Republic:

My main problem with giving Dylan the Nobel, besides the memories it invokes of playing too much Super Smash Brothers in a dorm room that reeked of stale bong water, is that he is a musician. It’s a category error. Music is an entirely different mode of expression that uses tools that are unavailable to the writer. Like, is the ache on a song like “Girl From the North County” expressed by the lyrics or the harmonica, or some combination of the two? Music is melody and rhythm and harmony, and at its best writing can achieve only one of those characteristics (rhythm). There’s a reason you always hear that Walter Pater line: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” It’s because music exists in this other sphere where form and subject are identical, where the sound of a harmonica represents nothing more than the sound of a harmonica. How can any other art compete? Dylan adds words to that sound, but the sound is a bass line, so to speak, anchoring his art.

This is all to say that “Girl From the North County” is a song, not a poem, and that Bob Dylan is a musician, and that he shouldn’t be awarded a prize that is meant to be for writing.

Ryu Spaeth has either taken too many bong hits or played too many video games.

He links Dylan to Super Smash Brothers. Why?

He uses Pater’s idea, that all art aspires to music, and the idea that “the sound of a harmonica represents nothing more than the sound of a harmonica” to dismiss words which, as everyone knows, in a song, coincide with music. Does Spaeth actually believe that simply because pure music is pure, that words used in songs are not significant as words, as literature?  Why in the world would he think this?

Spaeth might as well say that poetry is not literature.

A song lyric absolutely is literature. Why is this even an argument?

There’s a guitar in the mix. So what?

A nation’s literature will always include its folk and popular songs—songs which express everything literature expresses.

And since this is true, songs with words cannot possibly be categorized with music, for Spaeth describes music as “an entirely different mode of expression that uses tools that are unavailable to the writer.”  So where in the world should song lyrics be categorized, if not with literature?  There’s no “category error,” as Mr. Spaeth insists.

Another reason giving Dylan the Nobel is an inspired choice: American folk music is great and it, too wins with this award, since Dylan comes out of it.

And, another reason: it raises the bar for songwriting.

Not every song Zimmerman wrote is great. But again, so what? He wrote iconic songs.

Scarriet has written a great deal about the relation between song lyrics and poetry.  The One Hundred Greatest Hippie Songs of All Time.  The Top One Hundred Popular Song Lyrics That Work As Poetry.  They still get tons of hits!

Poems and songs are closer to each other than we might think, and we shouldn’t be afraid to push them closer together—even if it is more challenging to write poetry that is popular, like song, and to write songs that are good, like poetry.

If you can dance to a poem, will it fail the critical test, and only please the popular taste?

Musical poetry fell away from the critical taste in the 1920s, when craven authority usurped traditional poetry; the coup took many material forms: painting, building, film, photography, morals, and government, and smashed its fist through everything sacred, whether it was Nazi rallies, war planes, or ambitious art fraud: lurid spectacle and bad taste became the rule; manipulation, panic, and electrical communication created the sad effect of a great panic, in which the sedate and the beautiful became devalued; the screams of ecstasy and pain invaded every grove.

The new authority was so perverse in its tastes, that a reversal of good and bad occurred almost instantaneously.  Man had been an elephant, peaceful and tough-skinned, but the clamor and noise of modern life triggered a stampede, in which the elephant became highly dangerous to himself and others—“I accuse” merged with “I follow”; the elephants needed to be moved—they moved, and individuality and civility both died.

Love with a long-term focus is good; love with a short-term focus is bad—but in a stampede, everything “short-term” tends to be seen as good; and so we see how panic not only ruins everything, it makes us seek our ruin.

We seek oppression, with furious indignation and uncontrolled self-pity; we seek hunger, with the diets of religious fanatics; we seek the critical, squeezed out of all popularity, led by fake, manipulated, elite praise; and finally, we seek the popular just for its popularity, though it contains no merit—which diminishes the capacity for pleasure itself.

This is how people behave in a stampede.

This is what occurred in the 20th century: Byron and Shelley were beaten up by little men.

Poetry ought to be popular—because popularity should be poetic, not crass, and this is how great democracy thrives, not by fiat, but by subtle art; we see the reverse happened in the 20th century, as the modernists donned hair shirts and spoke against the splendid beauties of the 19th century and the past in general. Modernism became puffed up about a moment, not understanding that no moment is “modern.”  The modernists wanted love, not the infatuation of the 19th century; but infatuation is love—there is no difference, except love is infatuation that lasts, and momentary modernism was against this whole concept (lasting) altogether.

Look at the limerick—in the 19th century or the 20th century, it is still a limerick, a form which is amusing, but will quickly weary the educated taste.

Rhetoric, and even thought itself, belong to the music of language; poetry was imprisoned in image in the early 20th century; poetry of music was mistakenly associated with narrow Victorianism. And poetry as poetry died, and Man went back to grunting.

When spheres make music, but poetry does not, there’s something rotten in Denmark.  And look what happened to Denmark’s music.  Bach to Brahms was 200 years of glory.  In a mere 100 more, death metal hammers out our demise.

It is not easy to make great art, to make great music, to make great poetry. But why make these things more difficult, by confusing the spatial with the temporal?

The stampede needs to stop.

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel might help.

I heard someone complain that Dylan was a “white guy.” This doesn’t deserve a response.

Another beef against Zimmerman is to list authors considered great (in the opinion of the indignant commentator) who didn’t win—but this has nothing to do with Dylan and songwriting.

Finally, and this is heard often: this was merely a bone thrown to the Boomers, an old, failed, generation of influential losers. “Stale bong water,” as Spaeth, perhaps angling for a Nobel himself, puts it.  I recall that in the 1960s, LBJ was vilified because he bombed Vietnam—the protesters didn’t care that he was a Democrat.  Republicans and Democrats—neither one got a free pass. In today’s post-Boomer, “enlightened” atmosphere, the intellectual Left is simply the lapdog of the Democratic party—as the country sinks.

To contemplate the difference between song lyrics and poetry has endless philosophical interest.

If a poem already has a tune written for it, no matter how good it is as a stand-alone-poem, does that seal it off forever from us as a poem? Because it came into existence with its melody attached, it is forever condemned to never be a poem. Are there such things?  Poor unfortunate songs, forever exiled from poetry unfairly? And if not unfairly, can we then say true poetry will forever be the kind of thing that can never wear a melody?

Is there a realm where great songs and great poems touch but do not meet, since we know critically acclaimed poems are not songs and songs are not critically acclaimed poems?

To merely state that songs are not poetry, and therefore the Nobel Prize for Literature should not go to a songwriter, is inane.

To demonstrate how Dylan was the middle of American music: John Jacob Niles, the great folksinger born in 1892, wrote “Go Away From My Window,” a lovely and haunting ballad, which was first released in 1930.

Go away from my window
Go away from my door
Go away way way from my bedside
And bother me no more.

As the melancholy song continues, we find out “go away” is spoken by a heartbroken beloved, and one intuits this right away by the sad and beautiful melody of the song—which makes the lyrics even more heartbreaking.

I’ll tell all my brothers
And all my sisters, too.
The reason that my heart is broke
Is all because of you

How can one do better than this?

This is what Dylan does.

Go ‘way from my window,
Leave at your own chosen speed
I’m not the one you want, babe
I’m not the one you need
You say you’re lookin for someone
Who’s never weak but always strong
To protect you and defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain’t me, babe,
No, no no it ain’t me babe,
It ain’t me you’re lookin for babe

Dylan removes the sentimentality: no longer is it: Leave me, because you broke my heart. It is Leave me, because you want too much from me.

The tortured, hopeless, brooding entanglement of love-hurt break-up, in spite of the love, in the Niles song, is replaced by a pragmatic, disentangling break-up, where there is no love, but only dependency.  The speaker in the Dylan song, despite the echoed phrase, “Go away from my window,” and the melancholy spirit of the song and the words, (“babe” is a tender address) is saying something entirely different from the speaker of the Niles song.

Both songs practice “escape from emotion” (the poetic virtue expressed by T.S. Eliot in 1922).  The Niles song says “go away” instead of “I love you.”  The Dylan song says “go away” and means it, without irony.  The interest lies in the way the Dylan song rewrites the Niles song, but Dylan also uses Eliot’s advice: the “escape” from emotion in the Dylan song’s farewell lecture founders in the traditional structure of the sad love song itself—Dylan is fighting against the form he’s working in, while adding to its possibilities.

It is certainly true that the musical accompaniment will drive home the point I am making about these songs even more—but this doesn’t mean that in these remarks, I am not talking about literature.

 

SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100 IS HERE AGAIN!!!

Image result for masked ball in painting

1. Matthew Zapruder: Hurricane Matthew. Hired by the Times to write regular poetry column. Toilet papered the house of number 41.

2. Edward Hirsch: Best American Poetry 2106 Guest Editor.

3. Christopher Ricks: Best living critic in English? His Editorial Institute cancelled by bureaucrats at Boston University.

4. Joie Bose: Living Elizabeth Barrett Browning of India.

5. Sherman Alexie: Latest BAP editor. Still stung from the Chinese poet controversy.

6. Jorie Graham: Boylston Professor of Oratory and Rhetoric at Harvard

7. W.S Merwin: Migration: New and Selected Poems, 2005

8. Terrance Hayes: “I am not sure how a man with no eye weeps.”

9. George Bilgere: “I consider George Bilgere America’s Greatest Living Poet.” –Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer

10. Billy Collins: Interviewed Paul McCartney in 2014

11. Stephen Cole: Internet Philosopher poet. “Where every thing hangs/On the possibility of understanding/And time, thin as shadows,/Arrives before your coming.”

12. Richard Howard: National Book Award Winner for translation of Les Fleurs du Mal in 1984.

13. William Logan: The kick-ass critic. Writes for the conservative New Criterion.

14. Sharon Olds: Stag’s Leap won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

15. Nalini Priyadarshni: “Denial won’t redeem you/Or make you less vulnerable/My unwavering love just may.”  Her new book is Doppelgänger in my House.

16. Stephen Dobyns: “identical lives/begun alone, spent alone, ending alone”

17. Kushal Poddar: “You wheel out your mother’s latte silk/into the picnic of moths.” His new book is Scratches Within.

18. Jameson Fitzpatrick: “Yes, I was jealous when you threw the glass.”

19. Marilyn Chin: “It’s not that you are rare/Nor are you extraordinary//O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree”

20. E J Koh: “I browsed CIA.gov/for jobs”

21. Cristina Sánchez López: “If the moon knows dying, a symbol of those hearts, which, know using their silence as it was an impossible coin, we will have to be like winter, which doesn’t accept any cage, except for our eyes.”

22. Mark Doty: His New and Selected won the National Book Award in 2008.

23. Meghan O’ Rourke: Also a non-fiction writer, her poetry has been published in the New Yorker.

24. Alicia Ostriker: Born in Brooklyn in 1937.

25. Kay Ryan: “One can’t work by/ lime light.”

26. A.E. Stallings: Rhyme, rhyme, rhyme.

27. Dana Gioia: Champions Longfellow.

28. Marilyn Hacker: Antiquarian bookseller in London in the 70s.

29. Mary Oliver: “your one wild and precious life”

30. Anne Carson: “Red bird on top of a dead pear tree kept singing three notes and I sang back.”

31. Mary Jo Bang: “A breeze blew a window open on a distant afternoon.”

32. Forrest Gander: “Smoke rises all night, a spilled genie/who loves the freezing trees/but cannot save them.”

33. Stephen Burt: Author of Randall Jarrell and his Age. (2002)

34. Ann Lauterbach: Her latest book is Under the Sign (2013)

35. Richard Blanco: “One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes/tired from work”

36. Kenneth Goldsmith: “Humidity will remain low, and temperatures will fall to around 60 degrees in many spots.”

37. Rita Dove: Her Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry is already 5 years old.

38. Stephen Sturgeon: “blades of the ground feathered black/in moss, in the sweat of the set sun”

39. Marjorie Perloff: Her book, Unoriginal Genius was published in 2010.

40. Kyle Dargan: His ghazal, “Points of Contact,” published in NY Times: “He means sex—her love’s grip like a fist.”

41. Alan Cordle: Foetry.com and Scarriet founder.

42. Lyn Hejinian: “You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.”

43. Stephen Dunn: Lines of Defense: Poems came out in 2014.

44. Ocean Vuong: “Always another hour to kill—only to beg some god/to give it back”

45. Marie Howe: “I am living. I remember you.”

46. Vanessa Place: Controversial “Gone with the Wind” tweets.

47. Helen Vendler: Reviewed Collected Poems of John Crowe Ransom, editor Ben Mazer, in the NYR this spring.

48. Martin Espada: Vivas To Those Who Have Failed is his new book of poems from Norton.

49. Carol Muske-Dukes: Poet Laureate of California from 2008 to 2011.

50. Sushmita Gupta: Poet and artist. Belongs to the Bollyverses renaissance. Sushness is her website.

51. Brad Leithauser: A New Formalist from the 80s, he writes for the Times, the New Criterion and the New Yorker.

52. Julie Carr: “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

53. Kim Addonizio: Tell Me (2000) was nominated for a National Book Award.

54. Glynn Maxwell: “This whiteness followed me at the speed of dawn.”

55. Simon Seamount: His epic poem on the lives of philosophers is Hermead.

56. Maggie Dietz: “Tell me don’t/ show me and wipe that grin/ off your face.”

57. Robert Pinsky: “When you were only a presence, at Pleasure Bay.”

58. Ha Jin: “For me the most practical thing to do now/is not to worry about my professorship.”

59. Peter Gizzi: His Selected Poems came out in 2014.

60. Mary Angela Douglas: “the steps you take in a mist are very small”

61. Robyn Schiff: A Woman of Property is her third book.

62. Karl Kirchwey: “But she smiled at me and began to fade.”

63. Ben Mazer: December Poems just published. “Life passes on to life the raging stars”

64. Cathy Park Hong: Her battle cry against Ron Silliman’s reactionary Modernists: “Fuck the avant-garde.”

65. Caroline Knox: “Because he was Mozart,/not a problem.”

66. Henri Cole: “There is no sun today,/save the finch’s yellow breast”

67. Lori Desrosiers: “I wish you were just you in my dreams.”

68. Ross Gay: Winner of the 2016 $100,000 Kingsley Tufts award.

69. Sarah Howe: Loop of Jade wins the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.

70. Mary Ruefle: Published by Wave Books. A favorite of Michael Robbins.

71. CA Conrad: His blog is (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals.

72. Matvei Yankelevich: “Who am I alone. Missing my role.”

73. Fanny Howe: “Only that which exists can be spoken of.”

74. Cole Swensen: “Languor. Succor. Ardor. Such is the tenor of the entry.”

75. Layli Long Soldier: “Here, the sentence will be respected.”

76. Frank Bidart: Student and friend of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

77. Michael Dickman: “Green sky/Green sky/Green sky”

78. Deborah Garrison: “You must praise the mutilated world.”

79. Warsan Shire: “I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes/On my face they are still together.”

80. Joe Green: “I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.”

81. Joan Houlihan: Took part in Franz Wright Memorial Reading in Harvard Square in May.

82. Frannie Lindsay: “safe/from even the weak sun’s aim.”

83. Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright: Translates contemporary German poetry.

84. Noah Cicero: This wry, American buddhist poet’s book is Bi-Polar Cowboy.

85. Jennifer Barber: “The rose nude yawns, rolls over in the grass,/draws us closer with a gorgeous laugh.”

86. Tim Cresswell: Professor of history at Northeastern and has published two books of poems.

87. Thomas Sayers Ellis: Lost his job at Iowa.

88. Valerie Macon: Surrendered her North Carolina Poet Laureate to the cred-meisters.

89: David Lehman: Best American Poetry editor hates French theory, adores tin pan alley songs, and is also a poet .”I vote in favor/of your crimson nails”

90: Ron Silliman: Silliman’s Blog since 2002.

91: Garrison Keillor: The humorist is also a poetry anthologist.

92: Tony Hoagland: “I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain/or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade”

93. Alfred Corn: One of the most distinguished living poets.

94. Philip Nikolayev: He values spontaneity and luck in poetry, logic in philosophy.

95. Laura Kasischke: Read her poem, “After Ken Burns.”

96. Daipayan Nair: “I was never a part of the society. I have always created one.”

97. Claudia Rankine: Her prize-winning book is Citizen.

98. Solmaz Sharif: Her book Look is from Graywolf.

99. Morgan Parker: Zapruder published her in the NY Times.

100. Eileen Myles: She makes all the best-of lists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOLLYVERSES

The poet Joie Bose is also a professor. But she writes like—a poet.

The American 2016 presidential election, which, thanks to both major party candidates, is a mud wrestle, has not yet become amateur. Professionals are ever present in politics, in business, in war, and always will be.

Poetry, however, is now an amateur activity through and through.

Love poems on the internet these days give more pleasure than the obscure, indecipherable poems published in the New York Times.

The poet John Keats, a Romantic Titan, one of the ten greatest poets to write in English, once a fixture in the American college curriculum, and now growing less known every day—I imagine you could stop a thousand people on the street and none would know the name Keats—once remarked that there was something beautiful about a quarrel, and we all know what he means; you can find energy and drama alive among the homeless in the streets, such that it rivals anything got up, professionally, on the stage, in terms of body language and dialogue.

The same beauty, for me, applies to amateur love poems written by respectable women.

We recently lost the distinguished (if perhaps overrated) British poet Geoffrey Hill. The sudden demise of Hill’s Editorial Institute at Boston University, ended by a BU provost and a dean, as the Institute’s co-founder, and highly respected critic, and professor at BU, Christopher Ricks, helplessly watched, might signal, to some, the death of poetry as a professional pursuit.

But poetry lost its professional standing a long time ago.

There’s two underlying reasons for this, and it has to do with a perception of professionalism itself.

First. Professionalism has nothing to do with elitism—it is that which best allows mundane daily life to carry on: the concert in which Mozart is played well enough to make us feel warm inside; the democratic election process which defies a revolution or a coup; the smooth functioning of trains and planes; the vaccination given without too much inconvenience, or pain. Politics, the fussing about the economy and the law, is professional by default. It has to be. It defines professional, and once that’s gone, civilization is gone.

And second. There are some glorious things which were never meant to be professional, like a sudden outbreak of a passing quarrel, or a passing love affair, or a passing poem. And when they become professionalized, they die.

The glorious amateur. The mundane professional. Sometimes friends. Sometimes enemies. Always two very different things.

Poetry ceased being glorious the instant it tried to be professional.

When it became a “You Can Be A Writer! And Be Published!”course advertised in a newspaper.When it became swallowed up by the university as a creative writing program.

The greatest poetry has always been written by men and women getting in trouble, living busy lives, doing other things: climbing the Alps with Byron, sailing the Mediterranean with Shelley, dying with Keats, escaping a tyrannical father with Elizabeth Barrett, writing offensive reviews and fiction with Poe, busily hiding away with Dickinson, busily falling apart with Plath, busily falling in love with Millay.

The great 19th century poets, Barrett, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Poe, Dickinson, and Tennyson, were love poets—because poetry belongs, first and foremost, to love, and this is what makes poetry fully and gloriously amateur, and, in the most actual terms imaginable, glorious.

There is always—and we see this a great deal in the 20th century, up to our present day—the deeply earnest attempt to make poetry professional—which means making poetry a vehicle for politics (racism the new brash poetry topic)—an attempt which fails, not because of insincerity, or a lack of talent or education, but simply because poetry’s glory does not lie in the political, professional realm; the attempts to immerse poetry in frank, political rhetoric inevitably produces boring poems. The newspaper is for boring topics, frankly discussed; the poem is for something else.  Some get this.  Most don’t.

The best poem is the one which exists in the private sphere, which is written because a private citizen, contemplating their own experience, bursts forth with it, and tells a truth simultaneously private and universal, because it has to be written—not a poem which will be written, because the contemporary and the political demand it.

Politics, the professional river, unclean and unstoppable, will not have its course altered by poetry; many politicians these days are sexual predators or war predators; in the political realm these predators exist, and poetry has no chance if it attempts to invade the political realm; poetry belongs to the realm of love, and love is the atmosphere in which the sexual predator will be exposed and die. And who will speak up for love, if not poetry? Don’t expect it from speeches on racism or the economy, or from sex-joke sitcoms. Poetry is the true “policeman” of love.

We see poems published all the time which address thorny subjects, obscure subjects, political subjects, which attempt to address political wrongs, and though some of them, if they are explicitly indignant enough, elicit cheers, none of them, frankly, change anything, and, in the meantime, amateur poetry of private love and wisdom withers, and is ignored.

Well, not quite. And this is the good news.

Amateur poetry of private love and wisdom lives. It lives on the Internet.

Even as professional attempts at poetry continue with their pointy-headed, ineffective, obtuseness and obscurity.

Reading the web, I find the best poems are self-published, appearing on my feed without ceremony, and rarely the ones “linked” to an institutional, vast, cliquey, ostentatious tower.

Why is that? For the reasons given in this essay.

Here’s an example from Daipayan Nair, a short but effective poem:

I cannot smell
anything new, any longer.

It’s all me
in different places.

This short work by Nair falls under the category of insightful, self-aware, private wisdom, rather than love. Wisdom is a topic India does not fear, and private wisdom, or honesty, is very close to private love. India right now, in English, on the internet, is producing better work than England or the United States in their professional guises, which may be a remarkable claim, and all the more remarkable because it’s true. Perhaps this is because the West, in its post-modernism frenzy, simply has no belief in wisdom anymore, or a belief in love; and America, especially, has backed itself into a corner, turning its back on its relatively short history, abandoning the 19th century, in its 20th century modernist revolution—leaving itself very little that is traditional or time-honored; while India, with a much longer history, is more relaxed and assimilative, and much less historically cynical, and can still bring the accessible magic. So you have Indian poets self-publishing in English, out-performing the “professional” Americans.

What we like about Nair’s poem, beyond the fact that it is instantly comprehensible, and trades in none of this elitist, “difficulty” nonsense, and has none of the prickly, obscure language which ruins so many American poems, is that it fits the poem we described above—it feels like something written while the poet was busy doing other things; it does not feel professional and slaved over, even as it feels—somehow—necessary and important, that it had to be written. We like it. We like it very much. And we’ll put it up against the lengthier rig-a-marole of an Ashbery, for instance, any day. Perhaps this is comparing apples and oranges. But we like these apples.

Daipayan Nair is a wry, witty and highly prolific poet. He’s on the right track. The amateur one.

The women of India who write their impassioned verses on Facebook live remarkable, impassioned, beautiful lives, and their poems spring directly from their lives, not from any guarded, post-modern sensibility learned in college. These modern Elizabeth Barrett Brownings give immense pleasure from a world of timeless living put quickly and casually into poems. These are not workshop poems squeezed out into a box labeled 2016; these are poems that are poems not because of when they were written, but because they are—poems. Elizabeth Barrett made the 19th century better by her poems; the time didn’t write the poems; she did.

Joie Bose, not belonging to any school or movement or political party or university department, just puts up sonnet after sonnet on the Internet. Here’s one. Not perfectly written. Dashed off, perhaps. But God, if this isn’t an expression of genius:

Sonnet 7

Let’s count the stars, it’s dark now;
Let’s just count nothing else,
Not the lies that became thorns and pierced us,
No not that string of red pearls, glistening.
Let’s not count one by one all the alibis,
Those bouquets in those crystal vases,
Paint smiles on every eyes that look upon;
What else do we have left to give them?
The sun set on us, our work is done,
Our flaming heat gives way to the cold,
All eyes will shut, sleep shall descend,
We had been, what dreams were made of.
Know now this is eternal night, memories glitter
Let’s just count nothing else, just the stars.

18th September, 2016

And if you think this is an accident, here’s more of the sequence—which appears a couple of days later, on September 20th:

Sonnet 12

I will pray before I leave the earth
As I pray every time I leave my body,
I will leave a shadow as I leave the stage
As I leave a poem after every act.
I will pray that you will understand
As I pray every time you misunderstand,
I will leave you a shade in a bright tomorrow
As I leave you shade under this blazing sun.
You will talk of me as you do of history
You will be kind and the bitterness will be gone,
You will hold me in your tear-strewn heart
You will herald me as your guiding star.
Age will give me what my youth has sought
And I will give you then, what I now cannot.

 

Sushmita Gupta, like Joie Bose, is a mother from India, I am familiar with her only from Facebook; she is a painter, designer, and an amateur poet. Which means you probably won’t see her poetry in The New Yorker any time soon. Which also happens to mean she is very good. She writes the kind of poetry which, without any fuss or intellection, fills up your heart. Her lovely blog is called Sushness. This recent poem of hers reminds me of Goethe. Her unorthodox use of the comma slows things down even more, as the poem moves slowly over us, and into us. Almost like something God had passed along:

 

Clouds

Just when,
I was all high strung,
And impatient,
And craving speed,
And burning passion,
And electrifying drama,
And singular attention,
And affirmation,
The dark,
And sedate clouds,
Rolled in,
From afar,
Showing off,
Places and peoples,
It had already touched,
And transformed.
All at once,
I was calmed,
By the cool,
On my face,
And being.
All at once,
I dropped,
Desire,
And desperation.
I was naked.
I was bared,
Into simplicity,
Into a being,
Pure,
In formlessness,
Pure,
In not wanting.

 

Nalini Priyadarshni is also a mother, who explores love poetry as an art in itself, where love feeds poetry—and poety feeds love—in a mutual feedback loop of pure ideal experiment; the passion is willed; this may be considered naive poetry, and the topic (love poetry) might be seen as common and simple. But that is the point. A true intellectual is not afraid to be common and simple.

Your Words

Words born in the recesses of your heart, I  treasure
even before they rise in your throat
or find release from your lips
I know them from another place, another time
All that you say or leave unsaid for another day
I catch in my cupped palms and drink deep
I know its taste from another place, another time
Your silence, when it breathes heavy on my neck
I weave a song along its tendrils
I know its melody from another place, another time
There is no putting in words what can only be felt
live it and trust it will find its way to me
I know its footsteps from another place, another time

 

This poem by Priyadarshni expresses a fanatical faith in love. The sensual “throat,” “lips,” “neck” and “tendrils” are heightened in their sensuality precisely because the poem as a whole is a beautiful desert of hope—love is absent, even as it is intimately present. There is a thrill as the poet strains to transcend love in the poem—a poem remarkable in the manner it expresses love in a faithful underlying of absence/presence. Her book is Doppelgänger in my House, published by the Poetry Society of India.

So ends our brief survey of Bollyverses, available on the Internet, which lives under the radar of professional American poetry, and yet rivals, and even surpasses, American contemporary and academic/program writing, as significant and pleasurable English speaking poetry.

Daipayan Nair, Joie Bose, Sushmita Gupta, and Nalini Priyadarshni are four of the more remarkable poets who have randomly come to Scarriet’s attention—and we are very glad they have.

doppelganger-in-my-house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEN MAZER READING AT THE GROLIER

Ben Mazer: Neo-Romantic genius.  When will he be critic-anointed?

The previous evening we had caught Sir Christopher Ricks at Boston University.

We enjoyed Ben Mazer reading his poems at the Grolier Bookstore in Harvard Square more. (9/26/14)

Ricks presented a talk on T.S. Eliot and World War One—fine topic! Corrupt, war-mongering Modernism, blood dripping everywhere.

But Ricks wrapped himself in the mummy cloths of New Criticism: we got trivial close-readings of a few obscure poems and the snoring of undergraduates.

History was put in an eye-dropper: “a poem,” Ricks opined, is not necessarily about a major event, like World War One; the War could be about the poem.

Now this was rather nice, actually, but this was not Ricks’ main thesis; it was served up nonchalantly during the questions at the end, to make the dogs run after meat, perhaps so Ricks could slip more easily away, and leave us amazed and wanting more.  The idea wasn’t meant to be analyzed—perhaps because on real inspection it simply falls apart?  Perfect, this idea, for the New Critics and the Moderns: look away from their odious views, look away from their hideous lives, read their poems as the reality.  Oh brother.

But Mazer did his doctoral study with Ricks, and Mazer is a poet (not a seedy Modern; an innocent Romantic playing with the Modern) who can make the world seem to be about his poem.  As a philosophy, the fact of this may fail, but in the hands of Mazer’s seeming, it works.

So Ricks and Mazer seem (who really can tell?) to have been a good fit; no pressure for Mazer to get rid of New Criticism’s fog: Mr. Mazer is now one of the best poets in the country—perhaps the best—at the type of poem which pins you to the ground with its language and yet can comfort you with its mesmerizing, suggestive, hazy, uncanny, poignant, sweet, expansive anxiety. Mazer achieves that ‘stupefying intelligence,’ that pleasant drowning quality in his poetry—it disarms the sternest intellectuals and burns novices to the core. He is a Quietist with tricks.

The first poem Mazer read (“Cirque D’etoiles” defeated Derek Walcott in a by now famous Scarriet March Madness Tournament) quickly established for the audience at the Grolier that here was a living Romantic.  In the 1960s, there were pop singers like Robin Gibb and Donovan who made us think of the Romantic poets; but poetry has never managed to unearth the uncanny magic of a Keats, a Shelley, a Coleridge, a Byron.  Poetry that conveys intense emotion—naked, unguarded emotion, in addition to an almost witty, 18th century poetic swagger, awash in a certain atmospheric excess, unashamed of its emotion because it owns a certain quasi-original something else:

CIRQUE D’ETOILES

And after all is made a frozen waste
of snow and ice, of boards and rags. . .
if I should see one spark of permanent,
… one chink of blue among the wind-blown slags
approaching thus, and mirroring my surmise,
one liquid frozen permanence, your eyes. . .
should meet you at the end of time
and never end. . .
for always, even past death, you are my friend. . . .
and when at last it comes, inevitable,
that you shall sit in furs at high table
(for what other fate can one expect?)
dispensing honours, correlating plans
for every cause, for education, science. . .
what will I miss? how can I not be there?
who see you sputtering wordless in despair. . .
as I do now “miss nothing, nothing”
and to know you are some other man’s
(the stupid jerk), who once had your compliance. . .
and do these things ever end? (and if so, where?)
I ask myself, and should I feel despair?
to know, to love, to know, and still not care?
in winter, spring, and summer, and in fall,
on land or sea, at any time at all,
to know that half the stars on each night shine,
the other half are in your eyes, and mine. . .
and what is there? And what, I ask, is there?
Only these hurt and wounded orbs I see
nestled against a frozen stark brick wall. . .
and there are you, and there is me,
and that is all, that is all. . .
How from this torment can I wrestle free?
I can’t. . . . for thus is my soliloquy.
And you shall sit there serving backers tea.
And running ladies circles. Think of me. . .
Think of me, when like a mountainous waste
the night’s long dreaming stretches to a farther coast
where nothing is familiar. . . two paths that may have crossed
discover what had long been past recall. . .
that nothing’s really changed at all,
that we are here!
Here among flowering lanterns of the sea,
finite, marking each vestige of the city
with trailing steps, with wonder, and with pity!
And laugh, and never say that you feel shitty,
are one whose heart is broken, like this ditty.
And think that there is nothing there to miss.
Think “I must not miss a thing. I must not miss
the wraps, the furs, the teaspoon, or the kiss.”
And end in wishes. And leave not this abyss.
For all is one, beginning as it’s done.
Never forgetting this, till I am no one.
There is no formula that can forget. . .
these eyes pierce though ten thousand suns have set,
and will keep setting. . . now tuck in your head,
the blankets folded, and lay down in your bed.
And stir the stars, long after we are dead.

Is this really clever illusion or is it real?  Ben Mazer’s lasting poetic reputation will depend on how much he is able, in the coming years, to convince us it is real—as he struggles towards a new Formalism—a hateful term which we use here only for a momentary and crude illustration.

On this evening at the Grolier, Mazer also read some of his sonnets from “The King,” and then new poems (which we can’t reproduce here, unfortunately), one of which featured a lovely refrain, but still in the mad swirl of Mazer’s style; and yet it seemed to us a new oldness was there; a poem really striving to stick in the mind as poems used to do, and comfortable, as well, in its metaphysical aspirations. We asked him to read it again, during the questions, and he graciously complied.

Mazer fielded questions from the audience afterwards profoundly; it stirred the audience; it even caused awe.

The elders in the audience asked about the rhymes; Mazer blew them away when he said simply of his poetry, “It all rhymes. It’s all rhyme.”  He said this as a poet, not a critic, and after hearing him read his poetry, and hearing his remark—an off-the-cuff, almost exasperated tone, with a certain happy irritation—we (the whole audience, I think) got it.  It’s all rhyme.  And he added, “A great critic told me, there are no rules.”

Another question: can you…explain…for us…please….the “mystery” of the “tension” which vibrates in your poetry?  Where lies this “tension?” the gentleman asked.

Mazer, reluctantly, it seemed, came up with this on the spot: “The tension is the meaning of the poet/poem versus the meaning of the world.”

We liked it.

If Christopher Ricks has helped to create this monster, this Mazer, who can make us wonder, (a younger Mazer studied with the late Seamus Heaney) it recommends Sir Ricks to us more than anything else Ricks may have done.

SCARRIET’S NEW HOT 1OO!!

1. John Ashbery –Still the most respected living U.S. poet
2. Billy Collins    –Still the most entertaining living U.S. poet
3. Kenneth Goldsmith  –Does the avant-garde still exist?
4. Stephen Burt  –Is Criticism respected anymore?
5. Marjorie Perloff   –Has avant-garde criticism any controversies left?
6. Helen Vendler  –the 21st century Pater
7. Harold Bloom  –the 21st century Emerson
8. Frank Bidart  –cooked until raw
9. Sharon Olds  –the honesty of woman
10. Robert Pinsky  –the 21st century Untermeyer
11. Paul Muldoon  –New Yorker poetry editor
12. David Lehman –Best American Poetry editor
13. Don Share  –Poetry magazine editor
14. Al Filreis  –Video Education Guru
15. Garrison Keillor  –Folksy Poetry Lives!
16. William Logan  –Knife Wielding Critic
17. Anne Carson –Brainy School
18. Ron Silliman –avant-fustian, necessary
19. Natasha Trethewey –Second term U.S. Poet Laureate
20. Kay Ryan –Cute School
21. Jorie Graham –Sky-Is-Falling School
22. Mary Oliver –21st century Wordsworth
23. Derek Walcott –21st century Southey
24. W.S. Merwin –21st century W.S. Merwin
25. Tony Hoagland –plain-talking hipster poetry
26. Philip Nikolayev —Fulcrum editor, Russian translation
27. Franz Wright –21st century John Clare
28. D.A. Powell –the quite good gay poet
29. Marilyn Chin –de Stael of Asian chick poetry
30. Charles Bernstein –Langwhich
31. David Orr –NYTimes Poetry reviewer
32. Rita Dove –anthologist who freaked out Vendler and Perloff
33. Erin Belieu –VIDA
34. Michael Robbins –“Where competency ends,” Ange Mlinko “begins”
35. Kevin  Young –Studied with Heaney
36. Ben Mazer  –Studied with Heaney
37. Ron Padget  –LA Times Book Prize
38. Lucie Brock-Broido –rococo
39. Louise Gluck –quiet confessionalism
40. Rosanna Warren  –Robert Penn Warren’s little girl
41. Christopher Ricks –professor at B.U.
42. Anis Shivani  –MFA smasher
43. Amy King –twist and shout
44. John Koethe –a philosopher poet
45. Carl Phillips  –teaches at the college founded by TS Eliot’s grandad.
46. Charles Simic –compares elegant checkmates in chess to elegant endings of poems…
47. Robert Bly –at Harvard with Rich, Koch, O’Hara, Hall, Ashbery…
48. Vanessa Place –avant-garde book of dollar bills
49. Dana Gioia –the essay that shamed us all…
50. Robert Hass –has a book, “20th century pleasures”
51. Simon Armitage –leading Brit
52. Frederick Seidel –controversial, 1962, first book prize
53. Cole Swensen –post-Language school
54. Matthew Dickman –works as a baker
55. James Tate –teaches at Amherst
56. Lyn Hejinian –“it is not imperfect to have died”
57. Eileen Myles –diary poetry
58. Geoffrey Hill –gnarled syntax
59. Paul Hoover –institutional ‘new’
60. Alfred Corn –Harold Bloom called him ‘visionary’
61. Rae Armantrout  –avant-garde, in brief
62. Terrance Hayes –began as a visual artist
63. Henri Cole –a Thom Gunn award winner
64. Seth Abramson –pro-MFA lawyer poet
65. Peter Gizzi –tenuous lyric
66. Mark McGurl —Program Era author
67. Janet Holmes –we can never remember how to spell Ahsahta…
68. George Bilgere –Billy Collins in waiting…
69. Matthew Zapruder –editor of Wave books
70. Ange Mlinko –see #34
71. Cate Marvin –VIDA, too
72. Maya Angelou –remember her?
73. Brenda Hillman –“Allow form.”
74. Galway Kinnell –why don’t these legends write tell-alls?
75. Dorothea Lasky –teaches at Columbia
76. Nikki Finney –“us giving us away”
77. Noah Eli Gordon –#34 called his work “simply dead.”
78. K. Silem Mohammed –was a featured writer for Blog Harriet
79. Ariana Reines –“I know that really beautiful women are never alone.”
80. Richard Wilbur –Old Man Rhyme
81. Rowan Ricardo Phillips —When Blackness Rhymes with Blackness
82. Garrick Davis –editor, Critical Flame
83. Alan Cordle –the foetry revolution!
84. J.D. McClatchy —Yale Review editor
85. Philip Levine –‘Whitman of the industrial heartland’
86. Clive James –from down under
87. Robert Archambeau –his blog is Samizdat
88. Matthea Harvey –skittery queen?
89. Laura Kasischke –“not only the hysterical giggling of girls, but the trembling of the elderly”
90. Paul Legault –The Emily Dickinson “translations.”
91. Lynn Xu –Waste Land’s child
92. Laura Jensen –Donald Justice-era Iowa Workshop grad
93. CA Conrad –pop-inflected Bukowski
94. Jynne Martin –“Draw any beast by starting with a circle!”
95. Traci Brimhall –believes in The Next Big Thing
96. Adam Fitzgerald —amour de soi
97. Cyrus Cassells –Lambda Literary award winner
98. Richard Siken –“no one will ever want to sleep with you
99. Naomi Shihab Nye  –fights terrorism & prejudice
100. U.S. Dhuga —Battersea, baby!

YAWN TAKES BISHOP: ELIZABETH BISHOP AT ONE HUNDRED

Just as sitting in a train traveling 20 MPH can make us think a plane traveling 200 mph is flying backwards because of nearer objects we are passing, so a minor figure fawned over in our day can seem major.

Elizabeth Bishop is a spectacular example of near and dear fawning distorting actual merit.  She’s not even a good writer, much less a great one, but she has mattered to a clique which seems to be growing by the hour: the friendship with Miss Moore and Mr. Lowell has snowballed into a situation where all the Critics have fallen asleep.

What a ghastly creature Elizabeth Bishop was!

She understood the universe by the age of six (“In the Waiting Room”).

She had “three loved houses”—one, apparently, wasn’t enough (“One Art”).

She ridiculed what she perceived as the greaseball working class (“Filling Station”).

She overheard the conversations of regular folk riding buses with a thinly disguised, haughty scorn (“The Moose”).

Bishop feeds our inner spinster aunt who not-so-secretly hates and lords it over all (“those awful hanging breasts!”) with delicious ease.

To Elizabeth Bishop, actual human beings going about their business always elicited the faint whiff of gasoline.

Elizabeth feeds our aesthetically-hidden inner snob.

This would be fine, if her aesthetic project wasn’t also shallow and condescending.  After all, the quaint aesthetics of magical symbolism which she indulged in can lend a certain amount of pleasure; but rather than beauty, she merely proferred the current fashion of WC Williams modernism then extant, so we get ‘The Red Wheel Barrow’ writ large: ordinary objects are everywhere “glazed” with something or other (oil or gasoline, mostly) and we get that patronizing tone of the Children’s Book author, constantly telling us the wheel barrow was red and the chickens, white and everything is seen not through our eyes, but hers, the over-descriptive one.   We get description, description, description and no thought, or, substituting for thought, a symbol, like a moose, or a fish, that we are supposed to ooh and aah over, never suspecting the poet has really nothing to convey but a bunch of cranky prejudices and snotty preferences. She likes beaches .  She doesn’t like filling stations.

What should one expect, after all, from someone who had the world figured out by age six, was miserable all her life, and had profitable friendships with the brittle Marianne Moore and the psychotic Robert Lowell?

Last night at an auditorium at Boston University, twenty members of po-biz sat on folding-chairs on a small stage, before a scattered audience of about 200, and mostly without fanfare, read poems and excerpts of letters and prose with varying degrees of intensity.

Two readers called what they read “perfect.”

All the readers felt rather pressed for time, since there were twenty of them, but that didn’t stop some from going on much too long.

Anything more than a page felt winding and obscure.

The delicate lyrics worked the best, but even there it was apparent we were not in the presence of a major poet; even “One Art,” her most famous rhymed work, is spoiled by that odd interjection—write it!—which doesn’t work when read aloud.

The evening was bland, except for two moments:

One female poet attempted to refute Dana Gioia’s recent remarks that Bishop was not much of an abstract thinker and she made the mistake of reading a passage of Bishop’s on the concept of time which was so befuddling and weak, it only proved Gioia’s point.

Christopher Ricks—no one introduced themselves, as one was supposed to match up the arrangement of the readers’ stage-seating with the order of the readers listed in the program—but we all know Christopher Ricks—Professor Ricks felt impelled to announce that Bishop appreciated prose as much as poetry and proceeded to point out that poetry has not, and will never, solve the problem of the prose paragraph.  Prose, Ricks, said, can quote poetry, but poetry cannot quote prose.  A pity this didn’t get discussed, and then Ricks read an exquisite one page prose excerpt from a Bishop story which quoted Keats.  At times, Bishop the aesthete emerges, which all aesthetes can love.  She just needs to be presented correctly, by thoughtful fellows like Christopher Ricks, who showed in a matter of seconds, the pure charm that is Christopher Ricks.

If all this seems demeaning and even sexist, it should be remembered how really sexist the Modernists were: not only did men, in terms of pure numbers, dominate po-biz in the 20th century, but the sexism is even deeper and more insidious than supposed: the male poets would decide what women poets would be allowed to have respectful poetic reputations.

The Bishop who loves Keats, we love.  But the Bishop we were meant to love, like the Marianne Moore we were meant to love, is the one not quite as good as Robert Lowell.

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