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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHUMKI SHARMA OF CALCUTTA IS MARCH MADNESS CHAMPION!

AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME

WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

This is the FINAL FOUR, Chumki Sharma, Maura Stanton, Lori Desrosiers, Mary Angela Douglas, with the final order of the final four, and champion!
Thanks to all who played.  Congratulations, Chumki  Sharma!

THE FINAL FOUR!!!

WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING —MAURA STANTON

THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC —MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS

I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS —LORI DESROSIERS

AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME —CHUMKI SHARMA

Marla Muse: So great to see women rocking this Scarriet Poetry March Madness tournament!

But does it matter, Marla? Doesn’t poetry transcend gender, transcend everything, in the name of beauty?

Marla Muse: Poetry transcends nothing! Transcendence is a mere intellectual idea! Poetry is the opposite of transcendence—it is more earthy than anyone realizes. It does matter that women are winning!

Okay, Marla. You don’t have to get upset.

Marla Muse: Oh Tom, you know I love you.  You’ve run a beautiful tournament. We’ve seen so many beautiful lines. And look at these lines in the final four!

Yes, we should congratulate everyone, now.  And these last four.  They are impressive.

Marla Muse: It’s so exciting. I have no words.

 

POETRY MARCH MADNESS ELITE EIGHT!!!!!

NORTH

MAURA STANTON —WHO MADE ME FEEL BY FEELING NOTHING

BEN MAZER —ALL IS URGENT, JUST BECAUSE IT GIVES, AND IN THE MIRROR, LIFE TO LIFE LIFE GIVES.

 

WEST

MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS —THE LARKS CRY OUT AND NOT WITH MUSIC

EMILY KENDAL FREY —HOW CAN YOU LOVE PEOPLE WITHOUT THEM FEELING ACCUSED?

 

EAST

LORI DESROSIERS —I WISH YOU WERE JUST YOU IN MY DREAMS

JOIE BOSE —ISN’T THAT LOVE EVEN IF IT ANSWERS NOT TO THE HEART OR THE HEAT BUT TO THE MOMENT, TO MAKE IT COMPLETE?

 

SOUTH

NALINI PRIYADARSHNI  —DENIAL WON’T REDEEM YOU OR MAKE YOU LESS VULNERABLE.  MY UNWAVERING LOVE JUST MAY.

CHUMKI SHARMA  —AFTER EVERY RAIN I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR SOMETHING CALLED HOME.

 

A great line of poetry is like fine cinema: you lose yourself in its message—which you arrive at, go into, stay in, and reluctantly but happily leave, feeling like everything outside is changed, that you know hunger and life a little better, a little more intimately, all because one poet in one line has made an entire film.  It is with the highest pleasure that we continue to present these winners, more winning in the judges’ eyes than the other winners: the lines of these elite eight are not only masterpieces of compression, one can die in them all day long.

Marla Muse: You say that very well, Tom. But just because you say it, does not make it so.

True, Marla. True.

Marla Muse: Don’t be sad, Tom. Look at the stars and the gates of poetry.  The stars shine for all, and the stars are all; in the circling heavens all will be well, and, look! it is perhaps well, even now.

SWEET SIXTEEN!!

Ben at Shays

Scarriet Poery March Madness first round winners have battled it out—and here are the final 16 contestants, the Sweet Sixteen!

These are extraordinary lines, evoking entire poems, entire books of poems.

Nicknames for this tournament have flooded in: The Mouse That Roared, Less Madness is More Madness, A Little Says It All, A Nutshell’s Unlimited Space.

The most common tropes in poetic history are all here in these magnificent microcosms: love, emotion, psychology, birds, music, fire, clouds, urgent definitions of time and space.

Marla Muse: I’m thrilled to death for all these poets!  What amazing lines!

We chose wisely.

Marla Muse: We did.

In the North

Maura Stanton: Who made me feel by feeling nothing

Ben Mazer: All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Jorie Graham: A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Molly Brodak: boundlessness secretly exists, I hear

In the West

Mary Angela Douglas: The larks cry out and not with music.

Cristina Sanchez Lopez: Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

In the East

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

In the South

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

Congratulations to all the winners!!!

 

 

IN THE SOUTH: CHUMKI SHARMA VERSUS TERRANCE HAYES

The philosopher Hegel said an interesting thing about language: when we say “this” we refer to something very specific—and yet nothing is more vague than the word “this.”

The poet is forever not saying something—which is the agonizing and beautiful aspect of poetry poets either die from, or love, or both.

A playwright can write a character, and that character will never say “this” and be doubted, for there, standing upon the stage, the character can tell the audience where to look.

In a poem, a “this” must remain vague, for a poem is not, like a play, “acted” or “embodied.”  The poem will always be the letter read by the actor—and must depend on no body at all.

This contest features Terrance Hayes—who feels an obligation to be exact, swimming mightily upstream against the inexpressible flow of poetry itself, and Chumki Sharma—more satisfied to let poetry take her downward to the immensity of the mysterious sea.

Terrance Hayes:

Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Hayes, who has recently won a major national award, is a black American who writes in and from this experience—this one, the one of being a black American male.

How much does a line of poetry know its author?

Can a line of poetry invoke a narrative?  And what kind?

Chumki Sharma:

After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Sharma, a woman from India, who has two Pushcart nominations, and belongs to the New Wave of Calcutta poetry, writes from what seems a thousand experiences.

We see how much one of her lines can hold, for her language is the experience itself—it is not pointing to “this” rain, or “this” place, or “this” home, and yet we feel, most acutely, rain and place and home.  The rain either did not do enough, or it produced a flood; the leaving could be voluntary, or not; the home is “called” home and therefore could be home, or not.  Chumki Sharma invokes a great deal by being exact and inexact at once.

The subjective fever becomes ours—we “catch” what she is saying, even if we do not see the rain or the place or the home.

The rhythm of the line is exquisite—trochaic: DA-da, the melancholy rhythm of Edgar Poe: AF-ter/ EVE-ry/ RAIN i/ LEAVE the/ PLACE for/ SOME-thing/ CALLED HOME.

Sharma’s “i” (self) is “obliterated” (rhythmically) by “rain,” and her line, a purely trochaic one, finally resolves in the spondaic “called home,” a delicate double meaning: home is what it is called—and someone is calling her home.

Hayes is doing something completely different; he is inviting the reader to see something specific: “the servant ordered down on all fours.” The Hayes line trades in talk, not song—the Sharma, by comparison, sounds like an aria—although this line of Hayes does have a trochaic character, and also ends with a spondee: “all fours.”

Whoever “ordered” the “servant…down on all fours” is not the poet; a certain objectivity is the goal, even as the poet tells us, “let us imagine…”

It is probably unfair for these two lines to do battle—they are so different, and yet isn’t poetic language capable of existing always as poetic language?   Otherwise, how can we even know what a poem is, or discuss poetry?

Should we walk away from this contest?

No.  Bring it on.

Which line pleases us more—as poetry?

And can this answer be cruel—or unfair?

Who should we ask, after this rain has fallen, after this tale of the servant has been told?

 

 

2016 SCARRIET MARCH MADNESS!! BEST CONTEMPORARY LINES OF POETRY COMPETE!!!

Scarriet: You know the rules, don’t you?

Marla Muse: Rules?

Scarriet: The March Madness rules.

Marla: Of course!  A sudden death playoff within four brackets. The winner of each bracket makes it to the Final Four, and then a champ is crowned!

Scarriet: We have 64 living poets, represented by their best lines of poetry—and these lines will compete for the top prize.

Marla: Exciting! To be sad, to be happy, or intrigued, or fall into a reverie—from a single line!  Only the best poets can do that to you!  Are all of these exceptional poets?

Scarriet: Of course they are.  The New Wave of Calcutta poetry is represented; poets who have won prizes recently; poets published in the latest BAP; some fugitive poets; and we’ve included a few older lines from well-known poets to populate the top seeds, for a little historical perspective.

Marla: A famous line of poetry!  It seems impossible to do these days.

Scarriet: There are more poets today. And no one is really famous. Some say there are too many poets.

Marla: Marjorie Perloff!

Scarriet: Maybe she’s right.

Marla: Enough of this. Let’s see the brackets!  The poets!  The lines!

Scarriet: Here they are:

 

NORTH BRACKET

Donald Hall–To grow old is to lose everything.

Jorie Graham–A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls.

Mary Oliver–You do not have to be good.

Anne Carsondon’t keep saying you don’t hear it too.

Robert Haas–So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.

Maura Stanton–Who made me feel by feeling nothing.

Sean O’Brien–‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair, but these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.

Warsan Shire–I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes—on my face they are still together.

Ben Mazer–All is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.

Melissa Green–They’ve mown the summer meadow.

Peter Gizzi–No it isn’t amazing, no none of that.

Traci Brimhall–I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea.

Molly Brodak–boundlessness secretly exists, I hear.

Charles Hayes–Her sweaty driver knows his load is fair.

Jeet Thayil–There are no accidents. There is only God.

Jennifer Moxley–How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

 

WEST BRACKET

Louise Gluck–The night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.

A.E. Stallings–The woes were words, and the only thing left was quiet.

Patricia Lockwood–How will Over Niagara Falls In A Barrel marry Across Niagara Falls On A Tightrope?

Kevin Young–I want to be doused in cheese and fried.

Ross Gay–One never knows does one how one comes to be.

Andrew Kozma–What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.

Denise Duhamel–it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires

Sarah Howe–the razory arms of a juniper rattling crazily at the edge of that endless reddening haze.

Emily Kendal Frey–How can you love people without them feeling accused?

Cristina Sánchez López–Have you heard strings? They seem like hearts that don’t want to forget themselves.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico–apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway

Donna Masini–Even sex is no exit. Ah, you exist.

Meredith Haseman–The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.

Candace G. Wiley–My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.

Ada Limón–just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous and ours.

Mary Angela Douglas–The larks cry out and not with music.

 

EAST BRACKET

Marilyn Hacker–You happened to me.

Charles Simic–I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Laura Kasischke–but this time I was beside you…I was there.

Michael Tyrell–how much beauty comes from never saying no?

Susan Terris–Cut corners   fit in   marry someone.

Chana Bloch–the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.

Raphael Rubinstein–Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else.

Willie Perdomo–I go up in smoke and come down in a nod.

Tim Seibles–That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger.

Lori Desrosiers–I wish you were just you in my dreams.

Philip Nikolayev–I wept like a whale. You had changed my chemical composition forever.

Stephen Sturgeon–City buses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia.

Joie Bose–Isn’t that love even if it answers not to the heart or heat but to the moment, to make it complete?

Kushal Poddar–Your fingers are alight. Their blazing forest burns towards me.

Marilyn Chin–It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

Stephen Cole–Where every thing hangs on the possibility of understanding and time, thin as shadows, arrives before your coming.

 

 

SOUTH BRACKET

W.S. Merwin–you know there was never a name for that color

Richard Wilbur–not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Terrance Hayes–Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours.

Claudia Rankine–How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?

Richard Blanco–One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.

Brenda Hillman–Talking flames get rid of hell.

Les Murray–Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.

Susan Wood–The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.

Lawrence Raab–nothing truly seen until later.

Joe Green–I’m tired. Don’t even ask me about the gods.

Lynn Hejinian–You spill the sugar when you lift the spoon.

Connie Voisine–The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds

Rowan Ricardo Phillips–It does not not get you quite wrong.

Chumki Sharma–After every rain I leave the place for something called home.

Nalini Priyadarshni–Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Julie Carr–Either I loved myself or I loved you.

 

 

 

 

 

HOT! HOT! HOT! SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100! HAPPY 2016!

  1. BEN MAZER –Simply the best poet writing today. Keeping John Crowe Ransom and Landis Everson alive, too. “all is urgent, just because it gives, and in the mirror, life to life life gives.”
  2. CLAUDIA RANKINE–“How difficult is it for one body to see injustice wheeled at another?”
  3. ROBIN COSTE LEWIS–Winner of the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry with Voyage of the Sable Venus.
  4. BILLY COLLINS–There’s only one Billy Collins. You will know him by his bathrobe and slippers.
  5. SHARON OLDS–Plain-spoken poignancy.
  6. JOHN ASHBERY–Essentially French
  7. KENNETH GOLDSMITH–We don’t see how he can redeem himself.
  8. TERRANCE HAYES–Highbrow examination of prejudice.
  9. ALICE NOTLEY–2015 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize
  10. SARAH HOWE–her debut book, Loop of Jade, wins 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.
  11. CHUMKI SHARMA–“After every rain I leave the place for something called home.”
  12. SEAN O’BRIEN–“‘People’ tell us nowadays these views are terribly unfair,/But these forgiving ‘people’ aren’t the ‘people’ who were there.”
  13. MELISSA STEIN–because she wrote the poem, “never said.”
  14. MARY ANGELA DOUGLAS–“till the larks cry out/and not with music”
  15. DORIANNE LAUX–because she wrote the poem, “Facts About the Moon.”
  16. MAURA STANTON–“Who made me feel by feeling nothing”
  17. MOLLY BRODAK–“boundlessness secretly exists, I hear”
  18. TRACI BRIMHALL–“I broke a shell to keep it from crying out for the sea”
  19. CATE MARVIN–because she wrote the poem, “The Readership.”
  20. BETSY SHOLL–because she wrote the poem, “The Sea Itself.”
  21. SJOHNNA MCCRAY–2015 Walt Whitman Award winner for Rapture
  22. CHARLES HAYES–“her sweaty driver knows his load is fair”
  23. BRIAN BRODEUR–his blog is “How A Poem Happens”
  24. MELISSA GREEN–“They’ve mown the summer meadow”
  25. RICK BAROT–because he wrote the poem, “Reading Plato.”
  26. ALLEN PROWLE–Do we live in the Age of Plagiarism?
  27. VANESSA PLACE–What do you think, Vanessa?
  28. LORI JAKIELA–“In Pittsburgh, we have 2 dreams…go to Vegas to live…go to Florida to die”
  29. CONNIE VOISINE–“The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds”
  30. SHARA LESSLEY–because she wrote the poem, “Advice From The Predecessor’s Wife.”
  31. ALFRED CORN–because he wrote “An Xmas Murder.”
  32. WILLIAM LOGAN–“The critic is a Diogenes in a world where everyone is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (Battersea Review) Are there poets on Sunnybrook Farm?
  33. MARJORIE PERLOFF–Are there so many poets, that reviewers and critics no longer exist?
  34. DAVID HUDDLE–because he wrote the poem, “Men’s Sauna.”
  35. TIM LIARDET–“Its windows look through us, as if we offer a view.”
  36. BOB HICOK–because he wrote the poem, “The Active Reader.”
  37. LOUISE GLÜCK–because she wrote the poem, “A Fantasy.”
  38. CHARLES SIMIC–because he wrote the poem, “So Early in the Morning”
  39. DANA GIOIA–because he wrote the poem, “The Angel with the Broken Wing”
  40. DONALD HALL–“To grow old is to lose everything.”
  41. LAURA KASISCHKE–because she wrote the poem, “For the Young Woman I Saw Hit by a Car While Riding Her Bike.”
  42. CODY WALKER–because he wrote the poem, “Trades I Would Make.”
  43. DERRICK MICHAEL HUDSON–Will he be remembered?
  44. DAVID LEHMAN–Editor of Best American Poetry series has a soft spot for Tin Pan Alley.
  45. CARL DENNIS–2002 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  46. MARK JARMAN–narrative poet is a professor at Vanderbilt.
  47. KUSHAL PODDAR–Bold, intriguing, WC Williams-like poet in English from Bengal.
  48. VALERIE MACON–Briefly poet laureate from North Carolina
  49. GARRISON KEILLOR–Good for good poems.
  50. PHILIP NIKOLAYEV–Confounding the experts by drawing.
  51. JUAN FELIPE HERRERA–California laureate to U.S. Laureate.
  52. RON SILLIMAN–Hates Republicans.
  53. EILEEN MYLES–I Must Be Living Twice is her latest book.
  54. PATRICIA LOCKWOOD–Twitter poet with two books, a Best American Poetry regular, and a viral poem.
  55. TONY HOAGLAND–because he wrote the poem, “Lucky.”
  56. STEPHEN DUNN–2000 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  57. STEPHEN BURT–Critic at Harvard with an eye on the new.
  58. W.S. MERWIN–“you know there was never a name for that color”
  59. RICHARD WILBUR–“not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only”
  60. JOE GREEN–Limerick Homer. Yes, this is for real. Homer translated into limericks.
  61. ROBERT HASS–“So the first dignity, it turns out, is to get the spelling right.”
  62. NAOMI SHIHAB NYE–“If you love Jesus you can’t love anyone else”
  63. RODNEY JONES–“I happily took myself into the darkness of the underground, where I was king”
  64. GERALD STERN–because he wrote the poem, “Waving Goodbye.”
  65. JORIE GRAHAM–“A rooster crows all day from mist outside the walls”
  66. DAVID KIRBY–because he wrote the poem, “Broken Promises.”
  67. BARBARA HAMBY–“carrying around a copy of Being and Nothingness so boys will think you have a fine mind.”
  68. LISA LEWIS–“I knew it was love when I didn’t want to close my eyes.”
  69. SUSAN WOOD–“The simple fact is very plain. They want the bitterness to remain.”
  70. BRENDA HILLMAN–“Talking flames get rid of hell.”
  71. LUCIA PERILLO–because she wrote the poem, “Early Cascade.”
  72. STEPHEN STURGEON–“City busses are crashing and I can’t hear Murray Perahia”
  73. JESSE BALL–because he wrote the poem, “Lester, Burma.”
  74. CHARLES BERNSTEIN–Attack of the Difficult Poems was published in 2011.
  75. GEORGE BILGERE–The new Billy Collins. Featured on Garrison Keillor’s show.
  76. LES MURRAY–“Everything except language knows the meaning of existence.”
  77. SURAZEUS SIMON SEAMOUNT–Epic poems of the ancient philosophers.
  78. ALAN CORDLE–Foetry.com founder. Scarriet was his idea as a reply to Blog Harriet.
  79. NATHANIEL MACKEY–Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.
  80. AMY KING–received MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College and MA in Poetics from SUNY Buffalo.
  81. LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI–Presenter at mass S.F. protest (“Human Be-In”) in January, 1967, when LSD was banned in California in 1966.
  82. PETER GIZZI–“No isn’t it amazing, no none of that”
  83. DEBORAH LANDAU–“I don’t have a pill for that”
  84. SARAH ARVIO–In 2015 Best American Poetry
  85. MARK DOTY–His book Deep Lane was short-listed for 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize.
  86. MARY OLIVER–“You do not have to be good”
  87. DAN CHIASSON–because he writes for the New Yorker
  88. MARILYN HACKER–National Book Award for Poetry in 1975.
  89. A.E. STALLINGS–she rhymes.
  90. HAROLD BLOOM–does he still hate Poe?
  91. ANNE CARSON–“don’t keep saying you don’t hear it too
  92. RITA DOVE–U.S. Poet Laureate 1993-95.
  93. DON SHARE–“A brown bust of a sad man”
  94. HELEN VENDLER–The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry was published in April, 2015
  95. CATHY PARK HONG–Teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence.
  96. SIMON ARMITAGE–chosen to succeed Geoffrey Hill as Oxford Professor of Poetry
  97. VICTORIA CHANG–“The boss tells me of the billionaire who likes me”
  98. MARILYN CHIN–wins Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Hard Won Province, first time for a book of poetry.
  99. DAVID BIESPIEL–Writes for The Rumpus.
  100. KAY RYAN–doesn’t like being compared to Emily Dickinson; “would you like to be compared to God?” —Paris Review interview

THERE IS A LIVING SAPPHO AND IT IS CHUMKI SHARMA

Many scholars have said many things about poems: they are called, variously: epideictic, symbolic, lyrical, epic, intimate, personal, ancient, erotic, moral, psychological, traditional, honorable, dishonorable, sublime, metrical, simple, imagistic, deep image-ist, narrative, expressive, epistolary, Romantic, ritualistic, conventional, oral, ceremonial, private, formal, complex, natural, sexual, stoic, emotional, lovesick, historical, martial, haunting, memorable, subjective, contemporary, colloquial, feminist, precise, mythic, patriotic, fragmented, anonymous, famous, silly, obscure, magical, literary, rhetorical, religious, marvelous. Just to name a few.

Wine, too, can be called many things, and the making of wine is complex, but wine, like poetry, is experienced as wine in the first sip.

Poetry is known as poetry immediately.

Love has a thousand names, and is truly million-faceted, and needs time to sort itself out, even though love, too, may come, at first, with a sip, and, with one kiss, we may wonder, “Is this love?” But love requires duration.  It requires thinking.

Poetry, like wine, like music, destroys thought, and, at its best, becomes thought which is not thought, and that is its pleasure.

Wine, and poetry—as much as what creates them requires vast amounts of complexity—do not require duration to experience—like the first strains of music, we know at once that we are seeing poetry or drinking wine.

Sappho has but a few surviving fragments, but the wine of Sappho lives; we can go over to the shelf and drink from her right now.  Scholars call her the template for nearly everything lyrical—and beyond.

We don’t require more than fragments when it comes to poetry.

Poetry is the speech of Fragment.

This does not mean that all fragmented speech is poetry.  But it does mean that Poetry is very difficult to do, because you have to impress your devotees with just a few words.

One can make one’s lover mad with desire with a brief whisper, but that is only if the conditions are right, and Love is there to help, and we all know that Love is a very powerful god.

All the more impressive then, when humble poetry can make a stranger sigh or weep with a few words.

Rather than use all those words the scholars use, we would rather introduce Chumki Sharma to you as the poet of The Fragment.

What is the world without music, and what is music without melody, and what is melody but a few rising and falling notes?

We wish to introduce Chumki Sharma bereft of all scholarly pretension.

Please see what you can do with this idea.

Why is the poem small? Because the poem, to be itself, is small.

Of course there are many poets (mostly male) who came after Sappho, who had to beat their chests, and pile on the fragments, but fragments is all they finally are.

Now it is certainly possible to have a humble poet who can, with all due modesty and humility, produce a poem (fragment) with a particular lovely sound in the brevity of its sweetness and sweetness in its brevity, and, wishing to lengthen this delight for listeners, using the melody of the fragment, spin a poem into a certain length, for mere pleasure alone: once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, etc.  This is perfectly acceptable.

But your epic writers, your long-winded writers, those tedious, meticulous, bombastic bores!  Sappho would gag.  The fires along the river would gasp and go out.  The bright flames on the banks would douse themselves.  The coy, melodic snakes would crawl back into their holes and die.

We value the skill that lengthens a poem into an acceptable 100 lines, as Poe recommended.

And then there is the genius of Chumki Sharma, who presents the essence of the poem before intellectual impatience has a chance to spoil it—this is the greatest skill: the skill which poems like ‘The Raven’ build on and pay homage to; there is the rare and beautiful reflection, and then there is the thing itself, which the lake reflects.  Poe is the lake; Chumki Sharma is the essence of the reflection that is in the lake.

Her poetry is the wine—before mortals get a hold of it and turn it into mere clever poetry; she is the melody before it is turned into a skilled homage to melody.

There are countless brief poems, and many lovely ones.  Brevity, like anything else, catches us, very often, looking somewhere else for that brief moment; and yet, we know our readers will agree with us, that it is easy to tell, at the first sip, the godlike quality of Chumki Sharma’s poetry, which dwells with brevity, not as shape fashioned, but as pure being, and our readers, we are sure, will note how it rivals the best brief poems (fragments of eternity) ever written.

Chumki Sharma is Bengali and comes to us from Calcutta—the cultural capital of India when Britain ruled over her, but now a great modern city of a great modern country, beset with all the beauty and pain of the modern world; her poems come to us in English, from the naked, unfettered mind of a civilized woman transcending all the contradictions of civilization, arriving like the goddess on the shell, wearing neither chains of translation for English readers, nor the noisy chains of learning—a sad, austere soul singing what could be wine, or love, in the humility of her singing.

Why are Chumki’s poems brief?

Because she is modest.

This is the only reason, and the poet will feel this one reason sweetly eclipses a hundred learned reasons.

Inferior poets—and the true poets will understand—have other reasons for why their poems are brief (I made my intellectual point quickly and felt I could stop. I belong to the ____ school!  I revised it down to this size.)

Chumki is a master, because she has one reason for the lengths of her poems—her modesty.

We expel here, politely, those scholars who have a thousand reasons for why a poem is a certain length, or not.

The epic intention in poetry has long been overthrown as a useless, antiquated idea—if Sappho’s work had survived fully intact, as Homer’s did, this perhaps would have happened faster.

We do not remember Petrarch’s long work for which the Italian master was famous during his lifetime—only his shorter poems to Laura.

“I find no peace, yet I am not at war…I burn and I am like ice…I grasp nothing yet embrace the world…because of you, lady, I am this way” —Petrarch, Canzoniere #134

And with this exquisite passage all epics are eclipsed.

The cup is small which brings up the water from the spring.

The best known epic poems exist for us in fragments: short episodes, scenes, and well-known lines.

It is not necessary to sweep away epics and longer works, in order to better see the soft lantern flame of Chumki S. She exists everywhere. Her dancing flame is everywhere. She has no desire to inhibit poetry of any length. But she would not make you stay. She would not keep you. For she will not be kept.

There are billions of short poems in the starry universe, but we come to show you some real star light.

What are critics for, but to keep those moments which the world is too busy to know?

Let us move in closer, then, for a look at this lovely Bengali poet’s poems, where gods stand just above the humble dust, keeping watch at the starry windows.

Only the flute is played in the golden, evening air.

There will be no beating of the drum. The heart is sufficient now.

There is an essence of a sad life here; her poems contain perhaps the essence of a sad life (and so much as they are this, they will live forever).

Dignity, a strange, sad dignity, more so than beauty, lives in her poems; in their fragmentary wholeness, the poems of Chumki S. do not strive for beauty—she is not Coleridge or Poe—but something almost more divine, something deep, deep beyond this, which even a Poe or a Coleridge would be alive to: what we can only characterize as patient, philosophical sorrow.

Petrarch’s lyric triumph made tremendous claims for poetry as an expression of inescapable love which afflicts all sensitive creatures; the brief lyric, since it overthrew religion and the epic, has nearly made all the world and all life its home; with horror the parent watches their child seduced by brief beauty: the brief popular song, the brief promise, the brief kiss, the brief and sudden impregnation, and only then length, study, science, responsibility appear, in the person of the child who must be raised.

Chumki Sharma meets this problem head on, in a unique way, one which embraces and yet sweetly rejects the heretofore inescapable template of all lyric poetry and it’s sweet poison. She is Petrarch and Laura’s child. Chumki saves us from the sweet hell which kills millions in its love-lyric reality. With one poem! This is poem #24 in her book:

The One Night Stand—

Enough of putting poetry

on a pedestal.

I thought of the geek

in my Physics class

long back, to whom

‘Gauss’ Law  for Magnetic Fields’

was more desirable

than me.

What chance did Poetry stand

with her transient words

against the universal

elements of

‘Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?’

After spending the night with

‘The irrationality of the square root of 2,’

I return to poetry

this morning

like an errant lover

vaguely repentant.

This poem is more than a mere complaint. The greatest poets kill poetry anew, take poetry off its pedestal, question it, defy it; here in one fell swoop Chumki picks up lyric hopelessness and parks it between science and religion; there is a seven century long sigh of relief as Petrarch the lovesick poet is overthrown by “a geek” that makes the less than desirable poet herself “vaguely repentant.” There is a great laugh in that “vaguely”—the laughter of the simple, thoughtless, slowly turning wisdom of the ages, captured for us—now—by an English poet from Calcutta.

If poetry is a fragment that destroys thought, then it is like a pill, or a drug—one meant to soothe and relax. Poetry operates the way any drug does, by interfering with our normal functioning.

Poetry is simply a recognition that human emotions which exist around love can act like a drug, and poetry is merely that which can take these altering emotions which center around love, and put them into a pill.

The pill—working in this case, as a poem—functions always by the result of one person affecting another (one definition of love) and so the poet who manufactures the pill is always under the sway of another, and that is how the poet is a poet and is able to make a pill which affects our feelings.

We said Chumki Sharma is modest, and that is why her poems are short; this would seem to contradict what we are saying, for modesty doesn’t equal the ruthless ambition to make a pill which alters our emotions; but the poet needs to have suffered from love to make a pill which repairs love sickness; her modesty is due to suffering in love, for the modest are always modest precisely because of a strong respect for love’s power; the heartbroken are never arrogant, and the heartbroken make the best poets. The best lyrical poets have been crushed by the power of beautiful love.

Chumki Sharma is more than a love poet. But nonetheless love is the language of all lyric poetry and love merely hides in the background with this modern day Sappho; we do not find in Chumki Sharma’s poetry Sappho’s jealousy (it seems a foreign emotion to this beautiful woman from Calcutta, or perhaps she feels it is beneath the dignity of the Muse). We do not find anything like the love which demolishes the poet of the Canzoniere—Sharma’s poetry does not quite reach the pitch of Petrarch’s beautiful sufferings from love, producing the fragments of Petrarch’s desperate sighs.

Chumki Sharma does not remain to suffer in love, watering the ground upon which she stands with her tears.

She leaves.

Chumki leaves the circus, the gallery, the forest.

Chumki will kill lyric poetry with a science geek.

She is the poet of escape.

“Detangle the deep roots of the rose bush I planted […] I pull the plants from the earth, one by one.”

—“Running Away With The Garden”

Running away with a garden is a marvelous poetic conceit. One could almost start a whole poetic tradition with it.

Now it is true, that in love, as inevitably as we leave, we are left.

Love rules all the comings and goings.

Love has its rules, true. But in the poems of Cumki Sharma, it can be said that she is in flight, and we follow her. She feels deeply, but does not feel sorry for herself.

In her poem, “A Stranger In An Autumn Forest,” we find Chumki wondering, if not quite lamenting, about an attractive stranger she sees in a simple but mystical wood:

“Will he […] fade away with all his flesh?

[…] An ache grows in me that I have no desire to banish. If not him, this pain then.”

In these few lines is contained the entire Suffering Love Trope, what W.H.Auden called the “Divine Eros Tradition” of Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare (the Sonnets) Shelley, etc. “If not him, this pain then” sums it up entirely!

In her poem Chumki is speaking of a stranger—and he is presented as an imaginary figure leaning against a tree in the poem; this is similar to Dante’s Beatrice and Petrarch’s Laura, aloof maidens who seem imaginative at times, even as they cause pain. The Eros is divine—not fleshy, not shameful, and perhaps not quite real. The pain is real, but pure, and yet to call pain pure does little to help the sufferer. Or perhaps it does help by way of diagnosis, pinpointing the pain, identifying its cause, which perhaps is part of the pill’s power. “What ails me?” You are in love, child.”

Two things now need to be said. Chumki does escape, in a way. “A Stranger In An Autumn Forest” ends with an image of the sky above the tree. A pure, simple image. A pure, simple escape.

Second, Dante and Petrarch created divine targets of their divine and lovely pain: Beatrice and Laura, private associations which, in their poems, became famous. This raises interesting questions about male versus female love: women do not make monuments of their private sufferings.

In Dante and Petrarch the love becomes stronger in the loss, leading to what is essentially worship of God—worship of a deity who is everything and nothing. Everything, because Creator, nothing, because nowhere in sight.

The loss of love, the lover who has left and broken your heart, can remain an irritation, or it can become a religion.

Our religion, our being, as expressed in lyric poetry, is how we express that irritation. Do we go, “Oh damn!” Or do we drape our irritation in beauty? Or do we become a scientist, and wonder not about God, but emptiness?

The first poem in Chumki Sharma’s just arrived, first book, Running Away With The Garden, is a metaphysical tour de force. It is a sly treatise on advanced physics. We come face to face with the idea that poignancy and brevity in the poem may be due to the fact that the poem is a succinct and profound mathematical formula. The battered lover’s modesty is wisdom. Mad love hurts her into science—and poetry.

We quote poem #1 in full:

Shape of Emptiness—

He buys me coffee in a cup

so light my lips drown, scald

in the heat of the liquid.

Nothing exists between me

and the cup in my hand.

Heat seeps through it like

mist on the hills.

The potter’s wheel spins

shaping emptiness.

A number of profound ideas flow into each other in this poem. 1. Matter shapes emptiness. 2. The shape of emptiness is matter. 3. Matter (therefore) doesn’t “exist.” 4. Existence is “buying” and exchange. 5. He buys her coffee: (heat, energy)—but not a cup (matter, stability, order, house). 6. Then a transition quickly to a startling beautiful, nature image (“mist on the hills”) that feels absolutely appropriate, even as it increases our wonder: the “energy exchange” of mist in a natural landscape. The poem finally returns to artifact: making (and implicitly buying and selling) a vessel, which brings us back to that cup of emptiness holding energy. “Nothing exists between me and the cup in my hand.”

This is a metaphor for Chumki’s poetry: the pill, the drug, of her poetry dissolves in the reader: it is a pure, visceral experience without “poetry,” without a medium, getting in the way. “Nothing exists between [you] and…” Chumki’s poetry, like the iconic fragments of Sappho, like the new lyric transcending Petrarch’s love sickness: the ultimate lyric drug cure, disappearing entirely into the reader’s consciousness.

This poem, for instance, makes the case exactly as we are describing it, and of course we quote it in full:

#10 The Train Missed Me—

Thirst so old, it becomes

the air I breathe.

Between a cup of

tea and Valium,

I choose the latter,

relish the sweetness

of pill after pill

melting in the heat

of my mouth.

Hypnotic song of the

morphine in my veins.

And rain,

after many days

of no sunset, rain.

The drops vanish into

my barren fields, vapour

hisses from the cracks.

Rain lashes on the

window, sprays on my

bed, pillow, face, hair

and all I can smell

is the beginning

of the end.

Reaching the station

just as the last train leaves.

It makes no difference that this poem is all about herself, all about her feelings—with lyric genius, less is more, and the template is the poet, and if it fails to interest, this is not because the poem is “only” about the poet’s feelings (Petrarch’s Lyric Revolution), for how the poet interests us makes no difference, and all the better if the poet herself is interesting, and she is, but ironically due to the poetry, which nonetheless disappears, like the coffee cup of no substance, into herself. Or, is it herself disappearing into her poetry, and the reader who stands intrigued and dumbfounded, the reader the real witness of the train (the poem, Chumki) leaving?

Chumki, the poet herself, not Love, will determine who leaves and who is left.

Another trope she uses is the atomistic, Lucretius universe, symbolized by endless dust which gathers and must be swept away: fine particles of dirt represent endless epics, endless effort, all those old traditions which the lyric poet must take into account and deflect with a brief and wholesome and devout sigh, and no one does it more coyly than Chumki Sharma:

#12 Dirt Builds A World

Cleanliness drive in the city,

a century’s dirt to be swept

underneath. I see

old women everywhere,

like crones out of fairy tales,

sweeping dirt from the streets.

I stop one of them, ask her

for three wishes.

She stares at me, eyes

of Bobbies on a thief,

mutters to the old woman

next to her, “she doesn’t even

know Hindi, her blouse is too flimsy,

what is going to become of us?”

All I want is her broom.

New Moon

I tiptoe around your dusty footprint

on the walls of this heart.

The heart is the finite entity upon which the infinite dust becomes a writing pad—which will not be erased by any “cleanliness drive” (earnest moral project) if the tiptoeing poet can help it. Chumki invokes a world with a few naughty (filthy) lines.

This lyric mastery is on display throughout Chumki’s book of 30 poems.

It is why we dare to trumpet her greatness, even though her modesty may rebel, and reject it all, as we look around to find her, longing for her lyric pill that has a thousand names, but which immediately makes us burn like ice and freeze like fire, in a delicious agony both artificial and natural, a thrill at once very old and very new; we betray all we are devoted to in this poet’s arms, even as it feels in her embrace that we are true.

This is what this poet does to us.

Her drug works quickly. She sums up the whole universe of single motherhood in a poem on her son, #5 “My Little Van Gogh,” with the smallest drop of her exquisite lyric poison:

“No colouring books for my son.”

[…] He drew his own sky.”

[…] Once my little Van Gogh turned our

asphalt floors into vibrant forests.

His father was angry. I was secretly happy he was taking his art beyond […]

…he made me a box to keep my bangles.

The Bouganvillea spills over

the chained link fence outside my window.”

The lyric gift of Chumki Sharma crumples every awkward convention with a whimsical, soft touch. She is truly the ideal of Goethe’s Eternal Feminine, the wise female force in action.

We quote the whole of poem #6 in her book:

The Book on The Art of Bombing—

On the eve of the 70th anniversary

of the Hiroshima bombings,

you call me and tell me to write on war.

You say a poet should be versatile,

should be able to write on any topic anytime.

And I remember the book you had gifted me,

perhaps as a bribe for a poem on war?

“How To Make Hand Grenades For Dummies.”

That book the same size as the Gita

on my grandfather’s desk,

Motifs of flowers and fighter jets

on the cover of the book

sharing the sky with bombs falling like rain.

Today a woman who loves to read

will hold the book in her hands.

Today a man will be killed by a raindrop.

Chumki Sharma will not let the world tell her how to write poetry. Lyric poets who have the insight and talent and joy and grief of Chumki Sharma owe the world nothing. The contradiction exists: the extreme modesty of the invisible poet—who is, nonetheless, the world, and holds the fate of the world with the way she administers her lyric drug. We are killed by Chumki’s raindrop.

That she “is the world” is not too large a claim—she makes herself the subject of her poetry, which is how the lyric drug works: “Today a woman who loves to read” is the essence of self-awareness which makes the poem and the world one in the mind of the reader—in that escape from the world, to the world, which is the great social act of the art of poetry itself.

As Chumki writes in the final stanza of her haunting poem, #8 “The  Gallery:”

I am in all and none I own.

After every rain

I leave the place for

Something called home.

We look for Chumki Sharma in ourselves. And then we realize she is looking for us, but this is the final illusion, for a poem has no eyes. Chumki Sharma knows that even the gift of lyric poetry cannot go that far. She must be satisfied, and we must be satisfied with:

In the moonlight

I step into my own shadow.

— #3 The Inmate

We shall be watching Chumki Sharma for a long time to come.

***************************************************

Salem, MA Dec. 22, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY AND FEMALE BEAUTY

image

To some, probably to many, if not all, this topic of “poetry and female beauty” might seem just a silly exercise, a vain excuse to draw nonsensical and vain conclusions of the most deluded and pitiful kind.

Can anyone seriously believe that “poetry” and “female beauty” have anything to do with each other?

Haven’t we long advanced past such antiquated notions?

Well, yes.  If by “advanced,” we mean too sophisticated to be interesting to anyone.

This is why poetry is dead.  Not dead to you and me, of course.  But dead to them. The public.

But who can blame them?  They have no idea what poetry is.

And yet, let us not be disheartened.  Follow my reasoning.

There are two ways to look at poetry, and today we champion one, and discard the other.

The one we champion is: poetry is either a certain, linguistic-mathematical, thing-in-itself (a sonnet has 14 lines, etc) or it is a special way of expressing whatever the poet wants to express—some kind of meaning (or non-meaning) in some kind of emotional (or non-emotional) manner.

Lyric or avant-garde, this is the view the vast majority of serious poets and critics champion: a poem has both a “form” on one hand, and a “say whatever you want” content on the other.

The one we discard is this: Life is what creates the poem; the poem itself determines neither its form nor its content—life, as everyone knows it and lives it, does.

In as much as “female beauty” is important to life, “poetry and female beauty” is a more vivid, and more valid, description of what poetry is, or might be, than the term, “poetry.”

One can speak volumes, of course, volumes and volumes, should one choose to describe “poetry.”  And one will have the advantage of describing “poetry” with numerous examples.

This “advantage,” however, has one problem: there will be so many examples, and poetry will be defined in so many ways, that “what a poem actually is” will disappear. On account of it being everything. 

And think about it.  Isn’t this how poetry ends up being described these days?  It can jingle and rhyme. It can be prose. It can be brief. It can be long.  It can be anything.

And what does all this finally mean for “poetry?”

It has no definition. It doesn’t exist.

But once we attach “female beauty” to “poetry,” as completely foolish as this might seem, we are actually bringing poetry back to itself, restoring its definition, placing it back in reality, so that they (the public) have a chance of appreciating it and enjoying it, again.

The idea of “female beauty” is a fertile one.  It is an endlessly interesting topic and generates far more excitement than, well…. “poetry.”

Poetry has always done best for itself when it plays a minor, supporting role, when it surrenders its proud title and makes itself small.  Famous poems and poets become famous not because of the poetry—but always from something else.

Shakespeare: A great poet, maybe the greatest, but not best known for poetry.  One can go right down the line and see what we mean, whether it is Charles Bukowski (bar life) or Homer (war, adventure) or Dante (Hell, Beatrice).  Does anyone describe Bukowski by citing how he used iambic pentameter? Or how Bukowksi wrote about everything under the sun?  No.  Bukowski is completely defined in the public’s mind by the narrow content of his work.  Would anyone care about Dante if all we knew about him were his verse forms?

This, one might object, is only how the crowds see these poets.  Well, yes.  But we can’t forget that.

Secondly, Plato looked at poetry from the standpoint of his ideal Republic, from the standpoint of society: poetry is not some separately defined thing; it is an extension of what humans do, and that includes lying, propaganda, frightening people, and unnecessarily exciting people—stirring up emotions in ways they shouldn’t be stirred up. And this whole approach—which looks upon poetry warily as an aspect of life—belongs to this view that is now discarded.  Why is it discarded?  Because we think Plato was unkind to poetry, so we have discarded Plato—and his whole way of thinking about poetry.  But what have we done, in discarding how Plato felt about poetry? Plato idolized and feared poetry—he was in awe of it; it isn’t just that he didn’t trust it; he was mesmerized by it, the way some of us are mesmerized by female beauty.  By discarding Plato’s view, we are not really in favor of poetry; we are actually rejecting all that makes poetry dangerous, untrustworthy—and fascinating.

The poetry that we mistakenly put in our Republic today is defined so vaguely that it has no teeth, no interest, at all!

For here’s the thing: it isn’t that poetry should be good or bad; it is that there should be passionate feelings on whether it is good or bad.

What are the poet’s prospects today?

To teach poetry in school, which is to politely ill-define it into non-existence.

So the poets themselves are destroying poetry—while an increasingly bored public walks away.

The problem that poetry faces as a popular art form these days is that it is not bad enough to be banned by society, nor good enough to be embraced by society—and for the simple, obvious reason that no one knows what it is.

Now it is true, that we do, of course, hear of poets imprisoned, or even killed, in totalitarian regimes, but in every case we know that it was because of something that was said in the poetry, not because of the poetry.

Poets may take heart in hearing of poets banned and murdered: see! I am important! I am dangerous!

But the truth is, politics gets people killed; politics, not poetry, is always the reason; otherwise, poetry would sell, and attract large audiences and be a volatile, ecstatic essence—but it is not.

Certain kinds of politics and music are traditionally Dionysian, and often banned by society. Poetry may be cool, but, unfortunately, it is not hot.

Poets who practice poetry outside academia strive to make it “cool.” But the poetry of cool tends to finally be like the poetry of school—it is that poetry which aspires to “everything,” and which dilutes audience expectation, so that in the end, it is nothing.

People go to a comedy club to laugh. People watch the news to be informed. People go to a music club to dance.

People go to a poetry reading to…

And in that pause, in that ‘what do they go to a poetry reading for?’ is the entire problem.

And even within that fatal uncertainty of expectation, if people do have a real sense that in poetry there is, or might be, a superior entertainment, they will only be turned off all the more, since nothing makes people more uncomfortable than to be forced to experience what is vaguely superior. It is just as off-putting as a vague feeling of inferiority.

The operating word here is “vague.”

A narrow, defined, superiority is one thing, but a vague, all-inclusive superiority makes one think of a priest and solemn music and the occasional chuckle—perhaps the kind and wise priest has a sense of humor—and now, even here, religion has its attractions of a definite sort, and the key word is priest, who interprets God, and okay, we get it, we know exactly what that is. Religion is what one takes the family to, it is concerned with a philosophy of life: anyone, without feeling strange or self-conscious, can be certain in their mind what a religious ceremony is.

Thus, its popularity.

But if people are truly indifferent to anything, whether it is music or religion or poetry, it is because they are not sure what it is. If they do like a religious ceremony, they like it for a very specific reason: the music, the food, the dressing up, the solemn atmosphere, the chance for family gossip: something very specific and known.

But poetry, because it is so widely and vaguely defined, is, to both commoner and sophisticate alike, absolutely unknown. That is the whole problem.

As we have demonstrated, the poets are responsible for killing poetry, and they are doing so every single day, both inside and outside academia, with every book they publish, with every poem they write, and with every poetry reading they give, because of the scattered and ill-defined nature of poetry’s existence, dilute and invisible and depressing, and, increasingly so. This must stop.

And why are there so many bad poets? And people say they like them out of politeness! The ultimate art form of truth has been shackled to empty politeness!

The micro-issue of so many bad poets is directly related to the macro-issue of the ill-defined and utterly unknown nature of poetry. The writers of poetry are hesitant—of course!—they literally don’t know what they are writing.

But the poets should know what they are writing–in terms of pleasing a public, and a critic.

Poets are un-writing poetry, and poets are further destroying poetry because they fear the Critic, which brings us back to Plato, the greatest Critic, who the poets have fearfully tossed out, and banned. Ban criticism, however, and you ban poetry.

The Critic knows how to humble poetry, and this is crucial; for remember how we said that poetry always succeeds in actual practice when it plays a supporting role?

The solution to poetry’s vagueness is not to fanatically hyper-define a poem as a thing in-itself. We need to deftly add something to poetry, which will give it a new and grounded definition.

So poetry needs to become part of life. It needs ceremony and definition. It needs the equivalent of a flute girl, who is always, reliably there. And if the flute garners more attention than Plato, or the poet, too bad. The poet or the philosopher is simply out of luck.

The audience must absolutely know what to expect, every time. Is this possible?

And now lastly, and thirdly, we come to the whole objection many have for mentioning “female beauty” at all—but this is part of its whole interest.  One could easily object: aren’t men complete idiots in the way they swoon over superficial looks?  This causes a great deal of unhappiness. Why do you want to encourage this?

It is not that we want to encourage this shallow, but prevalent, excitement and interest in female beauty. We want to use it, and refine it in the process. For shouldn’t poetry be able to refine what is crude in life by sweetly and gently embracing it?

Religion must be moral and music must be sensual, and isn’t poetry that which occupies the perfect middle ground between the two? Pardon us if we seem too much like a Critic here, but is this not true?

And again, if the solution of “female beauty” seems silly, it is only because poetry as it is practiced today, both in and outside school, in all its solemn, many-headed seriousness, has become an empty bore to poetry’s potential public.

So in place of all this vagueness, why shouldn’t we introduce “female beauty” to “poetry,” if it will help make poetry popular, and rekindle the opportunity of sweet fame?

Why shouldn’t we introduce this principle:

Every true poet is a muse.

Why should poets remain oppressed and crushed by all that is vague? Better to be defined by what we are, and who we are, truthfully. Poetry needs to escape its abstract blackboard.

Why shouldn’t poetry be this:

Her.

Sad eyes, a humble spirit, devoted to family and friends, a brilliantly inventive but unschooled poet, writing poetry from childhood, not knowing why, with a model’s looks which could equal international renown, but looks greater than a model’s because informed by something sweeter and greater, captured and bound in a rapturous sense of poetry: an unconscious muse, a deeply conscious poet?

Poetry would be better for this.  For what is “poetry?”—word of no meaning!

Let poetry, instead, be the poetry she inspires.

And then we will know what poetry is.

 

 

 

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