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:



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.



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.



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.




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.








Image result for yone noguchi

Yone Noguchi and Joaquin Miller: How curiously they would gaze on us today!

This latest Hot 100 List is mostly comprised of very brief quotes from poems in BAP 2015—now the most collectible volume in David Lehman’s “best” anthology series, due to its Yi-Fen Chou controversy.

The “molecular” display presents fragmentary glimpses of “hot,” and we must say it is an interesting way to see the poets—can we know them by a few of their poetry molecules?

We may be living, without knowing it, in the Age of the Fragment.  The best prose-poems often produce dull fragments. That’s the bad news. The good news is that fragments from dull prose-poems may intimate genius; if future ages can only read the fragments we produce today, some lucky poets, who wrote mediocre prose poems, may be hailed as geniuses. Since the lyric of unified metrical accomplishment is really not our strength today, the Fragment may be our era’s ticket to lasting fame.

Is it the goal of the fragment to be fragmentary?  Is it ever the goal of the poem to be fragmentary?  Are there different types of fragments?  Is there not a rush to completion by every poem itself that makes even a fragment seem complete, beyond even the knowledge of the poet?

Getting to know David Lehman on Facebook…he loves rhyme, especially the rollicking sort, and we believe those sorts of poems in BAP are his selections.  Lehman is also a ‘free-speech-er;’ he sanctions the racy; the BAP poems often strive to be popular in the attention-getting sense, which I suppose is admirable—or not.

The non-poem exceptions in the Scarriet list are recent remarks by the hot Alexie, Lehman, Perloff, and Mary Karr. We are proud to include the quotation from Perloff—who chose to break her silence on the “racist Avant-garde” controversy by addressing Scarriet—on Facebook!—as she admitted her book Unoriginal Genius and its final chapter on Goldsmith’s Traffic may have had a part in bringing on the racist label. Are we not interested in my discussion of Yoko Tawada in Unoriginal Genius, Perloff asked, because she’s Asian-German, rather than Asian-American? “What xenophobia!”

The question we asked Perloff was, “Is the non-creative nearly racist by default?” The question was not meant to put Perloff on the spot; it was as much about the current race-conscious atmosphere as it was about Perloff, or the avant-garde. Were an avant-garde poet to tweet “red wheel barrow beside the white chickens” enough times, just think what might happen. And speaking of Williams (and Pound) and their Imagiste schtick: Scarriet, in its five year assault on Avant-Garde Modernism as a reactionary clique of white men, should get some credit for opening up this whole discussion.

Scarriet has written of Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) in the context of Imagism ripping off haiku, the importance of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war, and Noguchi’s important contacts: Yeats, Hardy, Symons, and John Gould Fletcher—the Arkansas poet who, along with Ford Maddox Ford, was the connecting link between Pound’s circle and the equally reactionary and highly influential circle of New Critics—the group of men who brought us the Writing Program Era—and its “difficult” Modernist flavor.

Scarriet, which trailblazes often, found the secret to the Red Wheel Barrow poem: WC Williams had a brother, Edgar, who married the woman he loved, Charlotte (Bill married her sister). “So much depended on” this: and Ed can be found in “red,” Charlotte in “chickens” and “white” symbolizes the bride.

But here we go. Controversy and hot go together; let’s get to the hot list. No mention of awards this time. Enjoy the list—and the poetry.

1. Yi-Fen Chou –“Adam should’ve said no to Eve.”

2. Derrick Michael Hudson –“Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?”

3. Sherman Alexie –“I am no expert on Chinese names…I’d assumed the name was Chinese.”

4. David Lehman –“Isn’t giving offense, provoking discussion…part of the deal?”

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

6. Marjorie Perloff — “Scarriet poses the question…I have so far refrained from answering this and related questions but perhaps it is time to remind Scarriet and its readership…”

7. Amy Gerstler –“…live on there forever if heaven’s bereft of smell?”

8. Jane Hirshfield — “A common cold, we say—common, though it is infinite”

9. Mary Karr — “[John Ashbery is] the most celebrated unclothed emperor…an invention of academic critics…the most poisonous influence in American poetry”

10. Mary Oliver — “June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter.”

11. Rowan Ricardo Phillips — “It does not not get you quite wrong.”

12. Lawrence Raab — “nothing truly seen until later.”

13. Patrick Phillips — “Touched by your goodness, I am like that grand piano we found one night”

14. Dan Chiasson — “The only god is the sun, our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

15. Willie Perdomo — I go up in smoke and come down in a nod”

16. Katha Pollitt — “Truth had no past. It was wordless as water, a fall of shadow on stone.”

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

18. Marilyn Hacker — “You happened to me.”

19. Charles Simic — “I could have run into the street naked, confident anyone I met would understand”

20. Louise Glück — “…the night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.”

21. Laura Kasischke — “but this time I was beside you. …I was there.”

22. Michael Tyrell — “how much beauty comes from never saying no?”

23. Susan Terris — “cut corners    fit in     marry someone”

24. Cody Walker — “Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.”

25. A.E. Stallings — “the woes were words,     and the only thing left was quiet.”

26. Valerie Macon — “coats fat over lean with a bright brush”

27. Jennifer Keith — “…bound to break: One the fiction, one the soul, the fact.”

28. Ed Skoog — “Its characters are historians at the Eisenhower Library.”

29. Terence Winch — “I’m in the emergency room at Holy Cross hoping all is not lost.”

30. Chana Bloch — “the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.”

31. Natalie Diaz — “Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark”

32. LaWanda Walters — “And we—we white girls—knew nothing.”

33. Raphael Rubinstein — “Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else”

34. R.S. Gwynn — “How it shows, shows, shows. (How it shows!)”

35. Robin Coste Lewis — “how civic the slick to satisfied from man.”

36. Andrew Kozma — “What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.”

37. Melissa Barrett — “—lines from Craiglist personal ads

38. Mark Bibbins — “He’s Serbian or something, whole family wiped out”

39. Chen Chen — “i pledge allegiance to the already fallen snow”

40. Patricia Lockwood — “How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel marry Across…on a Tightrope?”

41. Ron Padgett — “Old feller, young feller, who cares?”

42. Bethany Schultz Hurst — “Then things got confusing for superheroes.”

43. Natalie Scenters-Zapico — “…apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.”

44. Sandra Simonds — “Her little girl threw fake bills into the air.”

45. Donna Masini — “Even sex is no exit.  Ah, you exist.”

46. Dora Malech — “paper mane fluttering in the breeze of a near miss, belly ballasted with…kisses”

47. David Kirby — “Pets are silly, but the only world worth living in is one that doesn’t think so.”

48. Ross Gay —  “One never knows does one how one comes to be”

49. Meredith Hasemann — “The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.”

50. Madelyn Garner — “working her garden…which is happiness—even as petal and pistil we fall.”

51. Wendy Videlock — “like a lagoon, like a canoe, like you”

52. Erica Dawson — “I knocked out Sleeping Beauty, fucking cocked her on the jaw.”

53. Hailey Leithauser — “Eager spills eel-skin, python, seal-leather, platinum and plate, all cabbage, all cheddar.”

54. Monica Youn –“the dead-eyed Christ in Pietro’s Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers”

55. Tanya Olson — “Assless Pants Prince High-Heels Boots Prince Purple Rain Prince”

56. Jericho Brown — “But nobody named Security ever believes me.”

57. Danielle DeTiberus — “In a black tank top, I can watch him talk about beams, joists…for hours”

58. Rebecca Hazelton — “My husband bearded, my husband shaved, the way my husband taps out the razor”

59. Dana Levin — “I watched them right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea while the real sea thrashed and heaved—”

60. Evie Shockley — “fern wept, let her eyes wet her tresses, her cheeks, her feet. the cheerlessness rendered her blessed”

61. Alan Michael Parker — “Rabbi, try the candied mint: it’s heaven.”

62. Aimee Nezhukumatahil — “I wonder if scientists could classify us a binary star—”

63. D. Nurske — “Neils Bohr recites in his soft rapt voice: I divide myself into two persons”

64. Afaa Michael Weaver — “inside oneness that appears when the prison frees me to know I am not it and it is not me.”

65. Marilyn Chin — “She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove”

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

67. Joanna Valente — “Sometimes, at night, I wish for someone to break into me—”

68. Jeet Thayil — “There are no accidents.  There is only God.”

69. Kate Tempest — “It gets into your bones.”

70. Alice Notley — “To take part in you is to die is why one dies Have I said this before?”

71. Eileen Myles — “Well I’ll be a poet. What could be more foolish and obscure.”

72. Major Jackson — “When you have forgotten the meaningful bop”

73. Dawn Lundy Martin — “And Olivia, the mouth of his children from the mouth of my vagina.”

74. Kiki Petrosino — “We sense them shining in our net of nerves.”

75. Jennifer Moxley — “How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.”

76. Juliana Spahr — “There is space between the hands.”

77. Ada Limón — “just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

78. Kevin Young — “I want to be doused in cheese and fried.”

79. Dodie Bellamy — “what is it have I seen it before will it hurt me or help me”

80. Juan Felipe Herrera — “Could this be yours? Could this item belong to you? Could this ticket be what you ordered, could it?”

81. Joy Harjo — “The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits blew deer magic.”

82. Saeed Jones — “In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back”

83. Sarah Arvio — “The new news is I love you my nudist”

84. Desiree Bailey — “how will I swim to you when the day is done?”

85. Rachael Briggs — “Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny”

86. Rafael Campo — “We lie and hide from what the stethoscope will try to say”

87. Emily Kendal Frey — “How can you love people without them feeling accused?”

88. James Galvin — “Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress? What, gone?”

89. Douglas Kearney — “people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.”

90. Jamaal May — “how ruined the lovely children must be in your birdless city”

91. Claudia Rankine — “What did he just say? Did she really just say that?”

92. Donald Platt — “Someone jerks his strings. He can’t stop punching.”

93. Denise Duhamel — “it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires”

94. Jane Wong — “A planet fell out of my mouth”

95. Derrick Austin — “Will you find me without the pink and blue hydrangeas?”

96. Dexter L. Booth — “The head goes down in defeat, but lower in prayer”

97. Catherine Bowman — “From two pieces of string and oil-fattened feathers he made a father.”

98. Jessamyn Birrer — “Abracadabra: The anus. The star at the base of the human balloon.”

99. Julie Carr– “Can you smell her from here?”

100. Mary Angela Douglas — “music remains in the sifted ruins”


A.E. Stallings.  Is her poem, “Ajar,” the best rhymed poem in BAP 2015?

In our previous notice on BAP 2015, we ranked the poems from 75th to 1st (Scarriet, Sept 20, 1915). Ranking is a proper criticism and should be done by critics and reviewers more often today.

There is a belief, a very powerful and prevalent belief today, one that to seeks to inhibit overly excitable and aggressive criticism, that says if a poem fails, we should simply pass over it in silence—that neglect is the proper reward for what is inferior. If we discuss only the good, says this belief, we will 1. Promote good will and avoid giving offense 2. Make an example of what is superior 3. Promote good poetry 4. Allow bad poetry to fade away without wasting time and energy on it.

It is hard to argue with this.

But we will.

Rather than “pass over the bad poem in silence,” we would rather rank it among the others. When every poem in any given group is part of a chain, we become aware of a relationship between poems; the very idea of “good and bad’ comes organically out of the poems themselves, rather than super-imposed from above, selectively, with large gaps of understanding between our choices.

If our task is to review BAP 2015, we should review all the poems. If we only like three of the 75, and only discuss those three, what sort of “review” would that be?

And, if we review all the BAP 2015 poems, should our review be honest, or dishonest? The more honest, the more poems we look at—even “bad” ones.

Why should judgment be silent? What if critics fall into the habit of ignoring good poems—with the belief they are bad?  That would be not only poor judgment, but poor judgment which is allowed to thrive.

In a review, what actually occurs is a judgment of judgement, not poems; and therefore silence by a reviewer should offend, not the other way around.

And further, what if the critic sees bad poems promoted as good? Shouldn’t the critic say something, even if it gives offense to the erring poet and the mistaken critic?

Isn’t passing off the bad poem as good akin to encouraging people to consume poison while thinking it is healthy?

Poems do not exist in a vacuum; all poetry exists in a medium: an environment of promotion and judgment and social interaction. Should the poet who writes the poem control the poem’s environment, or should a reliable critical faculty shape a poem’s extra-poem environment? And should that critical faculty be honest or dishonest? And, if honest, how do we know it is honest unless it speak, and speak honestly? By turning its own light on its own judgment, not just on “good” poems?

Poems, when they are good, are good compared to other poems; this is a truth of all judgments. By ranking the 75 poems by order of excellence, we avoid promoting an abstract idea of good or bad, whether it be a moral or a formal judgment. We instead illustrate, with gradation, the very poems before us in the volume: and here we cannot offend as critic this way, because the offended poet will first have to blame the poet ranked just above him—and how can he do so without escaping the censure he would level at the critic?

A ranking can be neither honest nor dishonest; it is a fact; the poems exist as a group in the volume, fated to jostle against one another, and ranking the group wounds only as it illuminates. Yet the hurting and helping cannot be escaped, and here, by making hurting and helping one, we cannot but aid criticism—which never seeks to benefit anyone by hurting anyone; it is by the natural division: 75 poems, that the world begins, and is, and ends.

We have 75 poems before us. We judge them. Against one another. They live in the same world as each other and shine a critical light on each other. We don’t know what a poem is until it provides us with its particular pleasure, and when it does, it has set a standard—the poem has set the standard, not the criticism; the critic only points up this fact as a passive reporter. (The critic who “only” discusses “good” poems is actually doing much more—is actually being more intrusive and arrogant as a critic.) The poem has done something and the critic simply says, “my god, did you see that?”  If there is only one poem, the home runs hit by that one poem would have to be our measure of poetry. As soon as we have a second poem that hits a hundred more home runs than the first, civilization and romantic love begins.

Now. As for these 75 poems on Best American Poetry 2015, we wish we had liked the formalist poems more, as we prefer formalism in general—poems which exhibit metrical and musical and rhyming skill.

Rhyme and meter, however, are extremely difficult for poets today to pull off, especially in our current free verse environment—which naturally has its demands.

The serious poet today who rhymes, let’s say, lives in fear of many things.

The poet who also attempts to be a musician is naked, exposed; they are leaving the clothed comfort of talking for a naturalism of sound which can highly endear but also highly embarrass—if things are not right.

Because you can either write like Keats & Shelley/play Mozart or you can’t.  Speech is. But music demands.

Mozart is actually less man-made than speech; Mozart, and highly musical poetry, approaches the divine sensuality of nature herself.

Why have the sophisticated turned away from the beauties of meter and rhyme?

We are like a society today without orchestras, without professional musicians. Divine musical poetry is almost dead.

A. E. Stallings is a doggerelist.

The modest success of rhymed poetry we see in contemporary efforts is inevitably the lighter, less serious poem.

We said the poem leaning on sound can be highly embarrassing if “things are not right.”

When the lens of formalism is trained on poetic practice, it is natural to expect formal considerations to become the poet’s supreme point of interest. Since rhyming well requires a good ear, there hardly seems to be any need to fixate on what we are rhyming about—what should content have to do with utterances of pure sound? In nonsense poetry, not much—the wacky music carries the day. But even here, in examples of pure burlesque, content does matter. It matters more.

In pure prose, the content has it easy.

In prose, the content is the content.

In verse, the content is not the content; the content, as a separate thing, belongs to the verse, and therefore musical poetry’s content is up for greater inspection—precisely because it is attached to something else (the musical contraptions and flow).

This is why formal poetry is so difficult to pull off; it can very easily fail on two counts, not just one, as in prose. It can fail as music—too rhyme-y, too sing-song-y, too dull, too monotonous, too eccentric, not mathematically precise enough, too rigid, not flexible enough, annoying in a purely sensual, distracting, strange, alien sort of way—and then it can also fail in the same manner that prose fails, but more so, since the prose meaning is aloft on a musical pedestal for closer inspection.

The real difficulty—not the artificial “difficulty” promoted by the modernists, by which we now live in a more “modern” and “difficult” society, etc, no—the real difficulty in terms of effort and skill, in writing sublime musical poetry is the sole reason for its demise—and not because of any inevitable modernist “change.”

The would-be formalist poet is ridiculously fearful that the reader will ‘see a rhyme coming’ and so they take great pains to make the rhyme unexpected and idiosyncratic. Rhyme can’t relax. Ashamed that it is not natural speech or unobtrusive prose, rhyme, with an eye to critical acceptance, humbles itself and doesn’t fly. It solemnly clips its wings in deliberately pedantic or plain speech. It sputters hesitatingly in a tone-deaf manner in terms of mood and feeling. It orates in a deliberately measured and mannered technique—that often ends up as doggerel. When rhyme and meter are used in highly digressive and rambling types of rhetoric, in silly, acrobatic ways or not, it ends up serving humor, and never the sublime. All kinds of things can go wrong.

To demonstrate, we’ll look at a rhymed effort in BAP 2015.

The highest ranked, serious, rhymed poem in the anthology (it earned its ranking, to be honest, more from effort than accomplishment) is a brief poem by A.E. Stallings, “Ajar.”

The washing machine door broke.  We hand-washed for a week.
Left in the tub to soak,   the angers began to reek.
And sometimes when we spoke,   you said we shouldn’t speak.

Pandora was a bride;   the gods gave her a jar
But said don’t look inside.   You know how stories are—
The can of worms denied?    It’s never been so far.

Whatever the gods forbid,   it’s sure someone will do.
And so Pandora did,   And made the worst come true.
She peeked under the lid,   And out all trouble flew:

Sickness, war, and pain,   nerves frayed like fretted rope,
Every mortal bane    with which Mankind must cope.
The only thing to remain,    lodged in the mouth, was Hope.

Or so the tale asserts—    and who am I to deny it?
Yes, out like black-winged birds    the woes flew and ran riot,
But I say that the woes were words,    and the only thing left was quiet.

“Ajar” is a “math” poem—meter and rhyme are aggressively on display.

Proportion is a powerful tool, and perhaps the most important one in all the arts.

Content and meaning, prose’s virtues, even in the most rambling, off-hand manner of prose, has proportion, is expressed proportionately; in meter and rhyme, however, the virtues and potential failures increase exponentially.

Stallings escapes nothing by using rhyme and meter—she brings upon herself a thousand more potential problems. This is an obvious point, but we think not properly understood. Not only will she be judged by her sound, she will be read for her content, as well—which will matter more, not less, and further, she will be judged by how her sound—specifically proportionate sound—and her prose meaning, in every possible specific manner, commingle.

When someone is frankly talking to us, we let our guard down; we listen respectively to what they are saying.

But as soon as we hear the first rhyme, our guard goes up: we listen, almost against our will, with an extra sense, and think, “oh god is this going to be painful?”

There is much to be recommended in this poem; it is perhaps the most interesting in the whole book.

Its subject is Pandora and its ruling idea: the woes Pandora released were words, and the one thing left in the open box, was not hope, but quiet.

Stallings ends her poem with “quiet,” and the fact that “quiet” is a word is interesting in itself—and also we notice it is a feminine rhyme—lacking closure, sound-wise—so it fits in with “ajar.”

The first stanza implies a domestic argument ushering in an exasperated, compromising silence.

But then there comes three stanzas of rather pedantic recounting of the Pandora myth—and here proportionately defeats the poet, for there is too much time spent on recounting the myth; it drags the poem down.

Stallings is not fully in control of the music—there is some real doggerel here.

Lines like “nerves frayed like fretted rope” feel like filler.

When the poem says at the end, “But I say that the…” we as readers are not sure who the “I” is—is it the woman of the domestic dispute in the first stanza, or the poet?  The final stanza does echo the idea of “silence” which we got in the first stanza, but the speaker’s identity remains vague.  The poem would be stronger if we knew; but we never get a chance to know, for the majority of the lines in the poem are mere pedantry.

“The can of worms denied? It’s never been so far” is weak.

“And out all trouble flew” has a ponderous, spondaic rhythm, completely at odds with the idea conveyed: woes flying out of the jar quickly.  Or perhaps “out all trouble flew” is written intentionally that way, since the poet wants to make the action hefty and memorable.  But we don’t know.  And that’s a weakness.  If we have to stop and wonder about sound/sense, it fails, unless we are intentionally building ambiguity; but a poem will always eventually fall apart when ambiguity builds on ambiguity.

This is what we mean when we say the virtue of what Stallings is trying to do can quickly become a flaw.

And here we might mention the New Critics’ “Intentional fallacy,” and how much damage it has done.  We know how it was meant: just because you say you are going to do something, if you try and do it, and you can’t, your intention means nothing. So, the New Critics were anxious to tell us, it doesn’t matter what the poet intended to do.  This is correct, but only if we are speaking of macro-intention: I am going to move this rock.  But poems—especially this poem by Stallings—are full of micro-intentions, and if the micro-intentions are not clear, the poem fails.

To be musically serious in poetry demands the greatest skill; any pedantry or clutter quickly destroys the attempt, or it becomes humorous, as in the following excerpt, from another rhyming poem in BAP 2015, “Trades I Would Make,” by Cody Walker, a poem of non-sequiturs:

Gehrig, Unitas, Chamberlain (a bunch of dead jocks) for lunch with Redd Foxx.
A cat named Frisky for a vat of whiskey.

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