WHO IS THE GREATEST LIVING POET?

Sushmita Gupta, painter, mother, teacher, wife, was born in Kolkata. She grew up in Bhilai, a Russian-Indian steel township in central eastern India, with perpendicular roads, and large trees which flowered during the summer and became fragrant at night. She presently lives in Oman.

She is proof that the sensitive female soul is the essence of poetry.  She reconciles the elements of the universe.

Her online site, Sushness supplies a much better view of her tasteful and prolific output.

Here on Scarriet we offer only a few poor, inflamed arguments in favor of her (the best arguments contain fire) and two of her poems.

She reminds us of Shelley, who embraced primary elements of psychology and nature.

Nor is she afraid to offer wisdom, in the ancient sense.

American poets—after Poe—a sophisticated lot, tend to be suspicious of wisdom—their excellence lies in quirky and difficult points of view.  The school of Bishop/Lowell, for instance.  Auden, perhaps, was the last poet in English who made a real attempt to sound wise.

The Bold And The Peaceful

I rushed.
It was bright.
It was crazy.
A tornado full of life.

The unpredictability!
The speed!
The danger!
My bold streak drew me to it.

I rushed across the field,
To be carried and caressed
By a tornado.

Almost there,
I stopped.
The peace within me,
Made a terrible mismatch.

The bold and the peaceful.
That is me.

In this minor poem by Sushmita Gupta, which resembles the minor poems of Shelley, we are struck by emotion, clarity, and psychological truth—the poem carries us away with its energy and immediacy—exactly like a tornado; the poem delivers its expressiveness without fuss, and because there’s no fuss, the reader is engaged; there is no hesitation, pretense, or straining after the right little details. The poem has the rigor of religion, the flow of the poem has an epic force and size, which permits the whole of the emotional expression to make itself felt. A child could understand the poem, and this is part of its appeal, and yet its subtlety is profound. The poem’s movement is psychologically astute. The key line in the poem is “I rushed across the field” and here is all the remarkable imagery we need. The very balance of the poem threatens to break it apart.  The duality is not a cancelling one, but in a brilliantly ironic way, the very source of the poem’s fury.

Sushmita Gupta is the greatest living poet.

Fame, as we all know, is based on hearsay—the T shirt is an extremely popular piece of clothing, but its popularity is not up for discussion, nor can it be mitigated by academic debate.

None can say what a great T-shirt is—it is the simple design of the T-shirt—invisible, ubiquitous—which is the “great” thing; the great poem is not akin to a great T-shirt, obviously; but the great poem achieves an excellence similar to the invisible, ubiquitous reality of the T-shirt as it exists in the practical world of clothes.

We should make it clear that Sushmita Gupta is the last person in the world who would make the claim that she is a “great” poet, much less the “greatest living poet.” She is too busy enjoying life, which includes writing poems, to ever worry about such a thing; she writes for friends, which is the practice of most poets—famous, or not.

She is humble and gracious—Scarriet makes this “great” claim on her behalf, without her knowledge, for pedagogical purposes only. We call her “great” only to advertise our own critical taste in poems written in English, which we have long developed and maintained. It ultimately doesn’t matter what a poet thinks, or whether their life circumstances justify the content of their poetry; we care, and only hope our readers care, for the poetry.

Judging poetry today is hindered by two things.

First: poetry criticism is hobbled by the cant which supposes that poetry has no relation to a made object with a clear design. “Poetry is not a T-shirt!”  Yes, true.

But indeed the poem—which belongs to life, and not to a rarefied, non-place, swirling about in a haze of intellectualized assumptions—is, like a T-shirt, a made object with a clear design.

Intellectual pedantry—which seeks to dazzle, without making sense—disagrees with the common sense premise that poetry is a “made object with a clear design,” and this pedantry wildly expands to assert that the more a poem is unlike a “made object with a clear design,” the better it is.

And so authority becomes not just partially perverted, but completely perverted. This is common in rhetorical pursuits, such as poetry, literary criticism, or politics—where rhetoric itself separates people, even though all people, in almost all cases, want the same things.

This is the first thing: on dubious authority, a poem is not recognized as a poem.

Second: although an appreciation of poetry will always exist among people who wear T-shirts, the process by which poetry is “officially” recognized is in the hands of the well-placed, academic, few—who devotedly pursue the error we just outlined.  This is especially the case, since the teaching of poetry was replaced, in mid-20th century America, by the college writing program apparatus, in which ambitious individuals transformed themselves from poets seeking fame into poetry teachers seeking fame, ensuring critical, philosophical confusion on one hand, and the precise kinds of unfortunate divisiveness and calculating hierarchy, often seen in politics, on the other—with the emptiness we would expect.

“Who is Sushmita Gupta?”

To the ambitious and well-positioned who ask this indignantly, we have no response.

Sushmita Gupta has neither bought into the expertise-cant of razzle-dazzle, formless, unclear poetry, nor has she ambitiously clambered her way into the maze of the creative writing industry.

Now obviously, this article, featuring two Sushmita Gupta poems, will not reveal to our readers what a real poem is, or any such nonsense—our argument above is not to be taken as a definition of poetry, but only a glimpse into what informs our own particular taste, out of which arises our judgment—that Sushmita Gupta’s poetry is deserving of lofty notice and serious recognition.

We spoke earlier of the importance of a poem’s formal design. Every poet should properly, and naturally, have a specific design on the reader—these two “designs” are nothing without the other—the poem’s visible, formal properties on one hand, and the poet’s invisible, emotional, and social intention, on the other. The more these match, the more successful the poem.

When we first had the pleasure of reading “His Words,” by Sushmita Gupta, we felt an emotional kick, and we were pleased at how seemingly without effort the emotional kick was administered. Only after reading the poem, again, with a critical eye, did we recognize its formal perfection.

The poem contains six stanzas. In stanzas two through five, the first part of each stanza is concerned with what “he” does to “her.”

The final line of these four stanzas reveals, progressively, the result of what he does to her.

We see effect on her, and also the effect of her—as when an image, such as “petal” is used.

The result of the last line of each of these stanzas is also her words, the poet’s, on “his words”—his words and her words contend within the poem, in an unspoken manner.

Sushmita Gupta’s poem, “His Words,” is more than a poem vindicating itself. The poem transcends its own poetic rhetoric in its final line—even as it remains securely within the arc of the poem.

It could be argued that the poet, in her final accusation—as a poet—is accusing herself, though this is not explicit.  There is meaning within meaning—within the poem, and one final possible meaning—outside the poem itself.

Nothing is left out, nothing more is needed—and every part of the poem belongs to every other part, as well as to the whole.  The measured perfection and ease, is breathtaking—even as the subject itself is a dramatic whirlwind.

~~~~~~~~~~

His Words

He chose
Each word,
With utmost care.
He strung
The sentences
Into lyrical poetry.

His writings
Touched her,
Like she was
The most beautiful.

His writings
Caressed her,
Like she was
A fragrant being.

His writings
Stroked her,
Like she was
A tender petal.

And she felt,
Being carried,
Over the threshold,
And pledged herself to him.

Only,
He did not know
She lived.

 

 

 

WHICH CAME FIRST: STORY OR CRAZY?

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Shakespeare: 1. Greatest Storyteller. 2. Poet 3. Taught us storytellers are liars.

 

A number of ideas recently entered my mind, drawn into it by a personal observation.

The personal observation is personal. I will get to it later. It is the centerpiece of my theme, but first, here are the ideas which saw fit to add themselves to the conviction that I was onto something real.

I saw a truism quoted approvingly in the New York Times in one of those ‘best books of the year’ pieces which went something like this: stories only happen to those who can tell them.

The ‘best books of 2015’ piece outlined those disturbing novels, memoirs and non-fiction works of eccentricities and loss which are discussed because they are discussed. The Times notice which originally drew me in was the new book on the Creative Writing phenomenon and Paul Engle, with its “show don’t tell” mantra that served to professionalize the American writer as a civilized university product—and was indeed sponsored by U.S. Government anti-Communism during the Cold War (just as it has now come out that abstract painting was CIA funded in the war against Soviet Realist art.)

The upshot of “show don’t tell” is the conviction that “telling” is propaganda compared to the more authentic and personal rhetoric that “shows,” gathered from genuinely observed experience.

The most exciting story-telling always reveals some kind of shame or tragedy or horror, the kind that has us saying, “No! Really?” in excited whispers. Is it real or fiction? It doesn’t matter. Our reaction is the same.

Most fiction is loosely based on truth. A story is a story, and the fine points of whether a particular piece of writing is fiction or non-fiction are reserved for the tedious scholar who is ignored by the rest of us, and who, when turned to, never finally knows the full story in all its truth, anyway.

The novelist “shows” what appears to be the “truth” by way of fiction, not because there is some poetic “truth” which hides behind fiction, or because there is something about “fiction” which allows “truth” to come to light—this is a sentimental falsehood repeated often by novelists and their defenders.

The novelist “shows” what is taken as truth only because the reader assumes “truth” is present due to the great confusion which naturally blurs truth and fiction in our minds; rather than admit ignorance, readers “fill in” the “truthfulness” of the writer’s presentation and construe it as “truth” without question—because this is what ignorance does.

The novelist is a cut-and-paste liar and the novelist’s “truth” is a shadow—cast by the truth of the reader’s ignorance, and the reader’s ignorance is willing to be duped by the fiction, whose “showing” merely strengthens the delusion that “truth” of any kind exists in the fiction. Emotional truth—the truth that one is having feelings— should not be confused with truth, or with cut-and-paste lies that trigger these emotions.

Therefore “showing” in fiction, the non-judgmental presentation of selected, cut-and-paste, experience with its corresponding emotions, the classic Workshop fiction formula, is not valid or truthful, per se. “Showing” stands in opposition to “telling” in name only, since selected presentation of experience: incident, dialogue, etc lacks truth in the precise way all mere experience lacks truth. What happens to us has no truth, per se, except as it is our private experience—which may potentially comprise leaning a skill through repetition. But our experience merely related by way of a story told to someone else, has for that other person, as literature, no necessary truth—unless the “truth” of a pleasant illusion, but only if pleasantly and artistically conveyed.

The only human truth with a capital T is moral truth—what happens to us is true only in its moral cause and effect. Whether this is told or shown is entirely beside the point: the difference is overstated since language by its very nature shows by telling.

Advertising is communication with a motive; it is crucial to understand that story-telling may be below even that of advertisement: a distinguished novel the inferior of a mere advertisement no matter how genuine the experiences conveyed in the novel. If an author’s experience is genuine, it is private, and private experiences alone can never rise to the level of truth unless we add what “showing” supposedly opposes: “telling.”

“Let me show you what I would otherwise tell you” is all about the illusion created— and nothing else.

There is nothing morally superior about “showing.” By “showing” we use an aesthetic term, only, and one that was practiced by the ancient Greeks by way of producing beauty—very different from the Workshop formula.

Now my personal observation: there is a very common personality that loves to talk for its own sake, and I was struck recently by one I know filling up time with talk in a way that was so pleased with itself and at the same time disengaged from preventative reality so it made me wonder: since we delight to hear stories of tragedy and loss, is it possible that story-telling itself can become a kind of mania which “shows” a “loss” of mind and reason? So that the “best” show-don’t-tell stories are, in fact, products of madness?

The stern, theoretical “telling” of communist or statist rhetoric is well worth refuting.  No argument there.

But what is the true value of the antidote?

What good is maniacal telling of the “show-don’t-tell” variety?

First, it essentially springs from personal experience so dense, genuine and “real,” it crowds out our own mundane and empty existence—that existence which is charged with “figuring things out” in order to live.

Second, it competes with all experience, since this is what fiction that “shows” finally depends on.

Third, it has no conclusions or directives, since it is genuine only because it “shows” and refuses to “tell.”

Fourth, it makes no attempt to please for its own sake: it is merely in thrall to the mania of its story-telling mode. When we tell a story, there is no attempt to do anything more than tell a story which causes the reader to exclaim excitedly, “No! Really?” Content—the lived—is all. Form—the teachable—is nothing.

Fifth, the sum total of others’ experience is so vast and interesting just by itself, that unless there is a mechanism of sorting, we find ourselves in a continual state of excited whisper, “No! Really?”

Sixth, the professionalization of this kind of writing in the Writing Programs, feeding directly into the book industry, has made it necessary to carry this ‘rhetoric of experience’ on our backs as editors, writers, and publishers. There is nothing worse than when the leaders of any industry are guilty of gratuitously dumbing down that industry—one in which lurid content is everything and form is nothing.

Seventh, there is nothing wrong with lived experience and its communication, except that it already exists in all walks of life—and when literature becomes merely a competition for ‘who can tell the biggest whopper of a tale’ without any self-reflection or qualifying judgment or restraint or art or philosophy (telling), then literature has essentially become a cynical part of what makes human life the most cynical.

For as we know, the most cynical is not the grief and consternation we find in rhetoric that desires to solve problems and prevent disasters, but the mindless “showing” with a devilish maniacal delight of every imaginable and preventable horror under the sun: literature = yellow journalism.

Now it may be said that there is good “show don’t tell” writing and bad “show don’t tell” writing, and that the good variety has been screened by good editors and publishers and the best of it is intelligent and not maniacal and does do a little valuable “telling” in the end, after all.

But of course. There is always ‘bad and good’ within bad, and always hybrid concessions which dilute any picture, but this should not distract from our main point—story-telling that takes on insane, self-justifying dimensions across the culture, supported by a professional apparatus and a professional class, all of which circles back to enhance the very same mania in subsequent generations of students and general readers.

When we say pleasure for its own sake, we don’t mean that there is something inherently wrong with the pure joy of story-telling for its own sake.

But telling a story carries it with it a responsibility that say, Mozart’s music does not.

Words can libel, slander, present half-truths, make a mere show of learning, and horrify and seduce in damaging ways. And further, storytelling, or talking for its own sake, can just be a plain useless waste of time, a vanity kept afloat by a professional class for its own benefit. So there is that.

The professional apparatus of music can safely pursue Mozart for its own sake and there is no doubt that this is a musical good with all sorts of side benefits (one doesn’t have to love Mozart personally to sense at once that Mozart embodies a universal musical skill that can only help and not hinder the pursuit of music itself in any way).

Cold War anti-Communist officials had no trouble believing that the Soviet Union was a unified and far-reaching society that was dangerous because of its art and writing and rhetoric.

But instead of finding a common ground of cultural connection, such as Mozart, the CIA instead gave us both abstract painting and the Writing Program Era of Paul Engle (good organizer, terrible poet) which celebrated anti-intellectual fiction (the novel as wounded auto-biography) and a “new poetry” which quickly lost any sort of public due to its poor quality.

Poetry is the crucial literary expression—which is like Mozart’s music: joy and excellence for its own sake that escapes all propaganda, either the sort practiced by communists or the kind practiced by the Jorie Grahams in the Writing Workshop.

Poetry avoids the trap of many types of story-telling rhetoric: the propagandist, the gasbag, the immoral confessionalist, the college essay blather, etc.

Poetry which is transcendently beautiful, setting the standard by what it is for all those who would aspire to be a poet—or any kind of writer—is unimaginable to most people, the same way that Mozart’s music flies above that of the folk singer. But who would want Mozart and the folk singer to compete? Never. That would be like introducing the fiendish illogic of war into heaven. No sane person would assert the world of music would be better if there were no Mozart—not even a folk singer singing communist folk songs.

If we are to have “writing programs” (to fight communism or cultivate professionalism or what have you) let us produce poets of the first order—Mozarts, who may then go on to write whatever they wish.

Just as with artists: first let us see if they can draw.

And musicians: first let us see if they can invent a melody.

If we are serious about avoiding propaganda and gas bagging and lower quality and lower standards and increasingly bored students, the answer is simple: music, poetry, and drawing which is beautiful for its own sake.

The blatherers will object, of course.

But in the world I am imagining, at least we will know what blathering—as opposed to poetry—is.

 

 

 

 

 

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