LET’S DO IT AGAIN! ANOTHER SCARRIET HOT 100 POETRY LIST!

 

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”

FIRST MARCH MADNESS CONTEST: PLATO VERSUS HUME

PLATO:

The manufacture of the ITEMS OF FURNITURE involves the CRAFTSMAN looking to the TYPE and then making the beds or tables WE USE. The type itself is NOT manufactured by any craftsman. How could it be?

To get hold of A MIRROR and carry it around with you everywhere, you’ll soon be CREATING EVERYTHING.

PAINTER, CARPENTER, and GOD are responsible for THREE different kinds of beds.  God has produced only that ONE REAL BED.

The SAME goes for TRAGIC PLAYWRIGHTS.  REPRESENTATION and TRUTH are a considerable distance apart.

Does HISTORY record that there was any war fought in HOMER’S time whose success depended on his leadership or advice?  No.

HUME:

The SENTIMENTS of men often DIFFER with regard to BEAUTY, even while their general DISCOURSE is the SAME. There are certain terms in every language, which impart blame, and others praise; and all men, who use the SAME TONGUE, MUST AGREE. But when critics come to PARTICULARS, this seeming UNANIMITY VANISHES.

In SCIENCE, the case is OPPOSITE: the difference among men is there oftener found to lie in GENERALS than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance.

It is natural for us to SEEK a STANDARD OF TASTE, a rule by which various sentiments may be reconciled.

The difference, it is said, is very wide between judgement and sentiment. ALL SENTIMENT IS CORRECT; sentiment has a reference to nothing beyond itself, and is always real, whenever a man is conscious of it. But all determinations of the UNDERSTANDING are NOT CORRECT; because they have a reference to something beyond themselves, to wit, real matter of fact; and are not always conformable to that standard.

One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others. To seek the REAL BEAUTY, or real deformity, is as FRUITLESS an inquiry as to pretend to ascertain the REAL SWEET OR REAL BITTER.

BUT whoever would assert an equality of genius between OGILBY and MILTON would be thought to defend no less an extravagance than if he maintained a pond as extensive as the ocean.

It is evident that NONE of the rules of composition are fixed by reasoning a priori, or can be esteemed abstract conclusions of the understanding, from comparing these habits and relations of ideas, which are eternal and immutable. Their foundation is the same with that of all the practical sciences, EXPERIENCE; nor are they any thing but general observations, concerning what has been universally found to please all countries and in all ages.

Many of the BEAUTIES OF POETRY and even of eloquence are founded on FALSEHOOD and fiction, on hyperboles, metaphors, and an abuse or perversion of terms from their natural meaning. To check the sallies of the imagination, and to reduce every expression to geometrical truth and EXACTNESS, would be the most contrary to the laws of criticism; because it would produce a work, which by universal experience, has been found the most insipid and DISAGREEABLE.

But though poetry can never submit to exact truth, it must be confined by rules of art, discovered to the author either by GENIUS or OBSERVATION.

The same HOMER who pleased at Athens and Rome, 2,000 years ago, is STILL ADMIRED at Paris and at London. All the changes of climate, government, religion, and language, have not been able to obscure his glory.

Though the principles of taste be universal, and nearly, if not entirely the same in all men; yet FEW ARE QUALIFIED to give judgement on any work of art, or establish their own sentiment as the standard of beauty.

We choose our favorite AUTHOR as we do our FRIEND, from a conformity of humor and disposition.

The WANT OF HUMANITY and decency, so conspicuous in the characters drawn by several of the ancient poets, even sometimes by HOMER and the Greek tragedians, diminishes considerably the merit of their noble performances, and gives MODERN authors an advantage over them.

Team Plato decided to be iconic and brief from Book X of the Republic.

Team Hume went with a more discursive strategy from On the Standard of Taste, but we see how this backfires, as Hume, trying to play every side of each argument, ends up contradicting himself.

WINNER: PLATO

ANOTHER SCARY SCARRIET POETRY HOT 100!

1. Natasha Trethewey   Beautiful! Black! Poet Laureate!
2. Billy Collins  Still sells…
3. David Lehman  Best American Poetry Series chugs along…
4. Stephen Burt  Harvard Cross-dresser takes Vendler’s mantle?
5. William Logan  Most entertaining poetry critic
6. Christian Wiman  He’s the “Poetry” man, he makes me feel alright…
7. Sharon Olds  Sock-in-the-gut, sexy frankness…
8. Tracy K. Smith Young Pulitzer winner
9. David Orr  The New York Times Poetry Critic…
10. Harold Bloom  Not sure on Naomi Wolfe; we know he abused Poe….
11. Matthew Dickman  OMG!  Is he really no. 11?
12. Anne Carson  Professor of Classics born in Toronto…
13. Dana Gioia  Famous essay still resonates & not a bad formalist poet…
14. Jorie Graham Judge not…
15. Rita Dove The Penguin Anthology really wasn’t that good…
16. Helen Vendler Almost 80!
17. John Ashbery Has he ever written a poem for no. 16?  Where’s the love?
18. David Ferry This translator is almost 90!
19. Kevin Young We hear he’s a leading poet of his generation…
20. Robert Pinsky The smartest man in the universe…
21. Cole Swenson  The Hybrid Queen, newly installed at Brown…
22. Marjorie Perloff  “Poetry on the Brink” praises cut-and-paste…
23. John Barr Financial leader of Poetry Foundation and poet worth reading?
24. Seamus Heaney  The inscrutable Irish mountain…
25. Geoffrey Hill  A mountain who is really a hill?
26. Robert Hass  West-coast cheerleader.
27. Stephen Dunn  Athlete, philosopher, poet
28. Laura Kassichke  Championed by Burt.
29. Mary Oliver  The John Clare of today…
30. Kay Ryan  Come on, she’s actually good…
31. Don Share  Riding “Poetry” gravy train…
32. W.S. Merwin  Noble, ecological, bull?
33. Dana Levin Do you know the way to Santa Fe?
34. Susan Wheeler Elliptical Poet.  At Princeton.
35. Tony Hoagland Has the racial controversy faded?
36. Mark Doty Sharon Olds’ little brother…
37. Frank Bidart The Poet as Greek Tragedian
38. Simon Armitage Tilda Swinton narrates his global warming doc
39. D.A. Powell He likes the weather in San Francisco…
40. Philip Levine Second generation Program Era poet
41. Ron Silliman Experimental to the bone, his blog is video central…
42. Mark Strand Plain-talking surrealist, studied painting with Josef Albers…
43. Dan Chiasson Influential poetry reviewer…
44. Al Filreis  On-line professor teaches modern poetry to thousands at once!
45. Paul Muldoon If you want your poem in the New Yorker, this is the guy…
46. Charles Bernstein Difficult, Inc.
47. Rae Armantrout  If John Cage wrote haiku?
48. Louise Gluck Bollingen Prize winner…
49. Ben Mazer 2012 Scarriet March Madness Champ, studied with Heaney, Ricks…
50. Carol Muske-Dukes California Laureate
51. Peter Riley His critical essay crushes the hybrid movement…
52. Lyn Hejinian California Language Poet…
53. Peter Gizzi 12 issues of O.blek made his name…
54. Franz Wright Cantankerous but blessed…
55. Nikky Finney 2011 National Book Award winner 
56. Garrison Keillor Good poems!
57. Camille Paglia  She’s baaaack!
58. Christian Bok Author of Canada’s best-selling poetry book
59. X.J. Kennedy Classy defender of rhyme…
60. Frederick Seidel Wears nice suits…
61. Henri Cole Poems “cannily wrought” –New Yorker
62. Thom Donovan Poetry is Jorie-Graham-like…
63. Marie Howe State Poet of New York

64. Michael Dickman The other twin…
65. Alice Oswald Withdrew from T.S. Eliot prize shortlist…
66. Sherman Alexie Poet/novelist/filmmaker…
67. J.D. McClatchy Anthologist and editor of Yale Review…
68. David Wagoner Edited Poetry Northwest until it went under…
69. Richard Wilbur A versifier’s dream…
70. Stephen Cramer His fifth book is called “Clangings.”
71. Galway Kinnell We scolded him on his poem in the New Yorker critical of Shelley…
72. Jim Behrle Gadfly of the BAP
73. Haruki Murakami The Weird Movement…
74. Tim Seibles Finalist for National Book Award in Poetry
75. Brenda Shaughnessy  Editor at Tin House…
76. Maurice Manning  The new Robert Penn Warren?
77. Eileen Myles We met her on the now-dead Comments feature of Blog Harriet
78. Heather McHugh Studied with Robert Lowell; translator.
79. Juliana Spahr Poetry and sit-ins
80. Alicia Ostriker Poetry makes feminist things happen…
81. William Childress His ‘Is Free Verse Killing Poetry?’ caused a stir…
82. Patricia Smith Legendary Slam Poet…
83. James Tate The Heart-felt Zany Iowa School…
84. Barrett Watten Language Poet Theorist.
85. Elizabeth Alexander Obama’s inaugural poet.
86. Alan Cordle Foetry changed poetry forever.
87. Dean Young Heart transplanted, we wish him the best…
88. Amy Beeder “You’ll never feel full”
89. Valzhyna Mort Franz Wright translated her from the Belarusian…
90. Mary Jo Salter Studied with Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard…
91. Seth Abramson Lawyer/poet who researches MFA programs and writes cheery reviews…
92. Amy Catanzano “My aim is to become incomprehensible to the machines.”
93. Cate Marvin  VIDA co-founder and co-director
94. Jay Wright First African-American to win the Bollingen Prize (2005)
95. Albert Jack His “Dreadful Demise Of Edgar Allan Poe” builds on Scarriet’s research: Poe’s cousin may be guilty…
96. Mary Ruefle “I remember, I remember”
97. John Gallaher Selfless poet/songwriter/teacher/blogger
98. Philip Nikolayev From Fulcrum to Battersea…
99. Marcus Bales Democratic Activist and Verse Poet
100. Joe Green And Hilarity Ensued…

THE FICTIONALIZING OF POETRY

Dan Chiasson: a critic you can bring home to mother.

The August 8 issue of The New Yorker happens to be good summer reading, almost.  The New Yorker is one of those publications which tells its sophisticated, liberal audience exactly what it wants to hear. Careful not to offend their hipster trust fund reader, the politics is predictably Godless and Left, and their cultural pieces follow suit—politically correct, with an undercurrent of naughtiness and snark.

The cartoons, with their shallow poignancy and black humor topicality, set the tone.  On page 62, a slightly nerdy father tells his bearded son, “You call it graduate school. I call it raising the debt ceiling!” The “Talk of the Town” editorial sides 100% with Obama on the debt issue, while the cartoon expresses the whole much better—the reader can side with the nerdy father, or the bearded son, depending on how they feel.  The print opinions of the magazine are always cartoonish; the cartoons sublime by comparison.

Stephen Greenblatt’s personal meditation in this New Yorker issue on “The Nature of Things” by the ancient philospher Lucretius, drives home two points: true science is driven by atheism and Lucretious has a lot to do with many of us having this idea today.  From a scholarly point of view, the piece is worthless, but the glimpes of Greenblatt’s hypochondriac mother are interesting.

The fiction piece, “What Have You Done?” by Ben Marcus is thoroughly enjoyable: The life of an obese, middle-aged, sarcastic, super-sensitive man with anger issues seeking dignity in a mistrustful, dysfunctional world, where women are flawed but guys are complete assholes, is described economically and with humor.  You care about the characters, but you also get to knowingly chuckle at Cleveland, family reunions, and masturbation.  The best fiction writers these days are secret stand-up comedians.  Think of F. Scott Fitzgerald plus Conan O’Brien. 

Brenda Shaughnessy has a poem on pgs 38-39 which is bouyantly lyrical.  Are poets starting to have fun, again?  Here’s the last five lines:

Heart, what art you?
War, star, part? Or less:

playing a part, staying apart
from the one who loves,
loveless.

The poem on pg. 59 by Starkey Flythe (the name alone probably got him published) is called “Greeks” and makes fun of them: “They made man beautiful/and women, too, though/occasionally her arms fell off.”

Alex Ross, in “A Critic At Large,” compares two recent biographies of Oscar Wilde.  Both books he dislikes; one sees Wilde as literary, the other as sexual; Ross, who tells us he is gay himself, leans towards the latter take; Ross focuses on Dorian Gray, Wilde’s Poe-esque classic, and homophobic Britain’s reaction to it.  Everything written on Wilde ends up being one part genius and two parts gossip and Ross is done in by the gossip, like everyone else.  Wilde courted the most beautiful woman in London but lost out to another Irishman, Bram Stoker. Wilde’s parents are fascinating figures in themselves, the mother an Irish patriot poet, and the era was a fascinating one. Ross instead keeps the light on Wilde, the secret criminal homosexual; it’s a sympathetic light, but it feels a little like Wilde is being used.

Ross quotes some of Wilde’s famous witticisms, such as, “To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”  This brings us to the next article, Dan Chiasson’s review of two poets.

In Chiasson’s review there is no “concealing the artist;” the two poets are “revealed” as much as possible, not only as two women (there are drawings of them with pleasant smiles) but as autobiographical input to the themes of their books, and the reviewer joins in, not exactly revealing himself, but putting his gentle reviewer’s hands all over his subjects:

The title of Tracy K. Smith’s new book of poetry, “Life on Mars” (Graywolf $15), recalls the mid-century craze for all things Martian. Kids who grew up in the nineteen-forties and fifties, in the grip of Mars mania, had their own kids in the seventies; Smith, born in 1972 and a professor of creative writing at Princeton, was one of those kids, as was I. By then, Mars was a joke. The Viking images of the planet’s surface made it look as inhabitable as cat litter. David Bowie had a great, disillusioned single called “Life on Mars?” in 1973 (it inspired Smith’s title), about a girl forced to sit through the unendurable Hollywood fare of her parents’ childhoods—cavemen, cowboys, Martians, and the like. Wherever we were headed, in the vast, fathomless future, it wasn’t going to be outer space: the prospect of “life on Mars” was just another relic of our dreary life on earth.

Life on earth was particularly bad if you grew up black in the forties in Sunflower, Alabama, north of Mobile, as Smith’s father did. Not that he stuck around: he joined the Air Force, and eventually worked as an optical engineer on the Hubble space telescope.

Is Dan Chiasson dating Tracy K. Smith? You know…born in the 70s like her, and knowing so much about her and her dad. Did Tracy K. Smith tell him all this stuff?  Did her dad?  Did her book?  Did her poems?

Did Chiasson already know David Bowie’s “disillusioned single,” and, charmed by the allusion, made the decision to review Tracy K. Smith’s book?  Or, did he learn of Bowie’s song through Tracy K. Smith’s book?

Why does science in the 70s make Mars “a joke?” Does Chiasson think this is everyone’s opinion who was born in the “seventies” (as one must write it in The New Yorker)?  Does Tracy K. Smith say this? Or is this Chiasson’s truth?

The “cat litter” line is brilliant, sure, but why exactly is it in the review?

We certainly find Chiasson nice enough, but one is curious: what exactly is your job, anyway?

If it’s a mystery, one part is clear: Chiasson feels he has to present the book of poems the way editors want to present a book of poems: as a lively, cohesive, highly informative, novel. “Life on Mars” is a great name for a racehorse.  But am I going to read a book of poems so that I can revel in the cultural nuances of this theme? It would be an effort to read a single poem about what people born in the 70s felt about Mars, as seen through the eyes of a David Bowie single, by a kid with a dad who works on Hubble—much less an entire collection of poems. And if Chiasson’s response is: not all the poems are about Mars, why in Mars’ name does his review make it seem that way?

Chiasson is like the chatty parent embarrassed for their child, but forced to introduce them in a sympathetic light:

Smith cannot think about her father without thinking in galactic dimensions, which, paradoxically, minimize him: drawn to that scale, individual lives (even his) can seem puny, and private traumas (even hers) inconsequential.

Keep in mind we have traveled through two columns of a 6 column review (of two poets) and the poems have not spoken yet.

When Chiasson finally quotes Smith’s poetry, “a brief haunting lyric,” it goes like this: “We are here for what amounts to a few/hours,/a day at most./We feel around making sense of the terrain,/our own new limbs,/Bumping up against a herd of bodies/until one becomes home./Moments sweep past. The grass bends/then learns again to stand.”

Chiasson rushes in: “The grass bent under the weight of a human body is, in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”…

Oh, brother.

Grass?  What happened to Mars?

The other poet under review, Dana Levin, gets the same treatment. 

She drips with Chiasson’s good intentions.  Even when he quotes her poetry directly, it’s hard to tell where Levin ends and Chiasson begins:

Deriving “This from That” in her poem of that name, she follows the “Aurelian,” or butterfly collector, who studies “the emergence of butterflies/from chrysalides,” or dactyl from dactyl, the way a poet works: “of fighter jets/from number of charts,/of syllables/from kettledrums.”

With the nifty insertion of “dacyl from dactyl,” one gets the impression Chiasson is re-writing her poem.

But darn it all, he means well.

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